ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
April 12, 2000

TOURISM: WE HAVE WHAT THE WORLD WANTS. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

Federal Tourism Minister Jackie Kelly says Central Australia is contributing "an enormous amount" to attracting overseas visitors to Australia."You have a lot of our genuine Indigenous product," she says."Eighty per cent of our international tourists come here with the expectation of having an authentic Indigenous experience. "Especially our tourists from Europe have a high expectation of seeing the culture that distinguishes us from the Cook Islands, South East Asia, Africa, Hawaii."They expect to see that distinguishing feature that makes our country a destination different from any other."Ms Kelly was in Alice Springs last week for the National Regional Tourism Conference.She announced four grants to NT operators from the Federal Government's Regional Tourism Program.Three of them are to Central Australian Aboriginal operators or organisations – ironically coinciding with sharp criticism directed at the NT Tourist Commission for all but ignoring Indigenous attractions in its latest promotion campaign (Alice News, April 5). The attacks came from multi award winning Aboriginal tourist operator Paul Ah Chee – one of the grant recipients – and from the Central Australian tourism lobby, CATIA.NT Tourism Minister Mike Reed has declined to comment on the allegations.Ms Kelly says: "It has been an issue that's running here in the NT."I'm not entering into the debate on that. "The Australian Tourist Commission's focus is international whereas the NT Tourist Commission campaign is domestically oriented. "We certainly use Indigenous product in the international campaign."Every Indigenous person who gets training in hospitality, turns that training into their own product, and becomes an owner operator, whether it's a tour, an attraction or an art gallery, and then employs further Indigenous people, or non Indigenous people, creates jobs in the bush."That's really allowing them to access the wealth that is there in tourism."It isn't just there for the non-Indigenous people," says Ms Kelly."We were talking about didgeridus made in Germany and sold in Australia. That's just not on! "We really need to be creating these work opportunities, these employment opportunities, here in Australia."Ms Kelly says Australia's remote regions have a strong pull for overseas visitors: "You get a feeling for the vastness of Australia on trips to the outback."Access is the key."This year the Federal Government is spending $1.6b on road infrastructure. "Airlines are opening up to competition with Virgin and Impulse entering the market, starting to drive the other carriers to get their air fares down."It is really up to your local product operators. "Mike Reed was talking about the $20m Desert Park they're putting in as a key tourist destination on which you can hang others."Often it is a key attraction people come to see, and then you get a lot of spinoff around it."Asked whether the Desert Park would fit the bill, Ms Kelly said: "Mike Reed seemed to be focusing it that way. "I'm not here to comment on domestic initiatives, I'm here to respond on the issues they raised, the direction they want their industry to go and the products they want to develop. "I'm not here to tell them how to do business."Asked whether the controversy over mandatory sentencing has had an impact on visitor numbers, Ms Kelly said: "I don't think so. "I don't have evidence at this stage."We have a very good national marketing campaign. "We don't advertise the political environment in Australia, but Australia's warm hospitality, the character of the people."Political issues are best left out of tourism."Commenting on possibilities of restrictions on climbing of Ayers Rock she said: "Tourists are thoroughly flexible. "Often they will come to Uluru with an expectation of climbing the Rock, but when they get a cultural experience, have the Dreamtime explained to them, the significance of the Rock, then tourists may choose not to climb the Rock.CLIMB"Their experience has been an understanding of the local culture, and they go away incredibly happy with that, whether they climb the Rock or not."This is more valuable than climbing. "A climb in itself is uninteresting unless you have a geologist with you, explaining the particular rock features and the science and the flora and fauna."That would make the climb interesting. "But if you have someone explaining the cultural significance of the Rock and why you wouldn't climb it, that makes the trip just as interesting."Ms Kelly says the Olympics will generate long term benefits for The Centre but short term problems: "We'll see many of our domestic tourists going to Sydney rather than to other parts of Australia. "You're going to see a real suck of domestic tourism to Sydney. But long-term, we'll be seeing an increase in international tourism."Currently we're getting four million overseas tourists a year for a population of 18 million. "Ireland has a population of three and a half million and recently they topped six million tourists a year. "If we can capture that international market we're looking at significant growth, and the Olympics is a six billion dollar advertising campaign for us."We'll have 20,000 journalists here in Australia during the games, all writing their definitive piece on Australia."Domestically, our media focus a lot on the ‘bad news' stories, but internationally we are getting predominantly good press."Ms Kelly says the Australian Tourist Commission's budget is $90m which her department manages to "leverage" with industry to $140m.The state and territory tourist commissions spend a combined $200m.The three grants in Central Australia announced by Ms Kelly went to
• Mr Ah Chee's Pwerte Marnte Marnte Aboriginal Corporation ($55,000 for a museum and weapons display at the Red Centre Resort)
• CAAMA ($100,000 for a working display of its operations and an interpretation centre featuring Indigenous media);
• and the Ngurratjuta / Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation ($90,000 to redevelop the camping ground at Glen Helen).

CHANGE OF MIND: FRAN ERLICH FOR MAYOR. Profile by KIERAN FINNANE.

Alderman Fran Erlich will stand again for council and, in a reversal of an earlier decision, will also stand for mayor.Ald Erlich says the fact that the mayor's position is considered a part-time job had earlier seemed an obstacle.However, if she were elected, she would resign from full-time teaching and look for other part-time work.She says it is not a job that can be done on top of other full-time professional commitments.She says she has always wanted to do something to promote Alice Springs, and that now is the time to put her experience on council and her insights into the town to better use.She says the job of mayor is the ultimate "PR job" for Alice Springs.Being a team-builder is essential to doing it well – "not just within council, but with all the government agencies and organisations working to provide services in the town".As well, the mayor's position can be used to promote Alice Springs in a range of arenas around Australia – "the tourism arena is the most obvious, but it shouldn't be confined to tourism".But first it would be important "to get our own house in order".Apart from team-building, Ald Erlich would focus on economic development, the promotion of tourism as a key job creator, social cohesion and heritage.On economic development, she says while tourism is important, diversification is essential for a resilient economy that can cope with downturns.A key focus should be arid zone excellence, "doing the things we do best, promoting the things that are unique about Alice Springs and building on those".What would council's role be in the development of such a direction?"It could act as a facilitator between the different levels of government and other groups, coordinating planning."Would council be in danger of being seen to be endlessly reporting and planning, rather than doing?"Research and planning are extremely important but shouldn't come at the expense of action."In the last couple of years council has done an enormous amount of work on defining the base lines of future development, which will be used over the next couple of years as the solid start for a lot of action."But will the town actually get, for instance, shade over equipment in playgrounds?"Shade in parks would have to be at the forefront of what the new council does."There is a plan for parks and verges which has been sent back for a second draft. You have to quantify what you are looking at, know how much it will cost, and see the whole picture. If we are going to have shade in parks will we have to have sacrifices in other areas?"Ald Erlich says Alice Springs could become a model of community cohesion for the rest of Australia.She says a lot of good things happening between groups in the community go unrecognised. She cites council's cooperative relationship with Tangentyere Council developed through the Social Issues Working Group.She says that group has worked with some success on the issues of camping and littering in the Todd, with the Tangentyere Night Patrol picking people up and taking them to the DASA sobering-up shelter, and council putting $90,000 a year into cleaning up the Todd.She says further improvement in social cohesion will come about through a multi-faceted effort by, among others, education and health authorities as well as the council.She says the council has made a good start with the alcohol survey, "but whatever comes out of that can only be one part of the solution".Council's role, with the mayor at the helm, is to be a leader – "to get people to recognise the scope of our problems and evolve strategies to deal with them".Council's relationship with the NT Government "ebbs and flows, depending on what issue is prominent at the moment".With regard to council's role in town planning, Ald Erlich says Alice Springs residents through their council have been disempowered under the Planning Act."The new Act has reduced community involvement, and that includes councils' involvement."There has to be a process of building trust between local governments and the Territory Government. I think that will be a long process of attrition, over four of five years, during which council must also demonstrate its interest and expertise in the area."My approach will be softly, softly but when the occasion or issue merits it, it will be the opposite."Heritage is about more than preservation of old buildings, even though that is important, says Ald Erlich."It involves a recognition of where we come from and points to where we're going."Alice Springs is a remote, isolated town with different phases in its development, from early Aboriginal occupation, through pastoralism to the current urbanisation. "We need to create a greater awareness of our history to give the town a better sense of its identity."This could feed into development of the tourism and desert knowledge sectors and lead to more jobs to keep our young people in town."Young people have been a particular focus of Ald Erlich's work on council. She says the Youth Advisory Committee, on which she sits as council's representative, is reviewing what it has achieved to date and looking at innovative ways to involve particularly young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.She defends council's decisions to withdraw its support from Kickstart, the youth expo."We looked at attendance and got feedback from the exhibitors, and decided that it was not effective in reaching young people."We thought there may be better ways to use our budget, such as supporting the Youth Centre with the development of their skateway, supporting the young people who organised themselves to get some mobile ramps into town, and sending some of our young people to the Young Endeavour experience."Ald Erlich says council's relationship with its advisory committees, made up of community members with interest and expertise in specific areas, has been generally good, mentioning particularly the Sports Facilities, the Economic Development and the Access Advisory Committees.While she hasn't been involved with the Waste Management Advisory Committee, she understands that there have been "some concerns"."But I wouldn't tar all of the committees with the same brush. They are a good and useful consultative tool."She says the recently aired, at times bitter debate, over perceived council inaction and impotence by elected members in the face of senior bureaucrats, has been basically healthy although some aspects have not been fair or impartial."On the whole this last council has worked fairly well, but with 10 aldermen, none of whom are controlled by anything like party policy, you are always going to get some conflict."I don't think that will affect the new council. There will be a lot of new people on it with new ideas, it will be up to them to find their own way, with the new mayor playing a major role in melding them into a team."With five candidates now in the mayoral race, the distribution of preferences will be important for who finally gets the job.Ald Erlich says she has not previously directed preferences: "It's something I will have to think about."In relation to her opponents she says having experience on council is a definite advantage (Jenny Mostran and Carl Macic have not), that she has independence and integrity, a consensus approach but not at the expense of principles, and that she has long been a passionate advocate for the well-being of the town.If she were elected it would put paid to her once-stated interest in contesting a Legislative Assembly election as an independent."My basic motivation has always been to promote Alice Springs and I'm not sure how effective I could be as an independent. I've decided that the job of mayor would be just as challenging and once that I could do effectively and enjoy."

WE'LL COP CASK BAN: TODD TAVERN OWNER.

Co-owner of the Todd Tavern, Ray Loechel, says if restrictions on alcohol availability were to be imposed he would be "quite happy" to see a trial ban of four and five litre casks of wine.He says such a ban, in his view, would have a "greater impact" on alcohol-related problems than a reduction in trading hours.He says at a meeting of licensees, called last year by the Liquor Commission to look at a rise in sales of cask wine in Alice, a majority were in favour of banning the high litrage casks, although support was not unanimous.Mr Loechel says whatever the outcome of the current community consultation on alcohol, he will abide by the wishes of the community and the decision of the Liquor Commission.FAIRHe thinks other licensees are of the same view, accepting that the process of gauging the community's wishes has been "thorough and fair". Mr Loechel and his wife Diane, co-licensee, came to town to take over the Todd Tavern licence from David Koch some 16 months ago.They had often travelled to Alice Springs to stay with friends so they were already familiar with "the town and its culture".They were, however, unaware of the even then vigorous debate about alcohol restrictions."Certainly, soon after we bought the business we became aware of a vocal group advocating restrictions, but that group didn't necessarily reflect the view of the community as a whole."The community will decide the outcome now, not a radical few."Mr Loechel has been on the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee for over 12 months: "I've been involved in the process of identifying problems, helped to choose the tenderer for the current survey, and I've worked with the survey team since it was appointed".Mr Loechel says the timing of the March 21 meeting of representatives of community organisations, which proposed a program of restrictions for consideration by the public (see Alice News, March 29), was "inappropriate".He says the people who called the meeting were well aware of the survey team's program."The idea of the survey is to obtain an impartial view of the wishes of the community."It would have been better if the survey had been conducted without that meeting and the subsequent reporting of it, which may distort some people's views."The program of restrictions proposed by the meeting was not "on the agenda" at the licensees' focus group, held last week.Mr Loechel would not say what was discussed at the focus group, but he did outline for the Alice News his own views:-Coming from a 26 year career in the South Australian police force, Mr Loechel says there are fewer problems at the Todd Tavern premises than in many other hotels he has observed in both country and urban South Australia.He describes Alice's alcohol problem as "very visual in certain areas" and acknowledges that statistics show "that people in Alice Springs drink more alcohol per head of population than most other parts of Australia"."I suppose you can say we do have a problem, but we are a small community, and problem drinkers are much more visible here to the general public."Aboriginal drinkers are among the clients for our business but they are by no means its mainstay."We work under strict criteria concerning the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons."We are very aware of our obligations under the Liquor Act, as are most licensed outlets in Alice Springs."Anyone who drives through here may have a problem with alcohol, whether they are black or white, but provided they are not intoxicated they can purchase alcohol.NO CONTROL"What they do with it once they leave the premises we have no control over."It may be too that a sober person purchases alcohol on behalf of someone else who may be a problem drinker."Mr Loechel believes the current community consultation process is "as fair as reasonably possible apart from a general referendum".He says his business can live with a ban of high litrage casks if such a ban is imposed, but he is concerned about employment prospects of some staff if trading hours are reduced.He says a lot of the visual aspects of Alice's public drunkenness are attributed to the Todd Tavern, but the alcohol being consumed does not necessarily come from their bottleshop."Our driveway is used as a walk-through from other shopping centres which have liquor outlets."He says he and his staff experience "very few problems with any of our patrons".

'TURN TAP DOWN'
With all community meetings and focus groups of the council-backed "Alcohol in Alice" consultation now concluded, consultant Dr Marge Hauritz says there is consensus in the town that "the tap must be turned down".She also says there is no one group fiercely resisting change. Participants in the consultation have clearly wanted to face the problem, which they have recognised as "a whole of Alice Springs" problem."A lot of people have spoken to us about the hidden face and the open face of the problem," says Dr Hauritz.The doorknock survey of randomly selected households is still underway. Here too Dr Hauritz says her team is encountering a desire to talk about the problem."People are welcoming us. They not only want to do the survey, they want to sit down and talk about it."We have had only a very small number of door rejections."In the 20 focus groups, which have ranged from meetings of licensees to river campers, Dr Hauritz says only three or four people have tried to contest that there is a problem, and that these people have usually been corrected by the group.She says the same basic issues have come through in all meetings, with a particular concern emerging over underage drinking.She says public drinking by visitors from bush communities has been discussed, it has been acknowledged that they have nowhere to go, and there has been a willingness to look at solutions. The situation hasn't been viewed as "just their problem"."As an outsider I would say a lot of good work that is already being done doesn't get ‘marketed'."For instance, a lot of people were unaware that Tangentyere offers food vouchers as a part-payment of social security benefits, and that this has been tremendously helpful, especially to mothers and grandmothers in the town camps."Tangentyere's wardens also do tremendous work. If I had to give medals to anyone, I would give them to the wardens."She said a river campers' meeting was held opposite Abbotts' camp, attended by some 40 people, including some drinkers, a couple of whom were inebriated."They were told by others at the meeting to behave themselves."Overwhelmingly the people in the river want to get past alcohol, get it out of their lives, they want solutions."What sort of solutions have been canvassed?"There is a consensus to ‘turn the tap down', but we didn't ask for specifics."The program of restrictions put up by the March 21 meeting were not part of our process, and turning down the tap is only one small part of what we can do."There were ideas about how to tackle underage drinking, including developing an I.D. card for adolescents that can't be forged."The story that sticks most in my mind from the community meetings came from an infants' school teacher."She asked her four and five year olds what they wanted to ask the Queen when she came to Alice Springs."One little girl said she wanted to know what beer the Queen drinks, Four X or VB!"The pressure to be a drinker in Alice Springs is quite strong across all groups."Turning down the tap is only the beginning. People know they also have to look at how drinkers regain some structure for their day, how they get jobs, and get kids back to school. There need to be safe houses for women and for men, and places for young people who are drunk to sober up."There was no one group who said they didn't want change," says Dr Hauritz.She says licensees were obviously concerned about business viability."They are feeling threatened and that's reasonable, but there is also a willingness to work with some suggestions."This whole process is about a community becoming a thriving community."Killing a business is not part of that, alcohol vendors are important people too."The Alice Alcohol Representative Committee which is overseeing the consultancy was to meet with Dr Hauritz and her team yesterday to establish a timeline for producing their research document.Chair of the committee, Alderman Meredith Campbell, paid tribute to the consultants, saying "they were exactly the right people for the job"."They have listened to everybody."They told me they have been particularly impressed and humbled by the efforts the Aboriginal community is making to tackle this problem, and suggested that the Wardens and Night Patrol are under-funded and under-resourced for the important job they do."They have also praised the efforts of the police."On the whole the town has been ready and grateful for this opportunity to talk about alcohol. It hasn't been a comfortable discussion, but it has been a very constructive one."Ald Campbell is hopeful that the Liquor Commission will be able to consider the results of the consultation in the first half of July, perhaps making an announcement by the end of the second week.

YIPIRINYA LOBBY FOR SECONDARY SCHOOL.

The "grandfather" and "grandmother" of Yipirinya School, Eli Rabuntja and Louise Raggett (pictured), say their students now need a secondary school.Speaking at last week's opening of Yipirinya's new school oval, Mr Rabuntja told the Alice News: "Now I'm worried for young people.Sometimes when they grow up they are never coming back to Yipirinya."Too much grog. Father and mother drink, they're drinking too."Can't we have secondary school for these young kids?"Grow them up, learn more."If we send them to Yirara, they won't stop there, they always come back."They start little here, they think of Yipirinya like their mother, they want to stop a long time."The elders want to do something for the young people, keep them here, then get them work, all types of work."At 15, 16, 17 they are drinking."They need proper education, then they can look after themselves."We have to keep them away from trouble, put it in their head not to do the wrong thing."If they listen and learn, they can teach other kids."A secondary school where kids can learn in the two languages, that's the most important thing the Government can do."The Government hasn't said anything yet, we are still waiting."Mrs Raggett, apart from being a founding member of Yipirinya School Council, is also the school's cultural principal.She says she is always at the school, from 7am each morning, "to talk to the young people, girls separate, boys separate until they grow up"."We have a cultural day once a fortnight, men take the boys, old ladies take the girls."Soon we will go on a country visit."We'll be starting a secondary school, we've talked to Bob Collins about that, but we are still waiting. "We want the girls who are nearly women and the boys who are nearly men to come to secondary and learn."They are drinking a lot, down the creek, chasing adults, learning from them."We'd like those kids to stay here, to keep their culture strong."The Government should be worried for these kids but I don't think they are."It is now almost six months since the release of the Bob Collins review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory. Mr Collins said last December that a response to the review's far-reaching recommendations was expected by March.Meanwhile, there has been a change of Minister. The education portfolio is now in the hands of Chris Lugg. ‘DELIBERATIONS'A spokesman for Mr Lugg says a response to the review is part of budgetary deliberations.The review recognised that there are "large and growing numbers of secondary-school age children in Indigenous communities who are simply not being provided with effective secondary education".While the review was focussed mostly on the situation in remote communities, Yipirinya School Principal Fiona McLoughlin says it is well known that there is a significant group of Aboriginal children in Alice Springs missing out on secondary schooling.She says the NT Department of Education last week granted $40,000 to fund research into exactly who these children are, how many of them there are – estimates vary from dozens to hundreds – and what sort of schooling options they need.The project will be administered by the Secondary Aged Indigenous Reference Group, made up of NTDE principals and the Assistant Secretary, and representatives of community groups such as Yipirinya, IAD, Tangentyere Council and Catholic High.

ARE HOME BUILDERS CHARGING TOO MUCH? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Home building costs in Alice Springs are far in excess of prices recommended by two reputable national guides, Rawlinsons and Cordell.Local builders are quoting between $800 and $1200 per square metre, while Rawlinsons recommend between $568 and $626 for residential construction. These prices are calculated as 116 per cent of the Adelaide prices.However, Dave Malone, general manager of the Territory Construction Association (TCA) in Darwin, says these figures are "a guide only" and actual prices can be influenced by several factors.These include the market values of existing homes in Alice Springs – still amongst the highest in Australia – and workload for builders at the time.Industry sources say most builders are flat out at the moment as customers are seeking to purchase materials before the GST comes into force on July 1. Mr Malone says builders aren't making "the huge amount of profit people like to think."According to the Tax Office their average net return is just three per cent, says Mr Malone.Large firms quote on the "first principle basis", which means the builder obtains competitive quotes from suppliers for all materials, and adds the labour cost to arrive at his quote. Michael Sitzler, of Sitzler Brothers, who don't operate in the residential field, says this is how his company produces quotations for the commercial and industrial projects his firm specialises in.However, many home builders simply quote a square meter price with seemingly little regard to the complexity or otherwise of the job.Freight costs are often blamed for the high prices although the majority of the heavy materials – cement and bricks – are locally made.Mr Sitzler says the local manufacturers, Bonnanis & CSR, are "very competitive". However, he says the remaining building materials are "not easily packaged" and may attract freight charges in excess of the normal tonne rate. Another factor in the high costs appears to be the relative shortage of builders.The TCA, which currently has no staff in Alice Springs, says it doesn't know how many builders are currently operating in the town.Only a handful belong to the TCA. Builders in the NT are not licensed, although the NT Government will give its contracts only to firms which are approved by Contractor Accreditation Ltd, a private firm vetting firms competing for public works tenderers.Builders' work, too, is checked by private firms, "certifiers" which issue building permits, and later permits to occupy.The Department of Lands, Planning & Environment is at arm's length from the process, merely auditing certifiers from time to time.Yet the number of builders – about 20 in the yellow pages – is very small, according to John Duncalfe, Manager, Dispute Resolution with the Queensland Master Builders' Association.He says there would be about twice as many builders per head of population in Brisbane.Local industry sources say that another price factor is the absence of large scale project builders such as A V Jennings.As big buyers these save up to 20 per cent on the cost of steel, blocks and other materials, while the "little guy" buys at normal trade rates.Meanwhile Mr Malone says there should be a voluntary scheme for insolvency insurance for builders, as exists everywhere else in Australia.This would protect buyers and present disasters such as the recent Bayview Homes affair in Darwin. The insurer would also provide a check of the financial integrity of building firms.

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