Community closures: Thousands protest across Australia

Mar 21, 2015, 02:04 AM


DAVID MARK: Thousands of people have turned out at rallies and marches across Australia to mark Close the Gap Day.

The national event aims to highlight the discrepancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians in life expectancy, employment and education.

This year the focus has been on the idea flagged by the Western Australian Government and echoed by the Prime Minister to potentially close up to 150 remote Indigenous communities.

The Premier Colin Barnett came face to face with protesters during an intense and at times hostile rally in Perth.

Lucy Martin was there.

(Sound from protest rally)

PROTESTER: If the Government continues to remove us from our lands, then this country is doomed - domestically, internationally and spiritually. Shame!

LUCY MARTIN: From Broome to Bendigo, Melbourne to Geraldton, rallies were held in small country towns and major cities across Australia.

(Sound from protest rally)

PROTESTERS: Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you.

LUCY MARTIN: The biggest was in Perth, where more than 1,000 people marched from the CBD to Parliament House, demanding an audience with the Premier Colin Barnett.

(Sound from protest rally)

PROTESTERS: Abbott, Barnett you go home. You're supporting genocide!

PROTESTER 2: Who would have thought in 2015 we're up here protesting about being taken from our traditional lands?

LUCY MARTIN: They're furious with the State Government's plans to close up to 150 Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

TAMMY SOLONEC: On this Close the Gap Day we're saying to people let's close the gap, not the communities!

PROTESTER 3: We want to live, we don't want to just struggle and survive!

LUCY MARTIN: The Commonwealth is transferring responsibility for funding the settlements to the State Government which says it can't afford to keep them all open.

The Premier Colin Barnett addressed the crowd on the steps of Parliament House.

COLIN BARNETT: Can I say, can I say to you, no Aboriginal people will be forced from their lands, no Aboriginal people will be forced from their communities.

(Sound of outcry and protesting from crowd)

LUCY MARTIN: Mr Barnett was jeered and abused when he told protesters to put themselves in his shoes.

COLIN BARNETT: My issue is, and it's your issue as much as it's mine - probably more yours than mine - is how can we ensure that boys and girls go to school? How can we ensure that they are safe?

(Sound of outcry and protesting from crowd)

How can we reduce alcohol and drug usage?

(Sound of outcry and protesting from crowd)

I would be failing you as the Premier of this state if I ignored those issues.

PROTESTER 4: You're are failing us!

COLIN BARNETT: You will not like me for that, but I will not resile from that.

LUCY MARTIN: The Premier was ushered away by his security team after a protester lunged at him.

Indigenous lawyer and Amnesty International campaigner Tammy Solonec also addressed the rally.

TAMMY SOLONEC: Moving Aboriginal people from their homelands will be harder than making these communities sustainable and viable. It will cause intergenerational trauma. It will break connections to land and culture.

LUCY MARTIN: Sandy Davies, who attended a rally in Geraldton, 400 kilometres north of Perth, says Aboriginal people have been left in the dark.

SANDY DAVIES: What we really need Colin Barnett to do is to come out - because all he has said is he intends to close 150 communities. He hasn't actually come out and given us any explanation about how he's going to do it, where he's going to do it, and which regions.

LUCY MARTIN: In Adelaide, hundreds of protesters gathered on the steps of Parliament House.

Thirteen communities in South Australia's remote APY lands (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara ) are also in limbo because of the Commonwealth's withdrawal of funds.

Local elder Tauto Sansbury.