Africa & Aboriginal Tuesdays: Indigenous Communities 'Not Viable'
About 30,000 Aborigines may be forced off their land if the federal government stops funding services in all remote communities, an indigenous body says.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone has warned Aborigines that the government may not be prepared to endlessly fund services in such communities she described as "cultural museums".
Senator Vanstone said many indigenous outposts were not economically viable and questioned whether infrastructure investment such as water, rubbish collection and sewerage could be provided to all communities in the long term.
This freeing up of cash would allow greater investment in larger communities - some of which would be upgraded to town status.
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR) national director David Cooper warned that removing infrastructure funding from communities with less than 100 people may force around 30,000 Aborigines off their land.
"Denying basic infrastructure to these communities would see the effective dispossession of Aboriginal people from vast tracts of remote Australia," he said.
Dr Cooper said basic infrastructure in larger Aboriginal communities was already sadly lacking.
"Yet the minister seems to want to put even more pressure on housing, schooling, water and other infrastructure in these towns by forcing people to them from smaller communities," he said.
But Cedric Wyatt from the Jigalong community in the Pilbara region of Western Australia welcomed the prospect of an upgrade.
"Jigalong is the second largest community in the east Pilbara and yet it doesn't have town status whereby services, town services, can be accessed by a big range of people that live in the Western Desert," Mr Wyatt said.
Opponents say Jigalong residents should not have to get their electricity and phones connected at the expense of other communities.
There are about 1,000 remote Aboriginal communities nationwide with fewer than 100 people and, of those, more than 80 per cent have fewer than 50 people.
Senator Vanstone described these communities as "cultural museums", saying they might make people feel good but leave residents without a viable future.
She said it was reasonable to have ablution blocks and shelters at homeland communities.
But the fact they may only be used for very small parts of the year meant further infrastructure investment may not be viable.
"We've got lots of small communities and we should admit that it's not going to be viable to put schools there and to put housing there, we have to have a debate about the level of infrastructure," Senator Vanstone told ABC Radio.
She also drew a parallel with rural communities which had been forced to deal with having their young people heading to the cities to forge a better life.
"My mission is to make sure that the kids get a decent education and can make that choice for themselves," Senator Vanstone said.
"And if they want to live in a traditional lifestyle in a remote area - good luck go to them, we should have the basic services there.
"But they should have the choice to say: 'No, I want to go on and be a doctor or a lawyer.'"
Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Chris Evans said the description of some remote communities as cultural museums was highly insulting to Aboriginal people.
"It fails to recognise their relationship with the land," Senator Evans said.
"It fails to recognise their independent abilities to decide where they want to live and it's a real slap in the face for any recognition of their culture."
Senator Evans agreed there was a genuine need to build economic capacity.
But he said programs now underway in remote Western Australian communities to provide work for Aborigines in nearby mining towns were a better solution than effectively shutting them down.
© 2005 AAP. This article was published by the Australian Associated Press Pty Limited (AAP).
Tuesday, December 13, 2005