From abroad, Australian politics is a bit like knowing there are rats in the sewers; it’s nasty situation, but it’s easy to ignore. The latest move from a government which makes little secret of its aggressive racism towards Aboriginals is to threaten to close down Aboriginal communities in the Outback of Western Australia saying that “these lifestyle choices” are “not viable”.
Federal, state and local government are squabbling over who should pay for basic amenities in these towns. Federal government handed over enough money to fund the communities for three years, but the West Australian state government now says that using the money is not warranted because of the small number of people living in each township.
It is worth remembering that Australia was largely unaffected by the global recession; its economy had tanked several years previously and business is now booming. There are no austerity measures and there is no need to conserve cash, in fact, Australia provides amply for any number of tiny white settlements, including sports facilities. There is a place in Western Australia called Payne’s Find, which has more tennis courts than people, all maintained by the state government.
The Outback settlements were the Aboriginal community’s solution to the social destruction which plagued their people. Genocide, the appropriation of their lands, the wholesale theft of their children, wage agreements which were little more than slavery, mass unemployment after bosses fired them rather than pay a fair wage have all decimated the Aboriginal peoples. By the 1980s alcoholism was rife, along with its associated problems. The towns that the West Australian government want to close down are dry, they use the old traditions to make a living, guiding tours and making boomerangs to sell in city co-operatives. These are the ‘lifestyle choices’ the government says it can no longer afford to fund.
The WA government has said that between 100 and 150 Outback towns will have to be closed, but has given no indication of what criteria there will be for measuring the ‘viability’ of a town. Even the threat alone is despicable; these are peoples who have been abused by their government for generations, the threat of having their land taken once more has the same effect as deliberately letting off fireworks in an army veteran’s ear.
Please spare a minute to tweet, email or write to Colin Barnett, the premier of Western Australia who is behind the WA decision. His twitter handle is @ColinBarnett, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org There is also a petition to stop the removal here. We need to tell the government of Western Australia that the world is watching them; we are not prepared to ignore the rats any longer.