Issue 15 / 27 April 2015

WESTERN Australian Premier Colin Barnett has publicly outlined his plan to withdraw funding for services in remote Aboriginal communities, with the aim of encouraging the 12 000 or so people living there to move to towns where more services will be available.

The WA Minister for Indigenous Affairs Peter Collier says no final funding decision has been made. He could be right, although ABC News has uncovered reports from 2011 to the WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs and also a 2013 report from the WA Department of Housing suggesting lists of communities to be defunded.

The reasons? One stated reason is that the federal government has withdrawn funding to support such communities. However, the federal government did not simply withdraw funding — it negotiated with the states over several years to have them accept responsibility in exchange for a one-off payment. WA, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and later South Australia have accepted this deal, while undertaking to continue to fund services to their remote communities. So WA can’t blame the federal government.

Another stated reason is that Mr Barnett is so concerned about the health of Aboriginal people living in traditional homelands that he is willing to stop providing health services.

Mr Barnett may also support Prime Minister Tony Abbott who says he supports some “lifestyle choices”, but not others.

Quite understandably, the response from Aboriginal people has been strong, with leaders such as Patrick Dodson, Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine aghast. Many groups such as the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) and individuals are also fighting against these plans.

Dameyon Bonson, founder of Black Rainbow Living Well, wrote: “ … remote communities are the heart of our cultures. They are central and core to our histories, and cultures. They are the holders of stories and histories, wisdom, knowledge and cultures that have seen our people survive on this continent for over 70,000 years. They are also home to many fellow Australians.”

People involved in health should support this anger.

Probably one of the most important things we’ve learnt in the past 50 years is that health is more than medicine. It is biological, it is physical and it is social.

It draws from and gives to communities. It is in influenced by passion, belief, determination, spirit, love, loyalty and so much more than can be measured either by money or in a randomised controlled trial.

Marches will be held in many parts of Australia on Friday 1 May, coordinated by #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA.

Of course, as pointed out by former AMA president Dr Kerryn Phelps, these marches might interfere with traffic. “You may not agree with closure of remote communities, but it is not OK to paralyse a major city”, she wrote recently on Twitter.

If you’re worried about the marches upsetting your plans for that day, you can avoid the hassles by joining in.


Dr Mark Ragg is an adjunct senior lecturer in the Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney.

Jane McCredie is on leave.

7 thoughts on “Mark Ragg: Time for anger

  1. Tony Krins says:

    If you accept that the fundamental cause of despair of First Australians is a failure to have a social heirarchy which in turn is due to a failed local economy which in turn is due to destructive rather than constructive welfare, then an argument can be mounted that all people (including First Australians) should live where a local economy is possible. This discounts many remote communities. However the people themselves need to understand that and should move voluntarily, perhaps at some time in the future. Insight and education should come first. Perhaps communities as well as individuals “working for the dole” might be a good start? Rewarding productivity (instead of rewarding inactivity) might be the first step to allowing local economies to develop. We all need to be clever and persuasive, not coersive.

  2. Robert Hall says:

    I spent several very formative years early in my career working with and for Aboriginal people in remote parts of Australia.  I worked in communities that were a health disaster and in communities where health was relatively good.  Not all communities are the same, and a functioning social structure is more important than physical infrastructure.  Paradoxically, small communities excised from cattle stations often had better health than larger communities which were better provided with physical facilities.  There had been less destruction of those societies than of those living in communities that had formerly been missions or government settlements. 

    I think that those who wish to close remote communities have neither understanding of Aboriginal people nor knowledge of history.  When the Pintubi were brought in from the Western Desert in the 1950s (to make empty space for the rocket tests of the time), half of them died in the first year.  Aboriginal people in remote places are usually bound to the land that they live on, and for reasons of the law, cannot move.  And it is not as if more urban settlement offers a better alternative.  Communities in country towns are often characterized by poor health and continuing violence.

    As a colonizing culture we have a responsibility to redress the wrongs we have perpetrated and continue to perpetrate.  I think that closure of small remote communities will be another chapter in the dispossession and oppression of Aboriginal people, and will contribute to a further decline in health.  Closures of remote communities should not go ahead.  We have a responsibility as health practitioners to do what we can to prevent it.

  3. Saul Getfen says:

    So how many single family groups or tiny communities  should have health and social infrastructure paid for Mr Ragg? Why is it that only indigenous groups need special support? Having visited remote cattle stations in which single family groups have zero infrastructure provided beyond the front gate (and that’s graded by the shire council) they seem to manage. Is it important for remote children of any colour or race to go to school? The rage might be better directed at 50 years of failed health / social policies. Since you support Noel Pearsons statements do you also agree with his support for dry communities and quiarenteed social welfare payments? What about his call for stopping “sit down” money (dole)?


  4. q402681@amamember says:

    I must agree with Greg. Supporting ”anger” is not what healthcare is about at all and supporting the dysfuntional status quo is certainly not what healthcare should be about. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent by successive goernments of both sides of politics in a never ending and cyclical range of bureaucratic indigenous health and welfare programs since the the 1970s to what end? Indeed, until the ongoing socialist orthodoxy in Australia of actively promoting the “(altruistic) social welfare trap” (that in actuality condemns every person/family/ethnic group caught up in it to be enrolled as a longterm intergenerational member of state funded poverty) is challenged openly and then replaced with a political dogma more clearly aimed at self-reliance at both the personal and local community level, nothing will change. If grandiose squandering taxpayers money and political jingoism worked, then Mr Hawkes “No child in poverty” speech would be chiselled in marble at the entrance to Parliament House and the current debate would be totally redundant. The blind belief that unlimited welfare is a rite (and not a privilege) of every citizen of this country is just too stupid for words and yet that really is where we are at as a nation. I agree with much of what Mr Pearson expresses and indeed share his views on Daniel Moynihan and the 1960s USA Democratic Party’s stance on welfare. JFK: “Ask not what your country can do for you, rather ask what you can do for your country”. LBJ. ” Don’t judge legislation by the good it is supposed to do but by the harm it does if implemented badly”. 

  5. University of Queensland - Central Library says:

    Closure of Remote Communities

    There are many ways that ethnic groups and their cultures are extinguished as invaders become dominant.   Intentional shows of force, with superior numbers and weapons are the most obvious; inadvertent introduction of “new” diseases to groups without herd immunity is another.  We increasingly recognise the destructive effects of marginalisation, with lack of power, voice and opportunity within the invaders’ mainstream.  But the sudden resolve, supposedly rationalised on economic grounds, to close selected small remote Aboriginal communities by withdrawing infrastructure support, leaves many aghast.   The broader implications have not been thought through. Where are the discussion documents?  Where is the consultation?  Where is the debate? This is a veritable nail in the coffin of remote Aboriginal culture.   Will Australia now add this to its record on climate change denial, human rights violations etc.   Shame, shame. 

  6. Greg Hockings says:

    Dr Ragg writes “people involved in health should support this anger”. I would argue that health professionals should support measures which will improve the health of people. As remote communities have much higher preventable disease prevalence than other communities, including social problems about which Dr Ragg should be concerned (such as domestic violence and child abuse and neglect), it makes sense to close them down and integrate their members into mainstream Australian society. What is it about Sydney University that currently seems to promote left-wing views to the exclusion of common sense?

  7. Department of Health Victoria Clinicians Health Channel says:

    Which community will you be going to work in Mark Ragg?

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