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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 36

Ms PRICE (Durack) (12:06): I will second the motion if that helps. I rise to speak on this private member's motion which is of fundamental concern to me and my constituents of Durack. I acknowledge the disquiet among some Aboriginal Western Australians about the sustainability of remote communities in the wake of the withdrawal of the municipal and essential services federal funding and the need to plan for members of those communities that are now the WA state's responsibility. I recognise that local governments must be consulted by the government of Western Australia on this change and that sufficient time and certain measures are required to make workable alternative arrangements. This change in responsibility for municipal and essential services has understandably created a dichotomy of opinions that are both emotional and financial in nature.

First, I will give a bit of useful background information. There are 274 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia, with the majority of them in my seat of Durack. As we have heard, they are across the Pilbara, Kimberley, Gascoyne, Midwest and also in the northern wheat belt. There are 1,309 Aboriginal people living in 174 of the smallest communities. That is an average of just 7.5 people in each of those 174 communities. Across 115 of those communities there are 507 people in total. That is an average of 4.4 people in each community.

Yes, responsibility for services such as water, power and infrastructure lies with the state and local governments. Yes, the Commonwealth has, in the past, provided support to these remote communities. Now the West Australian government will need to provide these services for their remote Aboriginal communities, as it does for every other town and city. I do not think there is any argument there. Those opposite might recall that the previous Rudd government acknowledged that these services are indeed a state responsibility, but sadly failed to do anything about it at that time. Our federal government has taken the decision to change, made an agreement with Premier Barnett, provided some funding and extended contracts with service providers.

I met with the Premier of Western Australia, the Hon. Colin Barnett, over the Christmas break (1) to discuss the servicing of these communities; (2) to confer my concerns; and (3) to exchange views about the transition, timing and long-term planning and potential issues. As the member for Durack, I met with the Premier because I wanted to impress upon him the need to consult broadly. I wanted to understand his plan, I wanted to understand what the state government's plan was and I wanted to have my say on behalf of the Durack constituents. I am pleased with what I heard and trust that I can ease the anxiety of those opposite. The Premier assured me that the state government will work through a detailed process to determine how best to proceed. To quote the Hon. Colin Barnett:

A detailed process ... that is, to ensure funding is invested in sustainable and healthy communities that can offer improved opportunities and outcomes for residents, especially children. No decision has yet been made to close any of Western Australia's remote communities. We will work through the issues and consult widely with residents about how together we can make things work better and improve outcomes.

WA knows that it needs a strategic approach and the withdrawal of commonwealth funding has promoted this.

The West Australian government had recognised that serious reform is required to address the disparity between the living standards of Aboriginal people in remote locations and the rest of the West Australian community. Despite efforts by successive governments there is still a shortfall of economic opportunities in remote communities in Western Australia. The ad hoc approach to investment that occurred under successive governments will be replaced by investment targeted to those locations which can provide a viable platform for promoting opportunities and enabling access to education, employment, quality health services, housing and safe communities.

Very importantly, I am informed that funding has been provided that will see services continue for at least the next 12 to 18 months. Any changes after that will be incremental and involve close consultation with affected communities. Local government and stakeholders will be consulted as part of the process over the next 12 months. As recently as last week, the Premier's office confirmed that I shall receive an update on the consultation and other transitional processes over the next period. In closing, I do acknowledge the concerns and the requirement for extensive consultation and am of the view that the WA government plans to do just that. (Time expired)