Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s support for the withdrawal of government services from Western Australia’s Aboriginal communities is hugely disappointing, according to the Aboriginal Health Council of WA (AHCWA).
AHCWA is the peak body representing 21 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services across Western Australia at a state and national level.
The Prime Minister was reported today as having labelled life in Aboriginal communities a “lifestyle choice”, saying it was not the responsibility of taxpayers to fund these communities.
AHCWA Chairperson Michelle Nelson-Cox said the comments revealed the Prime Minister didn’t appreciate the importance of the communities to the continuing culture of Aboriginal people.
“The Prime Minister’s comments about Aboriginal communities place no value on the connection to country and culture that these communities provide, nor the important role they play in the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people,” she said, “Aboriginal people are obligated to maintain a connection to country to sustain spiritual beliefs, customary activities and traditional lore. In addition to providing a home to many Aboriginal people, these communities provide a continuing sense of identity through this ongoing connection to country.
“This connection is important to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people, and has been an important part of the healing process for victims of the stolen generation, many of whom were forcibly removed from country earlier in their lives.
“There is no doubt that improvements to services are needed in many of these communities. But, given their importance to the health, wellbeing and continuing culture of Aboriginal people, government should invest in these communities, rather than withdraw existing services.”
Ms Nelson-Cox said both the Prime Minister and WA Premier Colin Barnett needed to recognise Aboriginal communities as an asset.
“The debate about Aboriginal communities is too often framed in the negative, treating communities as a problem to be solved, rather than the national cultural asset they are,” she said.“As the peak body for Aboriginal health services in WA, AHCWA sees the important role these communities play in the health and wellbeing of many of our people, and it is a real shame our political leaders can’t see this.”