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Alice camps injunction is down to Macklin

Late yesterday, Federal Court Justice Alan Goldberg issued an injunction preventing the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin from taking over the Alice Springs town camps. The matter will now proceed to a full hearing on August 28-31.

Until then, minister Macklin will have to sit on her hands. She’ll also have to hope and pray that the penny doesn’t drop for the mainstream media on how, exactly, this all went so badly off the rails. As it stands, she was able to sneak out this morning and blame it all on someone else.

Work in the Alice Springs town camps will now be delayed and cannot start before this matter is heard,” Macklin said. And she’s right, work can’t begin. Here’s why.

When Macklin formally notified Tangentyere Council and the 16 Aboriginal housing associations that she was going to compulsorily acquire their land, no-one in the minister’s office thought to notify the actual town camp residents, whose rights and interests were also about to be abolished.

That’s right, despite having access, in theory, to the best legal advice money can buy, Macklin told the landowners she was taking their land, but forgot to mention anything to the actual tenants of the houses.

I’m no lawyer, but even I know that you can’t compulsorily acquire a house out from underneath a tenant without at least telling them beforehand, otherwise, in the words of Ron Merkel QC at the Federal Court, you make them “trespassers in their own home”.

So contrary to the notion peddled by some that lawyers have delayed proceedings, work cannot start on the Alice Springs town camps because, thus far, Jenny Maklin appears to have acted illegally.

Further, anyone suggesting that it’s a group of lawyers running this process clearly hasn’t met the lead litigant in this case, Barbara Shaw.

It’s Ms Shaw who has caused the delay, and she’s done it because, unsurprisingly, she and many of her town camp neighbours aren’t very happy about the extinguishment of their rights without consultation.

Of course, none of this had to happen. The Minister could simply have got the process right in the place. Then there would be no grounds for a legal challenge, least of all an injunction granted by the Federal Court.

Macklin could, at any point in this legal process, have simply halted proceedings. She could, as Justice Goldberg has repeatedly suggested, have agreed to enter into mediation. At any time she liked, Macklin could have provided the town campers with the same 60-days notice that she gave Tangentyere, and then proceeded with her compulsory acquisition and/or her agreement.

But that would have necessitated the minister admitting she made a mistake. So instead, she’s chosen to throw hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars at a no brainer court action that thus far she is losing.

This is actually the second time that Macklin has erred in relation to providing a proper period of notice. Two weeks after announcing in May that she was going to compulsorily acquire the camps, Macklin came out and publicly admitted that she hadn’t provided Tangentyere Council adequate notice. She extended the notice period to 60 days, and rebuked the Australian Government solicitor’s office for getting it wrong.

The most extraordinary part of the story is that this is not a complicated area of law. Compulsory acquisitions by government occur all the time, and land law is among the most developed in the Commonwealth. It’s been around since the Middle Ages. Stuffing it up once looks careless. But twice?

The upshot is that journalists should be screaming for Macklin’s scalp on this. Instead, the minister has been allowed to wheel out the violins and play some sob story to a lazy, uninformed and largely uninterested media about how she was “saddened” by the delays. This injunction, Macklin claimed, would further harm the interests of the town campers.

We had contractors ready to start work on Monday on cleaning up the town camps and conducting urgent repairs. This process means delays… of at least a month,” Macklin lamented.

Urgent repairs? Contractors ready to start on Monday? Isn’t this the same minister who hasn’t managed to build a single home in almost two years under her “national emergency” housing program?

I asked the minister’s office this morning to name names. Who are these contractors? No response. But for the sake of argument, let’s accept that for a change, Macklin is telling the truth. She did actually have some workers lined up to start next week.

Since they’ve got nothing to do now, send them three hours north-east of Alice to the communities of Utopia and Ampilatwatja, where about 100 Aboriginal people are living in rusted out car bodies and tents in the middle of the freezing desert winter because their town was overrun by sewage three weeks ago.

These people are in deep sh-t, Jenny. Surely you can identify with that?

10
  • 1
    Chris Graham
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    NOTE TO ALL: After Crikey went to press, the Minister’s office furnished me with the following reply to my question about the contractor for the town camps:

    The contractor is Territory Alliance, a consortium which includes the Northern Territory based company Sitzler. Sitzler has an office in Alice Springs.”

  • 2
    jungarrayi
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    At the beginning of the Intervention the Aboriginal company I manage was approached to apply for a Licence as a community store to be able to accept Income Managed money. This was presented as an opportunity which we rejected as the poisoned chalice that it was. We are opposed to compulsory Income Management and are not prepared to face angry customers when it is introduced, is what we told them. Their response?…. “Where are the people of Yuendumu going to shop? They’ll have to drive all the way to Alice Springs!” Our reply?…. “And whose f****** fault is that? ” Sound familiar?
    Its like trying to blame a person being tortured for the continuing torture “because they refuse to confess”.
    Macklin the queen of spin is now trying to blame Barbara Shaw for the delay in fixing the houses. So where were these alleged contractors two years ago at the start of the Intervention? Where were they for that matter during the last decades of underfunding and neglect? I suppose that was Barbara’s fault too!

  • 3
    Jon Hunt
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    There is I admit a bit of a theme to all this. Ms Macklin seems to feel she is entitled to do whatever she wishes and appears to be indifferent to any consequences. There is no hint of concern for Aboriginal people, only concern when she doesn’t get her own way. The only positive aspect to this is that it makes her look decidedly stupid. But then again, I suppose the last thing we need is a stupid Indigenous affairs minister who has no concern for Aboriginal people. There has gotta be someone out there who isn’t stupid and who cares, doesn’t there?

  • 4
    Mr Squid
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    jenny - isn’t that what you call a female donkey? - hasn’t had an original idea since she got the gig. she’s comfortable blindly following john howard and noel pearson down a dead end, which hopefully will bring about her demise . it’s overdue already.

  • 5
    Chris Graham
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Mr Squid: We actually have a column in the National Indigenous Times called, ‘A Jenny is an Ass’… it’s basically a fortnightly compendium of really inane things Macklin says… we don’t have to look very hard for material.

  • 6
    Liz45
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    The situation of the sewerage situation is three weeks old. Are they waiting for a little child or an elderly person to die of gastro?(a bit like years ago, waiting for at least 5 kids to be knocked down before there’d even be talk of traffic lights at some intersection?) The decision from the Court re town camps was only made a couple of days ago. What a load of rubbish Jenny Macklin speaks, and as has been said she hadn’t shown any intention of starting to build/repair any houses - it’s just BS! It’s time someone demanded that PM Rudd take charge!NOW!

  • 7
    jungarrayi
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    On the way from Alice Springs to Yuendumu one of those “No Alcohol, No Pornography” signs bears the only bit of local graffiti to have been sprouted by the Intervention…. “KEVIN RUDD KUNA RRURPA” it says.
    Liz I wish I could share your belief that replacing the queen of spin with the king of spin will make any difference to us out here on the Prescribed Areas.
    Fools we! When John Howard lost his seat we were happy, when Mal Brough lost his, we were ecstatic. At a public meeting here in Yuendumu a local Warlpiri man (that starred in “Bush Mechanics”) put it thus: ” Why is Rudd using John Howard’s shoes and piggybacking his policies?”
    Why indeed?

  • 8
    Mr Squid
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    jungarrayi, that intervention: it’s like one of your yuendumu toyotas; anyone can go along for a ride.

  • 9
    Gail Tuft
    Posted Friday, 7 August 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    There seems to be a number of ministers accepting only the advice they want to hear and whose positions relate to their factional standing rather than competence in the area for which they are responsible. Seat warmers. There is more than one portfolio where competence would be a better qualification than whatever selection criteria was actually used.

  • 10
    Liz45
    Posted Saturday, 8 August 2009 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    jungarrayi - Yes, sadly you’re right! I’ve always believed, that if what was happening to indigenous people in the NT was happening in the middle of Sydney, or even the suburbs, there’d be screams of protest and demand for change. I suppose it’s all very well to suggest that aboriginal people stop being so ‘law abiding’ but then, they’d need the media to cover it, and most of them support their oppression!

    I also find it strange that Geoffrey on the other site thinks we support what Labor isn’t doing? I thought we on the left were being critical of the Rudd govt, in particular, Jenny Macklin’s incompetence?

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