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11 March 2005

The Battle for the Block – Background Documents

The Battle for the Block – Background Documents

This update is different from normal as it will deal with just one issue - The Block and it contains a series of articles to which we usually just provide links. Please feel free to send this email on to anyone with a concern about Aboriginal and Redfern Issues.

We are sending this out because the battle for the future of the Block has been ratcheted up by an article in today’s (11th March 2005) Financial Review which quotes comments by Minister Sartor and Ken Morrison of the property Council of Australia yesterday at the Property Council of Australia’s Lunch which was addressed by Minister Sartor. The article can be viewed from the following link Tough-talking Sartor targets the Block. We have also included this article below for your easy reference along with the interchange between the AHC and the Minister over the past week including today’s (11th March 2005) AHC response in the SMH letters page.

As background I have also supplied three articles from the SMH Feature in November 2004 based on Cabinet in Confidence documents. These explain the connection between the Block and RWA redevelopment of the Station. In particular see the highlighted paragraph on the Dept of Commerce report in “Maximising market value the main game”. It also gives some idea of the deal the Government was trying to force the AHC into before the RWA was formed and Minister Sartor was put in charge. Finally I have reproduced the response of Aboriginal Agencies to the SMH’s Cabinet papers comments including their response to the AHC Pemulwuy project and the possibility of the RWA resuming the Block to get its way.

The full details of the AHC’s Pemulwuy including the social plan and the development (including the latest drawing from MERRIMA - Aboriginal Design Unit (NSW Government Architect’s Office) are on the AHC’s website at

I hope this background information is helpful in understanding the current issues surrounding the Battle for the Block and will inform the action / letters etc that individuals and groups may wish to take regarding this issue.

Tough-talking Sartor targets the Block

Australian Financial Review 11th March 2005 Tina Perinotto

They say Frank Sartor has a good chance of being the next premier of NSW. He certainly talks the right way. Tough. Last week he was reported as saying there would be no more Aborigines in Redfern.

Sartor, NSW Minister for Energy and Utilities is the state government's answer to one of its toughest planning challenges: heading the newly created Redfern-Waterloo Authority.

The authority's job is to redevelop the decades-old slums of Aboriginal housing in the infamous Block around Eveleigh Street and the nasty public housing in Waterloo, now potentially prime inner-city real estate.

Yesterday, at a Property Council of Australia's lunch at the Westin in Sydney, Sartor said stories of "no more blacks" in Redfern were exaggerated.

What he means is that the government would not hand over a cent to replace Aboriginal public housing once the Block is razed.

He scoffs at accusations that developers are poised to move in on the Block.

He says the authority will have three priority areas: further development of the Australian Technology Park, the North Eveleigh Precinct and the Block.

The public housing and high rise around Waterloo will be tackled in the longer term.

The technology park, which is only 30 per cent developed and riddled with debt, is a prime opportunity for development of employment opportunities.

A good start would be to better connect it to its surrounding resources such as the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and universities.

Sartor says the technology park is "Balkanised" at present and difficult to get to.

Another opportunity is redeveloping the Redfern station precinct but this would not work before solving the social problems at the Block, which is on the station's doorstep.

Property Council of Australia NSW executive director Ken Morrison says the authority should make the Block a priority.

"There is no way that Redfern is going to be that commercial mini-centre with Aboriginal housing and the Block still in place," he says. "We need to sort that out before any private investors will be interested."

But Morrison has given the thumbs up to the model of the authority, saying it will be capable of tackling the tough decisions necessary to bring change.

"The government should look at other areas where it will want to marry up planning objectives with the objectives of increasing housing densities."

Sydney's Parramatta Road for instance.

At present the government is encouraging councils to work together for a cohesive plan along the road.

But Morrison says: "It is unlikely that you're going to be able to deliver the government planning objective through a committee of councils."

Hardly a black face on the Block - Sartor's vision for Redfern

By Tim Dick, Urban Affairs Reporter SMH March 5, 2005 Page 1

On the hottest day last month, the minister responsible for Redfern, Frank Sartor, walked into the offices of the Aboriginal Housing Company and dropped a bombshell: he didn't want any Aboriginal housing on the Block.

He spoke on the evening before the board of his new Redfern-Waterloo Authority met for the first time, just metres away from the site of last year's riots near Redfern railway station.

The reaction among the company's assembled Aboriginal directors was almost as hot as the 38-degree temperature outside. According to the directors, Mr Sartor said he wanted no Aboriginal housing on what has long been the focal point of urban Aboriginal life in Australia - a point his spokeswoman did not deny yesterday.

The company had planned to build 62 new homes on the Block, but Mr Sartor's rejection of this prompted one of its directors, Peter Walker, to say: "I believe ... the Government, for whom Mr Sartor represents, are wanting no, to be blunt, no black faces on the Block. That's the position pushed by some property developers. I, as a director, am totally against that." According to a confidential briefing paper prepared by the housing company, Mr Sartor said if he was forced to accept some Aboriginal housing, he would consider no more than 20 homes, as long as few of them were for affordable housing and the remaining land was used for other purposes.

The paper, obtained by the Herald, said either option would force the company "to abandon its charter" to provide affordable housing. "The AHC has promised to deliver 62 houses on the Block for five years with the State Government's blessing and assistance, there will have to be some serious consideration as to how the AHC can back down from this promise without looking like it is bowing to Government pressure ...

"By not providing an adequate amount of houses on the Block, or something other than houses, the AHC loses the opportunity to create a beacon of hope for the next generation ... Fewer people living on the Block didn't stop the riot from happening. Whereas our research shows that, if we had more good families on the Block, we could have eliminated the problems before they got out of hand ...

"There is a very real possibility that the minister's opinion is being influenced by developers who have publicly stated they would like to see no Aborigines living on the Block before they invest in Redfern ... The Minister strongly indicated that the pressure was on him to cut a deal well before the next election."

Mr Sartor's spokeswoman, Zoe Allebone, said he had made it clear he did not believe the 62-house plan was "a sustainable vision for the Block" but declined to say why.

"The minister also made it clear there's no intention to reduce the level of public housing or Aboriginal housing in Redfern or Waterloo," she said.

The Government's position is that any Aborigines moved out of the Block would be accommodated elsewhere in the two suburbs.

Mr Walker, recalling the meeting with Mr Sartor, said he "came across pretty strong," making it clear he wanted no Aboriginal accommodation on the Block. Another director, Bruce Gale, said: "I wasn't happy when Sartor took over. He's got an agenda. He doesn't want any Aborigines in Redfern. He wants the area developed totally commercial ... The Block is a significant area for Aboriginal people. They're not going to move out of it."

The community would be "livid" if Mr Sartor got his way and "I want Frank at the head of the queue when the riots start".


No point arguing around the Block all over again

SMH March 8th 2005

In reading your Letters section (March 7) one might be forgiven for thinking it is Groundhog Day. The two hoary old untruths are back: it's a developer-led conspiracy and people who want a new and sustainable vision for Redfern's Block must be racist. What rubbish. As someone who chaired the Aboriginal Housing Company's advisory committee in the 1980s, I believe it's time to find a new vision for the Block and its immediate environs.

The company's proposal calls for 62 medium-density dwellings on the Block. But reconcentrating high-dependency housing there is a repeat of previous mistakes. Moreover, the Government is being asked to find $25 million to $30 million for this experiment.

My dialogue with the company is based on two propositions: let's set up a working group to develop a new vision for the Block and its surrounds, and let's not rehouse any more than the 19 existing tenancies. The Government would find the balance of the proposed 62 tenancies nearby.

The Eveleigh Street precinct needs to once again become a place of optimism and positive expression for Aboriginal people - a positive icon, not a negative icon. It's time to find a sustainable solution.

Frank Sartor Minister responsible for Redfern, Sydney.


Sartor is undoing years of work on the Block

SMH Letters 11th March 2003

With all due respect to Frank Sartor (Letters, March 8), the Aboriginal Housing Company has spent the past five years planning a sustainable and responsible vision for the Block. Most importantly, the vision is an Aboriginal vision and not one handed down by government in the typical mission manager style of the past 200 years.

For the record, over the past three years the NSW Government has supported, encouraged and even funded the plans developed by the company for 62 Aboriginal homes on the Block.

The suggestion now that the company's proposal is an experiment that reconcentrates high-dependency housing and a repeat of previous mistakes is bewildering, to say the least. We are at a loss to understand the minister's opposition to the project, given that all the issues he has raised as a concern have been resolved with the assistance of the NSW Government over the past couple of years.

Michael Mundine snr CEO, Redfern Aboriginal Housing Company, Redfern

Maximising market value the main game

By Gerard Ryle and Debra Jopson
November 29, 2004

One reason for the secret plan for Redfern is money. The cabinet papers say that the market value of developments in the area is almost $5 billion and almost one third of the land is owned by the Government.

Nothing should get in the way of maximising that value, not even the planning regulations of local authorities, the papers indicate.

The documents reveal deep Government dissatisfaction with the City of Sydney, the designated local government controller of the Redfern-Waterloo lands. The papers cite the council's objection to greater density and heights for a proposed development at North Eveleigh. They say this pattern may be repeated for other proposed developments on private and public lands unless the Redfern-Waterloo Authority is set up.

Under the plan, the authority would declare favoured developments "state significant", thereby bypassing normal planning rules and even heritage laws.

"In order to maximise social and economic returns, the Government must be able to offer planning certainty to the market within a strategic planning framework," the documents state. "It is considered likely that council would not support other major developments in the Redfern, Eveleigh, Darlington and Waterloo area."

They say the Government has a unique opportunity to develop a cohesive approach to development in the area by calling in several individually significant sites.

One of those sites would be the Rachel Forster Hospital. "The Department of Health has recently offered the Rachel Forster Hospital site to the market for sale. The market's low value response to the site is due in part to apprehension on achieving reasonable development yields" under the council's present position on development, the papers say.

The papers also reveal that if the Block is redeveloped, some government-owned lands will be worth up to 30 per cent more. "If the Block is not redeveloped, the commercial benefits flowing from the proposed infrastructure projects identified in the infrastructure plan will be undermined," the documents say. "The Department of Commerce's recent report on the redevelopment of Redfern station found: 'It is important that the redevelopment of the station occurs in parallel with the redevelopment of the general area, include [sic] the Block. This assumption is critical: the commercial returns used in the model could not be achieved if the station redevelopment was attempted in isolation. Commercial development would probably be impractical under those conditions and any residential development would face a substantial reduction in value, probably in the order of 25 per cent to 30 per cent."'

By applying authority planning rules, the Government would make almost $18 million profit on the upgrade of Redfern station, the documents say.

They say Redfern station "would attract considerable interest if it were put to tender. In fact, a developer would be likely to pay more than will be required to redevelop the station if it was assured of planning approval on the scale contemplated".

Redfern police station would be sold for $2.3 million and a new police station incorporated into the redevelopment of Redfern train station.

Grand plan to transform suburbs into a new North Sydney

By Debra Jopson and Gerard Ryle
November 29, 2004

Redfern is to become the new North Sydney to take pressure off an overcrowded CBD, according to the NSW Government's grand plan for the area.

Growth of office space to the north has stalled because this area is also considered a desirable place to live,

says a strategy paper by the Government's consultants, Cox Richardson, produced for Cabinet earlier this year.

But as Sydney is poised to become "a key world city serving the Asia Pacific region", its commercial hub needs to expand into Redfern, says the paper.

"Redfern could emerge as an office/commercial centre in the same manner as North Sydney became a northern employment satellite of the Sydney CBD from the 1950s," it says.

"Sydney is a comparatively small CBD in terms of area and whilst height of buildings can add floor space, to avoid congestion, [a] major CBD needs to expand horizontally as well as vertically," the paper says.

This has happened in London, Paris, New York and Shanghai, the consultants say.

A great advantage of the Redfern, Eveleigh and Darlington area is that about one-third of the land is in Government hands, the consultants say.

Other documents, dated October 2004, argue new businesses are needed to regenerate an area which has declined and is now a weak link in the chain of commercial hubs stretching from Ryde to Botany Bay which link Sydney into the global economy.

One paper says the Redfern, Eveleigh and Darlington area is strategically placed within the metropolitan area, being at the heart of the Sydney economic crescent, which stretches from Macquarie University to Sydney Airport.

Despite being close to the CBD, three of Sydney's leading universities are easily reached by train or road, there are only 2300 jobs within a 500 metre radius of Redfern station.

"This is an underutilisation of government infrastructure, which is reflected by the decline in trade in the area surrounding the station," the document says.

The area is in a particularly good position to cash in on the "knowledge economy" because it is in "Australia's global city". But social dislocation is preventing this, it says.

The documents say the population of the area has dropped to 20,000 from 50,482 in 1921. It stood at 42,817 just after World War II.

"The decline in population has meant that the economic sustainability of the area has also declined," the papers say.

Waterloo is rated as the fifth poorest out of Sydney's 526 suburbs, the future Minister for Redfern-Waterloo, Frank Sartor, said recently when introducing a Bill establishing a new authority to overhaul the area.

The new authority would promote the social and economic development of the community by taking charge of prime Government assets including the Australian Technology Park, the Redfern railway station, the Rachel Forster Hospital and Redfern Public School.

Fixing the Block: $27m development planned

By Debra Jopson and Gerard Ryle
November 29, 2004

A powerful new State Government authority will take control of Aboriginal lands on the "Block" at Redfern for at least 20 years as part of a huge redevelopment plan aimed at fixing social ills and lifting the area's property prices.

The Redfern-Waterloo Authority will commit $27 million to redeveloping the troubled precinct centred on Eveleigh Street, but only if the indigenous owners hand the authority exclusive possession of the lands through a 10-year lease.

The authority would manage sales and leasing of properties, and could compulsorily acquire land if the crisis-ridden Aboriginal Housing Company, which owns the property, becomes insolvent, according to secret cabinet documents.

Aborigines who fail to pay rent, sublet or use drugs may be kicked out of their homes under the new arrangement, the papers reveal.

A cabinet committee has backed recommendations that will force change on the housing company in return for building new accommodation for its tenants, the documents reveal.

But the symbolism of taking control of land first won by Aborigines in the 1970s could spark protests over the Block, the scene of a riot in February, government advisors have warned.

The housing company is more than $1 million in debt, and it is likely the new authority will help it get a $1 million-$2 million loan.

This would give the Government leverage when dealing with the company, the papers say.

The company is asset-rich but cash-poor. Its 62 properties on the Block are valued in the papers at up to $22 million and it owns a further 25 lots in the immediate area valued at $5.6 million.

At an August meeting with Government representatives, the company's chief executive, Michael Mundine, agreed to many important points in the overhaul, including a new structure for the organisation.

"Other members of the board and the broader AHC membership may view them less favourably. In particular, it is anticipated that there will be claims of a government takeover, as well as a questioning of Aboriginal self-determination," the papers say. One "sticking point" will be that there will be no company member on the board of the new authority.

Another could be that government appointees on the new Pemulwuy Redevelopment Committee set up to revamp the Block, including the chairman, "could successfully veto an AHC position and recommendation regarding AHC lands," the documents say.

The Block needs drastic action to fix its social woes, but the redevelopment is crucial to the success of commercial projects planned on government lands at Redfern. If this does not happen, other developments in the area will be worth less, according to the documents.

Failure to fix the Block would depress the value of commercial and residential development by 25-30 per cent, according to the NSW Department of Commerce.

The housing company "has experienced significant organisational and management problems", and an audit had identified a liquidity crisis, landing the organisation more than half a million dollars in the red in June 2003, the documents say.

It will need to sell some of its property to become viable again, they say. Apart from its holdings around the Block, it owns 44 properties in other parts of the state, valued at $17.3 million. Many of them are derelict or have been demolished.

The company could be wound up and does not have the financial and property management skills to manage these assets, says an another audit, conducted in the middle of this year.

The Aboriginal Housing Company has failed to collect rent consistently, had to be bailed out at a $900,000 cost to the Aboriginal Housing Office - a statutory authority which instigated urgent health and safety repairs for 43 properties - and also owes the Tax Office $238,000, the documents reveal.




●Aboriginal Children’s Service●Aboriginal Housing Company

●Aboriginal Medical Service●Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council

●Mudgin-Gal (Women’s Service)●Murrawina Ltd (Childcare)

●Sydney Regional Aboriginal Corporation Legal Service

●Tribal Warrior Association●Wyanga Aboriginal Aged Care


PO BOX 1103 STRAWBERRY HILLS NSW 2012                  Phone: 02 8394 9666

2 December 2004

Proposed Redfern Waterloo Redevelopment

Aboriginal people are appalled that detailed plans about the future of our community have been developed without any attempt to consult with the organizations that represent us.

We are concerned that a new all powerful Authority has been created that could ride roughshod over our needs and aspirations.  We are worried that this Authority could undermine the work that is currently being carried out by our community controlled organizations.

We agree that the Government has to take a coordinated approach but this must occur in partnership with Aboriginal people.

We are particularly concerned about suggestions that the land currently owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company could be forcibly acquired by the Government.  Aboriginal people would regard any forced acquisition as once again the dispossession of our people and occupation of our land.  We would fiercely resist this in a unified, determined but peaceful manner.

We would be joined in this by Aboriginal and non Aboriginal families from throughout Australia and indigenous people from around the world.

However, we welcome the Government’s assurance that no decisions over the future of Redfern Waterloo have been made.  We also welcome the Minister’s commitment to consultation.

We hope that the Minister’s understanding of consultation is the same as our own.  Consultation in our sense of the word means sharing ideas with an open mind to come up with a joint agreement on the best way forward.  It means listening as well as speaking.  It does not mean telling our people what is happening after decisions have already been made.

If a genuine approach is adopted by all parties, we are confident that a plan for Redfern Waterloo could be agreed on that is in the best interests of Aboriginal people, the broader community and the state of NSW.

We want Redfern Waterloo to become secure and prosperous, but Aboriginal people have to share in that security and prosperity.

When new homes are built, Aboriginal families who currently suffer a housing crisis should have access to a fair share of these.

The Aboriginal Housing Company has produced a plan to redevelop the Block.  This plan is based on five years of solid research and an award winning design.  It has the support of our community and we urge government to embrace it.

If 20,000 new jobs are to be created in our community, Aboriginal people should be given the opportunity to participate in this growth. 

We also want to ensure that a growing, multicultural Redfern Waterloo retains its Aboriginal identity.  Redfern is the home of Aboriginal people in NSW and it has great historical significance to our people around Australia.  It is recognized by many as the hearth of the Aboriginal struggle for land, justice, coexistence and recognition.

Aboriginal people won’t be forced out of Redfern Waterloo by governments, developers, or anyone.  But we want to transform Redfern so that it is once again a site of Aboriginal hope and achievement.

We want to work with the government to ensure this occurs.

Media contact:        Gary Highland 0418 476 940



●Aboriginal Children’s Service●Aboriginal Housing Company

●Aboriginal Medical Service●Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council

●Mudgin-Gal (Women’s Service)●Murrawina Ltd (Childcare)

●Sydney Regional Aboriginal Corporation Legal Service

●Tribal Warrior Association●Wyanga Aboriginal Aged Care


PO BOX 1103 STRAWBERRY HILLS NSW 2012                  Phone: 02 8394 9666


2 December 2004

Aborigines to resist forcible acquisition of Redfern’s Block

There would be determined and unified resistance to any attempt by the Government to forcibly acquire land at Redfern owned by the Aboriginal Housing Company, Aboriginal leaders warned today.

In a document sent to NSW Premier, Bob Carr and Redfern – Waterloo Minister, Frank Sartor, the Organisation of Aboriginal Unity, which represents the leaders of every Redfern Aboriginal organisation, said that any attempt to forcibly acquire Aboriginal land would be met with peaceful resistance.

Community representative, Shane Phillips said that local Aborigines would be joined by Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people from around Australia and the world to stop a Government land grab.

“We’re appalled that the Government has refused to rule out the forcible acquisition of Aboriginal land,” Mr Phillips said.

“If they were to try and take our land we’d do what any other reasonable people would do.  We’d adopt the tactics of Gandhi and Martin Luther King to try and stop them,” he said.

Mr Phillips said that he hoped common sense would prevail and that the issue could be resolved by discussions between the community and Government.

“It’s not just Aboriginal people who will be affected by these plans.  Our concerns are shared by the residents group REDwatch, the Redfern Chamber of Commerce and many other residents of Redfern and Waterloo of all cultures.”

“We’re committed to working with all these groups and the Government to achieve the best outcome for the local area, but this will only happen if the Government works in partnership with us,” he said.

Mr Phillips said that Aboriginal people were not against the creation of the Authority or development in Redfern Waterloo.

 “We want Redfern and Waterloo to become secure and prosperous, but Aboriginal people should be able to share in this, not be pushed out.”

Mr Phillips said the Organisation of Aboriginal Unity was concerned about some aspects of the Redfern-Waterloo Authority Bill.

“We’re worried that the Bill puts too much power in the hands of the Minister.  We feel we can talk to Frank Sartor, but the Authority will be in power for 10 years.  The Bill would give the power to a future Minister or Government to ride roughshod over our community and take our land,” he said.

A copy of the OAU statement is attached.

Media contact:        Gary Highland 0418 476 940