Yesterday the executive of the Tangentyere Council finally rejected an offer of $60 million of federal funding, made contingent upon them relinquishing control over their hard-won leases. An earlier deadline had been extended by Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough until yesterday, at the request of Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin.
Minister Brough’s immediate agreement to Martin’s request to give the Northern Territory Government time to have a crack at turning the screws on Tangentyere simply underscored the farcical nature of the contrived deadlines.
A petulant Brough has now indicated that the desperately needed funding will go to Western Australia.
The minister’s Dirty Harry-style negotiating techniques of demands and deadlines have failed dismally, but it is the residents of the camps who will suffer the consequences.
On Friday, the executive of the Tangentyere Council announced that it could not accept the Minister’s offer of funding for urgently needed infrastructure upgrades to the Alice Springs town camps. The response came on the last day of a one-month deadline given to the housing associations to accept an ultimatum to agree to “sublease the residential areas [of the town camps] to the Northern Territory Government for a period of no less than 99 years and without conditions.”
Walter Shaw, a member of the executive council read a brief statement, saying that that “council strongly feels that to exclude members and residents from making decisions over their lives is a breach of their human rights and will have a negative health and social impact on the town of Alice Springs.”
Shaw added that the Tangentyere Executive Council “continues to welcome the commitment of $60 million for the essential upgrade of town camps and sincerely hopes that the minister will reconsider our proposed amendment to the memorandum of understanding”.
Council members would not elaborate on the nature of the deadlock. However, it seems likely that the town camp housing associations are not prepared to accept Territory Housing — the Northern Territory Government’s public housing agency — as landlord. Tangentyere Council has indicated that it lacks confidence in the capacity of Territory Housing to deal with Indigenous clients in an understanding and culturally sensitive manner.
Tangentyere Council has demonstrated rare courage in taking this principled stand. The acid is now squarely on Brough to hand over the $60 million he has earmarked for improvements to the camps. Tangentyere has indicated that it is quite willing to continue to negotiate with the minister on the entirely separate issue of land tenure arrangements.