Colin Barnett has been planning to axe 150 bush towns for years: Nigel Scullion

Relacing land guardians with mining mehem

Patricia Karvelas The Australian 12 November 2014

Indignous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has acknowledged there may be no future for some remote indigenous communities in Western Australia as Premier Colin Barnett yesterday revealed he plans to close up to 150 of the state's 274 tiny settlements.

"There may well be communities that require a discussion about their future because of a range of issues including their economic future, but this is a matter for the West Australian government," Senator Scullion said.

Fraser government indigenous affairs minister Fred Chaney has sent an open letter to Mr Barnett, Senator Scullion and Tony Abbott warning that if governments simply "let things rip" by withdrawing services and driving people out of remote communities without careful preparation, the outcomes for indigenous Australians "will be shameful".

The Barnett government has claimed it was pushed into accepting a one-off $90 million payment from the commonwealth in September in exchange for taking over municipal and essential services. It claims the money is well short of what is needed.

In reply, Senator Scullion says the WA government "has been discussing the closure of these -remote indigenous communities with the commonwealth government for a number of years, well before the West Australian government agreed to take on -responsibility for municipal services in these communities."

Smoking a baby in the Kimberley

Mr Chaney said he had raised his concerns about responsibility for municipal services being handed to the state but had been told by the Prime Minister's office that this handover was done by agreement and that it would not hurt -remote Aboriginal people.

Mr Chaney wrote: "We can learn from history. What we are facing is a rerun of the 1960s when after the equal wage case, people moved from the stations to the nearby towns with disastrous -social impacts. It was the social and economic degradation of the people who had been moved off country which led the McMahon government to commence the purchase of pastoral leases to enable people to go back to their country.

"Good people (were) -degraded, reduced to social and economic misery.''

Avoiding "the disastrous mistakes of the 1960s'' would "require planning by both governments of housing, education and employment strategies (to) enable people, ill prepared for town life, to live decent lives with the hope of a good future'' but "I see no sign that any government is prepared for the consequences. If governments simply let things rip by withdrawing services and driving people into towns without careful and comprehensive preparation, the outcomes will be shameful. That shame will reflect on you and your governments and on all of us."

Mr Barnett yesterday linked isolation with lack of opportunities and flagged closing the smallest remote communities.

"In reality we won't be able to (provide services to the smallest communities) so over the coming years we are probably going to see certainly over 100, maybe 150 remote communities close,'' he said.

Additional reporting: Paige Taylor