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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 39


Mr GOODENOUGH (Moore) (12:16): In joining with my colleague, the member for Durack, there are 274 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia containing approximately 15,000 residents. Of these, 150 communities are in the Kimberley region and are not considered sustainable or viable, because of poor health and education standards, and social problems such as domestic violence and child abuse.

I quote figures released by the Premier of Western Australia's office stating that there were 1,309 Aboriginal people living in 174 of the smallest communities, with an average of 7.5 people in each community. That is effectively one family per community and is clearly not viable to sustain employment or service delivery. In one particular community, it is estimated to cost the taxpayer $85,000 per person per year to provide municipal services such as water and sewerage.

Whilst the traditional and cultural connection of Indigenous people to their land is acknowledged and respected, it must also be recognised that modern Aboriginal people have embraced certain aspects of Western culture and, as such, they expect modern conveniences and services to be provided. By necessity, provision of these services requires a critical mass of population to be feasible and logistically viable. Sustainable communities are those that provide strong employment opportunities, are economically sustainable, have infrastructure capable of maintaining the community and a strong governance structure. Clearly, remote communities with fewer than 10 residents are unable to be sustained in the long term.

The delivery of municipal and essential services, including the supply of power and water and the management of infrastructure is a state and local government responsibility—despite this, the Commonwealth has been supporting these services in remote Indigenous communities for decades. In Western Australia, the state is the major funder of 94 camps, whilst the Commonwealth has historically funded the remaining 180 to the tune of approximately $45 million a year.

The Abbott government recently reached historic agreements with the Queensland, Western Australian, Victorian and Tasmanian governments that will see these states assume full responsibility for municipal and essential services. The involvement of the Commonwealth represents a duplication of services and results in inconsistent and ad hoc services for residents in these remote communities.

Funds which should be directed towards closing the gap are being tied up in the delivery of basic services that are the responsibility of the states. The Commonwealth is not withdrawing from its responsibilities but rather assisting state governments to take up their responsibilities for provision of municipal and essential services to Indigenous communities—something the states provide for every other town and city within their state.

The WA government has agreed to these arrangements and will be working with local governments, service providers and communities as it would in any other part of the state to deliver municipal services. To support the transition to these new funding arrangements in WA, this government has extended existing contracts until 30 June 2015 and provided a transitional funding agreement. Under the arrangement, the Commonwealth will provide $90 million to WA for a two-year transition. This agreement demonstrates how this government is delivering outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities by ensuring responsible stewardship of public funds to obtain value for money.

The Commonwealth is not shutting down communities nor is it asking the WA government to do so. This is entirely a matter for WA and has nothing to do with the Commonwealth's decision to end municipal and essential services funding. The WA government has been discussing the closure of remote Indigenous communities for a number of years—well before it agreed to take on responsibility for municipal services in these communities.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.