Immediately preceding Christmas in 2014, the former West Australian Government announced that it would be closing up to 150 remote Indigenous Communities in Western Australia. This announcement came as a complete surprise to the Indigenous communities who were not provided any notice of this being under consideration by the State Government. Then Premier – Colin Barnett - said he had no other options after the Federal Government announced they would no longer fund essential services to remote communities, instead providing a one-off payment of $90 million to the State Government to take responsibility.
Barnett went further following international backlash at the stance, implying that child welfare is the primary reason for the community closures, once again, demonising Aboriginal people as unfit parents. He was not alone though; Tony Abbott came out in support of Barnett and said:
"what we can't do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices".
Ever since those now infamous comments were made, the issue of remote community closures has been under close scrutiny from community and activist groups.
Following the election of a new State Government in Western Australia, activist group #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA has called upon the new government to clarify their remote Aboriginal Community ‘reform’ position.
In a media release dated 12 April 2017, #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA stated:
“For the vast majority of people living in Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, the evening of the 17th of March, 2017 was one of celebration. It signified the end of the Barnett government, and most countrymen and women voted with the issue of his threatened community closures at the forefront of their minds. It has also opened up the prospect of much better possibilities with the Labor Party's Mark McGowan elected as Premier.”
The release called upon the McGowan Government to clarify its position with respect to remote community ‘reform,’ specifically, if the stance taken by Barnett would be continued under a Labor State Government and reminded the government that:
“Many people are still traumatised by the behaviours of the Federal and State Liberal party agenda that has tormented them since 2014. Despite some communities hearing potentially positive words from various members of parliament off the record, we are yet to see a public response. For the sake of our communities, the damaging uncertainty and despair must end as soon as possible.”
Since the announcement of the community closures in late 2014, Kimberley Land Council has been fielding concerns from the Aboriginal people of Western Australia and attempting to make contact with the Government in order to devise a solution to the proposed closures so that over 12,000 people are not without homes. The Kimberley Land Council has collaborated with other Western Australian Land Councils in a bid to urge the government to change their stance, however, the Barnett government remained firm in the decision to close remote communities.
The uncertainty drew many remote community residents into larger regional centres in an attempt to secure social housing but the general consensus was that the Barnett government did not have a plan for the people he would be making homeless.
The Western Australian community awaits for the Labor State Government’s announcement on remote community policy in hope, which stems from recent comments made by first
Indigenous Treasurer in the newly elected government, Ben Wyatt, who has made his views on the former Barnett Government clear, labelling it “belligerent and disrespectful.”
Wyatt states that he is hopeful that the community can feel relieved that the Barnett planned community closures will not happen. The actual policy announcement is yet to occur but the community awaits and #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA urges the new Labor State Government to disregard the previous closure and 10 “super centre” road map laid out by Barnett and backed by the Federal Government.