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Remote communities management riddled with neglect and blundering

The Western Australian Department of Housing has not been properly monitoring remote communities services and have not applied their 'apparent' eligibility criteria since 2008. Now, all of a sudden, when Barnett wants to close communities down to save money and make the land available for mining and other interests, his department is saying there must be at least 50 members per Homeland community and and that 24 Homeland communities don't meet the criteria. Throwing in the report that surfaced at the same time that some communities have Uranium contamination demonstrates appalling neglect.

Fitzroy Crossing - West Kimberley
The provision of services to remote communities needs better planning, the auditor general has found
Image: The back streets of Fitzroy Crossing with two girls walking along (ABC: Ben Collins)

Nicolas Perpitch ABC 6 May 2015

A Department of Housing program to deliver services to remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia has poor oversight and lacks coordination, a report by the auditor-general has found.

It comes as the WA Government prepares to reveal its plan for the future of the state's 274 remote communities.

The report found 24 of the 84 Aboriginal communities surveyed are no longer eligible to receive services provided by the program - namely, power, water and wastewater - because they do not meet the population criteria of 50 people.

However, the department did not know if the right communities were in the program as it had not applied the eligibility criteria since 2008, the report said.

It found the supply of water and power to communities was generally reliable.

However, tests detected E. coli or Naegleria microbes in at least one community in every month in the two years to June 2014.

In the same period, four communities exceeded safe levels of uranium in their water by up to double the allowable level under Australian guidelines.

It said the department did not have an up-to-date view of the condition of the program's assets, which have an estimated value of $765 million.

"Poor contracting means Housing is not getting full value from the program manager and its $1 million a year fee," the report said.

"Poor oversight means there is a risk that Housing may have overpaid for services."

Better planning of services needed: report

The report was critical of the provision of services by contractors and said efficiency would be improved with better planning and coordination.

"The remoteness of communities directly affects the cost of supporting them, but better coordination of maintenance and repair for program assets and public housing could reduce these costs," the report stated.

Opposition Indigenous affairs spokesman Ben Wyatt said the report was a scathing assessment of the Barnett Government's role in providing services to remote communities.

He said the Government had heavily critiqued Aboriginal people about the performance of communities, following Premier Colin Barnett's comment last year that between 100 and 150 could close after the Federal Government's withdrawal of funding for essential services.

Mr Wyatt said the report showed the Government's own house was not in order and instead of blaming Aboriginal people and closing communities, senior Department of Housing bureaucrats who had failed to do their job should be sacked.

"What I hope this does is highlight to the Premier, highlight to the State Cabinet that, you know what, the Government itself is pretty bad at providing services to Aboriginal people," he said.

"So you don't just turn on those Aboriginal people, declare they have failed, declare they're riddled with sexually transmitted disease and must be closed."

But Housing Minister Colin Holt said the report examined communities over a period between 2012 and 2014 and the department had made improvements to its service delivery since then.

He said water quality was a problem in a "small number of communities".

"It is concerning and so we need to respond," Mr Holt said.

He said this could involve a large infrastructure commitment or more testing and water purification.

The Government will review the report's recommendations.

"We need to work harder and we'll get better at it," Mr Holt said.