PAWA LAND DEAL: STILL NO ANSWERS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Land owned by the NT Government's Power and Water Authority (PAWA) has been included in assets put up for sale to pay creditors of the collapsed Territory Tool and Gun Company.
PAWA Minister Steve Dunham is still stonewalling enquiries about the relationship between the firm and the government owned instrumentality (Alice Springs News, March 28).
On Monday a spokesman for Mr Dunham did not confirm nor deny rumours that the land had been withdrawn from sale, but said tenders received for it before the deadline last week are being assessed.
A former employee of the company, who was elected as one of six members of the Committee of Creditors, Steve Disley, says so far as he knows the firm had a 20 or 25 year lease over the PAWA land.
But at a creditors' meeting which Mr Disley attended on November 8 last year, he says the administrator, Michael Dwyer, of the accounting firm KPMG, reported he was in discussion with PAWA to have the title changed to freehold to make it "easier to sell".
The land has been offered by KPMG for sale as freehold with the local real estate firm, Framptons, as the agent.
Mr Disley says Mr Dwyer undertook to keep the creditors informed about further developments but "no-one has heard a thing from him since that meeting".
Neither has Mr Disley received a copy of the deed of company arrangement, as promised by Mr Dwyer.
"You don't get phone calls returned, you don't get any correspondence," says Mr Disley.
Araluen MLA Eric Poole, who during his time as Correctional Services Minister had dealings with the Territory Tool and Gun Company, says the large block in Kennett Court had possibly been made available under a "development lease".
This has been confirmed by Mr Dunham's spokesman but he did not provide further details.
Mr Poole says such leases are available to enterprises "deemed to be beneficial for the creation of employment" and which offer other advantages to the community.
However, according to a report obtained by the Alice News, the firm's operating company, Jayford Pty Ltd, owes more than $1.4m to 138 unsecured creditors, including $40,000 to staff and more than $44,000 to a local plumbing firm.
The report by KPMG, dated October 31, 2000, says Jayford's directors estimate assets at just over $800,000 apparently including the value of the PAWA land resulting in a deficiency of nearly $600,000.
The report, which estimates unsecured creditors would be getting 16 cents in the dollar, says it is planned "to realise the maximum value from land and buildings and lease hold property at 11 Kennett Court" the PAWA land.
"After paying the secured creditor, National Australia Bank, principal and interest of approximately $350,000 owing on that property, and any outstanding rent to PAWA, the balance of funds will be made available to unsecured creditors of Jayford Pty Ltd".
Despite repeated requests by the Alice News to Mr Dunham he will not explain:
€ on what conditions PAWA leased more than 6400 square metres of prime industrial land, worth between $320,000 and $480,000, to Territory Tool and Gun Company (via an associated company, Jayford Properties Pty Ltd);
€ why public land was used as collateral for a private bank loan;
€ why PAWA allowed the firm to run up a debt of $60,000 in unpaid rent and electricity charges over some two and a half years;
€ why the land is now offered for sale as freehold, apparently to cover a portion of the defunct firm's debts;
€ and how much the public will lose in the deal.
Mr Poole says this is how a development lease ought to have worked: "He [the developer] would have come to Government with a proposal, which happens throughout the NT occasionally, [saying] I'm interested in that block of land the Government don't appear to be using, and I would like to lease it from Government with a view, at the end of the day, to converting it to a freehold property.
"You have to satisfy the development covenants to be able to do that, and pay the value of the land, of course."
The project was apparently "deemed to be beneficial for the creation of employment ... the Government obviously did go along with it at the time", says Mr Poole.
"I really don't know what the deal is because I'm not involved in it."
The present arrangements "would be a matter of negotiations between presumably the Minister responsible for Power and Water, the Government and the administrator [of the company]."
MacDonnell MLA John Elferink outlined strict public interest considerations in the government's policy on development leases when he commented on possible uses of land on Owen Springs cattle station, south of Alice Springs, bought recently by the NT Government.
Mr Elferink said if the Government decided to apply the existing scheme of land sales for horticultural purposes, intending growers would need to present a business plan to the Department of Lands (together with a $1000 fee). If the plan were considered viable, the department would begin a "process of freeholding".
The grower's performance and establishment of infrastructure would be monitored for three to four years.
Caveats land use requirements would be lifted all along the way, and in the end the applicant would be entitled to buy the land.
Mr Poole, who will retire as the Member for Araluen at the next election, says when he was Minister for Correctional Services he entered into an agreement with Territory Tool and Gun for the manufacture of roof trusses at the carpentry workshop of the Alice Springs gaol.
He says there was no capital expense from the NT Government.
The firm supplied the equipment and the materials, plus some pay for the prisoners, providing an occupation for them "rather than sitting round doing nothing".
The plan was to provide a benefit to the construction industry in the town which to that point had to import trusses from " down south".
Mr Poole says the venture "didn't go for that long ... because the business got so big that it had to be taken right out of the gaol and had to establish its own factory".
By that time Mr Poole had ceased to hold the ministry.
Meanwhile, real estate sources are expressing disquiet that two leading figures in the collapsed company, and in an allied one, work for the real estate firm, Framptons, charged with the sale of the land in Kennett Court.
According to an "Historical Company Extract" obtained last week there are 98,542 shares in Jayford Properties Pty Ltd, the lessee of the PAWA land.
All but two are held by Jayford Pty Ltd which is under external administration since October 13 last year.
One share is held by Carrid Investments Pty Ltd.
Carrid also holds one of a total of two shares in Jayford Pty Ltd. The other share is held by Intrack Pty Ltd.
The administrator, KPMG's Michael Dwyer, told The News that there had been "good interest" in purchasing the land by the time tenders closed last week, but he would make no further comment.
'SEE OZ FIRST' BATTLE IN CENTRE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
The Centre is fighting an uphill battle for more domestic tourists in the face of working Australians' growing reluctance to take a holiday at all, and if they do, they take just a few days at a time.
Air fares off the beaten track remain sky high and the huge distances are putting off road travelers: 83 per cent of all domestic tourism is by car, according to the See Australia initiative launched in November last year.
Industry sources say there is now serious talk of targeting promotion dollars at overseas visitors for whom the low dollar can buy cheap vacations in Oz.
See Australia over the next three years is focusing on the other side of the exchange rate coin, arguing that it now makes even more sense for Aussies to spend their holidays at home.
See Australia CEO Graham Perry was in The Alice last week, selling the merits of his Ernie Dingo campaign.
Mr Perry says 40 per cent of working Australians don't take any holiday each year and 43 per cent only take part of their holidays.
Still, domestic tourism is worth $46b a year that's 80 per cent of all tourism earnings but it has been growing at less than one per cent a year for the last 10 years.
See Australia was kicked off by a $8m federal grant, and $4m from the states, mainly Queensland and NSW, including a contribution from the NT Tourist Commission (NTTC).
Mr Perry says the industry kicked in $5.5m, principally "the big end of town" such as the hotel group Accor, Mastercard, Qantas, Ansett, Hertz and Avis.
However, he says there is now a scheme for smaller operators to join See Australia.
For a fee of $950 they get access to the organisation's comprehensive research, and a licence to carry See Australia's "branding across their marketing".
Operators participating in the new Tourism Council Northern Territory (TCNT) accreditation system will have their fees waived.
Mr Perry says accreditation, to be policed by the TCNT, will be soon crucial: "More and more consumers will be asking for the gold tick.
"It's assuring me I'm going to get the standards.
"If I book an operator who doesn't have the tick there's a risk."
Mr Perry says an accreditation system has been called for by the industry.
"It's the 80 per cent of the industry providing very good services who want to make sure that the other 20 per cent come up to speed or get out."
Results of surveys by See Australia raise the fundamental question of whether we're getting the best bang for our promotional buck trying to cajole reluctant Aussies to The Centre.
Perhaps we should channel much more of the advertising money into luring rich foreigners here, whose fascination with the "outback" is growing steadily.
Item: in Vienna, the city of music, Johann Strauss is taking a back seat.
The current fad is playing digeridoo!
The NTTC's charter is primarily to promote the Territory in Australia, with overseas promotion the province of the Australian Tourist Commission.
It's a matter we would have liked to raise with Michelle Smail, Alice Springs' only member of the NTTC board, but she didn't respond to several requests for comment.
Mr Perry says $250m is spent annually to entice Australians to travel in Australia but the various campaigns are seen by the public as "not very cohesive, usually have a price, a product and a destination, are very fragmented, lacking a uniform message".
A popular form of promotions is the "co-op" style.
Says Mr Perry: "The way the tourist organisations get their marketing dollars is by putting in a dollar on the basis that the industry will put in a dollar and so will the regional tourist association.
"That makes one dollar become three dollars.
"Everybody wants to have their price, their product and their destination in it."
"If CATIA, the NTTC and the industry are working together to develop co-op funds then the bigger the pool, the more they can entice people from other regions to come."
This can have the effect of making the big operators bigger, leaving the little ones behind, but Mr Perry says smaller operators can "club together and get involved": "I know the states encourage that and I think it's the way to go."
A major obstacle for Australian tourists going to remote areas of the nation whilst the great majority profess they would like to is "time poverty", says Mr Perry.
"Working Australians are working so hard and so fast they don't have time think about, let alone plan a holiday.
"There is never a good time to take a break because there is always another project on the horizon.
"Couple that with a changing work culture ... mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, technology, specialization.
"Working Australians are feeling ... they really need to keep on the job to maintain match fitness.
"Plus, because of technology and specialization, when they come back, there's been nobody to delegate to, so there's this pile of paper and emails to get through.
"The key issue issue is today, tomorrow or next week at the most, and we keep putting off holidays."
Mr Perry says See Australia is "trying to put up a mirror to Australians and say, you only live once.
"You're becoming more stressed, your relationships are being damaged at home and at work.
"You've got this fabulous country, take a break, and do it now.
"We find 95 per cent want to come to Central Australia but 77 per cent are not doing it.
"Unfortunately, working people are not taking holidays or they're taking quick grabs, a few days here and a few days there.
"And for people going to Central Australia, especially if they are driving, it's going to take longer than that."
'DEAD HEART' IS ALIVE. COMMENT by KRISTEL O'SULLIVAN, a deviating backpacker.
When I boarded the first bus on my gruelling stretch from Townsville to Alice Springs, the driver exclaimed: "What ya goin' there for?"
His distaste for the Alice was based on the fact that it's "too bloody hot" and "a thousand kilometres from bloody nowhere".
He indicated the Cairns-bound bus that was quickly filling up with hip Œn' trendy travelers, seemingly suggesting that I reconsider my route.
There was similar disbelief from the driver when I finally disembarked on Gregory Terrace and revealed my intention to stay for a non-specific "while".
To its regular visitor, Alice equals "Rock" no more, no less despite the fact that 450kms separate the two. Nevertheless, the tourist target is to pass through for possibly the only decent dose of caffeine the desert has to offer and then to head south ASAP for a hefty climb and a few snapshots before once again escaping to coastal urbanity-sanity. After all careless sightseers' brains have been known to boil in these regions!
I guess it all depends on your reasons for coming to this vast land of Oz. Mine were to discover the "real Australia" whatever that may be and I sure am glad that I decided to deviate from the beaten backpack track.
So equipped with copies of A Town Like Alice and Songlines, I set out to uncover the essence of Alice. Unfortunately I was disappointed by the former's lack of focus on the town (I guess I should have read the actual title) and I have since learnt that the author of the latter novel holds certain views on this town that are not endorsed by a majority of locals.
In contrast to both novels and in striking contrast to my own expectations of Alice Springs largely based on Terence Stamp's look of horror as Hugo Weaving informs him of their drag show's destination in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert I was forced to drop my metropolitan prejudices against rural roughnecks and swallow my city superiority complex.
The "dead heart" is alive and represents a veritable cultural oasis that not too many outsiders are aware of. For example, the Araluen Arts Centre disproportionately large relative to the population size that it caters to is unique and testifies to this town's status of artistic enclave. I live in a similarly sized town in Holland and, believe me, the place was culturally moribund.
I have discovered that the Dead Heart is a lot more artistically animated than outsiders give it credit for. But, of course, if you're locked in a hermetically sealed hostel that actively encourages its guests to stick to the in-house theme party nights to which locals are not granted entrance, then it's going to be pretty hard to get a good impression of Alice Springs and to discover what this town has to offer!
Another disproportionate demographic feature of Alice Springs is the number of alternative healers. Look at how many non-GP therapists are listed. Prior to landing here I had never even heard of Bowen therapy or ear-candling. Could it all have something to do with converging continental energy fields? The uncontaminated desert oxygen? Or is it just the fact that you can perform the yogic dog pose without invading someone else's personal space?
After living here eight months I feel like a local, although I must admit that I'm having a hard time adjusting to AST (Alice Springs Time). I suffer from Neurotic Punctuality Syndrome and getting used to the fact that "NT" really does stand for "Not Today" and "Not Tomorrow" is still resulting in a lingering culture shock.
Yet it is remarkable that the slow pace of life in Alice is simultaneously contrasted by the town's fleeting population. Alice is very much a transit town for tourists as well as the "permanent" population. Most people that I've met here have come for very specific reasons. Fugitives from family crises, eventual unemployment, city stress or the "cold" weather down South. Nevertheless it seems that only a small percentage of these escapees actually make this town their permanent home. Maybe there's a limit to the amount of existential horizon a person can absorb.
As for myself, I am told that if you see the Todd flow three times, you'll never leave Alice Springs. Well, since I've been here the habitually dry creek has flooded at least five times and I'm trusting that this Natural Law will be recognized by the Immigration Department Š
LETTERS: Tourists want more than just pictures!
Sir,- I was reading Paul Ah Chee's comments in the web based edition of your publication and found some of his suggestions are reflecting what "tourists" in my mid-thirties age bracket are looking for.
They want to take more than just pictures away with them when they travel.
Having been born and bred in the Alice and now living in the United States for the past five years, I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout the South Pacific, Asia, Europe and North America over the past 10 years. During those travels I have noticed an increasing trend of travelers wanting to find out a lot more about the people, history, culture from the locals rather than the walk on/walk off, take a photo "cattle" class tours.
With the advent of the internet, "exotic" destinations such as Australia are available at the end of your finger tips. We are more informed about destinations than we have ever been. With that information in hand, us net savvy travelers know what sights to expect and as such seek the locals' interaction and perspective to add to the overall experience. On a different tack, I have helped plan dozens of Australian itineraries for co-workers over here (my company has over 20,000 employees) and have found several major obstacles in organizing a visit to Australia:-
€ Time. Most Americans can only take two weeks of vacations without their employees crying foul.
€ Distance. You lose two days flying to Australia from the west coast of the US and even though you arrive in the US the same day you left Australia on the way back, it's still seen as two days wasted.
€ Travel agents. Of the itineraries that I've seen from local travel agents, 99.5 per cent are what I call city tours. They schedule a two week visit that includes a week in Sydney and the rest of the visit would be spent in either Melbourne, Brisbane (including the Gold Coast) or Canberra.
In all the cases that we've been able to change itineraries, we've scheduled 3-4 days in each of Sydney, Alice Springs and its environs and finally Cairns before returning to the US.
I generally get them to take tours with the smaller locally owned operators as there is more interaction with the crew.
With this itinerary the travelers have got to see exactly what attracted them to the country in the first place, the natural beauty, the locals (both Indigenous and European), beaches, deserts and wide open spaces.
With the South Pacific peso (sorry, the Aussie dollar) being in the state that it is, it is cheaper to spend two weeks in Australia than the same time in say Jamaica, Mexican resort towns or Hawaii.
I haven't seen any major push by any tourism authorities, travel wholesalers or major airlines that point out the fact that your American dollar goes so much further if you're in Australia.
For towns like the Alice to take full advantage of all its tourism potential, all parties concerned (including international, national, state and local operators, service providers, and the local population) must work together otherwise everyone is duplicating the same fractured efforts which is a waste of time, money and effort.
But then again, no one in Darwin knows anything about the Berrimah line!!!
Boise, Idaho, USA
GOOD SEASON, GOOD PRICES LEAD TO CATTLE EXPORT BONANZA. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
"It's the best season I've seen in my lifetime" says pastoralist Donald Holt of Delmore Downs Station to the north-east of Alice Springs.
"We've never had good conditions and good prices come together like they have now."
The Holts are biding their time though, allowing their cattle to gain weight while the pasture is so good.
"I don't think prices will go down, so there's no hurry we'll sell when we're ready," says Mr Holt.
"You've got to take your good with your bad," says Matt Braitling of Mount Doreen Station, to the north-west, where the country is still wet, and road access to his property has been cut.
He's flying in food and essentials in his own plane but fuel supplies are running low and will be his biggest concern in a couple of weeks' time.
It could be four or five weeks before a road train can be put over the worst sections of the Tanami Road, which Mr Braitling says "has been a disgrace for years".
His cattle are gaining weight and breeding up but, because of the wet ground, it will also be some time before he can muster.
In that time "you still haven't got an income but you have got your expenses".
Mr Braitling is also concerned about the fire threat when the current lush growth dries out.
At New Crown Station in the south-east the start to the year has been "sensational".
Rain came in good falls at the start of March and then again two weeks later.
Grasses mostly native are now about seven inches tall and the cattle are gaining weight steadily.
About three weeks ago Mathew Smith sold New Crown Brahman cross steers and heifers for "$1.50 live weight delivered Alice Springs" to Indonesia.
He more typically sells to processors in NSW and WA, who on sell into Egypt and Japan, but "the live export prices have gone through the roof!". Brahmans, however, only make up about five per cent of New Crown's herd, which is dominated by British bred Angus and Charolais-Angus. British breeds traditionally have not been favoured for the live export market. The impact of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in England, Ireland and Europe may be felt in even better markets further down the track. Mr Smith says Ireland, which heavily subsidises its beef, has been the major competitor for Australian beef in the Asian markets. "If they keep quarantining in Ireland then we are in the best position to supply their markets," he says.
But he's wary about too much speculation: "It's best to make hay while the sun shines.
"There is so much instability in Indonesia, for example, that we can't predict with any certainty what will happen in the future." Mr Holt says that in any case Australian beef for some time has been getting better access to markets supplied by Europe. He says the lesson from the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and BSE (mad cow disease) is that it's extremely important to keep Australia disease free.
Mr Smith and Mr Holt also acknowledge the value of the weak Australian dollar for the cattle industry's present export performance.
Last year saw a four per cent increase in exports on the preceding year, and this year the increase will be greater still. Prices are 25 to 30 per cent higher than at this time last year, according to Neville Chalmers of Wesfarmers Landmark. He estimates that live export makes up about 60 per cent of the market for the stations north of Alice, and the present high prices are allowing southern stations to benefit, despite the extra 300 or so kilometre journey their animals must make. (Some live export cattle are shipped out of Adelaide.)
The agency has recently sold "quite a few cattle" to Brunei from stations on the SA-NT border. There is also strong demand for cattle from the Centre by the " store market": graziers in southern states, who fatten the cattle on their pastures before selling them on.
About 10 per cent of the Centre's stock goes into this market, while the remaining 30 per cent is sold direct to meatworks, mostly in Queensland and South Australia.
Jock McPherson at Elders puts the current strength of the market down to two factors: the low dollar, and low numbers of cattle throughout the country, combined with higher local consumption.
The national Elders network is not getting any intelligence about new markets suddenly opening up for Australian beef in the face of the European beef woes.
"We are hearing about enquiries from the Middle East, but at this point we can only treat them as enquiries," says Mr McPherson.
He says the benefits of the current strong market are flowing to most stations throughout the Centre, whether their cattle are destined for the live export or the store market.
There is some concern, however, for pastoralists in the western districts, like Matt Braitling, whose mustering and selling programs will be affected by wet country and damaged roads.
Bob Lee of the NT Cattlemen's Association says the cattle industry through much of Australia is in the "herd build-up part of the cattle cycle".
Pastoralists are not having to sell because their pastures are so good and this is contributing to current good prices. However, when the cattle do start to flow onto the market, good prices should be maintained by the position of the Australia dollar relative to the US dollar, as all international transactions are conducted in US dollars, says Mr Lee.
SELF HELP SCHEME MAY GET MINING MONEY. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Communities in the Mereenie area west of Alice Springs are working to set up a cultural and community and a residential learning centre for young people.
There is also discussion about developing a roadhouse in conjunction with the project.
Possible sites for the roadhouse would be on the Mereenie Loop Road between Hermannsburg and Kings Canyon, or on the Luritja Road, near the site of the old Wallara Roadhouse, between Kings Canyon and Curtin Springs. However, if other communities are already planning a roadhouse in the area, the Mereenie project will coordinate their development to support that enterprise.
Bob Liddle, long-time consultant to the mining industry who is championing the project, says enterprises in the area need to be "complementary, not competitive".
The Commonwealth has granted $20,000 for the development of a more detailed proposal, which is under way. Mr Liddle says further down the track Santos Ltd, the operator of the Mereenie oil and gas field, will be approached for support.
The idea for the project was first put forward in the mid- nineties by the Impu family from Undarana. Since then, there have been discussions with traditional community leaders in the area, local service providers and some government agencies.
Mr Liddle says there is now widespread support for the concept, and the time is ripe to move to the more detailed consultation phase.
As the project is particularly focussed on youth building their skills, improving their motivation and self-esteem the grant money will be used to employ a project facilitator to mentor and support a youth-led consultation team. The team will develop in consultation with the communities around Hermannsburg, Mt Liebig, Areyonga, Kings Creek, Curtin Springs and Mt Ebenezer a draft plan on how the facilities will run.
At this stage the venue for cultural and community activities is also envisaged to provide a base for tourism.
Creative and traditional art could be sold at the centre, and half day and day tours to significant sites as well as Aboriginal cultural awareness programs could operate from there.
The centre could also be a focus for sports activities in the region, and could provide facilities for a range of visiting services.The residential learning centre could accommodate up to 20 young people while they undertake courses to improve their basic literacy and numeracy and do some pre-vocational training.
The intention is not to replace school, but to target youth in the transition years between adolescence and adulthood. This time is particularly difficult for young Aboriginal adults "who are governed by family obligations but live in a cross cultural environment with no economic base", says Mr Liddle.
The accommodation would also make it possible to offer programs to Aboriginal people from other regions, and to tourists and non-Aboriginal people who want to learn more about Aboriginal culture.
This would provide a means of raising revenue and create opportunities to develop businesses that support these initiatives.
Mr Liddle says it is hoped that the project would be self- financing within three years.
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