• Hundreds of protesters march in Perth CBD on a nationwide day of action to close the gap of indigenous disadvantage. Thursday, March 19, 2015.
As Australia marks Harmony Day – the calendar event that aims to celebrate cultural diversity, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner has expressed deep concerns about government policies relating to Indigenous Australians.
Andrea Booth

20 Mar 2015 - 7:54 PM  UPDATED 21 Mar 2016 - 10:45 AM

Speaking to NITV, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, said that he is “deeply concerned by the announcements of the Federal and Western Australian governments of their plan to cease the funding of ongoing essential services in remote communities in Western Australia.”

“The decisions being made about remote communities, without consultation, are highly damaging and a breach of inherent rights.”

"Some entire Aboriginal communities are at serious risk of being displaced from their traditional lands."

The Barnett Government has flagged the closure of up to 150 remote communities in WA – a move that has been under intense public scrutiny since Prime Minister Tony Abbott described living in remote Indigenous communities as a "lifestyle choice".

“What they are talking about is no provision of decent water, adequate power, proper waste disposal and appropriate sewerage plants to these remote communities,” Mr Gooda said.

“We know that some entire Aboriginal communities are at serious risk of being displaced from their traditional lands.

“I urge the Western Australian Government and Federal Government to engage respectfully with our people and to properly assess the health and wellbeing impacts of closing remote communities.”

Harmony Day was described in a statement by the Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, as the day “we continue to draw on the best of our cultural diversity.”

Responding to a question from NITV about how the department acknowledges Indigenous Australians in plans to foster cultural diversity, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, said in an email that the government implements “practical initiatives that support the participation of all Australians as well as socially cohesive communities.”

The central message “naturally begins with Australia’s First Peoples,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said when asked about the role of remote Indigenous communities in maintaining cultural diversity, “… and encompasses all people who have been born here or who have made Australia their home.”

But while Harmony Day coincides with the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Mr Gooda says, “this Harmony Day it is important to remember that racial discrimination still exists in Australia.”

Last week, beyondblue released results from an independent evaluation that found up to 21 per cent of respondents believe casual racism against Indigenous Australians is acceptable.

The research survey was commissioned as part of the organisation’s ‘The Invisible Discriminator’ campaign, which targets the impact of racial discrimination on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.