Western Australia’s Labor Government has tried to maintain an image that it is a trusted friend of Australian First Nations People.
But when you read and review the state budget for Western Australia, it’s clear numbers speak louder than words.
The budget contains very little substance or benefit for First Nations People and there is no plan or strategy to create significant improvement in First Nation communities.
First Nations People from Western Australia, particularly those from the Pilbara – thank you.
Western Australia has just announced a record budget surplus that is a direct result of iron ore being mined from your Traditional Country and sold for massive profits.
These profits have been at the very cost of your heritage, your social and community development, and your wellbeing.
The budget surplus of $5.4 billion is the largest in Western Australian history, it’s the envy of the nation and an unprecedented windfall.
When Mark McGowan as Premier and Treasurer announced the budget, did he do all he could to ensure that West Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, living in grinding poverty be given a hand up and a chance to live a decent life in a land of milk and honey?
The answer is no. A resounding no.
This budget sees the rich get richer and the poor get forgotten. And yet again, the state profits off the back of First Nations People.
In Western Australia there are 14,000 people who are classified as homeless, 3,000 of those are classified as ‘priority’. In other words, they are living in an absolute crisis.
If 14,000 people are homeless, are they not all living in absolute crisis?
Twenty-eight per cent of these 14,000 people are First Nations People. Almost 4,000 people living on the streets in this state, are First Nations People.
It’s an extraordinary circumstance that so many Traditional Owners of Western Australia, and Traditional Owners throughout Australia, have no home, no comfort and no quality of life.
Especially when you take into consideration that Australia is one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Premier McGowan announced in the budget that the Western Australian government would commit to building social housing for 3,300 people.
Pardon us Premier, but what about the other 10, 700 people?
They are after all citizens of the state just the same as all your rich mates.
As far as items within the budget specifically allocated for Indigenous needs, it is the usual measly and mean amounts that will achieve nothing other than keeping inept bureaucrats in well-paid positions where they continue to forgo responsibility.
Recently, the National Indigenous Times reported Aboriginal communities having contaminated drinking water – in some instances not fit for human consumption.
Have we heard from Premier McGowan about how he intends to fix this? No.
Just another breach of human rights by this Labour Government.
Perhaps the most obvious example for McGowan’s indifference towards Traditional Owners is the $11million he allocated, previous to the budget, for cultural heritage in reaction to the Juukan Gorge disaster and the continued destruction of sacred sites.
One million of this ‘heritage commitment’ is dedicated for the inept bureaucrats to draft a bill and prepare policies and guidelines to enforce it.
To rub salt in an already infected wound, McGowan’s government is shoving through a new Cultural Heritage Act before the Federal Inquiry into the destruction of Aboriginal sites has even concluded and handed down its findings.
The National Indigenous Times is not aware of any Traditional Owners who have been properly consulted or are satisfied with the Heritage Bill in its current form.
However, there has been no shortage of conversation from government spin doctors, former Minister Ben Wyatt and Minister Stephen Dawson about how happy Traditional Owners are with the proposed legislation.
The Traditional Owners are not happy.
Traditional Owners will continue to be unhappy and angry until this government treats them with respect, a respect they reserve for the mining industry.
Human Rights lawyers, Noongar woman and staunch activist Dr Hannah McGlade, alongside Slim Parker, Kado Muir, Dr Anne Poelina, Clayton Lewis, took the newly proposed legislation to the United Nations.
The group have requested the body to review the bill, arguing that it is incompatible with the nation’s international obligations on racial discrimination.
Whilst the UN is yet to validate this claim, Traditional Owners in WA feel it to be true.
Traditional Owners are locked out, ignored, silenced and treated with contempt – while government and industry divide up the spoils.
For those reading who believe the new Cultural Heritage Bill is an improvement on the current Act, you have been grossly misinformed.
How is the new legislation fair and reasonable when it has a profoundly negative impact on the rights and interests of Traditional Owners? It has been drafted so that the Traditional Owners have no right of appeal – so they are silenced.
This is systemic racism in action.
When it comes to the McGowan government’s treatment of First Nations People, one struggles to see anything fair, reasonable, or right. Rather, one finds apathetic cruelty.
This government that holds a shameful human rights record regarding First Nations People, from the rates of child removal, homelessness, suicides and the rising rates of incarceration.
The Premier had his chance to change, to chart a course of responsibility with this record surplus. But he chose not to.
Shame on him, shame on his Ministers and advisers. Not one has the moral courage to do the right thing – and First Nations People in Western Australia will again, foot the bill.
For more information regarding the Dr McGlade’s request to the UN, visit: https://www.edo.org.au/2021/09/10/un-scrutiny-for-wa-cultural-heritage-bill-after-first-nations-referral/
By Wayne Bergmann and Clinton Wolf
Wayne Bergmann and Clinton Wolf are the owners of the National Indigenous Times.