Open letter to Prime Minister: remote communities

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

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.

Yours sincerely,
Kirstie Parker and Les Malezer,
Congress Co-Chairs

2 thoughts on “Open letter to Prime Minister: remote communities

  1. Hi,

    I wanted to share an exciting update about a petition I signed on “Colin Barnett: Stop the closure of the homelands. State and Federal governments must fund services in remote Aboriginal communities.”.

    Read about the update “Good news everyone, the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation has sent us a message of support. See below-” below, and join me in supporting this campaign by signing the petition!


  2. Ian Hunter - Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation South Australia says:

    Here’s what we know so far. The Abbott Government has decided to cut funding to South Australia’s regional and remote Aboriginal communities and homelands.

    From 1 July next year Aboriginal communities will say goodbye to vital funding for roads, power, water and rubbish collection.

    The simple truth is that this will set communities back decades and may spell the closure of Aboriginal homelands.

    Here in SA, more than 4000 Aboriginal residents across sixty locations rely on this funding. From the Coorong to the Nullarbor Plain and remote homelands on the APY Lands.

    The majority of funding delivers basic services that we would all expect, including roads, rubbish, dust and dog management, not to mention power and water to smaller localities.

    I mean honestly, where do they expect the Royal Flying Doctor Service to land their planes if funding for landing strip maintenance ceases?

    How will a remote community get their rubbish collected if funding disappears?

    For many communities this is their only source of funding.

    What’s more, this has all occurred in the absence of consultation with our Aboriginal citizens.

    Federal Governments have long understood and recognised the uniqueness of these remote communities, which is why they have continued to fund essential services for more than 50 years. Yes, you read that right- 50 years!

    So what can we do to fix this?

    Well for starters, please tell your friends so we can keep the momentum going.

    Secondly, rest assured SA is standing firm, we will not do a deal with the Feds until there’s adequate payment to these communities. We’re not going to let them walk away from more than 50 years of responsibility without actually investing in those communities for the future.

    You only have to look at Western Australia to see that the situation is pretty grim– they did a $90 million deal with the Feds and are now saying they will close 100-150 remote Aboriginal communities.

    In comparison, all the Feds have been prepared to invest in SA is a pathetic $10 million! (Just one years expenditure)

    Thirdly, we need to support and empower our Aboriginal leaders to fight back. We need to hear Aboriginal voices in this debate.

    Don’t forget, Prime Minister Abbott has the power to intervene and put an end to all of this tomorrow.

    Thank you for your support.

    Ian Hunter MLC
    Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation
    South Australia

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