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Aboriginal anger as Block rezoned - 10 February 2006

John Stapleton in The Australian reports that LONGSTANDING tensions between Sydney's Redfern Aboriginal community and the NSW Government escalated yesterday after Planning Minister Frank Sartor announced that Redfern's Block, a centre of Aboriginal activism for more than 30 years, would be rezoned for commercial use.

The land was given to the Aboriginal community by the Whitlam government in the 1970s. Although relatively trouble-free over the past year, the area, in Sydney's inner-south, has been plagued by riots and heroin dealing since the mid-1990s.

The Government says its proposals, contained in the Built Environment Plan released by the Redfern-Waterloo Authority, will create 18,000 jobs and revitalise the area.

The scheme includes a new town centre next to Redfern rail station, but puts an end to the Aboriginal plan known as the Pemulway Project to redevelop the Block with residential housing, an Aboriginal business college, retail centre and markets.

Mick Mundine, chief executive of the Block's owner, the Aboriginal Housing Company, described the scheme as a big win for developers.

"This is a disgraceful betrayal of Aboriginal people," Mr Mundine said. "The federal Government gave us this land. It is very degrading and very racist what the state Government is trying to do. They do not understand how important the Block is to us."

Longtime resident Bill Simon said the scheme was racist.

"We are just fighting for this little bit of land," Mr Simon said. "This is the heart of Australia. If they take this away, they are ripping our heart out."

Lyn Turnbull, a member of community group Redwatch, said it was time Mr Sartor started listening to the people's desire to live in the area.

"The rezoning is all about stopping Aboriginal families being part of a viable Redfern community," she said.

"People have to remember there was a very good, very family-oriented community on the Block before state government policies allowed the escalation of the drug trade during the1990s.

"This area has always been at the forefront of reconciliation, and the majority of Redfern's non-indigenous families strongly support an ongoing Aboriginal presence here."

But Mr Sartor, who is Minister for Redfern Waterloo, defended the scheme, saying it was a balanced plan. He said the rezoning was consistent with the proposed surrounding land uses.

"This is about the big picture," Mr Sartor said. "The Block is only one component of that.

"The benefits of this economic growth must be shared across these suburbs, which house some of Sydney's most disadvantaged residents."

NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam attacked the Government for its failure to consult local groups.

Mr Debnam, who visited the Block last week, said discontent among Aboriginal residents of Redfern was strong.

"State Labor has taken 11 years to come up with a Redfern Waterloo plan, but still couldn't get the community consultation right," he said. "Putting Frank Sartor in charge was a guaranteed way to ensure the local community was not properly consulted."

Mr Debnam said Mr Sartor's aggressive approach had alienated residents, and called on him to resign from his Redfern Waterloo portfolio.,5744,18099528%255E25658,00.html