Elders walk off gov't-controlled community

"Under your intervention team's poor management, my people and community is in disarray", said Ampilatwatja community spokesperson Richard Downs, reported the July 16 Sydney Morning Herald.

Under the NT intervention into Aboriginal communities, introduced by the previous Howard government and continued by Labor, the federal government can "acquire" communities on five-year leases, leaving otherwise community-controlled services such as housing under government control.

Ampilatwatja is one community that has been converted into a five-year lease to the government.

The situation there, where residents are living "ankle-deep in sewage", according to ABC Online on July 16, indicates the government takeover has done nothing to address — and perhaps even reversed — the living conditions of the community's residents.

Indeed Downs said the intervention was widening the disadvantage gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

"We have no other choice but have now decided and agreed … to return to our grandfather's, mother's country which is on the pastoral lease. And let you and your government to live in the community as you wish", Downs said in a July 16 letter to Aboriginal affairs minister Jenny Macklin. "I urge all our brothers and sisters along with non aboriginal people to stand up and support us."

Thirty elders have set up a protest camp three kilometres outside Ampilatwatja — on traditional land not acquired as part of the five-year lease.

Ampilatwatja health worker Kim Morrish said the sewage problems often led to gastric and skin infections, ABC Online said. The problem has been going on for weeks. Territory Housing acknowledged early last week that "urgent work" was needed, and said repairs would begin by July 17 at the latest.

However, for the community's residents, the issue is broader than simply fixing the sewage. The SMH said: "They say the federal intervention into remote communities has left them demoralised and sick." The catalyst for the residents was when the federal government, using its intervention powers took over their community-owned store.

They are threatening to build a new community at the site of the protest camp — land not subject to government control — if Macklin does not respond to their concerns in the next fortnight.

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