It's Reconciliation Week in Australia
Today marks the start of Reconciliation Week, a week dedicated to fostering reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
But just when many people thought the threat of Aboriginal community closures was behind us, WA Premier Colin Barnett has stated that he would like to see fewer remote communities. Alarmingly, the Government has also confirmed that closures are not out of the question.
This comes as a surprise to many people, who thought the Government had changed its mind on closures – but not to those who have been here before, and suspected that more bad news was to follow Mr Barnett's brief silence.
Mr Barnett hopes there will be fewer remote communities
"I hope over time we do get a lesser number of communities, and larger ones," the Premier indicated recently. "Maybe that's going to mean some intervention and that will be unpopular, people will say 'well I don't support that'."
Mr Barnett is correct, people will not support it – and for good reason. Not only are homelands culturally irreplaceable, but studies show that Aboriginal people experience better health outcomes while living there. This makes it ludicrous that the Government continues to interfere.
And right now their latest approach, the Regional Services Reform, is identifying higher performing communities for funding – which will potentially leave the most vulnerable communities underfunded or closed altogether.
Understandably, families are concerned
"We're a cultural type of people and we need this land to live and survive. It's the place we call home," emphasised Martu leader Milton Chapman. "Taking people into town will cause problems and we don't want to see our kids growing up doing things that are happening in there."
Worryingly, Mr Chapman may witness that very situation if the Reform has its way with the most vulnerable communities. According to the Reform's website, these residents may have to relocate temporarily to access health services, education, and employment – or worse, relocate permanently should their communities be deemed unsafe.
It is hard to imagine the closure of a metropolitan suburb due to socio-economic difficulties, yet remote communities are constantly threatened despite their unique importance to the families who live in them.
But who is really responsible?
It is in times like these that we need to remind our Government where the true responsibility lies: it is never the responsibility of residents to prove their deservedness or to relocate to access services – it is the responsibility of the Government to provide services to all Australians.
Australia has endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that people have the right to belong to their own communities and to be supported to do so. So instead of bargaining to have their basic needs met, residents of remote communities actually have the right to Government cooperation and funding.
A Green light for reconciliation
Thankfully, not all politicians share Mr Barnett's views. Some understand the real life benefits of remote communities as well as the responsibility to support them. For example, Greens MP Robin Chapple has introduced the Prevention of Forced Closures of Remote Aboriginal Communities Draft Bill 2016 as part of his Home is Heritage campaign which aims to prevent community closures and enable residents to contest closures which take place without their permission.
We all need to seek progress towards reconciliation
An apology always need to backed by action, and with the prospect of community closures looming, we need to act now.