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Bishop criticises PM’s comments on Aboriginal people living in remote communities

Bishop Christopher Saunders

Bishop Christopher Saunders: “After 200 years of colonisation and dispossession, surely out of fairness we owe something to Australia’s First Nations in the way of respect and recompense.”

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott’s comment that Aboriginal peoples were living in remote communities as a “lifestyle choice” has sparked immediate criticism from chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Bishop Christopher Saunders.

Bishop Saunders of Broome, in a statement yesterday (March 11), has posed the question “what choice?” to Mr Abbott.

“Where is the lifestyle choice?” Bishop Saunders said. “Communities are under-serviced and patently there is insufficient listening to the voices of people in Aboriginal communities.

“We are forcing Aboriginal people out of their ancestral lands to live in regional towns. The reality is that when a community is closed down people and their families have nowhere to go, so they end up on the streets, separated from their land, heritage, family, culture and spirituality.”

Mr Abbott made his comment about “lifestyle choices” on Tuesday (March 10) as he backed the Western Australian Government’s plan to close 150 remote communities.

Bishop Saunders said it was “a basic human right to choose where you live but it seems that our Government is giving people in Aboriginal communities the ‘choice’ to live in a community with only limited resources and services”.

“After 200 years of colonisation and dispossession, surely out of fairness we owe something to Australia’s First Nations in the way of respect and recompense,” he said.

“Recent research has found that where Aboriginal communities are supported to serve as models of landscape management or as the source of new community initiatives, they have far better outcomes in health and education. Like other Australians, they have the right to access basic municipal services.”

Yesterday (March 11) the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) said, “The Prime Minister’s use of the term ‘lifestyle choices’ is an insult to Aboriginal people.

“To dispossess another generation of our people will deal a further blow to health, education and living standard disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Additionally, the burden on other communities will increase as people are forced to move.”

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