Unions Slam Closure Of Remote Aboriginal Communities In WA

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The peak body representing Australian workers has condemned the planned closures of up to 150 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia by the state government, stating Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s controversial ‘lifestyle choices’ comments reflect the positions of big miners like Gina Reinhart and Andrew Forrest.

WA Premier Colin Barnett announced the proposal late last year after signing an agreement with the Commonwealth offloading federal responsibility for municipal and infrastructure services to remote Australia back to the states. The federal government offered a one-off $90 million payment for the transition.

But the plans to close up to 150 remote communities have been savaged by Australians all across the country, with thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people turning out in force to protest not only the WA government, but also Tony Abbott’s controversial statement that government couldn’t be expected to fund the “lifestyle choices” of Aboriginal people living on their homelands.

And the movement to stop the closures is strengthening in numbers every day. Recent protests in Sydney and Melbourne drew thousands of people, and there are more protests planned across the country on May 1.

Photo: Amy Thomas.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Executive this week added its voice to the growing chorus protesting the forced closures, calling on the federal government to restore funding and urging the Barnett government to “end the political funding games”.

Last week a $15 million deal was signed between the federal government and the South Australian government which would see the state funding municipal and essential services in the remote Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands from July 1.

The deal prompted calls for the federal government to enter a similar deal with the WA government, with federal Greens Senator Rachel Siewert urging Indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion to “do the right thing”.

The ACTU this week said the continuing Aboriginal connection to land was an “invaluable part of Australia’s identity” and called on the Barnett and Abbott governments to reverse their positions.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said if the Abbott Government is serious about closing the gap, it has to reconsider cutting funding to essential services in remote communities.

“Tony Abbott’s insensitive “lifestyle choices” comment demonstrates his disconnection from the Aboriginal communities he purports to represent as the self-appointed Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs,” Ms Kearney said.

“It is interesting to note that the Prime Minister’s position reflects capitalisation and the sectional interests of corporate miners such as Reinhart and Forrest.

“Indigenous Australians must be consulted and involved in decision making rather than the paternalistic approach of the Abbott and Barnett Governments.”

Amy McQuire

A Darumbul woman from central Queensland, Amy McQuire is the former editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine.

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