Australia: Tent embassy prepares to leave the Block as Indigenous housing ‘guaranteed’
by Rick Feneley, Sydney Morning Herald, August 27, 2015
The Redfern Aboriginal tent embassy is preparing to walk away from the Block, claiming it has seized a moral victory from the jaws of legal defeat under a $70 million deal that will see 62 homes built for Indigenous families.
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion has been brokering the deal with the Aboriginal Housing Company, which will learn in the Supreme Court on Thursday morning when it can evict its Indigenous rivals, the tent embassy protesters who have occupied the historic site for 15 months.
The embassy says the government has committed to a $5 million grant and helped the AHC, led by Mick Mundine, to secure $65 million in bank finance so it can proceed with the Pemulwuy project.
But the protesters are preparing to go peacefully, saying the AHC will have to meet their most important demand as a condition of the government’s help: to build the social housing before, or at the same time as, the commercial development, which will include shops, a new gym and rental accommodation for 154 university students.
Without government support, Mr Mundine had argued, the housing would not be viable unless the commercial parts of the project were built first.
The AHC confirmed there had been positive talks but cautioned that no formal agreement had yet been signed.
Senator Scullion accepted the concerns of Mr Mundine’s chief opponent, tent embassy founder Jenny Munro, that the housing might never have been built.
In court, Ms Munro’s lawyers agreed that, under European law, she and the protesters were trespassing, but she told Fairfax Media: “I’m old school. My teachers taught me the principles of our resistance – we never ceded our land to anyone. The embassy has demonstrated that for our people, resistance is the only way to go.
“For all the communities around the country facing closure, don’t talk sovereignty, assert your sovereignty. Put up an embassy and demand the funding for your basic rights. We will fight with you every step of the way.”
Senator Scullion had flown in to Sydney almost two weeks ago to forge a deal on the sidelines of the bitter court battle, from where he told Fairfax Media “the worst possible outcome would be the forcible removal” of the embassy.
“The great tragedy is this involves tension between Aboriginal people,” he had said, adding: “We can’t afford to let those tensions keep festering.”
Tensions do remain, and Ms Munro said: “We still have major concerns about the AHC and its lack of transparency.”
It still refused any oversight that would give the broader community access to commercial-in-confidence documents.
Assault charges have been laid against people on both side of the argument, including Ms Munro and her children and the family of the AHC office manager.
Matters were still before the court, but it would not “stop our fight”, Ms Munro said. “We will always be watching.”
A spokesman for Senator Scullion said he was continuing to work with the AHC and the embassy to resolve the dispute.
“Negotiations continue to ensure that the affordable housing component of development occurs at the same time as the commercial component.”