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Progress slow but steady for RWA - December 2005

Nami Kwon in The Southside News 4/2005 p8 reports: After a sluggish start, the Redfern Waterloo Authority is making progress with developments to renew the Redfern-Waterloo precinct.

Among major developments over the past months was the release of the Draft Redfern-Waterloo Human Services Plan, plans to sell off Redfern Public School, the establishment of three Ministerial advisory committees and the announcement of two new research agencies, worth $47.5 million, to be built at Australian Technology Park.

The Human Services Plan (HSP) listed 10 priorities that focused on streamlining and improving health, education, employment and other services in Redfern and Waterloo.

The key features of the HSP included one-stop shops for youth services, the establishment of a Redfern-Waterloo Trust, 100 additional childcare places and measures to improve education levels in the area.

The community was invited to submit feedback on the plan by mid-November but there were complaints about the limited time frame given to prepare feedback reports.

The HSP was scheduled for release in August, but was instead made public in October. The two-month delay had effectively eaten into the time that was reserved for community consultation.

Some service providers, like the local community centre, The Settlement, saw no point in providing feedback on the HSP.

The Settlement's management committee said in October the time provided for responses was "inappropriate for democratic organisations" with the Government "allowing themselves unlimited time and expertise to prepare reports, leaving none for preparation of responses."

In a statement, the Settlement's management committee said: "The Plan is a band-aid over a gaping wound at best, scapegoating of the hard-pressed volunteer sector at worst.

"We are better off, in our view, getting on with the job than responding to a Plan with such paltry intent."

They also criticised the proposed one-stop shops, which they said would mean a 'one size fits all' policy, eliminating services for smaller groups with special needs.

Geoff Turnbull, President of community group RED Watch, said while it appeared the Government was "seriously stepping up to its responsibilities in the area", a major concern was the lack of community consultation in its process.

In particular, Turnbull expressed disappointment about plans to sell off Redfern Public School to the Indigenous Land Corporation against community wishes. While the premise will be used to set up a National Aboriginal Youth Development Centre, Redfern will be losing another vital infrastructure. The Redfern Courthouse and old Police Station have also been sold off.

The $25 million from the sale of the school will be used by the RWA to fund its activities in the area.

Turnbull said the Government was in danger of repeating errors from the past by not working with the community and getting them involved, as was the case with the Street Team created by the state government as part of the Redfern Waterloo Partnership Project three years ago.

The Street Team failed to win community cooperation.

"The RWA has not come to grips with the whole idea of working with the community," said Turnbull.

"They haven't understood there is a lot of knowledge and a lot of good will in the community and if they are more open with the community and provide the mechanisms where people can be involved in that process, they will probably get a lot further and with a lot less resistance."

The promise of four Community Forums every year, allowing the community direct access to the Minister of Redfern-Waterloo, Frank Sartor, was not actualised at the time of going to press.

However, the RWA has established three Ministerial Advisory Committees, which are part of the overall community consultation framework. Each committee, comprising of six to eight community members with at least two Indigenous people on each committee, will give advice to the Minister and RWA on the three key areas of built environment, human services, and employment and enterprise.

The other big movement at the RWA has been the launch of a new building at the Australian Technology Park to accommodate two research agencies –the National Information and Communications Technology Australia and the Defence, Science and Technology Organisation.

The new agencies are expected to create 600 new jobs and the construction of the new facility will also promote the Jobs Compact which supports Indigenous employment opportunities.

Geoff Turnbull said while this was all positive, the real structural issues of unemployment in the area were not being addressed. Work created in the two research centres would require skilled, white-collar workers while the large majority of workers in Redfern and Waterloo were blue-collar workers.

Although the HSP would raise education levels and the number of skilled workers in Redfern and Waterloo in the long term, the Government needed to provide solutions for the high number of unemployed people in the area in the short term, said Turnbull.

Despite its achievements, the RWA has made no progress with redevelopment on The Block. Frank Sartor is still at loggerheads with the Aboriginal Housing Company, which owns the land, about the number of houses that can be built in the area. With both parties refusing to capitulate, redevelopment for The Block remains halted indefinitely and this will impact the RWA's overall activities.

"The truth is, nothing will kick off in Redfern until The Block gets fixed. That's the one thing that's always held this place back and that's the one thing that will help fix this area," said Peter Valilis, Project Manager of the AHC.