ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
February 9, 2000

PRIZE FUELS INTEREST IN TED EGAN'S FILM. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

Alice Springs singer Ted Egan’s win of a Golden Guitar at Tamworth has triggered a flood of applications from potential investors in his $7m feature film, "The Drover's Boy".This may turn the fortunes of the wide-screen production, the biggest ever by a Territory film maker, which has been struggling for funds for more than 10 years.Mr Egan says he will use this latest demonstration of public interest as a strong argument when he meets this week with the Federal Government's Film Finance Corporation (FFC), in a bid to raise about $2m.More than 500 people from around Australia have applied for prospectuses following the top country music award, for a film clip edited from footage already shot for the movie, and achieved despite stiff national competition."We won against some absolutely hot opposition," says Mr Egan."All the major recording companies had videos up against it."We won it because we have a bloody good director, Jean-Pierre Mignon, and a bloody good cameraman, Nino Martinetti."Mr Egan says about one tenth of "The Drover's Boy" is already "in the can" and all is set to resume filming in May and June this year.The story, based on Mr Egan's hit song of the same name, is about an Aboriginal girl who masquerades as a boy to work in a stock camp, and falls in love with a white ringer suffering from shell shock after World War I."Everything in place except full budget," Mr Egan says.However, while 4000 "ordinary people who follow my music and country music generally" have already put money into the venture, big investors are still absent."We're talking to some bigger punters but no-one ever reaches for the Parker pen.SMALLER PUNTERS"They all say, yeah, it sounds great, we'd love to see it when it's finished because it's going to be good."We have never had any problems getting the support of the smaller punters."Mr Egan says the FFC "said they are likely to invest, but they're like the big punters, they haven't until now."It's quite frustrating that no-one ever says, look, here's the cheque, do the bloody film."The way we've had to do it to date is just keep going to the general public who've never ever failed in coming forward."Mr Egan says as spenders of public money, the FFC "certainly can't come in to a thing that might happen."They invariably come in and cause a thing to happen."A decision likely to be made "fairly quickly". He says: "We do have cast and crew in place, we do have the sets built and we do have a script that's being reviewed by a writer who will certify to the FFC that in his opinion it's ready to go. "While that can be taken as a bit patronising, nonetheless it's one of the FFC's stipulations, and I guess that's fair enough when you're using taxpayers' money."Mr Egan says the TEN television network has made an offer which depends on "how the film will go. "TEN have said they like the project and an overseas company, Gold Crest, has said the same." Mr Egan says he also has an agreement with an Australian distributor, a "mate" prepared to lend support if no other deal comes off. "You can get put in the clutches of big distributors and they can send you broke in two weeks. "Some of the Australian films die in the first two weeks and they say, here's your 100 copies of your film, take them home and put them in your garage, and make another one. "Anyway, we're planning to make one film and do it well." Mr Egan says the NT Government has still not pledged any support. Asked what would do more for the Territory, the Darwin railway or his movie, Mr Egan replied: "Good question. "‘The Drover's Boy' could establish a movie industry in Central Australia. That's the point I'm trying to make with the NT Government. "The greatest tourist promotion device ever for Australia has been Crocodile Dundee. "People in our film, Ningali, the Aboriginal girl, and Ernie Dingo, people like that, saying ‘welcome to our country', that's priceless stuff, and we can get that through our film." [During the ‘eighties the NT Tourist Commission spent more than $1m on a 20-minute promotional film, shot on 16mm. It was shown once, at its "premiere" in Darwin, and then disappeared from view.The film shown in the theaterette in Alice Springs' Desert Park also cost the NT Government more than $1m. Both were produced by interstate companies.]

$12m "TAJ MAHAL" HAS ALDERMEN BRAWLING.

Two prominent aldermen are locking horns over what one of them refers to as "council plans to build itself a Taj Mahal".Alderman Geoff Miers, who will be running for Mayor this year, says a new civic centre would plunge the council into 20 years of debt without delivering commensurate benefits to the public.He is trading blows with Alderman Tony Alicastro who – ironiclly – is also vehemently opposed to the project, but in favour of asking the NT Government for a $6m subsidy for the project.Ald Alicastro says Ald Miers has all along been in favour of commissioning a consultants' report on the needs of the municipal bureaucracy, as well as a string of community organisations.One option proposed by the study is to build a $12m centre, incorporating some sections of the existing council offices, and bulldozing others, including the western wing and the garden room and erecting a two storey extension.This would include a hall that can serve as a convention area – presumably in opposition to the one across the river for which the NT Government has signalled support.(Officials are this week consulting with the two remaining applicants, Rydges Plaza Hotel and Lasseter's Casino, vying for yet unspecified government support to build a convention centre.)Another option is to refurbish the present building which is just 20 years old.The report has already cost more than $100,000, and another $5000 may be spent on a model, according to Ald Miers.Last week all aldermen with the exception of Ald Miers voted to seek a $6m grant from the government. It appears even aldermen opposed to the project – including Ald Alicastro – voted "yes". Alderman Les Smith was absent.Ald Alicastro engaged in some specatcular mental gymnastics to justify asking the NT Government for money for a project he says he has been opposing "with passion" all along.He says: "The logical thing is to [ask] the government, are you going to assist, and then accordingly, with the response from the government, we will then make a decision on what to do next."It's not, by any means, that the council is committing themselves on spending $6m.PREFERRED"What we have said is that is the preferred option."If the goverment supports that then we will make a decision accordingly, and [taking into account] the council's capacity to borrow."Ald Miers disagrees: "The reality is, if the government come back and say to us, here's $6m, we're literally locked in to progressing with the development."I'm sure some aldermen would think it would be irresponsible to reject an offer of $6m from the government."Ald Miers says he has, since his election to the council, fought hard to make it debt free: "In the year 2002 this council will owe no money and we'll be in a position where instead of spending half a million, up to $1m a year, on servicing debts, and paying interest, we'll be able to put that money into tangible, real projects, new parks, shade for our playgrounds, new toilet facilities in the CBD, whatever it may be."If we borrow that money we are not going to be able to afford to do any other projects for many, many years."Ald Miers says the council would be saddled with repaying – including interest – more than $11m over 20 years, either pushing rates up by about seven per cent, or necessitating cuts to "basic core services".He says: "In the first instance I supported the council looking at alternative development of the civic centre site, and a very comprehensive community consultation process."A council briefing paper says community organisations expressing interest in obtaining space in a new and enlarged civic centre include the toy library, playgroup association, family day care, children's services resource program, Parents as Teachers, Childbirth Education Centre, Kidsmobile and Nursing Mothers Association – all currently accommodated elsewhere."One has to question whether it is the role of council or more the role of the NT Government to facilitate that sort of developent," says Ald Miers.Neither the briefing paper nor the $100,000 plus consultants' report are dealing in detail with who should pay for those facilities, nor how much.Did the commuity say it wants the council to spend $12m on a new centre?"I don't think the community has ever been asked," says Ald Miers, " and it would be interesting to see what the community's attitude is to the council borrowing $6m."I don't think that point has really emerged until now."The fact is we are looking at paying out $11m over 20 years."This community is not in a position to service this debt without core services being impacted upon."That is the crux of the matter."What we should be looking at now, in the light of the financial reality, is scaling back the project and undertaking the [necessary] refurbishments of the site."We got to a point where we have a wonderful concept for the development of the civic centre."But some of it can be achieved through involvement of commercial enterprises, at no cost to council."The reality is that we are now confronted with the cold, hard facts that it's going to cost the council at least $11m to redevelop the site, and $1m to $3m to fit it out."

OLD HOUSE IN TOWN COULD HAVE BEEN A TREASURE. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Last week Alice Springs had a station homestead right in the middle of its central business district, potentially an easily accessible opportunity for locals and tourists to take in some of the lifestyle of The Centre's sprawling and world-famous cattle runs.By the time you're reading this, all this will probably have been reduced to rubble, making way in all likelihood for yet another car park.The bulldozer is lining up for the main house built some 50 years ago, with a big rear verandah like those where station folk like to sit in the shade or do their laundry.There are (or were) also out-buildings, a water tank, swimming pool, and across an open space, a smaller house of the type used for head stockmen.Mature trees and a wide range of other plants surround the main building.A few props – hitching rails, a dusty Toyota, saddles, a windmill – could have been added, creating another attraction for visitors, the town's life blood, or a film set.Yet the town's tourism and movie industry aspirations notwithstanding, the NT Government's Heritage Advisory Council (HAC) failed to recommend the residence of the late Lizzy Milnes in Bath Street for preservation.No-one in town, the National Trust and the tourism lobby CATIA included, has raised any significant opposition to the demolition.Silent also was the town council: in order to get more office space, which could easily have been created in the Milnes complex, the council is currently contemplating spending $12m to expand its civic centre.The 2460 square metre Bath Street property – apparently the last early CBD building still to have been used as a residence – came under the hammer in December.It was sold for $480,000 to the Melbourne based MCS Property Ltd, which owns the adjoining K-Mart.According to the selling agents, L J Hooker, it is still not decided for what purpose the land will be used.A member of the HAC, Fran Erlich, says the complex didn't fit the guidelines for heritage listing.‘DOESN'T FIT'This is surprising, as the HAC is required to draw up its criteria for listing in accordance with provisions of the Heritage Conservation Act.Under it, buildings suitable for protection include those "of significance in the evolution and pattern of the Territory's natural or cultural history" and "demonstrating the prime characteristics of a class of the Territory's heritage places or objects" – no doubt embracing the pastoral industry.A reason for heritage listing can also be the "significance for their strong association with the life or works of a notable person or persons associated with the Territory".There is little doubt that Mrs Milnes could fit that bill: She was a member of the Hayes family, frequently touted as the region's pioneers.Her cattle station, Owen Springs, was occasionally the subject for controversy over land management.Her refusal to give up a small section of Owen Springs frustrated government plans to complete the Western MacDonnell national park, as well as the centre section of a heavily promoted hiking trail traversing it.The very house now being demolished is a testimonial to Mrs Milnes' resolute refusal to surrender her lifestyle and make way for "development" – continuously an issue fuelling passions in the town.When all surrounding land was sold for the K-Mart complex, Mrs Milnes was the only one to say "no", one of the few to stem the tide of destruction of buildings linked with the town's non- Aboriginal history.The Act also gives the HAC the opportunity of preserving buildings "of significance for their potential to yield information which will contribute to a better understanding of Territory heritage".Without doubt, the Milnes complex presented the best opportunity for visitors to see a homestead – without even leaving the centre of the town.Even Mrs Erlich concedes that the complex was "a homestead transplanted into town", but says "tourism value is not a criterion in terms of heritage".She says the decision followed an assessment by a government heritage architect, apparently from Darwin.Local heritage architect Domenico Pecorari, who frequently advises the HAC, says he was not consulted.He says it seems the town was sitting on its hands over the issue, but adds this may have been because events were unfolding during the summer holiday period.

MANDATORY SENTENCING TURNS COURTS INTO LOTTERY. Comment by KIERAN FINNANE.

In the Northern Territory mandatory imprisonment for property offences takes individual circumstances out of the sentencing picture, or does it?On the face of it, the only thing that matters is the type of offence, the age of the offender and their offending history.But let's take, for example, seven instances of a car window being smashed.The first person is charged with unlawfully interfering with a motor vehicle. The charge does not attract a mandatory sentence.The second person is charged with criminal damage. He or she is 17 years old and has never offended before: they are considered an adult and face a first strike mandatory sentence of 14 days.The third person is 15 years old and has previously been in trouble, let's say for unlawful driving. He or she faces detention for 28 days at the Don Dale Detention Centre. They are really scared about being taken away from their family but as they live in Darwin, they will at least get family visits.The fourth person's case is identical to the third's, but he or she lives in a Central Australian Aboriginal community, their parents are unemployed and won't be able to afford to go to Darwin to visit them.The fifth is a 17 year old "of good character", can make restitution, cooperates with the police and can show mitigating circumstances. The court, since amendments to the legislation last year, is able to exercise its discretion to not impose a custodial sentence.The sixth is another 17 year old, also generally of good character but was drunk when he smashed the window. He is unemployed, and comes from an impoverished family. Mitigating circumstances do not include intoxication, and he can not make restitution. There is no room for the court to exercise discretion. The seventh person smashed the window of a vehicle belonging to a Commonwealth body such as Telstra. He or she is charged under the Commonwealth Crimes Act, and their conviction does not attract a mandatory sentence.The examples above are drawn from information contained in the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service's submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee which conducted hearings in relation to mandatory sentencing of juveniles in Alice Springs last week.According to the submission: "Identical acts can and do result in wildly different dispositions by the court ... Offenders before the court do not necessarily understand why one outcome is so different from another ... there is a loss of parity in sentencing [which] ultimately undermines the entire legal process. It becomes something of a lottery system."The Senate Committee's inquiry comes as a result of Tasmanian Green Senator Bob Brown's Human Rights (Mandatory Sentencing of Juvenile Offenders) Bill 1999.Under the Territory legislation, a juvenile is defined as a person between 15 and 17 years old. Once a person has turned 17, in relation to criminal matters and only in this one regard, they are considered to be an adult. Of all Australian 17 year olds, only those living in the Territory are treated as adults when it comes to locking them up.Turning 17 has meant big trouble for one young Central Australian, a client of CAALAS.As a 16 year old she committed property offences in the company of others, and as she had a prior property offence, she faces 28 days in custody. If she had been 17 at the time of committing the offence, the sentence for her first adult strike would be 14 days.On the other hand, because she has turned 17 she can't serve her 28 days in the juvenile detention centre. She will go to gaol with adults.What will a month in gaol do for this very young woman?CAALAS and ATSIC both quoted to the Senate Committee, with some irony, a 1991 Northern Territory Correctional Services publication identifying some of the problems of locking young people up: "The evidence is clear that the more access juveniles have to the criminal justice system the more frequently and deeper they will penetrate it. "It has been shown that punishment of criminal offenders through incarceration in a juvenile detention centre has little positive effect. "What happens in many cases is that detainees learn from their fellow inmates how to become more effective in committing crime." Outside gaol, the girl has been reconciled with her family, from whom she was separated when she committed the offences, and has enrolled in a course.

REDISTRIBUTION: BUSH VS DARWIN OR MORE OF THE SAME? By KIERAN FINNANE.

South of the Berrimah Line versus Darwin – or more of the same?That seems to be the choice when the NT is carved up into two Federal seats.Labor's Warren Snowdon wants both electeorates to have a slice of Darwin and the bush, preserving the current proportion of Darwin residents and those outside the capital in each of the new seats.CLP Senator Grant Tambling is leaning towards an urban seat and a rural one, on the face of it giving the two members a hugely different agenda.The present single Seat of the Northern Territory, from being the largest in the House, is to be divided to produce two of the parliament's smaller seats.At present there are just under 110,000 voters in the NT, but this number is expected to grow by nearly 14,000 over the next three and a half years.Territory voters will get another voice, but how will that voice be most effective? Apart from the quality of the member, and whether or not that member is part of the government or the opposition, the boundaries of the new electorates obviously will play a role.The Australian Electoral Commission says there are "numerous permutations" for the division but the options being widely canvassed at the moment are the most obvious: one sees a Darwin and Palmerston electorate, and the rest (a roughly equal division in terms of numbers); the other sees two " whole of the Territory" electorates.Senator Grant Tambling, although not yet ready to make a formal statement of preference, is inclined towards the first option."I don't want to perpetuate that stupid Berrimah Line, but the communities of interest have got to be correct."One member would have a commercial and capital city focus, while the other wouldn't have to worry about those issues."I think the bush would gain better representation."Doing the lot is an awesome task."Wouldn't the bush member risk being a voice in the wilderness?Not at all, says Senator Tambling: that member would network with members for other rural and remote seats, such as Kalgoorlie in WA, and Grey, in northern South Australia.Sitting MHR, Warren Snowdon, however, is pushing for the second option, although he too has not finalised his thinking on the matter."I'm arguing for being creative and for ensuring that we don't end up with an urban ghetto and the rest."He says he already networks with other regional and remote seats to better represent those interests.Mr Snowdon says two "whole of the Territory" seats would bring additional resources to servicing the electorates, with for example two electoral offices in Darwin and another two regionally-based. However, a Darwin versus the rest division would only see three offices: there would be no reason for the Darwin member to have an office in a regional centre.At present, Mr Snowdon, as sole MHR, must travel an area of 1.3m square kilometres. He says cutting this area in half would make a big difference to how often voters see their member, whereas isolating Darwin and Palmerston would have no impact. The bush member would still need to travel to Darwin, as the capital.Mr Snowdon also raises the possibility of the two seats not enduring. The reason for the redistribution is that the Territory has been experiencing a high growth rate which puts its quota of electors well above quotas in the rest of Australia, but Mr Snowdon says the population growth has been mostly due to the build-up of defence forces and will now slow down significantly.He says the ACT for one three year period had three seats in the parliament and then reverted to two."We need to be very careful not to quarantine Darwin just for one term. If we're thinking about the interests of the Territory, rather than just our own political interests then it makes sense to have two seats which each reflect elements of the whole geographic, economic and social makeup of the Territory."The deadline for public submissions on the redistribution is March 3. The suggestions made in these submissions will be made public and there will be a further period for comment. Ring the Australian Electoral Commission for further information.

JOBLESSNESS ... THE REAL STORY. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Being unemployed does not simply mean being jobless: by the two definitions that count – Centrelink's and the Australian Bureau of Statistics's – being unemployed means "actively looking for work".Together with the exclusion of CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects, "work for the dole" schemes) participants from the unemployment statistics, the ABS definition accounts for why Alice Springs has an official unemployment rate of around four per cent, even though everyone knows that chronic " joblessness" is a major problem among Aboriginal people, who make up a quarter of the town's population.Getting some of these long-term unemployed into jobs is the daunting task facing the newest player in the local labour market, Tangentyere Job Shop, due to open its doors on February 28.Located at Tangentyere Council, right next door to the Centrelink office, and the banking and housing services, Job Shop is taking a gamble on its existing rapport with the "client group" to make a difference.The gamble is that Job Shop, like the Federal Government's other Job Network providers (locally, Centrecare, which is also contracted to provide Intensive Assistance to long-term unemployed clients, and Employment National) will sink or swim on the basis of its clients actually becoming employed.Beyond an initial start-up amount for each client referred to the service by Centrelink, government payments are then tied to success: a small amount is paid when a client is placed in a job, a substantial amount when that client has been in that job for three months, and a further and final amount after six months of continued employment. Says Paul Acfield, Tangentyere Council's human resources manager and director of Job Shop, a separately incorporated company: "We are very conscious that it won't be an easy task, but we have done our sums extremely carefully and there are a combination of factors on our side. They include our and our Aboriginal staff's special understanding of the needs of the clients, having our office at Tangentyere where a lot of Aboriginal people feel comfortable and are coming anyway for other services, and a number of improvements in government policy."The latter include the Federal Government's Indigenous Employment Policy, released last May, and under which an employer hiring a previously unemployed Aboriginal person is eligible for a subsidy of $4000.Any CDEP agency which assists one of their participants into work is also eligible for a $2000 subsidy.A change to rules governing CDEP schemes allows participants to also be registered with a Job Network provider.This is a particularly welcome change as participants have often gained skills through their CDEP work which would help them to be placed in employment.Manager, Peter "Strachy" Strachan, says Job Shop will work on expanding opportunities for employment by developing strategies with Aboriginal organisations (Aboriginal employees make up 85 per cent of Tangentyere's workforce, for example; at the Central Land Council, it's 50 per cent); with the private sector, where the Federal Government's incentives will help; and with the Central Land Council.Says Mr Strachan: "The CLC has had considerable success in putting Aboriginal people into jobs in the mining industry."The proportion of Aboriginal people employed at the Granites and Tanami mines is far higher than anywhere else in the private sector, that I am aware of, and in a lot of cases they have become long-term employees." The lack of large-scale employers in Alice Springs is a problem.HOSPITALOne of the largest, the Alice Springs Hospital, employs only 20 Aboriginal people, out of a staff of some 600, and despite servicing a predominantly Aboriginal client group (75 per cent of bed days, 55 per cent of admissions).The hospital and Tangentyere Council, as well as other Aboriginal organisations with an interest in health, are combining to train a further seven Aboriginal people, ready to take up jobs as vacancies arise.Director of Nursing, Ged Williams, says the hospital is keen to place Aboriginal staff in roles where they will be interacting with the public."They will be gaining skills and employment prospects and as well, by interacting with Aboriginal clients, they will help the hospital overcome some of the cultural issues we must deal with," says Mr Williams.Says Mr Acfield: "Experience shows that having a critical mass of Aboriginal people in an organisation is important, they can support one another."However most private sector employers in Alice Springs are small businesses and are unlikely to have many vacancies at any one time."Mr Acfield expects that the Alice to Darwin railway will yield jobs for Aboriginal people, and to this end, Tangentyere Council has also been involved in initial training of a group of 15 young men wanting to do construction work.How much of an inroad Intensive Assistance from Job Network providers will be able to make on "joblessness" amongst Aboriginal people is hard to say.Mr Strachan says Job Shop will only deal with people deemed by Centrelink to be, albeit with help, employable.Says Mr Strachan: "Some people on the town camps are currently unemployable. They have major problems and are better served by income assistance and help with their disabilities, which are often related to alcoholism."

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