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Northern Territory: Ministers explain that meeting with Thamarrurr Council at Wadeye failed due to a misunderstanding.

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Thursday 8 June 2006

Northern Territory: Ministers explain that meeting with Thamarrurr Council at Wadeye failed due to a misunderstanding


MARK COLVIN: The Northern Territ ory Chief Minister Clare Martin has travelled to the Aboriginal community of Wadeye for the first time since the big outbreak of gang violence there last month.  


Wadeye, 250 kilometres south west of Darwin, is the Northern Territory's biggest single Indigenous community. It's been plagued by gang warfare which has left over 300 people homeless. 


The Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments are desperately trying to address the underlying issues which have led to the violence, but yesterday things took a turn for the worst when traditional elders walked out of a meeting with a Federal Government bureaucrat. 


Sarah Hawke reports from Darwin. 


SARAH HAWKE: Traditional owners in Wadeye are furious about a meeting they had yesterday with a top-level bureaucrat from the Office of Indigenous Policy. 


Wayne Gibbons travelled to Wadeye to discuss a number of issues including conditions for future funding. 


The local council argues Mr Gibbons was condescending and issued a warning that some funding would be stopped unless a raft of demands were met in the next month.  


Dale Seaniger from the Thamurrurr Council says the community is aware of the need to address issues like getting kids to school but negotiations have to be handled better. 


DALE SEANIGER: It's not unreasonable to expect the kids to go to school. I mean, that's one of the things that people were really cranky about, that our people want to get the kids to school, but it's not as simple as that. There's a lot of issues to be addressed in the ground here and you don't simply come into the community and say unless you get all the kids to school, we're not going to invest in the community.  


I mean, he talked about discretionary funding and you couldn't make that threat anywhere else in Australia. It's just, our people said look, we have issues, but we really need to work together on these issues to fix it. You can't just come in here and say, it's your problem, you fix it. We need to work together on this.  


SARAH HAWKE: PM hasn't been able to contact Mr Gibbons for his insight on the meeting, but the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough argues there was a misunderstanding and there is no one month deadline on the funding. 


Mr Brough warns, though, the community has to undertake basic repairs on houses damaged in the violence. Graffiti also has to be removed.  


MAL BROUGH: No-one's asking the locals to do anything more than paint over graffiti, clean the surrounding buildings and to have their children attend school. And I am disturbed that there would be anyone, in any community, where they'd feel that that was somehow an inappropriate requirement from the Commonwealth when we are looking at having to continue to invest a lot taxpayers' money to improve the life of these people.  


SARAH HAWKE: Will welfare payments be stripped if this doesn't happen? 


MAL BROUGH: No-one said that to them at all. That was a misinterpretation. It was that we are not prepared to put more taxpayers' money into housing, for argument's sake, until such times as law and order is re-established, that children are at school and that some of this damage, superficial damage if you like, like graffiti, are dealt with.  


SARAH HAWKE: The Northern Territory Chief Minister is cautious not to rock her relationship with the Federal Government over the wider debate surrounding violence in Aboriginal communities. 


Clare Martin agreed there were tensions at yesterday's meeting but she believes from her visit today that they were resolved. 


CLARE MARTIN: I think it was raised that there needed to be, the homes that were damaged needed to be repaired, and that's happening. So that's not a problem. I agree with that. You can't have people living in damaged homes. And certainly about getting the kids to school, it's the Territory law. What we've got to make sure is we can do it.  


SARAH HAWKE: Is Mal Brough handling this debate, particularly with Wadeye, well? 


CLARE MARTIN: If you try and, if you try and encapsulate what happens in a complex community like Wadeye with one line, you can't. It is a complex situation. It has 20 different language groups living there. It has always been difficult.  


SARAH HAWKE: How would you assess the progress on the ground there at Wadeye? 


CLARE MARTIN: I think things are going well. You've got a community, I met with a whole range of people: I met with the rangers who are working hard and talked to me about the weed clean-up they're doing; the school, lots of kids back in the school and a lot happening; I met the guys who were doing their Certificate I in construction, just starting that, and there's a dozen who are doing that; so a lot of activity happening in the community, at the factory, and it's a community that's working hard.  


They don't like the fact that they had troubles a couple of weeks ago, but they've moved on and certainly want governments to move with them.  


MARK COLVIN: The Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin ending that report from Sarah Hawke.