• Rally against planned closures of remote communities. (AAP)Source: AAP
A small remote community with freehold title in Western Australia says it was offered money to move to a nearby former gold rush town in the Pilbara. However, a member of the state government says he only suggested it should move its settlement onto Crown land in an attempt to provide better housing.
Andrea Booth

15 Jul 2016 - 12:16 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2016 - 4:08 PM
  • Community leader refused government's suggestion that his community move if they wanted government housing 
  • Pilbara member Brendon Grylls says he would only deploy the $5 million plan if the community agreed
  • WA government says communities won’t be forced to close
  • Focus on upgrading 10 of the 274 remote communities 

Tuesday update

The WA government has been working with the community of Cheeditha for more than two years, to provide it with "normalised" living conditions , Brendon Grylls, the Member for Pilbara, tells NITV News.

Mr Gyrlls says he visited Cheeditha directly after a cyclone hit the town in Jaunary 2014. He assessed the housing as poor quality and in a state of disrepair, and observed that the community had a "vague" management structure.

The government cannot manage housing where the tenant pays rent on freehold land. But Mr Grylls proposed that if community members wanted to live in new housing, the government could allocate $5 million to move them to accommodation four kilometres away on Crown land in Roebourne.

When NITV News asked if the government could provide funding to build new housing on their own land, he feared the community would not maintain it.

But he wants to continue collaborating with the community towards a mutual agreement, he says.

"We stand ready to partner with the community that wants to partner with the government on a better way forward."

He adds that the Resilient Communities roadmap, which was released last week in Kununurra, demonstrates the government's commitment.

The Pilbara Town-Based Reserves project, which is part of the roadmap, will allocate $20 million to ensure residents in reserves, like Cheeditha, receive the same services and opportunities, and have the same responsibilities, as residents in the townships nearest to them.

Monday update

The office of Brendon Grylls has confirmed that the office on behalf of the Department Regional Development offered $5 million to Cheeditha community towards housing expenses if they moved to Roebourne but that the community had turned that down.
When NITV News asked a spokesperson at the office what the Department of Regional Development intended for Cheeditha if residents had accepted their offer of $5 million to relocate to Roebourne, he said he could not answer a "hypothetical" now that the matter was in the past.

Remote community leader says he refused government offer 

Last week the WA Government said it no longer wanted to close 150 of the 274 remote communities in the State but wanted to help them become self-sufficient.
But Stanley Warrie, chairperson of the approximate 40 people living on over 4,000 hectares of freehold title in the Cheeditha community, located 1,500 kilometres from Perth in Pilbara region, said government officials told him they were going to close Cheeditha down.

He told NITV News he refused an offer of $5 million from Mr Grylls on behalf of the Department of Regional Development and the Pilbara Development Commission, which they made in September 2015 for the community to move to Roebourne, four kilometres away.  

The first he heard about the release yesterday of the WA Government’s Resilient Communities roadmap report was when a friend told him he’d seen media reports.

Grahame Searle, state reform leader, tells NITV News that his department did not offer the community money to relocate to Roebourne. 

“That certainly wasn’t anyone from my unit,” he says, adding that it is freehold land and has not been classified by government as one of the state's 274 remote communities. 

“They currently control their own fate."

He adds he assumes there has been a communication breakdown between Mr Warrie and the government because of language barriers.

"We’ll engage in a discussion with them but what they do with their community is their choice so the government can’t close them.”

But NITV News received a different response when it asked a spokesperson for local member Brendon Grylls, who met with the community on behalf of Regional Development Minister Terry Redman last September over the proposal.

When NITV News asked the spokesperson what the Department of Regional Development intended for Cheeditha if residents had accepted their offer of $5 million for housing in Roebourne, he said he could not answer a "hypothetical" now that the matter was in the past.

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Different cultures

Mr Warrie said Cheeditha’s culture was different to Roebourne’s, which is Ngarluma not Yindjibarndi, and he was worried it would be lost if they merged.

“If we move to Roebourne, we'll be kicked out of houses, we won't be able to practice culture, everything is lost," he says.

"We are worried.

“We don’t get any government assistance aside from basic services such as water. We need assistance for maintenance of housing. Our only income is generated from collecting rent.

He says he wants to use the land to build more businesses.

"We'd like to start a company that manages rubbish. That will provide more jobs for our community."

But he questions how they can build businesses if the government tries to close down their community.

"How can we show the things that we want to do, do something for ourselves?" 

A spokesperson from the reform unit says the government is not asking Cheeditha to move.

She says the government will include it in the roadmap's Pilbara Town-Based Reserves project for Crown reserves, even though it's freehold, to ensure that it "has the same opportunity to engage with the government as other remote Aboriginal communities".

The government will consult with community leaders over the next 12 months, she adds.

WA community closures a 'wake-up call' for better representation
As people in Western Australia struggle for more information about plans to close up to 150 remote communities across the state, Living Black reporter Craig Quartermaine looks back at the past experience of a community being closed.

'Alarmed and confused'

Meanwhile, the action group which organised last year’s protest marches against community closures, says the government’s “roadmap” has left “the overwhelming majority” of Indigenous people alarmed and confused. 

The Resilient Families: Strong Communities’ report sets out a plan to identify by the end of the year 10 of 274 remote communities to upgrade. 

But despite reassurances from the WA Government that it no longer wants to close 150 of the communities and wants to help them stay open and become self-sufficient, there are serious doubts about the state’s real intentions.

Les Thomas, an organiser for SOSBlakAustralia, which organised protest marches last year against community closures, said: “The way the report couches its language it's as if the government is doing a humanitarian favour when the fact is this is wiping out our rights to live on our own country.

“It puts us on the thin edge of the wedge. If they start closing the smaller outstations, who knows what’s next.

He believes the government is forcing people to leave their country by withdrawing services.

"They’re saying that people can still live on country if they want to, but we're talking about old people and small communities where actually the remoteness of that community is one of the reasons why people have been healthy and culturally strong as they are.

"Remote communities are the safest places for our people, all the health indicators show that as a fact.”

Consultation? What consultation?

He believes no one should take the government’s word at face value because it had been misleading.

He says the consultation process has not been widespread, despite the government saying it has spent 12 months consulting communities.

“While they may claim to have consulted, the overwhelming majority of community members are in a state of confusion and deep concern and fear.”  

Michael Woodley, the CEO of Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, told NITV on Thursday that the eight-month consultation process 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.

And Josie Farrer, Labor Party member representing the seat of Kimberley, said yesterday she had never heard about the roadmap report.

"The government's consultation strategy over the past eight months has been very poor," she says.

"Disappointingly, I have not been briefed or consulted with directly by either lead minister [Regional Development Minister Terry Redman or Child Protection Minister Andrea Mitchell] in regards to this reform."

Western Australian remote communities 'won't close'
The Western Government says it plans to keep the state's 274 remote communities open two years after it flagged it would close half of them.

Mr Thomas added: “You’ve got this top down imposition determining things purely on an economic basis and complete disregard for our mob who have a right to live on their own country, practicing their own ways."

Grahame Searle maintains the government consulted a “large number of Aboriginal communities and leaders” in preparing the policy, citing Cape York Partnership founder Noel Pearson’s Empowered Communities project.

But Mr Searle says the document released yesterday is the “starting point” and the government will now embark on a thorough consultation process with all 274 communities. 

He says while “no one gets everything they want out of the consultation process” the government will ask which bits of the roadmap “are relevant to each communities because they are all different.” 

We want to engage with communities and families in a different way and ask, “What are the aspirations for your communities and your kids. What are you prepared to do about it and how can the government help you,” he says.

WA Regional Development Minister Terry Redman said on Thursday that 120 of the communities were already self-sufficient and it was the government’s intention to help more join them.

'The government listened on some accounts'

An Indigenous advisor to the policy says he is "happy" the government has acknowledged it has been failing to provide effective services to some communities.

The report reads: "Lots of money is being spent on services but it is not well targeted, and nobody is clear if it is making any meaningful difference."

Martin Sibosado, who advised the policymakers for the Kimberley region says: "I'm happy the government has now acknowledged that they are partly to blame and will attempt to rectify the problem.

"For too long Aboriginal people get blamed or labelled responsible for wasting public funds. So one of things in this reform is there's an audit of service delivery-funding into communities and looking at what is actually working - and the government accepted responsibility for inefficiency."

"For too long Aboriginal people get blamed or labelled responsible for wasting public funds."

The government acknowledged that 63 government  and non-government services, such as in housing and employment, delivering over 200 services to about 1,400 people  were not producing results because most of the funding went to paying wages to its employees and only a fraction to delivering services."For too long Aboriginal people get blamed or labeled responsible for wasting public funds."

But he says the government hasn't listened to everything.

"There's a $220 million investment for transitional housing [for those being urged from one community to another," he says.

But that assumes people can easily get a job, he adds.

"The reality in the Kimberley is there’s 60 percent Aboriginal unemployment, not everyone has an education and there's a downturn of economy, so the reality is where do they find those jobs if they relocated from those remote communities…because I can tell you enough people in Broome [a large township in the region] can't even find a job."

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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.

The numbers

$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

12,000 residents

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

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.

This story has been updated to specify that the alleged $5-million offer occurred in September 2015 and a response from Brendon Grylls' office.