Peak Indigenous bodies from Western Australia’s Kimberley region have challenged the state’s Labor government to work with them and take advantage of a “unique opportunity” to change the conversation about Aboriginal affairs.
The statement – released following the annual general meetings of the Kimberley Land Council, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre, Kimberley Language Resource Centre and the Aarnja Regional Body – calls on the McGowan government to engage with Aboriginal people.
The groups have called for the state government to prioritise funding and support in a range of areas including recognition of native title, continuation of language and culture, land tenure reform and economic development.
Kimberley Land Council chairman Anthony Watson says it is frustrating that successive governments have listened to others rather than Aboriginal people.
“In this day and age, in 2017, we are still at the wrong end of the social indicator. We’re still trying to carve out a positive future for our kids, and as much as we try to achieve that, we need that support from the government,” he said.
“Despite the acknowledgement by government – the importance of cultural practice and our work within the region – there’s no support.”
Mr Watson says the government has instead chosen to listen to the advice of billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, whose Creating Parity report- published in 2014 – included the establishment of the controversial ‘healthy welfare card’.
“It’s just frustrating that we’ve been consistent with our approach to addressing social issues and they still listen to other people that are in another field or industry.”
The statement also calls for “real action” on the divestment of the Aboriginal Lands Trust (ALT), saying it “is not the first time” Labor and Liberal governments have promised the transfer of land back to traditional owners.
The ALT, comprised of a board of Aboriginal people, provides advice to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on ‘ways to release the potential of land in order to achieve the social, economic and cultural aspirations of Aboriginal people.’
In a Broome meeting earlier this year, WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said he was “keen to see the estate being handed back to Aboriginal people over the next eight years.”
The Kimberley organisations also took the opportunity to endorse and support the Uluru Statement and called on the Federal Government to support a referendum on a voice in the constitution.
The groups have called on the Western Australian government to engage with Indigenous people throughout the state on a series of comprehensive settlements.