By Jessica Lukjanow
9 February 2015
(VICE News) – Up to 200 indigenous communities in Australia could lose access to power and water because the government says it can no longer afford to deliver the basic services.
The remote communities are mainly located across the northern tip of Australia and the Kimberley in the country's northwest. The federal government announced late last year that it would stop paying for the utilities, making states responsible for the communities. The Western Australia (WA) state government says it can't afford to cover the costs.
Rodney Dillon, an indigenous advisor at Amnesty International Australia, told VICE News that some members of the indigenous communities might not survive a move.
"It would be a complete culture shock, a complete mental shock," Dillon said. "This is their homeland. It's where they belong it's where they are proud. They are the keepers of the land. Some might stay and die on the land. The older individuals won't manage it — it might kill them."
While some communities stay on the land permanently, others live in the region seasonally, making population numbers small, variable, and sometimes difficult to measure.
An audit in 2009 found that only 7 percent of the communities measured met basic infrastructure and service standards.
"The state government is concerned that the drinking water is generally not treated nor monitored in more than 180 small remote communities and outstations," Housing Minister Bill Marmion said in a statement late last year.
Initial hopes of establishing a $1 billion "Royalties for Regions" fund, which would have used 25 percent of the state's mining royalties to cover the cost of power and water for the communities, were quashed this week by WA Premier Colin Barnett, who stressed that the government has not yet reached a solution. […]
There is a precedent that points to what may happen to these communities. In 2011 the government shuttered an indigenous community in Oombulgurri, a community in the eastern Kimberley, and relocated the residents to Wyndham, about 45 kilometers away. The residents were not provided houses or shelter, they just had to leave, and many ended up living in the mangroves around Wyndham. […]
Dillon believes any future living conditions in the remote communities would consist of the bare minimum.
"They would be moved to very poor conditions," he said. "They're frightened and scared and they speak a different language. Now they're all possibly going to be moved into slums and shanty towns in the city." [more]