ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
August 9, 2000

COUNCIL URGED TO LEAD TOWN ON GROG REFORM. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Local churches, Aboriginal and other groups want the town council and Mayor Fran Erlich to press for the implementation of recommendations in the controversial "Dollars from Broken Spirits" report on alcohol abuse.A closed meeting of the town council last night considered the demand, along with presentations by groups including Aboriginal organisations and the Liquor Licencees Association.Liquor Commission chairman Peter Allen, who has been avoiding comment on the report, was also expected to attend.The council is likely to make an announcement today.Last week all major churches, groups representing health professionals, the major Aboriginal and several other non- government organisations attended a meeting called by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Program Unit (CAAAPU).According to spokesman John Boffa the meeting urged Mayor Erlich and the town council to take the initiative in the report’s implementation.Dr Boffa says the meeting resolved the council should "ensure that its representative on the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee (AARC) be given a mandate to negotiate in good faith on a range of measures" suggested by the report, "including a package of alcohol restrictions in accordance with the majority will of the community".The AARC commissioned the report with funds from the NT Government, the town council and Tangentyere, a total of $82,000, and set the terms of reference.The meeting said the AARC, in recess since the report's launch on July 12, should be reactivated, and additionally, requested the "council and Mayor to convene an Alcohol Issues Forum as soon as possible to consider further actions".Says Dr Boffa: "We asked Mayor Erlich to become the chairperson of AARC in place of the outgoing chairperson, Meredith Campbell, and use her Mayor's discretional fund to provide secretarial support."The meeting expressed confidence in Mrs Erlich."We want her to give AARC the leadership that comes with the weight of her office."Dr Boffa says the meeting saw AARC as a group which would be further strengthened by reporting to a regular public meeting through a revived Alcohol Issues Forum.This in turn could be functioning as a community forum similar to the one proposed in the "Broken Spirits" study."We are very uncomfortable with suggestions for the process to be handed over to the NT Government sponsored Alice in Ten [committees]," says Dr Boffa.Mrs Erlich said on the weekend that the purpose of last night's council meeting was solely to determine whether or not the council should take a leading role.Asked how the vote was likely to go, she said: "I honestly don't know."It depends how you define ‘leading'."I will be bound, as all the aldermen, by the council's position, but my personal feeling is that the report has to be acted upon."I don't agree with all the recommendations and there is a problem with the tone and the title."But this should not detract from the fact that the statistical methods used are sound, and that the picture painted about alcohol abuse is accurate and needs to be acted upon."Early this week the decision was seen as hinging on the votes of two aldermen, Bob Corby (see break-out comment this page) and Michael Jones.Ald Jones said there is some "good stuff" in the report "but a lot is rubbish". When considering taking a leading role in the implementation process, the council needs to note the funds and resources it has available, said Ald Jones. For example, he supports the recommendation that drinking at public functions, such as sporting and entertainment fixtures, should be confined to designated areas and there should only be light beer."I don't agree there should be no new liquor licences," said Ald Jones."Take-away sales are the main issue, not having a glass of wine with a meal in a restaurant."Sales restrictions would need to be "part of a package".Ald Jones said he doesn't agree with take-away bans on Sundays, nor a Tennant Creek style "Thirsty Thursday".He would agree with a suspension of take-away sales during " certain hours" on Thursdays "but not to a complete ban".The council's current policy on alcohol, ratified in October, 1997, is as follows:-
• The council acknowledges that alcohol abuse is a social issue for the town.
• The council supports whole-of-community approaches to reducing alcohol abuse in the town.
• While the council is not the primary provider of health services, liquor licensing and enforcement services, it does have a role to play in relation to litter control, various aspects of the management of the Todd River and community development.
• The council is committed to a whole-of-government approach to dealing with the problems related to alcohol abuse in Alice Springs.
• The council is committed to working with community based organisations and in particular Aboriginal organisations, to promote self help measures related to reducing the incidence of alcohol abuse in the town.


TOO MUCH PUSSYFOOTING AROUND THE ALCOHOL ISSUES: ALD BOB CORBY.

Like it or not, the community cannot ignore the contents of the alcohol report, although it was perceived by some readers as being too emotive. Regrettably some sections of the media and sectarian interests in the community have seized upon this aspect of the report along with selected segments drawn from the executive summary and recommendations and sensationalized those issues of a controversial nature, casting a cloud over the credibility over the actual contents of the report. These approaches will not result in the subjective input the decision makers in the community or government will be seeking in order to formulate appropriate action.The depth and breadth of primary research the consultants have undertaken in the report, in my opinion, is to be commended, even if the outcomes have created or recognised some very disturbing facts that we as a community do not like. Controversial as they may be and regardless of the volumes of alcohol quoted in the report as sold or consumed, the fact is that alcohol is causing harm to the whole community – the very real hospital and health statistics alone contained within the report cannot be ignored.I am not an advocate for mandatorily restricting alcohol sales or reducing the number of outlets: the abusers of alcohol will merely find another source of supply to the detriment of responsible consumers. I am an advocate for responsibility and accountability in as much as government is able to legislate for and enforce, which the offender then has to accept.There has been too much pussyfooting around the issues for far too long and the broader community is heartily sick and tired of the numerous consultancies and forums relating to alcohol that have come to nothing. Whatever role the town council decides to play – and it must be a major player – this report contains too much substance to discard or dispute because of secular or pecuniary interests. Rather, the whole community needs to consider it as a starting point and where they can, support council and government in working through the issues for tangible, positive outcomes.

96% SAY ALCOHOL A PROBLEM IN ALICE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

An overwhelming majority – 96 per cent – of respondents to the Alcohol in Alice community survey consider that alcohol is a problem in town.Only 2.7 per cent – or 11 out of 407 – consider it is not a problem.An overwhelming majority rate the problem as serious to very serious: 172 (or 42.26 per cent) say it's serious; 192 (or 47.17 per cent) says it's very serious.The respondents express a wide range of concerns about alcohol availability and use, covering 43 areas. Categorised, the top three concerns are: easy availability (93 out of 407); alcohol related violence (62); and drunken people (48).These are followed by too much alcohol – bulk buying (43); social acceptance of drinking (41); highly visible Aboriginal public drinking (31); and underage drinking (30).Eighteen respondents express the view that there are too many restrictions already on alcohol availability. This concern is ranked twelfth on the list of concerns, preceded by the top seven (mentioned above) which accounted for 50 per cent of all expressed concerns, as well as by social decay (28); misuse of alcohol (27); no safe place (21); and alcohol related road accidents (20).AVAILABILITYWays of dealing with the problem proposed by the respondents themselves are varied, but out of the top seven, accounting for some 50 per cent of the views expressed, three involve reducing availability.Eighty-one respondents (16. 56 per cent) propose closing some of the town's liquor outlets; 35 (7.16 per cent) suggest taking liquor out of service stations, convenience stores, etc; 22 (4.50 per cent ) propose restrictions of hours of business and of selling to intoxicated people.Other views are, in order: education across the board (36); don't know (27); health across the board (27); food and clothing coupons as part of the pension (25); police enforcement of laws with respect to drunks and licensees (22); regulate what people are consuming and buying (19); alcohol free day (17); ration cards for alcohol and cigarettes (12); " wet" areas in town camps (12); remove public drinking altogether (11); funds for CAAAPU programs (10); enforcement of the two kilometre law (10); Aboriginal people to deal with their own drunks in their own communities (10).The total percentage of proposals for some type of restriction of availability is 35.59.When the respondents comment on a range of management strategies as proposed by the consultants, a range of restriction strategies gain greater support .Over half (56.51 per cent ) support as desirable or highly desirable the reduction of trading hours of take-away outlets.; 28.99 per cent rate this strategy as undesirable or very undesirable.Over half (58.72 per cent) support the ban of wine in casks greater than two litres; 28.50 per cent oppose this strategy.Over half (57.99 per cent) support the take-away trading hours of clubs and hotels being held to the same as those of other take-away outlets; 18.43 per cent oppose this strategy.In all 16 strategies are considered. The only strategy that does not gain majority support is the proposal of a ban on happy hours or promotions such as strip shows that encourage excessive drinking. Only 37.10 per cent favour such a ban, while 41.03 per cent oppose it. (Accordingly, the Hauritz report does not recommend a ban on such promotions.)Nonetheless over two thirds of respondents (77.64 per cent) favour restricting happy hours to no more than two in a day.Almost two thirds (74.69 per cent) support stronger penalties for offences under the NT Liquor Act committed by licensees.Over half (55.77 per cent) support the reduction of the number of liquor licences currently held in Alice Springs; well over half (60.93 per cent) support an embargo on the granting of any new liquor licences; over half (53.07 per cent) support the idea of having an alcohol free day, with over half (55.61 per cent) preferring Thursday as that day, with Sunday ranked second (49.56 per cent).All of the strategies which gain majority support are recommended by the Hauritz report to the Licensing Commission for adoption.
NEXT: While questions about solutions and strategies produce a more divided response, positive results in terms of community-well being gain overwhelmingly support from the respondents.

WRONG CONSUMPTION FIGURES DON'T INVALIDATE GROG REPORT. By Associate Professor DENNIS GRAY, National Drug Research Institute.

As someone who has been involved in alcohol research for almost a decade, I read with interest the report, "Dollars Made from Broken Spirits". The authors of the report were contracted to conduct "a survey of community opinions … on the use and availability of alcohol in Alice Springs". They have done this, they have shown that there is considerable support in Alice Springs for some restrictions on the availability of alcohol, and they are to be commended for completing a difficult task. Criticisms that the report does not address the issues underlying excessive alcohol consumption in Central Australia are unfair. This is not what the research team was contracted to do. While there is a need to address the underlying issues, concern with them should not allow the focus to be shifted from issues of availability. There is ample research evidence from both Australia and overseas that the level of alcohol consumption is a consequence of both demand and supply. An effective strategy to deal with alcohol misuse and its consequences must address both sets of factors.Unfortunately, an error in relation to the level of per capita consumption in Alice Springs has diverted some attention from the main thrust of the report. The claim that per capita alcohol consumption in Alice Springs is 2.5 times the national average, was derived from a report by M. Brady and D. Martin entitled "Dealing with Alcohol in Alice Springs" [made to the NT Liquor Commission, for the Alcohol Reference Group and ATSIC in December, 1998]. In that report, Brady and Martin inappropriately applied methods used by my own research team. Their estimate took no account of the fact that some alcohol sold in Alice Springs is consumed by residents of the wider Central Australian region. In a paper published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, Tanya Chikritzhs and I calculated total consumption of alcohol for all of the Central region and divided it by the population count for the region (including tourists). This provided a more realistic estimate of per capita consumption of about 16.4 litres. This is still 70 per cent greater than the national average and remains a cause for concern.Some critics have suggested that the survey sample size of 407 persons is too small to accurately represent the opinions of the Alice Springs population. This reflects a misunderstanding of scientific sampling procedures by those critics. First, if a sample is to represent the characteristics of a population, it must be randomly selected or unbiased. That is, every person in the population must have an equal chance of being selected to participate. Second, the size of the sample required is dependent upon: the size of the population; an estimate of the proportion of people expressing a particular opinion in response to a question; and allowance for the degree of error (the difference between the responses by the sample and the opinions in the population) a researcher is prepared to tolerate (usually set at no more than five per cent). Taking these factors into account, I have independently calculated a required sample size for such a survey in Alice Springs. This confirmed that the sample size used in the report is adequate to reflect the views of the Alice Springs population. Increasing the sample size would have made little or no difference to the results and would have been a waste of additional funds.It has been claimed by some critics of the Hauritz report, that alcohol restrictions in Tennant Creek were a failure and that their introduction in Alice Springs would be futile. This view represents either a misunderstanding of the objectives of the Tennant Creek restrictions or a blatant misrepresentation of the facts. The objective of the restrictions in Tennant Creek was not to prohibit alcohol consumption, nor was it ever claimed that restrictions would be a solution to the problems of excessive alcohol consumption. It was intended that the restrictions would contribute to a reduction in consumption and related harm. They clearly did this. While there was an increase in consumption of fortified wines, this did not off-set reductions in consumption of other beverages. Overall, in a two year period, there was a 20 per cent reduction in alcohol consumption. There were also significant reductions in alcohol-related hospital admissions and the proportion of offences committed on Thursdays (the day on which the restrictions on take-away and front bar sales take greatest force). It has also been claimed that Tennant Creek residents believe that the restrictions do not work. While there are clearly some who hold this view, a random sample survey of residents found that a majority of the population was in favour of all the restrictions and that many wanted increased restrictions.It has been argued that restrictions on availability fly in the face of normal business objectives to improve and expand. However, this argument is flawed. Alcohol is not just another product like baked beans or cuddly toys. Despite the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, it is a dangerous drug and excessive consumption causes considerable health and social problems. In all states and territories, liquor licensing laws restrict who, where, and at what times alcohol can be consumed. It is the prerogative of all communities, not simply market forces, to make decisions regarding the level of availability that they regard as appropriate and the amount of harm they are willing to tolerate.A danger I see in the direction that the debate is now taking is the attempt by some to define the problem of excessive alcohol consumption simply in terms of its most visible aspect, public Aboriginal drinking. The reality is that most alcohol in Central Australia is consumed by non-Aboriginal people. Excessive consumption is a problem for both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations of the region and should be dealt with as such.The Hauritz report indicates that there is concern by the people of Alice Springs about the level of alcohol consumption and support for restrictions on availability. The report makes a number of recommendations as to how this might be done. These should now be considered by residents and the Liquor Commission. I do not believe that it is the role of researchers to tell the people of Alice Springs what they should do to address problems of excessive alcohol consumption. It is their role, however, to ensure that debate is informed and not simply based on misunderstanding or prejudice. I hope that these comments go some way to ensuring that.

LICENSEES MAY ASSIST REHABILITATION EFFORTS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Liquor licensees are considering making donations to alcohol rehabilitation groups such as DASA, provided the government matches them at least dollar for dollar.They are also considering a ban on five litre wine casks, but say four litre ones should remain in use. They remain opposed to the introduction of a take-away free day, similar to Tennant Creek's "Thirsty Thursday".And one member of the group says a ban in force in northern South Australia on liquor sales to people living on, or travelling to Aboriginal land is working well, usually with drivers' licences used as proof of residence."It's very simple and communities love it," she said.These were some of the issues raised at a brain storming meeting last week, attended by about 20 members of the Liquor Licensees Association responding to the controversial report, " Dollars Made From Broken Spirits".The Alice Springs News was invited to cover the closed meeting provided the names of the speakers were not published.Meanwhile Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen is declining to reveal what he will be doing about the report, which advocates a wide range of sales restrictions and new controls of the trade.Members agreed that indiscriminate – and illegal – consumption of cask wine in public places was the town's main problem.There are only about 250 people, many of them repeat offenders, causing the major disturbances, while the "huge majority" behave in a "socially acceptable manner".Speakers said restrictions on their own would not be adequate.They said action is needed to reverse funding cuts to organisations such as DASA, Night Patrol and the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Program Unit (CAAAPU) in the wake of the abolition of the wine cask levy.The reduction in operating hours of the DASA sobering-up shelter would lead to a greater work load for police, turning them into "babysitters" for drunks, and affecting response time to crime. Because of this the alcohol issues affected not just a small minority, as generally assumed, but the whole community.The public should speak up now, not after legislation or regulations are introduced: then it's "too late".Restrictions would lead to an increase in "sly grogging and bootlegging".The meeting again hit out at the small number of people – just over 400 – questioned for the survey, claiming the report's findings are not representative of the community.The meeting was told that a petition organised by businessman Shane Arnfield opposing restrictions, had gained 5000 signatures some years ago.Speakers said the liquor industry should come up with its own solutions lest "they walk in with their jackboots".One speaker said restrictions are "just a game" and a "bandaid solution" and did little more than create "complications".For example, a one cask per person limit would be meaningless because buyers would simply go from bottleshop to bottleshop, or get friends to buy the grog.Being locked up or admitted to the shelter is regarded as desirable by many drinkers, according to a speaker.One licensee observed a drunk at the police station, crossing his hands in a gesture inviting arrest, but the police officer had to inform him that the cells were "full up".Drinkers regularly go to the shelter for a warm bed and a meal, or "hammer at the back of the cage car" to be taken way by police.The Liquor Commission's guidelines about how to identify intoxicated people were helpful only inasmuch as they provided "comic relief", according to one speaker."Intoxication" is not even defined in the law, he said. Breath testing in bottle shops would outrage customers.Measures suggested in the report would reduce Alice Springs "to a little whistle stop," would "take the town off the map" and "we would all have to move somewhere else".Speakers said the report was mainly rehashing matters raised time and again over the past 30 years, and failed to reveal anything new: "Nothing leaps out of this report by way of solution," said one speaker.Liquor traders attending the report writers' focus group felt they were being regarded as "the evil doers, that we were bad".One speaker said licensees should fight their label as "social pariahs" and "not apologise for being licensees".In a world increasingly dominated by electronic communication, pubs are one of the "last points of interaction for human beings", a speaker suggested.Trading hours should be from early morning to mid-afternoon because the majority of disturbances occurred after dark, proposed another speaker.The meeting agreed that any restrictions introduced in Alice Springs should also apply in Darwin.One speaker said a work for the dole style program should be revived, for example building footpaths or cycle tracks, to give drinkers a "sense of worth" even if that meant "disrupting [their] lifestyle".The chairperson of the group, Diane Loechel (Todd Tavern), was scheduled to make a presentation to the town council's meeting last night.

SACRED SITE SHARED.

When whitefellers and blackfellers agree to share a sacred site it's an event that gives meaning to Reconciliation. And that's exactly what happened in Alice Springs last week, says local RSL president Kevin Sedunary.Anzac Hill, or Atnelkentyarliweke, was claimed by Aborigines under the Native Title Act, 1989 because it was Crown Land. The hill had been ceded by the NT Government to Town Council control. The RSL offered the council to act as a caretaker of the top and a path to it from the club's premises.The landmark has traditional significance for the region's Arrernte people (with Dreaming associations to two sisters as well as uninitiated boys) and at the same time is a "sacred site" for local diggers, according to Mr Sedunary.He says: "The ashes of Rev Harry Griffiths and his wife are entombed there, ashes of ex soldiers have been spread, and we hold all our main annual ceremonies around the cairn, including Anzac Day, and Long Tan day on August 18."It's an integral part of the RSL movement"The stage was set for confrontation.The council was sympathetic to the club's approach, but first there had to be negotiations with the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and the Central Land Council. Both agreed, and last week's signing of the caretaker agreement became a milestone for race relations in the town, says Mr Sedunary."We had the use of the hill before but the arrangement was a bit airy fairy. Now we're masters of our destiny," he says.The deal may be food for thought for outspoken Victorian RSL president Bruce Ruxton when he addresses the branch's Remembrance Day dinner on November 11.

WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE? COMMENT by GLENN MARSHALL, Arid Lands Environment Centre.

How would you like water to be managed in Alice Springs? Should PAWA be doing more to conserve our 20,000 year old non- renewable water supply? Should permanent watering restrictions be in place? Should PAWA subsidise people and organisations to install water efficient gardens? Should the water supply under the Todd River (in the Town Basin aquifer) be used more? How should effluent from the sewage ponds be reused? Should Ilparpa swamp be relieved of effluent and rehabilitated? We all finally get our say on urban water issues when PAWA and the Department of Lands, Planning & Environment (DLPE) host a community consultation workshop on August 18 and 19 to assist development of a comprehensive urban water management strategy for Alice Springs. It is wonderful to see this happening after many years. The entire water cycle of Alice Springs will be reviewed including the potable water supply from Roe Creek borefield, the use and conservation of water in town, use of the Town Basin aquifer, better sewage management, effluent reuse, and care of Ilparpa swamp. It is a great opportunity for residents to input their extensive knowledge and desires for Alice Springs' water into the future. The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) would like to offer a few ideas to stimulate discussion. For the Roe Creek borefield, DLPE is now legally required to issue PAWA with a water extraction licence. It is common elsewhere to include a water conservation requirement in that licence. For example PAWA could be asked to reduce annual extraction by 20 per cent over five years or face penalties. DLPE is seriously considering this option and will be influenced by public support. Such a clause is likely to be economically beneficial for PAWA because of current high extraction costs, low customer charges and high relocation costs when the aquifer runs out. In town there are numerous ways to improve water management. An example is provided by Kalgoorlie, where the WA Water Corporation (WAWC) in 1994 instigated a water demand management strategy which cost $2m, saved $6m in water costs in three years and reduced water consumption by 10 per cent overall. WAWC paid for and installed (for free) low-flow shower heads and dual flush toilets in households, adjusted air conditioner bleed rates, gave away mulch, native trees, tap timers and pavers and paid landscapers to examine gardens and recommend water-reduction changes. WAWC also conducted free audits of big water users like hospitals and schools, and subsidised retrofits to those places to reduce water use. They paid for audits of large irrigation systems on ovals and parks to recommend latest water reduction methods. Plumbers were given Waterwise plumbing courses and benefited greatly from conducting installations. Nurseries benefited by supplying native plants and mulch for gardens. Everybody won from the program, and Kalgoorlie continues to save water and money as a result. Similar savings are likely in Alice. Composting (dry) toilets and greywater reuse are currently both illegal in town. Both could easily be encouraged and trialled by PAWA and DLPE. ALEC is currently instigating greywater reuse trials in houses around town. Rainwater tanks and stormwater harvesting could be examined and financially subsidised for residential properties if practical. PAWA and DLPE think more water can sustainably be extracted from the Town Basin under the Todd River, which is recharged by river flows. How should that water be used? Should it supplement the town water supply, or be used for more irrigation of ovals, parks and golf courses, or be used for horticulture? Effluent reuse is something the town has called for for years without much action. PAWA has recently commissioned a report into effluent reuse options, and is focussed on three options: 1) business-as-usual with more evaporation ponds and woodlots; 2) construction of a winter storage pond for year-round horticultural irrigation; and 3) treatment and storage of effluent in the Roe Creek aquifer for later extraction and use in our potable water supply. The last two are the more visionary ones. The last would create a true water cycle in Alice Springs and create longer- term water security, but can PAWA and DLPE consistently deliver a safe water product for our use? If horticulture is proposed, will the benefits match the scarcity of the water resource. For example, if only a few jobs are created and products are shipped interstate, does that really maximise the benefits for our community? Certainly we can do better than evaporating our effluent or letting it flow across Ilparpa Road as has happened for the last five months. Ilparpa swamp is now a mosquito-infested reed thicket after years of receiving effluent overflow. Disease-bearing mosquitoes represent a serious health hazard to residents and tourists. PAWA has indicated a willingness to stop overflow to the swamp. However the swamp is likely to require active rehabilitation to restore it to its previous claypan state. Who will pay for and manage this? Should PAWA pay for it (remembering it is now a corporatised body attempting to maximise its profits), or should the government pay or should current residents of Alice Springs be charged an environmental levy? How should community input be maintained as the urban water management strategy is developed beyond the workshop? ALEC feels a suitable way is to establish a government- community advisory committee comprising industry, community, Indigenous, media, town council and NT Government representatives. This will ensure an ongoing commitment by government to involve and listen to the wider community of Alice Springs, which ultimately funds and lives with all decisions. The above issues and more will be discussed at the community consultation workshop. PAWA and DLPE have released an information kit giving background details on current and possible future water management options. ALEC encourages all interested people to collect a copy from PAWA, DLPE or the ALEC office in the Old Hartley St School, and to attend the workshop to put forward their ideas. By doing this, PAWA and DLPE will develop a strategy in line with the community wishes.

PINE GAP SPACE BASE IS A WORRY AGAIN, SAYS SNOWDON. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

The role of the Joint Defence Facility at Pine Gap is back on the agenda for public discussion and concern, says Territory MHR Warren Snowdon.With the USA once again proposing research and development of a National Missile Defence (NMD) System, and the US Secretary of Defence, William Cohen, confirming that joint US-Australian bases including Pine Gap could be "very much" involved (Sydney Morning Herald, July 17), Mr Snowdon says it is imperative that all members of Parliament be fully informed about what goes on at Pine Gap. "US Members of Congress receive detailed briefings, but in Australia only members of the Cabinet Security Committee, the Leader of the Opposition and senior people in the Department of Defence have got any idea," says Mr Snowdon.Returning from the Labor Party's annual national conference in Hobart last week, Mr Snowdon says delegates, while strongly attached to the alliance with the USA, were very concerned about Australia's ability to make independent judgments on strategic issues."We are worried about NMD undermining the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and about its impact on arms control in general," says Mr Snowdon."NMD would not add to world security and would leave us, especially in Alice Springs, less secure."Pine Gap is accepted as an important part of our community, but it should not be involved in NMD research and development."The national conference reaffirmed Labor's opposition to mandatory sentencing of juveniles and for minor property offences, but the motion passed was silent on the question of intervention in territory or state affairs.It reaffirmed its commitment to the Alice Springs to Darwin railway as "a project of national economic significance"; and its opposition to any further sale of Telstra. "Labor is also of the view that Telstra should be compensated for costs it incurs as a universal service provider,'" says Mr Snowdon."It must remain viable in remote communities."Similarly, Labor is opposed to any sell off of Australia Post."There was lengthy discussion at the conference about the development of regional Australia."Labor is determined that the particular concerns of the regions be addressed."And I'm determined that it be understood that Alice Springs and Central Australia, or Victoria River, or the Tanami, are not the same as the Murrumbidgee irrigation area or the Hunter Valley."We are interested in people having more control over how resources are allocated within their region."The Northern Territory Government, for instance, shouldn't be the gatekeeper for all the Commonwealth funds coming into the Territory."The conference reaffirmed its support for statehood for the Northern Territory, "on condition that it be consensus driven and no one be disadvantaged by it," says Mr Snowdon."That means that Denis Burke can't hope to get the Territory statehood because he would never get consensus."A future Labor government would identify and prioritise "zones of disadvantage" in education across Australia (the Territory would be one, having the worst Year 12 retention rates in the country) and work to develop appropriate policy for them. "There was also a lot of concern over the attack on regional universities and about H.E.C.S. and the way it is applied," says Mr Snowdon."That's of particular relevance to students and their parents in Central Australia who not only face fees but also the high cost of children living a long way from home."Labor would also work to make Australia the world leader in online education.In government, Labor would put a lot more resources into public health and Medicare, which is particularly relevant for the Territory "as we have little access to private health care".

WE'RE NOT TOURISTS, SAY BACKPACKERS. Report by JANE LEONARD.

The backpacker market is thought to have great potential for growth in Alice Springs, but what do backpackers themselves think of the town, its attractions and facilities?JANE LEONARD recently spent a day at a range of backpacker haunts. She found the backpackers she spoke generally very positive about local accommodation and facilities, and surprised and impressed by the friendly atmosphere and comparative cheapness of the town. However, they also felt there wasn't information about places, activities and events close to or in the town, and were reluctant to spend more than a few days here.Matthew Savage and Benjamin Simmons, both from New Zealand, were relaxing and airing their gear on the town council lawns when I spoke to them. They'd spent two days here, then hired a car with others to see The Rock and had just returned from the trip. They were leaving that afternoon. Benjamin described Alice as "remarkably chilled, a couple of paces slower than anything else we've come across. You can restock, come and lie in the park." Matthew said: "It's like Christmas in New Zealand, everyone walking slowly, you've got the weather and it's quite cheap. It's on the trail. So if you're a backpacker, you can meet others and if you want the opportunity to do what we have done [find companions to make a self drive trip to The Rock affordable] then this is the centre to do it." Both described the accommodation as "fine" and "sufficient"(they stayed at Annie's Place and Elke's). Their only gripe was about poor internet facilities. I asked why they were moving on so quickly and what would make them stay? Benjamin: "The thing about backpacking is that you're not going to stay in any one place longer than two or three days so the fact that we stay here for that long is actually quite good". Matthew: "When I think about things that'll make me stay – I'd like to be able to jump in some water somewhere but [not being able to do that] is part and parcel with being in Alice Springs, so that's probably why we're heading to Darwin." Had they heard of the spectacular waterholes along the West MacDonnell ranges? They hadn't. Benjamin: "Not many people know about that because Matt and I would definitely be into that sort of thing and we were really quite keen to go and camp somewhere else apart from Ayers Rock." Matt: "If I were more aware of that I'd make a mission to go there." We were about 100 metres from the CATIA run, clearly marked Tourist Information and Visitors Centre on Gregory Terrace. When I popped in a few minutes later, there was an abundance of detailed and informative sheets about the West MacDonnell attractions displayed near the door, and three staff behind the desk attending to visitors' queries. All the visitors in the centre at the time were older couples or families. So where had Ben and Matt been getting their information from and why hadn't they sourced the tourist information available?Backpackers don't like to think of themselves as tourists. They are reluctant to identify with mainstream tourist facilities or attractions, or information guides like the "Welcome to Central Australia" booklet that seems to target older tourists with more money. Like many back-packers I spoke to, Benjamin and Matt said word of mouth from fellow travellers was their most valued source of information and spoke of "tourists" as unappealing entities they couldn't relate to. Matthew: "Where we found out about Annie's and some other stuff about here was in Melbourne [in backpacker facilities]. So maybe it's doing a little bit more at that end. "Anyone who comes through the Centre comes here so it has to be well represented, I reckon, in Darwin, Adelaide and Melbourne because that's where you get your information." He suggested some sort of publication detailing local events:"In Wellington there's a sort of paper and that's how everyone plans their social life because it has what's on locally – movies, theatre events and articles on who's making those events happen. "I don't know if I'm being selectively blind, it's possible, but I haven't seen anything like that around." Matt and Ben both said they would be more inclined to go to local events than tourist attractions.Demis, originally from Brazil but lately of Sweden, was working part time in the cafe at the Melanka Backpackers Resort. He was living in Alice "for the moment". Demis thought there were not enough work opportunities in Alice Springs for budget travellers: "They are happy, they don't complain much, only sometimes about not so much work here if you are out of money." "If you are interested enough you can find out what you have to do, but of course maybe a little bit more information around wouldn't hurt anyone."Gaby, from Israel, was staying at Melanka ("quite okay"). She was here for one and a half days, did a three day tour to The Rock and was back for one more day. Her plans were all organised from Adelaide. "I haven't been much around to be honest. I just walked around and couldn't really think of much to do. We had only the option of the wildlife park [Desert Park] and we went there today and we don't really know what else to do."NEXT: Give us more cycle paths, local events and Aboriginal culture, say young visitors.

BLACK UNEMPLOYMENT: DEMOCRATS BOSS SAYS GOVERNMENTS AT FAULT! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Democrats leader Meg Lees pins the blame for the failure by Aborigines to take advantage of job opportunities squarely on the NT and Federal governments.After a visit to Yuendumu and the nearby Granites gold mine, which operates under an agreement with traditional owners, Senator Lees says despite the massive unemployment in the region, very few locals are working in the mine."We go back to cultural issues, to education and to training."The first thing Yuendumu needs is some real resources for young people, to actually make sure the education they are receiving is appropriate."You have lots of kids who have actually gone through and done the white thing only to find that they are not employable."I can't comment on why some of the businesses in Alice have chosen to do it that way."While I have been here it's been said on a number of occasions that people would like to work, whether it's a trade or the hospitality industry, [but] you still need that additional training."Senator Lees says "it doesn't surprise me at all" that despite the massive demand from tourists for meaningful contact with Aboriginal people, the two don't meet in commercial arrangements."It is extremely difficult for kids to come in off their country. "If they are going to want to remain with their culture, and they do, then we're going to have to find training and education opportunities to take that into account."And what this government has done is slash, slash, slash and burn those opportunities to readily come back home from boarding in Darwin or elsewhere in Australia for their education."You've got just the simple transport issue, let alone internet access."The School of the Air has all sorts of problems just to get access to their students out there."Some are not on the mail system, others have access only to a phone box – that's why we can't upskill the kids to a point where they can keep in touch with their culture, keep their land, but they can also pick up the skills."Asked to respond to the argument frequently advanced by the NT Government, that parents are failing to take advantage of existing education opportunities, Senator Lees said: "How about they look at it differently? "How about they actually approach the communities and talk to them [about] what they want and how they want it done? They desperately want some resources to work with young people."At Yuendumu there are specific issues with petrol sniffing, and time and time again it was stressed that with all the cuts to ATSIC and cuts to their resource base, their kids are literally bored."You've got to enthuse kids, you've got to get their interest in something."There is no secondary education out there."There are some kids struggling with their distance education."The youth centre is an old bakery that has been patched up and repatched and made into something that's got a few pool tables in it."There is no undercover area where the kids can play basketball, [for example]."They've got a couple of [outdoor] basketball courts which are so constantly used that the asphalt is falling off."The facilities are absolutely appalling. "A town of that size anywhere else in Australia would have had some resources poured into it to give the kids something to do."Senator Lees says a handful of Yuendumu children are kept busy operating the youth radio station, using the youth centre or working on a CDEP program, but "there's over 200 youngsters out there, and you have actually got to get some real programs on the ground.BASIC SKILLS"As a former physical education teacher [I think] one of the ways you can get kids back into education is putting them into the school basketball team, or whatever, but if you don't even have secondary education out there, that option is basically lost, to keep the kids' enthusiasm up so they want to learn the basic skills."The first thing the NT Government needs to do is sit down with the community there and say, look you know what the problems are, how do you believe we should be working with you to sort it out?"Senator Lees says there are examples of successful community run health centres "but again, we're coming back to resources."The Commonwealth Government [for health care] puts in 63 cents for an Aboriginal person for every dollar spent on a non-Aboriginal person."

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