ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
September 3, 1997
"DON'T BLAME ME" SAYS RETIRING POLITICIAN AS HIS
FORMER LABOR STRONGHOLD GOES TO THE COUNTRY LIBERAL PARTY
Report by ERWIN CHLANDA
The man who played a key role in Labors likely defeat in MacDonnell
says he has no regrets and accepts no blame for the debacle.
It was the most significant upset in last SaturdayÍs elections
which returned the CLP with a slightly improved margin.
"I'm not interested in apportioning blame," former MLA Neil Bell says
about the events in MacDonnell.
"I'm not ready to fire the first shot."
Peter Kavanagh - well known in MacDonnell's Yulara - had already been
preselected for the Alice Springs seat of Greatorex when Mr Bell, who
held the seat for 18 years, resigned.
Labor then hurriedly preselected Alice Springs based union official
Mark Wheeler for MacDonnell, ending up with two candidates practically
unknown in the electorates they were contesting.
Independent Aboriginal candidate Ken Japangardi Lechleitner directed
his preferences to the CLP's John Elferink, most likely ending Labor's
hold on the seat.
The final outcome will not be known until late this week when between
50 and 100 postal and up to 250 absentee votes are counted, and
These are tipped to favour the conservative candidates, and Labor
concedes privately that it has little chance of holding the seat. It
had earned Mr Bell the title of Australia's longest serving opposition
Although Wheeler is slightly ahead after the first count on Saturday
night with 796 votes, he's closely followed by Elferink (772) and
Unless there is a massive leak of preferences - expected by neither the
ALP nor the CLP - the seat will go to one of the two non-Labor
Mr Elferink, an Alice Springs police officer, who directed his
preferences to Lechleitner, declines to speculate on the outcome but
says the pundits regard him as the favourite.
Mr Bell says the timing of his resignation was governed by the actions
of former CLP front bencher Fred Finch who is taking legal action
against Mr Bell over alleged defamation.
Mr Bell says he wasn't prepared to fight the case "outside the
Assembly" while Mr Finch was still an MLA.
However, when Mr Finch announced his retirement, the way became clear
for him to get out as well, says Mr Bell (see interview this edition).
Mr Bell held MacDonnell with 67 per cent of the vote in 1994 against
the CLP's Pam Waudby.
In the meantime, however, the formerly predominantly Aboriginal seat
has seen an influx of non-Aborigines, with the expansion of Alice
Springs' farm area and Yulara.
The racial split is now tipped to be around half each of active voters.
Saturday night's count had the CLP polling strongly in the urban
booths, Yirara and Yulara, respectively: Elferink (393, 151), Wheeler
(169, 95), Lechleitner (167, 19).
Wheeler did well with the mobile team covering centres including
Papunya, Docker River, Kulgera and Maryvale.
Lechleitner scored best in the "mobile" visiting communities including
Areyonga, Palm Valley and Hermannsburg.
Overall voter turn-out in MacDonnell was poor - down on 1994 and well
below urban centres: Only 2390 votes were counted in the first round,
out of 4331 enrolled voters. There were 101 informal votes.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH LABOR?
Alice News editor ERWIN CHLANDA asks Neil Bell, the nation's longest
serving opposition politician, after yet another crushing Country
Liberal Part election victory.
News: What's wrong with the Labor Party?
Bell: There's nothing wrong with the Labor Party. It has a proud 100
year history of fighting for improvements.
News: So why can't they even get within striking distance of power in
Bell: If you take the long view the Labor Party has done very well in
the NT. When you look at the 20 years of the operation of the Self
Government Act, it's reasonable to say we've done very badly.
News: You've obviously not done well on Saturday.
Bell: No, but no worse than in 1994 or in 1990.
News: Does that satisfy you?
Bell: It depends on what you mean by satisfactory. I've heard
[academic] John Hepworth saying the Labor Party didn't run much of a
campaign. I get a little bit sick and tired of these professional
political scientists who don't look at the structure of Territory
politics. Unlike Federal politics, it is based on a racial divide. Most
seats held by the Labor Party have a majority of Aborigines, most seats
held by the CLP have a majority of non-Aborigines. That's not an
News: Is it not a fact that you let the CLP get away with a racist
campaign, time and again?
Bell: [In 1991 a senior ministerial officer] threatened to punch me
out, effectively. The reason was a paper entitled "Race and Electoral
Strategy" that I had the gall to deliver at a back benchers' conference
in Wellington. This so riled Marshall Perron and his office that in a
private meeting of all Assembly Members, a motion was passed that no
papers would be given in the future that weren't vetted by the
Government. When you ask me what we've done about it, that's what I've
News: The public doesn't know about that.
Bell: That's right. The CLP has so many ministerial officers and so
many press secretaries, that this sort of analysis gets lost in the
blah. There is no ongoing debate about the political culture in the NT.
News: The public debate does exist. If you don't get a run in some
media you do in other. But there's a wide view that nothing of
substance has been put up by the ALP. You talk about race relations.
The public would be grateful for ideas that work. On the one hand,
Aboriginal people are seen as an incredible handicap. On the other,
they're the key to our future. Tourism is Central Australia's most
important industry, and a genuine, authentic Aboriginal experience is
what visitors are looking for. The Aborigines' contribution here is
potentially in the billions of dollars. I have not heard the Labor
Party come up with a strategy or a policy that, for example, would
change the boredom, lethargy and futility of life on the communities
into a situation that is beneficial to our total society, in terms of
human relations and commercial development.
Bell: That's unfair. We've put together policies that involve
Aboriginal people. What makes me depressed and angry is that the Self
Government Act has set up a political arrangement where one party stays
in power by periodically dumping on a racial minority.
News: What have you done to counter that?
Bell: We have put a lot of effort into this issue. It's up to people
like you, the journos, and the John Hepworths [to point out that] the
reason for the CLP staying in power after their dismal economic
performance in the late 80s is because they sink the slipper into the
blackfellers. People are saying, what's the Labor Party doing about it?
The Labor Party functions in a political culture, and the people who
contribute to that political culture aren't just Labor Party members.
There are also the observers and political scientists. You read the
papers, there's this collective amnesia, complete lack of comment about
that sort of strategy.
And the people who're going to be brought to book for it aren't me and
the loyal members of the Labor Party who do battle against it, day
after day, week after week. The people who've got questions to answer -
and your paper is an exception - are the people who pretend it doesn't
That's changing. In this election [Federal Opposition Leader Kim]
Beasley's office was critical of the race issues in Territory
elections. It's never happened before that there's been Federal
I approached Kim Beasley's office a week and a half ago and said, look,
this is a Hansonite campaign. Beasley raised it on Meet The Press. I
take some personal credit for having identified this.
News: This doesn't seem to penetrate to the voting public.
Bell: Oh yes, it does. There is a sort of a ho-hum reaction when Shane
Stone says that [Northern Land Council chairman] Gallarrwuy Yunupingu
is a whingeing, carping black. You've got 70 per cent of the electorate
apparently saying, damn right, Shane, go for it. And you've got 30 per
cent saying, ah well, that's the way they operate.
And then you've got the national commentators just ignoring it. Stone
should be met with the same blast of opposition as Pauline Hanson.
Maybe in the future, Johnny Howard will have a problem condemning
Hanson while defending Stone.
Here we've got the Chief Minister, who would be Premier of the State of
the Northern Territory, who has substantial power and control over the
lives of 180,000 people.
The black ones are here for good, and theirs are the lives he's
affecting. Pauline Hanson is a mere back bencher with no effective
determinative power whatsoever.
News: But wasn't your own law and order campaign playing into the CLP's
hands? When they say, we need another 100 policemen, you say, no, we
need another 150. Would the voters not have thanked you if instead, you
had come out with a credible strategy, that is accepted by the general
public, of involving Aborigines in our society on all levels?
Bell: That's a legitimate criticism. There is an impoverished law and
order debate driven by the polls in all states and territories; it's
uninformed. We need to take a leaf out of the book of Tony Blair.
Sure, talk about being tough on crime, abhorring the fear that citizens
live in, but also talking about the causes of crime, connecting
criminal offences to unemployment, lack of recreation opportunities,
and so on.
Our support base has been disappointed by this one-upmanship about
who's going to be tougher on crime. It's public debate governed by the
15 second grab.
News: There are media who specialise in detail, the Alice News, for
example. Have you come up, for instance, with a strategy of involving
communities such as Papunya in the cultural tours business for which
there is a huge global market?
Bell: People are going to those places.
News: How many?
Bell: I agree with you, more can be done. There should be a systematic
It is in the CLP's interest in scapegoating Aborigines that make
development of cooperative enterprises highly problematic.
You can't say one week that we're working with Aboriginal people and in
the next pillory them in the way the CLP does at election times.
News: But isn't that the area where the ALP could have set itself apart
from the CLP?
Bell: It does, and it has, and if you read our Aboriginal Affairs, art
and tourism policies, you will find them there.
News: Name me the five major planks of your platform that would make
Aborigines an important part of our society.
Bell: Can I take that one on notice?
News: You've been close to Aboriginal issues for nearly a quarter of a
century - for 18 years as the MLA for a mainly black seat, and for five
years before, as a teacher at Areyonga. What's the answer to the
so-called Aboriginal problems?
Bell: I don't think Aborigines need to change to be part of the wider
society. Let's just suggest that some of the beholders need to fix up
Isn't it time that the people who turn up in this town, and judge every
Aboriginal on the basis of a few drunks who offend them in Todd Mall,
undertook a little bit of self-examination?
I regard it as a privilege to live and work closely with Aboriginal
people in remote communities.
News: Isn't that stating the obvious?
Bell: It's not stating the bloody obvious, because a lot of people in
this bloody town are prepared to write [Aborigines] off as wastrels and
News: But why can't a powerful organisation such as the Labor Party get
across more effectively the view you've just expressed, countering the
negative image created to great effect by the CLP?
Bell: That is the big question. I've made my efforts in that regard. In
my public comments I have never defended alcoholic and anti-social
behaviour. And I have always indicated the high value that I put on
Aboriginal people and their culture.
News: It has obviously not sunk in with the electorate. Alice Springs'
three conservative candidates romped back in without so much as saying
Bell: Their boss said we don't believe in Aboriginal land rights. Isn't
it about time that people like you said, look, Shane, that's not on.
Isn't it about time [to expose] those Aboriginal policies for being
illogical and inconsistent and divisive?
News: Should it not be the Labor Party's objective to make that notion
palatable to the electorate, and hasn't the Labor Party been unable to
Bell: I accept that. I regarded that as an essential task in my life
ever since I came here in 1974. What I've tried to do, on a personal
level and in the Legislative Assembly, has been to demonstrate that I
am keyed in at every level to majority society, and that I have
knowledge and sympathy and experience of Aboriginal tradition. It's
important to draw those strands together, and this is what the
Australian Labor Party has done. We are inclusive. Conservative parties
in this country always have their bogeyman. Like Menzies' Reds under
the beds in the fifties and sixties, for the CLP - very successfully -
it's the Aboriginal people. I am confident that in a decade or two,
people will look back on this strategy with the same clarity, and
distaste, with which we look back on Menzies' Reds under the beds.
News: Are you saying that in the meantime, the ALP in the Territory is
condemned to minority opposition, and there is no element in the race
relations arena that could make the majority accept the inclusion of
the Aboriginal people.
Bell: I've seen some improvements, but not enough. I think that the
employment of Aboriginal people almost exclusively in Aboriginal
organisations is something that's shifting.
Aboriginal involvement in small business will shift that.
News: Has the Labor Party drawn up a commercial model which would
accelerate that progress?
Bell: I'm not the right person to ask that. I don't think it's been
articulated to that extent, no.
News: Do you think the electorate would have thanked you if you had?
Bell: Probably not. Not at this stage.
News: Would you agree that prior this election, like no other before,
Alice Springs was ready to jump the CLP ship, but they had nowhere to
Bell: No. I Believe we fielded a team of quality candidates whose CVs
go toe to toe with those of the CLP.
News: How much blame are you prepared to accept for the debacle in
Bell: None, really. I think I did my best under the circumstances. I
discussed with party officials the difficulties about retaining
MacDonnell. Requests were made of me to nominate. I still have this
defamation action running against me [by former CLP front bencher Fred
Finch]. I wasn't prepared to contest that outside the Assembly when
Finch was still inside it. It was only when Finch announced his
intention not to stand that I felt I could resign. At that stage the
election wasn't due for another 12 months.
News: Since at least February the ALP has been speculating that the
election could be called any day. Peter Kavanagh left Yulara, where he
was well known, to contest Greatorex. You resigned soon after, and Mark
Wheeler was hurriedly nominated for MacDonnell. Both men were
relatively unknown in the seats they were standing for.
Had you resigned sooner, Kavanagh would no doubt have stood for
MacDonnell, while Alice Springs based Wheeler could have tackled
In view of that, do you accept any blame for the loss of MacDonnell?
Bell: Blame? I am very disappointed. I'm not interested in apportioning
News: Not even to yourself?
Bell: If you're really keen to apportion blame, I'm not ready to fire
the first shot.
News: Do you regret having resigned?
News: Should the ALP have made a last minute switch between Kavanagh
Bell: There's no point in considering the issues. Mark Wheeler was a
good, credible candidate. Kenny Lechleitner is a good example. I am
disappointed he wasn't prepared to stand for us. We approached him.
I approached him first. He said he wanted to stand as an independent.
FAMILY TRAGEDY TURNS BUSINESSMAN INTO ANTI-GROG
Alice Springs businessman Bob Vigar is calling for the town council to
live up to its motto of "Strength" and take a lead in dealing with
alcohol-related problems in the town.
He proposes that the council places under its banner a "focus
committee" which would bring together the various bodies working in the
alcohol field to formulate alcohol policy for the town.
"Alcohol is a bigger issue in this town than any one organisation can
deal with," says Mr Vigar.
"It affects everybody and has done for may years.
"If all the interest groups with their considerable expertise come
together under the banner of the council, they will be big enough to
take on the Government and at last get something done."
Mr Vigar does not consider himself an expert but has nonetheless worked
and maintained an interest in the field over many years.
He was an administrator of the Aboriginal alcohol rehabilitation centre
CAAAPU for some six months, has worked in the human services area of
ATSIC, and is currently on the board of Holyoake, a counselling and
education service for those affected directly and indirectly by alcohol
and other drugs.
While the focus committee concept has been in the back of his mind for
some time, the recent tragic death of his daughter in a hit and run car
accident galvanised him into action.
According to Mr Vigar the various alcohol bodies are doing the best job
they can within the confines of their funding arrangements. However, he
says a lot of information is not collated and shared, and there is a
fear of speaking out in case there are funding repercussions.
"This committee would bring together such a force of expertise, with
their final recommendations based on a consensus of all parties, that
no one would be able to argue with it.
"The council would merely have to rubber stamp its recommendations and
then make sure they are implemented or represented strongly to the NT
"I expect that the council will feel really good about doing something
at last. They want an alcohol policy and this is a way of them getting
one based on the best information we have."
The focus committee, as Mr Vigar sees it, will be made up of ten
members, representing religious interests; shelter services;
counselling services; the Liquor Commission; People's Alcohol Action
Coalition; licensees; Aboriginal counselling; Aboriginal organisations;
law enforcement agencies; and an independent member from the community,
not working in the field, with a proven record in chairing "positive,
An alderman would attend meetings but would not have voting powers.
Secretarial services would be supplied by the council.
Mr Vigar says there is no room for him on the committee: "I'm not a
specialist in the area and I don't feel I have the strength to chair
"I'm doing this as a resident of Alice Springs, as a community
Mr Vigar is due to take his proposal to the council's Health and
Community Services Committee on September 23.
FAST FOOD JOBS: CAREER PREPARATION OR CHILD LABOUR?
Report by GRETTA SCADDING
There are plenty of jobs available for the children of Alice but do
they pay a price for their weekly wage-packets?
Are they exploited by expectations of a robot-like performance and
casual working conditions?
The majority of Alice's youngsters work in the hospitality industry,
particularly in the fast-food sector such as KFC and MacDonalds.
For many of these kids, their introduction to the world of work
involves regurgitating all the phraseology dictated to them in great
wads of files.
One company let me look at seven such confidential files.
"This gives step by step instruction," said Nicole, the 22 year old
"Training is a really long process.
We have to be specific, especially as these young kids are in constant
contact with oil products."
A chapter the size of a novel dealt with "Handling Customer
Transactions": "It is important to end the transaction with a smile and
say: Thank you for shopping at --. Please come back again! (You should
look at the customer when you say this and be sincere.)
If you do this the customer will leave the store feeling appreciated."
Kimberly, aged 16, has been working at KFC since February.
She has been well programmed but some customers question her
well-trained customer pitch.
She said: "When serving the customers, whatever they buy we are told to
say: 'Would you like any hot corn with that?' We can never just say
'corn'. We have to use descriptive words to tempt the customer.
"You get some really arrogant customers and sometimes they say: 'No, I
said that was all. If I wanted hot corn I'd ask for hot corn.'"
A customer told me that he finds it rather amusing when he asks: "Can I
have two pieces of chicken with fries?", the reply is often: "Would you
like fries with that?"
Certainly, these training and selling techniques are not standard.
Centralian College's School of Tourism and Hospitality does not use
Suzanne Barrell, a hospitality lecturer, said: "Customer Service is a
very important part of our course.
However, the way these kids are taught is a very strong form of selling
which is annoying to some people, but also a useful tool for those who
"We usually prefer to treat customers as individuals, but I don't think
it does harm. In fact, it's a good form of discipline for these kids
being told what to do."
Suzanne also thought that this style of hospitality in Alice was good
for tourists who find it difficult to speak and understand English and
who are unsure about eating anything other than fast foods.
"The repetitive nature of training procedures will have no lasting
effect," Suzanne said. "But, hopefully, if these young people go into
the service industry they will be trained to be more subtle."
The Principal of Anzac Hill High School, John Cooper, hasn't observed
negative effects from casual jobs on his pupils:
"The over-riding thing is that usually the kids who take up this
part-time work aren't going to carry on with their education, or don't
"In fact these jobs may have a positive affect. They are perhaps so
mundane that they think: 'Oh, I don't want to do this for the rest of
my life,' so they come back to school.
"The only time we intervene is if they are doing too many hours and
"They get to learn a lot about how to react to the public.
"I don't think the moronic nature of the job transfers at all. Kids are
pretty smart - it's like in class when they can switch the swearing on
and off. "There are a lot of jobs in life where you have to perform
rituals which you leave behind as soon as you go home."
The kids seem to enjoy their work.
"I do enjoy it, it's fun," says Kimberly.
"I get $7.22 an hour but I don't earn that. Most of the time we just
stand around chatting, or having water-fights."
In fact, according to Nicole, kids in Alice tend to get paid higher
than the award rates: "This gives them incentive plus there's
competition here. We have to work to keep our young staff.
I didn't find any who were earning less than the NT Wholesale and
Distributive Employees Award.
The 16 year olds around Alice should be getting $7.93 before tax.
That's 60 per cent of the adult wage plus an extra 20 per cent as
casuals, forfeiting paid holidays and job security.
Teenage workers constitute a quarter of the the wholesale and retail
trade workforce in Australia, according to the Department of Industrial
There has been a dramatic increase in the employment of young casuals
since the improvement of conditions for full-time permanent employees,
the move to a five day week in the 1970s, and extended trading hours.
Are youngsters being taken on as casuals instead of permanent
Said Nicole: "Because of the nature of Alice Springs with its surplus
of hospitality work, there are always a lot of jobs for
teenagers...it's a good chance to get their foot in the door.
"The young kids certainly do not get left with the jobs no-one else
However, there do seem to be a lot of benefits in employing young
"I'm just a casual," said Kimberly, "so I don't get paid for breaks or
holidays. My hours are irregular.
"Some weeks I work 30 hours, the next I may only work 19.
"I've just left school. I may be here about another 18 months. I'm not
keen on working my way up. I want to be a beauty therapist.
"This is my first job. I thought I'd have a monster manager shouting
down my neck all the time but it's just not like that."
Though Kimberly has just left school there are many teenage workers who
are still at school.
However, evidence in NSW in the mid-80s suggested that the school
children are not taking work away from teenagers who have left school.
An attempt to cut down the casual employment of school children saw
minimum total hours was put up from eight to 14, and preference given
to unemployed teenagers instead of school children.
However, this lasted only two years: market realities dictated an
easing of the restrictions. The problem of teenage unemployment was
unlikely to be resolved merely by squeezing out casually employed
school children from the industry.
There was little incentive for unemployed teenagers to work less than
10 hours per week (the typical engagement of a casual) or even 15 hours
per week, if the total remuneration after tax was less than the
unemployment benefit or the new job search allowance.
The kids working casually in Alice, as far as I could find out, are
pretty happy with their jobs.
Apart from the odd complaint about being worked too hard, the main
reason most of them eventually quit is because their employers can't
give them enough hours.
Once they're out the door they too seem to be able to "have a nice day"
with a sincere smile!
MEMO BREAK 16 YEAR DROUGHT TO WIN RUGBY LEAGUE GRAND
In a performance like that of Lazarus, the Memorial Club came back from
the dead in 1997 to take the CARFL A Grade Premiership and a string of
They defeated the United Magpies 43 to 34 in the A Grade after
establishing a handy 31 to 22 break at half time.
This time last year Memo had suffered the humiliation of not completing
the season's commitments, and their die hard committee were working
hard to seal an amalgamation with the Centrals club.
The new club, Central Memo came to be, and in their first year were
crowned minor round Premiers.
They played United in the second semi final only to be be beaten and
forced into a play off with Tennant Creek.
Doing it the hard way, Central Memo defeated the Brumbies and so were
entitled to another crack at the Magpies.
United may well have rued the fact that they had the rest week prior to
the grand final as they seemed to go to "sleep" prior to half time and
not regain their momentum.
Their defence seemed flatfooted, and the fire in the boiler room,
usually maintained by Glenny Nuggins, did not glow.
Throughout the last half the Magpies played catch up football. On the
other hand Central Memo grew in stature as the game progressed with
Brad Wallace, Ken Napier and Steve Forrester paving the way for
The stage was set for a great day for Central Memo when earlier they
registered Premiership victories in both the Under 14 and President's
At the end of the day the Green and Gold Bulls added another scalp to
their belt when Damien Cerni was awarded the Keegan Medal as the
League's Best for 1997.
PICTURED: Ken Napier's run with the ball for Central Memo is facing a
challenge from United players Peter Dash (2) and Peter Hendry (14).
Clint Mitchell (second from left) is set to intervene, while Lance
Caspani - at age 36 in his first grand final win - brings up the rear.
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