Melbourne councils oppose forced closure of Aboriginal communities

Issue 
The federal government’s move against the Aboriginal communities is totally dictatorial.

The Moreland council in Melbourne became the first council in Australia to pass a motion last month condemning plans for forced closures of Aboriginal communities, and to send a letter of solidarity to those communities.

The motion was moved by me as a Socialist Alliance councillor on Moreland council. The motion passed unanimously, with even the Liberal party councillor voting for it.

On April 28, a second Melbourne council, the Moonee Valley council, passed the same motion. The motion was moved by Jim Cusack, a Labor councillor.

Since then, a number of people have asked for copies of the motion to send to their local councils in the hope that they will pass similar motions.

I moved the motion because I believe that local communities should support other local communities that are under threat. Local councils all over Australia should be supporting these remote Aboriginal communities that are under threat.

The federal government’s move against the Aboriginal communities is totally dictatorial. The WA state government announced in 2014 that it would close 150 communities but has never released a list of the communities under threat. Aboriginal communities can’t find out which communities are being targeted for closure, making life incredibly stressful for them all.

On March 25, the ABC published a leaked federal government document that was prepared in 2010 titled Priority Investment Communities – WA. This document categorised 192 of 287 remote settlements as unsustainable.

The document was circulated in the WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs in 2011.There was never any consultation with Aboriginal communities. This document was prepared in secrecy, behind the backs of the Aboriginal communities.

Around 12,000 people live in WA’s remote Aboriginal communities. On March 11, the Guardian compared three small communities that are within 30km of each other in the Kimberley. The three communities are Jarlmadangah, Camballin and Looma.

Of these, only the two indigenous communities of Jarlmadangah and Looma are under threat of closure. Looma was the first officially recognised Aboriginal community in WA, and Jarlmadangah was set up in 1974.

If the government tried to shut 150 non-indigenous communities, there would be an absolute uproar.

Aboriginal people living in communities that are under threat have been displaced at least one, but most likely several times. It’s only since they have been able to live back on country that they have been able to have stable lives again, despite it only being a tiny corner of their country.

The health situation for Aboriginal people living on country is far better than for Aboriginal people in the big towns.

Forcing anyone out of their homes and communities would be disastrous for them. But this disastrous effect is magnified for Aboriginal people in remote Aboriginal communities because of their deep cultural and spiritual connection to country and their need to look after country.

If we want to make sure that the federal and WA state governments can’t get away with this massive attack on Aboriginal communities, we need local councils, trade unions, student unions, churches and other community organisations to stand up and support the Aboriginal communities and oppose any forced closures.

I encourage other local councils and organisations to pass similar motions to the one that I moved at the Moreland Council.

[Sue Bolton is a Socialist Alliance member and Moreland councillor.]

Copy of motion

Background
In 2014 the federal government announced the withdrawal of funding for remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia. The WA government then decided that it would close 150 remote Aboriginal communities. This is a violation of the human rights of the Indigenous peoples. This amounts to a second dispossession of these communities and would turn them into refugees in their own land. The forced removal of Aboriginal communities will break the spiritual link they have with their country, built up over 40,000 years.

Motion: 1. That Council writes to the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, The Honourable Nigel Scullion, the Western Australian Premier, the Honourable Colin Barnett MEc MLA, local Federal Ministers and Victorian Senators, protesting the forced closure of Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

Motion: 2. Seek support from Municipal Association of Victoria and Victorian Local Government Association for a statement of opposition to the forced closures.

Motion: 3. Send a letter of support from council to Aboriginal communities under threat.

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