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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9610

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (18:22): I rise to speak about the decision by the Barnett government to close a significant number of homeland communities in Western Australia. Mr Barnett has been forced to do that by the withdrawal by the Abbott government, as part of its harsh cruel budget cuts, of funding that had been provided over 50 years.

Western Australia has one of the highest numbers of homeland communities in the country. Aboriginal people living on homeland communities in Western Australia are caught in the crossfire between the Abbott and Barnett governments as they shunt responsibility for who funds the municipal services in these communities. I draw the parallel that, if there were an issue with municipal services in a small country town, I doubt very much that the first response of governments would be to move people out and shut their houses down. In a white community we would not be standing here and saying, 'Because we are now withdrawing funding for municipal services, we are going to shut your town down.' But in that is exactly what Premier Barnett has said to those communities. Without consultation, he has said, 'We're just going to shut you down because we don't want to fund your municipal services.' Despite the fact that municipal services are funded in very small regional and rural communities right across Western Australia, they do not want to do it for these communities. Why do they get away with it? Because Aboriginal people, by and large, still remain voiceless in our country.

Both the Abbott government and the Barnett government have an appalling record when it comes to government spending. The Barnett government has wasted millions of public money on a hospital it has failed to open, which is 18 months overdue, with an amount of $118 million paid to the private for-profit operator before the hospital even opened. Imagine if the homeland communities got the bonus of being able to invest $118 million. The Abbott government says everyone has to be part of its harsh, cruel budget and share the pain. But that is not true; it still wants to continue with its paid parental leave scheme for the wealthy.

Last week we had the Productivity Commission report, which shows little improvement in key areas of Aboriginal disadvantage. But that does not stop the Abbott government from ripping millions of dollars from homeland communities in Western Australia, which, according to Premier Barnett, means that over half of those communities are now under threat of closure.

The Barnett has copped criticism over this announcement, and rightly so. My Labor colleagues caught him out when they visited those homeland communities. Premier Barnett, with his he-knows-best attitude, did not bother to visit. But Ben Wyatt and Josie Farrer did visit. A growing body of academic research over the past 30 years has indicated that life at homelands—'outstations' might be a better word—in health outcomes, livelihoods, social cohesion and housing conditions has been worse than in larger communities. Pat Dodson, a Yawuru man and a well-respected Aboriginal leader, came out this week and said it as it really when he said we would create an internal group of displaced persons. He said:

You'd have displaced Aboriginal people from their homelands or their traditional country, relocated ... on to lands and into places that are not necessarily country that they identify with or have an affiliation [with] … and to be mixed among peoples who they may or may not have good or lasting relationships with.

He went on to say:

There's some kind of assumption that by a process of osmosis, people will be absorbed into the mainstream of Western-life …

Even the Barnett government has it confused. The Premier said communities with less than five people living in them were on his target list. At the very same time, his Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the Legislative Council was saying something quite different. He was saying that it was absolutely nonsensical that communities with five people or less would be closed. So here we have the biggest bungle we have seen which will impact on the lives of Aboriginal people if the Abbott and Barnett governments do not get their acts together. I am saying that Aboriginal people need to be treated like every other Australian and that either the Abbott government or the Barnett government needs to put the municipal services in place and respect the rights of Aboriginal people.