Young Aboriginal staff are being offered “small amounts” of money to leave their roles quietly, after a decision by owners to shut down operations at Redfern’s National Center of Indigenous Excellence.
The property, which has operated on George Street for 16 years, is currently owned by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) after it was transferred from the Commonwealth’s Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) on June 30. The ILSC is still in charge of running operations at the site.
Services at the fitness and aquatic centers are set to stop on the 8th of August, with all staff notified on Monday morning.
Former NRL star Dean Widders told NITV News he got an anxious phone call from his son, Dean Jnr, an employee of the Centre, after he received the news.
“He just got called into a meeting without any notice, any explanation, to say that his job is going to be gone in five days and he’s not gonna have any work. He has to find out how he’s going to survive for the next few months,” he said.
Speaking from outside the Centre, Widders described how busloads of children were turning up to the NCIE for their afternoon programs only to be met with locked gates.
“Their hearts are broken,” he said.
It’s not just about paychecks, it’s a place of inspiration and building aspirations.
“Changing the ripple effect of how this community works in a positive direction. That’s the big loss out of this.”
Gomeroi and Wiradjuri woman Margaret Haumono, co-founder and CEO of non for profit Redfern Youth Connect, posted a video on the group’s Instagram page from the scene.
“A lot of the young Aboriginal kids were quite distressed this morning,” she told NITV News.
“They’ve been told to sign non-disclosure agreements. They’ve also been given a small amount to actually be redundant from their jobs as well. And I was quite distressing to walk into that.”
Dean Widders said a parting offer of $500 was a slap in the face for his son.
“That was to say ‘keep your mouth shut, go away silently’. That was a bit of an insult to him, to say this is what your livelihood is worth,” he said.
Natascha Haupt, who works admin at NCIE, said not one member of staff was aware of the shutdown.
“There was no community consultation, no talks with anyone about this. It’s disrespectful,” she told NITV News.
“They’re basically closing down the centre, they gave us a letter that was stating the money they would give us depending on our salary, how long we’ve been there, how many hours we did – paying us out basically.
“But it isn’t enough to survive. One of the boys would get $700, that won’t even make the next rent.”
‘They’ve insulted us’
Prominent Redfern community man Shane Phillips, who is a regular user of the Center and has been invested since its inception, said he was devastated by the news.
“It took us from, and I know this sounds bad, but it took us from getting on the charge and the streets being all over the place to a place where we could see our own strength,” he told NITV News.
“There are Elders there and there are families and I am gutted myself. If they stopped this now, without thinking about this properly, I can’t even imagine some of the crazy shit that could happen here.”
Mr Phillips said the communication from the ILSC has been “really poor” throughout the process and that community members felt “insulted.”
“They’re not interested in that social cost and the benefits of it… they’re just all about the numbers and I’m really saddened,” he said.
“They just thought it was beyond our people to be able to think about a model that could work socially and commercially. And that is how they’ve insulted us.”
‘Worked together in good faith’: ILSC & NSWALC
Ms Haumono said it was a surprise following a meeting with the NSWALC on Tuesday.
“They assured us there would be a three-year waiting process and then an EOI would go out for the fitness and aquatic center and the community would get the first option at the tender,” she said.
“This completely came out of the blue.”
In a statement, the NSWALC said they will be seeking new management for the centre.
“We will be opening a process to secure a suitable third-party to manage the fitness and aquatic center on the site,” said NSWALC’s Chairperson Danny Chapman.
“The process will be open to both community and industry to apply.”
Today’s events come after both ILSC and NSWALC could not come to negotiate a mutual agreement about the business.
Both ILSC CEO Joseph Morrison and NSWALC CEO Yuseph Deen said, in a joint statement, that both organizations “worked together in good faith” to try and secure NCIE’s future.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to reach agreement on terms for ongoing support of the organization and as a result, it will close. We are disappointed by the outcome and will work to support affected staff and community.”
‘We will fight’
For one of the young people outside of NCIE this afternoon, today signals the end of a long journey.
“I’ve been here for about half my life, since I was nine-years-old,” they said.
“I’ve been coming here every single day after school, so it’s going to be a big change.
Saying that NCIE was a “safe place” for them and their friends to come together, the youth told NITV News that things won’t be the same in the suburb if the space changed.
“I feel like this is kind of like a special spot for us because it’s somewhere can just come,” they said.
“It’s a place that we all rely on, like something we can always go back to. So, just like can’t even imagine the notion of it not being there anymore.”
Shane Phillips and members of the community have planned to turn up again on Tuesday at 1pm to protest.
“I will shackle myself to that fence. If they try and go do it the wrong way without the community being involved,” he said.
“Let them see what happens this time we will fight hard.”