By ERWIN CHLANDA
The NT Government is merrily pushing on with its strategy of providing spin about the planned Aboriginal art gallery rather than fact, relegating the answering of questions from the public to minders and shielding the actual players in what is described as “consultation”.
Equally distressing is the fact that the town’s native title organisation Lhere Artepe is no better although it should be the clear go-to for people seeking to consult with key Aboriginal stakeholders on the project.
Mark Crees (pictured with Ministers Lauren Moss and Dale Wakefield), the government’s “Interim Director, Project Implementation Team”, said in an interview on September 7 “we went to Lhere Artepe” and the government’s Final Consultation Report says on page 43 that “the team consulted with Lhere Artepe”.
Lhere Artepe executive office manager Robert Campbell told the Alice Springs News Online that the board has forbidden him to speak to the media although he is the organisation’s representative on the project’s National Reference Group.
The public clearly can’t expect any transparency from him on a project that has a minimum commitment from the NT Government of $50m.
Mr Campbell told the News that the chairman, Shane Lindner, is the current spokesperson of the organisation created by the Federal Court in 2002 .
We emailed him nine questions on September 27 and still have no answers although he acknowledged the receipt of the email.
These were the questions:–
• What efforts did Lhere Artepe make to ascertain its members’ views on the issues?
• What conclusion did Lhere Artepe’s management draw from these efforts?
• How were the members’ instructions, if any, implemented?
• Where and when did Lhere Artepe have contact with the government’s consultation team?
• On each occasion, who was present?
• What was discussed?
• Did Lhere Artepe say or imply to the government’s team that it accepts or rejects the government’s choice of the Anzac Hill precinct as the site for the gallery?
• Were any other sites chosen?
• Were minutes kept, and if so, please provide a copy.
Mr Lindner (pictured) may have other things on his mind; being charged with aggravated assault may be one them. The court hearing is set down for December 19.
The fact that he has not taken leave from the position while the criminal case against him is underway illustrates the long turmoil within the organisation.
We requested an interview with Dr Crees to get a view of the “engagement” from the government’s side.
He responded that he was “interstate” and suggested we contact a departmental officer. We suggested an interview with him by phone.
We received a response from a minder, requesting the questions.
We provided them on September 28 – questions corresponding to the ones we put to Mr Lindner.
Not a peep out of Dr Crees but we were fobbed off by the Department of Tourism and Culture with this, failing to answer any of our specific questions:–
“The local engagement team met with Lhere Artepe on a number of occasions during the three-month engagement program, to both inform them on the work undertaken to date to progress the National Aboriginal Art Gallery project, and to listen to feedback, including Aboriginal workforce and enterprise development planning.
“Lhere Artepe expressed a keen desire to continue to be involved in the project as it progresses, and the local team has committed to regular meetings with Lhere Artepe.
“Additionally, Lhere Artepe has representation on the recently announced National Reference Group that will provide advice on delivery of the project, advocate nationally and help progress the recommendations outlined in the Initial Steering Committee report on the implementation and operation of the Gallery.
“All other details of the meetings, including details of what was discussed, will not be shared in order to respect the confidentiality of those present.”
It is clear that Lhere Artepe is supposed to play a significant role in the continued development of this project.
Its Consolidated Rule Book published on the website of the Office of the Registrar or Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) includes the following under what “the corporation aims to” do for the town’s native title holders:–
Protect their native title rights and interest; advance their cultural, social, political, economic and legal interests … including by establishing appropriate legal entities to achieve these objects; support and recognise the importance of Apmereke – artweye and the Kwertengerle in relation to land and the preservation; take advantage of investment and commercial opportunities … to generate assets and funds for charitable purposes and employment opportunities.
By ERWIN CHLANDA