The Guardian 21 September, 2005

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Letters to the Editor

The fight for the Block continues

I think our readers would be interested in an "open letter" from Michael Mundine, Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) in Redfern, to the NSW Minister for Planning and Redfern Waterloo, Frank Sartor. The drive to allow open slather for developers in the Block in Redfern and affectively push out the traditional owners has been going on at an intense pace for some time now.

Under the AHCís proposals for the Block in its Pemulwuy Project, 62 new units and townhouses would be built on the site, but Sartor wants only 19.

"We disagree on your development plans because the government believes it will repeat the problems of the past Ö" Sartor wrote in the Redfern Waterloo Authority newsletter. He went on to accuse Michael Mundine of boycotting all the governmentís decisions on the area, including rejecting Sartorís proposal for a "joint taskforce" to work for a "shared vision" for the Block. Below is an abridged version of Michael Mundineís letter.

Marcus Browning

Open letter to Frank Sartor

Minister Frank Sartor,

What I find most disturbing in your open letter to me in the Redfern Waterloo Authority (August 2005) newsletter, is that you have grossly misrepresented the Pemulwuy Project and spread fear that the Block could become a ghetto again. The commercial developments that you have suggested should be on the Block are features already present in our master plan.

Facts about the Punulwuy Project:

  • Originally there were over 102 homes owned by the AHC (now demolished) on and around the Block. The Pemulwuy Project will replace only 62.

  • The suggestion that 19 houses is sustainable for the Block is wrong. There are 19 houses on the Block now and this was not enough to stop last yearís riot.

  • Reducing the number of houses proposed by the Pemulwuy Project will seriously compromise the communityís ability to respond to crime and anti-social behaviour. The area requires a critical mass of people to ensure it remains safe.

  • The AHC has won an international award for crime prevention and community safety strategies.

  • The Pemulwuy Project is driven by an award winning Social Plan and is not an architectural response.

  • The Pemulwuy Project is not about high dependency housing. Two thirds of the proposed housing will be available for home ownership and only as few as 20 homes will be available for low income rental.

  • The Pemulwuy Project includes an Indigenous business college, a retail/office centre, a student hostel, a museum, a culture centre, Aboriginal markets and a fitness centre.

  • The AHC has engaged independent professional advisors to oversee the Pemulwuy Project, chaired by the Hon Tom Uren, AO.

  • The AHC has worked in partnership with the NSW Premierís department for over three years.

  • The AHC has never asked for funding from the NSW government for the Pemulwuy Project, and is exploring a range of other funding options.

    I can say with a high degree of confidence that the Block will never become a ghetto again. The AHC, with crime prevention experts and urban planners, has developed strategies to avoid a high-dependency situation from re-occurring.

    The Pemulwuy Project promises great benefits:

  • The block is a modern sacred site for Aboriginal people; its renewal will result in greater cultural pride and self respect.

  • Safer environment for children in a low crime, drug-free neighbourhood.

  • Greater opportunities for Abor≠iginal education and employment.

  • Opportunities for Aboriginal enterprise by making Redfern a cultural tourism precinct.

  • Unprecedented affordable home ownership in the inner-city for Aboriginal families.

  • Practical reconciliation not welfare handouts.

  • Self-determination in action.

    Your letter goes on to urge me to ignore "consultants and nay-sayers". As CEO it is my responsibility to seek independent advice from a range of sources. The board of the Aboriginal Housing Company and the members of the organisation have debated all the options.

    You may not like the decision but the AHC members unanimously chose to reject your amendments to the Project, on the grounds that the changes would seriously compromise the future sustainability of the community.

    Despite your attempts to blame me for delays, I will continue to fight for the rights of my people to have a future in Redfern.

    The vision for the Block is already there, the hard work has already been done, all you have to do now Minister is open your heart and mind to the wonderful future we can achieve for Redfern.

    Michael Mundine

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