ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
September 30, 1998

TERRITORY'S CONSTITUTION NEEDS NEW PROCESS, SAYS DONDAS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Territory's sitting House of Representatives Member Nick Dondas has weighed into the escalating row over the process leading to NT statehood, especially the controversial constitution endorsed by the Legislative Assembly.A referendum on statehood is scheduled to be run in the Territory in conjunction with the Federal elections on Saturday.Mr Dondas says: "Federal Parliament would not deal with any constitution that comes through a party political system, or any system that doesn't have the complete support of the people involved, who are all Territorians."Mr Dondas' comment comes when an opinion, obtained by Territorians for Democratic Statehood from a top constitutional lawyer, Melbourne QC Ron Castan, claims that the referendum question is "fatally flawed". Mr Castan says the question fails to comply with the Referendums Act which requires that matters put to the voters must be "a question which is meaningful, clear and unequivocal, and which does not contain an uncertain or arguable premise within it".The referendum question is: "Now that a Constitution for the State of the Northern Territory has been recommended by the Statehood Convention and endorsed by the Northern Territory Parliament: Do you agree that we should become a State?"Mr Castan says: "There is uncertainty implicit in this question because it is unclear whether a ‘yes' vote would convey approval of the Constitution which is referred to within the question as having been recommended by the Convention and endorsed by the Parliament."Mr Dondas declined to comment on specifics of Mr Castan's opinion: "If you get 10 legal opinions, five will say one thing and five will say another thing, all on the same matter."The Australian Electoral Commission would be very guarded in what it would put out to people," says Mr Dondas."If it could be challenged I don't think the commission would be doing it, put it that way."However, Mr Dondas clearly outlined his own expectations for the further processes toward a Territory constitution and statehood.He says: "There are two clear questions on Saturday: one is whether you want Warren Snowdon and the Labor Party, or you want Nick Dondas and John Howard."The other question is, do you want to become a state?"The answer is either yes or no."If you want to be a state, say yes, and then we can work out a mechanism after October 3 for how we are going to prepare the draft constitution, which will be the final constitution we present to the Federal Parliament. "These mechanisms will obviously be formulated after October 3, whether it will be done by consultation through a convention, or whether it be done through direct consultation with the community," says Mr Dondas."What is very clear is that the Federal Parliament will not deal with a constitution that hasn't had the full support of Territorians."My understanding is there has been some confusion."People think they are voting on the constitution. They're not."If the referendum is carried, says Mr Dondas, "then obviously there will have to be a mechanism decided, by all parties concerned, of how the draft constitution which we have needs to be turned into the final constitution which will be presented to Federal Parliament."There has got to be a mechanism put in place that will satisfy all Territorians to vote for, or accept, the constitution."Meanwhile, Terri-torians for Democratic Statehood are examining options for blocking the referendum through a court injunction.Spokesman Peter McNab, who spoke at a seminar on statehood in Alice Springs recently, says the group doesn't want to be seen as a "spoiler"; in addition, a court may not grant an injunction because preparations for the referendum are well advanced, and its outcome - either way - won't result in tangible legal changes; and the Territory Government, if it won the case, may act in a punitive way with respect to court costs.(Chief Minister Shane Stone did not respond to a request for comment.)Mr McNab, a constitutional lawyer with the NT University, says challenging the outcome of the referendum in the Court of Disputed Returns (Referendum Tribunal) appears to be another option.APPROVALMr Castan says there "is publicly expressed conflict" as to whether a "yes" answer in the statehood referendum would amount to approval of the constitution.He says he's been supplied with statements from Mr Stone "expressing views both ways".Prime Minister John Howard made it clear in a letter that the Commonwealth would not treat a "yes" vote as an endorsement of the constitution, but Deputy Chief Minister Mike Reed "in a radio interview, has suggested that a ‘yes' vote would amount to approval by the voters of the draft constitution".Mr Castan says the inclusion of the preamble "has caused inevitable difficulties".He says: "Questions which are posed in courts, which assume a particular answer to a statement which is built into the question, are inherently ambiguous, and are invariably disallowed."He gives as an example the "infamous" question, "have you stopped beating your wife?", which is not improved by "Now that you have stopped beating your wife, do you agree that marriage is a worthwhile institution?"

COMMENT: CHIEF MINISTER SHOULD RESIGN OVER STATEHOOD FIASCO.

The thinly veiled dressing down of Shane Stone over the statehood fiasco by party colleague, candidate for our Federal seat and long time Territorian Nick Dondas is timely, if not overdue.Mr Stone's manipulating of the process that will determine under what kind of political regime we, our children and our grandchildren will live, comes at a time when Territorians are agonising over how to vote on the most complex set of issues put before the Federal electorate for a long time.The Chief Minister's bully-boy tactics will generate a "no" vote on statehood far greater than would otherwise have been case: the vast majority of Territorians want statehood, but many will reject Mr Stone's process.He should, at this crucial time, help us to shake off our image of being a cowboy state and a basket case, dependent on vast amounts of Federal money, yet incapable of solving catastrophic social problems.Instead Mr Stone is now also making us the laughing stock of the nation. Under such circumstances, an honourable politician would take his hat and go. No doubt, in Mr Stone's case it will require an energetic shove from his party colleagues.Labor is by no means blameless for the current upheaval: by voting unanimously for the referendum question, concocted by Mr Stone and containing the controversial preamble referring to the draft constitution, the ALP has shown itself to be spineless and without vision: just one single dissenting vote in the Legislative Assembly would have given the NT's Chief Electoral Officer cause for facilitating a "no" campaign, promoting democratic discussion. With the "Opposition" so blatantly absent, the "no" campaign has been left in the hands of citizens, from Territorians for Democratic Statehood to Aboriginal organisations, the trade unions and the minor parties.

MINOR PARTIES: THE BALANCE OF POWER BRIGADE.

The Australian Greens have made an exception of the Northern Territory in their distribution of preferences: they are recommending that Territory voters put the CLP last, below One Nation.In the Territory the Greens believe "the CLP is just as racist as One Nation and actually have the power to implement their regressive attitudes". Says Greens candidate for the Territory's House of Representatives seat Ilana Eldridge: "It was a daring move but it has paid off. It drew a lot of attention to the Territory. The rest of Australia does not know what life is like under an extreme right wing government."Ms Eldridge also says that the Greens are getting "amazing support" from Aboriginal organisations for putting the CLP last.The Alice News asked Ms Eldridge what the Greens have to offer Central Australians.Her chief concern is with an issue that applies equally to all Territorians: mandatory sentencing.The Greens, through their current two Senate members and possibly more after the election, intend to introduce a Private Member's Bill during the next parliamentary sittings that would seek to overturn the Territory's mandatory sentencing legislation. They hope to gain cross-party support for the Bill by making it subject to a conscience vote. Ms Eldridge says that the Greens feel forced to use every tool at their disposal because mandatory sentencing is "unconscionable"."Without an Upper House in the NT parliament and without proportional representation, there are no checks and balances in government."We need at least one, and at this time all we have is the Federal Parliament."Ms Eldridge says Central Australians in particular suffer from the lack of checks and balances: they are under-represented in the parliament and administrative decisions are made "north of the Berrimah line"."If there's no watchdog, which is what the CLP intends with its draft constitution, then they will continue to be able to do what they like."The Greens are also very concerned about planning in the Territory: "Approvals of development proposals ultimately come down to the discretion of the Minister. With due respect, Mick Palmer has no qualifications in the fields of urban planning or community development, and there are no avenues other than through the Supreme Court to counteract a bad planning decision."The Greens are completely opposed to a GST, arguing that Territorians are paying more for most things anyway and with the majority of Territorians being middle to low income earners "we are definitely the most affected."However, Ms Eldridge thinks that Central Australians, with freight of most goods and foodstuffs covering a shorter distance, may in this case be a little better off than Top Enders.The ERA uranium mine at Jabiluka is another key issue for the Territory, according to Territory Greens Senate candidate Andy Gough.Mr Gough says the approvals process for construction at Jabiluka was "remarkably shonky".A processing plant and tailings storage at Jabiluka was not factored into the original Environmental Impact Statement for the mine, he says.Construction has been allowed to proceed on the basis of a Public Environment Report (PER). This is "the lowest form of environment assessment", says Mr Gough.Construction then started "while the PER was taking place, making a mockery of the environmental assessment process," he says.The Greens say traditional owners have had their basic human rights trampled by the Jabiluka project."It seems that Aboriginal people must abide by their agreements, but mining companies do not," says Mr Gough.Ms Eldridge says it has been frustrating not to have a local branch of the Greens in Central Australia but a branch is likely to be formed after the election.The Greens also claim that the "overwhelming majority of rural and indigenous Territorians are opposed to statehood and the proposed constitution".In campaigning for a "no" vote in the statehood referendum, the Greens may be surprised to find themselves on common ground with One Nation.One Nation Senate candidate Dee Mills says "One Nation says no to statehood in the NT without a good set of rules - a constitution to control government not the other way around."She thinks it is "great" and "amazing" that "so many different groups of Territorians have come together to fight something that's bad for everybody"."I don't have any problems with standing alongside someone of a different political view, as long as they're a nice person," says Ms Mills.She and fellow Senate candidate Ted Hagger were campaigning in Alice Springs on the weekend. Ms Mills says the people they met in the shopping malls took their pamphlets and "showed interest".She says neither of them know the Centre very well, but Mr Hagger can identify with Central Australians' concerns about the "Berrimah line" because "he is from Katherine and in Katherine they feel they are below the Berrimah line as well."A barbecue held for the One Nation candidates on Saturday night was attended by 22 people, some of whom have committed themselves to helping in the final week of the election campaign.Ms Mills says it is likely that a branch of One Nation will be formed In Alice Springs after the election.She says One Nation in the Territory has not encountered the hostility that the party and its leader Pauline Hanson have in other parts of Australia."I've lived in Darwin all my life and I guess we are just more tolerant here of everybody," she says."People here accept that One Nation is just a group of people voicing their opinion and as long as they are not hurting anyone, that's fine."Also, my Mum is from the Philippines. "People see my Asian descent and that has stopped a lot of flak."The Territory One Nation publicity material also keeps away from the confrontational targeting of race-based issues.One Nation's candidate for the Territory's seat in the House of Representatives, Peter Schirmer, confines himself to veiled statements such as "no one group should be disadvantaged over another regardless of race, colour or religion."His other major concerns - for small business, and job and family security for all Australians - are broadly expressed, as are Ms Mills' concerns about democracy and youth."We deliberately kept our discussion of issues very broad, so that people could see that we are not just a one issue party," says Ms Mills."In the next Territory election, when we'll have a lot more candidates, we'll be getting down to the nitty-gritty of policies."However, Ms Mills says the party does feel very strongly about accountability by those spending taxpayers' dollars, "not only Aboriginal organisations but all levels of government".She also says that there appears to be community "discontent" over Aboriginal land claims and sacred sites "being thrown about, willy nilly".

WHY I'LL BE VOTING "YES". COMMENT by JUNE TUZEWSKI.

On the Federal election campaign trail in 1975, Liberal Party leader Malcolm Fraser stood at a rowdy public meeting in Darwin and dropped a bombshell: "Statehood in five years!" The statement came as a surprise to almost everyone present, including our local politicians. While Fraser didn't deliver on statehood, partly because even the CLP thought five years was a bit rushed, we did achieve self-government in 1978. Statehood did not spark much public interest until it became a major issue during the run-up to the NT election in 1977. The Labor Party was not represented in the Assembly at that time. But Labor Senator, Ted Robertson, the trade union movement and other local pressure groups argued strongly that there was a need for a referendum to gauge Territorians' opinion on the statehood question. As with all elections, the result does not necessarily measure the impact of any one issue. However, it is generally believed that concern over statehood, and a lack of commitment to a referendum by the Government, did undermine the CLP vote, although they maintained a healthy majority in the parliament. Since those times the quest for statehood has been progressed slowly but surely by successive Chief Ministers. There has been extensive consultation, over many years, by the bipartisan Sessional Committee on Constitutional Development, several conferences and the Statehood Convention earlier this year. Yet there are many who ask "why the rush?". The fact is that the constitutional status of the Northern Territory has been discussed, debated and argued over since long before self-government became a reality for Territorians. Regular readers of this column would be well aware that while much of that debate did not involve all the general population, it was certainly on the agenda of the decision-makers and politicians, and widely canvassed. It has taken over 20 years for Territorians to have the opportunity to stake a claim to become Australia's seventh state, 20 years to have the referendum which was argued for by the ALP, trade unions and other groups in the 1977 campaign. That there should be debate is only right and proper. However, many comments have served to highlight issues which, while they may be important, are not directly relevant to our vote on October 3. The issue to address on voting day is "Do you agree that the Northern Territory should become a State?" Current spokesperson for Territorians for Democratic Statehood (TDS), Northern Territory University constitutional lawyer, Peter McNab has, in the last few days, released legal advice obtained from Melbourne constitutional lawyer Ron Castan QC. This follows media statements made earlier last week from former Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Harry Gibbs. Both men agree that the draft constitution's for the appointment of the Governor of the new state at the Premier's pleasure is in direct contravention of the Commonwealth's Australia Act. I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that there is nothing here which cannot be fixed. Indeed as a delegate to the Statehood Convention earlier this year, the very matter was raised by delegates as to what would occur in the event of something being proposed by the convention which was inadvertently illegal. The answer was that the final constitution would comply with all aspects of Australian law current at the time, whenever it may be. Mr McNab was also a delegate at that Convention. Returning to the legal advice from Mr Castan: he also views the proposed referendum question as fatally flawed, and states that the referendum has not been properly authorised under the Self Government Act. This has been rebuffed by the office of Acting Chief Minister, Denis Burke, and no doubt we will be hearing more on this issue. Further, Mr Castan says that the referendum question is illegal because it is confusing. It is not "meaningful, clear or unequivocal‚ and cannot lawfully be submitted to the electors under the Referendums Act."Speaking with Mr McNab over the weekend, he advised me that while TDS would like to press ahead with an injunction it was unlikely that could happen within the few days left to October 3. The matters raised are serious but have to be properly explored within the legal framework that this country is fortunate to have in place. They do not fall within the ambit of "Do I want Statehood?" They fall within the legal requirements needed to enable me - and you - to cast a vote, and have to be sorted out at that level. I understand that if the referendum goes ahead on Saturday, there is still a legal process - through the Court of Disputed Returns - which can be followed for those concerned with the legalities. The most serious matter is the confusion over the question. In answering "yes" do we endorse the draft constitution in addition to agreeing to the NT becoming a state? If we put the legal aspects raised by Mr Castan QC aside, we should note the following:
Prime Minister Howard has stated clearly that a "yes" vote is a vote for statehood, not the draft constitution.
Chief Minister, Shane Stone, on the ABC - while not admitting he made a blue - did say he could have expressed himself more clearly, and that a "yes" vote refers only to statehood, not the draft constitution
Deputy Opposition Leader, John Bailey, also on the ABC, has said that the ALP had sought legal advice. He indicated that the vote referred only to "Do you agree that we should become a State?"
The Mayors of Darwin, Katherine, Tenant Creek and Alice Springs have all given public support to a "yes" vote. While the lawyers will probably have their day in court at some time, politically at least there seems to be some agreement that we are voting "yes" or "no" for statehood, not the constitution. There are a number of other matters which have captured attention, and which I feel should be addressed. Much has been made of the Federal Government's overturning of the NT's euthanasia legislation. During the debate at the time, Liberal politician Kevin Andrews told Federal Parliament that "Territorians do not have rights ... they have responsibilities." Senator Bob Brown from Tasmania recently stated he wishes to introduce the same procedures at a Federal level to overturn our mandatory sentencing laws. Now, you and I may or may not agree with the Territory Parliament's legislation on these or other matters, including the way statehood has been handled. If we don't like the Government's actions we can vote them out next time around. But why should politicians from other states interfere? Are there no problems in their own electorates? Others too, particularly those from interstate, say that, because the Territory has this or does that, we are not fit to be a state. Are these justifiable arguments against statehood? We could say NSW can't manage its water supply, or we don't like WA's laws with regard to juvenile crime. Can these states really govern themselves? Look at Tassie. One could put forward that their Liberal and Labor politicians colluded to alter their voting system - to keep out One Nation and other minority groups - without taking the matter to their voters. And, we are still faced and threatened with being sliced up and given to Queensland and Western Australia by other politicians. Where is our protection? Certainly not in being a Territory. Further, why should where we choose to live be instrumental in determining our constitutional status? Do people suffer a particular personality change living here? On the whole I don't think the Territory population is much different from the rest of Australia. The matter of the draft Constitution, its merits or otherwise have been and are being discussed at length. But do you really think that those politicians in Canberra are not going to dissect, and argue, every inch of the way - not only over what sort of constitution the Territory should or should not have, but also over every other NT matter still under their control - national parks, uranium mining and royalties, industrial relations and land rights. The very fact that we have so many federal politicians eager to have a say on Territory statehood becomes, strangely, our best protection, but only if we vote "yes" and allow the matter to press ahead. Not to be forgotten either, is the fact that there will be another Northern Territory election before even the earliest possible date for statehood. While the process of recent steps towards statehood may be criticised, we are not voting on the process. We are voting for or against the principle of statehood. A "no" vote on election day will stop the debate in its tracks. A "yes" vote can carry the statehood matter to a fuller debate in a wider sphere. It gives an opportunity to all Territorians to put their individual and collective points of view to a forum which should, hopefully, be more objective and less emotional. John Howard as Prime Minister has given in-principle commitment to Territory Statehood for January 2001, but it still has to go through the due process of the Federal Parliament and produce a constitution for the Territory which complies with all aspects of Australian law. In voting "yes" we have a chance to become full and equal citizens of Australia, enjoying the same benefits and obligations. We seek no more and, I believe, we should ask for no less. As Territorians we have our own sense of identity and a vision of our future. There is increasing dialogue between Aboriginal and other Territorians all working towards resolving difficult issues. That does not mean that everything runs smoothly, but we all wish to move the Territory forward. We should delay no longer. Let's get on with the job and vote "yes"!

LETTER WRITERS HAVE THEIR SAY.

Sir,- Since the rise of strong and well disciplined political parties this century, lower houses do not control the executive. The reverse is true: the executive government is in control. Parliament is simply a rubber stamp for decisions that have already been made.In my view the only effective way to make the Prime Minister / Premier subject to some degree of control by parliament is to have an upper house elected by some form of proportional representation.Executive governments hate this check on their power. They believe that they should not be frustrated by a hostile upper house. Keating referred to The Senate as "unrepresentative swill". Yet a bit of frustration is good for the executive, it restrains them, it makes them get broader support for their legislation, it improves the quality of our democracy.The NT Constitution contains nothing to limit the power of the executive government. It will give the executive full control of the levers of power, control over contracts, tendering, the flow of information, all the power of government patronage and yet no effective accountability to parliament.Does any Greatorex voter really think their local member is going to rip into Shane Stone at Question Time in parliament?If the executive government, the Ministers, decide that we won't have an elected Constitutional Convention, then we don't have one! The Convention was appointed by the executive and - surprise, surprise - came up with a constitution that members of the executive said they were happy with. It is a constitution of the executive, by the executive, for the executive!!It defeats the whole purpose of having a constitution. A constitution is supposed to protect our rights and limit the power of the executive. This does the opposite: it limits our rights and protects their hold on the levers of power. It is the type of minimalist constitution that any third world dictator or Premier of Queensland would be happy with.It is a snake oil constitution and those who buy it are being taken for suckers.A few weeks ago Mr Stone said that if we didn't like the constitution then we should vote "no" to statehood at the referendum. Now he is saying that we should all vote "yes" and we can sort out the constitution after the referendum. Weasel words! Unless Mr Stone gives an unequivocal guarantee that we will toss out his snake oil document and have a fair dinkum Constitutional Convention, with a majority of delegates elected in proper elections, then we should vote "no" to his Mickey Mouse referendum question.Otherwise we will deserve the shafting we and our children will eventually get.
Ian Sharp
Alice Springs

Sir,- One year ago Yulara's residents lost their right to self determination.One year ago Yulara's residents lost their local government council.One year ago Yularan people showed their overwhelming support for their democratically elected council, but the NT government stomped on them, took their rights away and now that same government is telling Territorians how Canberra has "kicked us in the guts".It is hypocrisy at its greatest.How can one trust a government which scolds Canberra for treating us as second class citizens, when it has already treated and continues to treat its own Yularan residents as second class citizens in their own Territory.Until there is a democratic constitution that protects our own residents from being ‘kicked in the guts" by their own government than vote "no" for statehood.
Gerry Wood
Howard Springs

Sir,- I want the Territory to become a State. I believe in it. I want to vote "yes" to statehood. But unless between now and polling day the Chief Minister unequivocally and irrevocably commits the NT Government to firstly, a fully popularly elected constitutional convention to draft a people's constitution; secondly, a referendum on whether to accept that constitution; and thirdly, the submission of the approved constitution to Canberra as what Territorians want, then I am voting "no". Why will I vote "no"? Because the processes comprising the ditching of the 10 years of work of the Sessional Committee, the Chief Minister's appointed convention, the draft minimalist constitution it produced and the October 3 referendum itself, represent to me, a long time Territorian, a totally unacceptable invasion of my rights and those of all Territorians, to have a say in statehood, and a say in our future. It is a matter of principle. Democracy denied is democracy forsaken. I will not go along with that. It is not the fact of statehood, but the constitution which will define our future. Not the politics of division but the maturity of leadership which will define our social cohesion. And not elitism and exclusion, but inclusion, which will guide the fulfilment of our potential. The assertion that a "no" vote on October 3 is a missed opportunity or a 10 or 20 year delay is nonsense. Anything less than a resounding "yes" would have real leaders in our community admitting that the process was wrong and immediately and urgently setting out a timetable for a democratic process to achieve statehood on the turn of the millennium, as the Prime Minister has promised. From the time that the Chief Minister announced his appointed convention to when that convention produced its dodgy (and unconstitutional) draft constitution was eight months. It could be done democratically within the same time if our leaders had the will, and the guts. The idea that a "no" vote in protest may destroy for a long time or forever our aspirations for statehood should be seen for what it is. A scare tactic.
Lex Silvester
Howard Springs

Sir,- I am a (now retired) keen supporter of the NT, having had an office and staff in Darwin and Katherine during the 1960s and 1970s. I experienced and survived the horrors of "Tracy", negotiated the sale of approximately 60 cattle stations and exported equipment, cattle and expertise to Indonesia.This resulted in a widespread knowledge of the NT's vast and varied appeal.And so, with the deep seated affection understood only by those who know it well, I express my extreme concern at Mr Stone's seemingly illegal, but certainly unconstitutional, moves unilaterally to propose the appointment of Governor - by himself alone. Serious risks of autocracy are obvious.Australia's enviable stability of government, both Federally and in its six states, since Federation has succeeded precisely because of the avoidance of excessive power resting in the hands of politicians. The inclusion of an Australian representative of the Crown has given us a system the envy of the world.Changes to that system, which has stood the test of 97 years of peaceful performance, were attempted at the February convention in Canberra by the Australian Republican movement and others at a cost of $40 to $50 million of taxpayer funds.Such costly proposed changes have now been roundly condemned, not by "Conservatives" so much as by Mr Stone's own republican colleagues of integrity and expertise in a UNSW publication called Forum.A summary of the 51 criticisms therein will be available on the web from September 30, at: http://members.aol.com/machadie/Gibson.htm. This summary was prepared not to resist change, rather to encourage Australians to cast an informed vote at next year's referendum.A vote unfettered by emotive cries of "Kick out the Queen", "Resident for President", "Australian Head of State"; rather a vote on issues of more real and fundamental importance, the checks and balances on autocratic politicians.I commend Forum to Mr Stone, indeed to all Territorians and Australians as essential reading for those seeking that informed vote, both for the NT's and Australia's continuing future stability.Could Mr Stone tell us why he retains his self-appointed "Q.C." when "S.C." would the better reflect his republicanism.Could Mr Stone also tell us whether, on his recent visit to the Queen at Balmoral, he advised her that he planned to take over the functions of the Crown from a NT Constitution? If not, what was the purpose of the visit?To obtain a copy of Forum call 02 9385 2237, leave your name and address, and a copy will be sent with an invoice for $10.Finally I quote from The Parliamentarian magazine: "No one should consider changing something they don't fully understand."
Philip L. Gibson
Woollahra, NSW

Sir,- The Howard Government's Centrelink offices are in chaos, and desperately under funded.On its first birthday (Thursday, September 24) Centrelink is struggling with more than teething problems. The centres are still not capable of providing the services that the unemployed, young people and older Australians need.Centrelink's problems include a faulty computer system that has botched thousands of social security payments. The centres also do not have the resources to answer all the calls they receive, which have broken the record of a million a day.This has put the hard working Centrelink staff under enormous stress and some even fear for their safety from disgruntled customers. The Howard government should be concentrating on creating jobs not restricting access to vital social services and shedding the jobs of Centrelink workers.John Howard has slashed 1300 jobs from Centrelink and plans a further 2,500 next year.Hardly the act of a caring responsible government.
Trish Crossin
Senator for the NT

GREAT NEW CULTURAL PRECINCT - BUT WHO'S IN CHARGE OF WHAT? By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Director of the Strehlow Research Centre, David Hugo, while he welcomes the advent of the cultural precinct, says he was surprised to learn in last week's Alice Springs News that David Whitney, Director of the Araluen Centre, will be heading up the precinct."If there has been a decision, it hasn't been passed on to me," says Dr Hugo.The precinct, in preparation now for opening by April next year, is a planned pulling together of existing cultural interest on adjacent sites - Araluen, the Crafts Council, the Aviation Museum, the Strehlow Centre and the town-council owned Memorial Cemetery and the Frank McEllister Park - with the significant addition of the Museum of Central Australia to be newly housed in the Strehlow Centre.Dr Hugo says, as far as he is aware, there have been no decisions about a corporate structure for the precinct.He says he has been expecting a meeting to discuss what the options might be for the running of the precinct."Mr Whitney is obviously the most senior public servant of the Department of Arts and Museums in Alice Springs, but he has absolutely no authority over the Strehlow Research Centre," says Dr Hugo."He is being preemptive when he speaks on behalf of the cultural precinct. My agency, set up under its own legislation by the NT parliament, knows nothing about his apparent promotion."Mr Whitney says: "There is no need for a corporate structure for the precinct. It's a matter of collaboration between autonomous partners, and clearly the research activity of the Strehlow Centre remains completely independent. However, I have responsibility for the public front of the cultural precinct and the coordination of its various activities."Dr Hugo otherwise welcomes the concept of the precinct and the new uses of the Strehlow Centre.The linking of the museum's natural history display to the Strehlow display will be a "great asset", he says."Marketing has to be carefully handled," says Dr Hugo."We have groups who come specifically for the Strehlow display and they will have to be reeducated about what will be on offer."He also says that the Aboriginal cultural content of the Strehlow display, both qualitative and quantitative, must be preserved, and to this end the Minister, Daryl Manzie, has appointed ATSIC representative, Richard Preece, and Gary Stoll as well as himself from the Strehlow board to liaise over the content of the display. "It's most important that Aboriginal people feel as comfortable with the new display as they do with the existing one," says Dr Hugo. He says there are probably fewer than 100 secular objects - boomerangs, coolamons, clapping sticks and the like - from the Strehlow Collection which, in his view, could be added to the display."We have entered into discussion with Aboriginal people," he says. "The objects most certainly do not include men's ceremonial objects."Other Strehlow artifacts, such as diaries, notebooks and gene-alogies, may also be shown."We first suggested changes to our display in 1995. It has been agreed that its experiential character needs to be retained. It is not a static museum display. "We use elements of sound and light which give it an interesting feel, not typical of a museum."Dr Hugo also welcomes the extension of the exhibition area into what has been used as a boardroom in the centre, saying that the loss of the room as a conference facility for government and non-government agencies is a small compromise in favour of bigger gains. We are excited by the prospect of the changes," says Dr Hugo.The Aboriginal cultural history display, drawing both on the museum's material and the Strehlow Centre's, will also be enhanced by interpretive links made to the Namatjira Collection and to the newly purchased Battarbee Collection, to be housed at Araluen. (Rex Battarbee was Albert Namatjira's teacher and a fine watercolour landscape artist in his own right.)The context of those collections, in turn, will be enhanced by early Papunya works, owned by the Papunya School, and at present in Darwin awaiting conservation before returning to the Centre, for display at Araluen pending the development of a safekeeping place at Papunya.NEXT: Telling the story of two billion years of natural history.

WARREN SNOWDON: NEED FOR KEEPING AN EYE ON TERRITORY GOVERNMENT SPENDING - BUT HOW?

There should be tighter controls on how the Territory spends Federal grants which make up about 80 per cent of its $2800m budget, according Warren Snowdon, Labor candidate for the NT's only seat in the House of Representatives.He says closer scrutiny of the "tied" grants - roughly one quarter of the allocations - could provide opportunities for preventing misuse of funds.The NT receives nearly five times the national per-capita average in "disability" funding, and seven times the NSW figure."The Commonwealth provides specific purpose payments to the NT, $250m to $300m a year," says Mr Snowdon, the Territory's MHR for eight and a half years until the advent of the Howard Government. "If you took that away the Northern Territory would be on its knees. If those funds are tied we ought to be able to use them as leverage to make sure we get outcomes. The leverage hasn't been used in such a way previously."Mr Snowdon says monitoring and influencing the use by the NT Government of money from Canberra is "very difficult. Once the money is made available you rely on reporting from the Northern Territory Government. You can't look at their books like you can do with ATSIC."If you were to withdraw all that funding, then the only people suffering would be the community, not the Government."Labor's approach to these issues has changed. "My view about it is very clear: we must have a very much more open book approach to the way in which funding is made available as specific purpose payments."I approached the Auditor General about this issue when we were in government. He said there is very little he could do about it, because they can't walk into the NT Government treasury and demand that they open their books."It would also be "very difficult for the Commonwealth to intervene" in untied grants - some 75 per cent of the NT's allocation from Canberra."There have been attempts but it's been very difficult because if the Commonwealth applies an approach to the NT it must apply the same approach to the states."However, there's been a gradual move towards performance-based funding. In the past a lot's been ‘input-based', we'd put money in without getting performance assessments done, or with performance assessments not based on criteria."What's happening more and more now, money's being made available on the basis of agreed outcomes. That's a good direction. That means the government is becoming more accountable."As most observers of the NT know, the government often - not always - makes allocations of funds not on the basis of need, but on the basis of where they think they can get the biggest political bang."Mr Snowdon, similar to the Democrats (Alice News, Sept 23), is firm that his efforts to keep a check on the NT Government would stop short of overriding Territory legislation - although the spectre of such intervention is the centrepiece of the Stone Government's "kick in the guts" pro-statehood campaign."Whatever regrets and reservations I've got about the Territory Government, and about its laws, I don't think we should have a higher power for intervening."Theoretically, when I was Parliamentary Secretary for the Territories, the Administrator of the NT reported to me. Yet we never, ever sought to withdraw or review any law passed by the NT Government. Never. Ultimately, the Northern Territory is a self governing entity. And ultimately, the NT community has the ability to turf out the NT Government."We live in a Federation where we accept regional government - meaning in this case the Northern Territory Government."We accept it has rights and responsibilities of its own. If the community believes the government is failing it can get rid of it. I can't see any circumstances where a Commonwealth government of any political persuasion would choose to use its powers to override a state or territory government.[The only occasion followed the successful Andrews Bill which brought on the overturning of the voluntary euthanasia law.]"Our political development has been such - historically - as to accept if you provide people the capacity to make laws, and to administer their affairs, they should be able to do it without interference."I think this is an appropriate thing to do, I don't believe we should be able to dictate."However, Mr Snowdon says on the way to statehood there should be "a very close examination" of what kind of representation the constitution provides."There is a case, because of the nature of the NT community, for arguing for proportional representation, possibly fewer members in the Legislative Assembly, based on multi member constituencies."Mr Snowdon, whose party recommends a "yes" vote in the statehood referendum, says this would in no way be an endorsement of the draft constitution passed by the NT Legislative Assembly."Our position is there will have to be another constitutional convention which is inclusive, and whose delegates are correctly elected, on the basis of proportional representation, in a democratic process."The delegates could be individuals or members of groups, so long as they are elected in a process similar to voting for the Senate."You set up a system where you get the broadest possible representation, on the basis of a democratic vote of all the electorate."Mr Snowdon says unless the NT statehood process has bipartisan support in the Federal Parliament, "it won't get up. It will need the support of both Houses of Parliament."Senator Brian Harradine was at the Kalkiringi meeting [organised by the Central Land Council]."He made it very clear he didn't support the process the NT Government has put in place."The Democrats have made it clear they don't support it, and neither does the ALP."As things stand now, not even John Howard supports the process."He says the constitution needs more than just a "rubber stamp of Shane Stone's private club".Mr Snowdon says the State of the Northern Territory will be a member of the Federation not by virtue of being a Foundation State, but through Commonwealth legislation.He says: "Ultimately, the Commonwealth always will have the ability to change that law."Unless there is a referendum of the whole of the Commonwealth, incorporating the new state, it will be done under Section 121 of the Australian constitution."It says a new state can be admitted under the terms and conditions which the Parliament determines."On other matters:-Asked why is there not a more vibrant sense of enterprise in Central Australian bush communities, given the world-wide fascination with Aboriginal art and culture, Mr Snowdon said: "Most of the commercial opportunities in the bush, and even here in Alice Springs, exist as a result of Federal funds."Furthermore, many people don't have the educational background that you and I have, to be able to start a businesses, or act commercially."So, they rely heavily, in fact, totally in most instances, on outlays from governments."Potentially there is a way out but it's only going to happen when [governments] stimulate regional economies."Labor is proposing regional structures where we try and develop the skill base within regions, try and find out what are the attributes of the regions."It's a mistake to believe that all Aboriginal people want to be artists or act as dancers or guides. They don't."You've got to provide people with options. They need to be integrated into the wider economy far more than they are."Work [to develop such a strategy] is currently being done by the Central Land Council and mining companies in the Tanami." Mr Snowdon concedes there is only a small number of Aboriginal people working at the Granites gold mine but says this is "a start".He says: "The skill base is very narrow."If you go to any of the communities away from the spine of the Stuart Highway, there is not one of them with a decent post primary school program."I think it's criminal, frankly."At the football the other day, three people spoke to me about getting letters from me."Two of those people said, thank you very much, but I can't read."

NICK DONDAS: TOP END PROJECTS BOON FOR CENTRAL AUSTRALIA?

Alice Springs will benefit from the economic boom sparked by the Jabiluka uranium mine, as well as the defence build-up in the Top End, according to Nick Dondas, the Territory's sitting Member of the House of Representatives.He also claims that smaller land councils would create jobs and businesses in the bush, while the CDEP "work for the dole" scheme should be expanded.Standards of education in the non-urban regions should be lifted by making parents more responsible, and by creating secondary schools meeting the special needs of Aboriginal people.And Mr Dondas stresses that any tax reform by a Howard government would not deprive the NT of its current "disability" funding from Canberra, supplying 75 per cent of the NT $2800m budget, nearly five times as much per head of population when compared to the rest of the nation."We get a level of funding which has been satisfactory to date," says Mr Dondas"We have a very sparse population in a very large area, and those sparse populations should not be treated any differently for services than those people living in country towns elsewhere in Australia."In a wide-ranging interview with the Alice News Mr Dondas said the Jabiluka project is "very important".He said: "It will generate $3.5b worth of exports over the life of the mine, some 1500 jobs out there, with the flow-on into other industries and jobs in the region for back-up."The Jabiluka mine may be in Kakadu but there are spin-off benefits in terms of the Territory budget. If the economy is booming in one area you are able to share the economic benefits. "If you have a good budget you can build more roads, you can put more infrastructure into Alice Springs, Tennant Creek - wherever!"While the armed forces are preparing to move sections of the Infantry to Darwin, the US-Australian base Pine Gap is expanding in The Centre: "The 160 houses they're building in Alice Springs will be good for the whole area."Excerpts from the interview:-
News: What will the Darwin railway - if it's ever built - do for Alice Springs?
Dondas: Not if - when! There's a firm commitment. Alice Springs will be a major hub. Rail transport will provide cheaper freight.
News: We already have a railway to Alice Springs. What benefit would we get from extending it?
Dondas: People talk about the Darwin - Berrimah Line syndrome which I've never accepted is there. You now talk about an Alice Springs zone - anything north of Bond Springs you're not interested in?The railway is going to have great economic benefits, in terms of construction, it'll create employment, a lot of people who're unemployed in Alice Springs will have the opportunity of getting a job. Service providers will be able to take part in the construction.
News: What about when the construction is finished?
Dondas: We'll get cheaper freight. The Ghan is now spreading its wings to Melbourne and Sydney. As I see economic benefits for the whole area from Jabiluka, I see them also from the railway.
News: If we were to add people in CDEP to the NT's official unemployment rate it would balloon to around 15 per cent instead of 4.2 per cent, and make us the nation's jobless basket case. According to the Ian Spicer report commissioned by ATSIC, the scheme has no formal targets and its outcomes are not monitored systematically in terms of social benefits, progression to the mainstream workforce nor creation of viable businesses. The NT participation rate in the scheme is 26 times greater when compared to the rest of the nation. Is it not fair to say that CDEP is concealing the true unemployment rate, and does little more than make Shane Stone's principal economic indicator look much better than it really is?
Dondas: We have 7800 CDEP participants in the NT and I'd like to see that increase to 10,000.It is my understanding that the CDEP programs in the NT are the best in Australia.There seems to be a higher level of activity in communities with CDEP, a higher level of self-esteem, and they are much happier because they are doing something for themselves.For example, the Aputula (Finke) community is using CDEP to provide road maintenance for the Department of Works.
News: What percentage of the CDEP work force has been absorbed into the mainstream labour force?Dondas: I couldn't answer that question. Give me a couple of weeks and I'll find out. As you would know, there is very little economic activity in some of the communities in terms of economic development.You have a number of people on CDEP learning to maintain their houses, doing a bit of painting and putting fences up, keeping the place nice and clean.That's why I am a very strong advocate of smaller land councils which would create a better economic base, so some of these people from CDEP could go into a permanent work force.
News: Until that happens, would it not be reasonable to regard people outside conventional work as unemployed?
Dondas: It is a program we've maintained. It was put in by the former government.Most CDEP programs operate on the basis of no work, no pay, and some people are being paid handsomely.I've seen CDEP pay sheets as high as $900 for the fortnight, that was CDEP in conjunction with a contract.
News: Would a new Howard Government leave the responsibility for CDEP with ATSIC or transfer it to another instrumentality, such as Centrelink?
Dondas: There has never been any discussion that it should go anywhere other than ATSIC.
News: How would smaller land councils help to end the economic stagnation in the bush?
Dondas: The Northern Land Council (NLC) and the Central Land Council (CLC) are trying to keep our indigenous people back in the 20th century.Smaller land councils will take them into the 21st century, give the people direction, the opportunity of making decisions on economic development, be it through mining, tourism or pastoral activities; there is a whole range of prospects.Have a look at Tiwi Island and the development and the prosperity that their smaller land council has accomplished.They are in forestry projects, tourism, clothing design.The Tiwi Council leased land from the traditional owners and built a police station which they now rent to the NT government.There are prospects for doing this with health clinics or any other infra structure, including staff housing.The communities themselves can make these decisions, for their own betterment.I think NLC and CLC played a very important role in the earlier implementation of the NT Land Rights Act, but there are people out in the bush who are saying, "Look, we now need to have economic development, preserve our culture, and we need to make decisions regarding our areas for ourselves."
News: We reported recently that Batchelor College is, by and large, unable to enrol young Aboriginal people because they just don't have the basic schooling.
Dondas: Parents have a responsibility to make sure kids go to school. Not enough has been done about truancy, but it's very difficult in remote areas.On the cultural side there have always been difficulties. Education seems to stop when the young fellows go through their cultural changes.This is my own personal view. When kids drop out after primary school they should be encouraged to come back, not so much to a TAFE, because they don't have the educational skills, but to some form of college where they can pick up from where they've left off when they were 11 and 12.I am supporting a pilot project at Port Keats run by the community itself, which is investing in it $100,000. They approached the Catholic education system and said, "We want our kids taught to read and write, after they've gone off and done their cultural obligations."Under the scheme, kids aged 14 to 18 can go back to a college to learn how to read and to write and a little bit of arithmetic, and to do timber work, welding, painting and other skills required for life in the outback.That's what needs to be done, I believe, throughout the whole of the NT.When these kids have left the system, and have gone through their ceremonies, then it is a bit difficult for them to go back to a primary school system. "We're men now," they say!
News: There is practically no secondary education in the bush.
Dondas: You've got your Yirara and Kormilda colleges, they get funded very very heavily. There's also St John's in Darwin and St Philip's in Alice Springs.
News: Does than mean the kids must come into town, leaving their communities, to get their secondary education?
Dondas: It happens all the time. Kids leave home to go to school. It would be very hard to have a secondary school at Papunya, or other small communities with, say, 300 or 400 people. You just can't have a high school in every community. You need to have them in the major centres where the training, recreational and accommodation facilities are available. It would be nice to have 100 secondary schools scattered throughout the Territory but it would be very hard on the taxpayer.
News: Do new technologies, such as satellite communications, offer novel teaching opportunities?
Dondas: If kids in the bush want an education, they'll get it. Kids from the NT go to boarding schools all around Australia. That opportunity exists for every kid in Australia. There has got to be, I think, a firmer determination by the parents and the kids themselves, and nobody else can be held responsible.Even in areas where they have primary schools, there needs to be a greater parent involvement in terms of making the kids go to school so at least they can pick up the rudimentary learning. How many times have you been in the bush and there's an enrolment of 250 kids at the school, and only 60 are present? Where are the others?
News: The teachers are the most strongly unionised sector of the work force in the NT. They were involved in the most serious recent industrial dispute. Should industrial relations be a Commonwealth responsibility or one for the Territory one when it becomes a state?
Dondas: Victoria has handed industrial relations back to Canberra. I don't have a position on where the responsibility should lie. Whatever is best for the government. [Federal Industrial Relations Minister] Peter Rieth said the decision will be made by the Territory government of the day.

POLLIES GET STAGE FRIGHT IN DRAMA CLUB FUNDING ROW.

Arts Minister Daryl Manzie, before a trip to Indonesia, was in Alice Springs last week, inviting locals to meet with him, but failed to respond to a request for a meeting from the theatre company, Centre Stage, to discuss it crisis.Its director, Bryn Williams, says discussions with officials from Mr Manzie's department were fruitless, and Mr Manzie himself failed to return two phone calls.Public outrage followed the announcement last week that Centre Stage would close -after five years and a string of acclaimed productions - because Mr Manzie recently refused even minor funding to the all-volunteer organisation.Centre Stage has nearly 100 members, including 70 aged under 16.Meanwhile, Mr Manzie is providing extensive financial support to the Darwin-based Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre.The Alice News asked all Members of Parliament in Central Australia for a comment on the issue. Loraine Braham (Braitling) and Richard Lim (Greatorex) ignored the request.The office of Eric Poole (Araluen) advised he would make no comment.MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink said Centre Stage "has a problem with acquitting money provided" - an assertion Mr Williams rejects.Mr Elferink says the bottom line is the Government has responsibilities for the way public money is spent."Alice Springs gets, per capita, more arts money than any other community in the Territory," says Mr Elferink, a former member of Centre Stage.He says he has no details about such funding and would leave the Centre Stage issue to Mr Manzie to deal with.Mr Williams says the matter of acquittals has not been raised by the department, nor were they referred to in Mr Manzie's letter rejecting the grant application."Now it seems the Government are going on another tack because their assertion that we're trading beyond our means cannot be sustained," says Mr Williams.Mr Elferink has not spoken to him.Peter Toyne (Stuart) says he is "totally outraged" that the group should fold because funding "for such a small amount" has been denied by the NT Government.He says Centre Stage is providing a "vital service" for young people interested in activities other than sport.Groups such as Centre Stage are especially important in Alice Springs where people are less likely to have access to a big family network.Mr Toyne says the 150-odd young people with whom his own son has contact with includes several who have attempted suicide.Low school retention rates, violence and substance abuse are causing constant concern about young people in Alice Springs."There are lots of lost souls among them," says Mr Toyne, and Centre Stage has provided an "absolutely crucial" activity.Mr Williams says it is "pointless" to even think about continuing while government "recognition is not given" to the group's efforts.He says the government's rejection, and allegations that the group is "trading beyond its means", come when Centre Stage has paid off 84 per cent of its debts - all through fees and fund raising, including the highly successful Full Monty shows at Lasseter's Casino.Mr Williams says the only remaining debt is $5000 to the Youth Centre, to which it has paid $30,000 in rent over the past five years."We're not behind in current rent," says Mr Williams.Mr Manzie's department has paid $100,000 in rent, for 10 years, for the Darwin -based Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre.The NT Government also gives CIYT financial support, denied to Centre Stage, for staff and other purposes.
Sir,- I've been dressmaking for about 20 years, I've dressed many brides, but it can't compare to the self-fulfillment of seeing Centre Stage Theatre (CST) members perform in my costumes.I'm proud and honoured to make costumes for CST. It's not a paid job, the reward is in seeing the kids on stage in the costumes I have designed and made. They are the best group of kids, they appreciate what I do and they feel special in their costumes.The kids are so professional, it's important to costume them professionally. The costume is an important factor in them being convincing in their roles. If they feel they are costumed well to suit their part, they perform better.I could write a book on "frugal costuming". I have made costumes from bargain fabrics, remodelled existing costumes, revamped St Vinnie's dresses, begged, borrowed and stolen to costume some productions.The red velvet and satin I used for the Romeo and Juliet costumes came from the old curtains at the casino. When there is little money, you have to make do, though the productions have always looked lavish. I'm a mother of four, I know how to budget and make the most from the resources I have.Everyone on the team, from our brilliant director Bryn, to Pierre, our lighting director, Marg and anyone involved in hair and makeup, always excels in what they do with each new production. It's an unpaid job for us all but we love what we do and we do it for the best bunch of young actors this town has seen. It will indeed be a sad day to see CST go.I have a daughter whose love and passion is CST. I don't know if any boyfriend could "fit its shoes" if it folds! Since she has been involved in CST, over the last four years, she has gained so much confidence. If you can get up and act in front of a few hundred people, you can just about face anything.I don't think she would have had the confidence to apply and be accepted as a member of the Chief Minister's Round Table of Young Territorians had it not been for her involvement with CST.There will be a void for youth if CST goes under. The town can't allow it to happen. We should all be behind them on this one.My involvement over the past four years with CST has been the highlight of my sewing career. Though sometimes I've been stressed and thought I'd ever meet deadlines, still sewing before the curtain went up, I wouldn't have missed it for quids.The CST kids felt like my family, as they feel like Bryn's too. I'd do it all again for them.I've seen the 16 year olds go on to their acting careers in Adelaide, Perth etc, and the 12 year olds blossom into multi-talented, mature 16 year olds. The "babies" are now moving up into the minor junior roles. I've been involved in every production and seen the talent improve from year to year.I think it's very hypocritical to spend all that money to develop the Araluen cultural precinct but not do anything to nurture the home-grown talent, and this town has so much. We need the likes of Bryn to develop these children to their full potential.If we lose Bryn, CST loses a brilliant director, and also Catholic College drama students lose out too.I would like to get up on my soapbox and speak out for the cause of CST, but I'm not a good public speaker. I never had the chance to develop these skills at a youth theatre, like my daughter has. She's now speaking at the same table as the Chief Minister, and she wouldn't be there if she hadn't been doing drama with Bryn.
Carmel Ryan,
Alice Springs

BOOZE BOSS FIRM BUT NOT FERVENT. REPORT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

It cannot be said that Liquor Commission boss Peter Allen is consumed by a fervour to save the world.When it was put to him that a great deal of the work done by our hospitals, police, courts and gaols, costing us hundreds of millions a year, is caused by abuse of the substance he's charged with controlling, he said: "Everyone knows that liquor is an issue and that many people have difficulties dealing with their liquor intake, but that's not to say that everybody has a problem."I think it is the Liquor Commission's role is to ensure it pays attention to everybody's needs, both those groups who do need to manage their liquor consumption and those people who are well capable of enjoying a social drink and are looking for the opportunity to do so."It's a sober statement considering lively debate rekindled by the success - which he fully acknowledges - of the revolutionary Tennant Creek alcohol sale restrictions.But as matters stand, Mr Allen is adamantly opposed to transplanting them to Alice Springs.His position is that the commission has, by law, two principal functions: to crack down on offenders against the Liquor Act; and to assist in implementing measures for which there is a clear community demand.He's quite overtly mindful of the rights and interests of the people making a living from selling what's after all a perfectly legal product - probably not in the least because they'd jump on him from a great height if he didn't. Mr Allen operates without the bold creativity of his predecessor, John Maley, the architect of take-away and front bar restrictions in Tennant Creek.These haven't exactly put the mining town on the wagon: the annual intake, measuring pure alcohol, has dropped from 25 litres for every man, woman and child, to 20 litres - still more than double the nation's average.Why won't Mr Allen bring Tennant's "Thirsty Thursday" to Alice Springs?"There are two reasons," he says."The Act says the commission should have regard to the needs and wishes of the community; in law that means the particular community in which the issue arises."That means the commission must pay attention to the Alice Springs community, in what it wants, and can't simply transport what another community has decided."Mr Allen says when he first took on the job - more than a year ago - the Alice community was divided on the question of restrictions: Shane Arnfield, who's since left town, had gathered 5000 signatures of people opposed to restrictions, whereas other groups "were very vocal in favour of restrictions".Dr John Boffa, of the People's Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC), says the Arnfield petition was never made public, and has not been legally scrutinised for duplicate signatures, nor signatures from people who don't live in Alice Springs. When a similar petition was presented from Tennant Creek it was found that a "large percentage" of the signatures were invalid, according to Dr Boffa.Says Mr Allen: "While I'm sure availability is still an issue in the minds of many people in Alice Springs, the commission's heard very little - virtually nothing - in recent times from the community as to what its needs and wishes are."So, what is the "community" and how does it need to make its point?Says Mr Allen: "What I'm not saying is that the whole community has to agree, but clearly there would have to be community support for whatever scheme is put before the commission by the community."Although nothing's been put forward it's still clear from the few comments I get from the community that they are dissatisfied with what they perceive is the level of public drunkenness, they are dissatisfied with the public behaviour of people within the township, they're concerned about the effect of anti social behaviour on the quality of life here, and the tourist industry."The commission can't for a moment solve all of those problems, and no-one really expects us to, but we can be expected to take a role in any sensible discussions aimed at reducing these problems."It's not appropriate for the commission to tell communities what they should have, but if there is any coalescence of views, we'd be very happy to know about it."However, views are coalescing at snail's pace, mainly under the auspices of the Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA): it sponsors forums, at the rate of just three a year, which are not open to the public (the Alice News attempted to cover the one on August 19 but was asked to leave, although a statement was later made available).Considering that the general "community" is shut out from these gatherings, it would be difficult for Mr Allen to accept their views as representative.Until the forum in August, any discussion on restrictions was barred from even being discussed: the recent setting up of a special workshop dealing with "availability" is seen as a break-through.Furthermore, the Alice Town Council is emerging as a player worth watching: in Tennant, it was local government, in association with the Aboriginal Julalikari Council, which invited the commission to take action.Anything the town council may have to say would need to be regarded by Mr Allen as an expression of community view, requiring action by his commission.The Alice Town Council took part in the last forum, and will be represented at the "availability" workshop on November 2 to which Mr Allen has been invited.Speakers will include Dr Dennis Gray, from the National Centre for Research into the Prevention of Drug Abuse, and researchers Maggie Brady and Peter d'Abbs.The town council has donated $20,000 to DASA to assist the forums.Surprisingly, DASA has passed on that money to a firm of consultants briefed to "facilitate" the discussions, much to the chagrin of at least one alderman.Ald Meredith Camp-bell says she is concerned "about the experience of the consulting firm in relation to the alcohol and other drugs field".She says: "I would also hope that some sort of tendering process had been undertaken."PAAC's Dr Boffa takes the view that DASA, which gets government funding and has its own paid staff, could have done its own "facilitating", and used the money more effectively, for example, to conduct a community survey about what exactly ought to be proposed to Mr Allen.His recent boldest move was imposing the "2K Condition" on all take-away outlets in a bid to counter public drinking.This is what the new regulation requires: "The licensee shall exercise all reasonable care to ensure that liquor is not sold to a person if there are reasonable grounds to believe that such a person is likely to consume that liquor within two kilometres of a licensed premises contrary to the provisions ... of the Summary Offences Act, provided always that this requirement shall not impose any obligation on the licensee to question any customer in this regard."Mr Allen says this will cause licensees to "pause and reflect" about whom they're selling grog to.It seems unlikely to do much more: how do you prove in a court that somebody in business to sell liquor has formed the view that there are "reasonable grounds" for believing that a customer will be breaking the law with the grog he's just bought?Says Mr Allen: "There are a number of premises where everyone knows that the same people, day after day, cross the road to the premises, purchase and then consume more or less immediately, often within plain sight of those premises."The days of licensees to be able to simply serve and forget are coming to an end in many jurisdictions, and the NT is not going to lag behind."It's likely to be a clear breach if a licensee continues to serve people when it can be seen he has every reason to believe those people will consume, in defiance of the law, because he sees those individuals consuming in defiance of the Summary Offences Act most days of the week."My discussions with licensees tell me they know who their regular customers are."Many licensees are well aware of the rationale behind that condition. It was sought in the first place by a licensee."We're happy to have it tested in court."Mr Allen makes it clear that applications for new take-away licences have little chance of success - unlike innovative proposals for on-premises consumption.He says he's surprised that Todd Mall isn't being brought to life. He says: "For most months of the year it's just beautiful outside in Alice Springs. So why haven't we got al fresco dining in the mall?"The commission would certainly be happy to consider licence applications, although I know there are some important matters for the town council to consider."Mr Allen says the anti-social behaviour in the mall may be a factor of it being deserted after dark - a problem likely to diminish if it were full of people.

PLUCKY GALLERY GETS NEW HOME.

Watch This Space, Alice Springs' contemporary arts organisation, has once again a roof over its head!Since late last year, when the lease on its former premises in the old ice factory behind Swingers cafe expired, the Space has been looking for a home.During this time, its members have been involved in the staging of the Baggage show at the Alice Springs Airport, and in the development of a virtual gallery on the Internet (not yet on line).Now, they will relaunch a fully-fledged program, starting with Small Minded II on October 17.All members and artists who exhibited in the old ice factory are invited to submit works not larger than 30 cm by 20 cm for the show, the opening of which will also act as a fundraiser and launch a membership drive. "It will draw everyone's attention to the fact that we're back!" says WTS coordinator Christine Lennard.SHOPFRONTThe new Space is in a shopfront upstairs in the Cummings Plaza, opposite the Flyn Church in Todd Mall. Members felt it was important to stay in the CBD, even if it meant compromising on the size of premises they could afford."It's small but adequate for installations and hanging two dimensional work," says Ms Lennard."There is also the possibility of using the arcade area although we have to be very conscious of the impact we have on other businesses."The Space has a store room and a kitchen area which could be used as a small studio, particularly by visiting artists.Members have been working with leading website designers to develop proposals for the virtual WTS: "If we can find the resources, we want to be able put all exhibitions on the Web, and have pages for each artist, which can show their CV and images of their work," says Ms Lennard."It may also be possible for artists to use the site to sell copyright release for their work."With news of the new Space, the WTS committee has been flooded by exhibition and event proposals, both by local and interstate artists. The Department of Arts and Museums' Cultural Development Division has agreed to funding the Space's rent to the end of the financial year, requiring a new application in November for operational funds.

NEW BOOK BY CENTRAL AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR.

Events in the novel Watersky, by Alice Springs writer Terry Whitebeach, mostly take place in a city called Mordland.This is a medium sized Australian coastal city, big enough for a university, a teaching hospital, and offices of various government departments.Life there can be fairly banal but, as anywhere, it can also jump up and bite you: Mordland can be mordant.So discovers 19 year old Brodie when he realises, through the blanket of his ordinary depression, that he passionately loves his friend since childhood, Geraldine.Scarcely has he had time to rejoice in their love when, in a rage against his father, he crashes the car in which they are driving and kills Geraldine.In the aftermath, he must live with the pain not only of losing her but of having caused her death. There is little comfort on offer: he is tried for manslaughter, acquitted thanks to the efforts of his father who engages a top lawyer. There is no acquittal however by the voices in his head which find him guilty, not so much for a lack of care specifically, but for a lack of worthiness in general. It is a deadly sentence which, for a while, confines him to a psychiatric ward. But overarching Mordland is "watersky".As Whitebeach explains: "Watersky is a term coined in Antarctic exploration. "When ice pilots are searching for a passage through sea ice, they look for reflected blueness in the sky: this indicates clear water ahead, even if the way through is not apparent."This life-saving "reflected blueness" comes in surprising forms: firstly, it does not come immediately from Brodie's parents, as much as they want to support him.It comes rather from the low key friendship for him maintained by his flatmate Atlas, and from the similarly low key friendship offered by new acquaintances: the noisy mob of Cheryl's family, never too poor nor too numerous to welcome a suffering stranger into their midst, and the bruiser Bru and his chick Gaylene.With more difficulty it comes from Jana, who appears in Mordland "out of the blue" and vanishes just as mysteriously. She is an uncomfortable presence, not least of all to herself.We never know more about her than the narrative she offers: she calls herself Jana the Quester and says she does not belong to this time/space zone. She sees Brodie as her young brother Fenna, who has betrayed her and the other Questers by not holding onto the memory of the Song Cycles.She gets to Brodie in a way he can't understand, but the crack in his armour is that he never knew his natural parents. His 14 year old mother gave him up for adoption.As Whitebeach says, Jana is the grit in Brodie's oyster. From it grows a pearl of self-acceptance: Brodie can take himself when he finally learns to take Jana. This grows into a broader acceptance of people, including his parents, the way they are, receiving what is positive, detaching from what is negative. It's a vital step towards survival and adulthood.Watersky is most powerfully Brodie's story but another voice speaks throughout the novel, that of Heather. She is a psychology student, and her story intersects Brodie's through Jana, who becomes the subject of Heather's Honours year case study.This is not to say that Heather's story is in service of Brodie's. It is distinctly her own: her earnest commitment to her work, the courage she must find to stay true to her ideals, her consuming infatuation with the obnoxious Felix, a "radical psychology" academic, and the potential loss of self that she faces in her affair with him.Unlike Brodie, this is not acted out in catastrophe, but nonetheless she has a hard road to travel and we leave her before she reaches its end.Like Brodie, Heather is not a seductive character. The reader engages with each of them as they tell their story: our knowledge of them and feeling for them grow apace with the telling. They are recognisable without ever being stereotypical. They live, and as we reach the end of the novel, we are hopeful for their continued survival.Watersky is written in the first person in both voices, in the rhythm and vocabulary of the spoken word, the colloquial language of contemporary young people. It avoids sensationalism and sentimentality and becomes a compelling narrative, one that you don't want to put down, because you care about what happens.You really want Heather to love someone who is capable of returning her love, and you want her to be good at her work. And you want Brodie to desire to live and to love: the scenes when this desire is awakening in him, both before Geraldine's death when he is brushing her hair and after, when he spends a few days with Atlas exploring caves, are written with an exceptional tenderness and awareness of the subtle beauties of life. The novel is being marketed as a young adult fiction but is equally one that would appeal to any reader interested in well told, insightful and moving story about young adults in Australia today.
NEXT: An interview with the author.

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