Australia’s Aborigines are being forced off their traditional land because of government policy, despite the fact they would live longer if they stayed put, Amnesty International claimed yesterday.
The human rights organization studied small groups in the central desert region and found those choosing to live on their ancestral lands were effectively denied services such as public housing due to a government emphasis on bigger towns.
“There’s a grave risk that these policies will mean that one-third of the Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory will be abandoned,” Amnesty International Australia director Claire Mallinson said.
“The report highlights the really unique and special relationship that Aboriginal people have with the land and then how government policies are putting that relationship at risk, and as a result, people and culture at risk,” she said.
Mallinson said research showed that Aborigines lived healthier and longer lives in the small, homeland communities and that these tended to have fewer social problems such as domestic violence and substance abuse.
“The stripping away of essential services will effectively force families to abandon their traditional lands and move into larger towns and cities,” she said.
Australia has committed to improving the lives of its indigenous people, but it is directing the majority of resources in the Northern Territory to so-called growth towns, Amnesty says.
It said this means that outside these towns, many Aborigines live in overcrowded and dilapidated housing, often without electricity, running water or sanitation.
Australian Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said yesterday the government was providing more new and refurbished houses for Aborigines in remote areas.
“In the 2010-2011 financial year, 490 new houses and 2,288 refurbishments were completed in remote indigenous communities across Australia, exceeding the ambitious target of 463 new houses and 2,012 refurbishments,” she said.
The Amnesty report follows a highly critical government review which found that funding Aboriginal projects had “yielded dismally poor returns to date.”
Elder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, whose Alyawarr/Anmatyerr people worked with Amnesty on the report, described the move away from homelands as a “tragedy.”
“Let me assure anybody who cares for the Aboriginal people of Australia that once we are moved from our place of origin, we will not only lose our identity, we will die a traumatized, tragic end,” she said.
“We cannot have identity if we are put into these reservations that are now called growth towns. We will become third-class, non-existent human beings,” she said.
Australia’s indigenous people are the nation’s most disadvantaged, with a significantly lower lifespan and higher incarceration rates than the general population.
There are currently 470,000 Aborigines in Australia out of a population of about 22 million.