West Australian plan to close 100 remote and Indigenous communities 'devastating'


Plans by the West Australian government to close more than 100 remote and primarily Indigenous communities is the “biggest threat to our people since the shocking events of the 1960s”, traditional owners and native title holders of the Fitzroy Valley have said in a joint statement. The statement, released on Tuesday by a number of groups representing people in Fitzroy Crossing and 35 surrounding communities, said they were “appalled” by the recent announcement by the premier, Colin Barnett, that between 100 and 150 of the state’s 274 remote communities face closure. More than 1,300 Aboriginal people live in 174 of the smallest communities, according to the ABC.


“We are deeply fearful about the potential impact of such a move on our people and communities, and the township of Fitzroy Crossing. We see this as the biggest threat to our people since the shocking events of the 1960s, and we believe the impact of such a move could be almost as devastating,” it said, referring to the devastating social impacts when Aboriginal people moved off stations and into townships after the equal wage case.


“We assert the right of people to live in and on their traditional country, for which they have ancient and deep responsibilities. To be talking of relocating people off their traditional country does indeed take us back 50 years in a very ugly way.”


Barnett has said there is no other option but closure of between 100 and 150 communities which it has described as “unviable”, and cited “high rates of suicide, poor education, poor health [and] no jobs”.


“[The smaller remote communities] are not viable and the social outcomes, the abuse and neglect of young children, is a disgrace to this state ... This is the biggest social issue this state faces,” he said.


The Fitzroy Valley groups rejected the link between suicide and other social issues with closure as “nonsense”.


“We acknowledge that there are serious social and health issues in our communities. But we also assert on the basis of evidence and our direct knowledge that, on balance, the people in the smaller bush communities are healthier and happier,” it said.


It said forcing people out of the communities would just relocate and intensify underlying problems of poverty, disadvantage and unemployment.


In parliament last week Barnett acknowledged the closures would cause “great distress” to Aboriginal people and cause problems in the towns they move to, but said he had no other choice after the federal government announced it would withdraw its two-thirds share of the funding of power, water and services from the communities, and hand control over to the state from July next year.


However, the federal minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion, denied there was any link between the two and said the state had been discussing closures “well before” the transfer of responsibilities was announced.


Aboriginal advocates and social service workers are also anticipating a drastic fallout if the closures go ahead.


Priscilla Collins, chief executive of the North Australian Aboriginal justice agency (NAAJA), told Guardian Australia the WA government’s decision was “extremely disappointing”.


“Where do they expect these people to go? Where is their housing? Where are their services, their families? Are they just trying to split up Aboriginal people in communities?” she said.


“I just don’t understand the logic behind it. These people are entitled to essential services just like in the urban areas.”


David Cole, chairman of Darwin-based youth suicide prevention program, the Balunu Foundation, said the closures were “point-blank genocide” and he was anticipating devastating consequences among the affected populations.


“It’s genocide, it’s land dispossession,” Cole told Guardian Australia.


“People being removed, pushed off, forced off the land and pushed into small communities is a recipe for social challenges on every level. Not to mention the cultural lore challenges that creates for our communities.”


Wyndham, in Western Australia, experienced an influx of displaced residents when a nearby community, Oombulgurri, was closed in 2011 by the WA government, citing high levels of violence, suicide and sexual assault. The remaining residents were evicted from the town, and services shut off or closed down. It is being demolished.


The transition for residents was “terrible”, Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous campaign manager, Tammy Salonec, told Guardian Australia, and Amnesty fears the same mistakes could be made.


“There was no integration strategy in place, people were forcibly evicted,” Salonec said.


“Eventually most were rehoused, but some still don’t have suitable housing, some are still homeless.


“It was a tragic case of error upon error upon error, with no consideration for how traumatic it would be for these people. We want to ensure that when the government is looking at this sort of thing now, that they do it in a better way.”


Since Barnett made the announcement to parliament a week ago, no plan has yet been put forward, and no target list of communities or services drawn up.


“Consultation with affected parties is essential and will occur,” a spokeswoman for the premier told Guardian Australia.


“However, it’s early days and the government is just beginning the work to determine a path forward. This process will be comprehensive and will not be rushed.”


She said the closures would not stop anyone returning to country, but there would be no government-funded services there when they did.


A spokesman for Scullion said the future of remote communities was “largely a matter for the Western Australian government”.


“Providing essential and municipal services in towns and cities across Australia has always been the responsibility of state and local governments and it should be no different in Indigenous communities,” he said.


The crisis support service Lifeline can be reached on 13 11 14.

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The Guardian (CPA)



Terra nullius never went away


"As we look around this glorious city, as we see the extraordinary development, it's hard to think that back in 1788 it was nothing but bush ... Everything would have seemed so extraordinarily basic and raw ...,," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told an international gathering in Sydney on November 14. He repeated the same words again at a post-APEC International Business breakfast on November 17. Terra nullius is back on the agenda, not that it ever really went away.

Australia is open for business, for big business and this government is proudly clearing the way, in particular, for mining companies.


Consistent with Abbott's terra nullius outlook, the government is cutting its funding of essential services for remote Aboriginal communities. Responsibility is being handed over to the states, with a one-up payment to compensate the states for the additional cost of providing services.

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett, who is cut from the same cloth as the PM, responded to the deal by flagging the closure of up to 150 remote Indigenous communities and the forced removal of more than 12,000 people from their land. Initially Barnett blamed the federal government's decision to cease funding of power, water and other services to remote communities beyond the next two years. Barnett said his hands were tied.


Past experiences of forced removal off country have proved disastrous. Towns, already short of housing, have not been able to cope with the influx of people. The result is more fringe dwellers, social problems, suicides and incarceration. Western Australia already has the highest rate of incarceration of Indigenous people, around 20 times the rate of non-Indigenous Australians. In fact Barnett hypocritically admitted that it "will cause great distress to Aboriginal people who will move, it will cause issues in regional towns as Aboriginal people move into them."


Barnett tried to argue it was necessary pointing to "high rates of suicide, poor education, poor health, no jobs ... it's a huge economic, social and health issue." He then played the "viability" card, blaming the Indigenous communities for their economic and social problems.


"They [the smaller remote communities] are not viable and the social outcomes, the abuse and neglect of young children, is a disgrace to this state ... this is the biggest social issue this state faces."


It certainly is a disgrace to the state and federal governments and to the big mining corporations. Not a single suggestion about addressing the causes of the social issues. No way does the WA Coalition government intend spending a cent of the royalties from minerals extracted from Aboriginal land on essential services that the rest of the Australian people take for granted. The federal government has closed the Community Development Employment Projects program, there is no serious job creation program; education and skills development are either not appropriate or unavailable. It is no accident that successive state and federal governments have deprived Indigenous communities of services, housing, job opportunities and the programs and incarcerated people on almost any excuse. Under such conditions, communities are set to "fail", providing the excuse to force them off their land.


"How can you even contemplate removing people from their land when it is the very essence of their being?" CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Services Western Australia (ALSWA), Noongar man, Dennis Eggington exclaimed. "If our people were pastoralists living in remote WA, we would be supported, accommodated and rewarded for our efforts. Yet, because we are Aboriginal people who perhaps don't share the same materialistic values as our non-Indigenous counterparts, we are seen as not being 'viable' and we should be 'removed' - there's that term again." These profits are from the land of Indigenous people. That is why funding is being cut, that is why the state and federal governments want to remove its Indigenous owners.


"Western Australia is more concerned about profits than people," Eggington said. There is no right to veto under the Native Title Act, but Traditional Owners have been able to take on the mining corporations and gain considerable public support and see projects delayed or even suspended. The mining companies want to be given carte blanche to plunder Indigenous land.

We are talking about criminal neglect, theft, racism and assimilation. The closure of remote communities is nothing short of a land grab for mining corporations.



The Australian November 19, 2014

Paige Taylor, WA Bureau Chief, Perth 

THE embers are dying out in the fiery feud that many feared would destroy Balgo, but the residents of this remote Aboriginal community in the Kimberley now face a new threat.


Last week, Premier Colin Barnett labelled Balgo a "war zone" as he defended his plan to shut down between 100 and 150 of the state's 274 remote communities. Although Mr Barnett is yet to identify any community slated for closure, his description of Balgo, 1800km northeast of Perth, as "not that well run" has caused anxiety in the town.


Yesterday in the town's main street, 23-year-old Danita Stretch walked with one-year-old daughter Andreana and said she felt safe in her home again. She said she wanted to raise her daughter in Balgo, away from alcohol and drugs that she associates with Kimberley towns such as Kununurra. "The fighting here was very scary but it's over now," she said. "The old people believed the government was going to shut us down over the fighting and that was even scarier to us - we don't like town because of the drinking. We want to be on our land, hunting, being close to our culture. Out here, everyone is healthier and happier than in town."


Elders said the threat to close the community was real, and it pre-dated Mr Barnett's bombshell -announcement last week. Six weeks ago, at the height of the fighting, Balgo resembled a community on the edge of collapse. Police sent an -additional 21 officers to the community of about 400 as an emergency response to the rolling violence.


State government bureaucrat Ross Tomasini, sent to broker peace, was grabbed by police and shoved in the back of a paddy wagon for his protection. All around, people were hitting each other with sticks and whatever else they could get their hands on.


Mr Tomasini, from the Aboriginal Affairs Co-ordinating Committee, had called a meeting of 300 residents on the Balgo dirt oval.


Elder Dulcie Nanala said Mr Tomasini arrived on a plane with other bureaucrats to talk to her and other senior figures about the fighting. "Everyone was thinking 'they are going to close Balgo' and we wanted to keep Balgo," Ms Nanala said.


The Australian has been told ill-feeling between Balgo residents brewed through Divas Chat, a social networking site popular in remote communities because it only requires 3G coverage but which has been linked to bullying among young Aborigines.


Outside the community store yesterday, some senior men and women said the fighting was started by outsiders from Halls Creek. One man said the elders had become upset when they came to believe that "ganja and tablets" had infiltrated Balgo.


The community brought to its knees by fighting is now enjoying a purple patch, according to government workers. Mr Tomasini said attendance at the school was a record 95 per cent this week, up from past averages of about 50 per cent.



The Stringer

Having to die because you cannot afford dialysis

by Gerry Georgatos       

November 18th, 2014




Renal patients in Whyalla will either have to bear a new significant cost or die from not being able to get to their dialysis appointments. That will be the result of a recent decision made by Country Health South Australia to discontinue funding transport for renal dialysis patients as of the end of the year. Patients will have to pay their way. But what of the many who will not be able to.


Nunyara Aboriginal Health Service is outraged by the decision, saying the average cost of around $50 per fortnight they are passing on for transport is just not affordable for people on a disability pension.


"It seems ridiculous", said Cindy Zbierski, CEO at Nunyara Aboriginal Health Service, "If patients miss their dialysis because they can't afford to get there it will cost the state much more in clogging up the Emergency Department and potential admissions to the Intensive Care Unit which can be anywhere between $4,000 to $10,000 a day, plus the possible cost of the Royal Flying Doctor Service if those people cannot be managed in Whyalla and require retrieval to Adelaide."


Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia public health medical officer, Dr David Scrimgeour said, "The most disadvantaged and the most vulnerable who become the victims of the cost cutting."


He stated "that it is people who are already very disadvantaged are now going to be disadvantaged further because of a fairly arbitrary cost cutting measure by the Government."


Dr Scrimgeour said the "heartless decision" will mean that some patients will not be able to get to dialysis treatment. He criticised the lack of consultation by the Government with the Aboriginal Health Service. The current free transport service is paid for by Country Health South Australia but costs the Service less than $25,000 a year but the individual pickup of this cost can translate to the unaffordable.


Whyalla Hospital staff were shocked by the decision, and said they were disgusted by the decision of which they knew nothing about till it was announced. Disabled Peoples International provided the service for people who have no other way of getting to their appointments.


"The timing could not be worse," said Ms Zbierski. She said for renal patients this is another financial hit on top of the introduction of the $7.00 co-payment for a GP visit.


Kidney disease is a chronic disease in which a person's kidney function is reduced or damaged. This affects the kidney's ability to filter blood and therefore control the body's water and other hormone levels, leading to increased fluid and waste within the body. Kidney disease is also associated with several other chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, diseases of the urinary system were the 10th leading cause for First Peoples in 2012. In 2012/13 almost one in five of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 18 year and over had indicators of chronic disease.


Australia still has a long way to go before it starts to adequately invest in the primary and secondary health care of First Peoples. In 1980, First Peoples were five times more likely to contract trachoma than non-Aboriginal Australians, a disease effectively wiped out in most of the presumed developed world. In 2014, the divide has widened, with First Peoples now six times more likely to contract trachoma.



The Age

Indigenous disadvantage report is a wake-up call for Australia

November 19, 2014 - 12:22AM

Michael Gordon, Political editor, The Age 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday became the first foreign leader to begin an address to the Australian Parliament by paying his respects to the traditional owners of the land on which he stood, and their elders past and present.


If this was a modest, but welcome, sign of  progress, the landmark Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report released on Wednesday is a sobering reality check on a bipartisan project that began more than a decade ago.


It started with a move to obtain and publish data on the scale of the problem, and so make governments more accountable, which led to the setting of targets to close the gap between outcomes for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.


It is almost three years since the last report was published and the massive new document  represents a concerted attempt to listen to indigenous voices and broaden the focus for tackling disadvantage.


While the findings reflect some positive trends in health, education and economic, the overall picture should be a wake-up call to state and federal governments and their bureaucrats.


The lack of improvement in the areas of disability, chronic disease and literacy and numeracy is reason enough to re-think and re-commit. The dramatic increase in self-harm, stress levels and incarceration rates should be a matter of national shame and action.


The report also reinforces the case of those who argue that national targets should be set in the areas disability, mental health and incarceration. A strength of the report is that it includes case studies of programs that work across all areas. Invariably, they are programs that focus on early intervention and prevention, engage local communities and have been shown by independent evaluation to work.


It is not just a comprehensive statement of the scale of the task. It's a pointer to the way forward.



The Stringer

Overcoming Disadvantage Report shows disadvantage not overcome

by Gerry Georgatos       

November 18th, 2014

The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report, despite some positive trends found what most of us know, that for the marginalised and vulnerable nothing has got better and for far too many has got dangerously worse. Acute poverty indicators such as access to water, sewerage and electricity have regressed - 3rd world akin-conditions in the world's 12th largest economy. Suicide and self-harm rates are increasing and trigger untold community distress. All the while, Governments are failing to fund adequate water and sewerage supply and they are failing to fully fund suicide prevention and community development programs and services.


The report found that the proportion of adults reporting high levels of psychological distress increased from 27 per cent in 2004-05 to 30 per cent in 2012-13, and hospitalisations for intentional self-harm increased by 48 per cent over this period. During this same period the rate of self-harm for non-Aboriginal Australians remained stable. The report follows soon after extensive media coverage of child suicides in Western Australia. Recently, in a mid-west town, an 11 year old Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander boy took his life. Soon after a 14 year old boy in a southwest town was another tragedy. North to the Kimberley, only a month before these two tragedies, a 13 year old girl lost her life to suicide.  Recently, the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Program (ATSISPEP) disaggregated rates of suicide and found the Kimberley to have the nation's highest rate, more than 70 suicides per 100,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander population.


The suicide death rate for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders in 2008 to 2012 was almost twice the rate for non-Aboriginal Australians. But once again, if we disaggregate we find regionally throughout Australia higher rates of suicide and self-harm among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. These regions have higher levels of homelessness, overcrowding, acute poverty, arrests and imprisonment rates than the overall national rates.


The Overcoming Disadvantage Report reported that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate increased by 57 per cent between 2000 and 2013. Aboriginal youth are incarcerated at 24 times the rate of non-Indigenous youth.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as at 30 June 2011, an estimated 670,000 people identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. This was 3 per cent of the total Australian population. But over the next ten years the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander proportion to total population shall rise to between 5 and 6 per cent of the total national population. Half the number of today's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are less than 18 years of age, but Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children make up six per cent of Australia's children.


The Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report highlighted some of the intertwined factors that can determine social and health outcomes but in the end, Governments are not providing the adequate funding, and ensuring it hits the ground, for all the determinants to ensure a bona fide closing of gaps.


Life expectancy at birth for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians apparently increased from 67.5 years to 69.1 years for males and from 73.1 years to 73.7 years for females. The gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Aboriginal Australians narrowed from 11.4 years to 10.6 years for males and from 9.6 years to 9.5 years for females. But importantly, in order to ascertain whether life expectancy has increased for those whose families have been identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders during the last century, the data should be challenged by disaggregation. More and more Australians are identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders with each Census, and most who are urban living. There may actually be little improvement in life expectancy for far too many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders who have always been identified as First Peoples. Many remote regions have low life-expectancy medians for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. Many tens of thousands of people identifying their Aboriginal heritage at each Census since the late 1970s has impacted overall results of all the indicators, in effect subsuming the poorer results the long-term marginalised. In effect it may be that for those whose families have been marginalised over many generations, that there is less improvement and maybe much has got worse than even the overall medians report.


According to the Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report, in 2012, almost one-third of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander adults reported high levels of psychological distress, an increase from 27 per cent in 2004-05. This was almost three times the rate of non-Aboriginal Australians.


Acute poverty for far too many Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders remains one of the mainstay obstacles, with the Report stating that the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households living in houses of an acceptable standard decreased from 83 per cent in 2008 to 78 per cent in 2012-13.