Shameful inaction on contaminated water in NT communities

5 July 2018
Kaye Broadbent

In his introduction to the 2018 “Closing the Gap” report, Malcolm Turnbull wrote that the government would “recommit and renew our collective efforts and focus on improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

It seems he does not consider the Northern Territory towns of Laramba, Willowra and Wilora worthy of this effort or focus.

The NT government’s own water provider, Power and Water Corporation, has found that drinking water in Laramba, 200 kilometres north of Alice Springs, contains more than double the level of uranium considered safe.

Willowra and Wilora have similarly contaminated drinking water. Shockingly, this has been the case in all three towns for 10 years.

A recent investigation by the ABC’s 7.30 program revealed that drinking water in seven NT communities is unsafe “due to elevated levels of contaminants including uranium”. Yet residents’ complaints have been ignored.

The ABC quotes an NT government spokesperson explaining that it is “a significant challenge to provide uniform quality of supply to our 72 remote communities”.

A basic human right like clean, uncontaminated drinking water is “a challenge” that cannot be overcome in an advanced first world country like Australia? This is politician-speak for “It is going to cost too much money and the investment is not worth it”.

But as Billy Briscoe, a resident of Laramba, asked, “If there’s no water, how can you survive?”

Just imagine if the drinking water in the prime minister’s wealthy electorate of Wentworth in Sydney was contaminated with high levels of uranium. You could bet that the “challenge” would be met instantly, regardless of the cost.

Why are people living in Indigenous communities treated differently? In the words of Arrernte elder Bob Liddle, “Because they’re bush people and not a concern to politicians, [the politicians] don’t worry about it”.

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