New funding laws threaten the existence of remote indigenous communities already facing profound social issues.
Thousands of people have converged on Melbourne’s central business district to protest against government plans to forcibly close remote Australian Aboriginal communities. It was the largest of dozens of rallies held around Australia and globally on Friday.
The Western Australia state government announced last November that it planned to shutter up to 150 remote Aboriginal outback communities, saying it could no longer service their needs properly.
The announcement drew the ire of Aboriginal and human-rights rights advocates, who say the government should be strengthening communities, not shutting them down.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott further inflamed tensions in March when he said that it was a “lifestyle choice” for Aboriginals to live in remote outback communities and that taxpayers should not be forced to pay for these “choices”.
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) May 1, 2015
On Friday, up to 10,000 people marched through Melbourne chanting “shame, Abbott, shame”, no pride in genocide” and “always was, always will be, Aboriginal land,” according to The Age newspaper .
While police were out in force, there were no immediate reports of any arrests being made at the protest, which came just weeks after a similar-sized rally shut down the Victorian state capital’s central business district.
‘We reject assimilation’
In a statement, rally organisers “Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance” said: “We reject any government attempt to assimilate us into the Australian political mainstream or ‘do what is best for us’.
“We want full and genuine recognition of our un-ceded sovereignty and we will not rest until this is achieved.”
In the Western Australian state capital of Perth, about 1,000 protested on Friday, including Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Manager Tammy Solonec.
“For far too long, remote indigenous communities have been underfunded and have been treated different to regular, gazetted towns and cities,” she told Al Jazeera.
“That has to stop. These remote communities want to grow – they want and deserve the services that other towns get, like schools and roads and hospitals.”
Prior to Friday’s rallies, Western Australian state premier Colin Barnett said this week that larger Aboriginal communities in remote areas could become official towns over time.
“That is going to take some time. Then there will be some remote communities which will be supported … to a greater extent [than others] and that will cater for the largest portion of Aboriginal people. But the very small communities I think will lapse over time,” he told The Australian newspaper .
Solonec said that while it was encouraging to hear Barnett soften his language about the closures, she said that his plans would still have the same effect.
“While people may not be forcibly removed from their homes, the gradual removal of services will slowly strangle these remote communities,” she said.
Rallies against the closures were also set to be held internationally on Friday, as far afield as London, Berlin and San Francisco.