Kimberley flood rebuild will be done with Aboriginal groups

As the floodwaters from ex-tropical cyclone Ellie begin to recede, the enormous scope of work that will be required to support Kimberley communities in the months and years ahead is becoming clear.

I want the people of all the communities across the North West, across the Kimberley and beyond, to know that Australia is with you.

We will not let you down. This huge natural disaster is unfolding in some of our most remote and most culturally and spiritually significant country for Aboriginal people.

The mighty Matuwarra Fitzroy River, swollen by unprecedented rains, has become a vast inland sea. The losses - of homes, land, roads, services, animals, culture - at the moment feel incalculable.

As a West Australian, and Minister for Northern Australia, I know this is a part of Australia where infrastructure that connects to services and the rest of the country and the world is notoriously fragile at the best of times.

The Australian Government has a deep commitment to true recognition for Australia's First Peoples. Implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart is one of our fundamental commitments.

My work with colleagues such as Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, her assistant minister Malarndirri McCarthy, Special Envoy Senator Pat Dodson, and the whole Government, through the Constitutional Recognition Committee is both rewarding and humbling.

Working to deliver the programs and projects that meet the needs of communities, in the places where they live - all across the nation, including First Nations Australians in their homelands - is central to our nation-building vision.

The commitment to providing opportunities and access to services and healthy, safe, connected places and environments for every Australian cannot be overstated. And today, as we start to understand the huge task of rebuilding and repairing in the Kimberley and across the north - as we start to try to come to terms with the losses, and the needs of our communities here - that commitment has never felt so real, and so stark. And working with you is how we will move forward. Picking up the pieces together.

Supporting and developing Northern Australia, and the ambitions we have for our shared future frankly mean nothing without partnership with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians upon whose land we have all grown and prospered.

It is essential that traditional owners are part of the conversation on how we support communities impacted by this disaster.

For now, we must focus on the people. The thousands of people in unique, tiny communities all across the Kimberley, North West and Northern Territory, who have been affected by this incredible natural disaster.

As we move beyond the immediate emergency phase, all elements of recovery will need to be addressed - access to long-term housing, access to services, support for culture, rebuilding critical infrastructure, protecting wildlife, and, eventually, restarting industry.

We will need to rebuild critical infrastructure as well as create the meaningful community-led social infrastructure that sometimes drops off the list of priorities in the aftermath of disasters.

Through the Albanese and McGowan governments, assistance is already being rolled out for individuals and families, workers, businesses, primary producers, non-profit organisations and local and State governments.

And we'll continue to work with communities on what more is needed.

The Government is ready, willing and listening to help with recovery, to make sure the rebuilding happens the way communities want it to occur and in a way that is sustainable, and resilient.

Together, we will come back from this. We will stand with the people of the Kimberley for the long haul.

First published in The West Australian on 11 January 2023.