The Tweed’s indigenous community has organised a protest march for next week in the Tweed Heads CBD in solidarity with remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia who face being forcibly removed from their lands.
The fears about the closures were sparked by WA premier Colin Barnett flagging the possibility that up to 150 communities could be closed after the Commonwealth withdraws funding for essential services from June this year.
The Tweed’s Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander community are urging locals to support the march next Tuesday at 4pm from Tweed Heads Civic Centre to the Jack Evans Boat Harbour.
A joint statement by Tweed Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander community leaders Leweena Williams, Ronella Phillips and Nicole Rotumah calls for ‘your support to march with us as we protest against the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and show solidarity and support to our Aboriginal elders, children, brothers and sisters who are being dispossessed from their traditional country’.
‘In this modern democratic society of Australia, our governments have suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to enact discriminatory measures on Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and now this forced removal from traditional lands in Western Australia,’ the statement read.
‘It is of grave concern to our community that in 2015 this is happening at all, but more alarmingly that it is taking place on the same day and week that communities around the country are holding Close The Gap awareness campaigns.
‘Closing these communities and removing people from country, will most assuredly have a negative impact on the “Close The Gap” campaign and will in fact “Widen The Gap”.’
‘And what of the “Recognise” campaign and Acknowledgements to Country?
‘How can the government ask the general public to recognise that Aboriginal people were the first people’s of this nation and ask people to acknowledge country and who we are, where we belong geographically in this vast land, our deep connection to country that spans some 60,000 years, and then support the removal from the very thing that makes us Goori, Koori, Murri and Noongar people (this is to name a few)?’
Byron shire academic Ian Browne, who used to teach teenagers from remote communities, told Echonetdaily that 12,000 Indigenous people would be removed from WA townships.
‘A lifestyle choice? The WA government would like to close down many of their Indigenous communities to consolidate welfare provision and improve employment prospects in remote areas,’ Mr Browne said.
‘I used to teach and organise job/VETIS training for teenagers from remote communities, and there are very few jobs and relevant infrastructure currently available for these folk,’ he said.
‘However, by shifting tribal groups, language and skin groups, to new soil, you also run the risk of social conflict and degradation of cultural identity, but I doubt many of our politicians understand, or care deeply enough about this.
‘Aboriginal people didn’t ask to be settled within town camps, they were forced to.
‘This new proposed move, which I have been awaiting, might see improved book-keeping for tax payers initially, but this would be traumatic and in fact downright dangerous for the vulnerable.’
Mr Browne said the WA government should ‘explore the social pros and cons of the NT’s Wadeye community, the largest Indigenous township in Australia, along with your pro, of sustainable long-term job formation, WA, before frightening the hell out of the innocent and soon to be further disposed’.
Meanwhile, federal indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion told media last week that Indigenous communities in WA would not be shut down ‘and the state government should tell Aboriginal people that’.
Mr Scullion said that during a meeting the previous day with WA Nationals leader and lands minister Terry Redman in Canberra, he had ‘made it very clear that a sit down with the mob is well overdue’.
‘The West Australian government plans to sit down with every single community and talk about the long-term viability and talk about where they need to make more investments [and] in what communities,’ he told the ABC.
‘Now, the message that is out there now is a completely different message. There’s 150 communities who have absolutely no chance of being shut down.’
Last week Mr Barnett told protestors at a Perth rally it was ‘his responsibility to ensure children were educated and safe’. The premier was booed and a woman shoved him as he finished his speech.
Rallies against the WA plan were held around the country on Thursday with actor Hugh Jackman and several AFL players joining the movement.
The federal government’s announcement last year that it would withdraw funding for WA remote communities from June this year was part of a wider deal with Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania to hand over responsibility for essential services at remote communities to the states.
WA lands minister Redman told the ABC he recently told Indigenous groups in Broome the state government would not be successful without the strong support of Aboriginal leaders.
Mr Redman said he agreed with Mr Scullion’s ‘sentiment, that consultation with communities is the key and the state government is committed to that path’ and that ‘there would be no sudden changes’.
‘Nothing in this approach will limit people’s access to country for cultural purposes, in time, there will be changes to where and how the state government invests in regional and remote areas, but no decisions have yet been made,’ he said.