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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4082

Mr HALE (3:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister update the House on plans to improve living conditions in the Alice Springs town camps?

Ms MACKLIN (Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) —I thank the member for Solomon for his question. Yesterday the government took the first step towards compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps. I have taken this action after very serious consideration and in the interests of making sure we give children in these town camps a chance at a safe, healthy and happy life. Anybody in this House who has been to these Alice Springs town camps knows that action is now urgently required. Living conditions are nothing short of appalling. Whether it is acute overcrowding, substandard housing, feral dogs, cockroach infested homes, alcohol abuse or violence—whatever it might be—these town camps, in fact, look more like a war zone than the outskirts of a country town in Australia. They have also been the site of horrific crimes. For many of the people in these town camps, the most basic human right to a safe and healthy life is simply absent.

For 10 months, the Australian and Northern Territory governments have been negotiating with Tangentyere Council to implement a plan to transform these town camps. We have explored many different avenues to seek an agreement. Last month, we increased the offer from $50 million to $100 million to upgrade and build new houses and infrastructure in these town camps. I have also made available $25 million for additional accommodation and other emergency facilities and intensive support services in the Alice Springs area.

Last Thursday, the final deadline for our negotiations closed. Tangentyere Council, unfortunately, have refused our offer. They will not agree to a fair and consistent tenancy management system. The Australian government and the Northern Territory government cannot agree to a system that does not give tenants in these town camps the same protections that apply to other Australians in other public housing areas. Without proper tenancy arrangements, the government’s plan to transform these town camps cannot succeed. It is also the case that Tangentyere Council have reneged on a work plan that was agreed to almost a year ago.

I now have no option but to take this step towards compulsory acquisition if we are to have any chance to improve the lives of residents. None of us want to stand by any longer and see the horrific levels of violence, abuse and despair continue in these town camps. It is still possible for Tangentyere Council to accept our offer before 6 July. But I have to say to all concerned that the time for negotiation is now over.