Page last updated at 05:24 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 06:24 UK

Aborigine town camp seizure move

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Child playing at Hopy's Camp, Alice Springs, Australia, May 09
Aborigines in areas such as Hopy's Camp, Alice Springs, live in squalor

The Australian government is threatening to seize control of run-down Aboriginal settlements in the central desert town of Alice Springs.

The settlements are among the most dysfunctional and deprived areas in the whole country.

The so-called "town camps" have become a sad illustration of the unyielding poverty that has been gripping many indigenous communities.

The 18 town camps are home to up to 3,000 people.

The government has described conditions in the camps as "horrific".

Many are beset by chronic overcrowding and poor sanitation.

Officials have said the squalor was so bad that some Aboriginal parents had complained about finding cockroaches in their children's ears.

Violence in the ramshackle settlements is endemic. In 2007, Alice Springs had the world's highest number of stabbings per capita.

Federal authorities and the council responsible for managing most of the camps have repeatedly failed to agree on a rescue plan.

Australia's Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, says she has had enough and is preparing to use emergency powers to take control.

"My concern is that in the first instance we get in there and get these town camps cleaned up, that we get the houses fixed up, that we get the new housing built, that we get emergency accommodation built in other parts of Alice Springs so that people in the town camps can live a decent life," she said.

"I have now taken the very serious step of beginning the process of compulsory acquisition," Ms Macklin said.

Indigenous leaders in Alice Springs have described the government's plans as a "land grab".

They have opposed the rescue package claiming it does not offer them a big enough say in the camps' future.

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