Both indigenous and non-indigenous commentators have today slammed Tony Abbott’s suggestion that Aboriginal Australians are making a “lifestyle choice” by living in remote communities.
Aside from the obvious point that the comments are at odds with Abbott’s commitment to be a PM for indigenous Australians, they also display a misunderstanding of two fundamental things: the fact that an ongoing connection to country is central to our land rights system; and the fact that the only available evidence from a parliamentary inquiry into life in Aboriginal homelands suggests they are a relative success.
As Jon Altman writes today:
“By the late 1980s the only parliamentary inquiry ever undertaken into the homelands movement, Return to Country (also known as the Blanchard Report, after its chair), lauded these smaller places a relative success in economic, social and cultural terms. In particular using primary data collected at homelands it was demonstrated that residents there were more self-sufficient than at larger places because of productive work in self provisioning and in the manufacture of art for sale.”
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Before further services are removed from remote communities in WA, both the Barnett and Abbott governments must cough up with the evidence that such a move would be beneficial to Aboriginal Australians — on both economic and cultural grounds.