Announcement to discontinue funding essential services in remote communities

  • In September 2014 the Federal Government announced that it would no longer fund essential municipal services including supply of power, water, and management of infrastructure in remote Aboriginal communities in Queensland, Victoria, NSW, Western Australia, and Tasmania, despite having done so for decades.
  • The South Australian government refused to sign an agreement, and the Western Australian government signed an agreement with the Federal Government for funding of $90 million which would fund services until June 2016.
  • The WA government announced that it would not pick up the bill beyond that time and would instead close between 100 and 150 of the 274 remote Aboriginal communities in the state.
  • The decisions by both the Federal and the State Governments occurred without any consultation with Aboriginal people in the affected communities.

How many people live in these communities

According to the WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there are around 12,000 Aboriginal people currently living in the 274 communities in WA, with around 1,300 living in 174 of the smallest. In 115 of those communities, there are around 500 people in total, or an average of 4.4 people per community.

What will the impact be of shutting down communities

Premier Barnett himself acknowledged that closing communities would:

“…cause great distress to Aboriginal people who will move, it will cause issues in regional towns as Aboriginal people move into them.”

Professor Patrick Dodson, Yawuru man from the Kimberley, who authored a review of small homeland communities for the NT government said closing down communities would:

“…be disastrous, increasing access to drugs and alcohol and exacerbating social tensions,  which would flow on to antisocial behaviour and incarceration. The immediate consequences would be to create an internal refugee problem for the indigenous people.

He also said that breaking people's connection to land:

“…would threaten the survival of Aboriginal knowledge and culture, because in towns people were restricted from camping, lighting fires, hunting and fishing.” 

What criteria will be used to close communities

It is not known where any closures might occur, nor what criteria might be used.  In fact, there has been great anxiety and uncertainty over this, particularly as no consultation has occurred prior to the statement being made by Premier Barnett.

The Federal Government prepared a document in 2010 titled "Priority Investment Communities - WA" which categorised 192 of 287 remote settlements as unsustainable. The majority of those assessed as unsustainable are in the Kimberley, with 160 communities in the region.

Non-Indigenous communities

We could not find any examples of government decisions to refuse to fund essential municipal services for non-Indigenous communities, including small communities in remote areas in WA. For example, the non-Indigenous community of Camballin (of about 300 people) is located near Looma (an Aboriginal community of around 370 people) in the Kimberly. Looma will be assessed by the Western Australian government for funding whereas Camballin will not.