Remote WA Aboriginal communities under threat from funding cuts
Caitlyn Gribbin ABC AM 18 February 2015
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There are fears in some of the most remote parts of the country that a government plan to shut Aboriginal communities is already driving people out of them.
The West Australian Government last year announced as many as 150 of the state's 274 communities will be closed in the next three years because of a funding shortfall.
No decisions have been made on which communities will shut, but Aboriginal leaders say the announcement is already causing fear.
Caitlyn Gribbin reports.
CAITLYN GRIBBIN: The remote Aboriginal community of Mulan is home to about 100 people and sits at the top of the Tanami Desert. Mobiles don't work and phones at the local post office are used to communicate with the rest of the world.
But it hasn't taken long for word to spread to locals like Steven Kopp that some Aboriginal communities may be closed.
STEVEN KOPP: The stories I'm getting back from the Government is just frightening, you know, really. Don't know what to do.
CAITLYN GRIBBIN: The chairman of Mulan says some people are so worried about the community's future that up to 20 have already moved away.
STEVEN KOPP: It makes me sad too, that's all my family too, you know, all moving away from their country. You know, they're gone, they've just taken off. People are just looking for another place to move on to because they're just frightened.
CAITLYN GRIBBIN: They're frightened that the community may be closed, are they?
STEVEN KOPP: Yep.
CAITLYN GRIBBIN: Western Australia's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier stresses no decision has been made on which communities will close. In a statement, Mr Collier says the absence of the economic and social opportunities that other West Australians take for granted may be cause for people to leave communities.
But according to the Aboriginal Legal Service's Dennis Eggington it's the uncertainty that's driving people away.
DENNIS EGGINGTON: People are panicking, they're really getting quite upset. And there's a lot of anxiety among our mobs out there.
CAITLYN GRIBBIN: Why would some people from these communities think it's a good idea to just leave now before any announcement is made?
DENNIS EGGINGTON: I think people are just preparing themselves for what the inevitable is. And that is the history of this country, that's the experience of Aboriginal people; that if government has said they're going to come and move you, then they're going to come and move you.
CAITLYN GRIBBIN: The West Australian Government says it will consult with Aboriginal people, particularly those in remote communities.
Dennis Eggington says they're still waiting for that to happen.
DENNIS EGGINGTON: I find it really distasteful that the inability for government to get down and talk to our communities about this particular issue is causing so much distress. People are not just feeling let down, but feeling like they're not viable, they're not worthy, they're worthless. It's a terrible situation to make people feel like that.
CAITLYN GRIBBIN: Back in Mulan, Steven Kopp says he'll continue fighting to keep his community open. He says moving people to bigger towns isn't always a good idea.
STEVEN KOPP: When they go to town they just drink and live anywhere, on the street, yeah, they just camp out anywhere. It's really just making me sad really because they grew up here all their life, you know, and now they don't really know what to do.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Steven Kopp from the community of Mulan ending Caitlyn Gribbin's report.