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Federal Government Steps In To Mediate Over Fight For Redfern's The Block

Indigenous Affairs Minister gets involved as fight plays out in Supreme Court.

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The Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has stepped in to mediate between the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC) and the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE) in the increasingly acrimonious fight for control of The Block in Redfern.

Jenny Munro from RATE speaks with Minister Scullion (Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed)

Minister Scullion has told BuzzFeed News that he's spent the last two days mediating between RATE and AHC in closed meetings in Redfern in an effort to have both parties come to a unified agreement on the best way forward regarding the beleaguered Pemulwuy Project.

"The Aboriginal people of Redfern have said we don’t want government housing here, we want to own this land and that is part of the future contract; that is not negotiable and we need to respect that," Scullion said adding that The Federal Government will commit five million dollars toward the redevelopment project.

Minister Scullion was one of around 20 people who attended the hearing today in the Supreme Court to watch the latest development in the AHC's push to have the protestors removed through a judge.

Protesters outside the Supreme Court supporting the RATE (Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed)

This was the third hearing against defendant elder Jenny Munro, representing the RATE, who was served with an eviction notice in February.

Judge Hulmes said he would deliver a final judgement next week on whether the eviction would go ahead, Munro say's she's exhausted by the process, "I’m just tired, very tired, still we’ve got a week and we’ll see what the judge says next week when we come back, it is a very long process."

The acrimonious dispute started lasted year when protesters, lead by Munro, moved into The Block and set up tents. They are refusing to move until they have a guarantee from the AHC that affordable housing for Aboriginal people will be built first under the Pemulwuy Project, before any commercial or private developments took place.

The AHC have said they do not have the funds to build affordable housing first and need money from private enterprises willing to build there, this would generate the money to build the houses.

Minister Scullion said outside the court that Federal Government money would only be available if there was a guarantee that affordable Aboriginal houses were built first, "My funds are only on the table if they (housing and private business) are to be built simultaneously."

BuzzFeed News understands that a six-hour meeting took place yesterday between the AHC, Munro and Scullion. Munro says that despite a productive session the AHC failed to sign.

Jenny Munro from RATE (Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed)

"Well they effectively yesterday turned their noses up at $5 million for housing so doesn’t sound like housing is a priority does it," Munro said.

In the 1970’s the then-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam granted the AHC funds to purchase houses and land for the Aboriginal community.

The houses were purchased on what is know known as The Block, a historically significant piece of land for Indigenous people in urban Sydney bounded by Eveleigh, Caroline, Louis and Vine streets.

In 2011, the final Aboriginal people living on The Block were relocated and their houses demolished to make way for the Pemulwuy Plan, a multi-million dollar redevelopment.

Scullion is confident that his intervention can break the impasse before the eviction hearing next week telling BuzzFeed News that, "The notion that somehow on some morning in the future that police, security or whowever would visit upon the Aboriginal tent embassy and forcibly remove them is something that is unconscionable and I think we should do everything to avoid it, so I am doing everything in my power."

BuzzFeed News have reached out to The Aboriginal Housing Company and are awaiting a response.

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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