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Issue #1704      September 30, 2015

Peace at The Block

A bitter and protracted feud between the NSW Aboriginal Housing Corporation (AHC) and the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) looks to have finally found some sort of resolution after 15 months, thanks to intervention by the federal government.

RATE was concerned that the AHC was failing to prioritise affordable Indigenous housing under the Pemulwuy Project development and, conversely, AHC argued that Indigenous housing would not be viable until the commercial development had first been completed.

The AHC has planning approval for student housing, a commercial and retail space, and 62 low-cost units and town houses for Aboriginal families.

Wiradjuri Elder Jenny Munro, who has lived in Redfern for 41 years, founded RATE on Sorry Day, May 26, last year.The AHC subsequently brought proceedings against Ms Munro in the Supreme Court, alleging trespass.

This claim was vigorously defended by Ms Munro and her barrister Lisa DeLuca, who argued that the principles of the AHC were not being upheld with the gentrification of Redfern, particularly with the Pemulwuy Project.

In his judgment handed down on Thursday, August 27, Justice Robert Hulme stated RATE must “be restrained from attempting to interfere with the plaintiff’s possession of the land”.

Justice Hulme-disregarded RATE’s sovereignty arguments, which garnered criticism from NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who conceived such a disregard of native title to be a “continuation of terra nullius”.

The residents of RATE were given seven days to vacate The Block in order for the AHC to take possession and start work on the Pemulwuy Project.

Initially defiant in the face of the judgment, Ms Munro confirmed she would continue to resist until affordable Indigenous housing was made a priority. However, Ms Munro was claiming a moral victory, despite the court loss after an 11 th-hour intervention by federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion.

Senator Scullion arranged a $70 million deal – a $5 million grant and help to organise a $65 million bank loan – that requires AHC to build the Indigenous housing at the same time as the commercial development.

“That was always our battle cry from day one – that affordable housing be built first for our people,” Ms Munro said. “I think we can rightfully today claim that victory.”

Senator Scullion said he had made the decision to grant the money after the “groundswell of community feeling, including that of the tent embassy”.

On September 1, AHC chief executive Mick Mundine signed off on the deal, which includes a RATE Elder being appointed to the board.

Mr Mundine told NITV he was glad the dispute had ended as it was time to start looking at the future. “The tent embassy might have had a different way of looking at things, but we all want affordable housing,” he said.

“People have to realise this is for our next generation of children. My dream is to see children laughing, playing in a good, safe community.”

As the Koori Mail went to press, residents of RATE were preparing to vacate The Block.

“One thing I think we can say after this is that the black heart of the city is still beating,” Ms Munro said.

“We’ll be packing up, but it won’t have anything to do with the Supreme Court telling us we are trespassing ... we’ll do it at our leisure and it will certainly be later than Thursday.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Taking Issue – Abbott, Turnbull and the resurgence of social democracy

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