Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alice Springs town camps – Doorstop, Melbourne

*** E & OE – Proof only ***

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much for coming this morning. Today I am announcing that the Australian Government is taking the first step towards compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps. I am taking this action to give children in the camps a better chance at a safe, healthy and happy life.

I’ve taken this step in close consultation and agreement with the Chief Minister for the Northern Territory.

This action is being considered as a last resort following the failure of Tangentyere Council to meet its commitments under the previously agreed work plan.

Anybody who’s been to the Alice Springs town camps knows that action is urgently needed. Living conditions in the camps are appalling. Acute overcrowding, sub-standard housing, combined with alcohol abuse despair and hopelessness have led to desperate and dangerous consequences, these camps have been the sites of horrific crimes.

For vulnerable women and children in the camps, the basic human right to a safe and healthy life is simply absent. The Australian and Northern Territory Governments are determined to implement a comprehensive plan to transform the town camps and to provide intensive support services to the individuals and families who live in the camps.

For ten months the Australian and Northern Territory governments have been in negotiations with Tangentyere Council.

Last Thursday the final deadline for an agreement passed. Tangentyere Council has not agreed to a fair and consistent tenancy management system. The Australian Government cannot agree to a system where houses are not allocated on the basis of need, where upgrades and maintenance may not be delivered.

The Australian and Northern Territory Governments have explored all possible avenues for reaching agreement. Over the past 10 months our governments have made 35 concessions and extended the deadline on three separate occasions.

Last month we increased our offer from $50 million to $100 million to upgrade infrastructure and housing in the town camps, plus more than $25 million to assist with the establishment of additional accommodation facilities and other support services.

Tangentyere Council’s refusal leaves the Australian and Northern Territory governments with no option but to take the first step towards compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps if we are to have any hope of improving the lives of residents.

I have today written to Tangentyere Council and each of the housing associations to inform them that I am considering giving the Northern Territory a notice under sub-section 47 (1) of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007.

If I give such a notice, the acquisition will take effect on a date no earlier than 6 July 2009. This will allow a period of natural justice during which affected parties will be able to provide their views directly to me and provide written submissions.

The purpose of acquiring this land is to substantially improve the lives of indigenous people living in the town camps. Residents will not be removed from the camps as a result of the acquisition.

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The current leases were not granted under the Northern Territory Land Rights legislation and are not based on traditional ownership. The Australian and Northern Territory Governments have not given up hope that Tangentyere Council will accept our offer. Over the natural justice period it remains open for Tangentyere Council to review its position and be part of the $125 million plan to make living conditions better for people, especially the Aboriginal people, in Alice Springs.

Our governments are determined to act to protect the most vulnerable in our community. Thank you.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] Are you trying to, are you saying that you’re giving them an option until July to agree to your conditions or something, some sort of reasonable compromise that you might get back on this?

JENNY MACKLIN: No. Today I am giving notice that we intend to acquire. There will be a notice period, as I’ve just outlined. But during that notice period, Tangentyere can indicate that the may agree to the proposals that have, that we have put forward but the time for negotiation is over.

QUESTION: But, so in other words they could still be, you could still [indistinct] the position where if they agree, they’ll go back to being charged?

JENNY MACKLIN: No. This is a period of notice, a natural justice period and during that time they could indicate that they are prepared to agree to the proposal that we have put forward.

The proposal we have put forward, up until now, has been that we require proper tenancy management to be put in place, the sort of tenancy management that applies for public housing residence, right across Australia. A tenancy management process which is fair and reasonable and which is based on need.

This is really been the major sticking point of the negotiations.

QUESTION: But does that mean that the could still end up being the body running the camps, if they read that?

JENNY MACKLIN: What we have insisted upon, all along, and we – and this was agreed by Tangentyere Council last July, it was agreed that for the next three years that the Northern Territory Government would be responsible for a tenancy management and that the sort, and that the tenancy management system that would be put in place would be that which applies to other residents of remote communities in the Northern Territory.

That was agreed last July. Tangentyere Council have now gone back on that agreement and will no longer agree to the Northern Territory Government taking responsibility for tenancy management for the next three years.

QUESTION: So what does it leave then, what role will they have?

JENNY MACKLIN: We agreed and made a number of concessions in relation to the nature of consultation over the period of the last 10 months. We have agreed that it – consultation is critical and we’re prepared to have a consultative process inserted into the 40-year lease. Tangentyere Council rejected that offer.

QUESTION: So in other words they, they really cease to exist as a governing body?

JENNY MACKLIN: No. Tangentyere Council will continue to deliver services. They are on contact to deliver a range of different types of services for older people for example, they deliver employment services, they have a building program. So they deliver a range of other services in addition to this task.

QUESTION: But not relating to housing?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, we did have an agreement last July that with Tangentyere Council on an agreed work plan. That agreed work plan said that for the next three years the Northern Territory Government would take responsibility for tenancy management.

We have taken the very firm view, all through these negotiations, that tenancy management in these town camps needs to be fair and open and transparent just like it is for public housing tenants everywhere else in Australia.

And that is the issue that they will not agree to. They want to still continue to have control over who lives where in these town camps, who gets access to a home rather than it being based on need and rather than it being transparent.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

JENNY MACKLIN: There are far too many examples of houses being allocated not on the basis of an open and transparent process, not on the basis of need.

We don’t think it’s appropriate that housing be allocated on the basis of who you’re related to. We think it’s important that it’s done on the basis of need.

QUESTION: You mentioned shocking conditions [indistinct]…

JENNY MACKLIN: There are appalling conditions of housing in these town camps, just a couple of weeks ago I visited a number of the town camps, just to give you an example of one, Hoppys Camp, there were, could be upwards of 50 people living in a shelter basically no walls to the shelter, living in filthy conditions.

One parent raised with me the enormous problems with cockroaches, waking up in the morning with cockroaches all over the children, the conditions in these town camps are horrific, I can’t put it any more plainly.

They are horrific, they require significant action. We’ve attempted by a long – over a long period to get a negotiated outcome. Tangentyere Council have rejected our offer and it leaves me with no choice but to take the action that I’ve announced today.

QUESTION: Why did they say they’ve rejected the offer, what’s their argument?

JENNY MACKLIN: They want control over tenancy management. They want to determine when someone will be evicted, they want to determine who will get a house and where and when.

QUESTION: Are you saying they relate, they tend to do it on the basis of kinship rather than…

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, there’s a whole lot of examples of how people get access to a house that’s not based on a fair and reasonable basis.

Why I want and what the Northern Territory Government want, is to make sure that the same sorts of tenancy management protections apply to people living in the town camps as apply anywhere else.

I don’t want people standing over residents, basically, saying that they will only get a home if they are going to agree to particular conditions.

We want the same sort of tenancy management standards that apply everywhere else in Australia to apply to these residents, same sort of protections as well.