Government cuts off water to remote Australian Aboriginal settlement


Without any notice to the impoverished community of Irrkelantye, also known as Whitegate, the Northern Territory Government cut off the water supply. In the past, the United Nations has slammed as “an affront to human rights” such scandalous measures to shut down communities and move on people. Irrkelantye is all that its residents have known as home and indeed they have nowhere to go.


One of the residents, Felicity Haynes said she has been living there since 1996 because it is safe, distant from the substance abusing and dysfunction that permeate through some of the forever neglected communities closer to Alice Springs. Irrkelantye is three and half kilometres east of Alice Springs, impoverished and shanty but at least it is a safe space, in the midst of Country and surrounded by sacred sites.

“Irrkelantye is our Country, it is on our traditional lands. It is a safe camp away from the untraditional ways that are elsewhere. Irrkelantye here is part of our traditional ways,” said Ms Haynes.

“There are no (alcohol) drinkers here, this is a no (alcohol) drinking camp. We feel safe here.”

Ms Haynes said that Walpiri woman Bess Price thinks otherwise. Ms Price is the Country Liberal Party’s member for Stuart in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly. Ms Price is the Minister for Community Services. Apparently Ms Price shares a different view of Irrkelantye to that of its residents. Last week, Irrkelantye residents and their supporters protested outside her Alice Springs office. They will convene more demonstrations calling for the reconnecting of the water supply rather than be shuffled off into homelessness or to some of Alice Spring’s squalid town camps rather than at least the safety and open air existence at Irrkelantye.

“We are human beings. We should be treated like human beings. It makes me feel really angry and sick inside at what is happening. The Government promises lots of things but it never gets done. They lie all the time,” said Ms Haynes.

Ms Haynes said that on August 8 she and several others “went to town and when we got back the water was cut off.”

“At first we thought it had something to do with nearby construction but then we learned they had removed some of the pipes and cut off the mains.”

“This is not right.”

“How are we to drink water, shower, wash our clothes, and what of the animals? Myself, I have four dogs and a goat.”

“We will protest again outside Bess Price’s office. We need people to come and support us.”

“The Government cannot just force us off our land like this.”

“They have always let us down, they made this a restricted area with the Intervention and have never helped us with our housing needs, with power, water, always we are ignored into poverty.”

They cart water from 400 metres away.

The United Nations has slammed as abuse the cutting off of water to communities wherever in the world. In Detroit, a third of its residents face having their water supplies disconnected because they are too poor to pay their bill. The United Nations has said this is outrageous – “an affront to human rights”. What may soon occur in Detroit, is a dime a dozen in remote Australian communities – services are shut down, residents forced off their homelands and many of them into homelessness. Not long ago in the Kimberley, Oombulgarri community was shut down and its 62 homes are destined for demolition. Most of its residents are now homeless. There are also moves to demolish the Kimberley shanty of Kennedy Hill, with the families having nowhere to go. And so it continues.

What will the Northern Territory Government say if someone dies at Irrkelantye attributable directly to the closing down of the water supply?

I have left a long message with questions on the mobile of Chief Minister Adam Giles.

by Gerry GeorgatosSeptember 3rd, 2014

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Crikey, Croakey
Indigenous leaders plea to PM Abbott to step in on "chaotic" policy, funding environment
Marie McInerney | Sep 04, 2014 10:50AM

Updated to include statement below from the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) on concerns about discriminatory changes to the way some Aboriginal organisations will be required to incorporate.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders have called on Prime Minister Tony Abbott to personally step in to address the federal Indigenous Affairs policy and funding environment, which they say is "descending into chaos".

Representatives of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples (Congress), National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (NFVPLS), National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), Secretariat for National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), and the Healing Foundation - supported by the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) - met in Canberra this week to discuss the impact of the 2014 Federal Budget on key organisations and frontline services.

The group issued a statement saying that, despite Government assurances to the contrary, Budget cuts to Indigenous Affairs were impairing the ability of community-controlled organisations to deliver frontline services in critical areas such as legal assistance, family violence, children, youth and women, drug and alcohol misuse, and health. It said:

"This threatens long term damage to outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and prospects for a reconciled nation."

"There is virtually no evidence of coordination between government agencies responsible for funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and programs. Buck-passing appears to be the norm.

"This environment is one of confusion and this is causing instability, anxiety and uncertainty.
Despite requests for information from many of our organisations, there are few answers. We're simply told to 'put it in writing'. Then, when we do, we get no response.

The group said there was a disconnect between the Government's stated narrowly-focused priorities of jobs, school attendance, and community safety and its actions.

It said that under the new Indigenous Affairs arrangements:

  • Funding for 38 Children and Family Centres throughout the country - "vital hubs in our communities" - ceased on 30 June this year.
  • Funding for Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services, which support thousands of Indigenous women and children every year, is currently due to cease on 30 June 2015.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services around the country are yet to learn how $13.1 million in cuts to their operations will be applied to frontline services, and their national advocacy and reform body NATSILS has been defunded. Due to this uncertainty, legal services are being forced to close offices, staff are leaving, positions are going unfilled and services such as duty solicitors reduced.

"How is community safety advanced when important building blocks such as crucial support for women and children experiencing family violence, and access to legal representation, are stepped away from?" the statement said.

The group has called for:

  • Emergency talks between Abbott - who declared himself 'Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs' - and national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders beyond the Indigenous Advisory Council and other individual advisors.
  • Immediate extension of transitional funding arrangements under the Government's new Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) from six months and a year to a minimum of 18 months and two years. They say the IAS open grant and tender process due to commence on 8 September should be deferred while the Government urgently clarifies eligibility criteria and other areas of concern.
  • Government assurance that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, service providers and advocacy bodies will be respected and supported to undertake community development and service delivery to their constituents.
  • A Parliamentary Inquiry into the recommendations of the Forrest Review into Indigenous employment and economic development. The group expressed serious concern that the review dramatically overstepped its original terms of reference, denying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities an opportunity to make submissions on the range of issues it went on to cover and now seeks to limit and rush responses to recommendations contained in its 'Creating Parity' report.

"We call on the Government to start talking to the leadership that is backed by our communities, to stop the confusion, instability and chaos, and to provide much needed clarity and certainty," the group said.


The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) today released a statement on behalf of members expressing concern that discrimination against Aboriginal organisations will jeopardise the capacity of the Aboriginal community controlled sector to deliver services to vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the country. VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher said:

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) has announced that Aboriginal organisations receiving over $500,000 per year from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) will be required to incorporate under the Office of the Registrar for Indigenous Corporations (ORIC), the federal body administering the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act (CATSI Act). Any non-Aboriginal organisation will be required to move their registration to Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

ORIC has substantially more powers than ASIC to intervene in the governance and business of a registered organisation. ASIC is the nationally recognised registrar for corporations. Despite this, PM&C is refusing to allow eligible Aboriginal Organisations the choice to register with ASIC.

This is a discriminatory process. It flies in the face of Government commitments to respect and promote the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as it takes away the right to self-determination.

We are not being treated as equals by the government. There is simply no evidence that a move to an Aboriginal specific legislation will improve health outcomes, or contribute to the Close the Gap targets.

VACCHO is concerned that the federal government's decision will see a significant amount of funding redirected from critically needed, limited funding sources for front-line service delivery as hundreds of organisations are forced to make this move in order to receive funding from PM&C.

VACCHO has received an estimate of up to $42,500 for organisational legal costs to move to ORIC - we and our members are opposed to re-directing this amount of funding away from front-line service delivery!

The news comes as a blow to VACCHO as it is in direct contradiction of the commitment by the Prime Minister to consult with the Aboriginal Community on key policies that will affect them. This policy could create problems that the PM&C appears not to have considered.

The overall impact of these costs will have a significant impact on delivering services to the most disadvantaged people across Australia.

Irrkelantye still without water

By Gerry Georgatos 


Today, Irrkelantye has been without its water supply for one month. The residents of this open air shanty now walk half a kilometre to collect as much water as they can carry back. The Northern Territory Government is not budging from its relative silence. It appears the Government wants the people to move on from this safe space. It is a dirty tactic of attrition, one that the United Nations has slammed as a human rights abuse wherever it is practiced throughout the world.

People live in Irrkelantye, also known as Whitegate, 3.5 kilometres east of Alice Springs because it is a safe space, afar from the substance abuse and various dysfunction of some of the other town camps closer to Alice Springs. But Irrkelantye is another vivid portrayal of Government neglect, a racialized neglect.


Despite the water supply having been cut off, the traditional owners who live at this unofficial town camp will not leave. It is believed that on August 7, the water supply was cut off by the Government. Water had been run into Irrkelantye from the nearby official town camp of Ilpeye Ilpeye by a water hose pipe. The residents of Irrkelantye would often check the piping hose for leaks and then repair.


One of Irrkelantye’s Elders, Felicity Hayes said the residents “want the water supply put back.”


Ms Hayes also said that governments should stop turning a blind-eye to places like Irrkelantye and instead “come and build houses for us, help us.”


“They make many promises, but they do nothing, we never see them, never hear from them. Their promises are lies. They just lying.”


“It is safe here, we just need some where to live.”


First Nations homelessness in Australia is at 200 per 10,000 persons, five times the overall national rate. In the Kimberley and the Northern Territory, homelessness has reached around 700 per 10,000, with the majority of it First Nations people.


Irrkelantye is the epitome of third-world akin conditions but in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Australia is the world’s 12th largest economy, second wealthiest nation per capita, and the with the world’s highest median wages. The non-Aboriginal residents of the Northern Territory have the world’s highest median wages. Grinding poverty and affluence starkly contrasted, living side by side.


Alice Springs resident and University of Technology Sydney Jumbanna House senior researcher, Paddy Gibson has visited Irrkelantye many times. He said the community’s residents have nowhere else to go. Mr Gibson said that the “cutting off the water supply” will only serve to make people ill. Without clean water illnesses are born, including the spread of trachoma. Wherever clean or chlorinated water has been introduced subsequently infections and diseases reduce within the local populations.


The Territory’s Minister for Community Services is Bess Price and she told the ABC News that the water supply was cut because of construction in nearby Ilpeye Ilpeye.

But she said to the ABC she would not comment on whether the water supply would be reconnected.


“At the moment I am not inclined to make any comments.” Ms Price said she was focused on “a major sub division” happening near Ilpeye Ilpeye and not far from Irrkelantye. But what does this have to do with cutting off the water supply?


Irrkelantye does not have any municipal services but the shire of Tangentyere did provide the water to the residents. Tangentyere Council was funded to fill a water tank for Irrkelantye – 4000 litres – a cost of only $550.


Tangentyere Council CEO Walter Shaw said he believed that the water tank is due for another refill.


“The question is whether or not the Northern Territory Government is going to reconnect the water supply.”


For now the residents of Irrkelantye walk the half kilometre to the tank to carry back what they can to their shanty but soon there will be no water at all.


I left a long message and questions on the mobile of Chief Minister Adam Giles but he has already told the ABC News that his Government is not responsible for services to “Whitegate” and that it “is not a residential area of living.” The residents of Irrkelantye are residents of the Northern Territory and the government should not turn a blind-eye to them and further outcast them.


Mr Giles claims he would prefer to provide the residents “alternate housing options” in Alice Springs. Well, housing options are few in the Northern Territory, state housing supply is at a low, and homelessness in the Northern Territory for First Nations people is the nation’s worst. Do you move on people before you have something to offer them? This disgrace is not limited to the Northern Territory. In the Kimberley, the Western Australian Government closed down the community of Oombulgarri, with the 62 houses to be demolished in November. But the residents finished up homeless, many living in nearby marshes and the rest transported in the back of trucks to Wyndham where two years later most of them continue to live in tents on the outskirts of Wyndham. Earlier this year two of the tent-living residents committed suicide.


There is more to this story than just moving on people. They can find the money for a subdivision and construction but there is too little in the kitty apparently for the people of Irrkelantye – a theme well known from the Top End’s town camps, official and unofficial, to the Central Desert’s.


Painter and author, Rodd Moss, won the 2011 Prime Minister’s award for non-fiction with his book on Irrkelantye – ‘The Hard Light of Day’. Mr Moss said that the history of the region goes back thousands of generations. Felicity Hayes aunt, Myra Hayes secured native title over the region but as Ms Hayes said, “Native title means little, it has little rights.”


If the Northern Territory Government cannot help turn Irrkelantye into a pristine village for its small population, then it does not care about First Nations people in terms of their homelands and cultural integrity. Corralling everyone in urban settings has led to many modernist crises of identity and leading to depressions and suicide.

Cutting off the water to Irrkelantye was a disgrace and is an indictment of those in government.