Toomelah Community: The Facts

Toomelah community: The facts

May 11, 2012

Statement from Acting CEO of NSWALC, Les Turner

CLAIM: Some media have reported that the NSW Aboriginal Land Council would like to"shut Toomelah down".

FACT: The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has been working to ensure that the residents of Toomelah receive the same basic services as all other NSW residents.

In particular, NSWALC has been working intensively with TLALC for several years to rebuild governance structures in the community, so that Toomelah residents can solve their own problems, as opposed to government solutions being imposed on the community.

CLAIM: The Toomelah community was told they either accept the appointment of a "mission manager", or their homes will be bulldozed and they will be relocated.

FACT: NSWALC was not present, nor invited to, a meeting held with Toomelah residents and government officials.

However, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, under no circumstances, supports an 'intervention' at Toomelah, or any other Aboriginal community.

NSWALC supports the strengthening of local decision making to allow Aboriginal people to govern their own future.

Any suggestion to the contrary is false.

CLAIM: The NSW Government is working in "cahoots" with NSWALC to shut Toomelah down.

FACT: The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has a productive working relationship with the NSW Government, however, NSWALC under no circumstances would support an 'intervention' into Toomelah, and has had no such discussions with the NSW Government, or the federal government.

If either level of government is seriously considering this style of approach, as reported by some media, then they need to come clean with Aboriginal people and admit it.

Any attempt by government to seize control of Aboriginal communities will be vigorously opposed by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council.

NSWALC believes that Aboriginal people must control Aboriginal solutions. The best way to achieve this is at a local level.

CLAIM: The NSW Aboriginal Land Council should be doing more to fix up houses in Toomelah.

FACT: The NSW Aboriginal Land Council is not responsible for housing in Toomelah.

Toomelah Local Aboriginal Land Council - like all LALCs - is an autonomous body. It is elected by its members, and controlled by its members. NSWALC's role is to ensure that members' decisions do not breach the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

In relation to housing, Toomelah LALC decided to manage its own community housing, a decision that NSWALC respected given the autonomy of the LALC.

But it's worth noting, Toomelah LALC, like many land councils around the state, inherited housing of extremely poor quality from the NSW Government. Toomelah LALC has been suffering the affects of that poor quality housing ever since, with particular problems related to a large backlog of maintenance.

NSWALC, on the request of Toomelah LALC, has begun working with the community to find solutions to these problems.

CLAIM: The NSW Aboriginal Land Council is sitting on huge "buckets of money" and doing nothing to help Aboriginal people.

FACT: The Statutory Investment Fund is there for all Aboriginal people today, and for future generations of Aboriginal people tomorrow. NSWALC cannot simply spend all its available cash to resolve the problems of today.

In addition to this, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council is legislatively required to build its Statutory Investment Fund. If the Fund falls below a certain level, then the NSW Government may intervene.

From the Statutory Investment Fund, NSWALC contributed $100 million over 25 years to a joint $200 million partnership with the NSW Government to upgrade water and sewerage infrastructure in regional and remote Aboriginal communities.

At the time, the very same people who are now criticizing NSWALC for not spending money to assist Aboriginal people, complained that we should not have allocated money for something that is a state government responsibility.

So NSWALC is attacked by some for not spending money to help Aboriginal people, and then attacked by the same people when we do spend money to help Aboriginal people.

The simple fact is, NSWALC spends money responsibly and sustainably, but there is simply not enough money in the Statutory Investment Fund to solve all the problems in NSW.

This is one of the reasons that NSWALC recently began investigating the potential for mineral exploration as one option to create greater revenues for Aboriginal people in NSW.

None of this, of course, excuses government - state and federal - from their basic responsibilities to Aboriginal communities, responsibilities which they have historically failed to meet.

CLAIM: NSWALC has been "ducking the media" because it has something to hide.

FACT: NSWALC has been busy working with the Toomelah community, and arranging for the appointment of a senior NSWALC support officer to assist the community to rebuild local governance structures.

We made a decision when this story first broke not to engage in endless public commentary on the matter, because it was not in the interests of the Toomelah community.

Toomelah needs coordinated assistance and a re-strengthening of important community institutions. It does not need a public kicking. That may not suit the agenda of some media, but NSWALC does not exist to serve the interests of journalists, rather it exists to assist Aboriginal people in NSW.

CLAIM: Some people have claimed that Toomelah has been earmarked as a site for coal seam gas exploration, hence why NSWALC wants to "bulldoze the community".

FACT: This is false. NSWALC does not want the Toomelah community shut down. NSWALC wants the Toomelah community to survive and thrive, and receive the same basic services as all other NSW communities. That's why, for example, NSWALC contributed $100 million to a water and sewerage initiative.

In addition to this, Toomelah does not fall within the boundaries of land of which NSWALC has recently applied to the government to search for petroleum and gas.

NSWALC has not even received permission to begin exploring for petroleum and gas, let alone identified sites for exploration.

NSWALC has stated publicly on numerous occasions that even if we are eventually given an exploration licence, any activities we conduct will be in consultation with Aboriginal stakeholders.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS

  • On October 29, 2009 the NSW Aboriginal Land Council ceased funding the Toomelah LALC because of repeated failures to meet legislative requirements related to auditing and administration. Funding isprovided to all LALCs to support their administrative operations.
  • On March 3, 2011 TLALC was offered an Assistance Agreement to get it back on track. This was not taken up by TLALC.
  • TLALC has not had a CEO in place since May 2011, and has been unable to recruit a CEO as a replacement.
  • On May 2, 2012 NSWALC completed an urgent brief into the situation at Toomelah.

Issues noted in the report included:

• "Urgent Occupational Health and Safety (water and sewerage) issues within the Toomelah community.

In 2008, NSWALC contributed $100 million to a $200 million partnership with the NSW Government to upgrade water and sewerage infrastructure in more than 60 Aboriginal communities.

In 2009, works were completed at Toomelah. The current problems with water and sewerage are located within the fencelines of individual properties, and so are not captured by the NSWALC water and sewerage program.

It was the responsibility of the housing company at Toomelah to maintain this sewerage infrastructure, however it failed to do this.

• Extensive damage and vandalism has been wrought on the TLALC offices, including the destruction of TLALC records.

• The closure of the CDEP in Toomelah by the federal government in 2009 has had a profound impact on the community

The report noted, "The impact this single government decision has had on the community cannot be understated and needs to be seriously addressed by the respective level of government".

• There are enduring serious community tensions between Toomelah and Boggabilla families, which are making governance in the community more difficult.

• In spite of these tensions and problems, the TLALC Board have been continuing to hold regular meetings to try and resolve their problems.

This has included the appointment of a housing service provider to resolve some of the housing problems that have long plagued the community, and an agreement sign a head lease over the community with the Aboriginal Housing Office to ensure smoother operations of repairs and maintenance into the future.

The NSWALC report recommended the appointment for two months of a senior LALC support officer, Joe Flick to the Toomelah community on a full-time basis. While NSWALC is not funded to provide this service, this was subsequently agreed by NSWALC due to the level of problems in the community.

Mr Flick's role in Toomelah will be to:

  • Assist the LALC Board to advertise for, and recruit, a CEO.
  • Investigate further the problems associated with water and sewerage issues.
  • Establish new administrative and filing systems within the LALC.
  • Conduct Board elections for the Toomelah LALC.
  • Obtain financial records for an audit to be completed as soon as possible.
  • Assist with the Head-leasing of the TLALC residential properties to the NSW Government's Aboriginal Housing Office under the Build and Grow strategy.

Mr Flick has already begun work in Toomelah, and will remain in the community for two months.

Mr Flick's role will be to strengthen the local governance structure and the capacity of the community, in order to assist Toomelah to find its own solutions to its own problems.

Toomelah doesn't need more bureaucrats, or an NT-style government intervention. What Toomelah needs are Aboriginal people from democratically elected Aboriginal organisations working cooperatively together to give Toomelah the skills it needs to lift its own community.

Media contact:
Chris Munro, 0438 760 242