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Redfern Tent Embassy calls whitewash on Supreme Court finding

Jenny Munro, on the far right, and her sisters at the Aboriginal tent embassy in the Block

BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS

The NSW Supreme Court has ordered the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy not to interfere with the redevelopment of the former site of the Block.

The decision was handed down on Monday, with Justice Hulme stating the Embassy must “be restrained with from attempting to interfere with the plaintiff’s possession of the land”.

The Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) was angered by the decision, calling the move a complete “disregard of Indigenous culture”.

RATE founder and Wiradjuri elder Jenny Munro said it was obvious that the needs of Indigenous people were being ignored. Speaking from the Redfern campsite on Monday, Ms Munro said that the court’s finding was indicative of the lack of justice for Indigenous people.

“The fact that Aboriginal people still aren’t allowed to decide what happens on Aboriginal land is an issue for me”, she said.

The Aboriginal Housing Corporation (AHC) sought a court order to remove RATE from the site of the‘The Block’, land that was gifted to the Aboriginal community by the Whitlam government for affordable housing.

RATE was established in May of last year in response to plans by AHC for a $70 million development of the site which would include student housing, a gallery, commercial space as well as 68 affordable housing dwellings for Indigenous Australians.

Ms Munro said that the government was ignoring the chronic need for social housing by Indigenous people.

“The courts don’t even want to entertain that there is Aboriginal law that does exist and is still in operation in this country,” she said.

“The fact is they are perpetuating further crime by letting this continue. I think the fact that the housing company has unequivocally stated that the housing won’t be built for another ten to 15 years shows you basically that the issue of social housing for aboriginal people and for poor people generally, has been abandoned by all levels of government.”

Ms Munro said the AHC seemed to have abandoned the Indigenous community.

“I think the housing company has reneged on housing for Aboriginal people and they really don’t care about that.

That is really the tragedy, the people that were supposed to be managing this estate and providing assistance have abandoned their duty toward our people and they really don’t care,” she said.

“Where do our people turn for justice in a country that has decided that there is no justice for aboriginal people?”

This concern was echoed by Greens spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs David Shoebridge, who took umbrage with the judgement’s dismissal of Ms Munro’s arguments to the court.

Ms Munro had argued that Aboriginal people should not have to cede sovereignty to the English Crown.

However, the judgement read “The defendant’s aboriginality, and her contention that the Aboriginal people have never ceded sovereignty to the English Crown does not help her.”

Mr Shoebridge said this disregard for native title was a significant fault in the system.

“The fact that the law can so readily dismiss our first people’s prior occupation and custodianship of this land is proof positive of a fundamental flaw in our legal system,” Mr Shoebridge said in a statement.

“When it comes to symbolic Aboriginal land like The Block, Aboriginality and more than 40,000 years of Aboriginal custody and possession should never be dismissed so lightly by our Courts,” he said.

“This is far from the end of the struggle for Aboriginal housing on The Block, which is supported by a cross section of the Redfern community.”

Greens Newtown MP Jenny Leong, whose electorate includes the tent embassy, said any solution must include more funds dedicated to Aboriginal housing.

“While it may seem that there is currently an unresolvable conflict, in reality all parties agree that we need to see the funding secured to build Aboriginal housing,” Ms Leong said.

“This community, and the significance of maintaining Aboriginal housing and community on Gadigal country in Redfern is too important to be ignored.”

Ms Leong said the government needed to invest in Aboriginal housing to match other infrastructure spending.

“Our neighborhood is awash with plans to develop and invest in infrastructure projects, with billions for Urban Growth’s development of the Central to Eveleigh site and constant construction by the University of Sydney. And yet there is no money for Aboriginal housing,” she said.

“Successive governments have been a part of creating this mess – it’s time for them to step up and help resolve it.”

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