The Australian Government’s failure to provide basic services to remote Aboriginal communities is a significant blight on Australia’s human rights record and must be immediately addressed, says Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty.

As part of his visit to Australia, Salil Shetty travelled to the Utopia region in the Northern Territory yesterday to witness first-hand the effects that government policies have had on the lives of Aboriginal people.

“What I saw was just devastating,” said Salil Shetty.

“The fact that people are living with no running water, toilet, shower and electricity in one of the richest countries in the world is completely unacceptable.”

Years of underinvestment in the Utopia homelands has led to overcrowded, poorly constructed and badly maintained houses.

Despite 20 years of research which provides evidence of the benefits of living on traditional homelands, around 500 homeland communities are being left to wither as the Government starves them of essential services.

“By stripping funding to communities living on their traditional lands, the Australian Government is effectively forcing these people to choose which of their rights they will forfeit: the right to live on their traditional land or the right to basic and essential services like housing, health and education.”

“It is critical in the coming six months that the Australian Government put a comprehensive plan in place to ensure the sustainability of the world’s longest-surviving continuous culture,” said Mr Shetty.

With the Northern Territory Emergency Response legislation expiring next June, Amnesty International is calling for the Government to end its policies of exclusion in homelands, and to ensure the full and equal participation in any policy decisions of those directly affected.

Salil Shetty will be meeting Government and opposition leaders in Canberra next week, including Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, to discuss the Government’s responsibility to ensure access to health care, education and adequate housing for remote Aboriginal communities.

“If the Government is serious about ‘closing the gap’, it needs to lift its game and fulfil its international obligations to homelands communities, where there are proven benefits that families are happier, healthier and stronger.”

“To avoid a repeat of past failures, the Australian Government also has to ensure any future strategies aimed at tackling Aboriginal disadvantage in the Northern Territory are owned and controlled by the people they affect,” said Mr Shetty.