ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
March 31, 1999

WHERE IS ALL THE MONEY GOING, ASKS NEW LABOR LEADER CLARE MARTIN. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA

New Opposition Leader Clare Martin says she and NT Labor Senator Trish Crossin are using Federal Estimates Committee processes to uncover financial information withheld from the public by the NT Government.Ms Martin says Canberra allocates money to the Territory on the basis that it costs on average 2.7 times more to provide the same services here compared to other parts of Australia.But, she says, the Government's spending on hospitals, for example, is only 1.6 times more than what NSW spends.Some 80 per cent of the NT's $2.6b budget comes from the Federal Government, a per head of population allocation five times greater than the national average."Where is the money going?" asks Ms Martin."I wouldn't want to see funding withheld, ever, but I want to see these funds accounted for."We want to know what they have been allocated for, and how much is actually getting to Territorians on the ground."Ms Martin says Senator Crossin has already "pursued hard" questions in estimates committee hearings, at which Federal bureau-crats must answer enquiries from Senators, about the NT Government's policy to dis-continue bilingual education."Trish is very committed," says Ms Martin."I think it's time to get tougher."We don't have the fundamentals here to get that information."We don't have the kind of pressure that freedom of information legislation provides."Ms Martin, a former journalist, says annual reports from Territory Government departments are "the most difficult things to read"."The figures, in essence, are rarely there," she says."The Auditor General struggles with reporting from the departments, in terms of measurable outcomes, in terms of being able to compare apples with apples each year."Because you don't have freedom of Information it just makes everything a torture to extract."If we can't get the information about where the funding is, what is expected and what is happening, if we can't get access through the Territory, we owe it to Territorians to find out what's happening, we'll pursue it through Canberra."No apology for that at all."Ms Martin was speaking to the Alice Springs News this week on her first visit to Central Australia as the new Labor Leader.She was asked about plans for Territory Labor which has now been in the political wilderness for 25 years, is Australia's only Opposition party that's never been in government, and has a minority in the Legislative Assembly usually around the present seven seats to the CLP Government's 18."It's been better – 10 to 14," says Ms Martin."Labor has 43 per cent of the vote across the Territory. We have a substantial vote."We represent that 43 per cent by having 28 per cent of the seats in Parliament."It's frustrating. Labor has spoken over the last couple of years about a multi member electoral system [more than one member per electorate]."This was proposed to the Parliament's constitutional committee but rejected, and firmly rejected by the constitutional convention."Under our current Government there is very little chance for multi-member seats – I'd say it's zero."Labor is setting out to win Government without that chance."Ms Martin says: "The challenge for me is for Labor to be seen as a strong alternative Government."Because we're a small force, and there are many issues, sometimes what Labor is talking about gets lost."So, what Labor will be doing under my leadership is going back to the core issues: the employment we have in the Territory, the kind of jobs we have, the level of unemployment which this Government will not recognise, the level of underemployment."The skills that young Territorians need for building the Territory - these are critical areas."Labor stands for jobs, yet it has not explored these issues adequately."The official unemployment figure, around four per cent, sounds great, we're the lowest in the country."So we have this myth of all's rosy in the level of employment."Yet when you scratch below those figures you realise that the situation, both in urban and rural areas, is not what it used to be."Ten years ago we had a lot of employment in the mining sector, we had a lot of diverse growth in the economy, which is great. But a lot of this growth is now in the service areas, which are traditionally quite low paid."The average male wage in the NT is the second lowest in the country, second only to Tasmania."Yet we have a high cost of living here. No wonder people are struggling."We also have eight per cent of the population who are on [work for the dole] CDEP programs, which here are considered to be employment."If you're on a work for the dole scheme in Sydney or Melbourne, you're in the unemployment figures. "It's a statistical anomaly. We're fooling ourselves."Ms Martin says in fact the NT has the nation's highest level of unemployment and underemployment."Five years down the track, because a considerable proportion of that unemployment is in remote communities, we are going to have more difficulties, more alienation, less hope for the 25 per cent of Territorians who are Aboriginal."It will also mean the Territory will not prosper as it could because you can't have so many people excluded from the growth."Ms Martin says an LNG plant in Darwin will provide direct jobs as well as benefits "downstream", but says Labor in The Centre is still looking at industries – apart from mining and tourism – that could develop the central region. She says new projects are unlikely to be conventional manu-facturing, but The Centre could become the "clever part of the nation", launching into opportunities in information technology.Ms Martin says Darwin is benefiting from the military build-up, which has been injecting $1m a week into the economy for the past four years.However, it's more difficult to find growth opportunities for Alice Springs.Since the construction of the new gaol "there's been nothing" in terms of government initiatives."The trouble with the Alice to Darwin railway is, in terms of Alice Springs, it doesn't offer anything as well."The Government has said, it's just too hard, and has redrawn the Berrimah Line."Ms Martin says Alice Springs has always been a "particularly difficult area for the Labor Party."Maybe the Labor Party has never talked in a focused way about the issues that are of concern to Alice Springs, and if that is the case, then it's an indictment of us."We've never had a Member of Parliament in Alice Springs. "Peter Toyne has 250 [urban] dwellings, yet he's demonstrated his credentials in the town, despite having an electorate the size of 250,000 square kilometres, which is a gigantic commitment outside Alice Springs."The Government's plan for the town, outlined in the recently released Alice 2010 document, isn't "desperately creative, particularly if they have produced it without any reference to the people of Alice Springs," says Ms Martin."To actually produce something like that without even talking to the Town Council seems absolutely absurd."

BUILDER SAYS BUREAUCRACY IS STIFLING 1000 BLOCK DEVELOPMENT.

A local builder and developer says while real estate prices in Alice Springs were skyrocketing, and are now among the nation's highest, his plans for up to 1000 new blocks - for some 3000 people - in the Emily Hills area have been frustrated for more than two years by the NT Government.Ron Sterry (pictured at right on the site) says his company, Micro Holdings, owns nearly 150 hectares (370 acres) at the foot of the MacDonnell Ranges, north of Ragonesi Road.Parts of the land were previously owned by Northcorp, which failed in a bid to establish a similar residential development.Picturesque slopes, hills, valleys and native bush make the area one of the town's most attractive sites for residential use.Mr Sterry says the suburb would have as its focus, its own 40 hectare park, set out similarly to the Desert Park, as well as shops, a school and neighbourhood facilities, and a state of the art sewerage plant which would recycle waste water.He says his costs have so far been $500,000.This includes drawing up plans and making applications, submitted by consulting town planners June D'Rozario and Associates.None of these, submitted in July 1997, have yet been considered the Planning Authority, according to Mr Sterry.The initial application was followed by approaches - all futile, he says - to successive Ministers for Land Mike Reed, Mick Palmer and Tim Baldwin.A spokesman for the Lands Department says the Planning Authority has deferred a decision about whether or not to put Mr Sterry's proposal on public display, pending the completion of the new land use structure plan.That study, by consultants Sinclair Knight Merz, was commissioned two years ago to look - among other issues - at options for the expansion of Alice Springs.The study was expected to be ready mid last year.However, according to the spokesman, a "final package" is currently being prepared for a further public exhibition, for six weeks from next month, after which recommendations will be put before the Minister.Mr Sterry says he is concerned that his proposal may never reach a public forum: if the new land use plan rules out urban-style development in Emily Hills, then the Planning Authority - a majority of whose members are nominated by the town council - may be precluded from looking at the project.Mr Sterry says that would leave the fate of his "life's work" in the hands of the steering committee which is overseeing the formulation of the new land use plan.The committee is chaired by senior bureaucrat John Baskerville and is understood to consist mainly of public servants (enquiries by the Alice News have not succeeded in finding out who else is on the committee).Mr Sterry says the land use study is looking at three major options for the provision of new residential land: expansion of the town in an easterly direction, towards Undoolya; the Emily Hills area, including his land, south of the MacDonnell Ranges; and "infill" of the existing urban area, in other words, a continuation of the present trend towards smaller blocks, high-density housing and cluster dwellings.The proposed Emily Heights subdivision is closer to the Central Business District than Larapinta, and the planned Mt Johns Valley development.Mr Sterry says existing electricity, water and sewerage services for his development are sufficient for about the first 100 blocks, and can later be augmented without difficulty.He says he has "good relations" with Aboriginal sacred site custodians - in fact he says some of the sites would be a feature.

NOT ANOTHER CONVENTION CENTRE PROPOSAL! Guest Editorial by TONY ALICASTRO.

It seems whenever the town's in trouble, building a big convention centre is proposed as the salvation: most recently the suggestion has come from the new Minister for Central Australia, Loraine Braham.While I'm grateful for Loraine's obvious good intentions, I would like to sound a note of caution.Four years ago, when the town council economic development committee was looking at the issue of convention centers, we were told that there are 1200 conventions a year in Australia.About 70 per cent of them have fewer than 200 delegates: Alice Springs can already cater for these small to medium conventions with existing facilities.We are among the top five most favoured destinations, we are very well positioned.However, compared to the other destinations, especially Queensland, the amount of money we are spending on promotion is nowhere near adequate.We would have to spend $1m plus to make an impact, but I suspect we're spending a fraction of that.It's the marketing, not the facilities, that needs to be looked at.I'm not saying we shouldn't have a new convention centre – a major government infrastructure project is certainly one of the things the town's economy needs very much at the moment, but the project needs to make sense all round.Conventions are booked two years in advance. Clearly, we need a five year plan to launch ourselves into the convention business in a big and sensible way.We need to be careful not to finish up with a big convention centre that's underutilised.To start with, we should target the biggest market segment – and that is the smaller conventions.It seems that the already available facilities are underutilised.The council's consultant, employed four years ago, told us that work is needed to bring the existing facilities up to speed, which would be cheaper than building new facilities from the ground up.There is a strong case for NT and local governments to jointly finance a marketing strategy – we don't have a properly funded effort at the moment.The town council spent $170,000 on promoting Alice Springs as a convention destination. At that time the NT Tourist Commission had a booking centre but that was not an initiative specifically designed to sell conventions in Alice Springs.A strong, publicly funded promotional push could crank up the business with smaller conventions, possibly laying the foundations for private investment in infrastructure for larger conventions.The Desert Park could be a case in point, putting the cart before the horse: I think the Minister is correct in saying the park needs to be part of a package. I doubt very much that people from London, Tokyo and Rome will get on a plane to see the Desert Park alone.Is that not the question that should have been answered before the money was spent? And are we about to make the same mistake now with a large convention centre? Maybe, maybe not; but let's get the hard facts first.We now have the much touted report proposing what Alice should be like in 2010.It seems to me that study neglected to ascertain how much money will be spent in the region by the Government, with a firm commitment to do so.The priorities for the next decade should have been based on those expenditure guarantees.Without a commitment we may find ourselves with a wish list worth $200m but we will get only $50m.There are shelves full of studies like Alice 2010. What's the point of publishing a collection of people's dreams?The local and NT governments must first make firm commitments about the amount of money they are willing and able to invest in the next 10 years.Then, and only then, we should prioritise, plan and get things moving.Without the irrevocable pledges of cash, documents such as Alice in 2010 cannot be implemented.

ABORIGINAL ART: THE WAY AHEAD. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Pride in their culture, in their knowledge of country, and a sense of achievement are usually the first things Aboriginal artists talk about when asked why they paint.However, their work underpins a booming industry, and the question begs – are the artists getting their fair share?In a series of articles KIERAN FINNANE looks at some of the problems and some of the proposed solutions.
Some 60 per cent of Australia's Aboriginal artists are from the Northern Territory.They feed the greater part of an industry said to be worth $200m Australia-wide, with astonishing growth rates in some sectors.For instance, Aboriginal art sold by Sotherby's in 1994 brought in $288,086; four years later, it was bringing in $3.35m. It is the kind of performance that attracts the attention of not just art lovers, but investors. The Sotheby's figures were quoted in the Australian Financial Review (Aug 29, 1998) in an article headed "Art and artifice: the pitfalls and pleasures of Aboriginal paintings". The article described Aboriginal art as "the most important contemporary art being produced today", and "the only two dimensional art form with a vast audience overseas".That audience is reflected in figures quoted by the Tourism Monitor, reporting a $50m spend in 1997-98 by visitors to the Territory on Aboriginal arts and crafts. Over half that amount was spent by international visitors; and again over half was spent in Central Australia.The national spend reported by the Tourism Monitor for the same period was $70m, jumping from $20m the year before.The prognosis for the market is positive. The Australian Art Collector (Oct-Dec, 1997) predicted a steady interest in Aboriginal art "for some time" due to "the current trend of new and diverse work emerging, particularly from regional communities".The imminent Sydney Olympic Games and the Centenary of Federation will only sharpen the focus on Aboriginal art, and there is plenty of evidence of the market readying itself for that opportunity.Yet here at the production end, are Aboriginal artists, their communities and organisations going to feel the benefit?Desart is a referral and advocacy organisation which acts for 27 art centres in Central Australia. A further three nominations were received at their annual general meeting held at Hamilton Downs last week.Executive Officer Ron Brien says the organisation was overwhelmingly endorsed by its membership at the AGM, with 13 nominations to fill five executive positions, and at the same time a strongly supported return of the current executive.A perhaps even more meaningful imprimatur was the spontaneous inma – traditional singing and dancing – performed by the attending artists for Desart staff, invitees and visitors.Executive member Inawinytji Williamson told the Alice News: "When we are dancing we are telling all the staff we have got our dreaming, our culture, our place."Last time we didn't do business there, this time we were doing dancing, to make everything happy."We explain to some of the white people, the visitors from cities like Sydney, Darwin, like Perth, they learn from us."Desart took advantage of the AGM to present to the membership these visitors – dealers, exporters and distributors of Aboriginal art – who will work with Desart as "strategic partners" to address the inequities which Mr Brien says are rife in the industry.He says there are huge discrepancies between the prices fetched for Aboriginal art on the east coast and what the artists are getting. While art centres (some 43 around Australia funded by ATSIC under its National Arts Program) for the most part deliver at least half of their returns to artists, the majority of centres have a sales turnover of less than $200,000 per year.Mr Brien says artists operating alone are even more vulnerable to poor returns for their work, and it is a situation in which "reputable galleries are suffering as well"."There are moral issues, but there are also economic issues," says Mr Brien. "How much money is the Territory missing out on for products that are generated here?"A much quoted example, illustrating the dimension of both problems, is the Sotheby's sale for a record $206,000 of a painting by foundation Papunya artist Johnny Warangkula, for which he was paid around $150 in the 1970s.Mr Brien says it is the kind of example that points to the industry being at a crossroads: "It's been burgeoning along, unregulated, market-driven, but now the cracks are starting to appear and we need a clear plan for the next 15, 20, 50 years, to look at inequitable returns to the artists and sustainability."The issues are too big for one or two organisations to be tackling. The industry needs to work together, and here in the Territory, where Aboriginal art and culture are so important to our tourism industry, the NT Government needs to start making a contribution. It can not be left to ATSIC alone."We have received excellent support for some projects from the Aboriginal Development Unit of the NT Department of Education, but the support from the Department of Arts and Museums is minimal, just seven per cent of the 1997-98 cultural development funds and nothing at all from, for instance, the Cultural Enterprise Development Scheme."Desart will now be making formal approaches to the NT Government for greater assistance, but at the same time are well on the way to establishing an independent commercial gallery presence in Sydney's Rose Bay. This will allow Desart to directly market the best work coming out of Central Australia's art centres, in conjunction with The Rainbow Serpent, which has outlets at Sydney and Brisbane International Airports and is opening another at Sydney's Fox Studios complex.Meanwhile, what possibilities are there of addressing inequities like the Johnny Warangkula resale? Isn't that just a factor of the marketplace?Mr Brien joins the National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA) in arguing for resale royalties or droit de suite, as it is known in France where, amongst other countries, it has been introduced.Until such time as legislation for a droit de suite is enacted, NIAAA is calling on the market itself to look for alternative ways to compensate artists: "Auction houses could donate a portion of their commissions, or buyers could insist that part of the purchase price goes back to the artist."Contract law could be used but would only be effective in protecting the first resale of a work."However, prominent Sydney-based dealer in Aboriginal art, Adrian Newstead, in Alice Springs recently to promote the newly formed Australian Indigenous Art Trade Association which he chairs, says there may be other more effective ways "to skin the same cat":"Resale royalties involve a labour intensive administration, and can get you into all sorts of problems trying to identify who is the appropriate owner or heir. It's complicated and would be doubly so in Aboriginal culture," says Mr Newstead.He also says that droit de suite legislation would have to be extended to all artists and "there seems to be absolutely no determination by the Government to do it"."However," says Mr Newstead, "there are some innovative ways that are not in the too difficult basket to ensure that the old artists who have sustained the industry over years and years can actually continue to earn money."Not from the demeaning production of small paintings that are a mere shadow of their former talent, but through a whole range of other things, such as limited edition prints and reproductions of their finest works. These products could earn them good money." NEXT WEEK: THESE IDEAS ARE ALREADY BEING EXPLORED BY DESART!

WORLD PRIES INTO BLACK TRADITIONS (SERIES).

The object of plaudits for its achievements as on-line literature, the website known as The Flight of Ducks has also drawn its creator Simon Pockley into a controversy over cultural appropriation.The site is based on the journals and photographs of his ophthalmologist father, with concerns mostly focussed on the observations of Aboriginal culture and images of Aboriginal people made by John Pockley in his 1933 journey into Central Australia. His companions on this journey were Hezekiel, an Aboriginal guide, artist Arthur Murch, craniologist Stanley Larnach and the young T.G.H. Strehlow.In PART THREE of a report by a SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT the Alice Springs News continues the saga, with the account by Pockley Snr of, to say the least, uneven cultural exchange between his group, travelling from Hermannsburg, and some 200 Aborigines camped nearby.(See Parts One and Two in the preceding weeks' issues.)
On the most memorable evening of the journey, the white men perform for their Aboriginal audience a shared repertoire of songs, which Pockley describes as "pitifully limited" to one verse of God Save the King and Waltzing Matilda. He writes: "I wished I had brought my gramophone and some Bach, Mozart and Schubert songs to watch the natives' reactions. However our efforts gave them the idea and reduced them to almost helpless laughter."We heard one of the most fascinating and unforgettable night's entertainments possible. Their corroboree songs or whatever they were, were so old that some of them were sung in a different language. It seemed that some songs were common to all tribes, and they could all join in. "Others were purely tribal so that only the tribal groups knew them and the rest just listened. The older language ones were by far the best and had a repetitive form almost like a sonata or canonical form. "These songs were not usually accompanied by action, whilst the rather tedious noise of the local ones were explained by an appropriate dance mimicking animals, war, hunting etc. In many cases the sounds had lost any meaning for the singers, and were either archaic or distorted beyond their own recognition but each song had a meaning and there was no need to tell even the white man what it was."We heard amongst many others the ‘duck flying away' song. It is impossible to describe but it was rather frighteningly effective. "Rhythm was paramount and the pitch tended to rise to a crescendo while the pace quickened in most of the verses. Forms were inverted and the character of the black man's voice gave it all something undescribable, at any rate we all knew that the ducks were resting on the water, were surprised, and took off clumsily then flew off and away but returned with a swoop at terrific speed to disappear into freedom again and peace."As his later journal reveals the experience is to profoundly shape Pockley's perception of Aboriginal culture."After this night I will always respect the blacks as the custodians of a real culture, wherever it came from and however debased it is today."There is nothing on Flight of Ducks about how Pockley spent the four decades until 1976 – at least not at the time this article was written. But it's clear from his later fulminations he believes these interim years have witnessed not only the decay of Aboriginal culture, but of the West's as well.Pockley despairs of a divide between those who "do their duty" and those who cry for their rights. He describes a "widening rift between the minority of disciplined thinkers and those unable to keep their balance, so that at the very time when trained and disciplined minds are vital, there is a widespread escape of a majority into barbarian ignorance."Pockley rails against popular culture, young people, the Australian Teachers Union and the "great Australian public service which pushes non-achievement to an art form". He briefly alludes to the work of fellow eye doctor Fred Hollows as part of a fear campaign "being spread by a group aiming at government finance for a socialist vote-spreading crusade by the far left."These misanthropic diatribes are balanced by engaging and often passionate descriptions of the countryside and interesting accounts of human encounters. They also include a disarmingly honest account of his inner life, obsessions and aspirations:"The whole trip was the fulfilment of a promise made to myself on the top of a remote hill: to reach and climb Mt. Olga some day; to climb to the top and try to prove whether or not I had seen it from the north. As I had spent the last eight years in self-disciplined slavery learning Homeric Greek, I added the challenge of declaiming the first four books of the Iliad. I felt that to do so would constitute some form of first for the record books in a man my age. In the end I got what I deserved for such childish exhibitionism."
TO BE CONTINUED.

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