On Tuesday Mal Brough, Federal Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs announced a $50 million dollar package to upgrade the Alice Springs Town Camps. But the new funding has some serious strings attached.
Two short-term accommodation centres will be established to help relive pressure on the overcrowded camps, while the majority of the funding will be spent in upgrading existing town camps “to make them like normal suburbs”.
However, the sting is in the tail of the Brough press release. The Government is demanding that the leases be relinquished to the Northern Territory Government to ensure that “appropriate land tenure arrangements are in place” before the funding is forthcoming.
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“I want these people who have the opportunity to buy their houses if they choose, like most Australians can,” said the Minister, displaying a staggering level of ignorance about the realities of the town camps.
The 21 town-camps – 19 of which have formal leases – are occupied as often by third generation residents as by visitors from out of town. Indigenous Australians live here in third-world conditions, wracked by the ravages of alcohol and denied access to services other Australians take for granted.
The June 2006 Alice Springs Town Camps Review Task Force report does not make for pretty reading: There are a total of 191 houses in the 21 camps. Approximately 80 houses are around 30 years old and only 22 houses were built in the last eight years.
I spoke last week to Alice Springs Mayor, Fran Kilgariff, who told me that “the town camps are basically ghettos. Violent… kids not going to school… housing in poor shape…visitors coming in from the bush and staying… dangerous overcrowding.”
Tangentyere Council, established to assist Aboriginal people to secure land tenure over camping sites in order to provide housing, infrastructure and basic services, estimates that up to 3,000 people may be living in the camps at any one time.
That’s right. Three thousand Australian citizens are crammed into 191 dilapidated houses, even as the Federal Government squirrels away handsome budget surpluses year after year. Minister Brough may rest assured that very few town campers are strong candidates for half million dollar bank mortgages.
These people are entitled to assistance and should be spared the lesson in political ideology until such time as they are living in the kind of basic comfort and security that the overwhelming majority of Australians take for granted.
* In 1999 a study commissioned by ATSIC found that the national unmet need in Indigenous housing was in the order of $2.3 billion.