— Simone van Hattem (@simone) March 19, 2015
A day of action to protest plans to close remote Indigenous communities in Western Australia ended up not only trending nationally on Twitter but hit the streets in real-life, with rallies across Australia, from Derby and Roebourne to Townsville and Tasmania.
The largest protest was, understandably, in Perth, fuelled by Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s “lifestyle choice” comments last week. They also prompted this call today by Close the Gap campaign co-chairs Mick Gooda and Kirstie Parker for the governments to re-engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, saying the decisions being made about remote communities are “highly damaging and a breach of inherent rights”.
Such was the growing momentum on the issue that Premier Colin Barnett addressed the rally in Perth – see The West Australian’s report and other media coverage of the protest (and 2015 Close the Gap day events):
Barnett’s office later provided a statement to Croakey saying:
Outcomes for Aboriginal people in many remote communities are unacceptably poor, despite significant and growing investment by successive governments. Serious and lasting reforms are required to improve those outcomes. The Western Australian Government will work with Aboriginal people in the regions to design and implement those reforms.
The Western Australian Government’s objective is to ensure that:
- every child lives in a safe environment that nurtures early childhood development
- every child receives a comprehensive school education
- all people, especially young people, can access training and employment that will enable them to reach their potential
The Western Australian Government is seeking to:
- target its investment on locations that can support those objectives
- redirect investment to develop human potential, rather than manage failure
- be clear about what it will and will not be responsible for in communities
- support people who want to move to access education and job opportunities.
The Western Australian Government continues to respect native title and Aboriginal heritage and cultural rights, and rights to access ancestral lands.
It is important to note nothing in this approach will limit people’s access to country for cultural purposes.
While the Western Australian Government engages with Aboriginal people, there will be no sudden changes and nothing will happen overnight. Western Australia’s Regional Development Minister Redman visited Broome to meet the Alliance of Aboriginal Land Councils earlier this month and there will be further discussions with communities and relevant agencies before changes are made.
The withdrawal of the Australian Government’s funding in this area has heightened the need for the Western Australian Government to review funding and delivery of these services. The reality is that maintaining 274 Western Australian remote communities is not sustainable.
In time, there will be changes to where and how the Western Australian Government invests in regional and remote areas, but no decisions have yet been made.
One part of the investment review process will concern funding for essential and municipal services in remote communities.
The State of Western Australia will not make any funding changes for at least 12 months, and during that time, essential and municipal services in the communities will continue largely “as is”.
This process will take time and any changes that ultimately occur will be carefully managed and involve close consultation with local communities and local governments.
His office provided this list of the 274 permanent remote communities in Western Australia, as tabled last year in Parliament: http://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/publications/tabledpapers.nsf/displaypaper/3912310ca46fe4aa73894bf748257d9c000c3c9c/$file/tp-2310.pdf.
Below is a selection of the #SOSBlakAustralia tweets that captured virtual and real-life protest through the day, from organisations and individuals, including high profile sports and arts figures. Not even a pending cyclone was going to stop them:
They gathered in…..Western Australia
….Victoria and ACT
…with plenty of individual protests along the way: