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Commonwealth wins court challenge

Sara Everingham reported this story on Thursday, November 26, 2009 12:27:00

ELEANOR HALL: A resident from an Indigenous town camp in Alice Springs has lost her court battle
with the Federal Government over the future management of the camps.

About 16 town camps had agreed to sign leases with the Commonwealth in return for new houses.

But that was put on hold when Barbara Shaw launched a challenge in the Federal Court.

Sara Everingham has been following the story and she joins us now.

So Sara how important was this case for the Federal Government?

SARA EVERINGHAM: Well Eleanor, we've all heard about the terrible conditions in the town camps
around Alice Springs - the overcrowding in the housing and the poor state of the housing that's
already there, the high rates of domestic violence.

And part of the Government's solution to these problems was to spend $100 million building new
houses and upgrading infrastructure in the town camps. But it insisted that he would only do this
if it had security of tenure, and 16 camps, as we've heard, had agreed to sign up to the 40-year
leases.

But the challenge by Barbara Shaw put those leases on hold and therefore put that housing program
on hold. So this case has big implications for the Federal Government's credibility on Indigenous
housing.

ELEANOR HALL: So what would it have meant for the Federal Government if it had lost?

SARA EVERINGHAM: Well because the Government is insisting on this security of tenure it would have
meant further delays to the housing program in the town camps.

It also could have had implications for the way the Government has to consult with the Indigenous
people before going ahead with such leases in the future because that's what Barbara Shaw was
arguing, that the Government hadn't followed, in legal terms, procedural fairness. That they hadn't
done enough to consult with people affected by these leases.

ELEANOR HALL: So how did Barbara Shaw react to the decision?

SARA EVERINGHAM: Well Barbara Shaw is going over this decision this morning and she says she'll be
making a statement this afternoon. Her legal team has a week to decide whether to lodge an appeal
against this decision.

One of her lawyers, Ben Schokman has spoken to us. He says there are some good things to come out
of this decision because this case has highlighted what he says is the poor way the Government has
handled the process of negotiating the leases in the town camps.

BEN SCHOKMAN: I wouldn't say it's a disappointing outcome. I think the important message here is
the fact that affected Indigenous communities feel as though they haven't had an adequate
opportunity to participate in decision making about matters which affect them.

Now the right of self determination is a fundamental human right and the approach that we're seeing
of the current Federal Government is to entirely disregard that right.

ELEANOR HALL: That's lawyer Ben Schokman. Now Sara, the Federal Minister Jenny Macklin has come in
for a lot of criticism over the slow progress on building houses for Aboriginal Australians. Does
this decision mean things will now speed up?

SARA EVERINGHAM: The Government says it's still examining this decision but the indication is that
the Government can now go ahead and start building houses in the town camps and fixing up
infrastructure there.

Now this housing program in the camps is part of the larger $670 million Indigenous housing program
the Federal Government is rolling out in the Northern Territory and, you're right, there has been
strong criticisms of the delays in that program and a lot of people will be watching to see how
quickly the Government gets to work in the town camps.

ELEANOR HALL: Sara Everingham in Alice Springs, thank you.