By ERWIN CHLANDA
It has been a disaster for our people … they have no control over their lives anymore … they are not respected and not heard … paternalistic and punitive measures … broken lives and spirits … endure life [in a camp] … disengaged from any development process … toxic nature of intervention measures … families who did not drink before are now drinking … increasing levels of crime are making [the town] a very dangerous place, particularly at night … our elders have stepped away from leadership roles, blaming government for having disempowered them.
And so on.
This is not the desperate plea of an oppressed people in a brutal Third World dictatorship.
This is Tangentyere CEO Walter Shaw speaking on behalf of people benefiting from an unprecedented $150m Federal program – in addition to the massive ongoing welfare expenditure – to provide better housing and other services to his clients.
Mr Shaw is singing from the same song sheet as a growing number of other Intervention opponents.
Is this another hardened activist having the impertinence of complaining about a handout of such magnitude?
Is there another reason for his outrage, and this almost entirely unsubstantiated tirade?
Other grabs from Mr Shaw’s recent media release give clues:
Flawed consultations with NT Aboriginal people … disempower our organisations … Jenny Macklin [should] negotiate a true partnership with Tangentyere Council and work with us to improve service delivery and achieve positive outcomes for Town Camp residents … disengaged from any development process … Despite calls by many to engage with Aboriginal leadership … negotiate with us as equal partners.
That suggests there is nothing wrong, so far as Mr Shaw is concerned, with taxpayers forking out big time.
He’s griping about not getting a slice of the action.
And in an effort to lend force to his argument, he is laying bare the incompetence of his organisation over four decades – except he’s trying to pass the buck to the Intervention which started just four years ago:
Large numbers of people from remote communities are leaving their homes and relocating to regional towns like Alice Springs … they are forced to live in “rough camping circumstances” … threatened with fines for illegal camping … additional fines will only lead to more Aboriginal people joining the prison population … large numbers of families in the town camps are dysfunctional and are engaged in substance abuse with alcohol consumption soaring … our young are not engaging with the educational system. Attendance rates are appalling, something which would not be tolerated in mainstream society … Those in the industry of child protection say the situation has deteriorated since the intervention … despite income management, those who choose to consume alcohol are still doing so, and in increasing amounts.
No matter how often this has been said, Mr Shaw is closing his ears to it: You don’t like income management? Get a job. Then nobody but yourself will control what you are doing with your money.
The Intervention is for getting people out of the mess they are in.
The wider application of this is the re-development of industries – pastoralism, horticulture, crafts, for example – all with massive commercial potential and formerly broad participation by Aboriginal people.
But Mr Shaw is clearly not interested in what people can – should – do for themselves.
His litany of horrors fails to acknowledge that there are hundreds of unfilled jobs in Alice Springs, or that are filled on a casual basis by backpackers, or that have vanished because people offering them have left town in despair.
There is no credible argument that these jobs are – were – not available to local Aborigines on a permanent basis, should they apply, and perform adequately and in a sustained way.
Tangentyere, presumably still getting Federal money for a range of “programs”, has been bypassed by the Feds in the overhaul of the town camps.
No prizes for guessing why.
Tangentyere is about 40 years old. It “began operating in the early 1970s,” according to its website.
Its performance, mostly falling well short of providing solutions to the myriad of Aboriginal problems, has been overshadowed by the unspeakable filth of many of the town camps for which Tangentyere was getting paid to provide municipal and other services.
Over our 18 years in publication the Alice Springs News has drawn attention to this situation many times.
Google this site!
We did so with the determined support of camp residents who desperately wanted their neglect to be made public, and under constant threat of trespass action from Tangentyere.
Now, of course, you can move around town camps as though they were a normal suburb.
Transparency isn’t Tangentyere’s strong point.
It was a standing joke between Mr Shaw’s father, Geoff, former general manager and now the organisation’s president, and the Alice News:
“What’s Tangentyere’s budget, Geoff?”
“No comment, Erwin.”
We asked again this week for the current financial report. The organisation’s media liaison officer says she’s passed our request to Mr Shaw.
The last year Tangentyere provided some financial information on the internet was 2005/06.
“The Finance Division received and acquitted $12,296,441 including $203,985 of capital funding from 31 different funding bodies predominately Australian Government agencies,” says the post.
Not much more is revealed: 5,461 electronic purchases to a value of $1,603,688 were made and payments to 376 suppliers.
The average staff number was a staggering 194 plus an average CDEP participant schedule of 250. Together they were paid $9,863,034.
Given the scandalous state of the camps before the refurbishment by agencies other than Tangentyere, now close to completion, it is hard to imagine what these nearly 200 staff were doing to advance what was clearly the core business of their organisation.
The apparent domination of Tangentyere by the Shaw family is another matter worthy of investigation.
We put the following questions to the media liaison officer: Does Walter Shaw live in Mt Nancy (pictured in this Google Earth photo)? Does he earn a salary? How much?
Are there members of the Shaw family living at Mt Nancy who are superannuated, employed, capable of taking on employment or in a situation in which Centrelink would expect them to be available for employment?
If so, how many?
If so, how come they live in subsidised public housing?
We’ll report the reply when and if we get one.
By ERWIN CHLANDA