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Mistrust and hope struggle for a hearing - 30.11.2004

The plan to create a powerful authority to take control of Aboriginal-owned housing at the Block in Redfern would only help a few black people while sweeping aside self-determination, a Sydney indigenous leader has said.

"The State Government puts $27 million into Redfern, which will accommodate about half a dozen Aboriginal families, and in the meantime every other Aboriginal family in Sydney can go jump," said Marcia Ella-Duncan, chairwoman of ATSIC's Sydney regional council.

Secret cabinet papers have revealed that the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, to be established soon, will redevelop the largely derelict Block and help bail out the Aboriginal Housing Company.
In return, the housing company must give it a 10-year lease over its land. This meant a "pillar post" of self-determination for decades would be sacrificed, Ms Ella-Duncan said. "It won't touch the tip of our housing needs. The Sydney Aboriginal community is in housing crisis," she said.

Local Aborigines yesterday expressed mistrust over the plan, which envisages a $5 billion development. It would privatise 15 hectares of public housing land.
The plan "reeks of phasing out problem communities", said a community worker, Shane Phillips. "It's really close to the city and they want to move the CBD out, but I hope they are not going to do it at our cost - not just Aborigines, but working-class people and battlers. They built the foundations of the place."

Frank Sartor, the minister responsible for the new authority, said the plan would bring significant gains in infrastructure, education, health and safety.
The options for the Block were "not about dispossessing Aboriginal people and sending them off somewhere else".

"Certainly there is no plan at the moment to use any compulsory powers to take control. The current model and our approach has been to consult and to see if we can gain agreement out of people." There was no intention to reduce the number of public housing tenants, nor to get rid of existing tenants, he said.

The Greens' Sylvia Hale said government officials had denied to MPs that a plan for the authority existed. She said the first many knew about it was when they read it in yesterday's Herald.
Her party would now try to delay upper house debate on the legislation for the new authority - scheduled for next week - until full details were released.
"To maintain there was no plan when it's obvious there was one I just think is a wilful and deliberate misleading of members of Parliament," she said.

The Urban Development Institute of Australia, representing developers, supported the "courageous" establishment of the authority, and its ambitious plans. The institute's executive director, David Poole, said urban renewal would never be achieved without "some fairly blunt instruments of reform".

The Exodus Foundation chairman, Bill Crews, who has a long association with the Block, welcomed the plan and said a single, strong authority was needed to deal with the many egos and vested interests in Redfern.
"Everybody and his dog" would attack any plan at the beginning. "Everybody wants to see something done there, but everybody wants to see their thing done," the Reverend Crews said.

By Debra Jopson, Gerard Ryle and Darren Goodsir

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald
November 30, 2004