The Shire President for the Ngaanyatjarra Lands, located in Western Australia’s Goldfield’s region, has hit back at the criticism his residents faced after they were recently blamed for "anti-social behaviour" in the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie.
Damien McLean told NITV News that there were a lot of underpinning issues causing Ngaanyatjarra residents to leave their communities and head for Kalgoorlie, and one of the main causes was welfare reforms.
Previously, social security payments were made by community organisations, Mr McLean explained. But under the reforms, community members have been placed on payments controlled by the federal government.
“That sort of structure around community support has now been completely broken down in favour of putting people on a centralised payment through Centerlink,” Mr McLean said.
“So that’s a big part of the problem. All the resources are gone from the community and changed, in favour of job services,” he said.
Last month, Member for Kalgoorlie Kyran O’Donnell and the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder Mayor John Bowler said the influx of people from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands had resulted in an increase in anti-social behaviour in the town, located 600 kilometres east of Perth.
“Enough is enough. The issue is getting worse and out of control each year and it is about time that we stop tiptoeing around the issue in the hope that it will die down, or be someone else’s problem,” they said in a joint statement.
“These people show utter disrespect to our city, to our residents, our properties and they give their own people a bad reputation and total disregard for their own culture.”
The two men made the comments following an announcement that Kalgoorlie police was launching a new initiative to restrict alcohol purchases of intoxicated individuals.
In 2016, nine Aboriginal communities in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission against the federal government's work-for-the-dole scheme on the basis that the program was racially discriminatory.
Under the program, participants living in remote communities must complete work-like tasks in order to receive their Newstart benefits.
Missing an appointment with a work provider resulted in payments being stopped, or penalties issued of around $50 per day. Mr McLean said fines and penalties in the region had taken between $800,000 to $900,000 over the past three years.
“The poverty that it has inflicted on the place without any positive outcome has just sent things backwards,” he said.
Many underpinning causes
Culturally appropriate short-term accommodation options for Aboriginal people is currently limited in Kalgoorlie.
Ningamia, a small town-based reserve, is in the process of being closed down and for many years there have been calls to close down Boulder Camp, a temporary campsite for Aboriginal people.
Kalgoorlie Elder, Ngadju-Kalaako man Trevor Donaldson, on Wednesday told NITV News that licensed venues in the town should also be held accountable for their part in any anti-social behaviour.
“Those licensed premises and the hotels around the place need to take a good look at themselves because they don’t mind sowing it, and if you’re visibly affected by alcohol it should not be served to you,” Mr Donaldson said.
“They (Ngaanyatjarra residents) have a right to come here,” he said.
Mr Donaldson said racism was still prevalent in Kalgoorlie, the town that made headlines in 2016 after riots erupted on its streets following the death of Elijah Doughty, a 14-year-old Aboriginal boy.
“There is still a huge amount of discrimination in the town, these people (Ngaanyatjarra residents) can’t just go into the hotels around here because its frowned upon by the establishment, so they’re forced to be visible out on the streets,” Mr Donaldson said.
“It is a very redneck place, but we need to work with each other to overcome that… [and] be able to educate each other and work with our people,” he said.
NITV News contacted Mayor Bowler for comment but did not receive a response before going to publication.
In last month's joint statement with Mr O’Donnell, Mr Bowler said he welcomed all visitors to the region no matter "who you are or where you come from".
“Our city is sick of the drunken carrying-ons, swearing and yelling, fighting and threatening behaviours by these people. We are just sick of being fearful and sick of putting up with bad behaviour,” the joint statement said.