Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Stop the forced closure and ethnic cleansing of Aboriginal Communities in Western Australia

Dear friends,
as you will be aware from previous blogs, while this blog is primarily dedicated to providing updates, news and information about Palestine, I have also posted on Aboriginal rights activism in Australia.

As long term readers will be aware, I became active in the Palestine solidarity campaign was because I saw the similarities between the Indigenous struggle of the Palestinian people and the struggle of Indigenous Australians.  Coming from a family of mixed heritage (my mother is Aboriginal and my father comes from a mixed European background), my first engagement with political activism was around Aboriginal and Indigenous rights and the struggle for land rights and justice in this country.

In the last few months, tens of thousands of Australians have been mobilising on the streets in opposition to the announced plan by the West Australian state government of Colin Barnett to close more than 150 Aboriginal communities.  This plan will result in the ethnic cleansing once again of between 12,000 and 15,000 Aboriginal people.  The plan has the full backing of the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott and his party (note, both Barnett and Abbott belong to the Liberal Party, which in Australia is a righwing conservative party).

This latest round of ethnic cleansing is a direct result of a funding deal between the Liberal Barnett state government and the Liberal Abbott Federal government. In September 201 the Abbott government signed a deal with the Liberal/National state governments in Queensland, West Australia, Victoria and Tasmania for those governments to take responsibility for municiple and essential services, including supplying power and water to remote Aboriginal communities. The Labor South Australia government did not sign on in September but signed on in April 2015. 

Australian Federal governments since the 70s had been funding the essential services to remote communities. This funding had been won after decades of struggle by the Aboriginal community for self-determination and land rights.  The shifting of the responsibility for remote communities from the Federal government to the states is part of the Abbott government's complete restructure of the way in which funding is delivered in regard to Aboriginal Affairs.   This restructure was announced in the 2014 Federal budget, flagging $534 million to be cut from Indigenous programs, including $`160 million from Indigenous health and $9.5 million from Indigenous language support. The Abbott government announced they would dump 150 separate programs for the Indigenous community, streamlining them into 5 streams.  It is part of the Remote Community stream that funding for remote communities was shifted to the state governments.

Within months of signing the deal with the Federal government, WA Liberal Premier Colin Barnett announced the forcible closure of 150 of the 274 Aboriginal communities in WA.  According to Barnett, the state could not afford to provide basic services such as sewage and electricity tot he communities, calling them "economically unviable".

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backed the scheme, outraging many (both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people) in March when he declared that living on Aboriginal homelands was a "lifestyle choice" that could not be afforded. 

In response, Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and around Australia have been mobilising in opposition to the planned closures.  Last week, on May 1st more than rallies were held all around Australia in both major cities and regional areas, as well as internationally,  to oppose the racist plan to ethnically cleanse Aboriginal peoples.   

The biggest rally in Australia took place in Melbourne, with between 10,000 and 12,000 people taking to the streets and shutting down Melbourne city and the central business district for approximately three hours between 4pm and 7pm.

This was the second time that this had happened, an early rally in April against the closure had attracted 5,000 people. It also succeeded in closing down Melbourne city and the CBD for several hours.

I will be posting more on this issue in the coming weeks, but in the meantime here are some photos from the Friday rally in Melbourne.

You can also read some of my previous blogs on Aboriginal rights in Australia: here, here, here and here.

In solidarity, Kim




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