Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Scullion. Can the minister confirm that, as a result of the ultimatum from the Abbott government, the Western Australian government will close up to 150 remote communities and force more than 1,000 Indigenous people away from their country.
First of all, it is a question that needs to be directed to the Western Australian government. So, no, I do not have any knowledge of that—more than I would normally read in the newspaper. Perhaps from history you may recall, being a Western Australian, Senator Sterle, that I think it was Swan Valley in 2003, Oombulgurri in 2011, Coonan in 2013 and Buttah Windee in 2013 that were closed by the Western Australian government. I can assure the senator of one thing: all of those things happened before I even started negotiations with the Western Australian government for taking responsibility for the municipal services contract. Why would it be the case otherwise? Why is it that the Western Australian government should, perhaps, have any sort of reason that Aboriginal people's rubbish would somehow be harder to deal with than white people's rubbish? I have to say, Mr President, I have always found that, at best, somewhat odd. Any connection, of course, between the closures of those communities and discussions of the Western Australian government about their intent has nothing to do with this government.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I put to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs that Frog Hollow, a small homeland community 150 kilometres from Halls Creek, has 11 houses, a school and a bore. Not only would we like to hear if you could tell us what will happen to this community but can you confirm to the Senate if you have had any consultation with the Western Australia government over these issues?
I can confirm to the senator that they certainly have not consulted with me. It is, after all, their activity. I would not suppose that they would. I have had no communication from the Western Australian government. They have not consulted with me about the closure of these communities. I have heard in the media that they are trying to draw a connection. That was some time ago. I am not actually familiar with the particular community that you are talking about. That should be unsurprising in that these are determinations made by the Western Australian government. These are, obviously, determinations made for reasons of their own, but there may be similar reasons as Coonana—which was not actually closed, although people claim it was. There is still one resident living in Coonana—with the withdrawal of services in 2013, I understand one resident still exists there. I am not really sure about the size of Frog Hollow. But, again, through you, Mr President, this really has very little to do with the Commonwealth. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. To the minister, again. Balgo is a remote Indigenous community of around 400 people in Western Australia. Clearly, the state Premier, Barnett, is blaming you and the federal government for these closures. Could you please inform the Senate where these 400 residents will go if they are forced off their community?
Through you, Mr President, I certainly have heard of Balgo, but I certainly have not heard of any suggestions that they are going to close Balgo, I can tell you that. Again, I do not know how much clearer I can make it: if you wished to get an answer from the Western Australia government about issues that are clearly their responsibilities, I could commend the senator write to the Western Australian government to seek their advice on this matter.