ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
March 1, 2000

DEPARTMENT IS USING "DIRTY TRICKS" AGAINST REAL ESTATE CONSULTANT. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

An Alice Springs real estate consultant says he is the target of a clandestine investigation by an instrumentality of the NT Government, damaging his reputation and his business.Peter Clements, of Anreps, which assists people selling their homes privately, says he has learned from third sources that the Department of Industries and Business has hired a private investigator, "asking questions about how we conduct ourselves”.Mr Clements says the private investigator is "embarrassing my clients and casting aspersions merely by the fact that they are investigating".Describing the action as "covert", Mr Clements says: "This is straight out of the book of dirty tricks."Bob Cavanagh, Executive Director of Business Practices within the department, and in charge of agents’ licensing, has confirmed he ordered the investigation.He says the department is paying for it. He would not disclose how much is being spent but said engaging a private investigator is "reasonably cost effective" as the government does not have the resources to do the work.The department has also briefed an Alice Springs firm of lawyers, Martin and Partners.Mr Cavanagh, the husband of Country Liberal Party president Suzanne Cavanagh, says there have been complaints about Anreps and Mr Clements. He declined to reveal who has made these complaints, except to say that they had come "from various real estate industry people" – Mr Clements' competitors.Says Mr Cavanagh: "The complaints rest on Anreps presenting themselves as real estate agents but they are not licensed. "The law says you have to be licensed to deal in land."But Mr Clements says his clients – the home owners – do the " dealing", and his firm has at all times made clear to them that its role is as a consultant, not as an agent.He says Anreps in Alice Springs is part of a growing, nation- wide movement to help people sell their own homes, broadening their choices in real estate dealings, and saving them thousands of dollars in commissions.Mr Cavanagh says it is his understanding that the private investigator is talking to the complainants.But Mr Clements says his clients have also been approached. None of them, to the best of his knowledge, have made any complaints.Mr Clements says it is a violation of his rights not to have been informed by the department about the investigation."I think it denies me natural justice, to go behind my back," says Mr Clements."I have not been approached by any of the government authorities. "They have not given a reasonable explanation for their actions."The fair process of any government department investigating anyone should be to at least inform them of the reason for an investigation, and for them to outline the process by which the investigation would be conducted."Under those circumstances I would give them all my cooperation, absolutely."Mr Cavanagh declines to comment on questions of natural justice.He says: "I don't dictate to people how they go about their job."We employ investigators as professionals. "They are licensed. They know how to do these things."The Alice News approached the private investigator, Len Robertson, for a comment.He told us to speak with Martin & Partners.However, that firm's Roger Bennett said: "Sorry, I can't help you."Anreps has been a thorn in the side of the real estate agents, who charge commissions of around four per cent of a property's value, ever since the firm started some 12 months ago.Mr Clements says Anreps provides information packages to people who want to sell their home privately. The response from the public had been "significant", he says.Acting as a consultant to private vendors, Anreps charges "at least less than half" when compared to agents, provides advertising, all signs, and the cost of a solicitor to do the conveyancing."Anreps is bound by straight forward rules in terms of what they can do," says Mr Clements."We make it very clear to all our clients that we are not real estate agents."People save money and they like dealing with us because we are not agents. There's a huge satisfaction in a person selling their own home. They feel they are empowered, and they are in full control of the sales process."We very rarely get any remorse after a home owner signs the deal. They've made the decision without external influence."We've introduced to Alice Springs an option which gives people an additional choice."It's about little people having a go," says Mr Clements.He says Anreps has been going for over 10 years now and has had its "trial by fire in Adelaide in the early 90's when the Real Estate Institute took the matter of private selling to the Supreme Court. "The REI ended up with egg on their face big time and Anreps was allowed to assist people in selling their homes privately."[Mr Clements also runs an advisory service which counts mining companies, Aboriginal organisations and private businesses including the Alice Springs News amongst its clients.]

FLOOD CHIEFS MAY BE UNDER WATER.

Alice Springs will inevitably, sooner or later, experience a major flood, as great or greater than the Katherine flood of two years ago, and possibly with less than an hour's warning before the first flood wave hits town..The town's new Emergency Operations Centre based at the Fire Station is designed to get into swing at 20 minutes to half an hour's notice.However, even in a one in 100 flood, the ground floor of the Fire Station would be inundated, with vehicle access restricted.Station Commander Paul Herrick says in this case, while the communications functions of the centre would stay at the new EOC, actual emergency operations would probably happen out of Emergency Service headquarters in Wilkinson Street, on higher ground.The EOC consists of a bank of phones and computers, a power point projector for the display of digital data, a television, and the inevitable whiteboards.Staffing arrangements for the centre are being finalised. Volunteers will be relied upon, in particular to handle incoming phone calls.While much smaller than Darwin's EOC, the Alice centre is designed to be able to assist, or even take over, in the case of a disaster in Darwin, or elsewhere in the Territory.With any flow of the river, Emergency Services' biggest concern is "kids going for a swim". Fortunately none of them got into trouble in the last flow, but in a major flood it's likely that people would. Is there enough rescue gear in town?"How much is enough?" responds Cdr Herrick.He says his team is well-equipped for all types of rescue. For flood rescue, their gear includes a Zodiac (a rigid inflatable boat), a designated river rescue line which floats on the water, flotation vests for the rescuers, and life jackets for the victims. (Flotation vests allow full mobility, while life jackets have collars to hold the victim's head above water.)Fire-fighters using their aerial ladder can also carry out flood rescues.Since the attempt to rescue a man beneath the Stott Tce Bridge in the 1988 flood, Alice now has nets which can be thrown over bridges, designed to catch anyone being borne down the river."By pooling all agencies' equipment, I'm pretty confident we would have enough," says Cdr Herrick.Other centres could be called upon for help and many private individuals would come forward with gear and know-how, as was the case in Katherine.If evacuation were deemed necessary, householders would initially be alerted by radio and television announcements. If required, police and Emergency Service staff would door-knock from house to house. People would be told which shelter to go to and how to get there at the time.A brochure about flood risk in Alice Springs, containing a map indicating revised inundation limits, is in the process of being updated.

MIERS, NAISMITH IN RACE FOR MAYOR.

Geoff Miers says he has the experience, and Russell Naismith sees himself as the "can-do community man": the election campaign for a new mayor of Alice Springs is taking shape following last week's announcement by Andy McNeill that he will not stand again.Ald Naismith does not hesitate to enlist for his campaign his achievements through his job with NT Correctional Services, which sees him heading up a team of low security prisoners doing community work around the town."We work in close contact with council, we see trouble spots or things that need attention, and we get things done."He says and his team of inmates have changed the face of Alice Springs:"With graffiti, they put it up, we remove it, they'll get sick of it before we do!"It's reparation for the prisoners, and a huge success for the community from day one."We clean the Todd River and Charles Creek from Basso's Road to John Blakeman's Bridge, three times a week."We do maintenance jobs for elderly citizens, the disabled, the YMCA, the Youth Centre, DASA, the Salvation Army, the Gap Youth Centre, ASYASS, and the list goes on."This is work that would otherwise not get done."But what about actual council business?Ald Naismith says his first two years were "a real learning curve" but he has always had "a stance for common sense".He believes that common sense will one day prevail and "hopefully sooner rather than later we will get toilets in the CBD".Having made his decision to run for mayor just last Friday, he hasn't yet had time to establish a list of priorities, but services for young people are important.He says he moved to provide council funds for mobile skating ramps: "I'm very, very happy that all the aldermen agreed with me."When the ramps were languishing in Adelaide without funds for freight he organised sponsorship to get them here (they arrived on the weekend).He says what he wants to do on council has to be achievable.In relation to council's report on "The Quality of Life in Alice Springs", he says "there's good and there's bad"."It's the negative things that we have to work on."The 10 aldermen and the Mayor do their best. If someone thinks things are not happening, then they should put their hand up to seek election. They are the people we need."He says he would like to see "a better relationship between council and the Northern Territory Government"."There are so many areas where we have to work side by side, and the only way we are going to do that is through dialogue."Ald Miers, on council for nearly eight years and a keen observer for a further three, says he would bring to the mayor's position a good understanding of local government, experience of working with broad sections of the community and a wish to represent the community's interests."I care about this town, and believe I have skills and expertise to offer," says Mr Miers.He says he can draw on his experience as a horticulturist to help the town develop an "appropriate image".He believes the poor opinion of local government expressed by many respondents in council's "Quality of Life" report relates to "a degree of cynicism and scepticism about the integrity of politicians in general"."But I believe the majority of people who put their hand up for public office, do so for sincere motives," says Mr Miers. "I've devoted a large part of my life to local government and have set myself high standards of integrity."Mr Miers believes some aldermen (and intending candidates) need to reflect upon their role in relation to conflict of interest issues, and their attendance of council meetings. Without naming names, he says, "Aldermen out of town for long periods – and I'm talking six to nine months – but still claiming their monthly allowance of $600 is an issue I have raised in council on several occasions. While it may be legal, if an apology is given, it really, in simple terms, stinks!"He says he does not want to claim any one achievement of council as his own – "it's important for council to work collectively, as a group" – but the quarterly payment of rates, the Garden Fair, We Care Week, chemical collection days, increased funding for footpath development, planning guidelines, and improved animal control and welfare are all achievements to which he contributed, and which make Alice Springs a better place.With more than half the aldermen likely to be fresh to local government, Mr Miers says there will be a need for "experience at the helm":"It will be critical to foster good working relationships – with aldermen, officers and most importantly the community – from the start."He sees the current council's attempt to broaden its role beyond " rubbish, roads and rates" as both a strength and a weakness."Council can't be everything to everybody. The town's economy is relatively stagnant, we have less than one per cent growth, therefore our rate base of $6.5m is not expanding."If we are to enter new areas of service they have to be funded, either by the Commonwealth, the Territory Government or by an increase in rates. For the last eight years I have opposed any increase in rates, beyond an increase related to the CPI."A range of diverse issues, from alcohol controls and economic development to the restoration of the town's art collection, are important for the future of the town. We can't ignore them, but neither can we spread ourselves too thin."The new council will have to resolve its degree of involvement in those issues very quickly and develop its own strategic and corporate plan."

ALDERMEN CLAIM THEY WERE "DEFEATED BY THE SYSTEM". Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Town council elections set for May 27 will usher out a council characterised by reports and consultancies, yet little significant action, and will usher in a lot of new faces.There will be at least five new aldermen as well as a new Mayor.Withdrawing from council are Aldermen Tony Alicastro, June Noble, Meredith Campbell and, in a shock announcement, Geoff Harris.Geoff Miers will not stand as an alderman but will again throw his hat into the ring for the mayoral election, with Russell Naismith also contesting. [See separate story this issue.] Ald Naismith will stand as well for re-election as an alderman.Fran Erlich is undecided.Susan Jefford, despite characterising her first term on council as "entirely frustrating", says she will stand again.She says new aldermen will arrive on council with "their good ideas", as she did four years ago, and they will be "blasted by the organisation and frustrated at every turn".They will need some experienced aldermen there to help them, says Ald Jefford."It takes a couple of years to understand how it works."I started off with high hopes of a lot of things changing very rapidly."There was a lot of support in the community and from some other aldermen for improvement in the town's waste management."I set up the Waste Management Committee, wrote up its charter myself, did some of the work normally done by the council officers, to get the ball rolling."Every idea that the committee has put forward has been met with opposition from the officers – it won't work, it costs too much."We have got nowhere."When people stop me in the supermarket to ask how our waste management plans are progressing, I am embarrassed to be part of this organisation."Ald Jefford says she also put in a lot of work on compulsory fencing of swimming pools, which would require a change to the by-laws.She says there was some opposition in the community but a lot of support, as well as support from other aldermen."It looked like it would move along, but we were eventually told the Northern Territory Government would address the issue. We've been waiting ever since, it's been buried and it will take a massive amount of energy to get it up again as something the council should address."On public toilets in the CBD, the lack of which has come to characterise the current council's impotence, Ald Jefford says aldermen were inadequately advised by council officers.Aldermen including herself, having supported in council the construction of toilets behind Flynn Church, knocked them back with their Planning Authority hats on."We were shocked and horrified to have never been given information about the impact of our design on the heritage buildings in that locality."Why hadn't we been given this information?"We can't be expected to make decisions on limited information, and it's not down to us to investigate every issue personally. Most of us have other full-time commitments."Ald Jefford says the officers "have their own ideas" and regard the elected aldermen as "a nuisance"."The officers set the agenda. If we are aware of an issue, we can ask for a report. A report turns into a project, then a consultancy, it's all a clever way of doing nothing."Council has gone too far down the path of consultancies. We have had one on just about every issue. I don't know if we've had any action."Ald Jefford says she would continue to push improvements in waste management on a new council. She has learnt a lot about how to debate an issue, and how to get other aldermen on side: "That's critical. ‘I'll help you if you'll help me on my pet project.' You need at least six aldermen to make a decision."Many of Ald Jefford's concerns are echoed by Geoff Harris, who says he has been "defeated by the system".He says the elected aldermen do not have control of a single important area of council policy, including no control over the budget."Four years ago I campaigned on waste reduction and improved management of the landfill. "I've promoted the issues vigorously on council, done a lot of research, examined the performance of contractors and consultants, worked with community groups."On the few occasions when my requests for reform or information were supported by my fellow aldermen, the bureaucrats ensured that nothing really happened."This is an area of high community concern where council spends massive amounts of money, yet seems oblivious to the opportunities and financial incentives of waste reduction. "I don't see why council officers seem so intimidated by the concept of upgrading the dump to a more efficient and profitable facility."Ald Harris cites as "typical of the way council handles its affairs" a fire at the landfill which burnt over four days, just after Christmas."This sort of thing is not supposed to happen under the Waste Management and Pollution Control Act," says Ald Harris."The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) are looking into the matter, to see whether action should be taken against council for creating an environmental nuisance."Council has tried to brush it off, trivialise it."The report the officers made said, ‘As council has not received a formal complaint in regard to the smoke, it is questionable as to whether there has been an offence committed'."We are always being told that council ‘operates on a complaints basis'."That can mean that you see something that needs fixing but you do absolutely nothing until someone complains!"I know there were concerned people who contacted both council and the EPA on the matter, but council has not considered their concerns as ‘formal complaints'."The majority of complaints council receives are about dogs and cats. These are dealt with efficiently by a team who know their job, but I don't see those structures in other areas of council business."On the toilets in the CBD Ald Harris says, "We were going for a Taj Matoilet. We were going to out-heritage the heritage buildings next to it."There may not even be a need for new toilets – we could work to make existing toilets more accessible – but in the end the ball has been dropped completely."We are not going to get any new thinking going into the problem."Ald Harris says that any action proposed by an alderman requiring significant reform, effort or thinking is "almost impossible" to achieve."If you can't get a simple issue like toilets analysed and assessed, what hope is there for something far more complex, such as waste management?"Look at shade over play equipment in council parks. There is not a single alderman who doesn't think we should have shade over play equipment, we've had a consultancy, but from that initiative I can't point to one piece of equipment that is now shaded."I've participated on several advisory committees established by council and frankly I'm disgusted at the lack of respect shown to community members, many of them highly experienced, who volunteered their time. "I've watched a number of them leave in total frustration with the lack of progress and the bureaucratic tactics which wore them down."Four years ago I would never have anticipated how it could take so long to achieve so little."Fran Erlich, after six years on council, is far less critical of council's performance.However, she is undecided about her future as an alderman:"Being on council takes up a lot of time, and I know there are a lot of other people who are interested in standing. "I'm not saying I won't stand, but I'm considering my options."Those options may still involve Legislative Assembly aspirations, but again, Ald Erlich won't yet say.In response to many people's poor opinion of council expressed in council's "The Quality of Life in Alice Springs" report, Ald Erlich says:"You don't commission a report like that if you think everything is perfect."However, she takes people's negative comments "with a grain of salt"."Most people are unaware of the work and hours that go into council business."She says the report will be a guide as to where aldermen should put their efforts, but "many people think the council has more authority than it does"."Its powers and resources are quite limited, and aldermen can only be available part-time."She says a standout issue from her reading of the report is people's concern about "jobs for young people". She cites as an achievement of the current council its foray into local economic development, with, for instance, the publication of economic profiles and the on-going development of an economic and community plan. Nonetheless, she says, council should not lose sight of basic concerns like the provision of footpaths, another issue that gets a lot of attention in the report."Footpaths get a hefty commitment in each budget, but perhaps that needs to be increased."Ald Erlich says that during her terms on council she has tried to involve many sectors of the community, including youth and the aged, in decision-making.She has done this by being willing to listen and to represent their point of view.She thinks the current council has also had achievements in environmental areas, with a focus on the Todd River, and in some social areas, citing their alcohol survey."I've made a contribution by being there, being prepared to make decisions, and making sure I'm as informed as possible on the issues," says Ald Erlich.After two terms, Tony Alicastro is "leaving room for someone else"."I always said I would do only two terms."While he feels that he has made some impact on linking planning to the budget, Ald Alicastro, like Alds Jefford and Harris, says he did not achieve what he set out to."Politics is frustrating. An outsider thinks things look simple, but when you become involved, you realise it's difficult to make any changes."June Noble, on the other hand, says she has enjoyed being on council very much, and is only leaving for personal reasons. At the time of going to press the Alice News had been unable to contact Alds David Koch and Les Smith.Council CEO Nick Scarvelis declined to respond to comments concerning council officers in this report, but will write a guest comment piece for next week's News about what he considers to be concrete benefits of some of council's consultancies.

ALICE PUBLIC TOILET: RELIEF AT LAST?

Eureka! A new dunny in the central business district!You walk off the main street into a pleasant forecourt with benches, shade, native flora and two appealing murals, one with Reconciliation as its theme.The conveniences are convenient indeed: clean, bright, modern, and include a wheelchair access toilet, a mothers' room for feeding babies and changing nappies, and a toddler's toilet.Admission is free.There's only one thing wrong with these dunnies: they're in Whyalla, not in Alice Springs.Here, providing decent facilities for local and visitors in the CBD remains on the long list of the town council's failures.In fact, if you're caught short in the heart of this supposed tourist town, you'd better be resourceful, a champion middle distance runner – or carry a peg to put on your nose.After years of high level deliberations by our civic leaders we're still stuck without any easily accessible and clean public dunnies in the CBD. The nearest are behind the council buildings, quite a hike from the Mall, or the poorly maintained block on Leichardt Tce.If you think spending $250 on your week's shopping entitles you to a free pee in our shopping malls, think again: it now costs you 50 cents.Not only has the council been incapable of building a decent loo during its now ending four year term, it also lets certain traders get away with not having one.In some cafes on the mall, if you ask for the little room you're told the nearest one is in a bus terminal around the corner.How come these businesses can serve you drink and food without providing for the ultimate consequence of their consumption? A number of businesses that do have toilets open to the public (not just to the staff) have made them less accessible of late: one firm locked its back entrance altogether, because of "you know what ..."Other dunnies can be visited only with a key.If you're a local you have the edge over visitors who more often than not face a long sprint back to their hotels on the other side of the river.Crafty long term residents have, for example, discovered that toilets belonging to one restaurant in the Mall can be accessed via a courtyard and – after reassuring oneself that the waiters aren't looking – a quick dash down a short hallway.At a pinch you can even exit down the back through a parking area.So if you see a desperate looking individual acting furtively around that multi-storey hotel in the Mall, it may not be a serial rapist or child molester in search of a victim, but just someone busting for a piddle.

CLASS ACTS: TWO SCHOOLS FORGE AHEAD. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Communities battling to get classrooms for their kids have struck a blow: at Apungalindum in the Utopia area north-east of Alice, after years of parents, kids and their teachers struggling to run a school under a piece of shadecloth and in an old "half" demountable, the Department of Education is to supply the community with two demountables in good condition.And at the Alice Springs Steiner School parents spent the last weeks of their children's summer holiday building a new classroom at the school's Araluen site.The situation at Apungalindum was exposed in the Alice News last November 3, and brought to the attention of Dr David Kemp, Federal Minister for Education, who was visiting Alice at the time.Secretary of the Apungalindum Community Council, Ken Kunoth, speaking on behalf of Chairman Clement Kunoth, says the school has accepted the Department's offer of the demountables, currently at Braitling School in Alice, as an interim solution."We still have a design proposal for a permanent building that will have to go before Cabinet, but we understand that could take years," says Mr Kunoth."If our schools keeps progressing like we are now with 40 odd kids every day, then we'll get the new school. "If it fails, the demountables can be moved somewhere else."The future is up to us."Mr Kunoth says the community has plans to enclose part of the demountables' verandah to make an office, and to put in a kitchen so that kids can be taught cooking.MLA for the area, Peter Toyne, welcomed the imminent arrival of the demountables, but says "the response time of the Department has not been good enough"."These people have been struggling for years under extremely difficult conditions."For communities not to become cynical and dispirited about education, there must be a reasonable response time to their request for basic facilities," says Mr Toyne.Meanwhile, plans publicised last year for a new location and specially designed buildings for the Alice Springs Steiner School have been delayed, but growing numbers at the school meant more space was essential to start the year.There are now over 50 children enrolled. This has grown from 14 when the kindergarten first opened its doors in June, 1996. There is a "pre-kindy" one day a week, kindergarten on four days a week, as well as primary school classes to grade four.While every Steiner School hopes to have beautiful buildings which reflect the Steiner philosophy, parent Bill Pechey says reality often forces compromise, at least in the early stages.In this case, compromise has taken the form of a transportable building which will eventually be moved to the school's permanent site. It has been given a more congenial facade by cladding it in radially sawn timber, and using cedar window frames rather than aluminium. The interior walls have been painted a warm yellow.Voluntary labour by parents, under the supervision of two professional builders who are also parents, allowed the classroom, complete with its improvements, site services and air-conditioner, to come in at well under the price for "supply and build" quoted by the supplier. It was also erected in record time: just under three weeks!Apart from more classroom space, the new building has an office which means administration can be carried out on site."Up till now many of us have had bits and pieces of school business in our homes!" says Mr Pechey. "It will be great to get it all under the one roof."The school expects a minimum of ten hours per term in voluntary labour of one sort or another from each family. How onerous do parents find that?Time-consuming but not onerous at all, seems to be the response.The parents who spoke to the Alice News were all more than happy with this aspect of the school.Chairperson Sally Jeavons says: "We don't see school as a totally separate entity from home. The parents' involvement is part of the opportunity of the school. "The breadth of the curriculum is such that there is so much more room to respond to parents. The school is a place where their skills can shine."

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