yesterday. He made some very carefully worded comments about the plans by a state government to close some indigenous "communities" on not just economic but social welfare grounds.
There are 274 remote indigenous communities in Western Australia and there are 12,114 people living in them. There are just 507 people living in the 115 smallest - or an average of 4.4 people in each. The cost of keeping those communities going is very high.
Is closing them the right thing to do? There have been furious demands to keep them open. It is said the Prime Minister is a racist to even suggest that they might need to be closed.
But, let me ask some other questions.
Just who is living in these places? Are they indigenous Australians with very close ties to the land? Do they, by choice, live a traditional life style? Do they speak a traditional language? Are they able to support themselves? Are their children receiving an education? Do they want to access health services? Do they need any form of government benefits?
In some places there will be indigenous people with close ties to the land. Some of them will be living a traditional lifestyle - in some respects. Some communities speak traditional languages - but that is a much more complex issue than it sounds.There are some communities which have attempted to at least partially support themselves or provide work for some people in their community. In some places the children are going to school - another activity which raises many issues. And yes, even a basic clinic can make a difference to communities with many health issues. Such communities tend to be the larger communities.
But take a "community" of eleven people - I am thinking of a specific one. There are six adults and five children. They use what might be described as a basic pidgin-English. None of the adults work because there is no work available. None of the children attend school and they don't do the correspondence lessons because none of the adults will supervise them - and probably only one of them can read well enough to do it. There are no health services. Social welfare organisations are worried about child abuse, domestic violence and alcohol issues - to name the big ones.
Or there is another community of eighteen. All of them are living in the same three bedroom house - the only house at the end of the track. None of the adults work. The children are not going to school and one of them has a severe intellectual disability. One of the adults has diabetes. There are questions about child abuse and incest as well as alcohol related issues. Emergency services are called to the property from time to time - from a long distance - because nobody is really coping with the situation.
These are considered to be "communities" however and those complaining about "racist" remarks want to keep these communities going. They say mental health problems will increase and the cultural heritage will be lost. They say that people who choose to live in these places do not do so from "lifestyle choice" but from a strong spiritual connection to the land. They say all that is needed is more money, more services and more support.
So, should these "communities" continue to be supported or is it a life-style choice or should we ask those getting taxpayer funds to contribute to their own welfare? Should people be required to relocate? Is it possible that others are not getting services because of the costs involved in servicing these communities? Where does it stop?
All I can think of is that we all have responsibilities to ourselves and to each other - and that usually means we cannot have everything we want.
Is that fair?