• Large crowds took to the streets of Sydney on April 10, 2015 to protest government plans to close some remote Indigenous communities. (AAP)
Protests are taking place around Australia and overseas today as part of a national day of action opposing remote WA community closures.
By
Robert Burton-Bradley

Source:
NITV News
1 May 2015 - 10:39 AM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2015 - 8:28 PM
The future of hundreds of remote communities facing closure and thousands of Indigenous Australians currently hangs in the balance.
 
Protests are planned around Australia today in all capital cities as well as regional centres including Cairns, Rockhampton, Albury-Wodonga, Alice Springs, Dubbo, Orange, Geelong and, Moree and Ceduna.
 
They are planned to start taking place from midday (AEST) and into the evening.
 
Protests are also planned across the globe in countries including the US, Canada, New Zealand, Germany and London. 
 
 
 
The protesters on one side and the Federal and WA Governments on the other, are refusing to back down ahead of a deadline in July this year when current funding for the communities dries up.
 
For the last six months the threat of forced closure has loomed over hundreds of remote Indigenous Communities in WA and other parts of the country.
 
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A Federal Government decision in September to discontinue Commonwealth funding for basic services such as water, electricity and waste services and hand responsibility to the states and the Northern Territory is the origin of the current crisis. 
 
Different compensation arrangements for the transfer of service responsibilities were made with state and territory governments but WA announced it would not fund up to 150 of the 274 remote communities in WA, saying they were unsustainable due to isolation and small population size.
 
Since that announcement in November accusations of racism, a return to the era of government interventions in Indigenous communities and attempts to link the issue to the sexual assault of children, later shown to be inaccurate, have all added to the tensions surrounding the decisions. 
 
More broadly it has raised questions about how Indigenous communities can remain on their land and questions of Government responsibility in supporting these wishes.
 
 
WA refuses to fund communities
 
In November WA Premier Colin Barnett said without further funding many of the communities would become unsustainable and that WA would not provide additional funding to maintain essential services.
 
"There are something like 274 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia. I think 150 or so of those are in the Kimberley itself, and they are not viable. They are not viable and they are not sustainable," he told State Parliament last year. 
 
 
The communities were shocked outraged that the announcement was made without any consultation and no plans put forward by the WA Government as to where people would move to once the communities were closed. 
 
WA Minister for Indigenous affairs Peter Collier has since promised consultation with affected communities.
 
In an interview with ABC TV last year he said: "nothing has been predetermined", and that the closure decision was "about spending money in the best way to improve the lives of Aboriginal people".
 
"Serious and lasting reform is required to address the disparity between the living standards of Aboriginal people and the rest of the community," he said.
 
Indigenous leaders have expressed alarm at the move repeatedly warning the Government the people removed from the communities would be dislocated and create mental and physical health, housing and employment issues.
 
Dr Tom Calma the chairman of none profit organisation Ninti One which supports Indigenous Australians in remote areas said the "lifestyle choices" debate had shown how little understood Indigenous communities were in wider Australia.
 
 
"There are over 1100 of these remote communities, mostly inhabited and run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, across the vast expanse of Australia," he said.
 
"Without them, ours will be a continent with an empty heart."
 
Tensions were further inflamed when Mr Barnett cited domestic violence and child sexual abuse as further justifications for the closures, with his claims that child sexual abuse had created high levels of STIs amongst under 16s later shown to be inaccurate.    
 
Living in remote communities a 'lifestyle choice'
 
The planned closures caught further national attention this year when Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the decision to stop funding services to the communities in a radio interview in Kalgoorlie, saying the Government was unable to fund Indigenous "lifestyle choices" in wishing to remain on their lands.
 
"What we can't do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have."
 
 
The comment sparked outrage but the PM has refused to back down from his position. 
 
Parliament's only female indigenous MP Nova Peris described Mr Abbott as a "pretender" and insincere about indigenous people.
 
"Aboriginal people choose to live on their country because it is our home, it's not a lifestyle choice," the Northern Territory Labor senator said.
 
"Tony Abbott is totally ignorant and dismissive of our deep connections to country."
 
South Australian communities safe for now
 
South Australian Indigenous communities were also facing closure under the same transfer of responsibility for services to the State Government, however the Federal Government backed down after the SA Government refused to fund services to the communities.
 
This leaves the WA communities unsure of their future and awaiting consultation from the WA Government on how the process will be managed for the thousands affected.
 
Actor Hugh Jackman weighed in to the debate earlier this year tweeting a  picture of himself holding a sign in support of the communities. 
 
"While living in a remote community, I came to understand that connection to land is a fundamental part of the Indigenous identity," the Australian actor wrote on his Facebook and Instagram pages. 
 
 
It came after an anonymous note was posted at the local shopping centre in Fitzroy Crossing asking for the internationally acclaimed actor to support their cause. 
 
Criticism of the closures has also come from outside Australia.
 
The UN's special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people Victoria Tauli-Corpuz told The Guardian that the PM's words were racist and that the defunding of communities was concerning.
 
"This whole issue of racist kinds of pronouncements doesn't really speak well of how governments are supposed to be complying with their human rights obligations," she said.
 
Representatives of The Kimberley Land Council have sought aid from the UN in opposing the closures.
 
Amnesty International has also condemned the forced closures, saying Indigenous Australians have custodianship of and a deep spiritual connection to this land and a responsibility to care for it.