Thousands march in Australia against closure of 150 indigenous communities

Australian authorities considering to leave 1.000 people inhabiting small villages, hamlets without basic services · Western Australian Prime Minister admits "distress" caused by decision, says communities "are not viable" · SOS Blak Australia campaign argues living in indigenous ancestral lands "is instrinsic, fundamental human right"

Thousands marched on 1st May in several Australian cities against the closure of 150 indigenous communities, where some 1,000 people are living in, that Australian authorities are considering to carry out later in 2015. Protests took place in major cities, including Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Marches were called by the SOS Blak Australia campaign. Protesters believe the closures of the communities will be a disaster for their indigenous inhabitants. Campaign spokespersons say indigenous people being forced to leave their ancestral homelands would suffer a huge cultural impact, their rights would be violated: "To live in our own communities and our own country [is not] a lifestyle choice but an intrinsic fundamental human right", they say.

SOS Blak Australia campaign was born out of threatened communities in the region of Kimberley, the northernmost one in the federated state of Western Australia. With an area of ​​423,000 square kilometres, Kimberley has a population of some 35,000 usual inhabitants, 40% of whom are Aboriginal.

Federal funding cuts

Western Australia Prime Minister Colin Barnett announced in 2014 that 100 to 150 communities located in remote areas from the state's main population centres were doomed to closure as they would be left without any basic services. Barnett said this after the Australian government decided to cut federal funding to maintain services in those communities such as water, roads, waste collection or power.

Barnett then admitted that the closures would "cause great distress to Aboriginal people who will move" and that it could further "cause issues in regional towns as Aboriginal people move into them." But Western Australia's PM also said that the smaller communities were "not viable", and recalled that they suffered from a set problems such as "high rates of suicide, poor education, poor health, no jobs."

As demonstrators protested on May 1st, Barnett nuanced his stance by saying that "no person will be forced from their land." However, the Prime Minister insisted that Western Australia will not pay for services that the federal government stops funding, thus those communities will be left without the services.

(Image: protesters carry Aboriginal flag during May 1st march / picture: SBS screenshot.)