ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
December 9, 1998

CONTROVERSY, ENTHUSIASM OVER NEW TOURIST COMMISSION BOARD MEMBERS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

A prominent businessman who copped a record fine in a price fixing sting and has just been appointed to the board of the NT government's tourist commission says he won't discuss whether or not he's done anything wrong.Brian Measey was ordered to pay $150,000 by Justice Mansfield of the Federal Court after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) prosecuted several Central Australian car rental companies and individuals for fixing prices by not discounting rentals to Ayers Rock.More than $1m in costs and fines were imposed, including on Alice Car and Truck Rentals Pty Ltd and Thrifty NT which are part of the Measey group of companies in the Northern Territory.Mr Measey says he's not surprised about his appointment to the commission."Why should I be? I have a substantial investment in the tourist industry."He says he had agreed to an "outcome" of the ACCC action to "save costs and get it over and done with."The ACCC has apparently unlimited funds to fight such a case."ACCC head Alan Fels said following the court ruling in February that the accused had saved considerable court time and costs to all concerned of a lengthy trial."The benefits of that co-operation were considered by the court in making its final orders," said Prof Fels.Justice Mansfield said that Mr Measey was prime mover of the "price fixing conduct".One of the defendants was Hertz manager David Bennett, who was ordered to pay $80,000.Mr Bennett, a former chairman of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA), was a tourist commission board member at the time but resigned soon after, apparently under pressure to do so.Mr Measey's appointment prompted vocal protests at a meeting of CATIA last week, according to a member present.Mr Measey says he's been active in the Territory tourism industry for 30 years and although a resident of Darwin, has substantial investments in Alice Springs.He was appointed together with three other members for a two-year period by Chief Minister and Tourism Minister Shane Stone.Mr Measey says: "I will be doing my utmost for the industry."Tourism is down Australia wide. The Territory isn't on its own."The other new members are pastoralist and roadhouse owner Janet Chisholm; and the Tyrolian-born owner of the hugely successful international car hire company, Britz, Gunter Gschwenter.Grant Hunt, CEO of the Ayers Rock Resort Company, has been reappointed, and chairman John Rowe is staying on until some time next year.Mr Gschwenter has, in 16 years, built up his company from "a couple of mini buses and two four wheel drives" in Melbourne to a fleet of 2000 four wheel drives, cars and motor homes in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Namibia.Up to 1000 of them operate in the NT during peak season.Mr Gschwenter, who owns the 1800 square kilometre Ban Ban Springs cattle station between Adelaide River and Pine Creek, says the main thrust of Territory promotion should be in Europe, targeting affluent people with time on their hands.He says Asia currently offers few opportunities, and people in the USA have money but their holidays are short."People in Europe have time and money, and for them, the Territory is Australia."A push in Europe may be the way to go."He says FIT (free, independent travellers), who make their own arrangements for accommodation, travel and food, are far more valuable to the industry than package tourists who pay overseas and have little spending money when they get here.He says FITs stay longer and spend more - and with a wide range of local businesses from service stations to caravan parks and supermarkets.Mr Gschwenter's company had 35,000 tourists in the NT last year.Mrs Chisholm, who with husband Roy leases Napperby Station near Ti Tree, runs a roadhouse on the Yuendumu Road. She has a Bachelor of Commerce, with a major in marketing, and has worked in marketing in London and Sydney.Ayers Rock Resort CEO Grant Hunt has been reappointed after having served two and a half years on the previous board which, he says, performed "admirably" considering the "outrageous changes in senior management thrust upon it".Mr Hunt says with the appointment of CEO Tony Mayell and marketing director Andrew Clarke "things have started to hum" and "all operators are reporting a fantastic period".Mr Hunt says the properties in which his company has interests have all experienced increased turn-over - King's Canyon 28 per cent, Alice Springs Resort 20 per cent and at the Rock, 16 per cent.Mr Hunt says the past board was too large (12 members).In Australia, the task for the new board will be to "position" the NT in the face of growing opposition from other states which - as a response to the drop in Asian business - are seeking to entice tourists to holiday within their own states.Mr Hunt says Queensland is spending an extra $8m, and SA $9m, on the "holiday in your own state" objective.Internationally, Mr Hunt says the commission should chase further business in countries currently providing a good numbers of tourists - Germany, UK, Italy France, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, and analyse where the future is, emerging markets likely to include Spain, Portugal, smaller European countries, and later South Africa and South America.He says the Ayers Rock Resort, supplying 16 per cent of the NT's tourism and employing the industry's largest single work force, deserved continued support of the commission."We can be more effective together than separately," Mr Hunt says.Meanwhile CATIA is busy creating a "branding" of the region as the "heart and soul of the outback". Says Mr Gunn: "The message is, you're not a real Australian until you've been to the heart and soul of your own country, The Centre."You can go to Bali as often as you like, but you're not a true Aussie until you've been here."CATIA has appointed three new conveners of its "sectors" - Lasseter Casino's Kerry Drayton (accommodation), Dymock's Bev Ellis (retail and attractions) and McCafferty's Kel Davies (transport).The group is considering town council plans for a coach terminal on civic centre land.Mike Gunn, the association's CEO, says one operator claims a "coach load" of international tourists can spend up to $5000 in Todd Mall in 40 minutes. He says, while the season "hasn't been bad", there has been a shift in the business from motels to backpacker-style accommodation ."The self-drive market is on the up and up," he says. Overall, there has been a decrease in tourist numbers and tourist nights, but an increase in "spend". Forward bookings are up on last year.Mr Gunn says the town council will start monitoring tourism figures through its Economic Development Committee.

TANGENTYERE BUSINESS MESS REVEALED AS ACCOUNTANT GETS FINED.

A decision of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) has found improper conduct by an Alice Springs accountant but failed to cast light on the outcome of a disastrous business venture by a prominent Aboriginal organisation, Tangentyere Council, and specifically whether its impoverished clients have suffered disadvantages.It was claimed in the decision that the manager of the Westpac Bank advised Tangentyere that it has "always around $1m in investment" in that bank in Alice Springs.It said the account, from which Westpac diverted $600,000 to be used as loan security for an unsuccessful business venture, had a balance of about $1.4m in June, 1996, mainly housing grant money from ATSIC.However, ATSIC regional manager in Alice Springs, Richard Preece, says the account only reflects the immediate expenditure needs of the council in respect of any ATSIC funding.Mr Preece says he is satisfied that the $1.4m was used for the construction of houses, as intended.According to evidence before the tribunal, Tangentyere's then assistant manager, Ron Lisson, and Westpac's local manager at the time, Peter Cooper, believed "there should be no problem" with the use of the ATSIC money as collateral for the business loan - presumably requiring for the funds to be tied up for a considerable amount of time."I understand that the collapse of the venture was a big loss to Tangentyere," says Mr Preece."However, this loss was met by Tangentyere's own resources, not with public money. ATSIC will not suffer any loss."Tangentyere, an organisation set up to assist Aboriginal people living on "town leases" in Alice Springs, has some business investments, including a share in the Milner Road supermarket and liquor store, as well as real estate.The ill fated venture - the purchase of Territory Business Suppliers (TBS) - came to grief early last year, as reported by the Alice News (see our internet archive February 19 and March 5, 1997). AAT deputy president S. A. Forgie says: "The account was used to hold grant monies paid to [Tangentyere] by ATSIC in the form of special purpose grants."In particular money in the account had been granted for ‘Town Camp Housing Associations' and the aim of the grant was ‘to promote a better quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by ensuring they have access to secure, adequate and appropriate housing at an affordable price'."ATSIC had determined that the money was not to be used for any purpose other than the purpose for which it was granted."Section 20 of the ATSIC Act provides that ATSIC may require repayment of the grant where such conditions are breached."The details came to light when Miss Forgie handed down her decision on an appeal by local accountant Jack Wolstencroft, who acted as Tangentyere's auditor, advisor and landlord in connection with the TBS deal.The Alice News last week asked Tangentyere what steps it is taking to recover the money and which social aid programs have suffered as a result of the loss. As has been the case with several earlier enquiries on the TBS deal, we received no reply.What remains unclear is how Tangentyere will satisfy the interests held by the several independent incorporated organisations running the 18 Aboriginal "town leases", in the ATSIC funds which had been left in Tangentyere's care.The leases are the home of many of Alice Springs' most impoverished and underprivileged residents. While Miss Forgie roundly criticises Mr Wolstencroft's performance as an auditor, she says little about any role he may have had as an advisor beyond initial enquiries relating to the TBS deal.In fact, in her decision she writes that Mr Lisson took over the negotiations with Westpac before the loan deal was finalised.This raises the question whether Tangentyere has knowingly breached ATSIC grant conditions expressed in the clearest possible terms.Miss Forgie upheld Mr Wolstencroft's appeal against an 18 months suspension imposed on him by the Companies Auditors and Liquidators Disciplinary Board.Miss Forgie ordered instead that Mr Wolstencroft must, at his own expense, have each audit which he undertakes between January 1 and September 31 next year "independently reviewed by a registered auditor". She imposed several other conditions.Miss Forgie found that Mr Wolstencroft, whose practice deals mainly with Aboriginal organisations, was in a commercial relationship with Tangentyere.'COMPROMISED'"This actually compromised his independence [as an auditor] and not merely the appearance of his independence," says the decision.Miss Forgie says Tangentyere was looking for business opportunities in 1995 and Mr Wolstencroft told Mr Lisson that TBS, which was in receivership, was for sale. Mr Wolsten-croft prepared a draft cash flow and projections and proposed Tangentyere should ask the National Australia Bank in Alice Springs for a loan "so that the business would be assessed on the basis of a commercial enterprise without any hint of its being regarded as a social welfare activity".Mr Wolstencroft later forwarded to Westpac the submission he had put to the National Bank, according to Miss Forgie.From this time Mr Lisson took over the negotiations with Westpac, resulting ultimately in a loan from that bank for the purchase of TBS, says Miss Forgie. It became clear that Tangentyere - through its wholly-owned company, Coeburn - could not raise sufficient funds to buy TBS as well as the premises from which it operated, the FAI Building in Gregory Terrace.A company owned by Mr Wolstencroft and his wife, Sharon, then bought the building and leased the shop to Coeburn, Tangentyere's company.Mrs Wolstencroft became a director of Coeburn at a time when she was an employee of her husband's practice.Miss Forgie says she finds, and Mr Wolstencroft admitted, that in a subsequent audit he had made no reference at all to the $600,000, and the transfer of the sum from the grant account to a term deposit intended as security for the TBS loan.TBS was bought in November, 1995, for $441,000 but the business soon went down hill.A report by accountants Sims Lockwood in September 1996, says Miss Forgie, showed TBS had "incurred trading losses which had led to a loss of working capital."Losses of up to $30,000 per month had been incurred over the previous three to four months."[The report] went on to make various criticisms of the manner in which TBS was being managed and operated."No business plan could be produced, no cash flow forecasts had been prepared and there were inadequacies in the manner which the accounting records had been maintained," says Miss Forgie."Various recommendations, including an injection of capital of $200,000 were recommended on the basis that [Tangentyere] considered that TBS had long term viability."TBS was closed down by a receiver and manager on February 6, 1997.The SA state director of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, John Stokes, says now that the AAT matter is concluded, the institute will look at the decision and then decide whether to take the matter before the national disciplinary committee.

COMMUNITY ORGANISATIONS DESERVE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT. COMMENT by JUNE TUZEWSKI.

Just as there are individuals who are quiet achievers, so too are there organisations which quietly provide services to our community and help our family, friends and neighbours when required. Many of these services were started by locals to meet the varying needs of Territorians and we have become so used to their presence, we often take them for granted. One of the oldest of them is St Mary's Family Services, run under the auspices of the Anglican Church. The first Anglican Minister arrived here from Brisbane in 1933 when the town was still called Stuart. He began his ministry at the Telegraph Station and it was not until three years later that the first Anglican Church opened in Bath Street. After the war there was a growing awareness by the Anglican community that some parents in Central Australia needed support in accessing better education for their children. The top floor of the building behind the Church had provided some accommodation for bush children. When the opportunity came to purchase land south of Alice Springs from the Army, the Church saw an opportunity to provide "a home away from home" for these children. The year was 1946, the population 1000, and St Mary's as it is known to the locals, was able to offer a bush setting, not only for children attending school in The Alice but also to young adults who had jobs in town. Times change and St Mary's has too over the years. What has not changed is the organisation's guiding philosophy that the family is the cornerstone of society, and providing support for families is the major focus of its work. Today's organisation provides a wide range of programs with the support of 60 staff, under the capable management of Tony Kelly. Not forgetting its early beginnings, St Mary's continues to offer care and support for bush children attending school here. The Education Program is offered to Aboriginal parents from the remoter parts of the southern half of the NT and the northern part of South Australia, who seek mainstream schooling for their primary school aged children. Parents are encouraged to visit as often as possible and to be involved with their children's care and schooling. While in earlier years the children lived in dormitory-style accommodation, today they live in family style homes with live-in house parents. The Disability Services Programs covers two distinct areas. The children's program provides developmental care for school-aged children with disabilities. The majority of the children in this program have multiple and profound disabilities and require a high level of support. A special effort is made to maintain ongoing family contact, and when funds are available special charter flights will be arranged for the children to visit their family and friends. A most important addition to St Mary's has been the establishment of the Family Training Unit built in 1996. This provides accommodation for parents visiting from remote communities and space for children to be with them at the same time. The adult program is for men and women who require medium to high levels of support. They generally live in group homes in town but as with the children, the type of support provided is guided by each person's needs. These needs are met by close consultation with the person concerned, their family or guardian and health professionals. The Youth and Children's Services program offers accommodation for children up to 18 years of age who are in crisis. This is an area where the children require high levels of support, and increasing levels of family breakdown are seeing much pressure put on this particular service. Since 1997, St Mary's has provided accommodation and support for a number of people with mental illness as part of the Transitional Living Program. This is a joint venture with Territory Health Services Mental Health Unit and, in addition to accommodation, also provides visitation to people in their homes. A now familiar part of our landscape, the Lodge in town provides short-term supported accommodation for those on low incomes and, thanks to some recent funding from the Territory Government, has been partially renovated. It is hoped that further funding will be forthcoming to enable completion of the upgrading of this important facility. Organisations such as St Mary's are giving daily living support for many in our community who would be in great difficulty without such safety nets. Core funding for such services is often provided through Territory Health Services with negotiated Service Agreements. A Service Agreement is a document which details what sort of services will be provided by an organisation in return for a certain level of funding by a government department. I am aware that a number of such agreements have still to be completed. This is unfair to the organisation affected and the valuable community work they are undertaking. While acknowledging the pressure on Government of increasing costs, it is vital that such organisations are properly funded. Completion of outstanding agreements will go a long way to ensuring this occurs.

ALDERMAN CAMPBELL SPEAKS OUT ON COUNCIL'S GROG STRATEGIES. Report by CHRIS HALLETT.

A year after the Alcohol Issues Forum launched a bumper sticker "Refuse Booze Abuse In Alice", it's moved on from slogans and Alderman Meredith Campbell is glad to see the forum now seriously examining restrictions on alcohol availability in Alice Springs.However, Ald Campbell is critical of the Alice Springs Town Council which, "even now refuses to acknowledge that the alcohol problem goes beyond anti social behaviour and litter issues."In terms of the town council making any hard decisions or showing any leadership on the availability question, I don't think it is going to happen because collectively and individually people are comfortable with the policy debate moving over to the Alcohol Issues Forum," says Ald Campbell.She thinks "the pro restrictions push will gather speed and momentum without the council necessarily being on board and contributing its views, because - more or less - we have devolved that job to the Alcohol Issues Forum and put the money into it. "I think getting the community to acknowledge that there is a general alcohol problem is a huge psychological leap. It's dangerous, it's unpalatable, there are too many big interests that can be threatened by it, interests close to the Government. It's also very threatening to the Territorian way of life."The council received its draft strategic plan this week but Ald Campbell says that, "apart from references to anti social behaviour and its possible link with alcohol misuse there's no strategy in place to reduce alcohol harm in the community. There is again a focus on litter.""There's a big, ‘reduce public nuisance' factor in the plan but there is no statement that says, to quote the Alice Springs News headline [last week], ‘Alice awash with alcohol'." "I can't see the council, certainly not the mayor, getting in there and getting behind the restrictions argument. The council isn't going to lead the debate."Ald Campbell says Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen recently told the council, "if you see there is an alcohol problem across the community, well do something about it by finding out more comprehensively what the community thinks and show me the evidence."At the last Alcohol Issues Forum a few weeks ago she says, "It was more or less agreed on that occasion that somebody should or would organise a comprehensive community survey to ascertain the community's views on restrictions. So in terms of doing something practical, finding out what the community thinks, the council has a role there, although at the moment it hasn't committed itself to it.""If the Alcohol Issues Forum asks the council to conduct such a survey I don't see how the council can refuse really and I don't think it would be that expensive especially since we have put the money aside in the budget for a wide ranging community survey sometime next year. "The council has employed a community planner, Dr Janet McIntyre, and she is assembling plans now for a community survey. Her studies are demographics and community development and asking people what they want."Ald Campbell would like to see questions added to the survey on, " alcohol policy and the general question of how alcohol restrictions in whatever form would increase or decrease residents' quality of life.There's probably some money to incorporate some questions like that in a general survey so that might be a way of getting around it in 1999."The danger for the community liquor control lobby's cause is that such a survey, if it includes questions on alcohol, might happen before a clear case explaining controls has been put to the public. The council will not be pushing a pro controls line and neither will the forum unless all the participants come to an unlikely consensus soon.Clear statistics on alcohol consumption per person in Alice Springs which could be used in the debate still aren't available. From statistics on the NT's southern region, as featured in last week's News, it seems consumption in Alice has actually increased but we can't yet say by exactly how much. The Territory's Living with Alcohol Program has responsibility for compiling overall liquor statistics. In a radio interview last Friday a spokeswoman from the program seemed to go out of her way to deny the obvious implications of the statistics. Despite her claiming the program has a regional focus it appears it only maintains NT wide statistics which show an overall drop in consumption. While the program spends huge amounts advertising its anti alcohol messages, it can not measure what effect the ads are having in Alice Springs.Ald Campbell welcomes the decision at the recent Alcohol Issues Forum to allow the public to take part. She sees this as helping to make the forum the representative body it would have to be before the Liquor Commissioner or the council would seriously back its recommendations. "There are a lot of people committed to the process of reducing availability who have made the link between alcohol harm and availability."By opening up the Alcohol Issues Forum to representative groups, the public and the media, its processes are transparent and open, and it has made it stronger. That is exactly what the Liquor Commission wanted," says Ald Campbell.

CONSTRUCTION OF WORLD CLASS WALKING TRAIL PROCEEDS AT A CRAWL. Report by CHRIS HALLETT.

The completion of one of the world's great walking trails, right on our doorstep in the West MacDonnells, appears to be stymied by recalcitrant landholders and a lack of will on the part of the Territory Government.The LarapintAa walking trail should take trekkers from the Telegraph Station 220 km west along the West MacDonnell ranges to Redbank George and Mt Razorback. Unfortunately the middle third of the trail, about 80 km, is little more than dots on a map and about 30 km of that still isn't even national park. The then Chief Minister, Marshall Perron, speaking to the second meeting of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association eight years ago, said: "In May 1989, the government released its strategy for creating a major new national park not only to take in a number of existing smaller parks in the region but to encompass almost the entire West MacDonnell Ranges and their most striking and biologically significant landscapes."We said it would be a world class national park covering at least 1,600 square km and possibly as much as 3,000 square km. A park that would be ranked alongside Uluru, Kakadu and other national parks as an outstanding international tourist attraction."At the release of the strategy 10 years ago, Mr Perron said: "It was envisaged that, ideally it would be implemented in stages over the following three to five years."Tourism operators who believed the vision and banked on the Larapinta Trail and park being completed in 1994 are no doubt disappointed. Meanwhile Alice Springs misses out on the tourist dollars a completed trail would attract. According to the Parks and Wildlife Commission's latest annual report the Larapinta Trail might be finished by 2001 or 2002. Last week the Parks and Wildlife Minister Tim Baldwin put out a press release re-announcing a $200,000 commitment made in the last budget for work on part of the gap in the middle of the trail. Unfortunately, when the Alice Springs News tried to clarify some issues about the trail, the Minister's office wasn't returning phone calls and a ministerial press release on anything tends to stop public servants from commenting.The new work is in a narrow strip of the park about seven km wide along the backbone of the MacDonnell Range squeezed between Hamilton Downs Station and Owen Springs Station. The tender for the work was won by the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, a non profit community group, which has completed the sections of the trail from the Ochre Pits west to Redbank George. About 300 volunteers over the years, many from overseas, have purchased packages from the trust to come and build the trail. They stopped work for summer in October and will resume in March, depending on the weather. In the early 1990s prisoners worked on some parts of the trail. Tangentyere's Community Development Employment Program workers drawn from the Iwupataka Land Trust, which includes Standley Chasm, completed other sections.Once the work funded for this year is done, the parts of the trail either side of Ellery Creek Big Hole will still be unfinished. Ellery Creek Big Hole is separated from the West MacDonnell Range National Park by Owen Springs Station and the Roulpmoulpma Aboriginal Land Trust, with the proposed trail running through both. It is unclear what negotiations have gone on over the last 10 years between the land holders and the Government. Until those negotiations are resolved the 220 km Larapinta walking trail remains a dream.

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