ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
August 26, 1998

STATEHOOD ISSUE NOW IN FEDERAL ARENA AS TERRITORY GOVERNMENT STIFLES DEMOCRATIC DEBATE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Chief Minister Shane Stone, known for his demands that Territory problems should be solved within the Territory, has placed the question of the NT constitution firmly in the Federal arena.Because of his refusal to allow a separate question on the constitution in the upcoming statehood referendum, Territorians will need to turn to Canberra to ensure that the document is fair, democratic and appropriate, according to two prominent Central Australians.Meanwhile a large gathering of Central Australian Aborigines at Kalkaringi has rejected the constitution adopted by the NT Legislative Assembly last week, and has claimed that Aborigines "have an inherent right to self government".Kalkaringi is the site of the historic Wave Hill Walk-off from the Vesties-owned cattle station by Aboriginal people in 1966, generally seen as the birth of the land rights movement.NT Labor candidate for the House of Representatives, Warren Snowdon, and the local head of Territorians for Democratic Statehood, Deputy Mayor Fran Erlich, have attacked Mr Stone for allowing just one referendum question - whether or not the NT should get statehood.The Assembly has passed - with several amendments - a constitution drafted earlier this year by the statehood convention in Darwin, which caused a public uproar because delegates were not popularly elected, and Aboriginal delegates walked out.Although the convention participants were hand-picked by the Stone government, it has gone against their recommendation of presenting at the referendum a question about the constitution separately from the statehood question.The wording of that question, as proposed by the convention, was: "Whether the proposed Constitution be adopted as the Constitution of the new State of the Northern Territory."Mrs Erlich says she may now vote "no" to statehood, and both she and Mr Snowdon say that only Federal politicians remain in a position to safeguard the interests of Territorians."There is no opportunity now for Territory people to discuss any further the constitution or anything that goes into it," says Mrs Erlich."I think I will be obliged to vote against statehood, although I'm on record as saying that I'm very much for statehood."It's a dilemma the NT government has put me in and I really resent it."There could so easily have been full discussion, with everybody participating, and working towards statehood in a way that included everyone."It's not the end of it all because it will have to go to the Federal Parliament, and if that Parliament is not happy with the process, there may be further repercussions."There could be some changes further down the line."Mrs Erlich says the Senate could conclude the formulation of the constitution had not been a "just process", and decide to require another convention before passing the Statehood Bill, or further opportunities for debate and modification of the constitution as it stands now."My understanding is that the Federal Government isn't bound by the referendum results."If the Federal Government isn't convinced that due process has been followed, or there has been adequate consultation, it should not pass a Statehood Bill," says Mrs Erlich.Mr Snowdon, who was defeated by the CLP's Nick Dondas in the last Federal elections, says Mr Stone's move is "too smart by half" and may "backfire", discrediting the statehood process and possibly even delaying it beyond the target date of 2001.Mr Snowdon says Labor is advocating a "yes" vote to statehood, but "this yes vote is not seen by the Labor Party as an endorsement of the constitution".Mr Snowdon says: "At the very least there will be a Senate enquiry of some description because under section 121 of the [Australian] constitution, the Parliament can admit a new state on the terms and conditions the Parliament decides."It will have to go to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee."They could, for example, employ a prominent Australian as a consultant to report and advise on the merits of the constitution."One would think the Parliament would want to be satisfied that any constitution which was going to be enacted as the result of an approval by the Federal Parliament would have wide support across the community and represent the community's interests and views."You'd have to say at the moment that the constitution that's been developed is one with a very narrow focus."I suspect it will be changed very substantially."BIPARTISANMr Snowdon says the NT constitution ultimately approved by the Federal Parliament - for the first state to be admitted to the Federation since its inception - will likely be the product of bipartisan approach, also including the smaller parties and independents.He says independent Senator Harradine - holding the balance of power in the present Senate - attended the Kalkaringi meeting last week and showed keen interest in Aboriginal demands.Says Mr Snowdon: "It cannot be claimed that this constitution has been the product of a process that can be seen as open and democratic. It hasn't been.""It will not be just a matter of John Howard or Shane Stone saying that's what's going to happen."There is a fair amount of resistance elsewhere in Australia to the NT becoming a state."Conservative economists like Alan Wood, not someone I normally quote, by the way, heap disdain on the fact that the NT is so small, that it's absolutely reliant on Federal outlays, that its population is about the size of shire council of Sydney or Melbourne."There is open debate about the number of Senators.ACT ARGUMENT"You can guarantee that there will be an argument from the Australian Capital Territory, irrespective of whether or not they're a state, that they should have at least the same level of representation in the Senate as the NT."[The ACT has currently two Senators like the NT but 150,000 more people.]Mr Snowdon says: "If we are to be successful in the quest for statehood, then we need to present a united front against opposition."The CLP has shown no interest in being inclusive and in presenting a united voice."THREE QUESTIONSLabor Senator Trish Crossin supports the Territory's move to statehood but says the Chief Minister should put before voters in the referendum the three questions recommended by the NT Constitutional Convention (including the question about the name of the new state), rather than just the one as is currently proposed."At this stage only the Constitutional Convention delegates and the Legislative Assembly, have seen the draft constitution and had a chance to debate it. "That's nowhere near enough. "There are people who would like to have a vote on the constitution and a debate on it. "Look at what's happened at Kalkaringi and what's planned by the Northern Land Council in Batchelor in October."But it's not only Aboriginal people who are concerned that we don't endorse a draft constitution and work out the detail later. "What's happening with management of national parks, control over uranium? "There's the huge issue of industrial relations which nobody has picked up yet. "Is IR gong to be transferred to the NT or remain with the Commonwealth? "If it's going to be transferred to the NT, does IR need to be encompassed by the constitution?"I'm not happy endorsing a draft constitution that came out of the convention, until I've seen some of the detail of the other issues that need to be negotiated. "There will be many workers in the Territory who will want that question answered before they go to vote," says Sen Crossin.FORUMMrs Erlich says Territorians for Democratic Statehood will be holding a "statehood forum" in Alice Springs on September 5.She says there will be five sessions of one hour each, inviting speakers for and against the issues.They will include:-• What advantages will we get from statehood?
• Should there be two Houses of Parliament or multi member electorates (both rejected in the "Stone" constitution)?
• Should there be a Bill of Rights and Freedom of Information in the Territory (also rejected by Stone)?
• What's the place of Aborigines in the constitution and in a State of the Northern Territory?
• And where do we go from here - the path to Statehood.
Meanwhile the Kalkaringi meeting issued a statement including the following demands:-• A Commonwealth inquiry to review current and future financial arrangements for the provision of services to Aboriginal communities.
• Direct funding of Aboriginal communities and organisations.
• Leaving the administration of the land rights act in Commonwealth hands.
• Recognition and protection of customary law.
• Freedom of information (the NT is Australia's only state or territory where it doesn't exist).• Repeal of mandatory sentencing.
More than 800 people attended the meeting.
POLITICISEDThe media statement also says ALP Senator Nick Bolkus, who attended the meeting, "believed in statehood but was concerned the process had been politicised and was undemocratic".According to the statement, Democrats Leader Senator Meg Lees had "sent a message saying her party had passed a resolution that it would not agree to any legislation to enable statehood for the NT if Aboriginal rights are undermined or put at risk."

GOVERNING THE TERRITORY ALWAYS A HOT POTATO. COMMENT by JUNE TUZEWSKI.

The NT Government's decision to have only one question in the referendum on Territory Statehood, and the statement that there would be no further input by Territorians into the draft Constitution, has received much publicity during the past week. While the pros and cons of the referendum question will no doubt linger, important work will continue between the Territory and Federal Governments over which powers will be transferred to the Territory Government, as mentioned in my column last week. I would imagine that the conclusions from the review of the 1976 Aboriginal Land Rights Act, undertaken by former Alice Springs lawyer, John Reeves QC, will also be considered in the negotiations. From time to time, the debates in recent years about the benefits or inadequacies of Statehood have reminded me of the beginnings of Local Government in the Alice. Concerns about the extra costs Local Government would impose, and finding people with the right sort of talent or expertise to stand for election, have been echoed in the Statehood debate. Alice Springs residents elected their first town council in June 1971, with 30 candidates lining up for their place in history. Despite the concerns, or because of them, voters turned out in force. Jock Nelson swept in as the town's first Mayor and the only female candidate, Marlene Brown, topped the aldermanic poll. For Paul Everingham, later to become the Territory's first Chief Minister, it was the beginning of his career in the public spotlight. There is no doubt that Jock Nelson's previous experience in the Federal Parliament was a great plus for the fledgling council. Two years later, however, he resigned from council to take up the position of Administrator in Darwin, the first Territorian to be appointed to the office. His position as Mayor was filled by that other well known Territorian, Brian Martin, who is now Chief Justice. 1971 was certainly a significant year for The Alice. Regular readers will recall that this was the year of the Alice Springs Centenary Celebrations. The beginning of March saw Reg Harris successfully launch his business enterprise, Radio 8HA, the town's first commercial radio station. The Berrimah Line was already well and truly on the map. Relations between Darwin and Alice Springs plummeted to an all time low when three Alice Springs, and one Tennant Creek representative were dropped from the NT Tourist Board. The eight member Board was left with architect Andrew McPhee as the only representative from Alice Springs. At that time The Alice was seen as the big Territory tourist drawcard, although growing numbers were being attracted to Ayers Rock (Uluru). The issue of daylight saving was also topical and real estate agent, Tony Macmichael, chaired the Alice Springs Daylight Saving Investigation Committee. Comprised of local businessmen at a time when the majority of business here was conducted through Adelaide contacts, a proposal was put to the then Legislative Council in Darwin for the area south of Wauchope to be changed to South Australia time. While Alice Springs residents had mixed feelings about the proposal, local passions were inflamed when Legislative Council member, Tiger Brennan, was quoted as saying: "If Alice Springs want to be different, the town should leave the Territory and join South Australia." Today Melanka is best known as a commercial back-packers hostel. The opening of the new building on November 5, 1971, was a big event, made memorable by a huge dust storm. As the Minister for Labour and National Service made his official "opening speech" in the central services block with his back to the large, high windows, he was unaware of the growing dust storm outside and the drifting concentration of those attending. I doubt many remembered a word he said. Melanka is an Arrernte word meaning "very good", and the new hostel replaced accommodation previously provided by Commonwealth Hostels at Stott House and Todd House, which were over 20 years old. Part of Stott House was renovated and incorporated into the second stage of Melanka, but you can still see the old slab of Todd House on the block occupied by the town council at the Todd Street and Stott Terrace corner. Commonwealth Hostels was an organisation which operated guest houses and hostels for a wide variety of people all over Australia, including migrants. At a time when the Alice was the fastest growing urban centre in the Territory, the new Melanka was built to accommodate 237 men and women, thus providing board and lodging of a high standard at reasonable cost for a growing workforce. The year 1971 also saw the death of Leo Corbet, who founded Pitchi Ritchi as a native bird and flower sanctuary. There is a story that Leo once staked a bogus gold mining claim on Heavitree Gap to prevent it being quarried and widened. Pitchi Ritchi, which I understand means "gap in the range" has recently come under the control of the Arrernte Council. It continues to feature the Aboriginal-inspired sculptures of Victorian, William Ricketts, and to remind our visitors of the town's pioneers who developed the centre of Australia.

PARTIES DIFFER ON IMPACT OF GOODS AND SERVICES TAX.

The Territory's Federal politicians disagree on the future funding from Canberra for the NT under a proposed GST.The CLP's Nick Dondas says the Grants Commission will continue to have the power of taking into account "disabilities" in the NT, currently the reason for a per capita funding nearly five times greater when compared with the rest of the nation.But Labor Senator Trish Crossin says she's waiting to see the detail, before expressing confidence about future levels of funding for the Territory if the Federal Coalition's tax reform package is introduced.And the Labor candidate for the House of Representatives, Warren Snowdon, believes that the package is "a recipe for disaster" for the Territory.Says Mr Dondas: "Shane Stone and the rest of the Territory Government are happy with the deal."What more can I say?"He says all revenues from a GST would go to the states in which they have been raised, less a small "administrative" fee retained by the Commonwealth.That means the NT will have an entitlement to more money than at present without having to go "cap in hand" to the Premiers' Conference and the Grants Commission, while the current mechanisms remain in place to make up the shortfalls.Mr Dondas says there is no reason to suspect the NT will be worse off under the proposed tax reform.However, Sen Crossin says: "I think the Howard Government's position is, ‘just vote for us, trust us and all will be revealed in the future.' "But this is the man who said we'd never ever have a GST! "The Territory will never ever be disadvantaged? "It doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me as a guarantee for the future."Last week Sen Crossin was as much in the dark as anyone on the details."All I've seen is one page photocopied from the package documents. "So, at this stage I'm not able to say to Territorians that a vote for this package means that you won't be any worse off in terms of Commonwealth Government funding in the future. "We need to get some clearer answers out of the Prime Minister. "That's why I'm fairly surprised that the Chief Minister believes we're still going to be okay, because we don't have any definite guarantees about whether that's going to be the case."We're trying to get some answers. Every day another layer is peeled off the tax package. It either becomes more complicated or there are no answers."The Territory gets about 72 per cent of its funds from the Commonwealth, while the other states get about 42 per cent. "There's no way we're going to be able to raise more GST than the other states and territories. "So exactly how we'll be able to sustain the level of funding we've had in the past is yet to unfold."Is the past level of funding justified? Has the Territory performed in the areas for which it gets five times the national average of per capita funding?Senator Crossin does not argue with the Territory's "disabilities" - its isolation, vast distances, small overall population yet proportionately large disadvantaged population."But," she says, "there are some who argue that if the Northern Territory Government wasn't the channelling agent, we'd be able to do a lot better. "They cream off around 46 to 48 cents in every dollar for administrative costs, compared to 26 cents in the dollar in the other states. "The NT argues it has to be higher because of the nature of the Territory, but does it have to be twice as high?"What did the previous Federal Labor Government do to ensure that the Territory performed in relation to its funding? "One example is the Aboriginal Education Program, now called the ISEP program. "Under the Keating Government funding arrangements were changed to become triennial over a 12 year period. "Accountability mechanisms were built into the process. "But the Keating Government was ousted halfway through the program. "Now, I've been trying to chase up the education performance indicators that were to be agreed to by June of last year for the next triennium of ISEP funding and I can't seem to find them anywhere. "In August 1998 the Commonwealth still doesn't know if those performance indicators have been negotiated and, if they have been, they don't have a copy of them. "That's one example that I know about where the outcomes are slipping through the net."The Howard Government has certainly moved to more untied funds."However, Sen Crossin says it's a mistake to think of the Territory's funds as all in one big disability bucket. The picture is far more complicated than that."For example, in the child care services, operational subsides were taken away from community-based centres but in isolated places like Jabiru, they get an isolation allowance. "In TAFE too, because of the disability factors in trying to deliver programs to remote communities, the Territory gets a loading of 20 cents on its ASH hours funding. "As to whether on the whole we are performing to justify these compensations, you would have to look at department by department outcomes."Mr Snowdon says from what he can gather is that "the GST funds will be pooled and will then be subject to distribution, probably on a similar formula as the one currently being used."Mr Snowdon says the Grants Commission is likely to remain involved.However, he says he's "very skeptical" about the process: "It appears that the Federal Government's role will be significantly diminished."One of two things might happen: the states who are raising most of the money - Victoria and NSW - would want a large proportion of the revenue."They've already had this discussion previously."They opposed many of the principles of horizontal fiscal equalisation, the method used by the Grants Commission for distributing general revenue grants."I don't think there are any guarantees that we'll get the sorts of outcomes we're presently getting under the current per capita grants system."We should be reviewing the methodology to give us greater assistance - not less."This is all very attractive to the big states."It's a recipe for disaster for the Northern Territory."We've been well looked after by a process where the Federal Government has acted as a bit of an arbitrator, had a key role."The big states really oppose the Premier Conference ideas and the Loans council arrangements. "They see themselves losing out while we do well out of it."

ALICE CASINO TAKES GAMBLING INTO CYBER SPACE. Part I of a Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Imagine a casino where up to 5000 people can play roulette, Blackjack, Joker Poker and a variety of other table games, plus half a dozen kinds of slot machines, 24 hours a day.Imagine that this capacity, without a great deal of trouble and expense, can be expanded practically without limit.And imagine that the potential patrons number some 80 million around the world, getting access to the gaming facilities more cheaply and easily than taking a cab down the road and walking through the casino's front door.Now forget the image of a casino as a palace bathed in neon light: the whole operation is comfortably accommodated in two small rooms, albeit with security arrangements akin to Pine Gap's.You've guessed it: main-stream gambling has arrived in cyberspace. The Malaysian-owned Lasseter's Casino in Alice Springs has gone all out in the past 15 months to clinch the world lead in the field, at a cost of $1.5m, occupying 15 of its own staff, and engaging a Sydney based software supplier with a staff of 50.The investment is clearly a gamble in itself: "I have no idea what the world-wide potential of this is," says Lasseter's chief executive Peter Bridge.It looks like a top earner: as players must always be in credit, the casino will build up a pool of money, an asset similar to savings held by a bank.The principal revenue is the "house advantage" of between two per cent for Blackjack, 2.75 per cent for roulette and 12 per cent for pokies. (In the "land based" Lasseter's, the pokies are usually set to a house advantage of just four to eight per cent.)There's a variety of gaming opportunities on the internet already, but Peter says all others are based in what could politely be called marginal countries: none have the strict regulations and financial safeguards required by the Territory's gaming authorities.Cyberspace gambling mirrors its terrestrial forerunner in Australia: Hobart was the nation's first casino, and Alice the second.Now Hobart has an internet gambling licence but not the hardware nor the software; Alice has those but not yet the licence."We should get married," says Peter.It will be interesting to see whether the proliferation of casinos on the ground, getting progressively less profitable, will also be replayed on the "net".At this stage the real thing isn't up and running yet, and the casino is still negotiating for a licence from the NT Racing and Gaming Authority.You can log on and play for points - but not yet for money.The NT Government has yet to release its policy on interactive gaming, but Peter is confident The Alice will have Australia's first cyber casino."We haven't yet finalised the methods of entry," he says, but it's already certain that there will be stringent safeguards.For example, gamblers will need to establish a credit, by bank transfer or credit card.They can also set their own limits of losses, and the periods over which they're prepared to incur those losses.The casino will check ages against electoral rolls (in Australia) and faxed documents such as driver's licences or passports from overseas.Coincidentally, in this way the casino will be building up a massive data base of gamblers world-wide.A 14-year-old, having - improperly - obtained registration by submitting identification papers of an adult, and having established a credit, may well be able to gamble to his heart's content, but any winnings would be forwarded only to the adult whose papers had been submitted.RANDOM NUMBERSThere are other intriguing questions: For example, if a croupier spins the roulette wheel, the little white ball has an even chance of landing on any of the 38 numbers (including the zero).Computers, however, do what they're told by their programmers. How can we be sure that the "ball" lands randomly? We can, says resident computer whizz Mark Archbold. The Queensland University of Technology and NT Government inspectors have checked exhaustively the "randomness" program installed, and the system "passed with flying colours", he says.Another precaution is built into Blackjack.A clever whiz could devise a program that keeps track of cards being played and obtain a progressively accurate idea of what's left in the packs.Peter says in the cyber game, every card coming off the shoe is fresh, "selected from an infinite pack".
NEXT WEEK: Lasseter's Casino is a big employer and community sponsor although the high rollers are thin on the ground.

ALICE'S CENTRE FOR APPROPRIATE TECHNOLOGY SELLS BRAIN POWER OVERSEAS. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The potential of a local knowledge-based economic sector has yet to be fully realised, but the Centre for Appropriate Technology has been "trading" in clever ideas for the past 18 years.While they don't exclude the possibility of commercialisation of products arising out of their research, their main reward, as explained by Director Bruce Walker in last week's issue, is in the new research contracts that come their way because of their acknowledged intellectual capital.One such contract has involved work with a United Nations team in the Golden Triangle, looking at income substitution for people who grow opium.Where is the technology in that, readers may ask?At the heart of CAT's work is a methodology rather than a product. The precepts of appropriate technology are built round local involvement and participation, local needs, localised responses. What CAT sells, through consulting arrangements, is their idea of working people through the process of coming to different solutions themselves and setting up their own small industries and enterprises to implement them. In Burma, Dr Walker was a member of a team looking at technology transfer issues and how people would be trained to cope with change. Opium growing for upland farmers in the Golden Triangle is not a lucrative business (the big profits occur further along the market chain). They don't need to be wooed away from big dollars, but rather need to be supported in a conversion to some sort of agro-industry with income and food security.The people's staple diet is rice, but at present they are only 25 to 35 per cent rice sufficient. Their income options are to go to the lowlands to get a job, to sell wood, to send a daughter to Bangkok or sell a baby, or, the one that keeps the family together, to grow opium for a drug lord."He brings the seed up," says Dr Walker. "The farmers plant and grow it, the drug lord comes to collect it so the farmers don't have to walk to market, and for that they get enough money to buy rice or are simply paid rice in exchange."So how can the UN intervene?Says Dr Walker: "The process we've documented and are recommending to the UN is one that's based on a series of technology transfer centres similar to CAT, community resource centres where there's access to the sort of expertise that we've got here, a technical training facility, and backup with administration of projects. "These would be positioned throughout the area where the opium is grown, across a couple of states of Burma. "People in communities would identify needs. For example, they might want to build a community water supply. There would be a needs assessment done in the same way that we do a needs assessment here, there would be some design work done as we do here, and then you'd look to get local people involved in the construction of the thing, with training applied in the centre or out in the village."The centre would have some broader functions than we have here. For example, micro-credit would be run out of the centre, enabling people to start up little enterprises. "It would also be a place to have public meetings and carry out community organisation planning, motivating and mobilising the community for change. "All of that design and development work is modelled on the experience we've built up here. With any luck we'll get invited back to actually ensure that it gets applied over the next 10 years."The project is focused on community based organisations because the international community is not willing to cooperate with the ruling military junta in Burma.But CAT never has all of its eggs in one basket.The Cairns office recently undertook four consultancy trips to China, working on two projects to address issues of water supplies and sanitation in relation to maternal and child health and welfare.In Dr Walker's view China, Africa and India are more likely to be overseas markets for a Central Australian knowledge-based economy than the South-East Asian market favoured by the NT's Darwin-based government. "Our arid zone base and products that we develop here might be more applicable to those places than they would be in a tropical environment," says Dr Walker."In balancing the Territory's trade and research effort we may need a realisation within government that Central Australia is going to want to link with different parts of the world rather than Asia."

NEW GROG MOVES IN ALICE.

Should there be a drinking area in Alice Springs exempt from the Two Kilometre Law?A working group will be looking for answers to this question following last week's alcohol issues forum facilitated by the Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA).Chairman Iain Morrison says so far there haven't been any suggestions where such an area should be, nor how it should be administered.He says the group will make a report to the next forum in three months' time.Participants at the forum has made a renewed push for a second drinking club to be set up somewhere in the town, but the forum did not support the proposal.Mr Morrison says there will be a campaign to inform drinkers about the requirements of the Two Kilometre Law, with signs in prominent places and at bottle shops and communities, in a further bid to curb public drinking in the town.Mr Morrison, who is also a senior policeman, says local officers poured out 540 litres of alcoholic beverages during the week ending August 16, whilst patrolling popular public drinking areas.That was a "big week", says Mr Morrison.In a substantial change of policy, the forum decided to set up a working group looking at alcohol "availability" - which could include the restriction of take-away and other sales on certain days of the week, and from which outlets alcohol can be bought from.This proposal has been promoted for some time by the People's Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC), which was represented at the meeting, but the forum has previously rejected consideration of sales restrictions similar to those in force in Tennant Creek.Mr Morrison says the "availability" working group would "identify an agenda, participants and key stake holders for a workshop", including representatives from the tourism, hotel and hospitality industries, Tangentyere and indigenous people.Members of this working group include Congress employee Bob Durnan, Ald Meredith Campbell and DASA's Bob Gaff.Mr Morrison says the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) has proposed a media-based campaign "to reach young people on issues of alcohol, social disorder and drug use".Mr Morrison says the DASA forum received a shot in the arm from the Alice Town Council which has pledged $20,000 for administrative support.This has allowed the scheduling of four more forums, at intervals of about 90 days.

PERFORMANCE 'LAB' FOR ALICE ARTISTS.

What will happen to performance in the new media environment as it develops into the 21st century?Performer Tess de Quincey (pictured) doesn't want to leave it to chance to find out.She has joined forces with the Centre for Performance Studies (CPS) at the University of Sydney, together with the "Alice Committee" made up of the Araluen Centre, Desart and Watch This Space, to develop a series of Performance Laboratories in Central Australia, once a year over the next three years. The first of these is scheduled to take place in 1999 from September 20 to October 10, at Hamilton Downs.Its purpose will be to test how best to bring together indigenous and non-indigenous artistic practice in relation to the Central Desert and parallel to the physical discipline Body Weather, an outgrowth of Japanese butoh theatre, the basis of de Quincey's work.A number of Northern Territory residents from different walks of life - geologists, politicians, linguists, business people, cartographers, anthropologists, religious leaders, meteorologists - will be asked to talk informally to provide a greater sense of place and context for the entire laboratory.As well NT artists from various traditions will be invited to work in an independent "site-specific relation to the environment".De Quincey describes Alice Springs and the Central Desert as a "burning point, geographically, culturally and politically" and "the confronting heartbeat of the continent". She says its special situation highlights issues of contemporary performance, citing as an example the way in which indigenous artists have worked with "virtual reality", using satellite links between their communities and interstate art galleries.An interactive website developed with assistance from the CPS over the three years will serve both as a continually updated diary of the laboratories' work and as the means by which "the distinction between ‘participant' and ‘audience' will be increasingly blurred".The second laboratory, in 2000, will build on the experience and language developed in the first. It will also open out to interstate artistic collaborations, in particular from new media artists, either in physical attendance, through the interactive website or in live interstate linkups with art venues in the major cities.The 2001 laboratory will then harness the work of the first two, codifying space and time across disciplines and traditions, with international participation.De Quincey, whose career has spanned the globe, has a history of undertaking large projects. In 1996 she was the creative driving force behind a dance festival in Sydney which saw 180 performances in just one month!The "Triple Alice" project is the opposite: "It stretches over time, allowing for digestion, and so becomes relevant and usable," she says.

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