Rubbish and debris are strewn around the outback town of Mintabie. (Department of Premier and Cabinet)
A South Australian outback town will be permanently closed and its residents forced to leave after a government review found many were living there illegally, and that the town was an access point for drugs and alcohol into the APY Lands.
Up to 60 people live in the remote opal mining town of Mintabie in northern South Australia at any one time.
The town is located on the APY Lands, and its residents and handful of businesses are subject to a series of leases and licences that are reviewed annually.
The Cabinet-in-Confidence review of the town’s residential and commercial leasing arrangements has been seen exclusively by the ABC’s Background Briefing program.
The review raised serious concerns about widespread “unconscionable practices” in the township and estimates there may be about 20 persons residing in Mintabie at any one time without a licence to do so.
In the month of December 2017 alone, the report states there were:
“…reports of an arson attack which destroyed a house, a woman being imprisoned in her house and sexually assaulted, verbal threats towards store owners, three cars being set alight, a deliberately lit grass fire near the school, a break-and-enter at the school, numerous residential property break-ins, ‘hooning’ and drug dealing”.
The report noted that none of these matters were brought to the attention of police, and has now recommended the State Government cancel all commercial and residential leases.
It also urged the Government to arrange for the town to be remediated and handed back to the independent body in charge of managing the APY Lands.
State Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher said the Government has accepted all 14 of the report’s recommendations and has now given residents a year to clear out.
“Residents and commercial lease holders at Mintabie have yearly licences,” he said.
“That’s why we think it’s the right thing to do, to transition this over 12 months given that that’s the term of the licences, rather than do something like cancel them straight away.”
A number of elderly residents have expressed a desire to stay in the town. The Government said after 12 months, any extension to their residential lease agreement will be at the discretion of the APY Lands authority.
The State Government commissioned the review after the owner of the town’s general store, Lindsay Kobelt, was found guilty of running an illegal credit business known as ‘book up’ that ripped off local Aboriginal people.
‘Book up’ refers to an informal credit system that allows people to buy goods on the spot and pay later by providing their account information.
General store owner Lindsay Kobelt was found guilty of running an illegal credit business. (Supplied: ASIC)
Mr Kobelt was fined $167,500 for withdrawing almost $1 million from the accounts of local residents between July 2010 and November 2012, but has appealed his conviction.
It has since emerged that in spite of the heavy fines and legal action against Mr Kobelt, the practice of ‘book up’ is continuing in Mintabie, and in other towns across the APY Lands.
South Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher said his Government’s decision to clear out the town has the full support of the Federal Government.
“Anyone who read the findings of the court case last year would be horrified at some of the behaviour, not just at the one store, but from reports at other commercial premises on Mintabie,” he said.
“People from the Prime Minister down have requested us to look at giving that land back to APY.”
Clean-up of the town is expected to cost millions, owing to the many abandoned and derelict structures across the landscape.
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