ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
April 26, 2000

COLLINS: WE MUST RESTORE CONFIDENCE IN EDUCATION! KIERAN FINNANE reports.

Six months after the release of his review of Indigenous education in the Territory, Bob Collins, former Labor Senator and front bencher, says he "can't fault the effort put into a response to the review by the Education Department".Mr Collins told the Alice News that there has been a comprehensive attempt to implement a number of the review's recommendations, and to prepare a submission for cabinet to consider as part of its budget deliberations.The News understands that cabinet asked for more detail on an earlier submission responding to the review, and that it is now considering a further submission."The Department has put together a small implementation team, and formed a joint working party with the Commonwealth, through DETYA," said Mr Collins, who has had several meetings with the implementation team.As a former Federal Minister, Mr Collins said he understands that funding of the review's recommendations has to be considered in the light of the many calls on the budget."But if there is one area that is fundamental, it is the establishment of the pilot schemes I've recommended. "If there is nothing else, I will be happy if I see those pilots in place."Mr Collins said there is a terrible "loss of heart" over the "shocking" literacy levels of Indigenous children in the bush."The unpalatable truth is that only five per cent are achieving the national literacy benchmarks, which are all about what an average student can achieve in an average classroom."It is critically important that we demonstrate that you can turn that around."My report is full of best practice examples, but these things are not happening across the system. They rely on individual personalities and commitment."For a long time there has been no systemic attempt to demonstrate to Aboriginal kids and their parents that they can get a better result. "Poor outcomes are accepted. When every good job in a community goes to a non-Aboriginal person, that is accepted."By contrast, success breeds success, so that's why the pilots must be supported."Indigenous education is a priority for the Territory like nowhere else in Australia. "Aboriginal people make up 27 per cent of our population, but what most people, even in the parliament, don't seem to realise, is that Aboriginal children make up 39 per cent of our school population."If the huge gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal educational outcomes is not addressed, it will create very significant social problems in our society."Meanwhile, Don Zoellner, President of the NT Principal's Association (NTPA) told the News that the association is "very strongly supportive" of the general thrust of the Collins review.He said many of the review's recommendations fit in with the direction of the national English Literacy, Numeracy and Attendance Strategy, launched recently by the Prime Minister."Principals in the Territory are keen to see the NT Government's response to Collins and we expect it to be positive."Some of the issues that the review has placed firmly on the public agenda, are issues that principals have been raising for years, but for some reason we weren't able to develop a momentum around them."Among them is the focussing of Commonwealth monies for Indigenous education at a school level."It has generally been our view that too much of this money has been used in areas other than at the chalk face," said Mr Zoellner. Principals have also felt that Commonwealth and Territory programs have been working "at right angles to one another" instead of within a "unified policy and procedural framework"."There are a lot of resources out there, but in the past they have been delivered in a very uncoordinated manner."If there were better coordination of human and monetary resources, we could achieve significant improvements without a big increase in expenditure."NTPA also recognises "the real potential for benefit for Indigenous people" of developing links between health and education delivery."In remote areas there is, if nothing else, a lot of administrative duplication that is inefficient."But more generally there is scope for working together in both remote and urban settings and principals welcome any moves in that direction."However, Mr Zoellner said principals have concerns about the detail of some of the review's recommendations."It is not really clear to us from the review what is meant by a self-managing school in an operational sense."Does it mean that every school would have, for instance, total control over its staffing, which of course takes the biggest slice of a school's budget?"To explore this and other questions about what self-managing schools look like and how they impact on student outcomes, NTPA has invited a leading education scholar, Dr Bob Lingard, to visit the Territory in early May.NTPA also has some reservations about the recommendation that all principals' positions be advertised nationally."We recognise that it can be difficult to fill some principals' positions, and that they don't always attract a sufficient field of candidates, or even any field, but there are also some problems to be considered."Such a move could block a career path for aspiring principals in the Territory system, and unless it was handled cleverly, it could slow down the movement of principals between the bush and the major centres."Many first time principals are willing to work in remote schools but hope to eventually move back to the major centres."But if they are competing against every potential principal in Australia, when most other state and territory systems are not open to competition, it might be difficult."Are there principals in the bush who are willing to take on the challenge of turning around the dire situation described in the Collins review?Mr Zoellner assured the News that there are "a whole host of principals willing to continue to put in the time and effort if their work is recognised and if the resources and support are forthcoming."

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: We won't come while you have mandatory sentencing: athletes.

Sir,- Jackie Kelly [Federal Tourism Minister] is reported in your April 12 edition to have said that she doesn't have any evidence at this stage that the controversy over mandatory sentencing has had an impact on visitor numbers. I can provide some. The NT 2000 Masters Games is to be held in Alice Springs in October of this year. I attended my first games in Adelaide last year as a swimmer. It was my intention to participate in the NT Masters Games. I have travelled a lot, but have never been to the Alice. I would dearly love to. Both my work circumstances and finances permit me to go. In conscience, I cannot. On providing others in my Aussie Masters swimming club with the brochures, of the 12 or so swimmers present, eight indicated that while they would like to go to the Games, they were not prepared to while the mandatory sentencing policy is in place. [Ms Burton has the names and telephone numbers of the eight, if anyone seeks verification.] Several of us were likely to have extended the trip to spend time as tourists.Yours is not the only community that fails to take some responsibility for failing to meet the needs of young people before they turn delinquent. However, I am not prepared to reward your Government by visiting the NT for the week to 10 days that participation in the Games requires. I don't want to spend money in the NT while its people perpetuate the problem they are trying to stamp out by costly, ineffective, inhumane mandatory incarceration of those less fortunate than themselves. Pamela Burton
Bungendore, NSW
pamela @ cyberone.com.au

Sir,- By accident I found your newspaper in "The Paperboy", thank god for that. One of my favourite things, when I have time, is to read about life all over the world. I liked your newspaper a lot, mainly for two reasons. It gives a view of a lifestyle I can't imagine – living in a middle of a hot desert (still quite comfortably I think), and it also gives a grass root information of things happening there. Thanks to the editor.When I am writing this, temperature is about -10 degrees centigrade outside and still dark but spring is coming to Finland too ... Not a day too soon.
Jari Kukkurainen
Finland
jariku5@hotmail.com

Sir,- Enjoy reading you paper courtesy of the internet. We publish a daily letter and have a web site in which we poke fun at the world press. Will be printing extracts from your paper if you have no objections! We give full credit and try to be humorous.
Orville,
USA
www.harvardnews.org
Sir,- I recently saw an old movie called "A Town Like Alice". It was about Alice Springs, I think around the time after World War 2. I was pleasantly surprised to find your web site. I enjoyed reading your newspaper. Just wanted to say Hi!

LET'S REGAIN OUR LIFESTYLE, SAYS CANDIDATE.

Carl Marcic may not have the management and council experience of other mayoral candidates, but the twenty-four year old says he makes up for it with the zest of youth and by his experience of life in Alice Springs.A born and bred local, Mr Marcic says this is "God's own country" but our lifestyle has taken a downturn since his boyhood days of the early to mid ‘eighties."We had a fantastic standard of living then, but far from improving it seems to be going backwards," says Mr Marcic.He says the huge market potential of Aboriginal tourism is virtually untapped, and if he were mayor it would be one of the issues he would like to get the town talking about.It is the key to increasing visitation to Alice Springs, and everyone would benefit from that.As well, Mr Marcic says Alice needs to tackle the problem of public drunkenness. This impacts not only on locals' quality of life, but also on tourism."A tourist will tell 10 other people about a good experience they had in Alice, but if they've had a bad experience many more people will hear about it. Bad news travels faster than good news. We can't afford to let that happen."While he can see the possible benefit of a ban on four and five litre casks of wine, Mr Marcic is sceptical about reduced trading hours for liquor outlets. He insists they would simply lead to busier trading within the restricted hours, and in any case sees the idea as a "bandaid" approach to the problem. As mayor, he says he would call a summit of concerned groups and individuals to tackle "the root causes" of alcohol abuse."I haven't got the solution, I've never lived that way of life, but it affects my life and other people's lives in a detrimental way, and I don't like that."I want to be able to walk down the Mall at any time and not be harassed. "I want to be able to go shopping without having to step over comatose drunks."No one person or group can fix it, everyone has to be involved."He sees council's role not as a leader, but as a facilitator.He believes that if something "makes sense, if it's logical, it will happen".Of the recently aired frustrations of some aldermen over getting things to happen, he says: "A lot comes down to the individual. "You have to sell your ideas and be able to talk to people from all walks of life."His training in marketing and management at the Northern Territory University and his work experience since then – he is at present a sales consultant for Sun FM – has prepared him well for the task.He is confident of his ability to "unite aldermen and staff into a tight team", and one that lives within its means.He says he lives by this principle, and sees no reason why it should change "when dealing with public monies".For this reason, he is concerned about the mooted new Civic Centre."There would have to be concrete and favourable outcomes for the town before I would agree to such massive expenditure of ratepayers' money."Apart from using his youth as a selling point – "if it draws media attention, I will use that to benefit the town" – Mr Marcic is not especially focussed on youth issues."I want to appeal to the citizens of Alice Springs across the board, regardless of their age, creed or race."He does, however, see the need for a community-sponsored social venue for teenagers."They need a place where they can hang out without having to spend money."He does not understand why there is an intolerance of young people hanging out around shopping centres and in the streets."As on other issues, I don't have all the answers, but I want to find them or find the people who have them."Mr Marcic will also run for alderman. While he would prefer the top job, he wants to get on to council " to do my bit for the good of Alice Springs".

WILL CANDIDATES LEARN FROM THIS?

A former alderman says candidates for the local government elections next month, especially those touting community involvement as their policy, would do well to bear in mind what happened to an Eastside park.Daryl Gray, who served on the council from 1993 to 1996, says he worked hard to get a number of projects up and running involving the council and local residents, one of them being the beautification of the two hectare park between Goyder and Mueller Streets and Lindsay Avenue.However, the council bureaucracy – then headed by Town Clerk Alan McGill – came up with a raft of reasons why the project wasn't feasible.Today, many of the park's trees are dead or dying, no new trees have been planted for many years, and there is still no shade for the playground equipment, some of which is in bad repair.PARASITEAbout 10 trees are rotting due to a fungus, and in others the parasite mistletoe is more prominent than the tree's own foliage. Says Mr Gray: "Residents were prepared to plant appropriate shade trees, replace old ones damaged by years of poor pruning, put up shade structures, and help with the upkeep and maintenance of play equipment."Mr Gray says at least 30 people from the immediate neighbourhood had offered to provide volunteer help, and many of them are still keen. They ranged from gardeners, carpenters, politicians, and musicians to public servants and retired pastoralists.However, despite "the constant theme of community participation", such projects were often excluded from the budget estimates processes."The council was tied up with all sorts of issues," recalls Mr Gray."There would need to be council staff to supervise."That would create problems rostering people on weekend overtime."Then there was the issue of council public liability – what if someone injured themselves?"Or somebody was injured by a falling branch or by equipment?"And it was argued work of this kind is the council's job and responsibility – where do you draw the line?"And what would we do in areas where people don't want to be involved?"Mr Gray says "the way they shot it down" was claiming insurmountable difficulties created by another nearby project, spearheaded by photographer Mike Gillam and the Eastside Residents' Association.They were trying to beautify Lindsay and Winnecke Avenues, turning them into true avenues with rows of tall trees."The council argument was to do with logistics, closing off sections during the work, and the fear that in the case of an accident, the council would be bankrupted by litigation."The council said, we have our existing programs and we can't upset the applecart."It was all bureaucratic bulldust," says Mr Gray."As it turned out the council wasn't prepared to include community, use its expertise."The next generation would have benefited from the trees."Their children would have been able to play in the shade."I'm raising this now because we have all these candidates talking about what the council should do. "Here's an example of one activity that was frustrated by political and bureaucratic means. "We should ask the candidates, how would you deal with something like that? "What would you be willing to do about it?"

ALCOHOL RESTRICTIONS ARE NO CURE-ALL. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

If the Territory Government is really serious about addressing alcohol problems, apart from considering issues of availability, they must also look at issues of education, employment and the economic position of not only Aboriginal people but large numbers of non-Aboriginal people who don't have meaningful work.So says Dennis Gray of the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) in Perth. As Alice Springs appears to be moving closer to the trialling of alcohol restrictions, Dr Gray warns that they must not be seen as a magic solution. He urges government and the community to look at the alcohol action plan proposed by Congress."There really needs to be more debate in the wider community about the measures proposed in that plan to see where they can go," says Dr Gray.Congress heads their list with a call for the implementation of the recommendations of the Bob Collins review of Indigenous education in the Territory – about which, almost six months after its release, there has yet to be a detailed response from the NT Government (see report this issue).Next, Congress calls for the development of a comprehensive strategic plan for Aboriginal economic development in Central Australia. Only then does the Congress plan talk about alcohol specific measures, proposing a wide-ranging and culturally appropriate alcohol education campaign.The Congress plan is a good first step, says Dr Gray:"Not all alcohol and drug use is caused by economic deprivation but we know that a lot of it is. "Unless you do something about lack of opportunity for people you are going to have high levels of alcohol and drug use."He cites a study by NDRI of drug and alcohol use among young Aboriginal people in Albany, WA. Amongst those over 15, the unemployed were 13 times more likely to be frequent drug users – of mostly tobacco, alcohol and cannabis but also of amphetamines and barbiturates – than those who were still in school or in some form of training.Dr Gray, who headed the team which conducted the 1998 review of Tennant Creek's alcohol restrictions, says of all the Australian communities that have tried to tackle alcohol problems by restricting availability, Tennant has affected the greatest reduction in consumption, yet its consumption is still twice the national average."They've reduced it by 20 per cent, made a big dent in it, but it hasn't solved the grog problems in Tennant Creek by any means."Dr Gray also warns that while restrictions may have an impact initially, research done in the USA shows that the effect tapers off in the long term, due to a complex of reasons:"The talk of availability and restrictions, even before they are introduced, creates an awareness in the community of the problem and causes some people to re-assess the amount of alcohol they are consuming."It may also cause the police to pay more attention to alcohol-related problems and to increase their policing efforts."Then, as time goes by there's some falling off in those efforts and in people's levels of awareness, and, if nothing else has changed, people tend to go back to previous patterns."When you've got problems of the magnitude that you have in the Territory there needs to be some on-going process to keep the issues before people, keep them on the boil, keep up the enthusiasm."SMALL PARTMarge Hauritz, consultant to the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee and in charge of the recently concluded survey of public opinion on alcohol in Alice, agrees that restrictions are "just one small part of what must be done"."In other parts of Australia we have worked with the community to develop a strategic plan to take them where they want to go."Dr Hauritz says even a simple program of restrictions has to be sustained, by the efforts of a community-based management group and a project officer who keep an eye on its implementation, and by constant measuring of its effects, not just during the trial period but "forever after".Dr Gray suggests that in the development of a strategic plan one important issue that the community needs to consider, which to date has been skirted in Alice Springs, is the relationship between on-premises and off-premises drinking.The NDRI has been involved in numerous studies in rural and remote WA and the Territory.Says Dr Gray: "One of the things you find in those areas is that by and large some publicans have wanted to sell grog to Aboriginal people but not have them on the premises."In one town hoteliers were saying to us clearly that they didn't want Aboriginal patrons. "They were saying Aboriginal patrons discouraged other patrons, but they were all more than willing to sell to them through hotel bottleshops or liquor stores. "We've done work in a town on the fringe of the desert in WA, where in the ‘sixties they had a black bar and a white bar, now they've got a front bar and a back bar, but it's the same thing. "The front bar no one would want to drink in – cement floors, flaking paint on the walls, one table and two chairs."Why would anyone, black or white, drink in those sorts of premises when they could drink under a shady tree in the river?"The problem is there are no controls in the river, whereas on licensed premises you do have some controls. "Most publicans really don't want fights in their bar and they will cut people off, but here and in WA some licensees load people up with grog, shove them out the door and then people drink in environments where there is no constraint on intoxicated behaviour."That's when you get the assaults and the domestic violence, which you see in non-Aboriginal populations as well."Dr Gray says there is a good case for having beer gardens attached to licensed premises, to get drinking back into a controlled environment."This would require hotel proprietors to be willing to put in the appropriate amenities and to keep them up to standard."

RSL NOT JUST FOR OLD DIGGERS! By DOROTHY GRIMM.

The RSL chose Anzac Day to launch the club's drive to return to "the good old fashioned fun days" for people of all ages."We have started holding 60-40 nights with a smorgasbord and barn dances and people have had a grand time," says Kevin Sedunary, Alice Springs RSL Club president."People think the RSL is just for those who are in the services or are former members of a service but there are other categories of membership too."A person can be an affiliate or associate member if one's mother or father or grandfather was in the service."And even if there are no service personnel in one's family, one can join as a social member."The RSL does have observances which are held daily, such as the observance at 9pm every night, seven days a week, and social members are expected to participate."This observance honours the fallen with two minutes of silence.The RSL Club was founded in Australia in 1916 and the Alice Springs Club began in 1932 with 12 members.In addition to maintaining the club premises on Schwartz Crescent, at the bottom of Anzac Hill, the RSL organises Anzac Day and Remembrance Day functions each year. The RSL also supports various organisations including the cadet movement, the Air Training Corps, the Veterans Information Centre of Central Australia (VICCA), and a museum on the club's premises."The Veterans Information Centre supports both current servicemen and ex-servicemen in providing information on such things as pensions and welfare benefits," says Ray Duthie, Alice Springs RSL vice-president. VICCA also represents servicemen and ex-servicemen on review boards and Administrative Appeal Tribunals."Mr Sedunary says the RSL Club supports the community in other ways too."For example, if asked, RSL members will go to the schools and talk to the students about the meaning of Anzac Day."And the RSL facilities may be hired by community organisations."For instance, the Migrant Resource Centre recently hired the facilities in the back of the RSL Club building for the National Harmony Day festivities and had a very successful night."The area is very well equipped with good amenities and bar."It also has entertainment facilities including a dance floor and band stand."The RSL Club's Museum features a wide range of memorabilia from pictures and books to weapons and medals.Displays, which change periodically, are featured in two of the club's rooms, the bar and dining areas."We have more than 500 members in Alice Springs," says Mr Sedunary. "Friday night is our most popular night and we offer a free taxi service home for guests who may have had more to drink than is safe to drive."

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