Closing communities?

Aboriginal leaders and advocates are warning the “chaos and dysfunction” caused by closing down remote Indigenous communities will cost the West Australian Government far more than addressing existing issues.

The wealthiest country (per capita) in the world will close small communities to save money…how is this possible?

The recipe for this impending disaster has been long in the making, it goes something like this…

First, spend 30 years ensuring the poorest quality housing is constructed in each community and add outdated, poorly designed and inefficient mains infrastructure. Manage all this badly and exclude local community involvement.

Then, have a series of national governments (from both sides of politics) insist that state and territory governments take over the responsibility for all housing (and the land they stand on), housing maintenance and management and exclude any local community involvement for around 40+40 years.

The Barnett Government (Western Australia) has said it was forced to accept a $90 million payment from the Commonwealth to take over responsibility for the remote communities. (By Nicolas Perpitch and Anna Vidot … ABC NEWS)

Next, demonstrate a range of ‘unique’ social problems occurring in the small communities that reinforce the need for their removal. Remove the community and remove the problem …simple! This logic should be applied more broadly across towns and cities throughout Australia.

Premier Colin Barnett has acknowledged his decision to shut about half the state’s 274 remote communities will cause distress to the more than 12,000 Aboriginal people living there and cause problems in the towns they move to. 
However, he said existing high rates of suicide, poor health and a lack of jobs could not be ignored. 
He has also labelled the “abuse and neglect of young children” a disgrace for the state.

Finally make the case that these remote, small communities are inefficient and too costly to continue. Clearly, the people are the problem.

Mr Barnett told 720 ABC Perth that in one community it was costing $85,000 per person per year to provide municipal services like water and sewerage. “There’s no way that the State Government can fund that into the long-term future,” he said. He said federal policy that supported people living on their ancestral lands had “failed”.

Housing for Health projects have been running for almost 30 years.  They have repeatedly demonstrated, in great detail, the housing and infrastructure deficiencies noted above. Housing for Health projects improving housing quality, mains infrastructure and community involvement have consistently been met with enthusiasm locally. The same projects have received a very different response from state, territory and national governments with attitudes ranging from mildly supportive, apathetic to outright hostile. 

One of the great enduring myths exposed by Housing for Health projects has been that faults in housing and infrastructure have always been seen to be the fault of the people. Hard data from over 8,000 houses and over 200 communities refutes this proposition.

Is this the final act of an absurdist national drama when the myth finally becomes a reality endorsed by all Australians – to the detriment of some of our most marginalised citizens?


Cost of closing remote communities greater than tackling issues, Aboriginal leaders say

By Nicolas Perpitch and Anna Vidot

Alice Springs to be hit hard by WA community closures, NT Indigenous leader Alison Anderson says

By Anthony Stewart 

SA Government warns Indigenous communities could close without federal funding