Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alice Springs town camps

Today I am announcing that the Australian Government is taking the first step towards compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps.

I have taken this step in agreement with the Chief Minister for the Northern Territory. I am taking this action to give children in the camps a better chance at a safe, healthy and happy life.

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 for the town camps by the deadline of 21 May 2009.

Anybody who has been to the Alice Springs town camps knows that action is drastically and urgently needed.

Living conditions in the camps are appalling. Acute overcrowding and sub-standard housing combined with alcohol abuse, despair and hopelessness have led to desperate and dangerous consequences. The 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 provide intensive support services to the individuals and families that live in the camps.

For 10 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, or where tenancies may not be administered with objective standards of transparency and fairness.

The Australian and Northern Territory Governments have explored all possible avenues for reaching an agreement.

Over the past 10 months, the Australian and Northern Territory Governments have made 35 concessions and extended the deadline for agreement 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 has failed to honour the commitments it gave in July 2008 to grant leases and to fair tenancy management. In good faith, the Australian and Northern Territory Governments have already honoured their commitments under the Agreed Work Plan, including:

  • $5.3 million for Tangentyere Council to continue their housing upgrade program in 2008-09;
  • Up to $200,000 for the planning and establishment of a Central Australian Affordable Housing Company in Alice Springs; and
  • Reimbursing legal costs related to negotiations to Tangentyere Council and the Housing Associations.

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 chance of improving the lives of camp 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 subsection 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. The intention is to substantially improve the quality of housing and essential services.

The current leases were not granted under the NT land rights legislation and are not based on traditional ownership.

The Australian Government will pay a reasonable amount of compensation.

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 Aboriginal people in Alice Springs.

We will also be prepared to work directly with individual town camp Housing Associations who see the value in granting the leases and agreeing to improve tenancy management.

We have obligations under international law to safeguard the dignity and security of all Australians wherever they live. We have a fundamental moral obligation to protect children.

The Australian and Northern Territory Governments are determined to act to protect the most vulnerable in our community. We cannot stand by and let the horrific levels of violence, abuse and despair continue in the town camps.

We urge Tangentyere Council to reconsider its position.