Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek are struggling to provide key services to locals because crime is driving skilled workers away, says the CEO of Winun Ngari Aboriginal Corporation.

Susan Murphy, who leads the Derby-based organisation, spoke to the National Indigenous Times and said that she has been told – Fitzroy Crossing now has no hospital orderlies.

“We can’t attract health workers or doctors to Derby, Fitzroy Crossing or Halls Creek. The main reason is the juvenile crime we have at the moment,” she said.

“We can’t get teachers to come and stay, can’t get police to come and stay.”

“We have one doctor in Fitzroy, the dentist left. People don’t want to live in a town where they don’t feel safe and it is highly likely their home will be broken into or their cars stolen or burnt.”

Ms Murphy said community Elders and families need to take a united stand to “make the juveniles accountable” or “it won’t stop.”

“We have some families trying to do the right thing but they have no control of their children. We do have some really good parents.”

Ms Murphy added that remote communities “are also suffering.”

“Here in Derby, we had two anaesthetists, now we have one – he is from Bunbury and does two weeks on two weeks off.

“During the 2 weeks he is not here if specialists come to do surgery, we don’t have an anaesthetist. Broome has eight.

“That is not to say Broome and Kununurra don’t have juvenile crime problems, but Derby, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing are suffering the most – three towns where the population is predominantly Aboriginal.

“There are some of us coming together to see if we can put a proposal to the state government for a facility where they can send the children and their family, because it is no good rehabilitating the child and putting them back into the same environment.

“You need to deal with the whole family. We don’t know if they will go for it, because it will cost money,” she said.

“We have Closing The gap and the Refresh targets and governments tick a box but they don’t put their money where their mouth is and the small towns miss out.”

She said skilled workers already preferred to live in bigger coastal towns and crime was exacerbating the challenge of getting them to settle where there is a dire need for their services.

“We have some good police officers who are trying to make a difference but the kids are out of control.

“Their attitude is that they have the right to do it because no one is holding them accountable. I am not going to sugar coat it. I would be lying otherwise.”

Ms Murphy said that the end of the Community Development Program, the phase out of which began in May last year, had removed some incentives to keep children in school and adults off alcohol.

The CDP, which was introduced in 2015, was challenged in court for putting more stringent requirements on participants who were predominantly Indigenous, compared with other welfare mutual obligation schemes. Some 80% of participants were Indigenous.

Its work-for-the-dole program saw people paid as little as $11.60 per hour or $290 per week to perform ‘work-like activities’, which the Intendent Education Union described as “ill-defined.”

In May it was announced that $111 million had been allocated over the next five years to phase out the CDP and implement the new remote jobs program, which will reportedly begin in 2023.

Ms Murphy said that in recent months “parents are hitting the grog, domestic violence is through the roof, school attendance has dropped drastically and the health issues effecting families and individuals have skyrocketed”.

“The Emergency Departments in Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek over the Christmas and New Year period had the worst they have ever seen. Drunk people, people off their faces on drugs, and the injuries have been horrific.

“Kununurra is suffering too. We have seen the effects. Kids are suffering. There is more drinking, kids don’t feel safe at home, abuse has risen but nobody talks about it which is very sad.

“The oldies are being threatened in their own homes, their houses being broken into and with a knife at their throats being forced to hand over their car keys or their money.

“There are a few of us coming together to see what we can do. The Commonwealth and State governments have a lot to answer for because they are not keeping our communities safe at all,” she said.

WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson told National Indigenous Times that “there’s no doubt WA Country Health Service finds it difficult to fill rosters in remote communities like Fitzroy Crossing.”

“This is something that has been exacerbated by national and international workforce shortages and the ongoing demands of the pandemic,” she said.

“To help address this, WACHS is working with the Department of Health on staff deployment partnerships and have our own rapid redeployment pool we can call on in times of need.

“WACHS is also fortunate to partner with Nindilingarri Cultural Health Service in the Fitzroy Valley who take the lead on health promotion and environmental health programs and initiatives.

“I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of all healthcare staff in the Kimberley – they continue to perform the extraordinary in very difficult circumstances.

“We will continue to do everything within our power to support them but acknowledge these are difficult times.”

By Giovanni Torre