Elders and leaders have been scratching their heads. Why would the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs go out of his way to back a WA remote community closure scheme, described as “ethnic cleansing” by the CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, Dennis Eggington.
Tony Abbott was in the richly Liberal state for a series of engagements last week. Twelve out of 15 federal seats in the West were won by the Liberal party in the 2013 election and it is said that the local branch felt it played a disproportionate role in putting Tony Abbott in the Lodge. It is also the home to the trio who brought on the leadership spill that shook the Liberal Party so early in its first term: Don Randall, Dennis Jensen and Luke Simpkins.
Was the PM in the West to shore up his support before the next challenge? Could closing 150 communities provide a diversion for the Abbott government in the same way that the Northern Territory intervention sucked oxygen from other problems confronting the Howard government in 2007? Would targeting remote Aboriginal communities go down well with the Liberal party’s hard right base in Western Australia? It would appear so.
The plotters on Indigenous issues
The three plotters, Don Randall, Dennis Jensen and Luke Simpkins, each boycotted Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations.
Here are three quotes available on Hansard from Dennis Jensen’s 2008 explanation of why he did not attend, an event he described as “window dressing”.
"So, it would appear that, according to the courts, in terms of a stolen generation relating to the NT, there never was such a stolen generation.”
"Communities of around twenty or so people cannot be economically viable and in supporting these unviable communities, we condemn the inhabitants of these communities to a life of welfare dependency. This can never be acceptable.”
"I am sorry that we have allowed you to live in non-viable communities, pretending that by giving you welfare we were solving the problem."
From 2008 to today, Dennis Jensen had appeared remarkably consistent on this issue. He must be pleased the Prime Minister is finally giving support to a plan to rid WA of non-viable communities.
Two months earlier on September 15 – a Saturday (and Saturday is important) – Mr Randall and a family member flew to Melbourne. He claimed $371 travel allowance for the overnight stay. The reason for the trip was quoted as being “sittings of parliament”. Mr Randall then flew from Melbourne to Canberra for parliament, while his family member took a return flight to Perth. The trip cost taxpayers $5,300. How could he claim for “sittings of Parliament” in Melbourne on a Saturday at a West Coast Eagles AFL game? Don Randall was quoted as saying that he stopped off in Melbourne on his way to Canberra while his wife flew home to Perth.
On another occasion, this time on an “overseas study” tour to Sri Lanka in October 2012, Don Randall charged taxpayers $2,135 for mobile phone calls made overseas. Mr Randall's study tour, which included his wife, cost Australian taxpayers $28,408.
In 2013, Don Randall requested to be removed from the parliamentary privileges committee which oversees standards of political behaviour. And while he said he had acted within the parliamentary “rules of entitlement”, he would repay more than $5,000 to “alleviate any ambiguity”.
"The only ambiguity for community members in Western Australia is which remote settlements will be closed and when"
The only ambiguity for community members in Western Australia is which remote settlements will be closed and when.
We don’t know if those moved out will be funded to move into hotel accommodation, given travel allowances of any kind or funded to rehouse themselves long term. We don’t know if those to be moved to larger hub communities will be given the slimmest dignity of a discussion or consultation beforehand. The contrast between how politicians treat each other and how they treat Australia’s First Nations peoples couldn’t be starker.
The increasingly remote community of Canberra seems able to sustain its own lifestyle choices, while in the real world - it’s pack up and move out.
Also in 2008, Luke Simpkins was quoted as threatening to vote against the Apology, saying he could not support it because he would "again back children being taken in this situation".
That only leaves the Member for Canning, Don Randall, who was quoted as saying he recognised past injustices against Aboriginal Australians but did not believe in intergenerational guilt. He also said that he was unconvinced that the then Opposition should provide "in-principle" support for the apology. Mr Randall, along with the others, made their points by not turning up on that momentous day.
Lifestyle choices for a Member of Parliament
Like mob who choose to remain living on their ancestral country, Don Randall has his own lifestyle choices. One such choice, according to numerous media reports at the time, was to buy a modest block of land in the Cairns’ suburb of Trinity Park in 2007 for $148,000.
In mid-2012 Don Randall began building a four-bedroom house on the site, and in November 2012 he and his wife took a trip to Cairns to see the new property. To check out his lifestyle choice, he claimed $5,259 for the overnight stay. He described the trip as “electorate business” despite it being almost 3,500 kilometres from his WA seat of Canning. Mr Randall said it was all appropriately acquitted, and he should have known, because he was a member of the parliamentary committee which oversees MP’s privileges and interests. Mr Randall always maintained the Cairns trip was appropriate because he met then-opposition whip Warren Entsch for “a couple of hours”.