Earlier this year, Aboriginal MP Karl Hampton opened extensions to the Yeperenye shopping centre—the largest shopping complex in Alice Springs. It was a proud moment for the Territory’s youngest MP: it was a building he’d grown up with, shopped at, or just hung around with his mates in the air conditioning.

As a young Aboriginal kid, Karl had seen it grow to one of the town’s largest business enterprises—and it was owned by Aboriginal interests.

What had started as a $2 million investment by the Aboriginal Development Corporation under the late Charles Perkins in the early 1980s was valued at something like $32 million a couple of years ago before the latest $5 million expansion. It houses banks, a Woolies supermarket, a newsagent and just about everything in between.

The trouble with this shopping centre, for people like Mr Brough, is that it is owned by Aboriginal people: something he seems determined to rectify.

Just before the axing of ATSIC by the Howard government, and as part of its dissolution, the Yeperenye shopping centre was passed on to the local native title group, Lhere Athepe, and a body called Centrecorp, established back in the mid 1980s by the Central Land Council and other Aboriginal bodies as a charitable investment vehicle for Aboriginal traditional owner groups through central Australia.

Centrecorp, and its assets, is now in the sights of Brough as he adopts a scorched earth policy towards Aboriginal organisations in the Territory leading up to the next elections. As well as Yeprenye, it owns a half share in Peter Kittle Motors, central Australia’s largest car dealerships. Shares are also held in Kings Canyon Resort, the Mereenie gas pipeline to Darwin’s Channel Point power station, and a small slice in ownership of the railway. Centrecorp’s assets are estimated to be worth up to $100 million.

So much for engaging with capitalism.

As outlined in Crikey on Wednesday, Brough is targeting all Aboriginal-held assets worth more than $400,000 with the proposal they be removed from Aboriginal ownership and transferred to a government-controlled property monolith, the so-called Indigenous Economic Development Trust (IEDT).

The IEDT assets would then potentially be leased back to Aboriginal businesses.

It is understood the Larrakia Nation, traditional owners of the Territory’s capital, Darwin, are also under threat. They are currently involved in major housing estate developments, including in conjunction with the Defence Housing Authority.

How Larrakia’s business partners would regard Larrakia equity and investments being taken over by Canberra is best left to the imagination.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey