ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
July 19, 2000

ALCOHOL: WHERE DO WE GO NEXT? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Mayor Fran Erlich says it is not yet clear whether the town council will be taking a leading role in any implementation of the report, released last week, recommending measures against alcohol abuse in Alice Springs.The previous council had taken the view that there should be a "whole of community response and that no one particular group should be hijacking the agenda," says Mrs Erlich.The new council has not yet discussed the issue.Alderman Samih Habib has attacked the document, saying its claim that the town's grog consumption is two and a half times the national average is wrong because it fails to take account of visitors from the vast Central Australian region, and from elsewhere.He calls for more policing, education and alcohol sales in the vicinity of Aboriginal communities (see comment this page).Former alderman Meredith Campbell, who oversaw the six months long, $52,000 survey conducted by Queensland consultants, has announced that she will now be taking a back seat, because she will be standing as an independent candidate for the NT electorate of Araluen.Ms Campbell has attacked Ald Habib for being "destructive" and having a "closed mind", and taken a swipe at Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen, who she says seems to be requiring yet "more proof of the community's resolve and commitment". Mr Allen did not respond to invitations to comment from the Alice News.Meanwhile the head of the research team, which made a string of wide-ranging recommendations (Alice News, July 12), spoke to the News about the emotions and frustrations she and her colleagues encountered during interviews with hundreds of locals.Asked whether the council would be taking a leading role, Mrs Erlich said: "I don't think so. "I think that we'll certainly have a role. "It's very important that it is a whole of community action, not just one level of government or another, or one organisation or another.""Council is very keen to be involved but we are not keen to be taking over from the community."I would be reluctant for council to step in and take over," says Mrs Erlich."We've supplied secretarial help. Our officers have aided the researchers in every way possible, but we've been very careful to make sure it's the community that are having their say."I think there are some people who have quibbled [about consumption figures] but when you look at the figures from the hospital, from the DASA sobering up shelter, the police then it really comes down to how much harm is caused in the community, in economic and social terms."One of the good things of the report is that it doesn't seek to allocate blame to any section of the community."It's looking at the harm that alcohol causes and that''s what we need to look at, how it affects everybody in Alice Springs," says Mrs Erlich."I think that we should have some restrictions but they are only a small part of what has to happen."Restrictions by themselves won't work."There must be a whole of government, whole of community response to it."Ms Campbell told Mrs Erlich in a letter that "the time for action has come, and at the town council level, we need the highest elected authority."For that reason, it is imperative that you represent the council on any committee or action group formed to progress the report's recommendations. "I do not know how to deal with the Samih Habib question. "His presence on any meaningful committee would simply be destructive. He has demonstrated that he has a closed mind, and is hostile towards the report. "This is, of course, an understatement."About her own withdrawal from the process Ms Campbell says in her letter to the Mayor: "The Alice Alcohol Representative Committee will need to reform, and redefine its goals. "I will not seek to be represented on the AARC as a community representative. "As you know, I am intending to stand for a seat in the Legislative Assembly."Some would equate my further efforts on alcohol action and reform with my push for elected representation. "I do not want the integrity of such a group to be questioned in any way, and I feel it is time to withdraw from any further efforts," says Ms Campbell."In addition, I am tired and somewhat disillusioned. I hope that others can take up the baton so that we can get some real action, as recommended in the Hauritz report."I wish you well in your efforts to provide real leadership on this issue."Dr Marge Hauritz, the head of the research team, says the vast majority of the 750 locals interviewed demanded immediate action."It's gone far enough, we can't live with this any more," Dr Hauritz says she was told repeatedly. "They were absolutely sick and tired of trying to live through it."She was asked many times "how can I get the galvanising together. "How can I contribute to make a difference. I don't want to waste time."When asked whether they would join a safety action committee, effectively dobbing in people in breach of alcohol laws, " people usually said yes".While there clearly is a wide-spread fear to speak out in public, respondents made impassioned and candid statements once their anonymity was assured, when they were guaranteed that they are not going to get punished, not going to get ostracised for making that comment," says Dr Hauritz."There hasn't been an avenue for speaking out," she says. "People didn't know how to do it. "Once the avenue was put in front of them they had no real difficulty in saying, yep, I'll be part of that. I think that would indicate a fear of payback."In a small community "if you push the boundary a bit you're going to get excluded from your very few friends that you've made."However, most people asked were keen to support a community watchdog committee which would confront offending licensees. It would say to them: "What you're doing is against your code of practice and it isn't good business."We can show you a better way to do it. "Here's some way you can clean up your act. We give you two weeks to clean that up."If you fail to do that we'll be forced to pass this information across to the regulators."Dr Hauritz says in Queensland, where she has been involved in alcohol abuse consultancies for many years, "licensees wanted to be able to do the right thing, wanted to keep their gold star as being a safe venue on the tourist list. "They wanted to be on the international download of safe places to go when visitors come to Australia."So they stay with the code of practice, rather than being a maverick and flouting it."Dr Hauritz says she and her team were deeply shocked by what they saw in their work."Here's a young Aboriginal woman, maybe 23, comatose, close to a fetal position on the ground. "Dark. Nothing happening, just here by herself, just absolutely gone."Her vulnerability there was just incredible. We didn't know what to do."Opposite a service station, in a lane way, "there was an old guy, stretched out on the road, absolutely comatose. "Cars were driving ‘round him. Just like in India. "We went across to the service station. We said there is a guy in the middle of the road. Can you do something about that? "They said, no, no, it only makes a problem for us if we phone the police or the ambulance. This is in broad daylight!"Dr Hauritz says locals clearly are confused: "If I interfere, will I get into trouble with somebody else? "Am I allowed to touch an Aboriginal person? Will I be seen as a nuisance if I make a phone call? "You almost have to abide by hidden rules about what is and what is not allowable."Can I even speak to an Aboriginal person?"She says the effect of this situation on many locals is serious."The core of the anger is in the harm."People have to close off all their emotions to keep walking around a person's body.EMOTIONS"After a while that gets to be destructive, in your own self, when you know you're closing off these emotions all the time."People can't afford to emotionally recognise they're walking past a body that's on the street, very vulnerable and comatose. "They can't afford to do it, to keep on surviving in the town."All that emotional trauma they ingest has got to come out somewhere."What the community is saying is that it's got to come out in terms of action. They want immediate action. The group we spoke to, some 750 people, will not be ignored," says Dr Hauritz."They feel the leadership has absolutely ignored what they've been saying for a while."The people here have been saying for a long time that there is harm in this community, real damage, that there is incredible consumption."They were sick to death of the harm they were experiencing as part of their every day, every night life."They were sick of these incredibly abusive situations."And that's been usually laughed away or blamed on some other group."You've got the highest domestic violence statistics in Australia, in relation to hospital admissions."If you want to go and drink, go to Alice Springs."It's part of normal living there."Dr Hauritz says the drinkers are by no means Aboriginal people alone. Truancy is rife and people approaching the "rebellious teenage years are getting into the underage drinking so easily."I sat on the front porch with a mother whose daughter had won the wet T-shirt competition in [a club] where the girl, under- age, was shit-faced with alcohol."The club would have known it was happening – or should have known."She says the duty of care is a major issue: "Licensees of venues have a duty of care in all sorts of ways to their patrons – clean toilets, security, all that they have to do to cover for their insurance. "It's about maintaining their insurance."When you go to purchase alcohol through take-aways, supermarkets, convenience stores or petrol stations, you're actually making a purchase as a commodity, you're simply a shopper."There is no duty of care past the front door of that establishment: is this person going to be able to get themselves home, was the person really intoxicated when making this purchase?"How many 18-year-old [shop assistants] will be able to identify an intoxicated person if in fact they only see them occasionally?"Areas where public drinking is done at the moment, usually in violation of the Two Kilometre Law, are used because there is no alternative, says Dr Hauritz."If you had to walk five miles out to the dog pound to buy a drink on a hot day, and then walk back five miles, would you do that to have somewhere cool and safe and reasonable to drink in?"Or would you go across to the take-away, and because there is nowhere for you to drink, absolutely nowhere for you to have a reasonable drink, wouldn't you go and sit under a tree and have it?"Licensees don't want to lose their liquor trade but they also don't want to put up reasonable venues, outdoor gardens, reasonable bars that aren't overcrowded or seen as blood pits, for people who want to go and have a drink."Not everyone wants to go to the Tyeweretye Club."Dr Hauritz says any action that may be resulting from the report is coming too late for many."One old Aboriginal guy said, why didn't you come 10 years ago? "Why didn't you ask me 10 years ago? I've lost my family now."

GROG REPORT BADLY FLAWED. COMMENT by Ald SAMIH HABIB.

The report fails to look at the reasons of the alcohol problem and what is behind it.The recommendations don't give a permanent solution nor address the facts which led us to the current situation.The report attacks the integrity of the Alice Springs community and its business people, black and white.The title, "Dollars Made from Broken Spirits", is an insult to the community and pushing political views.The sad part is, the taxpayer is paying for the report.Calling for a radical reduction in the number of liquor outlets, and stopping the issue of new licenses, including restaurants, will never achieve our goals.Aboriginal organisations are involved in, or own, take-away or club licenses.I have no doubt if they ever feel for one moment that reducing the number of outlets will solve the problems, they will be the first to make the move.Restaurants have no effect whatsoever on the problem caused by liquor consumption.The size or the shape of the containers will make no difference on the consumption, either. Only affordability will make the difference.Any reduction in the number of liquor outlets will only create a monopoly.It is a social, not a commercial problem.More alcohol was consumed in the prohibition days in the United States than when alcohol was legal.To blame service stations, supermarkets or restaurants makes no sense: if we take their licenses away then bottle shop or stand-alone licenses will need to be issued.Alcohol is a reality we cannot run away from.The last take-away license was issued in Alice Springs in 1975. Since then three licenses have been handed back - Stuart Arms, Congress Shop and Greenleaves Caravan Park.There is a need now for a new license in the Larapinta area.Alice Springs always will be the hub for supplying The Centre from Warburton in WA to Coober Pedy in the south.Sales will be always be very high, not to mention the number of tourists every year.All the roadhouses restricting or stopping sales to Aborigines is forcing them to travel to Alice Springs seeking alcohol.As young kids travel with their older brothers and sisters, they end up in the streets of Alice Springs, far from the supervision by the elders. They catch up with drinking habits in the early stage, and end up in the police station or the hospital.The drinking problem is mainly with people aged 45 and lower.After living in Alice Springs for 26 years and involvement in different businesses, putting me in contact with people of many backgrounds, and after discussing the issues with many concerned persons from different communities, and looking at how other places are handling the problem in other areas, I think semi-deregulation of the liquor industry – with open eyes and care – is needed.In some settlements in the Top End where alcohol is allowed for a limited time only – usually one hour – in a special area, are working very well.People there call themselves "responsible drinkers".We should open clubs or drinking spots outside the boundaries of the communities, under the control of community members, where the drinkers are away from their wives and children. [These] are very successful.Whatever money is raised would go back to the communities for their own public facilities.The result would be responsible drinkers able to live with alcohol. This would give them self-determination, respect for their own culture and employment opportunities. RESPONSIBILITYThis means the solution is education, policing and responsibility.Living With Alcohol should be given another chance or a similar program should be started.Policing should be up to the elders and their community police to enforce the traditional laws, which can be very harsh.Responsibility should be shared between the industry, Liquor Commission, community elders and Aboriginal organisations.Let us spend taxpayers' money where it works.History will never judge us on how much and how hard we work, but on how successful we are and what we achieve.When Nero saw Rome ablaze he fiddled in his palace. I, as a taxi driver, am in the middle of the flames.

RECONCILIATION: IS IT GETTING ANYWHERE? COMMENT by Dr TIM ROWSE.

Corroboree 2000 and the march of hundreds of thousands of people across the Sydney Harbour Bridge marked a milestone in the national reconciliation movement, one endorsed in Alice Springs by a march across the Todd of around a thousand people, a large local turnout by anyone's estimation.But what exactly did all those marchers mean by their gesture? What do they aspire to when they say they want reconciliation with Aboriginal people? And what is the nature of the difference between those aspirations among Sydney-siders and residents of the other capitals, and among residents of Alice Springs?Historian TIM ROWSE gives his perspective on the current moment and observations about the disjunction between local level debates, which tend to be more concrete in their focus, and national level debates which are inevitably more abstract and symbolic.Dr Rowse, who lived and worked in Alice Springs between 1987 and 1996, is the author of a number of books on Aboriginal political history and most recently of "Obliged to be difficult", an account of the contribution of H.C. "Nugget" Coombs to Aboriginal political development, published this year by Cambridge University Press.
The current moment in the national reconciliation debate reminds me a lot of the second half of 1967. In May 1967 you had 91 per cent of the voters in Australia voting "Yes" in a referendum to empower the Commonwealth government to make Aboriginal policy at a national level, not just in the Northern Territory. There was a strong ideology around the "Yes" vote of inclusiveness and anti-discrimination, but just what it was a mandate for was very unshaped and inexplicit. What did the "Yes" voters want the government to do? In the past there have been mistaken attributions of meaning to the " Yes" vote, self-interested ones. For instance, in 1968~ Gouhitlam said it was a mandate for land rights, but land rights had not been mentioned in that campaign.More recently, there has been a mythologisation of the 1967 referendum as a vote for citizenship, but that's not true. It also begs the question of what bundle of rights citizenship stands for in relation to Indigenous Australians and that's a very big question. Currently there is a very significant outpouring of good will towards the word "reconciliation" evidenced in the marches in various capitals, most numerously the one in Sydney at the end of May, resulting in part from a very successful public relations campaign by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) around that moment and that popular gesture of marching. And yet, immediately that those demonstrations and that feeling had been registered in the news bulletins and on the front pages of the newspapers, ęthere was an evident lack of focus about what that good will could translate into. Geoff Clarke [ATSIC Chairman] mentioned the word "treaty". Some people on the CAR declined to endorse the word "treaty", and some people explicitly repudiated it. Of course the Prime Minister said he wasn't having anything to do with a treaty. There's been a planned emergence of documents by the CAR, such as the "Roadmap for Reconciliation" which does try to specify what the good will of reconciliation could be translated into in terms of policies, but generally, I think, just as in the late 1960s, we are now in a position where it's up to some force to try and translate all that good will into specific policy proposals that might attract enough popular support to persuade one of the major parties to do something new.Whether that will happen, I don't know. There is no reason to assume that it will happen. Why is it difficult for anyone to specify what reconciliation means? In some ways the term reconciliation and the outpouring of popular feeling in favour of it, is deferring coming to grips with some issues that are fundamental to Australian democracy and fundamental to the differentiated history of Indigenous Australians.The first difficulty is the unresolved principles of Australian liberalism. Australian liberal political thought abounds with words like "equality" and "rights" and so forth, but within Australian liberal thinking there are quite different takes on what those words mean, what their implications are.Up till the late 1960s, early 1970s, I think there was much more consensus within Australian political culture about what " a fair go" meant for Indigenous Australians, that is, what liberal principles of government were as applied to Indigenous Australians. And the basic consensus was around an idea of inclusion and non-discrimination, equality of rights. Now there are a great many people who sustain that version of Australian liberalism. I think the current federal government does. It has justified some quite controversial proposals and legislation around native title with a rhetoric of equal rights: equal rights for pastoralists and native title holders, for instance. That version of Australian liberalism is also, I think, the philosophical background to Pauline Hanson's thinking. I see Pauline Hanson as expressing a populist version of that liberalism, a kind of angry assertion: why should they get more than we do? In its most dignified form, that's a kind of liberal statement. It's saying there is no justification for any kind of Australian to have any particular kind of special rights. We are all in the same boat, we've all got the same rights, let's keep the playing field level, and not give anybody any kind of special favours. It's in those terms that the notion of Indigenous rights is disposed of.The alternative to that thinking is a liberalism that has grown up only in the last 30 years, which is strongly institutionalised in some ways and has firmly taken a grip of a section of public opinion. I'd say 35 to 50 per cent of public opinion over the last 20 years supports some version of this second kind of liberalism. It's a liberalism which does agree that there are such things as special and unique Indigenous rights, which other Australians don't have, and that the Australian idea of "a fair go" has to acknowledge that there are different kinds of rights, that equality is complex, and that Indigenous people by virtue of their colonised history have particular kinds of rights. One of the ways in which this is institutionalised is that there is now a law of native title, because perhaps the single most important articulation of that second version of liberalism was in the Mabo judgment. It recognises that there are some kind of rights which Indigenous people enjoy which derive not from any law introduced by the Crown but rather from ancient custom, and that the Crown's administration of the common law must recognise that ancient custom.That's a legal expression of the idea that there are differentiated rights and special Indigenous rights. There are also, if you like, some practical expressions of it though I would want to qualify this. But to the extent that, say, the Alice Springs Town Council pragmatically recognises that it can't govern Alice Springs without some kind of liaison with Tangentyere Council, there is at least the germ of recognition of the fact that this is a bi-cultural town that requires two orders of government. And once you have that kind of practical recognition, you do have the institutional environment for arguing for special Indigenous rights. You also have the possibility of saying no, we've got this far without talking about special Indigenous rights, we've just got Tangentyere and the town council recognising out of common sense that they need each other's help. You don't have to appeal to special Indigenous rights to have that arrangement. That's what I mean by saying that the institutional growth can be read in terms of either kind of liberalism. That's one of the reasons why this division within Australian liberalism is a persisting one: a lot of the arrangements under self-determination policy can be read as steps towards the recognition of the political autonomy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the local, state and national level, or they can be recognised just as improved service delivery, a different way of giving everybody a fair go.That's one way of thinking about the sponginess and unresolved nature of the concept of reconciliation.NEXT: The emergence of "southern" Indigenous political opinion and the Stolen Generations shifts the focus of the race relations debate.

HARRY POTTER, MOVE OVER, ALICE SPRINGS' MEDALON IS COMING! Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.

All life is the basis of something to write about.That is the philosophy of first time author Jennifer Fallon whose fantasy, "Medalon", published by Harper Collins, is about to appear in bookstores throughout the country.Jennifer Fallon (pictured at right) is a pen name but the real Jennifer has lived in the Territory for 20 years, including 13 in Alice Springs.She has been a youth worker, store detective, shop assistant, hire car company manager, project manager for Territory Health Services, and gymnastics coach, but always she wanted to be a writer."I have an 11-page resume," Jennifer said, "but no career path."I worked in K-Mart for two and a half years."When I was 35 years old, I made myself a promise that I was going to get published by the time I turned 40 or I would quit writing and get a ‘real' job."Harper Collins rang me up three weeks before my 40th birthday."The book will be out before I turn 41."When the book comes out on August 1, I can finally say ‘I am a writer'."Jennifer said she believes her mother's own interest in writing had a big influence on her own desire to write."My mother wanted to be a children's writer," Jennifer said."Her idea was to research Readers Digest's most picturesque words section and write a story with them."She got rejected too, just like I did with a romance novel I wrote almost 20 years ago."My mother died when I was 13 years old."She had cancer and died about 18 months after being diagnosed."She made me promise to keep up with my writing and music."Although I was one of 13 girls, only two of us were my mother's natural children; all the rest were adopted."My mother had grown up in an orphanage and it seemed as if she gave more to the adopted children than she gave to her natural ones."She told me, ‘you're mine, you have to love me; the adopted kids need extra love.'‘"We were very close."Jennifer is also an avid reader which she believes is another driving force behind her desire to write."I read a book a fortnight," Jennifer said."I can write to 3am and then read to 4am."I read nearly everything; all the fiction I can get my hands on."But I cannot handle reality."I hate reading books about real life people who have done great things."They make me feel inadequate, which is probably why I chose to write fantasy."Fantasy allows you to set your own rules."You can play the game ‘what if'."And revenge is an acceptable moral code."For example ‘Star Wars' was a fantasy where there was magic and honour, good versus evil and the good guys won."'Star Wars' even had the bad guy become a good guy."Over the years fantasy has gained mainstream acceptance."The more complicated the world becomes, the more people long for a simpler life."Jennifer said her first draft of "Medalon" was half fantasy and half science fiction."I was advised to make it one or the other, so I chose to go the fantasy route and chopped the science fiction," Jennifer said."I might write the science fiction later."Fantasy has to be more real than reality.The created fantasy world has to be flawless. "I do draw a lot of material from my own experiences, but quite a bit of things are totally imagined."'Medalon' is definitely not biographical."All the characters are more decisive than me."Also I cannot handle violence but there is a lot of violence in the book."The characters reflect qualities which I would like to have, not the ones I do have."In the book all the girls are gorgeous, all the guys are handsome."Jennifer said when she writes she usually knows how the story will end but the beginning often changes."Ideas boil around in the back of my head and then I bang them out on the computer," Jennifer said."I am a tech head, I can spend 16 hours a day at the computer."Writing is an obsession, life gets in the way."Jennifer said she never thinks of her audience when she writes."I see the story as a video playing in my head," Jennifer said."The first draft is all dialogue; the story is character driven through dialogue."Then I go back and describe where the characters are and what they are doing."And the characters seem to take on a life of their own."I write a chapter, add a bit, read it over and write some more."According to Harper Collins, "Medalon" has really strong characterisations and a likable heroine who went through 12 incarnations before I got it right."There are also a number of minor characters who are pivotal to the plot."I have fun with minor characters; they often say one liners."For example one character makes the comment, ‘common sense is far from common'."And bad guys are more fun to write than good guys.""Medalon" is the first book in a trilogy, the Demon Child Trilogy."Book two is already at Harper Collins," Jennifer said."And I sent the third book off a few days ago."The same story goes across all three books."The first one evolved over a two-year period during which it was rehashed on and off."Book two was developed from a chapter by chapter synopsis."In book three the loose ends are tied off."And the publishers are already talking about another one; I have a plan and synopsis but need to sit and think about that one some more."I could turn out a book every six months if I didn't have to work."Jennifer believes fantasy books are popular today because people are looking for a simpler lifestyle than the one they see around them."There are no computers in Medalon," Jennifer said."And no credit cards and no bills."People have quests and can get involved."The characters have control over their world."Throughout her years of writing, Jennifer has had a lot of support from her two daughters, Tracey and Amanda, and her son, David."Tracey and Amanda have active roles in my writing," Jennifer said."Tracey is a science student and has a logical mind."She can always pick holes in the plot."When I was close to finishing 'Medalon', she said, 'What would happen if ...?' and I ended up changing the whole plot, again."Now I have her read my books before the final draft."And Amanda, she is one of the proofreaders, always on the lookout for typos."As for David, when he was 14 years old, he told me my book read 'like a real book'."They are taking my being published in stride."Here I am bouncing around the house, all excited about being published, and they are looking at me as if to say 'what's all the fuss about'."They figured one day I would be published; it was just a matter of time."Jennifer lived first in Tennant Creek (1980-1983), then Darwin (1983-1987), and then Alice Springs until she left for Darwin a short time ago to start a new job "that was too good to refuse."But despite her long time in the Territory she does not think her environment has played any role in her writing."About the only connection I can see with my writing and with Alice Springs is the weather."I noticed recently when rereading the books that if it was raining in Alice Springs, it is raining in the book."It took me two years to cotton on to that."It never rained in the first book, while book three is quite soggy."Jennifer said she has heard that 99 percent of manuscripts submitted to publishers such as Harper Collins are rejected.Although hers was accepted, she did receive seven pages of suggestions on how to "fix" it."It took 12 months to make the revisions."But I learned more in that 12 months about writing than I had in the previous 20 years."And writing is a business; one has to produce what the consumer wants."If a book is a popular best seller, everyone benefits.""Medalon" came off the press last week with a number of people getting advanced copies.Jennifer was not among the early recipients."People kept calling me up to tell me how nice it looked, but the publishers forgot to send me one," Jennifer said."They said they would express mail be a copy." Her copy arrived the next day."People should not regret anything they do," Jennifer said."All you do you can draw on when you write."Medalon will have its official Alice Springs launch at the Zonta Club of Alice Springs meeting at the Rivergums Restaurant, Diplomat Hotel at 7am on August 25.

IF US YOUNG ONES WERE RUNNING THE COUNTRY... Report by DYLAN FITZSIMONS.

The education system needs reform, including compulsory placement of guidance counsellors in secondary schools; more needs to be done for young disabled people; the hire vehicle industry needs to be purchased by the Northern Territory Government; young mothers need assistance to complete secondary school; the Northern Territory needs a bicameral parliament; and the use of DNA sampling and the NT's DNA database needs to be tightly regulated to protect the privacy of citizens, according to NT youth.These views were presented at the Sixth YMCA Youth Parliament sittings at Parliament House in Darwin earlier this month.Youth Parliament is a mock Parliament held over the second week of the mid-semester school break, where the youth of the NT, through two days of presenting and debating their own Bills, are able to voice their concerns. This year, seven teams from Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs were divided into Government and opposition to present and debate Bills.Two teams from Alice Springs participated – one from Centralian College, who joined the Government, and one from St Philip's College, who joined the Opposition. On the Centralian College team were Tom Sharp, Rouslun Churches, Chelsea Lawrence, Kaylene Williams, Alisha Noonan and me, Dylan Fitzsimons; and on the St Philip's College team were Jamie Coutts, Wyatt Barnes, Tamara Middleton, Brian Sparks, Daniel Kerr, Trevor Kerr, and Maija Walton.On the first day of sitting, Centralian College presented the DNA Testing and Database Bill 2000. Although DNA testing and a DNA database are already established in the NT, Centralian College's Bill called for greater regulation of the system.It gave police the power to ask people to undergo a voluntary DNA test, the results of which could be matched against DNA taken from a crime scene or victim. This would mean the police could set up screening programs, like that in the small NSW town of Wee Waa earlier this year, where police screened the town's citizens in the investigation of a rape case.The Bill also allowed police to compel a person who they reasonably suspected of committing a crime to undergo a test.As well, citizens could apply to the Supreme Court to have a court order for a DNA test to be undertaken, which could find use in civil law matters; and medical practitioners too could access the testing facility.It was made illegal, however, for an employer to ask or compel an employee to undergo a DNA test, or for an insurer to do the same as part of an insurance contract, to prevent unfair discrimination against a person who might be susceptible to genetic health problems.The Bill also allowed for the establishment of a DNA database, that would contain the DNA profiles of all criminals sentenced to jail for five or more years. This would allow police to match DNA sampled from a crime scene directly against the database to produce suspects.On the second day of sitting, St Philip's College presented their Compulsory Guidance Counsellors in Schools Bill 2000, which provided for a counsellor to be employed in all secondary schools, to investigate the process of learning and teaching, and to assist students to develop their personal, social, and educational skills.The St Philip's team tabled statistics in Parliament that showed that the NT has the highest youth suicide rates in Australia. They argued that compulsory dedicated guidance counsellors in schools would establish a much stronger support network in senior students' lives, who often feel they have no one to turn to for help.The guidance counsellor would need to be selected by a panel consisting of representatives from the Department of Education, the school principal, senior coordinators at the school, and other members of the education community, including representatives from education committees, members of the school's Student Representative Council, members of the School Council, and the school's previous guidance counsellor.During the Committee of the Whole stage, where all members of Parliament form a committee to review and amend the Bill before them, provisions were included that allowed for students to access counsellors from other schools in a sister-school system, so that students can have access to a counsellor they feel the most comfortable with.Both the Centralian College and St Philip's Bills were passed by the Youth Parliament.Other Bills presented were one by a team from Katherine's Aboriginal and Islanders with Tertiary Aspirations Program (AITAP) for a program to provide financial assistance to young mothers completing secondary school; a Bill from Darwin AITAP students to reform the public education system by introducing a '"three strikes and you're out" system for disruptive students, and increasing student services in schools; a Bill from Sanderson High School in Darwin to restructure the private hire vehicle industry so that it is government owned (the only Bill that was not passed); and Bills from two teams from Casuarina Senior College in Darwin for the establishment of a Legislative Council for the NT's Parliament to review legislation passed by the existing Legislative Assembly and ensure parliamentary democracy; and for a program to be established to assist disabled youth to participate in society.Members of the Youth Parliament also had a chance to comment on the centenary of the Australian Federation, to be celebrated next year, in the Matter of Public Importance raised by the Youth Chief Minister. Questions of its meaning to Australians, whether it should beű celebrated, and if so, how, were spoken on by the Members, each of whom had a different perspective.The Adjournment Debate at the conclusion of the second day allowed Members to address the Assembly about issues that concern them in society. Members also took the opportunity to acknowledge the retiring Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Terry McCarthy.The Youth Parliament program also allowed its participants to meet with their counterparts in actual Parliament. The youth parliamentarians enjoyed morning tea with the Administrator Dr Neil Conn and his wife, Speaker Terry McCarthy, Acting Chief Minister Mike Reed and Opposition Leader Clare Martin, and afternoon tea with Education Minister Chris Lugg. Members of the Legislative Assembly also watched their youth counterparts from the public galleries during the sitting days.Alice Springs participants this year also took leadership roles in the Assembly. Becky Morton, who was attending her fourth Youth Parliament, was appointed as the Youth Speaker, whose task it was to "referee" the debate between the Government and Opposition. Rouslun Churches, from Centralian College, was elected by the Government as the Youth Chief Minister. Wyatt Barnes, who was on the St Philip's team and also attending his fourth Youth Parliament, was elected to be to Youth Administrator next year, a ceremonial role which will see him opening and closing the Youth Parliament, and presenting the Acts it passes to the Chief Minister and Opposition Leader for them to consider. In the past, Acts passed by the Youth Parliament have been taken into actual Parliament and made law.As well as allowing the youth of the NT to gain an understanding of their parliamentary system, and an opportunity to voice their opinions, Youth Parliament encourages social skills through team building and leadership skills activities, which this year included Dragon-boat racing.At the conclusion of Youth Parliament, all participants agreed that they had something to take back to their communities, and were satisfied with their experience.

COUNCIL RATES WILL STAY PUT!

Rates will not rise under the town council budget announced on Monday but some fees and charges will be reviewed during the year.The municipality is aiming to be debt free by May 2002.The recently proposed $12m new council chambers, dubbed the Taj Mahal by former alderman Geoff Miers, have been scrapped.There will be no increase in staff.About $8.4m was raised from rates last fiscal year, a five per cent increase over 1998-99.Ald Geoff Bell, who delivered the budget, said the council is giving priority to its "core operations" and the "maintenance of community assets" with $360,000 earmarked for the litter patrol and $250,000 for street cleaning.Running the landfill is budgeted at $750,000, now supplemented with a "user pays" strategy. Rural dwellers, who do not have a collection service, will get free passes for unlimited trips to the dumpTownsfolk, in addition to their weekly collection, will get six free passes a year, after which they will have to pay, possibly by the trailer load.Ald Bell says the tip will be returned to private management once the new system "has been assessed".More than $2m will be spent on roads and paths maintenance, plus $250,000 for new works.The council has applied for a $250,000 grant to upgrade Gap Road.Parks will get capital works – including more shade – worth $110,000, and more than $500,000 will be spent on the maintenance of sporting grounds.
NEXT WEEK: Ald Jenny Mostran will comment on the budget.

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