ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
March 22, 2000

BUFFEL GRASS IS OUT OF CONTROL. KIERAN FINNANE reports.

Buffel grass is now out of hand in Central Australia, according to Senior Conservation Manager for Parks and Wildlife, Tony Bowland.It is not a declared weed, indeed it has been promoted as a pasture grass, but Dr Bowland says it is threatening the Centre’s native plant communities.He describes buffel as "very invasive", impacting on the growth and pollination of native flora, and after this year's wet summer, its threat has reached new heights."Its tremendous growth has created an unnaturally high fuel load which will produce bush fires of an intensity that our native flora has not evolved to handle."Many fire sensitive species are threatened by this enhanced fuel load."Yet outside of parks there is no formal strategy to keep buffel grass under control.Bob Millington, Executive Officer of the Centralian Land Management Association, a pastoralists' landcare group, acknowledges that buffel grass is an environmental issue that should be investigated, but is worried that an emotive response could lead to its management taking precedence over more serious issues, such as rabbit control. He says buffel is no longer actively promoted by pastoralists, and that CLMA is endeavouring to develop a seed bank of perennial native grasses for use by pastoralists.Says Mr Millington: "There is no doubt that buffel has taken well to this environment, and like all exotic species that respond well, it tends to become dominant. "However, it has certain soil requirements so that means it will never get everywhere."Managing it needs to take into account its value in controlling soil erosion."Declaring it as a noxious weed is not the way to go. If such a declaration is to mean anything, it would cost the community millions, which we can't afford."Where buffel is not wanted, for instance along the banks of the Todd, in our semi-urban areas, and in national parks, a first step in managing it would be to keep the seed crop under control, by slashing it before the seed ripens."Greening Australia is concerned about buffel's impact on biodiversity in the Centre."It does so well as a mono-culture," says Regional Manager, Michelle Rodrigo."It undoubtedly competes with native species, especially ground covers, herbs and grasses, and now its huge fuel load will threaten remnant vegetation like the old river gums."People will have to think hard about how to deal with it, but a first step is to recognise that it's a problem."Local botanist Jock Morse estimates that buffel grass carries about 10 million seeds per square metre. "That's the reason why it has done some good in Central Australia, but it's the same reason why it has become a huge problem as a weed."Mr Morse says the only solution to its spread – other than a severe drought "which would also kill half of everything else as well" – is biological control.But first, he says, buffel has to be recognised as a weed, and a halt put to its promotion by, for example, mining companies in the rehabilitation of mine sites, and pastoralists.Mr Morse says the fire hazard represented by buffel "must be 50 times that of spinifex", especially in wetter areas where the grass grows more densely."The fires will be longer lasting, more intense and very destructive of other vegetation."He describes the changes to the bio-regimes in areas where buffel thrives as "drastic"."Any plants or shrubs less than a metre high are very vulnerable," says Mr Morse."The only places safe from its spread are the very tops of hills and cliff faces."So, the Callitris pine is safe, and that's about all."If local plant communities shrink or disappear, there will obviously be a significant impact on local animals for whom they provide food and shelter.Consultant ecologist, Steve McAlpin, says the proliferation of buffel grass may have contributed to the local disappearance of a species of skink.He says Egernia slateri, named after Ken Slater who identified it in the 1960s when he worked with the old Animal Industry Branch, appears to have disappeared from the alluvial flats south of the Gap where it was formerly common.He says Ken Slater caught 27 of the skinks in one day in the ‘sixties, whereas he, Mr McAlpin, hasn't been able to trap or sight any at all in the considerable time he has been searching."I haven't yet tested my theory in a scientific way, but the invasion of buffel grass is the most obvious change to the skink's original habitat," says Mr McAlpin.Horticulturist Geoff Miers says he doesn't know how buffel grass can be brought under control across the vast landscapes of Central Australia, but he says population centres must take responsibility for controlling weeds in their immediate areas."I've worked through the media and in my role as an educator to try to convince people of the worth of removing buffel from their properties," says Mr Miers."If we don't start in our own backyards, then weeds will continue to move out into the bush. Wherever we go, they'll go."Mr Miers, also an alderman on the Alice Town Council, says council is waiting for the finalisation of a management plan for the Mexican Poppy (being developed by a community-based committee of which he is the chair) before doing further work on the development of a general weed management strategy, that may address the problem of buffel in the municipality.Regional Weeds Officer for the Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, John Gavin, tries to see the upside of this season when "weeds have gone mad".He won't comment specifically on buffel "as it is not a declared weed", but says the vigorous growth of all weeds provides a good opportunity "to get out there and manage them"."If you use herbicide, the uptake will be better and they are also easier to see," says Mr Gavin.Also the soil is now wet and softer which makes pulling weeds much easier. Mr Gavin says mowing may be useful to prevent the flowering and seed set of weeds.As mud helps the spread of seeds, Mr Gavin advises banging it off your boots before you get into your car, and cleaning your car so it does not spread seeds to new areas.

Letters to the Editor: COUNCIL WASTE 'KERFUFFLE': CHAIRMAN HITS BACK.

Sir,- In last week's edition of the Alice Springs News (March 15, 2000), the Alice Springs Town Council's CEO, Nick Scarvelis, implicated the Waste Management Advisory Committee (WMAC) in the "kerfuffle" over consultants etc. As acting chairman of WMAC, I feel it is my duty to my fellow committee members (ten, hardworking, mostly volunteers) and the community, to clarify some of the points made by the CEO.
• Mr Scarvelis has most certainly got one thing right, "we currently run a dump, not a landfill", but what he hasn't told you is that for the last 14 years, the Council's specifications in almost every area for operational practice in relation to the dump, have already been essentially identical to those now required by the new legislation, and hence reflected the Landfill Management Plan (LMP).
The "community obligation not to cause environmental harm" etc has always existed, so what have we, the community, paid some seven million dollars for ? Supposedly for something far more than just "a dump". What did we get? "Simply a dump."• The underlying rules have not "changed", but there are some additional new ones, mainly to do with the processes of licensing, monitoring and reporting etc, and handling of some specific wastes. We now are being asked to pay much more – double, in fact.
• Despite aldermen unanimously asking 23 months ago for details/costings for unspecified improvements to the dump (suggested to cost an additional $400,000 p.a.), and at least twice again since then, the information is not yet forthcoming. Once when again asked, I watched in disbelief as the Council officer just laughed/smirked at the alderman!
• Maunsell McIntyre provided a report "Alice Springs Landfill – Review of Current Conditions – Sept '99", which has not been shown to aldermen – they have not even been told it exists! (Perhaps Ald. Harris could add "withholding information" to his list of officers' strategies.) The WMAC certainly haven't been privy to it.
• Subsequently WMAC played absolutely no part in the "scientific tests to ascertain the relative health of the current" dump. In fact, on two occasions the committee was assured we would receive written answers to specific questions in relation to the condition of the dump, and to date, we have not received them. Furthermore the consultant was instructed by Council officers to restrict their tests to only examining two aspects of the dump – contamination of ground-water, and gas emissions (plus very limited examination of only one recent deposit of sump oil). This is akin to substituting a comprehensive medical with merely only taking your temperature and blood pressure – a very limited "snapshot in time" indeed. You don't need a PhD to realise that just because the groundwater is OK today, it won't necessarily be tomorrow, and then if/when contamination is detected, it will all be too late. Both these points are conceded by the Consultant. These two parameters tested are essentially products of natural site conditions – our normally drier climate, and the nature of the underlying soil – which are not things Council could take credit for. So to say that Maunsell McIntyre found "the dump to be healthier than most around Australia" is quite misleading – my copy of the report said nothing of the sort.
• Why are Maunsell McIntyre now being paid $7,000 to "develop a charging system", when Council has already paid another consultant to do that in 1997?
• The CEO has failed to tell you that in addition to the $82,000 mentioned in relation to waste management consultancies, in October '97 Council awarded a contract to yet another waste consultant for over $8,000, and the same consultant was then retained to do some further work. This consultant's reports were seriously flawed in numerous aspects. When I alerted the WMAC to this by questioning this Consultant at our first meeting (November, '98), I was made to feel quite uncomfortable ("shoot the messenger") by a Council officer who "had gone through the reports with a fine tooth comb", and who then suggested that as they had been "passed" by Council, they were beyond scrutiny!
• By contrast, I expect I agree, in general terms, with the CEO's suggestions about how a charging system may/should impact on the community. I suspect that the other committee members do too, but I don't know, because we have not had, and apparently may not get, the opportunity to discuss this integral part of any waste management strategy – I was told last Thursday by a Council Director that "developing a charging system" (presumably to "help meet the costs of the new operations and infrastructure") is outside of the charter of the WMAC !? It would appear Council has "gone off half cocked" on this issue.
Just a reminder to readers that applications close this Friday the 24th for one vacancy on our committee, so if you have the time and genuine interest to contribute to this challenge, get yours in.
Rod Cramer
Acting Chair
Waste Management Advisory Committee

Sir,- In the Alice Springs News of December 15th, 1999, the rate payers of this town were made aware of deficit in the Council budget of $350,000 instead of a projected surplus of $200,000.Why haven't the rate payers been given an explanation as to the whereabouts of this half million dollars?We have had a rate rise every year since this gaggle of Alders have been in office, during which time we have seen their regular advertisements offering grants to anybody for anything, from rate payers' money, including a whopping $20,000 to Alderman Alicastro's partner (see Issue 32, Alice Springs News, September, 1999). Not long before that, a lettuce grower got a grant to expand because, so he said, he couldn't keep up with the demand. Both of these businesses could have got loans from a bank and should have done so, and not been given rate payers' money.Many rate payers are extremely hard pressed to meet their rates. I speak here for the single parent family, the elderly widow or widower trying to stay in their own home on a very meagre pension. I speak for the family without work, and those on sickness benefits, these people wouldn't have $100 a year pocket money, certainly not the $100 plus a week these Alderpersons have been paid. Most of the members of this council have only been employees. Very few have had the responsibility or expertise of owning their own businesses. Their bankcard attitude of spend anyway, and put the rates up to cover the expenditure has been evident by the fact that during their term, rates have risen by 16 per cent as against six per cent GDP.What we need before a new bunch gets stuck into us is:-• A Rate Payers Watch Association.
• Televised council meetings (so that we can see who says what to whom and in particular, what has been discussed and decided before the meeting).
• A very clear understanding by aspiring Alderpersons that if they stand, and are elected, they will serve the entire term, and not use the Council as a stepping stone, as too many of the current NT Government members did.
Gerry Baddock
Alice Springs

ALICE WEB CASINO 'NEEDS MORE SAFEGUARDS' - SENATE.

The on-line gambling facility provided by Alice Springs' Lasseter Casino is "pretty responsible" but falls short on some counts, says South Australian Senator Jeannie Ferris.She heads the Senate select committee which last week handed down a report on internet gaming in Australia.Sen Ferris (Liberal, South Australia) says Lasseter currently does not allow for "third party exclusions" – which, for example, would enable family members to have problem gamblers barred from playing.Lasseters Online general manager David Ohlson says the company, which operates under a licence from the NT Government, had initially rejected the concept, but is now "happy to re-explore" the barring of players on request from immediate family members, with proper identification.The process wouldn't be available " for an ex-girlfriend ringing up to make life difficult," he says.Mr Ohlson says Lasseters, which is floating part of its operation on the stock market, complies with the recommendations to have information about the odds of each game available in the web site's "chat room".He says wins and losses are displayed on the screens at all times.However, Mr Ohlson disagrees with the committee's recommendation that wins should not be available immediately for further gambling.Under present arrangements players are required to open an account.Its limit is A$500 a month unless an extension is granted to "players with a good track record over a period of time," says Mr Ohlson.This has been granted only to about 800 of the casino's 42,000 registered players from 190 countries, he says. Less than one per cent of Lasseter's web gaming clients are in Australia.The credit can be established with a credit card, but ongoing gambling drawing on a credit card is not permitted.Sen Ferris says the committee understood that winnings were not available immediately for gambling but had to be drawn down in the form of a payment by cheque into the gambler's bank account.However, Mr Ohlson says all winnings can remain in the player's account for as long as he or she liked, and are part of the pool of money the player can gamble with.He says withdrawing winnings from their pool of gambling funds would make "people very angry with us. "They would say, we're on a winning streak and Lasseters won't let us play because we're winning."This is not really workable in the business."He says the purpose of safeguards is to prevent people from losing their normal disposable income, and gambling wins aren't part of that.Casino gambling "is a legitimate form of entertainment," says Mr Ohlson, and the internet gaming is "a casino like any other casino."In a casino you have the winnings as chips or cash in your pocket the whole time."Sen Ferris also says "challenge questions" should pop up on the screen at random intervals, shutting down the web link unless the correct answers are given.This would prevent unauthorised use of the gaming site by, for example, children as the player moves away from the computer.Mr Ohlson says challenge questions are part of the registration process but he saw no need for their ongoing use.He says the links shut down when there is inactivity for more than eight minutes, and it is up to the parents to prevent children from playing."It's like putting beer in the fridge. You must make sure your kids don't drink it," says Mr Ohlson."Players can check their games' history to see if anyone else has been using their account."Sen Ferris says the committee wants a moratorium on further Australian online gambling licenses until the recommended policies are adopted by all state and territory governments.She says there are currently 14 licensed internet gambling operators in Australia – four in the ACT, three each in the NT and NSW, two in Queensland and one each in Tasmania and WA.Committee member Senator John Tierney (Liberal, NSW) says there should be a five year moratorium on new web gambling licenses.He says since the introduction of "pokies" in pubs in 1995, annual spending on gambling in Australia has risen from $7.6b to $11b.Sen Tierney quotes from the report: "Internet and interactive gambling offers the prospect ... of an infinitely flexible gaming machine in every Australian household."

ANOTHER ALDERMAN HITS OUT.

Alderman Les Smith, who is now considering standing for Mayor, says there is "some truth" in Ald Geoff Harris's criticisms of the way Town Council operates.Ald Smith describes his period on council as "not easy".He says difficulties started on the night he was sworn in when he was told by the then Town Clerk to "tow the line".He says it later came out that some aldermen were not happy about the way they had been introduced to council and the matter was discussed. He says the Town Clerk told them that they must have misunderstood his comments.He says when you first go in to council "as new kids on the block", you have "high hopes and great ideas", but if those ideas don't "go with the flow", you won't get anywhere.He says when he tried to get council to act on opening the river crossing from Heffernan Road to Ross Highway, he came up against a brick wall.He had accused the then Town Engineer of "plucking a costing out of the air" and received a letter from him warning that legal action would be taken if he "cast any aspersions on the Town Engineer's professionalism"."I then had to sit down in a round table with senior officers and that brought about a reconciliation between me and the engineer," says Ald Smith."I kept a diary of all these things in the early part of my term, including all the swearing that goes on at meetings, and I've still got it."I found out that the council's not a really professional mob, they're a semiprofessional mob, acting like a bunch of spoilt kids if they don't get their way. Even I have acted like that."Ald Smith says he found the experience of trying to get things done so frustrating that after a while he started to take a back seat."I would get more satisfaction for ratepayers by ringing the fellows at the depot and making a few suggestions, rather than going through the proper channels."CONFLICTHe says that he was a member of the council's Waste Management Advisory Committee, but felt that it had too many people on it with a conflict of interest – that is, commercial waste management operators – so he withdrew."When things fail, it's you as an alderman that get the blame, not the officers."And you also get the blame for decisions that you haven't voted for."Ald Smith says he has been inundated with requests to stand for Mayor, and is considering his options."No one standing for Mayor can hold down a full time job, and be a good ambassador for the town at the same time."The town should offer the Mayor a fair wage and you'd be surprised then who would come out of the woodwork."Ald Smith's attendance of council meetings is, along with David Koch's, the poorest on council. He says this has been mostly caused by his job for Ntaria Council which sees him based at Hermannsburg."But I still get my papers, read them, and can make comment by phone. I try to get to every meeting I possibly can, even if it takes a 200 kilometre plus round trip."Ald Smith says he is making his comments not as a "person with an axe to grind" but simply to inform up and coming aldermen."I wish I had the knowledge that I've got now on how the system works before I went into council."

LAW THREAT OVER CAMP HOUSE ROW.

Indigenous activist Geoff Shaw, president of the Mt Nancy Housing Association, which manages an Aboriginal town lease area on the North Stuart Highway, has threatened defamation action against the Alice Springs News.He made the threats as the newspaper was preparing a report about difficulties to obtain housing encountered by a single mother of three.The story went to press in a shortened form in last week's edition.The report said Vicki Lindner, a Territory public servant, and her children had moved into her mother's house at Mt Nancy because she was unable to continue paying rent for a home she had previously occupied elsewhere in Alice Springs.Mt Nancy and 15 other special purpose leases around town have been set up over the past 20 years with public money to provide housing for underprivileged Aboriginal people.Vicki says both she and her mother, Marjorie Lindner, have traditional ties to Arrernte land.A total of five adults and the three children now live in Marjorie's two bedroom home, including Vicki's cousin, brother and nephew.The association committee headed by Mr Shaw became involved when Vicki was refused the home next-door, which has four bedrooms and became vacant recently. The association allocates houses at Mt Nancy.The Alice Springs News sought comment from Mr Shaw on the Saturday preceding last week's report, but Mr Shaw did not respond.On Monday before publication we faxed a story draft to Tangentyere Council, a support organisation for Aboriginal town lease areas. The draft was shown to Mr Shaw who informed us, through Tangentyere's media officer, that we should run the report as it appeared in the draft.We were told he did not wish to make a comment at that time, but he requested a meeting with Alice News Managing Editor Erwin Chlanda at 10.30am on Friday last week.The News agreed to that request. However, at 10 am last Friday – half an hour before the meeting was due to take place – the media officer rang to advise Mr Shaw no longer wanted to meet with the News.This is a pity because we wanted to ask Mr Shaw a series of questions, including how many of the 12 homes at Mt Nancy are occupied by members of his family, and whether needs or means tests apply to occupants, including himself. We would also have obtained his side of the story about Vicki Lindner's application, and asked him why he sent a letter to Marjorie Lindner on March 10, suggesting that an alleged incident with dogs, that happened some five weeks earlier, and other issues could be causes for her eviction from Mt Nancy.Meanwhile at 5pm on Monday last week, as the production of last week's edition was in its final phase, a solicitor acting for Mr Shaw rang the News and threatened defamation action. Mr Shaw had by that time passed up two opportunities to comment. The story draft seen by Mr Shaw reported, in part, that Vicki was denied the four bedroom house; that it was given instead to a "single man, the teenage son of Geoffrey Shaw"; that the Mount Nancy Housing Association committee, in charge of housing allocations, "is in the majority made up of Mr Shaw's immediate family"; and that Mr Shaw is "a prominent activist who likes to be seen as championing the underdog".Neither Mr Shaw nor Tony Morgan, the solicitor acting for him, denied these facts as reported.However, Mr Morgan told the Alice News that Mr Shaw took exception to "the imputations raised" in the original draft and if published "will be actioned with proceedings for defamation of character".Mr Morgan wrote to us in part: "The statements are defamatory of both Mr Shaw [and] his son."The inference to be drawn in respect of the defamation against Mr Shaw is [that he] likes to be seen as championing the underdog but in fact conducts himself according to self-interest."That Mr Shaw's allocation of the house demonstrates nepotism."We are instructed that each of the allegations is completely refuted, are untrue and vigorously denied," says Mr Morgan."As against Mr Shaw's son the inference to be drawn is as follows:-"That he has obtained accommodation to which he is not entitled and in preference to other persons because of his relationship with his father."

YOUNG GUNS AIM AT COUNCIL SEATS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

While running on completely separate tickets, candidate for Mayor Carl Marcic (at left) and aldermanic hopeful Michael Jones have one thing in common: youth.Their combined age is roughly the same as the average age of the sitting council members.Carl, 24, says he would almost certainly be the youngest Mayor in Australia, which in itself would gain Alice massive national publicity.Alice born and bred (dad Herman is a well-known local muso, and mother Chris is a part-time ABC radio personality), Carl says he would focus on two main issues.He would seek to sort out the problems "facing itinerants" through a summit including all relevant community organisations, black and white.And he would promote tourism – which he regards as the region's major industry – by turning The Alice into the principal port of call for visitors. Carl is an advertising salesman for Radio 8-HA and SUN FM.Meanwhile Michael, 23, has called on the NT Government and the town council to improve lighting at the Anzac Oval car park (in the centre of the picture), aiding people patronising the eating houses, cinemas and sporting facilities nearby.He says: "I believe it is a dangerous place to park at night not only for the well-being of your vehicle, but also a serious concern for your own safety."Michael, the electorate officer for MacDonnell MLA John Elferink, says the problem could be fixed easily by mounting north-pointing lamp arms on the light poles already in place in Wills Terrace.

REDISTRIBUTION: FAREWELL, ALP?

Alice Springs will be without an ALP Member if current voting patterns continue and the proposed redistribution of electoral boundaries is implemented.Stuart MLA Peter Toyne will lose about 800 urban voters in the northern part of the town – and have his electorate expanded to 497,000 square kilometres, nearly double the size of Victoria.Meanwhile MacDon-nell MLA John Elferink will lose much of his electorate's CLP heartland: the Ilparpa rural area west of the highway will go to Araluen, and the area east of the highway and north of the Todd, to Greatorex.Only the Rangeview Estate rural subdivision will remain in MacDonnell which will become predominantly an Aboriginal seat.Rural Areas Association president Rod Cramer says: "We have built up a good working relationship with John Elferink, and he's been very supportive of our organisation, which we appreciate."A cynical view might be that the proposed redistribution would divide the rural area."An optimistic view would be that the Alice Springs rural area could now be represented by three members instead of one."Either way, the redistribution will mean a lot more effort for us, trebling our lobbying work load."Mr Toyne describes the changes in Stuart as "very unhealthy – a real blow to democracy".He says as the town's only Labor MLA he has been involved in issues such as the threatened demolition of the old gaol, anti social behaviour, town planning and controlling the flooding of the Todd."Unless Alice Springs people vote in an ALP candidate, this will be a town without any opposition."I will be buried out bush."Mr Toyne says it's "just physically impossible" to look after an electorate six times the size of Tasmania, extending from Alice Springs to the Victoria River.He may need to reduce his staff in Alice Springs and open an office in Katherine.

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