ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
June 16, 1999

AYERS ROCK JOB PROGRAM. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Mutitjulu community is seeking Federal funds for a three-year program to get 94 people "job ready" while 25 kilometres away, the 650 workers at the internationally famous Ayers Rock Resort for years have been recruited from throughout Australia and overseas.The resort is the tourist base for the Uluru National Park. The park has been the property since 1985 of Aborigines living at Mutitjulu and other traditional owners.At present no member of the community, which according to Mutitjulu CEO Karen Aucote has an unemployment rate of 95 per cent, is working at the resort, in full operation since the early 1980s.Its publicity manager, Karen Hedges, says "we would love to have [local Aboriginal people] working here".She says Mutitjulu is the only community near the resort from which a stable work force could be drawn.Present resort workers are staying for an average of 9.6 months, and are hired from as far away as Sydney and New Zealand. A few – fewer than one per cent – are overseas tourists with a working visa.Ms Hedges says she’s not aware of any job seekers from Mutitjulu, and it is not clear to her why there are no applicants.She says requirements for such jobs as room attendant or porter, are "good communication skills, grooming skills" and in some cases "basic computer skills".She says all resort staff undergo some form of in-house training before starting work. Ms Aucote says Mutitjulu does not have a CDEP "work for the dole" scheme, common on other communities.(CDEP has a participation rate in the NT many times the national average. Without CDEP the Territory's unemployment rate would be the nation's highest, about 15 per cent, instead of the current official four per cent.)Ms Aucote says the community's elders have been concerned for some time "that the young people are being lost, that they are paid to sit down, and they are not learning to work".She says there are employment opportunities "if people are given the appropriate training for work."Most of the [conventional employment] programs require somebody who's never worked, and hasn't had generational role models, to go from no experience whatever to full time work."We need time for people to learn life skills and get some work experience, and gradually move into the permanent positions."Ms Aucote says there is a waiting time of some three years for CDEP programs, and the community's proposed scheme has yet to be funded. While the scheme is generally accepted as "a very good one, we just can't understand why they can't find a way of assisting us".Ms Aucote says jobs aren't being sought at the resort at present because the "education level is low, and Aboriginal people are traditionally shy: "There's been no experience of work. We need time for our people to get up to the standard that would be required."We're proposing training pools of workers ... doing a few hours, learn what's required of them and they gradually work their way into full time positions ... feeling comfortable that they're able to do the work to the standard [expected]."You can't have any person who's had limited education and limited opportunities – ever – to just go along and jump into a very busy job."Ms Aucote says as a small minority group amongst the resort workers, Mutitjulu community members would feel self-conscious.Besides, there had been "no direct offer" from the resort that "they would take our people as they are now."They have not come out and said, look, we will take people in and we will train them and allow them to work."Resort representatives had attended and supported "major employment strategy" meetings at the community, and there are "regular" discussions with the resort management."I know that [tourists] want contact with Aboriginal people, but that contact has to be as equals rather than [based on] curiosity," says Ms Aucote."We need time for the people here so that they feel comfortable about going in there and feeling as equals in the work place, rather than being there to be seen."We need the program we've asked for, a training and employment program that allows pre vocational training skills development, life skills training, and allows people to start to move forward and take on positions within the park, the community, and those people then move on into the work force."I don't see that we've asked, at this stage, that a demand be placed on Ayers Rock Resort for immediate employment."Ms Aucote says if the proposed program came to fruition, participants would be giving up their unemployment benefits, which would reduce the scheme's cost to the government.While the intended duration of the program is three years, some results could be expected much sooner, says Ms Aucote.Most of the people at Mutitjulu have a "level of English" but it's their second language, most of them being Pitjantjatjara speakers.

FINKE DESERT RACE: BUGGIES TO RULE?

The first ever "four-wheeled" outright winners of the Finke, Mark Burrows and Michael Shannon, had thousands of off-roaders around Australia sitting up and taking note.To date the organisers of Finke have had to contend with the national circuit's competition, which conducts an event at Sea Lake in Victoria on the Queen's Birthday. Sea Lake was canceled due to inclement weather this year.Finke to date has battled slowly to drag entrants from the national scene.This year's achievement, being so focussed, should see the numbers of buggy entrants and fans on the increase for the 21st century – the 25th Finke.But it will not only be the Australian market that Finke will harvest. The recently formed NT Major Events company was at Finke, headed up by Paul Cattermole. And it was just the landmark result that Cattermole and his marketeers wanted. In anticipation of a great race, they had commissioned a $50,000 video of the race. In the coming months, while the overworked volunteer committee of the race recuperate, it will be the job of the major events people to expose Finke to the race hungry overseas and, in particular, American market. At present it is the infamous Baja which captivates the World of "off road" fans, but with Finke now available to every home with a television, the growth of the event is imminent.What is such a spin off mean for Alice Springs? Besides the pilgrimage of supporters from other ports, giving the accommodation industry a shot in the arm, the local engineering industry can expect a boost. INDUSTRYIn the industrial areas of town there is already a thriving community of small businesses which focus their lives on Finke. Several buggies, like that of Tony Byrnes, have been designed and constructed here in town. In the future one could expect race teams to base themselves in the Centre, at least for the lead up months to the Finke.The opportunity is there for the whole town to capitalise on this major event. However at the base of the pyramid of possible achievement is the need for a sound Finke Committee to be formed for the year 2000, lending a hand to this year's stalwarts headed by Jol Fleming, Christine Potts, Marty Isaksen and David Koch.

NEW FOOD LAWS ARE NEEDED, SAYS SENATOR TAMBLING. (Letter to the Editor.)

Sir,– I refer to the article "New food laws may kill bush tours" (Alice News , May 26). On behalf of the Australian New Zealand Food Authority, I'd like to try and allay the fears of Northern Territory tourism operators about the impact of Australia's proposed food safety reforms.The article quoted some worried operators of bush and camping tours, who appeared to believe the reforms could spell the end for their businesses.This is far from the case. First, effective food safety programs don't have to be a bureaucratic nightmare for tourism operators. For instance, a food business that provides "billy tea and damper" will have a much simpler food safety program than a food manufacturer.Similarly, auditing costs are related to the complexity and the risk the food business presents. An independent consultant to ANZFA has estimated that it will cost small food businesses hundreds of dollars less to comply with the proposed food safety standards than they have to pay now.And there is no point burying our heads in the sand – it's a fact that Australia has a growing food poisoning problem. The latest statistics we have show that about 11,500 consumers get food poisoning every day. This translates to around 4.2 million cases every year, which cost the community (including business) about $2.6 billion annually.Another food poisoning fact is that around the world, including in Australia, new and dangerous strains of bacteria are now appearing which can kill – or seriously damage people's health.Our current food safety regulations can't cope with all this. They're an outdated, confusing mishmash of red tape which is failing to prevent food poisoning from increasing . They urgently need fixing, for everyone's sake – including the operators of "bush tours".Since 1995, when the States and Territories decided to upgrade our national food safety system following the Garibaldi food poisoning outbreak in South Australia, Federal, State and Territory Health Ministers have been committed to progressing the proposed food safety standards.Finally, in case your readers need reminding, the Northern Territory has had its share of food poisoning outbreaks recently.For example, Alice Springs has experienced 67 cases of food poisoning and food-related health complaints between 1997 and the present; in the Darwin region, there have been 117 cases from 1998 to the present; and in 1998/99 so far in outback Central Australia, there have been four cases. These include a major incident at Yulara late last year when a bus-load of tourists came down with very serious gastroenteritis as a result of eating contaminated food.The proposed food safety standards provide practical and simple ways to cut down the rate of food contamination – and they make good business sense.In the past few weeks I have also been pleased to meet with representatives of CATIA, the Alice Springs Chamber of Commerce, the Wayside Inn Association and the AHA (NT) in Alice Springs and Darwin and hope their initial fears have been allayed. I recommend that business operators who want to be better-informed about the standards take the time to have a look at ANZFA's Internet website. The address is www.anzfa.gov.au.
They might even end up as supporters of the food safety reforms!
Grant Tambling
Senator for the Northern Territory

HOW IMPARTIAL IS OUR PUBLIC SERVICE? Comment by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Alice News doesn't normally make its commercial negotiations subject to editorial comment, but when there are strong indications of government misconduct they become a matter of public interest.We offered the Araluen Centre– now under the control of the NT Department for Arts and Museums – an advertising feature celebrating its 15th birthday. This would have given Araluen, at relatively little expense to it, substantial exposure, potentially over several pages, with support advertising from friendly companies and suppliers.We asked acting director Bob Corby for a list of likely support advertisers, and to our complete consternation, he declined. Mr Corby admitted that such a list had been given to our opposition, the Centralian Advocate.Mr Corby declined to explain his decision, except to say it was based on commercial considerations, and invited us to take up the matter with his boss, Darwin-based Sylvia Langford. This suggests that the decision was hers.We told Mr Corby we would take the matter up with the Minister, Peter Adamson, which we did, and to date have received no reply. Ms Langford featured prominently in our coverage last year of her department's funding of the Centre Stage theatre group in Alice Springs, which received a fraction of the money paid by the NT Government to the Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre in Darwin.Readers will recall the hapless performance by then Arts Minister Daryl Manzie, trying to explain why a Darwin organisation was given such preferential treatment, and – no doubt briefed by Ms Langford – got some salient facts embarrassingly wrong.The Alice News also published critical coverage about the department's absorption of Araluen in the new "cultural precinct" while failing to adequately consult with the public, the presumed owners of the art centre.These reports were carefully researched and comprehensive "right of reply" had been offered to the government on all issues.Yet now, it seems, Ms Langford has seen an opportunity for payback.She has decided to boycott a newspaper which has published tens of thousands of words about events at Araluen (and will, of course, continue to do so), and has built up a reputation, especially through the work of its arts writer, Kieran Finnane, of excellent and well informed reporting about cultural events. To apply commercial pressure in order to influence editorial performance of a medium is regarded as despicable if exercised by a private company: for a government instrumentality to do so is a major disgrace. But the issue goes even further: by withholding the list from us, Araluen's new masters are denying its corporate supporters the opportunity of advertising in the publication of their choice.It all fits snugly into the NT Government's media policy: for example, media advertising is exempt from normal tender processes, giving wide scope for using taxpayers' money, with impunity, to extract editorial favours from media.If there is another interpretation of Araluen's actions then we'd like to know about it. The story goes further: Mr Adamson's media "adviser" is Peter Gandolfi. As a public servant it is incumbent upon him to do his job impartially and efficiently – no more, no less. In reality he doesn't even return our ‘phone calls. For this issue, we also wanted to talk to him about the controversy over the Tilmouth Well liquor application, to which Mr Adamson's Education Department formally registered no objection, while the Yuendumu school council made an impassioned plea against making grog more accessible in their region (see page 4). No reply.According to the ABC, Mr Gandolfi is interested in standing for the Legislative Assembly seat being vacated by Barry Coulter. So, is Mr Gandolfi playing politics – punishing media who ask the hard questions and feeding "handouts" to the compliant ones?Mr Adamson – as Education Minister – also sparked national and international condemnation of the Northern Territory for proposing to axe bilingual education from its schools. He surely needs a good media adviser.As new Chief Minister Denis Burke is mopping up after the excesses of the Shane Stone regime, manipulative and incompetent dealings with the media should be high on his "must fix" list.

DARWIN RAILWAY: TRUCKIES NOW WANT THEIR SHARE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The road transport industry in Alice Springs says it is not opposed to the Darwin railway if it will be competing on an "equal footing".Peter Mostran, southern vice president of the NT Road Transport Association, says the massive grants proposed by the NT and Federal governments to build the line must be matched by a similar expenditure for roads in the region.At present the NT, South Australian and Commonwealth governments have all pledged $100m, but it is expected that the recently chosen developers of the line, the Asia Pacific Consortium, will be demanding more from the public purse – possibly a total of half the project's estimated cost of $1.2b. Discussions between governments and the consortium, on outcome of which it will depend whether or not the project will proceed, are scheduled for September or October this year.Mr Mostran says the road transport industry will be seeking a multi million dollar government investment in an extended and improved network. "There are not too many regional roads in good condition," says Mr Mostran.He says road widening, upgrades and new bridges would be a start.Mr Mostran estimates the road transport industry is bringing up to $40m a year to Alice Springs, employs some 250 people directly, earning up to $10m, and about 500 people in a variety of road transport support enterprises earn all or some of their income from the industry.He says about 200 trailers a week bring in freight from Adelaide, and 300 a week travel from here to Darwin.Although The Alice has been served by rail transport from Adelaide for decades, two-thirds of Adelaide freight still comes by road, as well as 27 per cent of Melbourne freight.Mr Mostran says this is a good example of how quicker service and flexibility have enabled the legendary road train operators to out-perform rail – without any subsidies.He says road transport is likely to remain quicker than rail, because trains travel at about the same speed but have rigid time tables, and can't deliver from door to door: trucks have to be involved at either end of the journey.He says the local trucking industry will "most likely" grow with a new railway line, retaining the perishables business and creating "shuttle" services from railway stations along the route.Accredited programs like Trucksafe, larger containers, better maintenance and management have streamlined the industry."Cowboy operators are disappearing fast," says Mr Mostran.He says a sharp hike in government spending on roads would do no more than return to the industry what it is paying in taxes: 32 per cent of the industry's costs – around $15m a year in Central Australia alone – is for fuel; and 40 per cent of that goes to governments as taxes.Yet the Territory's total expenditure on road maintenance, including the Stuart Highway, is between just $10m to $15m a year.[Mr Mostran says a curious question has cropped up about the new railway: it's believed that long trains would be unable to climb the hills north of the town without a "run-up".This would either rule out use of the present rail yards, relocating them well south of the town, or else the trains – after loading operations in town – would first need to back-track south again, to pick up speed for the ascent to the Bond Springs plateau, 600 feet above the town.This would mean trains would traverse the town three times on each trip, blocking car traffic at rail intersections for extended periods.]

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT AT ODDS WITH SCHOOL COUNCIL OVER GROG.

While a bush school council has unanimously opposed a nearby roadhouse's application to vary its liquor licence, the NT Department of Education, without consultation, has formally registered no objection to the application.Tilmouth Well Roadhouse is on the Tanami Road, roughly halfway between Alice Springs and Yuendumu.At present it operates a licensed restaurant but has applied to vary its license to be able to sell drinks without a meal.The Yuendumu School Council discussed the application at its meetings on July 29 last year and again on February 10 this year. On both occasions the council unanimously stated its "absolute objection" to any variation of the current licence. They conveyed their objection to the Deputy Registrar of Liquor Licences in a well argued letter dated February 14.Meanwhile, the next day a letter from Operations South, NT Department of Education, signed for Russell Totham, Superintendent Alice Springs East, advised the Deputy Registrar that the Department "has no objections to the granting of this licence".Yuendumu School Council was not consulted about the application.At the time of going to press the Department had not responded to a request for comment.In its letter of objection Yuendumu School Council summarised its views thus:"Despite the good intentions of the proprietor, any liberalisation of the conditions of the licence will be exploited by local people to get alcohol closer to home."There will be more car accidents and deaths on the Tanami Road."The school is already affected by drunks in the community: they lairise around at night disturbing theirs and other households, causing arguments and fights. Our Aboriginal teaching staff and children come late to school or simply miss school as a result of this behaviour. The availability of alcohol closer to Yuendumu will simply exacerbate this situation."There are neglected children at Yuendumu: families often have insufficient money to properly feed and clothe their children since certain family members prefer to spend their money on alcohol rather than fulfil their social and moral obligations; this appalling situation will be made even worse."The proprietor will, whether he likes it or not, become wealthier at the expense of increased Aboriginal suffering."These laws are OK for Kardiya (non-Aboriginal) people; Yapa (Aboriginal) people need really tough law."Yuendumu's already got lots of problems, for example, domestic violence. The police will spend more time chasing drunks instead of following up on these problems."Please do not change the liquor licence of Tilmouth Well Roadhouse. A lot of Aboriginal people live in the Tanami Region. Our communities are not yet ready for these changes."The letter was signed by the council Chair,Thomas Jangala Rice, School Councillor, Jeannie Nungarrayi Egan (also a senior teacher at the school), and A. W. Mirtschin, Principal, on behalf of the council.Michael Morgan, youth development coordinator of Yuendumu's Substance Abuse Prevention Program, and an ex-teacher at the school, asks:"How can the Education Department not even consult bush schools on very important issues related to education and the community?"It seems that they are the big ‘mission bosses' for Aboriginal people."I feel that if this was an urban situation, for example, a sex shop being opened within the vicinity of a town school, the Department would not dare give support without consultation."

ALICE CAREER WOMEN: JUMPING IN AT THE DEEP END. Series by KIERAN FINNANE.

Paramedic Toni Elferink was a cadet with the St John's Ambulance Service from the age of 10, but while paramedicine ultimately became her vocation she has looked and will continue to look at other options."Seize the day," could be Toni's motto, and it's an approach, while not without risk, that has reaped her rich rewards.KIERAN FINNANE continues her series on Alice women in careers. (See Part One in last week's issue.)
After 12 months as a trainee in the then Conservation Commission and another 12 as a cadet with the Northern Territory Police, Toni started a traineeship with St John's in 1989, in Darwin.Working as a junior officer, she obtained an Associate Diploma of Applied Science from NT University, qualifying as an ambulance officer.With husband John, then a policeman, now MLA for MacDonnell, she returned to Alice Springs in 1993 with a view to getting her paramedic's qualification. "I really wanted to achieve that. It's the highest level you can achieve in Australia, the pinnacle of an ambulance officer's career."The occupation has three levels, each with its set of skills and drugs able to be administered.At the highest level, a paramedic can administer a full range of emergency drugs and procedures to adults and children."It's a skilled job in a specialised but rather narrow sphere," says Toni.Before achieving her level three qualification in 1995, she also obtained her Bachelor of Health Science by part-time distance study through Charles Sturt University.She had become "multi-skilled", doing on road work, communications and coordination work, and First Aid training up to occupational level. Then in 1997, her career took an unexpected turn.A marine hydrographic survey company, PGS Exploration, was working off shore Darwin in the Timor Sea. They were short of a paramedic, and approached St John's to help."The manager rang and asked me if I wanted to go to sea for five weeks. I said, ‘Absolutely!' He asked if I wanted to talk to John about it. I said, ‘I'll inform him when he gets home!'"It was time for a change. I was a bit stale, and the work here is quite hard. The things you see are always negative. Nobody calls you because they are having a good day, it's always crisis intervention."I thought it couldn't hurt, and John supported it completely, but neither of us expected that I would fall in love with the job. "The first time I went out, I landed from a helicopter onto the ship, on the edge of a cyclone and it was rough. Everybody was green."I'd been asked if I'd ever been seasick. I'd said no but I'd never been on a boat!"It was quite an unpleasant experience. I remember sitting in my cabin on the edge of the bunk, I had my little bear with me, my talisman, I remember crying into his fur, ‘What have I done?' "I thought I'd gone from living a life to actually living in hell. A couple of days later I sorted it all out and adapted."At the end of five weeks they asked if I'd like to come back after my five week break, I said ‘Yes please' and it all got approved through St John and PGS."The first week back on board they said, ‘You'd better give us your passport if you are coming to Russia with us.' No worries!"For the northern summer we were working off shore Sakhalin Island in Russia. About 60 to 80 per cent of the crew were Russian. A lot of them didn't speak English, we had an interpreter on board, and I learnt some Russian, we taught each other. The whole working experience was unique and wonderful."Last year I spent a ten day vacation in Russia and felt a great sense of family, everyone welcomed me. Because I was the medic looking after their sons or husbands, they thought I was pretty special."Initially I was one of two women on board. There was a navigation processor who was married to the chief navigation officer, but after ten months she left the vessel, and that was it, I was the only woman."It was like being at the centre of the universe!" laughs Toni."At first the Russians didn't like having me there. "They never gave me a hard time sexually but a woman's place on a ship, in their view, was in the galley cooking or cleaning. "For them to accept I was the medical officer was hard until I had a few wins, suturing people up, and other successes with illness or injury. "Eventually they completely trusted me."How did she manage the five weeks on, five weeks off routine?"I learnt to have two lives, switch one on, switch one off. Going to work for five weeks at a time wasn't a drama, it was so varied, and there was good crew continuity so it was like going to see your other family. "On board I was busy for 16 hours a day. I took on the health and safety environment aspects of the vessel at the request of the party manager, and six months into the position, I started taking on some administration that was delegated down to me. "I learnt a lot of computer and general management skills – what I put in I also got out."At home it was excellent but a bit manic. I was trying to live ten weeks in five, trying to catch up with everyone and have a good time. "John was just getting into politics, so while I was away he could immerse himself in his job, then when I came home, he'd ease off a bit. "After two and a half years, it had taken a bit of a toll, we were two people leading separate lives, but we still had enough communication and love and good friendship to keep going."During this time, Toni had taken leave without pay from the ambulance service but by November last year she had to make a choice about whether to go back or not. She chose her job at sea and resigned, so it was something of a blow when just a few months later, after a world-wide fall in commodity prices, the ship was terminated from operations."The whole crew were devastated, we all cried. But even if I had known how it would end, I would still have done it. The life experience, the travel, the skills and knowledge I've picked up are all things you couldn't buy."And at the end of the day here I can still somehow get money into the house, whereas my friends in Russia can't. Jobs are really hard to find there. I really felt for them, but like true Russians, they're happy go lucky, ‘God always smiles on them,' they say."Toni's now been out of full time work for nearly three months, and isn't finding it easy to get a new job that would be the challenge she's after: "I need something that keeps me mentally entertained, that let's me be my own personality, then I'll thrive. I fear boredom. I've come to the realisation that while being a paramedic is great it's limited in its scope, very specialised. I'm looking now for a career change. I don't know what's around the corner but it's time to flap my wings!"[Note: Toni was one of four guest speakers at the recent launch of the BPW (Business & Professional Women) Young Career Woman of the Year Award, for which BPW Alice Springs are seeking nominations. Closing date June 30. For more information contact Julie Ross on Phone/fax 89522725.]

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