ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
August 20, 1997
WILL PRICE FIXER GET SACK FROM CATIA AND THE
GOVERNMENT'S TOURIST BODY?
Neither the Alice tourism lobby CATIA nor the NT Tourist Commission
have said that they will require the resignation of David Bennett
following his conviction for car rental price fixing in the Federal
Court last week.
Mr Bennett was one of several people and companies to be fined a total
of nearly $1.3m following prosecution by the Australian Competition and
Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Mr Bennett, who was ordered to pay $80,000, is a former chairman of
CATIA and a current member of its executive.
The organisations present chairman, Wayne Tucker, says Mr Bennett would
not be asked to leave the 14 member executive.
Mr Tucker declined to comment when asked whether he thought Mr Bennett
s conduct may have harmed the tourism industry.
The NT Tourist Commission, of which Mr Bennett is also a member,
declined to comment, saying he had been appointed by Tourism Minister
Mr Reed did not respond to a request for comment, and Mr Bennett failed
to return a call from the Alice News.
ACCC chairman Alan Fels says Justice John Mansfield had ordered
penalties totalling $1,290,000 and costs of $140,000 for price fixing
in the Alice car rental market.
Prof Fels says the order was made against Alice Car and Truck Rental
Pty Ltd (trading as Territory Rent-A-Car); NT Outback Adventure Rentals
Pty Ltd (Hertz Northern Territory); Stafftoy Pty Ltd (Thrifty Car
Rental); Brian Measey, managing director of Territory Rent-A-Car, Mr
Bennett, managing director of Hertz Northern Territory, and Nathalie
Keller, former manager of the Alice Springs office of Thrifty NT.
In addition, an undertaking of compensation to their customers had been
noted by the court.
The possible compensation payout may be in the order of $70,000.
Territory Rent-A-Car and Thrifty NT are part of the Measey group of
companies in the Northern Territory, says Prof Fels.
By withdrawing their defence, co-operating with the ACCC and agreeing
to joint submissions to be put to the court, Territory Rent-A-Car,
Hertz Northern Territory, Thrifty NT, Mr Measey, Mr Bennett and Mrs
Keller saved considerable court time and costs to all concerned of a
The benefits of that co-operation were considered by the court in
making its final orders. Justice Mansfield said that Mr Measey
was prime mover of the price fixing conduct.
He ordered Mr Measey to pay a personal penalty of $150,000 for his
This is a record for a personal penalty under the Trade Practices
Act. Mr Bennett was ordered to pay a personal penalty of
$80,000. Mr Measey is the managing director and part owner of
He stood to receive direct financial benefits. Mr Bennett was
managing director of Hertz Northern Territory.
The ACCC had filed proceedings alleging price fixing in contravention
of section 45 of the Trade Practices Act.
The court had found that from late 1994 until around April 1995, the
Alice Springs offices of the companies stopped offering tourists a car
rental discount called an Ayers Rock Special after the
companies had reached an understanding with their competitors that they
would also stop offering these specials.
The court had found that Mr Measey, Mr Bennett and Ms Keller were
knowingly concerned in the price fix.
Says Prof Fels: Robert Hunter, former manager of the Alice
Springs office of Territory Rent-A-Car, was also found to be knowingly
concerned in the price fix.
The court granted injunctions restraining Mr Hunter from being involved
in price fixing of car rentals.
The ACCC did not pursue penalties against Mr Hunter because his
ultimate cooperation enabled the commission to join Mr Measey, a more
senior executive of Territory Rent-A-Car, and also Mr Bennett, the
managing director of Hertz Northern Territory.
In the commission s view his co-operation was a major factor in the
decision by the other respondents to withdraw their defences to the
action and resolve the proceedings without the need for an expensive
and lengthy trial.
Prof Fels says Ayers Rock Specials were offered to many tourists in the
off tourist season in Alice Springs whereby they received an allowance
of up to 600 free kilometres per day as part of the rental of a
After the price fixing arrangement was implemented most car rental
consumers received only 100 free kilometres per day, paying 25 cents
per kilometre for every kilometre travelled in excess of the daily
This resulted in some consumers paying many hundreds of dollars more
for their rental.
"Tourism is a vital industry for the Australian and Northern Territory
economies especially with the 2000 Olympics approaching, says
"It is essential that the industry not be damaged by price
The investigation had required interviewing many witnesses, and
analysing over 40,000 documents.
GO NORTH OR BUSH?
NT Trade Minister, MLA for Araluen Eric Poole, Central Australia s only
Cabinet member, is a keen proponent of fostering business with Asia.
But is he missing opportunities in his own back yard? While most
visitors to The Centre are seeking primarily to explore our ancient
Aboriginal culture, opportunities for doing so first-hand are few and
far between. So are practical solutions to that problem, as Alice News
editor ERWIN CHLANDA found when he spoke to Mr Poole.
Following the speeches, when the Alice News asked 10 of the assembled
businessmen what they most wanted the NT Government to do for Alice
Springs, none of them made reference to geo-political strategies, nor
to any of the other lunch topics: Finding sensible solutions to
boosting the local tourism industry was on top of the wish list for
half of those surveyed (see summary this page).
The News spoke to Mr Poole after the lunch:
News: You ve just told us that the NT has the lowest unemployment rate
in the nation, yet 1570 people in this region - Alice Springs and
surrounding bush communities - are on CDEP work for the dole programs.
The work force here - correct me if I m wrong - is 12,500. So while
around five per cent are officially unemployed, well over 10 per cent
are on CDEP.
Would it not be fair to say that our actual unemployment rate here is
more like 15 per cent?
Poole: No, because I would suggest to you that if these people were not
employed on CDEP programs they d be employed on some other type of
I think everyone acknowledges in the NT that there are special measures
that have to be brought in for Aboriginal communities, particularly the
more isolated ones, to create employment.
News: The participation rate in CDEP here is immeasurably higher that
in the rest of the nation.
Poole: Yes, but you could also say that the population of Aboriginal
people, per capita, is immeasurably higher in the NT than anywhere else
in the nation.
News: Are CDEP programs are meaningful?
Poole: It s probably too early to say. There hasn t been any meaningful
research done [on CDEP, showing] how many of those people are moving on
to other types of programs. I ve always said, for example, it is
illogical to send people out from Alice Springs to replace broken
windows in Yuendumu.
What we should be doing is train [local] people to do that work.
News: Your party s had 20 years to do that.
Poole: Well, basically, those areas are being picked up by the Federal
Government. We ve always had apprentice training schemes, and we really
haven t had a lot of interest shown by those communities.
News: The Aboriginal culture presents a unique opportunity for
attracting tourists. Yet one of the few Aboriginal tourism ventures
folded, apparently because they simply couldn t handle the paper work.
Does your department see its role as providing meaningful support in
areas of administration and management? If so, where are the examples
Poole: My department has not concentrated on Aboriginal enterprise. It
is only in the last 12 months, as we ve moved into the regional
development area, that we ve been trying to address that. We ve made
some ground in those areas. We ve helped a number of those community
News: Which ones and how?
Poole: We ve offered Julalikari in Tennant Creek to do a business plan
for them. They have similar sort of problems, with paper work, and so
on. We ll help them to train up someone who s capable of doing that.
News: Would it not be more efficient to simply carry out these mundane,
automatic, uncreative tasks for them?
Poole: You could get over that problem by providing joint venture
partnerships, letting the Aboriginal people do the traditional,
cultural things. I don t think this is what Aboriginal people want in
terms of self-determination. They would like the opportunity of doing
the whole thing themselves.
News: It seems to me that assistance to Aborigines is often seen as
distinct from assistance to the other sections of the community. Is it
not fair to say that the huge demand from tourists to be put in touch
with authentic Aboriginal culture and lifestyles, all but impossible at
the moment, could become an important factor in the development of our
economy? Why are the two not being brought together? Isn t that the
function of your department?
Poole: No, that s not the function of the department. We already
provide extensive workshops, training and seminars. The fact is there s
not been much interest shown by the Aboriginal community. A number of
Aboriginal people have attended courses but there s nowhere near a
percentage that equates to the general community.
News: Does that suggest that you re offering the wrong thing? Why don t
you do the paper work for them? It seems a minor thing.
Poole: It s not a minor thing. If you did it for an Aboriginal group I
would suggest you d end up with hundreds of people involved in that
area, and it would be a tremendous expense on government. I think the
correct way to address that would be to train the people themselves,
and train them properly. I m sure it ll happen, but it will take time.
News: If you had hundreds of enterprises operating successfully because
you re giving them a hand with administration, would that not be a good
Poole: Most certainly.
News: So, why aren t you doing it?
Poole: We don t have the resources to do it. I d have to double the
size of my department.
News: How many staff do you have now?
Poole: We have 88, of them 23 in the business services area.
[FOOTNOTE: Last week we asked Tourist Commission managing director Tony
Mayell whether he thought his commission should provide administrative
support for fledgling Aboriginal tourism ventures. He said this is the
province of Mr Poole s department.]
WHAT THEY SAID
What would you like the NT government to do for Alice Springs?
Peter Kittle (motor trade): Support an international airport. Most
[other] infra structure we ve already got here.
Our most under-utilised assets in the Territory are tourist
attractions, and [creating an international airport] would be the best
way to solve that problem.
Mayor Andy McNeill: Market Alice Springs as a destination in its own
right - better.
Alex Bohner (motor trade): We need to look at law and order and at
developing our tourism further because we ve got very little else.
John McBride (law): Supporting local business. Small business is the
backbone of the economy here. Fast tracking, where possible, planned
developments that are useful to the local economy and complement the
Dave Tuzewski (consultant): Develop Alice Springs as an international
airline hub for Australia. I think there are enough convincing
arguments to make that happen.
Peter Mostran (fuel): Support the projects that are already under
John Ryan (retired): Get reelected.
Ian Builder (auctions): Box off the native title issues, as quickly as
Paul Venturin (food): We need to highlight the fact that Alice Springs
has a very large tourist potential. Ayers Rock is very important but we
need to get the focus back on town, get the numbers back into town.
Eric Neil (tourism): Continue with a policy of supporting development
and supporting business.
Asian Relations, Trade and Industry Minister Eric Poole last Thursday
invited some of the town s top businessmen to lunch with WA Deputy
Premier Hendy Cowan.
Mr Poole and Mr Cowan addressed the gathering on regional economic
development, joint NT-WA involvement in the Indian Ocean Rim, the Ord
River development and defence outsourcing opportunities.
HOW BACKPACKERS SEE ALICE SPRINGS
Whilst the NT Tourist Commission sorts out the promotion strategies for
Alice it would do well to ask the tourists themselves.
It doesn t take long to find out that their needs are not being met,
that there is a lot more potential for the town and its visitors.
Tourism here relies heavily on backpackers so their opinions are
Most I spoke to were University students taking time out for some
travelling, while others had just taken a work or career break.
First impressions always count: Alice is small-time, not that you
expect anything else, said John, a construction worker from
There is very little to do outside of the hostel. It s also too
much of a tourist mecca and the Aboriginal culture is bled dry and
exploited, but apart from that it s great, I really do like it.
Norman, a manager from Zimbabwe, agreed: I like the surrounding
countryside, I don t really like the town itself much, it s not the
sort of town I would spend too much time in. The town is very touristy
and commercialised, there are too many Aboriginal art shops.
Half the town revolves around tourists. I like tourists but don t
like a place which caters just for tourists. I like a town which is
This is unnatural. I expected it to be the sort of place where you go
into a General Store and the guy running it was born here, and took it
over from his parents and grand-parents who ran it before him.
The local tours here are disappointing, says Norman.
He spoke in detail of a bush tour he went on to learn about Aboriginal
culture. The first thing I was amazed at was that the Aborigines
didn t live at the camp, they all got picked up in town!
The camp had been specifically built for the tourists. I didn t
expect to see blankets and metal trunks lying around, and Aborigines
drinking morning tea.
Then we spent most of our time listening to a boring tour guide who
kept umming and ahhing, didn t seem to know what he was talking
about. Overall, I felt the $70 was money badly spent.
We were given a demonstration of how the Aborigines throw weapons ...
but they didn t get their boomerangs anywhere near the target.
The people on the tour ended up doing it better than they.
I d been mostly looking forward to trying out the local traditional
bush tucker. The guide produced a witchetty grub. I couldn t wait
to try mine ... I couldn t believe it.
We had to share [one finger-sized grub] between 20 of us, and then I
find out that this caterpillar was imported from Victoria. We
then had the privilege of sharing one wild tomato between us all to
Jimmy, a university law student from Ireland, has spent one day
here. It s more or less like any of the towns in Central
Australia. It s another Mount Isa except that it s got Ayers Rock and
Denmar from Denmark ended up liking it better than she thought.
Its relaxed and laid-back, a cozy town where the people are
What do backpackers find most attractive about Alice?
The gorgeous weather was the Alice attribute most frequently
Alice has the wonderful climate, John told me, and a great
location in the MacDonnell Ranges. The customs and history are a
Says Norman: Alice does have a romanticised image.
"My mother told me ïyou must go and see Alice Springs for me .
"She d heard a lot about it. Alice does have a wild reputation because
with only a 20 minute walk you really are out there in the bush
surrounded by stunning scenery.
There were mixed opinions on night entertainment here.
Jayne, from Melbourne, reckons the pubs are good and Norman loves the
saloon Bojangles, which has good food, great service and music, he
says: "It has that pioneer town feel to it.
However, others thought there weren t enough pubs or bars here and that
the present ones were rough. Ed, a University student commented: "I was
shocked by how little night entertainment there was for a population of
According to Norman "there s not enough to do here - so you don t stay
"Everywhere closes early, but that s Australia all over."
Rachel and Emma, nurses from England, enjoyed their hot air ballooning
"The telegraph thing was quite nice because it was sunny. We could sit
on the grass and admire the nearby plant life.
"But to be honest, once you ve visited Woolworth and the post office,
that s about it.
"There are some good shops to look around but they are all too
"Alice is better than Mount Isa and Townsville," says Jimmy from
Ireland, "but I still couldn t spend more than a week here."
Alice is mainly seen as a base from which to visit the Rock and Kings
Canyon. Says Jayne: "This is how it is promoted on passes and tours -
as a base not as an attraction in itself.
"That s the only reason I m here, to be honest, although it's the best
Aboriginal site I've visited so far and it is nice that you can get
around the whole town in half an hour."
"At first I came here to see the Rock, en route, but I needed cash so I
stayed." Accommodation isn't an important issue for backpackers here.
Many aren't here long enough. Their main concern is getting out to see
There were comments like "well, it's a place to stay".
Some felt that though the hotels are fairly priced they'd become slack
due to lack of competition.
"There is too much of a big monopoly here, there's no competition,"
He says one hostel is "really dirty but they don't bother about it
cause there's loads of people coming in all the time ... it's like a
Jimmy disagrees: "They beat the hostels in Sydney by a long shot."
Many found Alice to be expensive, but "it can afford to be".
Food in particular is expensive compared to the rest of Australia.
Of course, I asked what they thought of backpackers and locals here.
Jimmy noticed that "backpackers are more diverse here, Germans, more
Aussies, Asians - it's more interesting and healthy than Sydney and
Cairns where it's all English, Irish and Scottish".
Many visitors I spoke to were not used to seeing such a large numbers
Says Jimmy: "The Aborigines seemed more at home here and more together
than in Cairns."
Most travellers, however, found the grog situation wasn't enticing.
"The locals are all pissed," says John. "This Aboriginal woman sat next
to me on a park-bench, she rolled off it and smashed her head open on
"Her daughter laughed and dragged her away whilst she kept shouting out
that she needed a drink."
"All the Aborigines hanging around in the town centre is
disconcerting," said Norman.
"I've got nothing against alcohol if it's been earned and deserved but
the alcohol here is lazy and negative. It ruins the atmosphere around
Most travellers said that they would have liked to have met more local
people and to have gotten to know them better.
I asked how tourism strategies could be improved here.
John: "Stop ripping off the Aborigines and give us some quality
information and merchandise."
Norman reckons Alice could personalise tourism a lot more.
"The tourism industry here treats its visitors like battery chickens,
in and out as quickly as possible.
"It's a shame you feel like you're on a conveyor belt, and it should
never be like that. There are far too many people just going through
Jimmy: "I would emphasise the Aboriginal side more and the fact that
this is the centre of Australia for God's sake, the Red Centre, the
vibrant centre of Australia not just geographically but culturally, an
"Obviously, people who're interested in partying wouldn't come here so
people in their 30s and 40s need to be targeted. They have the money to
spend on Aboriginal artifacts and can go further afield to those
special remote areas that are usually inaccessible for backpackers."
Ed loved his experience at the Rock but didn't get as much as he wanted
"If I worked on the tourism board here I would try and tell people
about what there is here, there wasn't enough advertising.
"I've missed stuff that I should have been to.
Most people spend a short time here so they need to know what there is
before they come. Perhaps they may then prepare to stay longer."
Denmar spent some unplanned extra time here.
"We only wanted to go to the Rock but it was fully booked.
"We were only going to be here one night so we didn't have any
expectations at all. Now we are glad we've had this extra time here,
we've really enjoyed it.
We didn't expect Alice to be an attraction in itself."
Jayne, a surfer and getting severe withdrawal symptoms, says a nudist
colony here would be "very cost-effective, the weather's ideal".
Alice wants tourists to stay longer but it's not helped by hostels
which throw out guests after a week because they don't like
"long-termers" - clearly more interested in getting a fast buck from
Many travellers complained about this.
Work is extremely easy to come by in Alice Springs, though most people
I asked had assumed it would be difficult.
"I got a job here within an hour of arriving as a receptionist at a
local hotel," said one backpacker.
"Still, I wouldn't like to stick around too long, certainly not more
than two or three months."
That's a pity: Backpackers are a form of cost-efficient, mobile
Their word of mouth endorsements are a persuasive marketing tool which
pervade a growing world-wide network.
Backpackers are worth investing in.
OUR VERY OWN BIG BIRD AND WHAT IT CAN TELL US
At a water hole on Alcoota Station, north east of Alice Springs,
there's a window onto a very ancient drama.
During a time of severe drought animals, smelling the last remaining
water hole in the area, travelled great distances to reach it,
instinctively following river and drainage systems.
They started grazing and browsing around the water hole, in
ever-increasing numbers, among them the voracious giant animals of
prehistory. Soon there was nothing left to eat.
The animals knew that if they went too far to find more food they'd die
of thirst, so they stayed close to the water, waiting for rain that
Slowly they began to die of starvation.
They became weak, staggering around, falling over each other.
Big animals stepped on smaller ones, smashing in their skulls.
When the drought finally broke it was too late. The animals lay dead in
Water rushing in from the surrounding range lands pushed a layer of
sediment over the ill-fated creatures.
They lay buried ... for eight million years!
The story is told by the science of paleontology - the study of fossils
- and the storyteller today is Dr Peter Murray, of the Museum of
This Oregon-born paleontologist, assisted by field-worker and
taxidermist Ian Archibald, each year leads an expedition of students
from Flinders University to the Alcoota site.
It has become best known to the public for the discovery of the giant
bones of one of the world's largest birds, Dromornis stirtoni,
originally named and described by Dr Pat Rich in the 1970s.
These flightless birds stood over 2.5 metres tall, rivalling the
Malagasy Elephant bird and the largest Moa species from New Zealand.
They are the Mihirung Paringmal of Aboriginal mythology and became
extinct about 20,000 years ago.
During this year's expedition in July more bones of the species were
discovered but the key to the giant bird's lineage is still missing:
"We are still avidly trying to find pieces of his skull," says Dr
"The parts of the skull we have now are rather puzzling. They don't
really look like any of the other ratites or giant flightless birds;
there are some similarities and some peculiarities.
"The base of the skull has the characteristics we need to decide what
their relationship might be.
"This would then have some biogeographic implications. Where did they
come from in the first place?
"They were here 40 or 50 million years ago, one of the most ancient
parts of the Australian fauna, almost certainly a Gondwanan form.
"This would make you think they must have some link with Moas but they
have more in common, even though this too is limited, with emus and
cassowaries than with any other ratites."
Dr Murray is certain that the Dromornithid's skull will be found at
Alcoota, although it may take another 10 years' patient sifting to get
Is this laborious search fired only by a passion for erudition or does
paleontology contribute to knowledge of our contemporary environment?
Dr Murray is emphatic: "Paleontology is very practical!
"We can find real evidence in support of assumptions that ecologists
"Without paleontology they couldn't know that there were 10 to 15
species of big kangaroos, up to twice the size of the red kangaroo, as
recently as 20,000 years ago, and that many other browsing forms once
roamed this region.
"If they didn't know that these animals existed, they would have no
idea of what the potential carrying capacity of these range lands is.
Eight million years ago it was probably four to five times greater than
At Alcoota paleonto-logists can see the beginnings of the process of
aridification of Central Australia, with a key factor being the
extinction of the large browsers.
The Dromornothids and others contributed to replenishing their
environment by being able to eat very poor quality vegetation which
they recycled into great dollops of dung, high in nitrogen and other
nutrients, dropping them across the countryside.
Once those animals had gone there were only termites left to recycle
this vegetation back into the system. Termites help but they don't turn
nutrients over fast enough to support big mammals.
Cattle and even kangaroos, being predominately grazers, are only able
to replenish a very narrow segment of the total plant community.
"So what happened is that a lot of the energy stored in this region
over 40 to 50 million years ago is now lost," says Dr Murray.
"If we ever planned in the future to restore these habitats we would
have to have a much wider range of animals living here."
So why did the giant browsers disappear?
At Alcoota the animals had become "tethered" to a water hole during a
particularly severe drought.
However, in general during the Pleistocene the climate, although dry,
is thought to have been more predictable than it is now in terms of
It would appear that human hunting and some ecological changes that
took place when humans came to the continent, say 40 or 50 thousand
years ago, played a key role in the extinction.
There have been rapid extinctions of giant animals coinciding with the
arrival of humans on every continent, except in Africa where people
co-evolved with their animals over a period of two million years.
The Alcoota discoveries are only the tip of the iceberg.
There is enough work to do on the site for Dr Murray's lifetime and
beyond, and there are certainly more such sites.
Indeed, the Northern Territory is a fossil-hunters paradise, says Dr
"It's a matter of looking in the right place," he says, "usually in
freshwater limestone outcrops, which are very widespread throughout
Central Australia and the southern part of the northern half of the
The earliest known vertebrate fossils in the southern hemisphere come
from the Northern Territory; there are fossil fish that go back 470
million years; and there are the tracks of invertebrate forms -
trilobites and other kinds of marine animal - found in the MacDonnell
Ranges and elsewhere - yet another of nature's treasure troves on our
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