Staff at the National Center for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) in Redfern were told the non-profit organization will close on Monday after it’s government owners were unable to reach an agreement on the hub’s future.
“I don’t think we can measure the impact,” executive director of Redfern Youth Connect Aunty Margaret Haumono told 9News.com.au.
“I’ve got kids asking me ‘Aunty Marg, where are we gonna go? What are we going to do?'”
The centre, which opened in 2006, offers community classes, educational support and tutoring along with social sport and fitness classes.
But Aunty Marg said the hub was much more than that, and has questioned why there was no consultation with the community before its closure.
“This place is just not a gym and a swimming pool for us, this place is a meeting point, it’s a meeting place,” she said.
“We have elders who come here and sit and have a cup of tea.
“We have mums and bubs swimming sessions, we have our elders that sit here.”
The center employs mostly Aboriginal staff and was created to support the health and wellbeing of thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members.
Aunty Haumono said members of the independent subsidiary of the Indigenous Land & Sea Corporation (ILSC) turned up to the NCIE and broke the news yesterday by handing out non-disclosure statements to staff, informing them they’d lost their jobs.
“We had no idea this was coming,” she said.
“The majority of staff did not accept the non-disclosure agreements, and now we’re here starting the fight to keep this place open.”
The youth worker was one of 400 people who descended on the community hub today demanding an independent inquiry into the closure.
“It’s been disgusting, and we are as a community calling on an independent inquiry into the divestment process,” Aunty Haumono said.
“They (the ILSC) said ‘call the police’ as a response as opposed to showing up and providing dialogue and community.”
Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Linda Burney described the center as “the beating heart of the Aboriginal community in Redfern”.
“I have spoken with the CEO and Chair of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation and the Member for Sydney 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 the centre’s programs and services continue to benefit the local community.
The decision to shut down was announced one month after the George Street property was divested from ILSC on June 30th, and transferred to the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC).
The ILSC purchased the land where the old Redfern Public School once was, with community support in 2006.
The heritage buildings were transformed into conference, accommodation and office spaces and recreational facilities including a gym and aquatics center were built.
The social enterprise is still managed by the ILSC, which runs and acquires millions of dollars in land and sea assets to benefit Indigenous people.
‘Running at a deficit’: Government bodies unable to reach agreement
Chairperson of the NSWALC Danny Chapman said the land council was “not in a financial position to pick up the enormous amount of money that it would take to run the business” and so negotiations with ILSC failed.
“We told the community that the New South Wales ALC was not in a position to run the pool and the gym, which was the main contributors towards the NCIE running at a deficit,” Chapman told 9News.com.au.
“We made that very clear.”
Chapman said negotiations would be reopened today.
9News understands a meeting between NSW ALC and the ILSC was scheduled but the NCIE Aboriginal community were not invited.
The ILSC has been contacted for comment.