Town Camp Takeovers to go Ahead

Article by Larine Statham from the National Indigenous Times:

NORTHERN TERRITORY, November 27, 2009: A Federal Court decision to allow the federal government to take over town camps in Alice Springs is further proof Aboriginal people are not being listened to, a town camp resident says.

Mt Nancy town camp resident Barbara Shaw in August won an injunction to halt the activation of the leases of 16 Northern Territory Indigenous housing associations.

The federal government said it wanted secure land tenure before spending money on new housing, refurbishments and other works.

Ms Shaw argued the 40-year leases weren’t in the interests of the Aboriginal people living in the camps and said there was no guarantee $100 million in promised funding would actually be spent.

But on Thursday the Federal Court dismissed the appeal and lifted the injunction, giving the “green light” to the territory and federal governments to start the building program.

“The government can make powers, make legislation and just abuse those powers in taking over people’s lives and their lands,” Ms Shaw told reporters in Alice Springs on Thursday.

“Why should I have my camp taken away from me just to have renovations.

“Life is getting harder for our people.

“We are still being stigmatised, demoralised and disempowered.

“The government needs to work with our people, not dictate to us.”

Ms Shaw said her fellow applicants had not yet decided whether they would lodge an appeal against the decision, which was handed down by Justice John Mansfield in Adelaide on Thursday.

“Do we keep fighting or do we stop?”

She said she was acting on behalf of all residents when she lodged the initial appeal.

“What I did was listen to the people, how they were feeling and what they were saying to me.

“The government’s whole approach makes us Aboriginal people feel disempowered and that our views don’t count.”

Residents in Abbott town camp said they supported Ms Shaw in her fight, but did not fully understand what the Federal Court ruling would mean.

Abbott resident, Aboriginal artist Kevin Wirri, said town camp residents simply wanted the federal government to help them clean up the camps and end overcrowding.

Mr Wirri said extended family members from outlying communities travelled to Alice Springs to access medical treatment.

He said it was a “shame job” for Aboriginal people to ask their own extended family to leave the camps.

Mr Wirri said residents feared the federal government takeover would lead to widespread evictions.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin urged Alice Springs residents not to appeal a court ruling.

“If there’s an appeal of course that will mean there’ll be further delays and the people who live in these most appalling conditions in the Alice Springs town camps are the people who will suffer,” Ms Macklin told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“We now have a decision, let’s get on with the job.”

Ms Macklin said the governments hoped to get into the town camps “and start the clean-up straight away”.

But building would probably be delayed due to Christmas.

The $100 million would go towards upgrades including water, sewage and lighting works.

Some 85 new houses will be built and “many other houses” upgraded.

During the works people will live in “transitional housing”, Ms Macklin said.

The injunction will be lifted next Thursday.

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