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Now to the story...

Long grassers protest NT sleeping laws

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 21 Sep 2002.

TANYA NOLAN: Well, to the other end of the country now and a housing issue
of another kind where in the Top End, homeless people have taken a novel
approach in their campaign to improve their lot.

"Long grassers" as they're known, invited the broader community to a
sleepover and concert last night at Parliament House in Darwin as part of
a protest against by-laws preventing them from sleeping in public.

Anne Barker reports.


ANNE BARKER: On the neatly manicured lawns outside Darwin's stately
Parliament, dozens of homeless people are settling in for the night.


ANNE BARKER: These 'long grassers' as they're known, most of them
Aboriginal itinerants who choose to live in the open, are staging a very
public sleepover as part of a campaign to stop what they describe as
constant harassment by police and council officers.

PROTESTOR: I got a 12 months trespassing notice that I can't go anywhere
near there or I cop a two thousand dollar fine.

PROTESTOR: They take our things from us. I mean we buy things every day.
It's not right.

ANNE BARKER: Several hundred 'long grassers' live in the parks and
grassland around Darwin. Many have lived the long grass life for years.
But while they might have had special permission, for last night's
sleepover, in reality they're protesting against by-laws which make it an
offence to sleep or stash their belongings in public places.

PROTESTOR: All the emphasis seems to be on penalising people and punishing

ANNE BARKER: June Mills is president of the Long Grass Association which
wants the by-laws abolished and more services for the long grass

JUNE MILLS: Well first off is to acknowledge that it is a legitimate
lifestyle for indigenous people in this country. For us to be able to live
the way we want to live. And it's a basic right, it's a human right for
people to be able to live the way they want to live.

ANNE BARKER: But while long grassers are a permanent feature of Darwin
life, so too are the council by-laws. And the council's director of
community services, Diana Leeder, says that's not about to change.

DIANA LEEDER: Public places should be for the enjoyment of everyone and
where we put in BBQ shelters and mow the lawns and provide ablution blocks
that those are for the community at large to use, not for people to take
up residence in those.

ANNE BARKER: So do you think people should have the right to live out in
the open in Darwin if they choose to?

DIANA LEEDER: Not in public areas. No.

ANNE BARKER: And where do you propose they go?

DIANA LEEDER: I think that we need to look very seriously at what are some
long-term solutions for transient accommodation in Darwin and to make sure
that the accommodation that is available is appropriate.

TANYA NOLAN: Diana Leeder is Community Services Director at the Darwin
City Council speaking to Anne Barker.



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