Sydney The locals are “devastated” by the sudden closure of a beloved community center. Hundreds protested today after staff were told they would lose their jobs if they handed over a non-disclosure agreement.
Employees at the National Center for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) in Redfern were told the nonprofit will close Monday after government owners were unable to reach an agreement on the future of the hub.
“I don’t think we can measure the impact,” Redfern Youth Connect executive director Aunt Margaret Haumono told 9News.com.au.
“I have kids who ask me, ‘Aunt Marg, where are we going? What do we do?’”
The center, which opened in 2006, offers community classes, educational support and tutoring, along with social sports and fitness classes.
But Aunt Marg said the hub was much more than that, and has wondered why there was no consultation with the community before the shutdown.
“This place is just not a gym and a pool for us, this place is a meeting place, it’s a meeting place,” she said.
“We have artists who come and sit here and have a cup of tea.
“We have swim sessions for moms and bubs, we have our elders sitting here.”
Employing primarily Aboriginal staff, the center was established to support the health and well-being of thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members.
Aunt Haumono said members of the independent subsidiary of the Indigenous Land & Sea Corporation (ILSC) came to the NCIE and broke the news yesterday by handing out nondisclosure agreements to staff informing them that they had lost their jobs.
“We had no idea this was coming,” she says.
“The majority of the staff have not accepted the non-disclosure agreements and now we are starting the battle here to keep this place open.”
The youth worker was one of 400 people who came to the community center today to demand an independent inquiry into the closure.
“It was disgusting, and we as a community are calling for an independent investigation into the divestment process,” Aunt Haumono said.
“They (the ILSC) said ‘call the police’ in response instead of showing up and offering dialogue and community.”
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney described the center as “the beating heart of the Aboriginal community in Redfern”.
“I spoke with the CEO and Chairman of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the Sydney member today,” she said.
“I strongly encourage the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council to work together to find a solution so that the center’s programs and services continue to benefit the local community.
The decision to close was announced a month after the George Street property was divested from ILSC on June 30 and handed over to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC).
The ILSC purchased the land that once housed the old Redfern Public School, with community support in 2006.
The listed buildings were transformed into conference, accommodation and office spaces, and recreational facilities were built, including a gym and water sports centre.
The social enterprise is still managed by the ILSC, which manages and acquires millions of dollars in land and marine assets for the benefit of indigenous peoples.
‘Running with a deficit’: Governments fail to reach agreement
NSWALC Chairman Danny Chapman said the state council was “not in a financial position to raise the huge amount of money needed to run the company” and negotiations with ILSC therefore failed.
“We told the community that the New South Wales ALC was unable to run the pool and gym, which was the main contributor to the NCIE being deficient,” Chapman told 9News.com.au.
“We have made that very clear.”
Chapman said negotiations would reopen today.
9News understands that a meeting between NSW ALC and the ILSC was planned but the NCIE Aboriginal community was not invited.
The ILSC has been contacted for comment.