WESTERN Australian Premier Colin Barnett has publicly outlined his plan to withdraw funding for services in remote Aboriginal communities, with the aim of encouraging the 12 000 or so people living there to move to towns where more services will be available.
The WA Minister for Indigenous Affairs Peter Collier says no final funding decision has been made. He could be right, although ABC News has uncovered reports from 2011 to the WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs and also a 2013 report from the WA Department of Housing suggesting lists of communities to be defunded.
The reasons? One stated reason is that the federal government has withdrawn funding to support such communities. However, the federal government did not simply withdraw funding — it negotiated with the states over several years to have them accept responsibility in exchange for a one-off payment. WA, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and later South Australia have accepted this deal, while undertaking to continue to fund services to their remote communities. So WA can’t blame the federal government.
Another stated reason is that Mr Barnett is so concerned about the health of Aboriginal people living in traditional homelands that he is willing to stop providing health services.
Mr Barnett may also support Prime Minister Tony Abbott who says he supports some “lifestyle choices”, but not others.
Quite understandably, the response from Aboriginal people has been strong, with leaders such as Patrick Dodson, Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine aghast. Many groups such as the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and individuals are also fighting against these plans.
Dameyon Bonson, founder of Black Rainbow Living Well, wrote: “ … remote communities are the heart of our cultures. They are central and core to our histories, and cultures. They are the holders of stories and histories, wisdom, knowledge and cultures that have seen our people survive on this continent for over 70,000 years. They are also home to many fellow Australians.”
People involved in health should support this anger.
Probably one of the most important things we’ve learnt in the past 50 years is that health is more than medicine. It is biological, it is physical and it is social.
It draws from and gives to communities. It is in influenced by passion, belief, determination, spirit, love, loyalty and so much more than can be measured either by money or in a randomised controlled trial.
Marches will be held in many parts of Australia on Friday 1 May, coordinated by #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA.
Of course, as pointed out by former AMA president Dr Kerryn Phelps, these marches might interfere with traffic. “You may not agree with closure of remote communities, but it is not OK to paralyse a major city”, she wrote recently on Twitter.
If you’re worried about the marches upsetting your plans for that day, you can avoid the hassles by joining in.
Dr Mark Ragg is an adjunct senior lecturer in the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney.
Jane McCredie is on leave.