Last week, riot police and local law enforcement shut down a Perth-area camp site where a group of Aboriginal Australians had recently set up tents to protest government policy. An estimated 100 people were evicted from the site with three arrested—a move that's symbolic of a greater threat facing many of the nation's Indigenous communities.
The Australian government plans to cut all federal support for some of Western Australia's Aboriginal communities this year. As many as 150 of the nearly 300 communities will no longer receive public funding for water, electricity, sewage treatment, and other basic services after July 1.
Colin Barnett, the Premier of Western Australia, has attempted to clarify the ramifications of the coming shutdowns. "The issue is will the taxpayer provide municipal services: power, water, cleaning, waste disposal—we’re not going to do it across 282 communities," he told Perth Now last month.
"The reality is there are 282 remote communities in Western Australia, a number of them have less than 10 people, they are not viable communities. People can still go and visit their traditional lands, there is no barrier to people going out there and living if they wish to."
While there won't be a barrier preventing access to those lands, the lack of funding for basic services would force the residents to leave the remote communities with no clear destination. In an impassioned op-ed for The Guardian, John Pilger warns that many of the displaced Aboriginal Australians could end up homeless or in prison—two outcomes that already disproportionately affect Aboriginal Australians.
The reasons given for the closures have been largely budgetary, but a familiar us vs. them, anti-"entitlement" rhetoric emerges when politicians speak on the issue.
"It's not the job of the taxpayer to subsidize lifestyle choices," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told ABC Radio in March about the decision to shut down these communities. "[We can't] endlessly subsidize lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have."
Those opposed to the forced shutdowns have seized upon Abbott's use of the term "lifestyle choice" to describe how remote these communities are. Aboriginal rights activists have made #Lifestylechoice, along with #NoConsent and #SOSBlakAustralia, an official hashtag for spreading their message on social media.
Many fighting to save the hundred-plus communities from eviction are also quick to draw a connection between the impending shutdowns and Western Australia's booming mining industry.
Abbott has thus far refused to apologize for his choice of words and stands by what he said.
Activists have coupled their online awareness campaigns with offline action, like the camp site demonstration on Heirisson Island. May Day protests were held in all over Australia, from Melbourne and Sydney to Brisbane and Perth.
The Guardian reported that Barnett spent his Friday defending the idea that "a lot of good will come" from the forced closures.
"I think it’s time this debate was brought on, and I think it’s time the government took some responsibility for Aboriginal people in remote areas, and also for Aboriginal people, particularly the leaders, to take more responsibility," he said at a press conference in Perth. "The wider community wants to see some effort coming from Aboriginal people. This has to be a mutual process, difficult as it might be."
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.