Fifty workers at the renowned National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) were told on August 1 that their jobs were finished and the centre would close its doors within a week.
A week later, a strong community campaign is calling on the state and federal governments to save the centre and its mostly First Nations employees.
NCIE, a not-for-profit social enterprise, opened in 2010 in Redfern after the Indigenous Land & Sea Corporation (ILSC) purchased the land of the former Redfern Public School.
NCIE includes a swimming pool and a gym and holds sports, fitness and health classes. It hosts football matches for Aboriginal communities from regional areas. It offers conference rooms, community spaces and runs classes including tutoring and educational support, which are open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Its grounds became a vaccination centre during the pandemic. It is currently home to Redfern Youth Connect and the Tribal Warrior Association's Clean Slate Without Prejudice program.
The ILSC, a federal organisation which assists interests in land, salt water and fresh water country, divested NCIE to the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) on June 30. A month later, the NSWALC announced it was closing the centre.
A 500-strong community meeting on August 2 heard from a range of community members opposing the closure and sell-off.
Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Shane Phillips, who coordinates a range of programs in NCIE, said the threat to close NCIE “has disempowered, displaced and disrespected our people”.
NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong supports the calls on the federal and state governments to provide interim financial support to ensure the centre stays open. She said “much-needed services [need to] keep running while a longer-term sustainable solution is achieved”.
The ABC reported on August 2 that the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said she had “strongly encouraged” the ILSC and NSWALC and MP for Sydney Tanya Plibersek to work together to find a solution for the centre, which she described as “the beating heart of Redfern”.
Community members have been gathering at 1pm every day at NCIE. At the briefing on August 4, Phillips and Margaret Haumono, an executive director of Redfern Youth Connect addressed a sizable crowd. “[It’s] great that people keep turning up,” Phillips said. “When the announcement came down we had 1000 people here within 24 hour’s notice. The NSWALC need to make a statement really quick. We will occupy and defend this place if needed.”
SBS reported on August 8 that 10 organisations have called on the state and federal governments to enact 12 measures, including: staff continue to be employed; the ILSC and the NSWAL collaborate to ensure the facilities remain open, the site will not be sold and agree that all income be used on the centre's operations; establish an inclusive governance e model together with key Redfern stakeholders and consideration be given to a local entity to become the new management.