NT Communities refuse to sign rip-off leases

Amoonguna spokeswoman Marie Ellis
(Photo: 'The Age' Glenn Campbell - 2007)

Community refuses to sign lease

Ruby Jones ABC Aug 23, 2012

Residents of a Northern Territory Indigenous community are refusing to sign a Federal Government lease on their land, saying they want to take back control for themselves.

Amoonguna, 15 kilometres south of Alice Springs, has been subject to a compulsory federal lease for the past five years.

It was imposed under the Commonwealth's Northern Territory Intervention measures.

Community spokeswoman Marie Ellis says now that the lease is ending, the community wants government workers to leave by the end of the month.

"We, as a community, want the Government to give us back complete control," she said.

"That way we can start looking at a positive strategy, working towards employment and the improvement of our community lifestyle."

'Trespass' threat as NT leases expire

Amos Aikman The Australian August 24, 2012

Five years after the Northern Territory intervention, 25 Aboriginal communities are back where they started, with the federal government having failed to negotiate new leases after those imposed under the Howard government expired.

Government access to the communities to provide services, conduct maintenance and collect rent is now protected only by "gentlemen's agreements" and an un-tested invocation of NT law.

Longer leases negotiated in another 39 communities are not affected.

All fixed assets not protected by new agreements have silently passed into the hands of traditional owners.

On the eve of the NT election, one community has written to the Solicitor for the Northern Territory demanding the government leave town or face prosecution for trespassing.

There are concerns among non-government organisations in other communities that they could be evicted, have their assets seized, or be forced to sign new agreements on unfavourable terms.

Lawyers acting for Amoonguna, a community on the outskirts of Alice Springs, wrote to the NT government yesterday asking all its employees, including those from Territory Housing and the local shire council, to vacate their premises by next weekend.

A letter sent yesterday to the NT Solicitor, and obtained by The Australian, says: "In the absence of confirmation from you, as requested, that your clients will vacate Amoonguna immediately, we envisage receiving instructions to commence proceedings in trespass."

Amoonguna residents have rejected the commonwealth's request for a 40-year lease.

The community has also asked for details of all rent collected by the NT government for public housing since September 2008.

Traditional owners believe the NT government may not have been properly authorised to collect rent, and may in the future pursue a refund claim.

Marie Ellis, president of Amoonguna Community Incorporated and a traditional owner, said the community was "nicely" asking the government to leave town.

"The MacDonnell Shire's contract ran out on the 17th of August and we no longer require their services, so we're asking them nicely to leave town," she said.

"We need the control back to our local council, so we can create employment opportunities for the majority of the community."

NT Labor replaced community councils with larger "super shires" in a now unpopular 2008 reform that has become a major issue in tomorrow's poll.

In August 2007, the Coalition under John Howard compulsorily acquired five-year leases over 64 communities as part of the intervention.

The leases were acquired to give the government security of tenure while it implemented its reforms. They were also needed because Aboriginal land is owned collectively.

A week ago today, those leases expired, leaving the 25 communities that had not renegotiated leases without a new agreement.

CLC backs Red Centre community land lease snub

Allyson Horn and Ruby Jones ABC August 24, 2012

The Central Land Council (CLC) says it supports moves by an Indigenous community in central Australia to reclaim control of its land and services.

Compulsory five-year land leases, part of the federal intervention, ended earlier this month and the federal and NT governments are trying to secure other leases with communities.

The community of Amoonguna, near Alice Springs, has refused to sign the leases and has started legal action demanding all levels of government leave the community.

Residents want to reclaim control of delivering services and say governments and the MacDonnell Shire have no right to stay.

The CLC's David Ross supports the move.

"I'm not surprised that they've taken this track and they want to do these things themselves," he said.

"They were doing these things perfectly well before government intervention at both levels."

Mr Ross says other communities are also refusing to sign the leases.

"If Amoonguna makes good with this, and I would hope that they did, then it leaves the door open for other people to look at those possibilities in the future," he said.

The community has given the government workers until the start of September to leave.

It says it will look at trespassing charges if they refuse.

The MacDonnell Shire's Dianne Hood says the council has to continue to provide services under the Local Government Act.

"We're required to provide local government services to our designated communities, so we will continue to do that with good will," she said.

She say shire workers, many of whom are community locals, will stay at Amoonguna until they get alternative advice from the NT Government.

"I feel we need to support our staff out there who are government workers, primarily from Amoonguna itself," she said.

The Federal Government is yet to respond to the situation.

The NT Government says negotiations over a long-term lease are continuing.

(Photo: P McGriffin - 2008)
Amoonguna The community of Amoonguna is located 15 km south of Alice Springs on the Ross Highway. The community of Amoonguna was established in 1963 to provide accommodation for Aboriginal people who lived in and around the Alice Springs district. Most people living in the community are Eastern Arrernte who either were or are descendants of family who moved from the Old Alice Springs Telegraph Station to the community when it was first developed. The average population is over 200 people. The community infrastructure includes a health clinic, primary school, general store, aged care building, mechanical workshop, Arts Centre and a sport and recreation hall.