Abbott should be Closing the Gap, not closing communities

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After promising to be a "Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs", Tony Abbott copped universal condemnation from Indigenous leaders of all political stripes over his claim that it's not the taxpayers' job to subsidise Indigenous Australians' "lifestyle choices". Natalie Cromb reports.

JUST WHEN we thought Colin Barnett couldn’t sink any lower with his plans to close up to 150 remote Indigenous communities, he proves us wrong by implying that child welfare is the primary reason for the community closures. Once again, Aboriginal people are demonized as unfit parents. He is not the only one vilifying Aboriginal people; Tony Abbott has come out in support of Barnett and said:

 "...what we can't do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices."

So now, Aboriginal people are unfit parents and sponging off taxpayers?

The Greens have dubbed his comments as racist while the Federal Opposition has demanded an apology from Tony Abbott — but he remains unabashed by his remarks and reiterated his message.

In fact, when Tony Abbott was a guest on Sydney radio station 2GB he told host Alan Jones he was just being "realistic" and "stating a general principle".

He went further to state:

"If you or I chose to live in a very remote place, to what extent is the taxpayer obliged to subsidise our services and, I think, this is a very real question.”

Let's not forget that his is the Prime Minister who promised before the election that he would be:

'…a prime minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The first I imagine that we have ever had.'

It appears that the Liberal agenda is to propagate divisive rhetoric to destroy Indigenous communities with the support of the voters by implying that their taxes were subsidising "lifestyle choices" when the truth is that Australia is profiting from the dispossession of the Aboriginal people and theft of traditional lands without recompense.

Kimberley Land Council has been fielding concerns from the Aboriginal people of Western Australia and attempting to make contact with the Government in order to devise a solution to the proposed closures so that over 12,000 people are not left homeless.

Earlier this month, Kimberley Land Council Chairman, Anthony Watson, said:

"The Premier’s claim that preventing abuse of children is driving his intention to close remote Aboriginal communities is appalling.

“Demonising Aboriginal people like this is damages Aboriginal people, damages the reputation of the State, and takes on a backward path.

“We see a pattern from the Premier of making broad, unfounded statements about Aboriginal people and Aboriginal affairs, yet he declines our invitations to meet with him and work out positive solutions.

"Kimberley Aboriginal people are clearly opposed to community closures.

"There is a better way forward. We have identified a wide range of measures that Aboriginal people and governments can take to improve efficiencies, save money, reduce waste, develop employment, and strengthen communities.

"At the same time, people can live on and care for their country, providing a valuable service to the whole state. Instead of failure, we invite government to take a stake in developing a positive future for our people and our communities."

The strategies and ideas of Indigenous leaders are being ignored in favour of the easier option for the government, which is to simply de-fund normal services that every other community enjoys and lay the blame at the feet of the victims.

This illustrates that the government is short sighted, and frankly, intellectually infantile, by failing to see policies and issues on a macro level. It further illustrates what Aboriginal people have long known — that the Liberal Party of Australia holds Aboriginal people in contempt and does not have any intentions of making progressive change in order to Close the Gap.

Further dispossession will see an increase in the Gap and the amazing people working in grass roots organisations to try to alleviate the suffering of those marginalised also concur with the above viewpoint that the Gap is at risk of widening.

Father Chris Riley, of Youth Off The Streets, recently contacted us in response to our piece on the WA Government’s proposed community closures, and said:

“…Aboriginal people have a strong connection to country and land which shapes their identity. When you force the closure of communities, you are not just making them homeless, but you are removing their identity.

…Forcing the closure of 150 communities in WA and possibly more to come in other states is a situation that must be avoided at all costs. This will do severe damage to their identity and health as a people. I ask that Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Government reverse the budget cuts imposed on Aboriginal programs and services to ensure that Aboriginal people receive the support they desperately need.”

Father Riley is, of course, referring to the Indigenous portfolio taking a hit of well above $600 million, including:

  • $42 million cut from National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (ATSILS);
  • $3 million PA cut from state based Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS);
  • $160 million to Indigenous health programs;
  • $3.5 million cut to the Torres Strait Regional Authority;
  • $15 million which was earmarked for the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has been cancelled;
  • $9.5 million cut to Indigenous language support.

Father Riley is right. The flow on effects of devastation that these policies will rage against Aboriginal people will continue to ripple for decades.

In a nation that is thriving as a result of the dispossession and relegation of an entire race of people who are the rightful owners of the land, how can we in good faith continue the lie that taxpayers and the government are supporting Indigenous Australians?

It is quite the opposite. The sacrifice and destruction of Indigenous communities is the reason Australia has a wealthy and diverse economy (or at least it did before LNP waged war with progress and macroeconomic policy). In fact, Australia’s prosperity was built upon the blood, tears and destruction of Aboriginal communities.

So, is Australia supporting Indigenous people as Tony and Colin would have us believe? Not so much.

The thing is, Tony Abbott thinks he is making these decisions on behalf of the Australian people and Colin Barnett thinks he has no choice but to close communities. Tony thinks that he speaks for the Australian people; that the Australian people are in support of his targeted and racist policies and Colin Barnett thinks that by vilifying Aboriginal people as bad parents, that Australians will jump on board and support the community closures.

Please prove them wrong, please be loud in expressing your objections to their racist policies and the continued subordination and vilification of Indigenous people.

Natalie Cromb is a member of the Kammileroi nation from Burra Bee Dee in NSW. You can follow Natalie on Twitter @NatalieCromb.

You can help the Indigenous communities under threat by signing this petition.

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