Late last year the Barnett Liberal government in Western Australia said that up to 150 out of 274 remote Aboriginal communities might need to be shut down and the residents re-located. Barnett claims that they can no longer afford to keep them open since the federal government handed over responsibility for them to the state, and cut $90 million of funding.
By Socialist Party reporters Perth
This policy is reminiscent of previous government policies in the 1960s where many Aboriginal people were displaced against their will with devastating effects.
A minority of Aboriginal leaders, including those with links to the corporate sector, claim that some of the communities are unsustainable. They suggest that shutting them down would be positive in the long run. This is total hypocrisy given that there are no plans to shut down white rural communities of similar sizes.
The bulk of Aboriginal leaders, along with the residents themselves, are demanding that the communities remain open. Aboriginal people, like everyone else, should have the right to live how and wherever they choose to. They should be able to maintain their connections to their land, their culture and their way of life.
The driving force behind the attempts to shut down these communities is the deteriorating condition of the state and national economy. Over the past few years, the Barnett government has taken on considerable levels of new debt to fund infrastructure projects including Elizabeth Quay, the new Perth Arena and a new stadium on the Burswood Peninsula.
At the same time there has been a dramatic decline in commodity prices which in turn has led to significantly less tax and royalties being paid to state and federal governments by mining companies. In fact Barnett predicts a $1.3 billion budget blow out for the current financial year. He is looking to cut spending and sack public servants in response.
At the same time the government and the corporate sector would like to see Aboriginal communities centralised and shifted into larger towns. This makes it easier for them to be exploited by big business as low paid employment is often the only option in some of these areas. It also makes it easier for the government to consolidate public services and slash staff.
Taking people out of their established communities for the gain of capitalist governments and big businesses will only lead to increased social problems. In fact, members of the Barnett government themselves have been forced to concede that closing these communities would cause great distress to the people currently living in them.
For years both the state and federal governments have allowed big mining companies to dig up minerals on Aboriginal land. These private companies have made billions of dollars in profits. Now, when that profit bonanza is coming to end, they want those who have already been exploited to pay again.
The truth is that a tiny amount of profits gouged by the big mining companies could pay, not only to keep the communities afloat, but to improve them by investing in decent housing, education, healthcare and other basic services.
Unfortunately the logic of capitalism means that private profits are put before peoples needs. That’s why the fight to keep these communities open, and the fight for Aboriginal rights needs to be linked to the fight for system change.