A week of protests has won a reprieve for Redfern’s National Centre for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE), after plans to shut the centre were announced suddenly last week.
The centre hosts numerous youth programs and sports groups and is one of the few remaining areas in Redfern still accessible to the local Aboriginal community.
The Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation has agreed to continue funding NCIE and paying staff until long-term arrangements for its future are in place.
There was a huge outpouring of community outrage at the decision to close NCIE. Up to 500 people gathered there last Tuesday after around 50 staff were abruptly sacked.
On Monday the local community began a sit-in to keep NCIE open.
“These doors were meant to close at 12pm,” Margaret Haumono, co-founder of Redfern Youth Connect, which operates out of NCIE, told the crowd. “If we’ve got anything to do with it, they’re not closing. I had an elder say to me ‘if these doors close, they’ll never open again’.”
“There’s so many people who are impacted by this, all the children, the elders, the people who work here, the families in and around the community who have seen the benefits of the NCIE,” Shane Phillips, Redfern community leader and CEO of Tribal Warrior, said.
NCIE has operated at a loss of around $2 million a year. It has been owned and funded through the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, a federal statutory body established with government money that is now self-funding through the operation of several business ventures.
Discussions between the Land and Sea Corporation and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council were supposed to work out an arrangement to transfer ownership and maintain funding, so that NCIE could work towards being self-sustaining. Despite the short-term reprieve, those discussions are still ongoing.
At daily meetings to update supporters and rally support, many community spokespeople argued that such an important centre should not be forced to rely on a profit making model. The $2 million annual shortfall is nothing compared to the many millions spent over-policing the community and locking both children and adults up in prison.
Federal Labor Indigenous Minister Linda Burney and local MP Tanya Plibersek visited the centre last week. But so far there has been no commitment of federal government funding either.
The Redfern community and services using the centre are angry about being left out of discussions.
A Redfern Aboriginal Alliance uniting local organisations has issued a series of demands about the centre’s future, calling for a guarantee of funding for three years.
“They couldn’t have the respect to sit down with our community and let us be part of a design or a discussion at least,” Shane Phillips said.
“We need to let them know that the people have spoken, and the people will keep turning up until they sit down and talk to us like adults.”
By James Supple
NCIE is now open as normal at 166-180 George St, Redfern.