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Issue #1659      October 8, 2014

Water protest in Alice

Arrernte residents of the Alice Springs town camp Whitegate (Irrkerlantye) have been living without a regular water supply for more than a month since the Northern Territory government turned off the taps.

Traditional owner Felicity Hayes said that in early August residents went to town and when they came back, the water supply had been cut off. “It is very difficult,” she said. “To cut off our water is un-Australian and we should be treated like human beings.”

Residents and supporters have rallied in Alice Springs, calling for the water to be reconnected. But Community Services Minister Bess Price has said it is not the NT government’s responsibility.

“Whitegate camp is on vacant Crown land and is not recognised or funded by the government as a town camp,” she said in a statement. “At a meeting on January 20 I made the offer of alternate housing, which was declined by the occupants. That is their prerogative.

“I then informed the residents they would now have to deal with the local native title organisation, Lhere Artepe, as Whitegate is not funded by government. I have sent letters, attended meetings with the residents and had staff travel to Whitegate to ensure residents were informed of changes to the water situation and explain they now need to approach Lhere Artepe for any future issues.

“The water connection was not constructed, authorised by or the responsibility of government. The provision of services to Whitegate has always been the responsibility of Lhere Artepe.

“The connection was simply a piece of plastic pipe that someone had connected to a tap in the Ilpeye Ilpeye town camp water supply.

“Arrangements”

Lhere Artepe, the representative native title body, was advised on July 8 they would need to make arrangements to supply water in preparation for the disconnection on August 11 as part of the upgrade to Ilpeye Ilpeye town camp.

“The arrangement for the supply of water to Whitegate would not have been to subdivision standard and has no back-flow prevention which can pose a serious health risk.”

Tangentyere Council chief executive Waiter Shaw said the water supply to Whitegate residents should be immediately turned back on as a gesture of humanity and goodwill while a solution to the complex issues around Whitegate are resolved. Whitegate is becoming another town camp albatross around the neck of the Northern Territory government,” he said.

“These people are not squatters. They are native title holders and as such deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They should not continue to be sentenced to an uncertain future because of a lack of government will.

“Since the NT government turned off the water to residents, Tangentyere has twice refilled that community’s water supply.

“Unfortunately we can no longer afford to do this. The bottom line is that Whitegate residents deserve to receive essential services.

“The NT government’s refusal to do so because senior native title holders do not have tenure over their traditional lands is an impasse that must be fixed.

“It is a disgrace that a gun club can get water while the health and welfare of native title holders are put in jeopardy.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Climate Action Rally in Perth draws 1,000

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