Reconciliation Victoria’s Position on the Proposed Forced Closures

Reconciliation Victoria is deeply concerned about the proposed forced closures of 150 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

Reconciliation Victoria recognises the importance of traditional lands to Aboriginal people, those living in Victoria and across Australia. The proposed forced closures undermine a fundamental part of Aboriginal culture, spirituality, identity and community.  It will affect families across Australia and reconciliation efforts of all Australians

We implore the Western Australian Government and the Federal Government to reconsider their position and to justly recognise the inherent right of Aboriginal people to live on country in their communities and have access to services. This proposal is in direct violation of the UNDRIP, which Australia is a signatory to. The UN Special Rapporteur of the Rights of Indigenous People, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, has stated “This whole issue of racist kinds of pronouncements doesn’t really speak well of how governments are supposed to be complying with their human rights obligations.”[1]

We have been heartened to see both across the country and internationally the tens of thousands of people who have joined the marches protesting against the forced closures over the past few months, as well as showing their support via social media - #sosblakaustralia. We cannot continue a history of injustice; we have come too far as a country to revert to assimilationist policy and legislation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda has stated that Aboriginal people “don’t have the privilege of making lifestyle choices”, as they are the poorest, most disadvantaged people in the country. Pat Dodson is very clear in his belief that, “It is not a "lifestyle choice" to be born in and live in a remote Aboriginal community. It is more a decision to value connection to country, to look after family, to foster language and celebrate our culture. There are significant social, environmental and cultural benefits for the entire nation that flow from those decisions.”[2]

There appears to be very limited legal avenues for appeal. Professor George Williams, a constitutional lawyer has been quoted saying, “given there was no mention of aboriginal people in the constitution, he could not see what they could challenge, leaving them powerless from being moved from their lands.”[3]

Constitutional Recognition provides an opportunity to change the current political framework. The Expert Panel’s recommendations include a new section 116A ‘Prohibition of racial discrimination’ which would provide parameters to challenge racially discriminatory measures through the High Court and that this new power would provide a mechanism to hold the government to account.

The constitution as it stands today, continues to allow these kinds of measures to be undertaken by the Federal government with limited legal avenues for contestation.

We implore the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to meet with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and provide a circuit breaker, so that Indigenous Affairs is not driven by 5 second media grabs. Instead, provide avenues for thoughtful and respectful dialogue with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being drivers in the decision making process.

Reconciliation Australia's Position Statement

Reconciliation Australis'a CEO Justin Mohamed has released a strong statement raising his concerns over the proposed forced closures. "Inferring that Aboriginal people simply choose to live in remote locations misrepresents and undermines the cultural and social accountabilities Aboriginal people often hold. There are many factors that contribute to the complexity of these decisions—Aboriginal peoples have deep responsibilities, developed over 40,000 years, to live on and care for their traditional Countries. Land connects Aboriginal peoples to their sense of self and wellbeing, and represents part of their identity that has carried through generations."

To read the full statement, follow this link.

Media Coverage

There has been significant media coverage about the proposed forced closures of 150 remote communities in Western Australia.

In early March, 2015 the Western Australian Government, backed by the Federal Government, announced that 150 remote communities would be forced to close. The PM Tony Abbott stated that Australian taxpayers could no longer continue to "endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices".

Widespread condemnation followed with many Aboriginal leaders voicing their concerns, with support from the Opposition Party and the Greens

Pat Dodson surmised that,"The comments and subsequent response from our Aboriginal leaders, whose frustrations have again been highlighted by this commentary in the absence of policy, have reinforced  our despair at ever being able to build a true and just relationship between our peoples that is based on dialogue, negotiation, mutual respect and the recognition that this nation has culture and languages that have survived for millennia and which have successfully sustained our lifestyle well before any engagement with the colonising peoples." 

In May it appears that the WA Government is trying to reframe the conversation, announcing that, "Premier Colin Barnett, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier, Child Protection Minister Helen Morton and Regional Development Minister Terry Redman ... plan to design reform based on what Aboriginal people want." and that Premier Barnett admitted that "his original statements about the number of communities closing had been "a bit bold" and indicated that the closure of some small communities could take years, if not decades." 

Opposition Aboriginal affairs spokesman Ben Wyatt said "...the debate around reforming remote communities was a reasonable conversation to have, but it should have begun long before the Premier made "concluding remarks" that created a climate of fear, anger and frustration..."What is ringing in my ears and the ears of the Aboriginal community around WA is that the Premier has said we have failed as a community," he said.

The ABC's Four Courners Program recently featured a story about the remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia titled 'Remote Hope'. You can view the episode here. Amy McQuire has written a damning piece in the New Matilda following the airing of 'Remote Hope', 



Stop the Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities in Australia

#sosblakaustralia, a campaign which began on social media calling for people to 'Stand with us to show your opposition to the threatened closure of remote Aboriginal communities by the WA State Government & Federal Australian Government' has 64K followers on it's Facebook page. The group has led marches across the country and the world where tens of thousands of people have joined to show their solidarity.