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.”

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.

Peter Fray

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