The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples (Congress) has written an open letter to the Prime Minister calling on the Federal Government to show leadership and protect the future of remote communities by taking the issue to the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
Recent action by the Western Australian and South Australian state governments to close down communities has opened a flood gate of concern amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Congress Co-Chair Kirstie Parker said targeting of our communities by states and territories was racially discriminatory and the Commonwealth must urgently intervene.
“While jurisdictions quibble about who is responsible for what – our peoples are vulnerable, under threat and in distress,” she said.
“Hundreds of communities could potentially be forced to shut down and families moved away from their traditional lands into regional centres. This discriminatory action is happening across multiple states and territories.
“Our open letter to the Prime Minister calls on the Commonwealth to live up to its international commitments and constitutional responsibilities to protect the rights of the First Peoples of Australia.
“The fate and concern of so many communities cannot be left to the whims of different jurisdictions.
“We hope the Prime Minister acts quickly to bring the states and territories together through COAG.
“We deserve better. A long-term solution has been required for decades to address regional and remote infrastructure and services.
“Governments need to stop treating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as pawns in their bi-lateral funding fights and be accountable for the billions of dollars they target for overcoming disadvantage.
See a copy of this media release on our website
OPEN LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER – REMOTE COMMUNITIES
Dear Prime Minister,
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has noted that the Western Australian and South Australian governments have threatened to shut down services to small and remote townships of the Aboriginal Peoples. We bring this matter to your government for urgent attention to Australian policy regarding the rights of First Peoples.
The First Peoples of Australia had, and will always have, inherent rights to exist on and develop our lands and territories. These rights derive from the continuing and ancient title to these lands and territories, and according to our collective rights to self-determination as Peoples.
By circumstances of Australia’s colonial and post-colonial history, and particularly in the absence of a consent agreement for acquisition and distribution of the wealth from our lands, territories and resources, our Peoples hold as a very minimum the right to enjoy equal outcomes from social and economic advancements benefitting all Australians. This must be clearly understood and respected by all governments in Australia.
The WA government apparently intends to target Aboriginal Peoples on the one hand, whilst continuing to provide high standards of municipal services to non-Indigenous citizens on the other. We cannot accept the WA and SA governments have legitimate authority under Australian or international law to racially discriminate to disrupt or destroy the livelihoods, accommodations or habitat of the First Peoples of Australia.
Congress must also take into account that other States may be contemplating reduction or withdrawal of services to our Peoples in the same way as Western Australia and South Australia.
Constitutionally, the Australian Government has the highest authority in the nation in order to promote and protect the rights of the First Peoples of Australia.
It is part of the international responsibilities and it is a responsibility that should not and cannot be discarded or devolved to other levels of government.
Congress brings to your attention that your government essentially reaffirmed its obligations to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples a few months ago at the United Nations General Assembly, during the high-level plenary session known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.
The national government holds ultimate responsibility to promote and respect equality and non-discrimination in the nation and, in that context, also to ensure our Peoples are correctly acknowledged as rights holders as Indigenous Peoples.
These standards to which we refer are enshrined in the human rights treaties that Australia has signed and ratified, along with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Congress requests your government immediately affirm to the states and territories that rights of the First Peoples are paramount in any fiscal arrangements to address social and economic development.
We consider it appropriate that this matter also be discussed at the next Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
Congress also requests an urgent meeting with you to further discuss this important matter.
Kirstie Parker and Les Malezer,