A long-awaited WA government report on the future of remote indigenous communities doesn’t overtly refer to closures controversially flagged in late 2014, but promises to direct funding towards 10 of the biggest.
When Premier Colin Barnett said up to 150 of the state’s 274 remote indigenous communities could be closed, he blamed the federal government for cutting off essential services funding, but he also cited social problems such as poor health, domestic violence and sexual abuse of children.
In its “roadmap” for reforming regional services released, the Liberal state government said it would identify up to 10 communities by the end of this year where essential and municipal infrastructure would be progressively upgraded to a minimum standard, and where commensurate charges would be introduced.
A theme throughout the report is that funding comes with strings attached.
For example, a new fund of $175 million over four years for extra housing in the Kimberley and Pilbara is tied to greater participation in school and work.
The state government noted it already did not provide any funding to the smallest 110 or so remote communities, with opposition Aboriginal affairs spokesman Ben Wyatt saying future requests would clearly not be considered.
Mr Wyatt said he was pleased there appeared to be some commitment towards making those communities self-sustainable and he hoped there would be some investment in solar power.
But the report was “very motherhood” and short on detail, he said.
“Any extra support for housing, for education, for health, of course is a good outcome … but ultimately we’ll see how that’s delivered on the ground,” Mr Wyatt told reporters.
“Positively, it moves away from the Colin Barnett rhetoric of overtly wanting to close Aboriginal communities around WA.
“The government, I hope through this paper, has identified some of the bad decisions it has made over the last few years, has recognised that Mr Barnett’s demand to close communities was disrespectful and caused great anger and fear across Aboriginal Western Australia.”
The uncertainty that followed Mr Barnett’s 2014 pronouncement created anxiety among the state’s remote communities and it was only in May last year that WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier said there was no intention to force people off their land.
At the same time, there were concerns people displaced from the smaller communities could find themselves adrift on the fringes of larger regional centres.