Remote Aboriginal communities
There are about 274 remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia. About 9,000 Aboriginal residents and 244 Aboriginal communities are in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, with most of the remainder in the Goldfields and some in the Mid-West.
History of exclusion
Some communities were established in the colonial and Federation eras, and began as mission stations or ration camps. Others arose from the exodus of Aboriginal people from pastoral stations during the 1960s and the ‘homelands’ movement of the 1970s. Some community locations reflect long-held settlement patterns and traditional meeting grounds.
These vary enormously between communities, from those in which housing and public areas are impeccably maintained, to communities in which environmental health conditions are dismal. Poor living conditions contribute to higher rates of infection, injury and chronic disease, and low community amenity and perceptions, which all in turn reduce family wellbeing and participation in school and work.
Impediments to self-determination
Most communities sit on a Crown reserve, with a lease from a statutory body to an Aboriginal corporation over a single lot. There are no individual household lots, housing is communally owned through the corporation, and there is no capacity for any resident to own their home.
With a handful of exceptions, there are no gazetted roads or parks to be maintained by local governments. In turn, those local governments have no legal ability to levy rates on households or communities. These arrangements are not replicated elsewhere in Western Australia and restrict the ability of families and communities to self determine their future.
Distance to markets
Few remote communities have significant prospects of developing or becoming part of a market economy that provides local jobs. Most communities were not established by the usual market forces, household choices and government investment that created settlements elsewhere in the State around agriculture, forestry, mines, railways and ports.
Communities with real economic prospects are few and far between, and many survive almost entirely on social welfare payments and government programs.
Delivery arrangements for key services
Arrangements in remote communities for electricity, water, sewerage, rubbish collection and road maintenance are different to those that apply elsewhere in the State. Almost all communities are assumed to self-provide these services, with some government support and subsidies.
Usual regulatory standards do not apply and, with the exception of a few communities that receive Horizon Power services, normal utility providers are absent. No household in a community has its own water meter, and while some have an electricity meter, the charges are below those that apply in other areas. Infrastructure in many communities is unreliable and over-stretched, and in some cases, unsafe.
During 2012-13, government expenditure (State and Commonwealth) on services to Aboriginal people in Western Australia was $4.9 billion, or $53,000 per Aboriginal person, a figure that had grown 20 per cent over the previous four years.
By contrast, combined government expenditure on services to non-Aboriginal people in the State in 2012-13 was about $20,000 per non-Aboriginal person, a figure that had grown 0.3 per cent over the same period. State Government analysis suggests that expenditure on services to Aboriginal people is higher in regional areas of the State than in metropolitan areas.