Aboriginal desert protest continues

By Alice Brennan | www.abc.net.au Fri Jul 17 2009 | PLUS RELATED ARTICLES

Nestled between sand hills about five kilometres from their homes, about 150 residents from a remote Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory are continuing to protest at a makeshift camp against poor housing conditions and the federal intervention.

The community of Ampilatwatja, about 300 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, is frustrated about overflowing septic tanks in their government-owned, overcrowded houses.

As health worker Eileen Bonney explains, the protest camp is a welcome break from the housing in town.

"Everything toilet's leaking and all that and sink," she said.

Ms Bonney, who pays rent to Northern Territory Housing, says her floor is often flooded with raw sewage and she has been asking to have it fixed for months.

The Territory Government yesterday said it had freed up $70,000 in funding to send in a plumber to fix seven septic tanks.

The plumber was due to arrive this morning.

The Barkly Shire, which manages the houses, said the plumber was supposed to pump out the tanks earlier this week, but the plumber's truck broke down on the way there.

Community members are also calling for an end to the Northern Territory Emergency Response, which they say has made them feel ashamed.

They are sick of being treated like children, they say.

'Feeling shame'
Banjo Morton, an ex stockman, says he has chosen to abandon his community because he is sick of income management, which sees part of welfare payments to Indigenous people in the Territory quarantined for essential provisions, such as food and clothing.

"I been feeling shame because they take away our rights," Mr Morton said.

The protesters have requested the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister visit their community as soon as possible.

Barkly Shire president, Rosalie Kunoth Monks, wants immediate action on the housing conditions in the Ampilatwatja community.

She says she is glad the issue of maintenance and services has come to a head.

"Welcome to the real world. This is the reality," she said.

Ms Kunoth Monks says her pleas for assistance in the past have all been ignored by the Northern Territory and Federal Governments.

"Now the neglect that has gone on from the inception of these homelands has to be addressed now, even before we start talking about super towns and so forth."

She says many people in the Barkly Shire live in tin sheds and humpies and they are paying rent to the Northern Territory Government.

A significant increase in funding to the maintenance of houses is necessary, she says.

"That's the only way we can address the derelict situation that we find that is called 'housing'.

"They are no less than tin sheds.

"That's not only at Ampilatwatja, that's right throughout."

The Indigenous Health Minister, Warren Snowdon, who is also the federal Member for Lingiari, says the Territory Government is acting quickly to rectify the sewage problem.

"I think it would be most unfortunate if people abandoned their homes once they've been, once the issue of the sewage has been addressed," he said.

"I think they should be encouraged to move back to their homes.

"However, I don't deny them the opportunity, and nor should they be denied the opportunity, to express their views, however strongly they are held about the issue of the Emergency Response."

Additional reporting: Kirsty Nancarrow

Tin shed rent is 'unacceptable': minister

By Alice Brennan www.abc.net.au

The Minister for Central Australia, Karl Hampton, says his own Government's remote public housing policy, which sees Aboriginal people charged $25 per fortnight to live, in some cases, in tin sheds, is unacceptable.

Mr Hampton's comments follow last week's walk-out staged by residents of the Ampilatwatja community, 325 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs.

Community members say they are angry about poor housing conditions in Ampilatwatja and the federal intervention in the Northern Territory.

The Territory Government last week outlaid $70,000 in funding to help repair malfunctioning septic tanks in the community after they overflowed, leaving sewage around some of the housing.

The ABC has been told about cases where about 10 people live in single Ampilatwatja properties, meaning some of the homes are effectively being rented for about $250 per fortnight.

Mr Hampton says the Territory Government should consider an alternative model.

"People paying rent for that type of accommodation - I don't think is acceptable," he said.

"But I know the Minister for Housing is certainly aware of that.

"And he is very keen to look at the other models we can come up with that is more appropriately built around the people and what they earn and what money is available on a local community."

The federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, today declined to comment on the Ampilatwatja situation, saying she had just returned from holidays and needed a briefing.

Group demands Indigenous housing details

www.theaustralian.news.com.au From AAP
THE Rudd government must give a detailed breakdown of expenditure on its remote indigenous housing program, says one of Australia's most powerful Aboriginal land councils.

NT government ministers were warned at a meeting last week the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) was behind schedule and off-track, reports say.

They were allegedly told less than half the 700 homes originally promised were likely to be delivered, and that up to 70 per cent of the money would be spent on "indirect costs" such as contractor and government administration fees.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has denied claims only 30 per cent of the funds will be spent on new homes.

"I don't know where that report has come from and I can assure you and your listeners that it is completely wrong," she told ABC radio.

But the minister was unable to give a detailed breakdown on how much money had been spent in the past 15 months, or who it had gone to.

Chief executive of the Northern Land Council Kim Hill on Thursday said the government needed to answer allegations it was misspending funds on "excessive administration costs, delays and waste".

"The federal government must respond to these allegations so we are all clear on how this money is being spent," he said. "Not one house has been built under SIHIP in the two years since the federal intervention."

Mr Hill said the government had not done enough to consult with traditional owners and communities to determine appropriate housing sites, designs, and employment outcomes.

"We want local Aboriginal people to be properly trained and employed to help build these houses, not only so they have future work skills, but also for local communities to have an employment force that can maintain the houses."

Earlier this week, a memo from NSW Labor senator Ursula Stephens, sent to Ms Macklin more than 12 months ago, was leaked to the media.

In it, she warned no houses would be built under SIHIP until 2011, and said the program was potentially shoddy, anti-competitive and "really worthy of a review".

On Wednesday, she said all of her concerns had since been addressed.

'Ankle-deep' sewage sparks Indigenous walk-off

By Alice Brennan www.abc.net.au Thu Jul 16, 2009

Residents of a Central Australian Indigenous community have left the area in protest because they say they are becoming sick from living in government-managed tin houses with ankle-deep sewage.

Health worker Kim Morrish says the raw sewage in some of the public houses in Ampilatwatja, 325 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, regularly leads to gastric and skin infections.

"And there are quite a number of people living in houses that are exclusively made of tin," he said.

A spokesman for the community, Richard Downs, says about 30 people have set up a camp about three kilometres away from the community to protest against ongoing issues he says are related to the federal intervention in the Northern Territory.

He says they are prepared to establish a camp further away on traditional lands within the next fortnight if the federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, does not respond to their concerns.

"The place is a disgrace," he said.

"Our leaders are not getting involved.

"We're an outcast and we're not having any say into what's happening on the community at all.

"We see all these government agencies and bodies coming and going but to no result, so what's the use of sort of living in a community which the Government has a five year lease on it?"

Urgent repairs
A Northern Territory Government spokewoman told the ABC this morning that it is trying to resolve the issue quickly.

"The Department was advised on Tuesday that urgent work was needed on septic tanks and drains at seven houses," she said.

"Funds were released to the [Barkly] Shire immediately so that the work could be done.

"The Shire provides tenancy services and repairs and maintenance services on behalf of the Department in this community.

"The Shire has advised that their contractor is expected to be on site with the necessary equipment to commence the work by tomorrow morning at the latest."

But federal Northern Territory Senator Nigel Scullion, from the Country Liberals Party, says that is not good enough.

"This is not rocket science," he said.

"We have these as part of infrastructure, as part of every city.

"And it sounds like they have to send someone down.

"Well is that the closest they can do?

"Haven't they got a represenative closer? They should be able to ring in and at least be there in a day.

"This situation has been going on for weeks."

Barkly Shire chief executive Jeff Sowiak says municipal services have improved since the Barkly Shire replaced the local community council two years ago as part of the intervention.

He says the shire does the best it can with the money it receives from Territory Housing for maintenance.

"I was not aware that there was a protest in that regard going on at the moment.

"But ... it's not a case of the Barkly Shire not acting.

"The Barkly Shire is acting and doing the best we can with the funds that we have available."

Mr Sowiak says the sewage issue is a recurrent problem because houses are overcrowded and the septic tanks were not designed to handle the load.

He says it costs $30,000 to pump out the tanks each month.

"[We] have attracted funding for the purchase of a truck which will enable us to pump out septic tanks and that is being acquired at the moment.

"And we have a plumber on his way down there, and unfortunately earlier this week he was on his way down there and his truck broke down."

'Substandard housing'
Mr Morrish says insufficient maintenance over a long period of time has led to the problem.

"Northern Territory Housing have suggested that those people not bother paying rent any more," he said.

"Now if that's true, that simply means that they agree this is substandard housing and they don't want to actually collect rent for people.

"To my mind I think that may well be true."

The executive director of Northern Territory Housing in the Barkly region, Wayne Hoban, says rent collection has not changed for tenants in Ampilatwatja.

Mr Hoban says rent is centrally managed and directly contributes to meeting the costs of maintenance, managing tenancies and supporting tenants.

"In addition, Ampilatwatja is one of 29 communities in the southern shires that will receive refurbishments under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program," he said.

Ampilatwatja has a population of about 360 people.

Additional reporting by Kirsty Nancarrow, Iskhandar Razak and Melinda James

The views in these stories are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Treaty Republic.