Amnesty International has urged the WA Government to drop plans to forcibly evict Aboriginal peoples from up to 150 homelands communities, saying that demolishing homes and denying Indigenous peoples their right to practise their culture would be an illogical move, in breach of international law.

Hypocritical

“It’s hypocritical for Premier Colin Barnett to admit that closing communities would be traumatic for people involved, while still moving ahead with plans to evict traditional owners from their homes, break their connection to land and culture, and force them to move to larger towns where they will have greater exposure to drugs, alcohol, violence and crime,” said Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Peoples Rights Manager at Amnesty International Australia.

“Sadly, in the plans announced yesterday I heard echoes of the tragic policies of last century, which removed Aboriginal people from their homelands. It’s been nearly 50 years since the poor execution of the basic wage policy and lack of planned integration forced many Aboriginal people into towns in WA. Those people are still healing from the consequences and trying to reconnect with their culture. The WA Government needs to learn from the lessons of the past,” said Tammy Solonec.

“Mr Barnett made a public pledge last month to reduce rates of Indigenous incarceration. It is not enough to pay lip service to this, while enacting policies he admits will traumatise Aboriginal peoples.”

Homelands benefit Indigenous peoples

“Our 2011 Homelands report found that supporting Aboriginal peoples to live on homelands extends life expectancy, improves health outcomes, reduces rates of domestic and other violence, allows Indigenous people agency and decision-making, provides people connection to their land and culture, and reduces their exposure to the damaging influences found in larger towns.”

Amnesty International has worked extensively for the right of Indigenous people to live on their Homelands, most recently supporting the residents of the remote WA community of Oombulgurri in their fight to stop the demolition of their community.

During Amnesty International’s visit to Oombulgurri in September this year, residents said they were forcibly evicted without adequate consultation, left homeless for a long period, and were devastated about the disconnection with their land and culture.

Aboriginal wellbeing important part of society

Mr Barnett’s comments about closing remote communities came after a decision of the Federal Government to cease funding municipal and essential services for remote communities in all States and Territories from June 2015, a service for which the Commonwealth has been responsible for more than 50 years.

“The rights of people in remote communities must not be a buck that is passed back and forth between state and federal governments,” said Tammy Solonec.

“The wellbeing of Aboriginal people and their communities is an important part of our country and society. It needs to be supported through a collaborative effort of Federal, state and local governments, in partnership with Aboriginal residents through sustainable development and the creation of business and enterprise.

Economic benefits of Homelands

“Economics are a significant consideration, but economic outcomes are achieved by supporting people to live on country, through easing the burden on the health system, providing employment opportunities and diverting people from crime, which keeps down the costs of incarceration and other indicators.

“It's the State's responsibility to provide all communities, whether urban or rural, with essential services such as health, education and law and order.”

Forcibly evicting people from their homes and denying them a right to practice their culture is a breach of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.