Linda Burney has given the organisations negotiating the future of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern one week to determine the future of the social and community hub, before the government intervenes.
In a heated community meeting on Friday, the minister for Indigenous Australians said her priority was for the tenants of the George Street facility to be given permanency, for the centre to stay open, and for its 50 staffmembers to keep their jobs.
“I am saying this very clearly to the people making decisions about this place, you’ve got a week,” Burney said. “You’ve got a week to sort it out … because this joint is important.”
The community hub has provided health and wellbeing services for Indigenous people in Sydney since 2006, including sport, fitness, conferences and community classes.
Most of its 50 employees are Indigenous. Staff and community members have protested daily since the snap announcement it would shut its doors on Monday, to close on 8 August.
The site had been owned since 2010 by the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC), a federal statutory body which manages and acquires assets worth millions of dollars on behalf of Indigenous people. The NSW Aboriginal Land Council took ownership on 30 June.
In a joint statement, the two bodies said they had worked in “good faith” to come to an agreement on how to continue services, which had been delivered by the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence Ltd, a subsidiary of the ILSC.
Burney said she had expressed her view “very clearly and very forthrightly” to the bodies, while adding the community also needed a seat at the table.
“It is without question that this place is important to the community,” she said. “I am very hopeful, in fact, I am convinced that we can find a resolution here. We have to.”
Burney was joined by fellow minister Tanya Plibersek, who is the local member, as well as Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore in a visit to the centre on Friday. They addressed hundreds of people gathered at the centre’s basketball courts.
Plibersek said the NCIE should continue operating as a site for the community, adding: “If we have to [find the money] we will.”
Aunty Margaret Haumono, the executive director of Redfern Youth Connect, said she was “reassured” by the words of Plibersek and Burney but requested the promise be delivered in writing.
Burney told Haumono she would not “stand here in front of hundreds and hundreds of people and say that if I didn’t mean it”.
Haumono said the community had been left out of discussions about the building’s future since 2020.
“We need to do things differently … it’s got to be inclusive of everyone who uses this place,” she said. “We were excluded.
“We have over 200 local Aboriginal youths that are registered with us across 93 families in our community and we’re still not heard. I’m sick of it.”
ILSC chief executive Joe Morrison said both his organisation and the NSWALC were “committed to bringing this matter to a conclusion that supports the Redfern community”.
Morrison said he was in contact with Burney’s office on Friday afternoon and had a “clear understanding” of her position. The ILSC will meetwith the NSWALC council on Tuesday to attempt to resolve ownership of the centre.
Danny Chapman, the chair of the NSWALC, said the centre needed a “major ongoing subsidy” from the ILSC to remain viable.
“NSWALC is equally disappointed that we haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the ILSC on funding for the ongoing provision of services,” he said.
He urged the government to cover the operational shortfall.
“We can’t have the government cost shifting; we need tangible support.”
Wiradjuri woman and former CEO of Wyanga Aunty Millie Ingram said the centre must remain open for the future of the children who rely upon it.
“Don’t let them take this away from us, how dare they?” she said.
NSWALC said pending the outcome with ILSC, it would open a process to secure a suitable third party to manage the fitness and aquatic centre.