Remote communities will not be forced to close but will be helped to tackle a status quo which is “unacceptable” for Aboriginal people, WA Regional Development Minister Terry Redman said on Thursday.
In a turnaround from its announcement in November 2014, the WA Government now pledges to aim to keep communities open and help those that are ineligible for government investment because of “their size and sustainability” to become self-supporting.
When the government originally flagged closing 150 of 274 remote communities, it triggered protests across the country and around the world.
Mr Redman says 120 communities are self-supporting and the "roadmap", titled ‘Resilient Families: Strong Communities’ and released in Kununurra on Thursday, has been created to help more communities join them.
The plan will also identify up to 10 of the largest communities by the end of this year to upgrade essential and municipal infrastructure.
Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Ministers Ben Wyatt tells NITV News the plan isn't that new.
“To be frank it’s really confirming what the government has been doing for many many years, except what it intends to do in this regard is identify 10 communities that will perhaps receive more funding than they otherwise would have,” he says.
He adds he is sceptical about whether the plan will make meaningful change.
"How will it be implemented? How will the government reverse decisions it’s made on housing maintenance in the Kimberley that saw Aboriginal people lose their jobs.
"How will it reverse the decision it made - it’s decision about cutting one hundred Aboriginal Education Officers that had a dramatic impact in places like Kununurra, for example - to ensure the government can re-engage with those communities to ensure kids are back in school and getting support?"
'Gobsmacked' at job-opportunity plan
The government's plan to create jobs for people living remotely will create welfare dependency, says Kara Keys, the Australian Council of Trade Unions' Indigenous officer.
"I'm absolutely gobsmacked," she says. "The policy says it will enable people to control their own destinies but it will do the opposite."
The plan proposes to roll out the controversial Community Development Program (CDP) to the remote communities in the effort to increase employment rates.
The CDP mandates job seekers to work 25 hours per week for a welfare payment.
"It entrenches people into welfare dependency because if you're working for 25 hours a week, then how do you have time to look for a job, and if you're required to do this week in week out then how is this breaking the welfare cycle," Ms Keys says.
She also says the CDP discriminates.
"It only applies to remote communities yet the requirements are much more onerous than the mainstream New Start program."
The New Start welfare program only mandates a job seeker work for their payments 12 months after they first receive welfare.
Indigenous leaders not consulted
When NITV News contacted Josie Farrer, Labor Party member representing the seat of Kimberley, for her opinion about the report, she said she had never heard about it.
Michael Woodley, the CEO of Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, says the 12-month consultation process, which the policy says occurred, did not happen.
"It’s not fair to say we had a process for 12 months. They never had consultation for 12 months, but this affects everyone up here," he says.
He says if it's affecting the area where he lives, and the remote communities in his area, "then obviously we’d like to have a seat around the table to assist the government with what we think would be the best approach".
"I call on the government to reinitiate the conversation about 'Resilient Families, Strong Communities', to organise community forums to discuss all the issues with community and government representatives.”
But Mr Redman says he's a "little surprised" leaders say they weren't consulted and maintains the government's plan was informed by communities and leaders as part of "strategic reference" and "district leadership" groups over a 12 month period.
Key policy measures
It sets out 10 actions the government pledges to take.
- $175 million for extra housing over four years in the Kimberley and Pilbara, tied to school and work participation.
- A three-year $25 million Kimberley Schools Project.
- ensuring residents of town-based reserves get the same services as nearby towns, starting with a $20 million Pilbara project.
- Creating more public service job opportunities.
- Identifying up to 10 communities by the end of the year for infrastructure upgrades.
- Reorganising state services in Roebourne to get better outcomes.
- Mapping services in the Kimberley and Pilbara to get better systems.
- A co-designed early intervention service for Kununurra families.
- Continuing to support the trial of the cashless debit card in the East Kimberley.
- Working with Federal Government to implement the Compulsory Rent Deduction Scheme in WA.
$4.9 billion total State and Commonwealth government spending on services to WA Aboriginal population in 2012-13.
16 per cent of remote Aboriginal residents have completed year 12, relative to 24 per cent of Aboriginal residents in regional towns and 53 per cent of all State residents.
20 per cent of remote Aboriginal residents were in real jobs in 2011, compared to 43 per cent of Aboriginal residents in regional towns and 65 per cent of all State residents.
16 per cent of remote Aboriginal residents live in a house with seven or more other people, compared with five per cent of Aboriginal residents in regional towns and 0.4 per cent of all State residents.
Source: WA Government.
274 remote communities
16 communities with 200 or more residents
19 with 100-200 residents
19 with 50-100 residents
91 with 10-50 residents
60 with under 10 residents
69 seasonal with no permanent residents
110 get no government help.
Source WA Government factsheet.
2010 Leaked Federal Government paper in 2010, titled 'Priority Investment Communities - WA', categorised 192 of 287 remote settlements as unsustainable. Most were in the Kimberley, with 160 in the region, including Koorabye, Djugerari, Kadjina, Wurrenranginy, and Molly Springs.
The document named 14 unsustainable communities in the Pilbara, 11 in the Goldfields, four in the Midwest and three in the Wheatbelt.
November 2014 WA Government announces plan to close up to 150 of 274 remote communities.
June 2015 Protests over closures.