GOVERNMENT DUMPS $30m HOSPITAL PROJECT. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Upgrading and expansion worth $30m of the Alice Springs hospital – the NT Government's only major capital works project in the town – has been suspended, according to the construction industry.David Malone, general manager of the Territory Construction Association (TCA), says the funds should quickly be diverted to other projects in the town."The money should be spent in the community," he says.The TCA has written to the government but hasn't received a reply as yet."When you drop a $30m commitment like that it has a substantial impact on the community," Mr Malone says."It has a morale impact on the industry when long term work like that disappears."It's pretty hard to plan for your business when projects are pulled that way."Peter Cheel, the manager of Universal Constructions in Alice Springs, says the work was due to have started this year with the construction of a psychiatric wing worth $1m.Mr Cheel says there are no significant NT Government projects under way nor in the pipeline.The hospital expansion program was announced by Chief Minister Denis Burke – the Health Minister at that time – in June last year.He announced that the project would be spread over four years so local industry could "fully participate". Speaking at the opening of a hospital car park and rehabilitation unit, Mr Burke said: "The overall hospital development will happen over the next four years at a projected cost of about $30m. "One of the reasons [for spreading the work over four years] is for local industry to fully participate throughout. "If you run this sort of project over 18 months you probably get the project done but it wouldn't be to the benefit of [local] tradesmen."Mr Cheel at the time took issue with Mr Burke's claim: "I categorically disagree with that. The government need to open their eyes to the fact that there are several building companies in the town that could handle large construction undertakings. "The more work the better it would be at the moment. "We've got people knocking on our door for work," commented Mr Cheel in June last year.At the same time Chamber of Commerce vice-president Liz Davies and CATIA manager Mike Gunn called for more government spending in the town.This week Mr Cheel said the town's only current large-scale project here is the extension to the casino at a cost of about $3m, a non-government project.Mr Malone says in the absence of an explanation from the government of the hospital work's shelving, one can only assume that it is connected with proposals to privatise the Territory's public hospitals.He says a change of Chief Minister and two Cabinet reshuffles since November have created uncertainty in the industry.Departmental heads are believed to be formulating a plan known as "Alice 2010" – but no consultation with the construction industry has taken place as yet, says Mr Malone."I'd like to know what's in that plan."He says the $800m a year construction industry in the Territory usually consists of 30 to 40 per cent residential construction, 50 per cent commercial and 10 to 20 per cent maintenance. The $800m is – "as a rule of thumb" – made up of 40 per cent from the NT Government, 30 per cent from the Commonwealth and 30 per cent private.Lands Minister Tim Baldwin last week was quoted in the NT News as saying that in Darwin $500m in private sector development is under way or in the pipeline.
WHAT ISRAEL COULD TEACH CENTRAL AUSTRALIA. Guest editorial by JOHN ELFERINK, MLA for MacDonnell.
I recently travelled to Israel and South Africa to discover what is being achieved in arid zone agriculture there. I expected to be impressed but in fact I was left speechless and frankly a little embarrassed. Speechless by the incredible abilities of these countries and embarrassed by the lack of imagination in our own. The member for Stuart, Peter Toyne, was recently quoting some business leaders in Alice Springs who felt that there was no real areas for Alice Springs to advance in the near future, and all expected a continued stunted growth. After what I experienced it's clear to me that the only thing Alice Springs is suffering from is a lack of vision. The electorate that I serve is 10 times the size of the country of Israel. The majority of that nation is desert and its soils are poorer than the soils in MacDonnell, with the possible exception of the Simpson Desert. What is certain is that the lands upon which many pastoral leases and Aboriginal freehold exist here are lands that would easily sustain greater amounts of vegetation than the Negev, which is Israel's desert.And yet Israel – one-tenth the size of MacDonnell, don't forget – provides enough food to feed five million people and sustain an export industry. Whatever people may think of the political situation in Israel and no matter what side of the fence you're on in terms of the Palestinian question, the sheer ability of this people to perform is hugely impressive. This tiny country has been at war seven times and won all seven. I mentioned this to a foreign affairs official while I was there who pondered it momentarily and then shrugged his shoulders and said: "We couldn't afford to lose any."It's this attitude that pervades Israel in times of peace and that these people take into the commercial world. As far as they are concerned they simply won't lose because they can't afford to. Commerce between Australia and Israel is dominated by this tiny desert country which commands 70 per cent of the trade. Although they are very competent warriors they certainly prefer peace. Peace provides a better income. My visits to the Negev left me feeling breathless. Imagine a farm that was a desert only three years ago and is now a sea of crops. On thirty hectares 86,000 heads of cabbage are produced three times every year. The farm invests 18,000 New Shekels into each hectare per crop. After counting all costs as part of that investment including labour, fertiliser and the like, it returns 24,000 New Shekels per hectare per crop, a clear 6,000 New Shekel profit per hectare. The return upon those 30 hectares turns out to be US$120,000 clear profit per year. On another farm I visited two farmers looked after some 230 hectares. This farm produced 24,000 tonnes of citrus fruit per annum. It is important to remember that we're talking about land that was desert only a few years earlier. The trick for the Israelis is fairly simple: it requires a substantial up front investment combined with limiting labour costs as well as using superior technology, including information technology. In the Sderdot area, very close to the Gaza Strip, there is a Kibbutz producing a large citrus crop. Using treated water collected from the Tel Aviv sewers (treated to a non drinkable stage with all organic material removed), water is sparingly delivered through drip irrigation under the ground, directly feeding the roots. Sensors in the ground read the water information making certain that the supply is not too near to the surface to prevent evaporation, and not so deep that the plant couldn't get to the water. One computer monitors the location of the moisture as well as the dampness of the soil. In short, not a drop of water was wasted. Another computer runs the irrigation system according to the information received from the sensors in the field. The technology allows the farmer to run the irrigation computer using the touch keys on his mobile phone. He could water his farm in Israel while having coffee in Alice Springs' Todd Mall. Only from time to time are staff needed to weed or to pick fruit and as this is usually done by contractors, it makes labour costs inconsequential. These extraordinary results from desert land could so easily be transferred to the Alice Springs region. In South Africa I discovered that political uncertainty is enticing people to take their money and leave that country. The time to capitalise on the Rand gravy train is upon us and we would be foolish to be left standing on the platform. The South Africans also enjoy much of the technical superiority that exists in Israel and, of course, Australia is also a world leader in the technical areas; pity we don't see it in practical application here.South Africans are looking for places to invest. I can see no impediment to some of that arid zone expertise finding its way here. So the question begs, what's preventing all this from happening now? Well, frankly, not much at all. Even from the short periods that I spent there I discovered that there would be many people willing and keen to invest their time and money here in Australia. We have a magnificent market immediately to our North and, touch wood, soon there will also be a railway to take our produce there. The problem for us as a community is access to the land. Large parts of the Northern Territory – 42 per cent – is owned outright by Aboriginal people and they certainly carry an interest in a further 57 per cent. I take no issue with this fact and indeed I frankly don't care who owns a particular piece of land. JACK'S RIGHT!I also agree with Jack Ah Kit, a former director of the Northern Land Council and now Member for Arnhem, when he said in the book, "Our Land is Our Life", that "successes can be mutually beneficial and profitable between such companies and Aboriginal joint venturers". Too bloody right. The problem has not been an economic one – it has been a political one. I have been publicly critical in the past of the Land Councils because of the fact that after 22 years of land management, the people they manage the land for, some of the world's largest land owners, are still on welfare. However, the mud slinging could go on forever and people will continue to die and live in dreadful conditions.On the other hand, the Northern Territory Government and the land councils could begin to create an environment in which progress can be made. I've met with Central Land Council director Tracker Tilmouth in the past and I hope to meet with him again soon with some firm ideas about what can be achieved to make Central Australia a boom area for all people. I have a vision for Central Australian as a bread basket that could supply countries to our North. There is much to do, so let's bloody well get on with it.
GOVT. SPENDS RECORD AMOUNT ON ADMINISTRATION OF ABORIGINAL EDUCATION BUT HASN'T GOT A PLAN FOR IT. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The Northern Territory Department of Education absorbs for administration nearly half of the Federal grants made for Aboriginal education.By comparison, Victoria diverts just 16 per cent for that purpose, and NSW, 28 per cent, according to a spokesperson for NT Labor Senator Trish Crossin.The department will be questioned by the Commonwealth over "serious concerns" about its performance in relation to indigenous education in a meeting on March 2.Commonwealth allocation for this purpose has amounted to $2.5m every three months over a three year period, ending this year.In an Estimates Committee hearing on February 11, a senior officer of the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Mr Buckskin, responding to questions from Sen Crossin, said: "We understand [the NT Government] keeps a significant amount more than any other state and territory education authorities do – indeed more than any authority that we enter into bilateral agreement with ... I think it is 50 per cent, I will take it on notice [to provide the exact figure] but it is higher than any other."Sen Crossin, saying that the proportion was in the vicinity of 48 per cent, asked: "Has this ever concerned the Commonwealth government? ... Has there been an investigation as to how they arrive at that [proportion]? Has it been justified?"Mr Buckskin: "No we have not, but we will ... That will be an issue on our agenda."Sen Crossin also queried NTDE's apparent lack of documented performance targets and indicators in the indigenous education area.Mr Buckskin replied: "Currently, again, we are concerned about the lack of targets and indicators. The Northern Territory Government had to put in instruments and develop the tools to measure indigenous education performance. It has taken them some time, like most other states and territories ... because we only in this triennium moved from an input to an outcome based outcome ... Again we need to sit down with them at this meeting in March to talk about what they are going to do this year ..."Sen Crossin: "There are 21 goals under this program [the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program – IESIP] ... There are multiple performance targets expected. Surely they are not having to develop data for all of those in order to document them?"Mr Buckskin: "It is fair to say that Northern Territory department has had its difficulties in reporting on some of the agreed performance indicators we have set ..."Sen Crossin: "Did they continue to receive the same amount of money in the four instalments last year?"Mr Buckskin: "Yes."Sen Crossin: "Why was that ..? How are you assessing whether or not they should continue to receive that $2.5 million every three months?"Mr Buckskin: "Through the monitoring arrangements ... we had a meeting in June last year. We put a number of issues on the table and it has taken the department nearly that long to respond to us ..."As you know ... there has been a change of executive. We have taken the first opportunity to speak with the new secretary and the deputy secretary ... We indicated the Commonwealth's concerns that there needs to be senior representation at the monitoring meeting, that we are seriously concerned about their bilateral agreement with the Commonwealth, that we would be bringing to the meeting the national program manager, Mr Greer, and myself, and that we expect it to be chaired by either the secretary or the deputy secretary because of the concerns we had, which are what you are raising today."In relation to the phasing out of the bilingual programs in NT schools, Sen Crossin asked if the Commonwealth would regard it as a breach of the IESIP agreement. Mr Buckskin replied "no".Sen Crossin continued: "Would it be in breach of the agreement if they did not provide any sort of program to maintain Aboriginal language in those schools?"Mr Buckskin: "I think we would have some concerns with that."Sen Crossin went on to quote from a letter from Parliamentary Secretary to the Commonwealth Cabinet, Senator Heffernan, in which he says that the NT Government has an agreement with the Commonwealth to promote Aboriginal language and culture as part of IESIP, and that IESIP requires reporting on the numbers of indigenous students who participate in language, history and culture programs in the preschool, school and VET sectors. Sen Crossin asked if that reporting had happened in the last two to five years?Mr Buckskin: Again, it has been literally six months since they have responded to our concerns at the last monitoring meeting when they clearly did not have the appropriate reporting arrangements in place against a whole range of indicators in literacy and numeracy and a culturally inclusive curriculum, and in terms of the employment of indigenous staff and the number of Aboriginal and islander education workers they have, so we have asked them to come back to us. "It has taken us now this long – until my meeting with [Deputy Secretary, NTDE] Catherine Henderson last week – to arrange the meeting on March 2."At the time of going to press Minister for Education, Peter Adamson, had not responded to a request for comment.
COMMENT: EDUCATION MINISTER ADAMSON HAS HIS FOOT STUCK IN HIS MOUTH
Obviously feeling the heat of public reaction to his planned axing of bilingual education in the Territory, Education Minister Peter Adamson last week put out a press release claiming "Labor and its affiliates have used lies and intimidation for political purposes in relation to the phasing out of the Bilingual Program."The detail of the allegation referred to the supposed "change of position" on the issue by former chairperson of the Indigenous Education Council of the NT, Lana Quall.Conveniently for the Minister, Mrs Quall has resigned her position, is not currently residing in the NT, and apparently has not left forwarding contact details with the organisation nor her former employer.Mrs Quall is the only person who could confirm or deny that she felt intimidated into changing her position.Her hand written notes on the draft of the release, while they appear to indicate she had input into it, do not amount to "evidence to prove that intimidation was successfully used to change the position of the IECNT", as the Minister claims.More pertinent, however, is that the press release in question, whether or not it represented Mrs Quall's views, did not represent the views of the IECNT, according to its Acting Chair and Dean of the Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Associate Professor Isaac Brown.Dr Brown told the Alice Springs News that the full council was not consulted about the content of that press release, which at the time was used by the Minister to indicate the IECNT's support of his proposals. In fact, the IECNT's charter on bilingual education, signed by all members of the council, including Mrs Quall, states:"It is a basic human right for indigenous groups to choose their first language as the medium in teaching, particularly where that language is the first language in that community."It further states: "The indigenous peoples of the Northern Territory have the right to choose bilingual education as the only acceptable defined educational process of maintaining cultural wellbeing."Dr Brown said that, to his knowledge, Mrs Quall had retracted the controversial press release because she hadn't understood the full impact of it, and that he did not think she had felt intimidated. He also said that she had notified the IECNT of her resignation in November, before the Minister's announcement on the phasing out of bilingual programs.In last week's press release, the Minister also claims that a memo signed by the Co-chair of the Yuendumu School Council, Kay Napaljarri Ross – which alleges that "Maria Stephens [ Executive Officer of the IECNT] took it upon herself to talk on behalf of the IECNT" – "clearly victimises the IECNT Executive Officer".Mrs Stephens is currently on leave. However, Dr Brown told the News that the IECNT has a two way role: to express the communities' views to the Minister and conversely, the Minister's views to the communities.He said: "Mrs Stephens was doing the right thing in seeking to explain to the communities why the Minister wants to take a certain tack. It generated a lot of anger and we have to wear it, but I don't think she has been ‘victimised'."There is no specific reference in the release to anyone acting as an official representative of the Labor party.Presumably, in the Minister's eyes, the Yuendumu School Council and/or its members are Labor's "affiliates", as the community is in the electorate of Stuart, held for Labor by former longtime Yuendumu resident and school principal, Peter Toyne.This is a politicising of Yuendumu School Council's strong opposition to the bilingual phase out, argued on purely educational grounds in a detailed letter to the Minister dated December 2 last year. (See last week's issue.)The News asked the Yuendumu School Council to comment on the Minister's claims. We expect to have a statement in next week's issue.At the time of going to press, the Minister had not responded to a request for comment.
IS THE MEDIUM THE MESSAGE OR THE MASSAGE? Report by CHRIS HALLETT.
On the four television and ten radio stations received in Alice Springs, people try to entertain us, talk to us or sell us something, but who are they and do they know anything about us?Our latest addition to Alice Springs media, Central Seven TV, came as a surprise for many.Before its launch on February 1, people back from holidays seeing the ads for the first time might have hoped we would have five TV stations. Instead Channel Ten became Central Seven featuring Seven Network programs. About four years before, at community request, Imparja and Queensland Satellite Television (QSTV) came to an arrangement where Imparja would beam into Mt Isa and retransmit QSTV's Channel Ten signal to Alice Springs. Each town got another TV station in a swap of audiences about the same size. This arrangement was ratified by the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA). Several similar deals were done between NT and Queensland towns in each broadcaster's assigned satellite foot print or broadcasting areas. It worked well in giving some country viewers an extra TV station but many missed out. In December the ABA approved amalgamating the two licence areas so Imparja could now broadcast into all of QSTV's remote Queensland licence area. Conversely, for towns with the right equipment, QSTV is available throughout Imparja's satellite footprint covering all the NT and South Australia, except the capitals, and parts of western NSW and Victoria.After the amalgamation, QSTV then basically swapped its program suppliers. Before February 1 it had transmitted a Far North Queensland hybrid of the Ten Network from another Telecasters company station. It had Townsville-based news, regional adverts dropped in and some programs from other networks such as the cricket from Nine. Then QSTV did an exclusive deal to take Network Seven programs. Previously, as the only commercial station in Alice, Imparja had the pick of programs from the three commercial networks. Now it has only Nine and Ten to chose from. In Alice Springs we now get a greater range of programs because there is little doubling up of the same programs on Imparja and Seven.The loss of the Network Seven coverage of Aussie Rules Football is causing grief out bush where many communities can't receive Central Seven yet. Seven will pay to upgrade the receivers in Jabiru so they can receive the station but other communities will have to pay for them themselves. More problems are expected in the bush when Imparja and Seven's satellite signals go from analogue to purely digital in the next few months.Until their sales departments really get going we will continue to get mainly NT ads on Imparja and Queensland ones on Seven. Those bizarre Queensland ads may well be back: remember "Everybody loves ten pin bowling" and "What does the Outback and tattooing have in common? The outback gets hot, tattooing IS hot".QSTV/ Central Seven is part of the Telecasters publicly listed company which broadcasts Channel Ten in regional Queensland and NSW.Central Seven is basically from Sydney and its news, mainly aimed at a Sydney audience, features Roger Climpson, Ross Simons and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From next Monday, March 1, the Sydney news bulletin will be replaced by one put together in Townsville again but different from the previous Channel Ten news. It will have more focus on a remote Queensland audience than a Townsville audience. There are no plans at present for an NT news bulletin and Darwin's Channel Seven will continue taking the Sydney bulletin.The government broadcaster with ads, SBS, also originates from Sydney but its news is aimed at a national audience with an international interest. Neither Central Seven or SBS have staff in Alice Springs but Seven will eventually have a two person advertising office here. Note that the Alice Springs SBS service arrives on Queensland time so the "World News at Nine" is broadcast at 8.30 pm. In Darwin the SBS service is delayed half an hour so the news does appear at 9 pm. This means the Darwin newspaper TV program for SBS is half an hour out for SBS here (the Alice News' TV program gives the right time for here).Imparja, based in Alice Springs, is the only TV station that regularly broadcasts Alice Springs made programs, such as Nganampa, Yamba and its news service. While the news is prepared in Alice Springs which is still Imparja's strongest advertising market, it also has to cater for an audience spread over at least a third of the continent.Imparja employs 52 professional in Alice Springs. The Imparja news room has grown from delivering a 10 minute bulletin following the Sydney news to now packaging the whole half hour news bulletin in Alice Springs.CAAMA Productions, a part of the CAAMA group separate from Imparja, also make programming. They are currently developing a drama series set at Glen Helen amongst other projects.Imparja is controlled by a board mostly made up of nominees from various NT Aboriginal organisations as is the board of its parent company the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) which also runs CAAMA radio.ABC TV have a journalist and a camera operator based in Alice Springs at the ABC Radio studios on Speed St. They report to the producer of the Darwin based ABC TV news service. The only differences from the national ABC TV service are the early evening news service, the NT version of Stateline, introduced to cover the loss of the Darwin version of the 7.30 Report, the five minute arts magazine, Snapshot, and some Darwin football coverage. When Shane Stone quit as Chief Minister two weeks ago, he announced it on the Nine Network's Today Show broadcast each day through out the Territory on Imparja and Darwin's Channel Eight. He was able to speak directly to those Territorians watching Today during breakfast, while at the same time managing to deliver a final irritation to Darwin journalists. By resigning on Today, Mr Stone robbed them of the drama and confrontation of a press conference.The placement of the story by the stations reflected their news priorities. The resignation led the Imparja and ABC TV news bulletins through the day and was featured as the first story in the evening news of each. Imparja's extensive coverage that night was taken with some changes from Channel Eight Darwin and correctly predicted Eric Poole being dropped from the Burke ministry the next day.SBS ran a longer piece on the resignation and the state of NT politics noting as well the changes to the opposition the week before. It appeared 18 minutes after the start of the evening news.Central Seven's 5.30 pm news from Sydney ran a story four and a half minutes into the bulletin concisely saying in 14 seconds, "The Northern Territory has a new Chief Minister following Shane Stone's sudden resignation. Mr Stone suffered faltering support within his own party after a referendum on statehood. The new Territory leader is Denis Burke."Of the ten radio stations, on the AM band we have the ABC's 8AL on 783 and the Harris family's 8HA.On FM we have Visitor Radio 87.6, Triple-J 94.9, 8TAB 95.9, Sun FM 96.9, ABC Classic 97.9, ABC Radio National 99.7, CAAMA Radio 8KIN 100.5 and community radio 8CCC 102.1.Of the four ABC stations we receive, three are national services. 8AL in Alice Springs covers the NT outside Darwin. It also takes Darwin and nationally produced programs. With its news and talk focus 8AL's Alice Springs staff includes two news journalists, a rural journalist, and morning and afternoon show presenters and producers and guest presenters such as our gardening alderman Geoff Miers.Three stations are run by the Harris's Alice Commercial Broadcasters: 8HA, Sun FM and the recorded service for tourists, Visitor Radio. 8HA now takes just the news service from 2UE in Sydney. The station hasn't had a journalist for over a year. Over the last few years it has produced less of its own programming outside breakfast and business hours. Outside these hours, like much of regional commercial radio now, it takes a syndicated nation wide radio service. It also transmits a hybrid station in Yulara.CAAMA radio's 8KIN FM on 100.5 broadcasts to a third of the continent through satellite, shortwave and the Broadcasting in Remote Area Community Services (BRACS). In Alice Springs it has two journalists and various talk and music presenters such as the legendary Clarrie. It also broadcasts shows produced at other stations and in communities using BRACS.Graham Archer, station manager from before CAAMA's move to Gap Rd from Little Sisters, has recently resigned to manage Darwin's community radio 8TOP FM, based at the Northern Territory University. 8TOP has the government contract to broadcast the betting station 8TAB.To the far right on the FM dial is community radio 8CCC. Its licence is held by the Centralian College for the community. Its manager and some costs are funded through the Education Department. Sponsorship or advertising pays the rest and volunteers present the Alice Springs and Tennant Creek programs. 8CCC is part of the "Territory Network" of community stations in Darwin, Katherine, Tindal, Jabiru and Nhulunbuy. The Network is centred on TOP FM. TOP has one journalist providing an NT news service supplementing a national community radio news service. 8CCC broadcasts the Network's shows from 6am to noon. The NT government subsidises the costs of linking the Network to allow the live broadcast of Question Time from the Legislative Assembly in Darwin. If you want to safely avoid the comings and goings of NT politics, each night from midnight to 6am 8CCC broadcasts the BBC World Service live from London.
ED:– Chris Hallett is a volunteer announcer on 8CCC.
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