Fixing Darwin’s Town Camps

I’m briefly quoted in this Herald Sun/NT News article “This Town is a Symbol of Government Failure” on the sorry state of Town Camps in Darwin. Whilst Alice Springs town camps have received most of the attention and government action (probably because there are more of them), Darwin’s Town Camps continue to experience neglect. The underlying issue in Darwin is that the special purpose leases on which the camps are situated are held by organisations that only exist on paper – what I have called “Zombie Corporations”, in particular the Aboriginal Development Foundation. Without income, staff or leadership (or even on office or a phone number), there’s literally nobody in charge (with the exception of Bagot Community). Yilli Rreung Housing receives some subsidy to maintain the Town Camp houses, but faces its own challenges, and has little ability to affect change and enforce tenancies whilst ownership lies elsewhere.

In Alice Springs, the government (federal and territory) spent large amounts of money and political will to controversially acquire leases over the town camps. Nominally managed by Territory Housing, running the town camps was turned over to a new organisation – the Central Australian Affordable Housing Company. Whilst the complicated relationship between Territory Housing and CAAHC makes for a high degree of bureaucratic complexity, the CAAHC and its strong governance model is generally regarded as doing a good job without requiring a housing subsidy. Increasingly, it is seen as a model for Darwin’s Town Camps. It would be fairly easy for the government to do something similar here, as the Aboriginal Development Foundation in particular, is likely to be in breach of the special purposes for which the leases were granted in the first place. If it is careful to manage the process to avoid alienating Larrakia Nation, Yilli Rreung and the residents themselves, the government might be able to pull off a win. With a new Housing Minister who was previously involved in the establishment of CAAHC, it’s looking like a distinct possibility.

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