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Issue #1684      May 13, 2015

UN hears of threat to our communities

Kimberley Land Council chair Anthony Watson has spoken to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York about the threat to close remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

Jackie Oakley was among the speakers at the SOSBlakAustralia rally in Perth. (Photo: Tash Nannup)

“We wanted to get international attention from the UN for what Australian governments are doing,” he told the Koori Mail. There is an agenda here, when you look at the WA government and how they are handling Indigenous affairs. There are big concerns from all around the world. The UN were appalled by the Barnett government’s approach.

“Australia is a wealthy country so wanting to close down remote Aboriginal communities doesn’t make sense. At an international level our Prime Minister and (the WA) Premier are regarded as really nasty, backward people.”

WA Premier Colin Barnett spent three days in the Pilbara last week, but had still not met with Aboriginal groups from the Kimberley, where most of the remote communities are situated.

“There are 274 remote communities in Western Australia. I think any fair-minded person would say that number is not viable into the future,” Mr Barnett said. There’s also issues in many of those communities about education, health, sometimes neglect, abuse of children, domestic violence, alcohol and drugs.


“A lot of people over the years have said a lot of nice and comfortable things, but the situation is still unacceptable – not for the majority but for a number of Aboriginal communities. I am determined we will do everything we can to improve the viability of remote communities.”

As protesters rallied around the world, Mr Barnett conceded that his previous language about remote communities had been “a bit loose” and that the process would take decades. He instead said “a significant number” would close.

“No person will be forced from their land,” Mr Barnett told reporters. “But the state will not be able to provide services across that many communities.

“Some of the larger communities, I hope, over time will become gazetted towns ... some will continue as communities but probably with more people and, yes, there might be associated small outposts around them ... close enough so that children can go to school.”

Daisy Ward and Lizzie Ellis called people together for a protest at Wingellina (Irrunytju), in eastern WA, near the border of South Australia and the Northern Territory.

“We believe this announcement by the WA government represents a continuation of colonisation that will see the confiscation of our traditional lands,” they said.

“We have to keep our lands in our hands. This government has not consulted with us to discuss their concerns. They should talk with us about how we can help reduce the costs of running remote communities.”

The Premier called on governments and Australia’s Aboriginal leaders to take more responsibility. “Some people have been alarmed, and I concede I was a bit loose with my language,” he said. The wider community wants to see some effort from Aboriginal people. This has to be a mutual process.

“I can understand there are people protesting, but I think they misunderstand what our government is doing. I’ve had a lot of support from Aboriginal people writing to me and saying ‘You are right’.”

Hundreds of protests were staged around the world in support of remote Aboriginal communities, which Mr Watson said was heartening. “We are happy that they are supporting us and it’s painful that the premier is not engaging with us. His tactics towards leaving the Kimberley consultation until the last minute is appalling, it puts our community under duress,” he said.


“It’s not helping us or investment in our future. For the government to turn around and blame us, when they have had control and misspent funds for decades, is a shame.

“They are still wanting to have control over spending and programs that have failed us all this time and we are standing up to say that we have solutions.”

Mr Watson said living on country was fundamental.

“I had the privilege of doing that, it gave me recognition of who I am, the connection that my great, great ancestors have to this country,” he said.

“It’s important, it’s where our heritage belongs, and types of food and lifestyle that have sustained our people for centuries, and it’s the sense of belonging.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Concern at Alice threat

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