Court halts building in Alice town camps
August 7, 2009
THE Federal Government's $100 million plan to build housing in Alice Springs' decrepit town camps has been halted until at least the end of the month, after a court ruled that the Government could not ignore the concerns of indigenous residents.
The delay is yet another setback for the Government, which is facing strident calls to act on the appalling state of indigenous communities, especially in the Northern Territory.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has been keen to talk up the benefits of building new housing and sealing roads through squalid Alice Springs camps that lack basic services such as sewerage and power.
But Justice Alan Goldberg has extended an injunction barring the Government until August 31 from either seizing the land using its powers under the Emergency Intervention laws introduced by the Howard government in 2007, or from entering into new, 40-year leases with Alice Springs' 18 housing associations.
Justice Goldberg was not satisfied that Ms Macklin and her officers, in their bid to negotiate new leases, had properly explained to residents that the changeover would extinguish their rights to remain in their properties.
He said the Government's power to compulsorily acquire the land in the absence of new lease agreements did not absolve it of the duty to provide natural justice and procedural fairness for the town camp residents.
Ms Macklin said last night she was "very disappointed about this further delay".
"We had contractors ready to start work on Monday on cleaning up the town camps and conducting urgent repairs," she said.
"This process means delays to the transformation of the Alice Springs town camps of at least a month."
The Government earlier this week told the court any further delays to the Alice Springs project could push the starting date into next year because building contractors would be deployed elsewhere.
"Throughout this process I have repeatedly consulted with Tangentyere Council, housing associations and town camp residents. But if I have to do more, I will."
Ms Macklin said the department would try to write to each of the residents and extra efforts would be made to inform them of what would happen.
"I am determined to get on with the job of upgrading and building new houses so that women and children who live in the camps have the right to a safe and healthy life," she said. "Living conditions in the town camps are appalling."
The case was initiated last week by Barbara Shaw, a Kaytetye-Arrernte resident of the Mount Nancy camp. It will be heard on August 28 by Federal Court judge John Mansfield.