ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
March 18, 1998

MEDICAL CONFERENCE SLAMS LAME ANTI GROG MEASURES. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Liquor Commission came under fire and the effectiveness of education in reducing harmful drinking was questioned at a conference on the week-end of the Central Australian Rural Practitioners’ Association.Elliot McAdam, from Tennant Creek’s Julalikari Council, said the commission had failed to take appropriate action for a second evaluation of the town's liquor restrictions experiment.He said Liquor Commission chairman Peter Allen "does not have the capacity to carry out" an independent survey.The restrictions include take-away and front bar trading bans on Thursdays and Sundays.Mr McAdam said if necessary, he would seek funds from interstate or even overseas to have a second independent evaluation carried out.He told the conference that initially, the experiment had been "reasonably successful", but the measures were now being corrupted by grog runners, bringing in alcohol from up to 190 km away, by illicit sales from clubs, and by redefinition of certain bars, allowing front bar style drinking on banned days.Mr McAdam said the clubs had "broken the agreement" and should be penalised by removing their take-away licenses for members.Mr McAdam also called on the Liquor Commission to post a permanent inspector to the town so that grog sales to drunk people could be policed.The conference was attended by more than 100 health professionals, politicians and members of the gaggle of local organisations seeking answers to the region's out-of-control alcohol problems.In a communique, it supported Mr McAdam's call for a second evaluation of the Tennant Creek trial; the establishment of an alcohol treatment facility in Alice Springs; a comprehensive alcohol misuse plan in The Centre; and lashed out at the NT Government for taking away the capacity of the Living With Alcohol Program (LWA) to buy back liquor licences.The head of LWA, and a speaker at the conference, Dr Ian Crundall, gave a candid interview to Alice News editor ERWIN CHLANDA.LWA was set up by the Territory Government in 1992. The program spent $7.4m in 1996-97; of this, 40 per cent went to care and treatment; 12 to community education. Reduction of domestic and family violence also got 12 per cent, Aboriginal programs (15), night patrols and work in prisons (9) and professional development (8).Dr Crundall readily admits that LWA is still grappling with a string of major issues - but it also has some substantial runs on the board.He says household surveys have shown that the NT had a one-third reduction in the number of people drinking at harmful levels.Territorians in 1992 drank - on average - the equivalent of 18.1 litres of pure alcohol. This is now down to 14.4 litres - still nearly double the national average of 7.6 litres.Light beer has maintained its strong position, and road accidents are down by around a quarter.Last Christmas, the NT had just one alcohol related road fatality, compared to nine in the previous year, says Dr Crundall.But - as conference speakers readily pointed out - the battle against booze is often being fought with the wrong weapons.News: Both Edward Tilton, research officer with Congress in Alice Springs, and Professor Dennis Gray, of the Perth-based National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, argued that alcohol education can be of dubious value.They say there's a dislike for any "top down" approach from those in power; people most in need to be addressed are prone to take the least notice; and at times, there are even comical results.Mr Tilton says the slogan "Be Strong About Grog" was interpreted by one respondent as meaning that alcohol would make him more powerful in a fight.In another example, a drunken scene in an educational video, meant to repel, was actually seen as portraying people having a great time. Yet LWA is spending 12 per cent of its budget on "education". Why?Dr Crundall: Community education goes beyond that, to actually getting to people where they're drinking, providing them with information, and keeping it in their face. A good example is the Drink Sense campaign. We go into pubs, people get breathalyzed, they get to see how people's alcohol level rises over time.News: Is this reaching the problem drinkers?Dr Crundall: We're not aiming education at the problem drinkers. They're not going to be so self motivated as to say, for these reasons I'm going to stop drinking. They're the ones who need treatment services, night patrols, sobering up shelters and care.We need decent treatment services which suit their needs.News: That's exactly what we haven't got in Alice Springs.Dr Crundall: Negotiations have been underway to have a complete set of services in Alice Springs, in the very near future.[In the past, the concept for Aboriginal drinkers has been] that they need to leave their land, and come and stay in a strange place.When they later leave some sort of centralised service they go back into the same life they've had, and to an environment that isn't very supportive.We're currently trying to work out with each community what we can put in place there, to keep people on communities, and support them when they come back. They would be going to treatment centres as just one step on the way.News: Why haven't those kinds of investigative initiatives been undertaken earlier? LWA's initial source of money, a levy on products whose alcohol content exceeded three per cent, was introduced in 1992.Dr Crundall: I don't think people focussed on this so much in the past. Even for our program there's been a learning curve. We need to try new things. LWA has a mandate to push the boundaries until we can find those new things.News: Greatorex MLA Richard Lim is proposing alcohol purchase restrictions for Aborigines in Alice Springs, similar to those in force in Curtin Springs near Ayers Rock. Would they work here in town?Dr Crundall: There would have to be agreement from the liquor licensees, from the local people affected, and a certificate from the Race Discrimination Commission endorsing the measure.In a place like Alice Springs there would clearly be people who would have their rights diminished more than others.There are drinking problems beyond Aboriginal people. I think it could raise concerns. What you've got to do is look at outlets, their practices, and what they're contributing to what harm, and then target them as best you can.Above all, it needs to be the Alice Springs community making the decisions. The trading restrictions in Tennant Creek were a community decision.If you talk to people, they're more than likely to say it's had a greater impact on certain sections of that community than on others.News: Dr Lim also claimed that liquor licence buy-backs are not an option for the Government because the first one would set a benchmark price.Dr Crundall: Certainly, LWA no longer has the capacity for buy-backs. It used to maintain a fund for this, but because of the High Court decision [last year, striking out the power of States to impose levies], and the reduction of our revenue generally, we've now cut our priorities.However, there are commercial aspects to this problem. The Liquor Commission determines the standards for entry into the industry, and for ongoing participation. There should be a greater emphasis on whether those in the industry are maintaining those standards - not just buying back liquor licences.News: Many claim we have too many of them, and even if every licensee does the right thing ...Dr Crundall: But they're not. It's common knowledge throughout the Territory that there are traders who are abusing the regulations.There could be an improvement in the enforcement of the Liquor Act, and that would account for the future of many licensed premises.News: So they would go under? Prof Gray made the point that it's usually the economically marginal outlets that are more likely to flout the law. Does that apply in the NT?Dr Crundall: I know there are a lot of bad ones that make a huge amount of money.News: Elliot McAdam, from Tennant Creek's Julalikari Council, says he may use common law procedures to bring offending liquor traders to justice, if police and the Liquor Commission fail to do their job. Is that an option?Dr Crundall: If you're found to be contributing to someone's misfortune by serving them alcohol, then it will be the whole licensed premises that's liable. There's no precedent for such private legal action in the Territory but it will only take someone to sponsor a case.News: Further trading restrictions now seem to be firmly on the agenda in Alice Springs. Is that a good thing?Dr Crundall: LWA thinks availability is one of the pieces in the jigsaw of issues. In Tennant Creek, other initiatives were needed to complement the trading restrictions. There's no one magic fix it all answer.LWA would like to hear from communities about what they want. We've got networks in place to gather up this information.Much of the issue of availability sits firmly with the police and the Liquor Commission.News: In Alice Springs, it is a small section of drinkers who cause all the anguish of excessive drinking in public. If education doesn't get through to them, what can we do?Dr Crundall: We're talking about law and order issues. I can't comment on police procedures.News: What would need to occur to put Tennant Creek style trading reductions into place in Alice Springs?Dr Crundall: If the community demonstrates a desire to have them, LWA would support them.News: Liquor Commission chairman Peter Allen says exactly the same thing. The question is, how do you gauge community support?Sections of the community have been agitating for restrictions for a couple of years at least. There's a strong push for decisive action - one way or the other.Dr Crundall: In the case of Tennant Creek there was the Liquor Commission chairman [John Maley] who took to heart the needs and wishes of a community. He talked to the people and was convinced.He'd been around long enough, and had experience in the alcohol area. Tennant Creek was suffering. Bus drivers were telling passengers not get out of the bus there. Something had to happen.People at the time weren't sure what, but since the restrictions came in, they say it's been much better.These are just family people, in the back streets. Restrictions were introduced as a trial, and people found they were not inconvenienced as much as they first thought.News: How did the Liquor Commission at the time come to its Tennant Creek conclusion, and why can't the present one make up its mind about restrictions in Alice Springs?Mr Allen has told me that the community is welcome to come to him and convince him. Mr Maley seems to have acted differently.Dr Crundall: It comes partly down to the perspectives and experiences of the decision makers who are appointed to the Liquor Commission. Clearly, the commission needs to be satisfied there is sufficient and accurate information for making a determination. The trouble seems to be that there are two completely opposing positions claiming to represent the interests of the community.No clear guidelines about the evidence or a process to move forward from the current tensions are in place. John Maley, I would suspect, got to a point, where he said, let's go and do it.He trialled [restrictions in Tennant Creek] and it worked. An issue like this needs leadership, and the Liquor Commission is in the position to implement the decisions.You're left with people putting themselves on the line about it.News: Would LWA express a view about whether or not Alice Springs should have Tennant style restrictions, carry out a survey, for example?Dr Crundall: If it was a burning issue LWA could be directed or requested to do a survey. A needs assessment could be what's needed. It seems to me at present we've got too much subjective toing and froing to clear the air.News: The DASA sponsored liquor forum, which has been meeting just four times a year, in 1997 started promoting an employment scheme, with a target of 50 new jobs. Prof Grey said unemployed people are 13 times more likely to get into trouble with grog and drugs. Unemployment on communities is almost 100 per cent. How's that DASA initiative going?Dr Crundall: My understanding is they've employed 15 people. Everyone talks about employment and meaningful occupation. But how do you do that for every person in the Territory?If we were in a hugely prosperous age, a lot of these issues would disappear. The reality is, we're dealing with poverty and stagnation, small places that are struggling to exist.News: In the meantime, are we condemned to just putting up with this mayhem?Dr Crundall: I've heard of one small community where $70,000 goes in every week and a lot of that is spent on grog. How do you get Aboriginal communities to spend those resources better?Maybe there should be a push to teach people how to manage those resources for the betterment of the whole community. There has been that dependency built up over time: "Government will fix it up."Money runs out, it comes from somewhere else. It takes radical change to fix that.News: Why hasn't that change taken place yet?Dr Crundall: I think for political reasons. It comes back to leadership. Who's going to make the difference.It's been suggested to me that LWA could become an employment program, supporting activities on communities.Who knows, but you need the acceptance of the broader Territory community to do that.[Elliot McAdam] made the points - out of sight, out of mind, the drunks are always there as a target, it makes other people feel better to see others worse off.What do you do in an isolated little town? Men's traditional ways and functions have virtually disappeared.As one Aboriginal person has said to me, many are now hunter-gatherers of the green can. That's their existence, their role, to get drunk, sleep it off, get into an argument.What's their purpose? Women have a niche raising children.Men are at a loose end. That's been said to me many times.News: Is it not possible to harness remaining traditional authority in the fight against grog?Dr Crundall: There is a push to reassert some of the more traditional aspects which gives men, elders, some rights and responsibilities, which could translate into changing some of the behaviours of other people.News: How is that being activated?Dr Crundall: We're going to be supporting people in local communities to drive things locally, allowing them to identify what is strong in their culture, and using that to give communities greater control over what alcohol is doing to their people.

DEMOCRACY FOR JUST A FEW?

Comment by COLIN McDONALD QC, president of the NT Bar Association, and co-convenor of Territorians for Democratic Statehood.
Constitutions are made for the people. Constitutions can be drawn in different terms which reflect the history, the values and the aspirations of the people.Essential to the content and spirit of any constitution is that the people have their say.We, the people of the Northern Territory, want a say in our constitution. We want our values and aspirations reflected in it.Yet we have been denied our voice, our say in our and our children's political future.On Wednesday next week a constitutional convention is proposed of 45 delegates who will discuss and debate the content of the future constitution of the Northern Territory. The people's future is in their hands. I am sure they will do their best. But that is not the point. We, the people, should have our future in our hands.Not one of these delegates has faced the people. Not one delegate has informed us of his or her views as to what type of constitution we should have.All the delegates are appointed by the Government or elected from restricted groups nominated or approved by Government.This proposed constitutional convention is the opposite of democracy. It is about colouring, channelling and obstructing the voice of the people.All the regions of the Northern Territory have been denied a voice - the people of Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Nhulunbuy - and the bush generally - will not get their say.We want our future in our hands. The proposed constitutional convention of appointees is not consistent with representative democracy, it is undemocratic and should be scrapped. In its place there should be a popularly elected people's constitutional convention where at least 75 per cent of the delegates face the people.The first step towards democratic statehood is complete. This step is the decade of careful work of the Sessional Committee on Constitutional Development chaired by Steve Hatton. That committee arrived at fair, balanced and democratic recommendations. The recommendations were bipartisan and had the welfare of the people of the Northern Territory as their guiding principle.The Sessional Committee's recommendations included a rejection of an appointed constitutional convention and a proposal that at least 75 per cent of the delegates be elected popularly to a people's constitutional convention.The NT Government has not given a reason for rejecting a democratic people's convention in favour of its own appointed forum.Representative democracy is at the core of any future statehood. That means letting the ordinary people have their say in their constitution and their political future.So often we, the ordinary people of the Northern Territory feel powerless. Government appears all powerful.A majority of people in the Northern Territory do not belong to an approved group for the purposes of the proposed convention."You are not in one of the groups. You are just an ordinary citizen," is the bland but extraordinary reason for exclusion. We are not only the witnesses of the creation of a new State. We are the temporary trustees of our descendant's future. Let us pass on a constitution of value and not one of appointed compromise. Why should we be second class citizens in our own Territory?That is why the formation of "Territorians for Democratic Statehood" is important. The formation of this free association of people is about the assertion by the people that they will not let their constitution be hijacked by Government and be guessed at by unrepresentative appointees. It is about passing on something of value.Australia is naturally watching. Whatever we decide, whether we like it or not, any future question will be whether the Northern Territory is fit for statehood. Without a democratic start with an authentic voice of the people at the constitutional convention, the quest for statehood is unnecessarily compromised and diminished.[Territorians for Democratic Statehood will be holding a meeting in Alice Springs in early April. Locals are invited to register their interest in forming a branch with the Alice Springs News, Tel 89 555444, Fax 89 555078, Email . The News will keep the public informed about further developments, and details about the date and venue for the meeting. The regional contact person for the steering committee is Carrie Altamura, Tel 89 813827, Fax 89 813828.

JUNE'S GEMS. Column by June Tuzewski

It was good to see Government acknowledging women's contribution to the community at the Chief Minister's International Women's Day function, featuring the presentation of NT Women's Achievement Awards by local Member Loraine Braham. This was the first occasion that such Awards have been given, and many of the recipients have been long overdue for public recognition. The CLP Government has come a long way in its initiatives for women.There was a time when it was not only indifferent but often hostile to women's interests and concerns.The United Nations announced 1975-1985 as "The Decade for Women". In Australia the Women's Electoral Lobby gave a political dimension and voice to women. Federal and State Governments anxious to court the women's vote looked seriously at establishing advisers and services.At the same time Territory women were lobbying the NT's first Chief Minister, Paul Everingham. His first response was that he didn't need a Woman's Adviser: "I already have a wife". After self-government in 1978 through to 1983, the Commonwealth and Territory Governments worked towards developing closer ties. The relationship between Darwin and Canberra became overshadowed by conflict over the non-transfer of powers regarding uranium mining, Aboriginal land-rights and national parks. Against this background women's concerns were of little consequence.However, in travelling constantly around the country Paul Everingham became increasingly aware that he could ill-afford to ignore women's interests. In cabinet, his was a lone voice. The mood among the wider CLP Parliamentary wing was that the women's stuff was an aberration which would soon pass.Everingham was not convinced and being the Chief, he took portfolio responsibility for Women, appointed a Women's Adviser and established the first Northern Territory Women's Advisory Council (WAC). The 1983 CLP election promises included Women's Information Centres in Alice and Darwin, together with other services. Mid-83 saw the ALP win Federal Government, and escalating conflict over the non-transferred powers culminated in Everingham's election campaign "Send a Message to Canberra". December ‘83 saw the CLP win in a landslide victory . For Territory women there were mixed feelings - with the CLP gains came the loss of three well-respected ALP female members from the Legislative Assembly.Over the years, it has been a bumpy road, with losses and gains. Ian Tuxworth as the Territory's second Chief Minister demoted anything to do with women to Community Development. Steve Hatton, as Chief Minister took back the portfolio, where it has remained. The position of Women's Adviser was removed by the previous Chief Minister, Marshall Perron. The Business Women's Consultative Council, established in 1993 by Shane Stone as Minister for Industry & Development, recognises and builds on the fact that women aresignificant contributors to the Territory's economic growth.The Office of Women's Policy, under the able directorship of Jenny Gzik, has links to all Departments and a range of forums to ensure that government directions in respect of women's policy are coordinated and relevant to current concerns. The NT's Domestic Violence Legislation includes provision for telephone reporting to enable interim restraining orders to be obtained, leading other states in this area. This is particularly important in the Territory where the distances are so great. The CLP's long term in government has enabled the monitoring and adjustment of women's programs, in addition to bringing new services on line. Consultation, advice and strategic planning through the various Women's Councils and forums has been a major factor in keeping government on track.Alice Springs women who are members of the councils play a vital role too for ensuring local issues are put on the agenda and addressed by government. Local identity, Suzanne Lee, who has just stepped down as convener of the Women's Advisory Council, has made an outstanding contribution, taking time from her business and personal life to do so.However, the appointment of Catherine Wauchope as the new Convener is also a plus for Alice Springs. The daughter of well-known locals, Ruth and Hermann Weber, Catherine has continued to visit and keep in touch. She has been involved in many community groups in Alice and Darwin, and her career through the private, political and public sectors will stand her in good stead. Catherine's background as an economist will bring a new dimension to WAC and her interest in the Territory achieving Statehood will be invaluable in her first public task as WAC Convener - that of attending the Territory Constitutional Convention. For those interested in serving on the Women's Advisory Council, my contacts tell me that advertisements will appear in the next few weeks seeking nominations for the July recruitment.And - to the old question "Why don't we have a Men's Advisory Council?", Territory women will continue to respond "We do. It's called Cabinet" ... but the Women's Advisory Council is working on that issue too.

TRADING THE STOCK WHIP FOR KNITTING NEEDLES? KIERAN FINNANE continues her look at changes in the cattle industry.

CSIRO researcher Mark Stafford-Smith says the most successful diversifications have been those where only a small number of people are doing them."There's everything from eco-tourism and conservation agreements to a whole host of things like building roads for mining companies, or for shires, small-scale horticultural pursuits, growing rockmelons or grapes or citrus, harvesting sandalwood, knitting garments for a targeted market, growing quondongs, or simply having a petrol station or a store, an endless stream of different ways of getting a bit of extra income and matching it with what may or may not be grazing as the main enterprise."From a research point of view, the difficulty is that there is no single, wonder industry that will solve all the problems. It is all of these imaginative, small-scale things which lots of people are doing," he says.Says Dr Stafford-Smith: "If one accepts that we need people living out here, then we need a rather different debate about what sort of land management goals those people should have."In regions where pastoralism is highly prospective and where there's not a great risk of damage, then it makes sense for the industry to continue, and part of our role is to effectively carry out some of that public need of feral animal management and fire management."In areas where things are very marginal the goal of land management should probably be much more that of keeping the land in good nick on behalf of society. "There's a role for people to be living on the land as stewards, with stewardship salaries."Stewardships are steadily developing in other states: conservation agreements are being signed with producers to look after part of the land for conservation while they continue with production in other areas. Says Bob Millington of the pastoralists' Centralian Land Management Association: "A balance can be struck between production and conservation. Some one has to pay the bills, even for conservation: there has to be industry to support any enterprise."Whilst there are people on the land who can change and do change with the times, then the land can be managed carefully. It's just a matter of how."A National Range-lands Strategy has been the subject of a huge consultation effort across the country for much of the decade.It was originally intended that the process would lead to some sort of binding agreement between the states and the Commonwealth.That intention has been "subverted", says Dr Stafford-Smith, and the document will now be published as a set of principles which people may or may not choose to follow."I think that's rather sad as it was one of the biggest ever efforts at national consultation, and probably one of the largest geographic consultations in the world, certainly in Australia. "There were a number of failings in it and certainly things on which people just couldn't agree, in particular relating to tenure, but I sincerely hope that there will be some follow-up. It would be nice to see the next federal election campaign promising some action there."

FIGHT AGAINST WEEDS: DEFEAT ON AT LEAST ONE FRONT

What does it take to get rid of Mexican Poppy?Rod Cramer of Temple Bar, 3000 acres of freehold land south of the Ilparpa Valley, will tell you: from August last year till the end of January, he and his brother Lance worked every day from 7am to midday chipping the prickly weed out of the creeks running through the property, the Roe and Laura.They have cleared eight and a half kilometres of creekbed, not once but between 10 and 15 times!They included in their efforts the stretch of the Laura that runs through the Quarantine Paddock of the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPIF), as "no one else appeared to be doing anything about it." The intensive work gave Rod the opportunity to observe the behaviour of the plant."I'm not a trained horticulturalist," he says, "but you get to know your own patch."In the cooler weather, from August until the middle of October, the poppy was taking some three weeks to to mature.Then from mid-October on, the maturation period contracted to 10 days. To keep the creeks clear, this meant working in 10 day cycles to remove new plants.Since the end of January, only a negligible number of plants have germinated, despite a reasonable fall of rain in early February.Rod has also observed that the poppy travels not only downstream but upstream as well, perhaps on the wind, as the seed is very tiny, and on animals, in people's clothes, cars, swags and so on.To date, it is mostly confined to the creek beds but here and there it is springing up as a result of moving sand for construction activity and landscaping. Sand was extracted from Roe Creek, in a stretch just to the east of Temple Bar, for the construction of the water pipeline to the Iwupataka Aboriginal Land, just west of Alice Springs.In early January Rod says he wrote to the Departments of Lands, Planning and Environment, Transport and Works, Mines and Energy, and to senior public servant John Baskerville, to express his concern over the use of the contaminated sand.After seven weeks with no reply, not even an acknowledgement of receipt of the letters, he sent them again.This time he had a reply from Lands Minister Mick Palmer who "considered it unlikely that such seed would find favourable germination sites along this route."The Minister said that the sites where the sand had been stockpiled would be monitored and that a management strategy for the weed was being developed following recommendations of a public meeting.The Minister also expressed his Government's confidence that the management strategy, combined with public education and the further cooperation of landholders, would "assist in controlling this weed in key areas."Rod is not convinced and the stakes, he says, are very high: "If the weed gets away at Iwupataka it will invade the Simpson's Gap National Park, Honeymoon Gap and get into the headwaters of Laura Creek. It will then become a life sentence."DISSATISFIEDRod is dissatisfied with the outcome of the so-called public meeting, which has been basically to concentrate effort on the search for a biological means of control:"It's like discovering AIDS and not doing anything to prevent its spread, just waiting for the cure," he says."I was at that meeting and it was invitation only, not public. "There were only three private landholders there apart from myself, and Bob Millington, representing the pastoralists' Centralian Land Management Association."Our MLA John Elferink was invited but didn't go. The town council, Greening Australia and some Aboriginal organisations were represented, but otherwise it was dominated by public servants."In my view, the Government has less than fulfilled its obligations."We know they were first informed abut the presence of the weed in 1972, but ‘Joe Public' wasn't told. "They should have warned us. I only became aware of it about two and a half years ago, when my father Bert showed it to Lance and said we should get rid of it."The declaration of the poppy as a Class B and Class C noxious weed means that landholders are now obliged to control it. However, Rod says that while the new Despite his summer of chipping, Rod knows that there are millions, if not billions of seeds in the sand. The weed will return and when it does he will start chipping again."I'll do this for at least two seasons before I say it isn't working," says Rod."We can't afford to do it, but we can't afford not to do it."CLMA's Bob Millington agrees: "Without research we get nowhere, but you don't sit back and say we won't do anything until the research is done."At least we should try to stop it spreading, try to get rid of peak populations. You're not solving the problem because you'll always have the isolated plant, which produces 20,000 seeds per year, but you'll be able to attack the isolated plant if you can get rid of the big populations.RABBITS"I'm not against research but I wonder about the consequences of not acting. If we had accepted this philosophy with the rabbit problem, we wouldn't yet have started. We got the rabbit project going [see Alice News, February 25] because it was a very simple arrangement between CLMA and Dave Berman of Parks and Wildlife. We sat down and worked out what to do and started doing it."So should we, citizens of Central Australia, be getting out in vast numbers and chipping?Bob doesn't think such a solution is practical in our environment: there are too few people to call on.He and others involved in Athel Pine eradication have estimated that it would take 20 people every weekend for two years to remove Athel Pine seedlings from the Finke."It sounds easy in a way but who, in our small population, is going to to make such a sacrifice? As well, the organisation and administration of such an effort would be a huge undertaking," says Bob.Why cannot a systematic approach be taken to Mexican Poppy control, as there appears to be now with the Athel Pine?PROLIFICAs the plant is very small and prolific, with long-living seed, controlling it is going to be extremely labour-intensive and therefore very expensive. Knowing this at the outset has led decision-makers to put the problem in the "too hard basket", says Bob.He too is critical of the "public" meeting that apparently ratified the "wait for research" approach. Like Rod, he says landholders were not represented in proportionate numbers, while the meeting pursued a course of action leaving immediate control largely up to them."When you consider that most weed infestations are caused by ‘escaped' garden plants or come up in hay or, once upon a time, on stock, the control can't be left entirely to the landholders," says Bob."Now that the meeting has concluded that control is not practical, we assume that that will become part of the weeds strategy which will mean that our efforts are no longer eligible for support. That's what worries us. "In five years time, while we wait for news on biological control, how far is it going to have spread, and who then will be responsible for controlling it?"Bob says pastoralists, small landholders and individual rangers who have been chipping the poppy out of conservation areas, have a will to do something about it.As yet, the weed, like the Athel Pine, is largely confined to the creeks and is hence more of an environmental problem than a production problem. Even so, pastoralists want to get rid of it because "it looks bad," says Bob. "It looks like you're not managing your land properly."PLAINSThey are also concerned that it could get out onto the plains, as it apparently has done in Queensland and Western Australia. There could be obstacles too for moving cattle, for instance on agistment, from contaminated areas into non-contaminated areas, which could eventuate in production problems.CLMA will assist the lessees at Undoolya Station to control the weed in Station Creek. If they don't, the weed will potentially go over the hill into the Todd catchment and then down into the nature reserve at Emily Gap.Bob commends last year's Greening Australia effort against the weed, creating a buffer south of Alice Springs, between the John Blakeman Bridge and Heavitree Gap. It was "brilliant", he says, in terms of raising awareness among the public, but the attack was nonetheless minuscule when the vast scale of the problem is considered.Because of the long life of the seed, the poppy will have to be controlled before it seeds, for up to 20 years, says Bob: "That's a tremendous amount of work but I guess I would say that it's better to spend money on that, than on a lot of other things."Meanwhile, Greening Australia (GA) will be repeating its communal poppy chipping event in the Todd later in the year. "Our goal is to keep it coming through the Gap," said GA's urban bushland officer Michelle Rodrigo, also observing that the poppy can move upstream. This year, unlike last, the chipping will take place before the plant sets seeds."Total eradication would be very difficult, almost unrealistic," says Michelle, "but that doesn't mean that the community shouldn't do something about it."GA coordinator Jenny Atkins says: "Our policy on weeds is to increase community knowledge of exotic species, in terms of their threats to native vegetation and natural systems, to assist people to identify weeds and to involve a broad range of community groups in their removal, when appropriate."We support the efforts of the Alice Springs Town Council and the DPIF in weed eradication and education about these issues."WOODY WEEDSGA starts work this month with the town council, through the National Corridors of Green program, on locating and removing woody weeds that need immediate control. These include Giant Reed, Himalayan Raintree, Parkinsonia and Rubber Bush.Other weeds threatening native vegetation of the rivers include White Cedar, Oleander and Pepper Trees. Individual species of the weeds will be flagged, and native title claimants and custodians will be consulted before they are removed.Further afield, in the Finke River, the attack on Athel Pine has been renewed. With $300,000 in funding from the National Heritage Trust, CLMA is supporting DPIF in a three year project to clear the tree from the river east of the Stuart Highway. "It's conceivable, providing that follow-up work is done, that we can get rid of Athel Pine," says CLMA's Bob Millington.The pastoralists are operating the blade ploughs that will remove the big trees, while DPIF personnel poison the regrowth and seedlings. INFESTATIONTo date they have treated the river from Hermannsburg, the source of the infestation, to the Stuart Highway. Now the work will continue from the highway to the South Australian border.The intention is to put in a buffer zone at the downstream end of the infestation, so that the program can monitor the any further spread of the tree while work goes on upstream. "If it gets into the floodplains, which would be only a matter of time if we weren't trying to stop it, it would become virtually impossible to control," says Bob.Meanwhile, they already have a two year story of what happens after the pine goes, at the Horseshoe Bend site where a thick infestation of mature trees has been attacked over the last two years."Working at Horseshoe was a case of opportunism," says Bob. "There was a machine available and someone to drive it. Now it will give us a handle on what we expect to find elsewhere, even though the landscape varies so much along the course of the river."We're grateful to the NHT for their support and we hope that we'll get some good information on the status of the Finke Valley through the monitoring program."

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