The fight against the WA government’s widely unpopular decision to close a number of remote Aboriginal communities and force Aboriginal people off their land received a further boost this week with news that activists are set to converge on the state.
The Grandmothers Against Removals, a group established to respond to the continued Stolen Generation enforced by the current and previous federal governments, will converge on Perth on May 26 to lend a hand in the fight against the closures.
The state government has said it will close 150 out of a total of 247 communities. State enforcement authorities have already begun moving Aboriginal people off their land leaving hundreds homeless.
Northern Territory MLA Alison Anderson said Alice Springs will be worst hit by plans to close remote communities in Western Australia. She said Alice Springs, which already has high rates of homelessness, does not have adequate accommodation for an influx from remote communities.
The government’s actions come at the same time as the South Australian government agreed to fund that state’s Aboriginal communities, allowing 15,000 people living in Aboriginal communities to remain.
The federal government continues to justify the closure of communities for reasons of economic rationalisation, but the leader of the Nationals, Terry Redman, said in state parliament that the decision to close the communities was not about money. The state government’s loss of $30 milion in funding was “a pittance”, he said.
State Premier Colin Barnett changed his rhetoric when he said that the Aboriginal communities were being closed to save Aboriginal children who were suffering from sexually transmitted diseases. He claimed that there had been a rise in gonorrhoea in Aboriginal children, referring to 39 cases in Aboriginal children aged 10 to 14.
He said “How many cases of gonorrhoea are there in the wider community? There are none – not even a single case.”
“If members opposite think that I as premier, or the minister for health as deputy premier, will sit by and let those children be abused, they are so wrong. We will not do that. We will not abandon those children.”
While it’s true that the general reporting of gonorrhoea in children has risen within broader Australian society, there have been no statistics directly linking this to Aboriginal communities.
WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Calloghan, furthered the premier’s disregard for the facts by contending that “sex abuse was being underreported by up to 90% and that birth control was being prescribed for girls as young as 11 in some remote communities.”
The Australia Institute of Family Studies concluded in a report that up to 80% of sexual abuse in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities go unreported, he neglected to mention that the number is much the same for the broader Australian community.
However, apart from the state and federal governments’ constantly changing justifications for closing the communities, the reality is that the state will be forced to spend greater amounts to sustain homeless services.
The threat to close communities comes at the same time as the federal government has cut $534 million in Aboriginal programs, $160 million from the national Aboriginal health budget and $13.4 million in Aboriginal legal aid.
Once again, the disregard for Aboriginal people’s way of life has lead to a breach of human rights under the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Aboriginal Peoples, which states that “Aboriginal people and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture”.
Elders have continued the resistance against this ethnic cleansing in Western Australia by continuing to mobilise and Tent Embassy communities in Redfern and Canberra have sent young Aboriginal activists to help them.
The Maori community in New Zealand has also begun to mobilise to show their support for the continued resistance against this legislation.
One thing the majority of “selfish rabblers” have demonstrated is that this legislation will continue to be very unpopular and will be fought to the end.