Townsville Says No to Forced Closures

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An estimated 200 Townsville residents joined thousands of protestors across Australia and internationally, making their voices heard in the ongoing fight against the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.  

By Sophie Dillon

The Call to Action Protest is a response to the announcement of WA Premier Colin Barnett that more than a hundred Aboriginal communities in the state faced imminent closure.

Townsville protest took place on May 1 at 08:15am outside Stockland Shopping Centre with protestors blocking the Nathan St and Ross River Road intersection for 15 minutes.

James Cook University lecturer Maxwell Lenoy, one of the organisers of the Townsville Call to Action Protest says he is against the Government’s decision.

“Governments should not have the freedom to force communities to close without consent and without a valid reason,” Lenoy says.

The Federal Government is backing Premier Barnett’s announcement and sees the closure as a cost-saving measure for the state’s struggling economy.

Lenoy says the Western Australia government has been doing the closure in secret.

“They [government] are forcing communities to be evacuated by hiring security firms to come in and move people out without any consent and without any forward plan in place to help those members when they then are moved to another regional city.

“The national and international call to action will make it clear to the Government that the community, Indigenous and all Australians, are aware that this is happening and that they will not stand for it,” Lenoy says.

The proposed closure plans attracted widespread condemnation particularly as they followed Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comments that taxpayer’s shouldn’t be expected to fund the “lifestyle choices” of Aboriginal people who live on their homelands.

JCU Indigenous Support Officer Florence Onus says she fears that if the proposed policy succeeds in Western Australia and South Australia, then the same can happen elsewhere, including Queensland.

“We’re marching because the Western Australia government announced that they’re going to close 150 Aboriginal remote communities, “ Florence says.

A similar policy is being considered in South Australia, she says.

“The Federal Government supports this so we’re very concerned here in Townsville that that’s going to set a precedent for every state and territory.”

The main organizer of the Call to Action protest Meyalah Blackman agrees with Onus and is concerned that the forced removal will reach Queensland remote communities.

“It’s a ripple effect; the buck doesn’t just stop at the removal of Western Australian communities. It’ll affect everybody in the long run,” Blackman says.

One of the many Non-Indigenous Australians who joined in the Townville Call to Action, Josh Denman, felt that it was important to show support for the cause.

“It’s all well and good for me to sit at home and say that the forced closure of these communities is a bad thing, but it’s another thing to come out and make a stand and actually do something about it,” he says.

An Indigenous Australian from Palm Island, Whanjullah joined the protest to stand together with the local, national and international community.

“The reason why we’ve all come out here is to stand in solidarity with the people right across the world about the forced closures of our communities, ” Whanjullah says.

The protests have been covered by social media, running in conjunction with a digital campaign that emboldens people to join in the fight by declaring their support under the hashtag #SOSBlakAustralia.

Many well known names have thrown their support behind the Call to Action campaign including Hugh Jackman, The Veronicas, and Hilltop Hoods. Academics such as Victoria Grieves, Craig Moritz and Sandy Toussaint have also added their voice to the conversation.

#sosblakaustralia #NOconsent #lifestylechoice #ingetjetadoras

A photo posted by Hugh Jackman (@thehughjackman) on

For further information about the Townsville Call to Action, visit their page.