The Western Australian government is under pressure to ensure remote Aboriginal communities have access to clean drinking water.
WA Shadow Minister for Water James Hayward has called on the Labor government to use the record state budget surplus to provide clean drinking water to remote Aboriginal communities across the state.
A recent report by the National Indigenous Times revealed that remote outstations, some of which are homed to Aboriginal people living on Country, have not had drinking water tested in over a decade.
Hayward slammed the government for the lack of services.
“I call on the Departments of Water, Communities and Health, to work together cohesively to deliver a program to identify and test drinking water supplies in Aboriginal communities that have been left untested for going on a decade,” he said.
“It is in no way appropriate for a first world country to dismiss a community’s cry to ensure they have clean drinking water.
“With the McGowan government having flaunted a $5.6billion budget surplus this year, money should be no barrier to providing people with the basic right to access clean water.”
He called for equity for those living away from urban areas.
“Currently metropolitan residents can pay to have a chemical and microbiological test conducted on their bore and rain water at several laboratories in Perth – This is not a suitable solution for people more than 2,000km away,” he said.
“How does the Department not believe it has a duty of care to test and provide clean drinking water to Aboriginal communities with no connection to essential utilities or services?”
Kimberley Labor MP and Yawuru, Nimanburr and Bardi woman, Divina D’Anna told the National Indigenous Times she would “continue to advocate for better quality services to remote communities”.
“It is critical that we provide services to remote communities,” she said.
“I am passionate about ensuring that the people of the Kimberley, especially Aboriginal people in remote communities, are afforded the same opportunities and access to essential services that city people are.”
Housing Minister John Carey said the State Government provides “a very high level of assurance” that drinking water is safe for around 96 per cent of people living in remote Aboriginal communities.
“On the rare occasion that drinking water does not meet health testing parameters in a community, the Department immediately rectifies the supply issue, and continues testing and remediating until water quality is assured,” Carey said.
“When advised to do so by the Department of Health, the Department provides bottled water instead of water sourced from the ground. This has been the practice for more than two decades and is in line with Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.”
Correspondence with Mr Carey’s Office confirmed that remote outstations outside the Remote Essential and Municipal Services Program (REM) program do not receive any services, including water testing.
However, the office could not confirm how many people are living without those services.
The Minister said the Government is upgrading water infrastructure in a number of remote communities on the Dampier Peninsula, including Mowanjum, Bidyadanga, Bayulu, Ardyaloon, Djarindjin, Lombadina and Beagle Bay.
They are also building a new water treatment plant in Warburton.
“The Department of Communities’ is focussed on maintaining water infrastructure and services in communities within the REMS program, including communities brought into the program after the Commonwealth Government walked away from a long-standing funding agreement in 2015,” he said.
By Sarah Smit