Commonwealth told to get out of town as intervention anger rises

Amos Aikman The Australian September 10, 2012

A second remote Northern Territory community has called for the government to leave town after the commonwealth failed to negotiate long-term leases before those imposed under the Howard government expired.

Residents of Ampilatwatja, about 325km northeast of Alice Springs, say they have asked the federal government to either hand over its assets to the local community development organisation or have them removed.

The move comes after traditional owners declined to accept Canberra's offer of a 40-year lease over community housing in return for refurbishments.

Richard Downs, a local leader and spokesman, said the offer was unfair, and that the community was angry at paternalistic treatment over the past five years. He said the community wanted to resume control over its own affairs.

Last month, The Australian revealed the five-year leases compulsorily acquired over 64 remote communities - part of the Howard government's Northern Territory emergency response to reports of child abuse and other problems - had expired.

All assets not protected by new agreements have passed into the hands of traditional owners, and governments' ability to access 25 of those communities to provide services, conduct maintenance and monitor rent collection is now protected only by "gentlemen's agreements" and an untested invocation of Northern Territory law.

Lawyers acting for Amoonguna, a community on the outskirts of Alice Springs, have already threatened to bring trespass proceedings if Territory government employees did not pack up and leave. The MacDonnell Shire has so far refused to comply.

Mr Downs said the community had told federal bureaucrats at a meeting last month that it wanted the government business manager's complex and two demountables handed over or removed, and had asked the Central Land Council to follow up in writing.

"We just want the commonwealth out of town," he said.

He said Ampilatwatja would try to work with the new Country Liberal Party government that swept Labor out of power in the Territory last month.

A spokeswoman for federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin denied the lease offer had been formally rejected by Ampilatwatja.

"The commonwealth has received written confirmation from the Central Land Council that traditional owners are interested in continuing negotiations for leases over public housing," she said.

However, James Hampton, chief executive of Aboriginal corporation Alyawarr Ingkerr-wenh, said she was mistaken.

Under the Howard government's vision, the 64 communities would migrate to longer township leases to foster private investment and create much-needed jobs.

Only six such township leases have so far been signed, while the Labor government has negotiated 40-year leases over smaller blocks of housing in 34 communities.

Jenny Macklin

Negotiations continue over Ampilatwatja lease

Ruby Jones ABC News 12 September 2012

The Federal Government says it is not aware that the remote Central Australian community of Ampilatwatja has rejected a Commonwealth lease over their land.

Jim Hampson from the community's Aboriginal corporation says residents are not going to sign the lease because there has not been enough offered in return.

But a spokesperson for the Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says the offer has not been formally rejected.

Mr Hampson says traditional owners will negotiate with the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments about the future of service delivery.

"The community has seen that this is an opportunity to negotiate with government on how services can be improved," he said.

"So at the moment we are just discussing with the minister and his department on services and how those services can be improved."