The Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, has made a lightning visit to Alice Springs in an effort to cajole the town’s 18 Town Camp Housing Associations into new land tenure arrangements.

Contrary to some media reports, no agreements have yet been signed, with the housing associations’ peak body Tangentyere Council undertaking only ‘to work in good faith’.

Minister Brough met last night with representatives of the Tangentyere Council and then with the Alice Springs Town Council.

It is likely that his discussions with Tangentyere Council centred around the development of a Memorandum of Understanding, which would act to govern any new arrangements.

The outcome of these talks may rest on the capacity of the Minister to identify or create an entity to manage the subleases and act as landlord which is acceptable to Tangentyere Council.

The Town Camp Housing Associations have previously made it clear that they lack confidence in the capacity of the Northern Territory Government’s public housing office, Territory Housing, to operate successfully as a landlord for Indigenous clients.

On Wednesday 18 April 2007, the Tangentyere Council held a public meeting in Alice Springs’ Todd Street Mall to consider the Minister’s offer of further funding, contingent upon the associations’ agreeing to new land tenure arrangements.

A letter from the Minister Brough to Tangentyere Council was read to the meeting, advising the campers that they had one month to agree to the subleasing of residential areas of the town camps to the Northern Territory Government ‘for a period of no less than 99 years and without conditions’.

Such an agreement would see desperately-needed federal funding totalling $60 million dollars released for urgent infrastructure maintenance and improvements in the camps.

However, the meeting voted to reject the Minister’s offer, with town campers expressing concern that the loss of control over their leases could see them return to the bad old days of living in fringe camps, devoid of basic legal and human rights.

Tangentyere Executive Director, William Tilmouth, has made it clear that he is deeply concerned at the linking of basic service provision to negotiations over land tenure arrangements.

The Minister’s one-month deadline expires on Friday.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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