Multimillion-dollar buildings are sitting empty and underused in WA’s remote Aboriginal communities while traumatised children live in overcrowded houses and go without mental health services.
A new $12 million aged-care home in Warmun has been empty for six months, a multimillion-dollar elders centre in Kalumburu was fitted with two walk-in freezers that are never switched on and a community meeting centre in tiny Woolah was recently built next door to a medical clinic that is used just one day a fortnight.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier, who invitedThe Weekend West on a tour of eight Kimberley communities this week, said there was a need for “significant reform” of the way governments spent money in the portfolio.
Annual government spending on services for WA’s Aboriginal population has risen more than $1 billion in four years without improving dismal social and economic outcomes.
The State Government was responsible for about 60 per cent and the Federal Government spent 40 per cent.
The 12-bedroom Warmun aged-care facility, which was built partially with insurance money after floods wiped out the big community in 2011, is open for elders to have showers but has no residents because there is not enough operational funding.
Meanwhile, the Warmun school principal said children suffered because of the problems caused by overcrowding, with one house, which was down the road from the empty facility, accommodating 40 people.
A Warmun community worker said governments had “beautiful intentions” that did not translate to better outcomes for the people. She said non-Aboriginal tradesmen and businesses were being paid a lot of taxpayers’ money supposedly spent on Aboriginals.
“(The aged-care home) was a two-year build and there was not an Aboriginal tradie on site,” she said.
She said there were Aboriginal people with skills to repair houses but they did not have trade certification cards required to do the work.
“The local guys can fix our houses much cheaper but they pay $1000 for a tradie to come from Kununurra.”
Mr Collier said it was clear that governments needed to overhaul the way money was spent.
“We spend about $5 billion and we should be putting money in the right places,” he told people from Warmun, Crocodile Hole, Bow River and Frog Gully.
“For too long there has been a silo approach and the decisions are made from the top down.”
Mr Collier apologised for the anxiety caused by comments that up to 150 communities could be shut by the Government and said that would not happen.
“We are going to consult and listen to you about what you need to make your communities better,” he said.
Kalumburu resident Madeline Gallagher-Dann runs an aged-care centre with a chef’s kitchen and two enormous freezers that lay dormant.
“The freezers used to be running but we haven’t used them for a long time because there’s no budget for electricity,” she said.
Ms Gallagher-Dann opens the centre in the mornings for about half-a-dozen regulars who eat morning tea and watch movies.
Across town, a new women’s centre is used for a playgroup but the women say they need counselling for traumatised children and mental health services instead of buildings.
“You can build these but at the end of the day, education starts at home,” Ms Gallagher-Dann said. “More parenting support would help, and mental health.”