ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
April 28, 1999

IS THE NT GOVT. BREAKING ITS OWN LAWS OVER YOUTH REFUGE FUNDING? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

ATSIC will confront the NT Government this week with a claim that it may be breaking its own laws by failing to comprehensively fund Aranda House, according to a reliable source.The refuge for young Aborigines in trouble faces closure at the end of June when ATSIC funding will cease.While NT politicians, including Minister for Central Australia Loraine Braham, have hit out at ATSIC for withdrawing its support, the source says the Territory's Community Welfare Act appears to put responsibility for the facility in Kempe Street squarely into the NT Government's court.Section 69 of the Act, headed "Aboriginal Child in Need", says in part:-"Where a child in need of care is an Aboriginal, the Minister shall ensure that every effort is made to arrange appropriate custody within the child's extended family."Where such custody cannot be arranged to his satisfaction, every effort is made to arrange appropriate custody of the child by Aboriginal people who have the correct relationship with the child in accordance with Aboriginal customary law."Where [such] custody cannot be arranged without endangering the welfare of the child ... a placement that is consistent with the best interests and the welfare of the child shall be arranged."At present the NT Government, through the Department of Health, is providing supplementary funding for Aranda House, but not enough to keep the facility afloat.Its director, Allen Furber, says Aranda House is a safe shelter where "kids can get off the streets at night".He says young people can either choose to go there, or be referred by youth services, ASYASS, Tangentyere's Night Patrol or the Youth Night Patrol run by Aranda House itself.Mr Furber says counsellors are available.Some young people stay several nights until family problems are sorted out, getting "care and respite".OFF STREETSThe house may also be used to accommodate young people going through the courts, and pending admission to the Don Dale correctional facility in Darwin.Mr Furber says all or at least some of these services will come to an end unless funding can be obtained beyond the end of June.Mrs Braham has been invited to comment.Meanwhile, there are fears that Chief Minister Denis Burke's proposed changes to the Territory's mandatory sentencing laws may create an even harsher youth justice environment.The "exceptional circumstances" provisions he has discussed will apply only to adult offenders (aged 17 years and over). If certain criteria, including evidence of having "outstanding good character", are met, then the adult offender may escape the present mandatory 14 days in jail for a first offence.However, under the current regime a first offence by a juvenile (over 15 years of age and not yet 17) does not attract a mandatory sentence anyway. It is only for a second property-related offence, that the young person faces a mandatory 28 day detention. RESTITUTIONNow, Mr Burke is proposing the introduction of a diversionary program, in which the first-time offender, having admitted their guilt, would then make restitution to the victim.It would appear that participation in the diversionary program is optional, but if it is not undertaken or satisfactorily completed, "the full range of sentencing options" becomes available, according to Mr Burke's office.While restitution is not limited to monetary payments, it must be in a form agreed upon by the victim.It is the type of arrangement, along with suspended sentences to which are attached a range of conditions, that sets certain young people up to fail, according to Acting Director of the Alice Springs Youth Accommodation Support Services, Jane Vadiveloo."These arrangements often don't reflect the reality of the social circumstances of the young people who get involved in crime," says Ms Vadiveloo."They often come from a background of abuse, violence and neglect, and it is their very lack of resources to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter, that lead to them committing property offences."Mr Burke talks about young people ‘accepting responsibility for their actions', but I ask who is accepting responsibility for the appropriate care of these young people in the first place?"And who is accepting responsibility for them in the detention environment, where the message is that they have failed, that they are ostracised, and where they are exposed to learn further criminal behaviour?RESPONSIBILITY"I say it is the state's responsibility, as well as families' and the community's."About 40 young people, between 15 and 24 years of age and not all from the same group, come through the doors of ASYASS every day.The majority of them need money to buy clothes and food, and many do not have a safe place to live.ASYASS can offer haven, through its youth refuge, to people aged 15 to 18, and in its semi-supported accommodation, to people up to 21 years old.There is no accommodation for people under 15, except at Aranda House through Family, Youth and Community Services, if they are referred."The need is far greater than we can cope with," says youth worker Astri Baker. "Every day we have to turn young people away with no shoes, no adequate clothing, and no safe place to go to."In detention, on the other hand, they get a roof over their head, they get food and some access to schooling."Says Ms Vadiveloo: "Some people will attempt to justify mandatory sentencing by saying that the young people appear to be happy in detention. SAD STATEMENT"They don't realise what a sad statement that is about what we are providing for our young people."Principal Legal Officer of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, David Bamber, says he questions whether Mr Burke understands sentencing principles – what courts try to achieve through sentencing.Certainly, Mr Burke appears to be confused about the objectives of the mandatory sentencing regime.He told the parliament last week that the primary focus of mandatory sentencing was not to reduce crime, but to punish the offender, whereas his predecessor Shane Stone had always argued for mandatory sentencing because of its supposed effect of crime reduction.Mr Bamber says that it is not clear how the changes to the mandatory sentencing regime proposed by Mr Burke will work.The "exceptional circumstances" provisions may be of benefit to some people who are able to fit the criteria, but some of CAALAS's clients will be at a disadvantage when it comes to producing things like character references and having the resources to make restitution.Mr Bamber says CAALAS was dismayed to learn of the regime being extended to crimes other than property crimes.He says the service will continue to work for a complete dismantling of mandatory sentencing, on both the political and legal fronts. In preparation, CAALAS has started to collect its own statistics, "as we haven't been able to get any from the Government".

RAILWAY "PROMISE" HARDLY A WIN: ALDERMAN ATTACKS MAYOR.

Alderman and aspiring Mayor Geoff Miers says a victory for the town council would have been an agreement from the NT Government to reroute the Darwin railway around Alice Springs.He says an assurance given last week by Chief Minister Denis Burke to Mayor Andy McNeill to "involve" the town council "in any further decisions" on the rail link is of little significance.The announcement was heralded in last week's Centralian Advocate in a front page lead story headed "McNeill wins rail promise".Ald Miers says: "If you're going to claim a win, I believe a win would be if the railway line was to be rerouted around Alice Springs."I think one day we will rue putting the railway through the heart of Alice Springs."The town council has presented a study to the government claiming that at an extra cost - as Ald Miers puts it - of "a few million dollars" for the $1b project, the track could be realigned east of the town.However, the government remains resolved to continue the line north from its present terminal, raising the spectre of noise, hazards and traffic congestions of up to 20 minutes in the town centre.Ald Miers says Alice Springs should have "pushed much harder" for a by-pass, with a spur into the town.He now judges the chances of changing the government's mind as "absolutely zero", although the council should maintain its push.Ald Miers says: "I guess it will depend on the figures, on who gets the contract - and if the railway is ever going to be built."I think there is still a question mark over whether that will ever even happen."Ald Miers says "it's pleasing to see" the Mayor "claiming that he's established cordial relationships with the NT Government."Ald Miers says: "The unfortunate thing over the last few years has been that we've had McNeill as Mayor and Stone as Chief Minister and, to put it bluntly, they hated each other's guts."That probably was an unfortunate impediment in the relationships between our local government and NT politics."So, hopefully, that obstacle has now been removed, and we can work much closer with the Chief Minister and the CLP Government generally."Ald Miers, who says he will be contesting the mayoral election next year, claims the council "is not really very impressed" about having been "totally excluded" from drafting the Alice in Ten discussion paper, dealing with the future of Alice Springs."Unless this town is totally behind the Alice in Ten project it will be yet another document that sits on the shelf, gathering dust."Ald Miers says the paper is failing to address issues ranging from anti-social behaviour, to unemployment and alcohol abuse "amongst elements of the community".Ald Miers says local government throughout the NT wants to gain control over town planning, while the government is progressively "excluding the community and councils" from the process.Meanwhile, the council itself isn't without its internal problems.Ald Miers says: "I do find it unfortunate that in recent time, we've struggled, on a couple of occasions, to get a quorum, the necessary six, to conduct a meeting."That is not good for local government, and not good for the community, and reflects unfortunately on all the aldermen."I for one have not missed a meeting in seven years, and yet I get dragged down by the opinion around town that aldermen don't care and are not attending meetings."There has been a lack of leadership."I don't want to be too critical of the Mayor. I think he's done an excellent job in some areas, but I think in terms of pulling the aldermen together he could have done more."

COURT HOUSE BURSTING AT THE SEAMS.

The Office of Courts Administration acknowledges that there have been delays "for some months now" in the progress of some cases in both the Small Claims Court and the Magistrates Court in Alice Springs.Chief Executive Officer Martin Toohey told the Alice Springs News that Director Harry Coehn will personally supervise an operational review of the Alice Springs court system, to commence this week.The delays, mostly to do with the processing of documentation, have been mainly caused by the loss of experienced staff, said Mr Toohey.This loss was due to a combination of personal circumstances and retirement, not to staff dissatisfaction, said Mr Toohey.He said the Darwin courts have been able to hold onto their experienced staff and are not having problems with delays.He also said that the design of the court, built by the Commonwealth and handed over to the Northern Territory in 1980, is a contributing factor to the delays. A $27,000 allocation will allow for functional improvements to the front counter area. The aim of the improvements will be to relocate senior staff from the upper storey offices, "to offer a higher level of service to the public and to improve overall efficiency".Work on the front counter area should commence within the month, but Mr Toohey could not say exactly when delays would be brought back to acceptable levels.He said it is a "nebulous" area, and varies from case to case, sometimes depending on activities of the legal profession, not just the court system.

ANOTHER HERITAGE BUILDING FACES THE BULLDOZER. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

IYet another remnant of Alice Springs' built heritage, the Repeater Station which is part of the old Post Office on the corner of Parsons Street and Railway Terrace, could face the bulldozer.Heritage preservation campaigner Domenico Pecorari feels that a "swifty was pulled" on the people of Alice Springs earlier this month when the old Post Office was declared a heritage place by the Northern Territory Government.Mr Pecorari says he was unaware amidst the fanfare of that occasion that the listing did not include the Repeater Station. He only realised this when he read the Government Gazette of April 14, which makes clear that the boundary of the area declared a heritage place runs along the laneway between the two buildings, excluding the Repeater Station.While Minister Tim Baldwin told ABC radio last week that he acted on the recommendation of the Heritage Advisory Council to only list the Post Office, it appears that this was a modified recommendation, seeking to accommodate the objections of Telstra who owns the site.Fran Erlich, a member of the HAC, says that body initially accepted Mr Pecorari's expert advice that both buildings be listed, but after "toing and froing" between the HAC and Telstra, and after the Minister "referred back to the HAC", they ultimately recommended that only the Post Office be listed.LISTING"While in an ideal world it would have been better to have both buildings listed, we thought Telstra was more likely to agree to a listing of one rather than both buildings," says Mrs Erlich.Given this, Mrs Erlich says the HAC considered that, of the two, the Post Office had greater value because of its social history as a meeting place for the townspeople."The Repeater Station didn't have that social history, and had undergone more extensive modification," says Mrs Erlich.She says Telstra had disputed the heritage and architectural value of both buildings.However, Mr Pecorari says the Repeater Station is the very thing that makes the old Post Office so special."Plenty of country towns throughout Australia have old post offices, but they don't have repeater stations because they didn't have a role like Alice Springs did in overland telegraph communications, which was the very reason for the town's foundation and was especially important during the Second World War," says Mr Pecorari."The two buildings were built at the same time, in the same style and out of the same materials."The Repeater Station housed the equipment and generator that were used to transmit telegraph signals from the Post Office, once this function had been moved from the Old Telegraph Station to the then town of Stuart."The two buildings are part of a set, like salt and pepper shakers, they tell their story together, that's their heritage value."Telstra are not ruling out the possible demolition of the Repeater Station.Corporate Affairs Manager for Telstra in the NT, Jeannette Button, says: "We are looking at the best way to prepare the site for sale, to realise its commercial value."Clearing the site is one option."While no decision has yet been made, and while they are happy to work within the confines of the heritage listing of the Post Office, Ms Button says Telstra have no interest in the heritage of the site."We own buildings of potential heritage value all over Australia," says Ms Button. "There's a limit on how many we can keep for that purpose."Both buildings are listed on the Register of the National Estate (as the Postal Institute of NT and Alice Springs Exchange), which affords them protection from damage by Commonwealth Ministers and bodies, "unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative".A rationale for demolition of the Repeater Station could possibly be found if there were contamination of the site from its now defunct underground diesel tanks. An environmental check which could reveal this must be made before the site is sold. "We don't want to upset the people of Alice Springs but we would want to do the right thing by any environment we had been in," says Ms Button.Director of the Register of the National Estate, Robert Bruce, says the Australian Heritage Commission "has had recent discussions with Telstra about the intentions and has reminded them of their obligations under the AHC Act to avoid damaging the place and to refer any proposal that might affect the building to the AHC for comment."However, if the site passes into the hands of private owners, the protection of the Commonwealth Act will no longer apply, and with only the Post Office protected under Territory legislation, the way would be clear for demolition of the Repeater Station.Meanwhile, the Alice Springs News has heard from Minister Tim Baldwin that the NT Government did not make a blanket objection to 43 interim listings of Territory places on the Register of the National Estate (see front page, News, April 7).Mr Baldwin says his Government only objected to five out of the 43, and for the rest the Government had made "constructive comments", but "the AHC view all comments as objections"."They should see constructive comments for what they are, not as objections," says Mr Baldwin.In reply, Mr Bruce says: "The Commission understood that the NT Government had objected to all 43 places. However it welcomes the view of the NT Minister that this was not the case."

LETTER FROM VIENNA: KEEP THE CENTRE BITUMEN FREE!

Sir,- In the Alice Spring News issue April 21, I have read about the "Outback Highway", a sealed road through The Centre. I'm not against progress, please believe me, but I think that the spirit of Central Australia will get lost with such a project. I don't know which sort of tourists this "Highway Group" wants to speak to, but real "Outdoor Tourists", and from this sort there are more than enough here in Europe, and also in other parts of the world, they don't want to travel on bitumen roads through a country which is well known as one of the best "Outdoor Countries" in the world.Okay, there are a great number of rich tourists who want to travel with a lot of comfort and spend a lot of money on their tours, but these tourists come with aircrafts to places like Ayers Rock, Great Barrier Reef or others.They will not use a road in length of hundreds of kilometers through a hot and dusty area, whether this road is sealed or not. So I honestly hope that this project will never be realized and we "Outback Tourists" can travel in future on "rough bush tracks" through this beautiful country.A recent trip we made to Namibia was great. We have seen a lot of animals and impressive landscapes. But now after four weeks at home I realized that I missed my annual Australia-trip extreme. Next year we will come back to Alice Springs, I'm sure.All the best from Vienna and please "KEEP CENTRAL AUSTRALIA BITUMEN-FREE"!!!Alfred Pruckner
ozfred@pop.vienna.at

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.