By ERWIN CHLANDA
The government will push ahead with its proposed national Aboriginal art gallery on the Anzac Oval precinct no matter what is decided by Lhere Artepe at a key meeting tomorrow.
The native title organisation is currently supporting the controversial location but senior elders persist with their demands that the facility, for cultural reasons, should not be built north of The Gap.
“The NT Government has received and relied on support from Lhere Artepe, which represents the three estate groups, for the Anzac Precinct. We have no additional information that this is to change,” Arts Minister Chansey Paech told the Alice Springs News in an exclusive interview this afternoon.
The Minister made it clear that even if Lhere Artepe withdraws its support for the Anzac Precinct the project will be built there, as the process for compulsory acquisition from the Town Council of Anzac Oval is entering its next stage.
A Town Council-commissioned drawing of the gallery, illustrating a way of avoiding use of Anzac Oval for the project.
NEWS: That process can be stopped if – against your expectations – something happens at the Lhere Artepe meeting tomorrow, and it withdraws its consent.
PAECH: I’ll be very clear, we are going ahead with the compulsory acquisition. The government has made a clear decision, the previous Cabinet had decided on the Anzac Precinct. That is our preferred location. We’re in that position with the Alice Springs Town Council. They can move aside and allow the acquisition to go through without any cost to rate and taxpayers, or we can end up in court to do that. That’s a process that Minister Lawler has carriage of. We are not letting go of the economic and social opportunities, and the opportunities for Aboriginal people from Alice Springs to be involved in this project.
NEWS: We spoke to five of the top people, in a traditional sense, and they all said going south of The Gap is an issue. If they succeed tomorrow, what will you do?
PAECH: We have written correspondence from Lhere Artepe saying we can go ahead with that site.
NEWS: Is the opinion of the senior people important in the decision making?
PAECH: Absolutely. But we already have that written correspondence highlighting the support from the three estate groups who are supportive of this huge economic opportunity for the town.
NEWS: Are you familiar with the tensions and conflicts within Lhere Artepe over the last …
PAECH: There is tension within everything, Erwin. Nothing has 100% consensus and it never will. They are the registered native title bodies whom government needs to work with if they are looking for Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) or native title projects in and around the town. Based on their support we’re continuing with the Anzac Precinct site.
NEWS: Irrespective of opposition from senior Aborigines?
PAECH: I am not going to get into hypotheticals.
Mr Paech says Lhere Artepe support has allowed the government to continue with the compulsory acquisition of the site.
The period for mediation and consultation with the Town Council has now elapsed: “We will continue with the proceedings to acquire the land, or we will hopefully be in a position where the Town Council sees the economic opportunities for the town and allows the acquisition.”
He says projects centred on Aboriginal people should not be outside of town while major hotels or business opportunities will be built in the CBD, creating “major visitation spend” and reactivating the town.
Mr Paech rejected outright any suggestion of a deal between the government and Lhere Artepe over the gallery, but he was struggling to explain why the government was spending $20m on ILUAs with Lhere Artepe while it owned freehold the sewerage plant, about two square kilometres in size, unencumbered by native title, and positioned in the middle of the municipality.
Mr Paech said it was clear the facility some day had to be replaced with a recycling plant as water in The Centre becomes scarce.
He says the $20m project is part of an ILUA between the government and Lhere Artepe … around future planning for residential and commercial land.
PAECH: That process is separate. It’s been identified by the department as land which we need and which we’ve been looking for for some time.
NEWS: That’s the point. You’ve already got it. In the form of the sewerage plant. Why spend an extra $20m to buy more?
UPDATE February 2, 10am
IMAGE at top: Architect’s impression of the planned national Aboriginal art gallery in Adelaide.