ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
July 4, 2001.


ROCK RESORT MAY GET COMPETITION! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

A major hotel chain is having discussions with Aboriginal interests at Ayers Rock about building a hotel in the Uluru National Park or on Aboriginal land adjoining it. And Aurora Resorts, all of whose six hospitality properties are in the NT, is also considering a bid for the Ross River homestead, under voluntary administration since June 20, and passed in at $700,000 at an auction in April. Aurora CEO Ian Drummond says the discussions about an Ayers Rock development, possibly starting with a 120 room complex, are in their very early stages and are taking place at the invitation of members of the Mutitjulu community. He says no agreements are in place but his company is keen to continue the dialogue. The facility would be operating in competition with the Ayers Rock Resort, at present providing the only tourist accommodation for the park, and located on a 100 square kilometre freehold block adjoining it to the north. The resort can accommodate some 5000 people but tourism operators say it is booked out for parts of the year. Inbound tour operator Mark Taylor, of Pacific Spirit Travel in Sydney, says because of refurbishment of sections of the resort he can't book from the third week in September until December 8, a peak period for European travelers. However, some airlines and coach companies may have allocations of rooms for that period. Mr Taylor deals mainly with French and British tourists. He says the current expansion of the resort, which he estimates will increase capacityby just 10 to 15 per cent, is unlikely to keep up with the projected growth in demand as Ayers Rock continues to be promoted world wide as an Australian icon. The work now under way isn't adding rooms but converting existing ones to a higher standard. "Other solutions will have to be found," he says, including more day-return trips by air from Alice Springs, affording visitors the chance to also take in such attractions as the Western MacDonnells and the Desert Park in Alice Springs. The Ayers Rock Resort is some 25 km from the Rock while the Mutitjulu Community is at its base, where the original four motels were located before the construction by the NT Government of the Yulara township. Mr Drummond says employment and other income opportunities for local Aboriginal people have been a key factor in the talks, so far two meetings in the past few months.Mutitjulu has an unemployment rate of more than 90 per cent. No locals are employed at the Ayers Rock Resort at present, although the resort has told the Alice Springs News it would welcome suitable workers from the community. Many of the 1000-odd staff are brought in from interstate or overseas. Mr Drummond says Aurora has a strong policy of employing Aborigines in its existing hotels: in Alice Springs the Heavitree Gap Outback Resort, Territory Inn and Red Centre Resort; and in the Top End, the Kakadu Resort as well as the Kakadu Lodge in Jabiru, and the Coconut Grove Holiday Apartments in Darwin. Mr Drummond, whose company has a $24m annual turnover, says about 10 per cent of its 200 staff are Aborigines. The Red Centre Resort not only has several Aboriginal workers, some of whom are training for management positions, but also an ongoing agreement with an Aboriginal dance troupe performing on the site. "Red Centre Dreaming," an operation of prominent Aboriginal tourism entrepreneur Paul Ah Chee, performs as a dinner show.It has been running for two years and is now well known around the world, says Mr Drummond. Mr Taylor says the performance is a major attraction. The Mutitjulu community would neither confirm nor deny that discussions with Aurora are taking place. Meanwhile the administrator of Ross River says the statement of assets and liabilities for the company isn't yet completed. However, it is "business as usual" while preparations to sell the property are being "cranked up". A real estate source says Ross River was sold for more than $1m about 10 years ago.



30% CAR SLUMP DOESN'T DAUNT DEALER: BIG PRIZE, MAY EXPAND. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

A 30 per cent drop in demand in The Centre for new cars during the past three years hasn't stopped the Peter Kittle Motor Company from winning its fifth Toyota President's Award, the fourth in succession. And neither is the firm put off its plans for expanding interstate.The award puts the Alice company, which according to managing director Peter Kittle has 65 to 70 per cent of the region's total vehicle business, amongst the elite of the nation's 238 Toyota dealers. Toyota's NT sales manager Bob Pettigrew says the award has been won by just 62 dealers since its inception in 1989. Only 41 have won it more than once, and just eight as often as Kittles. Peter Kittle Motor Company, representing a string of marques including Holden and Nissan, has 120 staff, sold 171 Toyotas last month alone and turned over $80m in 2000-01, more than three times the volume of its first year of operations, 1988- 89. But Alice born and bred Mr Kittle, son of Len Kittle who retired after 50 years in the local vehicle trade, says times are tough. The average annual 10 per cent drop of demand in The Centre over the past three years "is against the national trend". "The market's been bigger in Australia over all in the last three years. "The market decrease is higher in Central Australia than it is in the rest of the NT." He describes the local economy as "steady", with tourism, Aboriginal spending, Pine Gap and the cattle industry as the main drivers of the local economy in that order. Says Mr Kittle: "We're definitely not getting our share of the NT Government spending, that's for sure. "That's obviously affecting the economy." At the same time "the announcement of the railway line has definitely buoyed" the economies of Katherine and Tennant Creek. "There's a lot more positive feeling out there in the business world" in towns other than Alice. He says finding good staff is "probably the hardest part of running a business in any regional centre. "We're pretty fortunate, particularly on our sales side. "All our sales people have been with us for a long time. "Three or four of our key managers who are here now were with me when we first started the company in July 1988.'" In that year the company turned over $12m with 24 staff: the current figures show a better than 30 per cent increase in productivity. "We're try to get most of our staff locally," says Mr Kittle. "We don't like putting sales people on who've done it before. "We like to recruit them from the staff and teach them the way we want it done. "When we change a management position we always advertise it within the company first. "If we can fill it with our own people we will." Technicians are hard to find locally and are usually from interstate. Mr Kittle says the 49 per cent share holding in the company by Aboriginal interests has little impact on its operations: "They''re purely investors," he says. "They look for a return the same as any investor does." The company made donations of well over $100,000 in cash to some 50 organisations in Alice and Tennant last year, plus four or five vehicles to Centralian College for training in the last year and a half, a total value of some $250,000. EXPANSION Mr Kittle says he's pursuing plans to expand interstate and is negotiating "right at this minute".He won't say in which state and the activity will "not necessarily be in the motor industry but more than likely".But he says "we're fortunate to be in the Northern Territory". "A lot of things are harder to do here, we don't have some of the luxuries f the big cities."Whilst our economy isn't as good as it has been in some areas, in the last 10 years it's been pretty steady. "We don't have the highs and lows which some of the other states feel. "In one way it's a disadvantage that we don't have a huge manufacturing base in the Territory but we also don't have the big lows when a major company fails as has happened in SA or Victoria."

COUNCIL GETS HUGE FEDERAL GRANTS FOR RIVER, ROADS.

A five per cent increase in rates was announced by Ald David Koch in the town council's budget which includes $1.2m in Commonwealth grats for town camp roads and landscaping of river banks. Total expenditure for the year amounts to $16,806,265, with $7,846,547 earnt from grants and charges, leaving $8,959,718 to be raised from rates. In return the community will get a council program focussed on "maintenance of assets and infrastructure".Council's priority will be on beautifying the town by overcoming litter; improving streetscapes through the verge program; and, ensuring that the town has a vibrant CBD. There'll be more litter collection patrols across the town and in the CBD, spread across more hours of the week under a new schedule. Ald Koch said the new streetsweeper in Todd Mall has already achieved better results, while litter collected on residential streets since the introduction of the patrols on quads has doubled. This year council will spend $70,000 on an additional employee and an additional quad to deal with litter across the town. And, "to ensure people can find a bin when they need one", $10,500 has been allocated for new bins. Promoting the litter message and container deposit legislation will cost $40,000.Expenditure on verge maintenance will be increased by $35,000, to a total of nearly $200,000.Council is moving to poisoning couch and buffel grass on verges, rather than slashing it, and is reviewing the methods and machinery used. A verge upgrade program will be phased in over the next five years, with an additional $100,000 allocated for new work this year. Commitments for the CBD include a $30,000 contribution to the development of a CBD masterplan and a further $100,000 for works required as a result of the masterplan. Ald Koch said council hopes that the NT Government "will at least match this contribution". Todd Mall, now almost 15 years old, will get new pavers, or repairs to old ones, at a cost of $40,000; and $10,000 will be spent on sealing the pavers to make them more stain resistant.Lighting at the northern end of the mall will be upgraded, with $30,000 being spent this year, for stage one of the project. An additional $18,500 (half from the NT Safe initiative) will be spent on lighting in Snow Kenna Reserve. A more festive Christmas atmosphere will be achieved with new decorations at a cost of $40,000.A Commonwealth "Roads to Recovery" grant of $600,000 will allow upgrading of the streetscape and landscape along the river at the northern end of Leichhardt Terrace.Another Commonwealth grant of $600,000 will allow restoration and upgrading of Town Camp roads under an agreement with Tangentyere Council. This grant "will result in significant employment and training opportunities", said Ald Koch.Long-awaited shade structures in parks get an allocation of $130,000 this year, with new shade designs being trialled at Frank McEllister Park and then extended to other parks.Council will spend almost $540,000 on maintaining parks and reserves, and almost $430,000 on the town sporting ovals and facilities.Said Ald Koch: "We are also assisting community groups who have developed a strong association with their neighbourhood parks. "This is happening at the Kurrajong and Gosse Street Parks which have also received grants from the NT Government. "Some preparatory work has already commenced at Kurrajong Park and an additional $80,000 will be spent on these parks in the next year." Council is continuing to work with the NT Government and the YMCA on the development of the new skate park next to the Swimming Centre, with $15,000 committed to the design phase of the project. Other initiatives include: a $75,000 overhaul of the council's phone system, and a customer service development program to improve staff responsiveness to community needs. investing $25,000 in a joint project to plan future tourist investment and business development in the region. Other partners are the CSIRO, NT Government and the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association. an additional $30,000 for running the library service; new disability access toilets in the library costing $35,000; and upgraded copying facilities ($22,000). a $65,000 increase in funding for footpaths and cycle tracks (total allocation $270,000). In addition, some footpaths in new areas, particularly in the golfcourse area, will have their footpaths completed using funds from developer contributions. new toilets will be built in Leichhardt Terrace and in Stuart Park near the Flying Doctor Base at a cost of $46,000. While rates will go up, waste management charges for all residential ratepayers will be reduced. Urban ratepayers' charge will drop from $128 to $115, while rural ratepayers, up till now paying $68, will be charged $40. Rural residents will continue to make their own arrangements for removing rubbish. While some were in favour of council introducing a rural wheelie bin service, the majority was opposed."We have respected their wishes," said Ald Koch.The charge for commercial operators dumping uncontaminated green waste will drop from $40 per ton to $20, while residents will continue to be able to dispose of up to a trailer load at a time for free. Council has won a Commonwealth grant of $313,000 to establish an organic waste processing plant. This will enable both residential and commercial green waste to be recycled.

BUSH FUNDS BRAWL GOES ON! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The controversy over the purchase by an Aboriginal community of a restaurant in Alice Springs, and its subsequent sale at a huge loss, has raised doubts about the control the NT Government has over the spending of its grant money. Local Government Minister Richard Lim says the restaurant, the former Dingo's in Gap Road, was bought by the Willowra community "against the advice, without the knowledge, and without the consent of the Department of Local Government (DLG). "The action of Willowra Community Inc was, we believe, in breach of the Act. "The organisation is, however, a body incorporated pursuant to the Associations Incorporation Act rather than the Local Government Act. "Enforcement of this accountability is considerably more difficult under the associations acts. "There is no prosecution as such available. "Rather there is the capacity for the issue of directions [and] if the organisation fails to follow [them], this can lead to dismissal." Dr Lim says 15 of Central Australia's 20 councils are set up under the NT or the Federal associations incorporation acts. Last week he cut off funding to the Willowra local government, withdrew its status, and appointed the Anmatjere Community Government Council, based in nearby Ti Tree, "to provide services to Willowra on a temporary basis". This sparked strong protest from Willowra councillor Fred Williams and deputy chairman Clarke Martin who said Dr Lim's actions and comments had made people of Willowra "distressed". They said they would rather be looked after by the Yuendumu council, consisting mainly of fellow Warlpiris, and ultimately amalgamate with that council. Mr Williams and Mr Martin said they would refuse entry permits to Anmatjere personnel as well as to a Department of Local Government officer, Laurie Rivers.They also refused to dismiss their clerk, Alan Riley. Mr Williams and Mr Martin say housing at Willowra is now so poor that several people, including two survivors of the Coniston Massacre in the 1920s, have moved into humpies in the creek. Mr Williams says he was a council member when the decisions about Dingo's were made but he was absent from meetings discussing the issue. Dr Lim wrote to the council saying Mr Riley should hand over his house in the community for use by Anmatjere workers. Dr Lim said the decision to stop funding Willowra was forced on DLG because of the council's "ongoing failure to control its financial problems and deliver local government services to the people of the community". "The council is massively in debt and has not been providing basic services such as maintaining roads, rubbish collection, dump maintenance, housing maintenance and general amenities," Dr Lim says. "At least 15 houses on the community have been severely damaged and there is no sign that the community or the council is acting to stop this destruction." But Mr Riley says council activities have ground to a halt because Dr Lim's department had progressively cut back funding (Alice News, June 27). Meanwhile, conflicting claims continue about the dealings with Dingo's. The clerk at the time, Mike Burrows, insists that the purchase was made with DLG's knowledge. He denies allegations by Dr Lim that the purchase was made at his, Mr Burrows', "suggestion". In fact the community had earlier wanted to buy Bojangles and had "actually signed documents". The Alice News understands Dingo's was bought for $190,000 and sold about a year later for $70,000. Dr Lim late last week responded to allegations by Mr Riley (Alice News, June 27):- Dr Lim says there was no breach of undertaking by DLG officers to attend a meeting. DLG says the night patrol vehicle is off the road "because it has been poorly used and maintained". "Night patrol funding is an ATSIC responsibility. "ATSIC has ceased funding to Willowra Council because it refused to be accountable." "MLA for Stuart Peter Toyne says the Office of Local Government should have acted when it became clear that there were irregularities in the way funding was being used. "The department responded to every request and tried to intervene, but were rebuffed, obfuscated, and treated with contempt by the council and its staff," says Dr Lim. "This pattern has continued, albeit less aggressively, with the subsequent councils and staff. "Mr Toyne's claim is egregious, as the then Regional Manager for Local Government was in frequent contact with Mr Toyne [about] Willowra's problems. "As he knows, numerous attempts were made to visit and consult and intervene. "A seriously pathological refusal to communicate or allow communication or intervention was pursued by the Willowra Community Inc. elites at that time. "At the time of the restaurant debacle, DLG officers jointly attended a community meeting with Mr Toyne, ATSIC and Central Land Council officers."
Dr Lim described as "silly" Dr Toyne's claim that the OLG wanted to force its own agenda on the community, "urging it to amalgamate with another council". "The message seems to be, we'll starve you out unless you join another council," said Dr Toyne. Says Dr Lim: "DLG could have cut off funding to Willowra Council at the same time as ATSIC cut off funding in October 1999. "But DLG continued funding until June 2001 and tried to enable the Council to work through its problems."
Dr Lim rejected Mr Riley's explanation that monthly financial reports had not been submitted because eight out of nine councillors are illiterate. Says Dr Lim: "All councils are required to sign monthly financial reports. "The role of the Council Clerk, Riley's position, is to explain those reports and guide councillors through them. "Mr Riley's comment indicates that he has been unable or unwilling to perform that role."
Dr Lim says at no time has DLG received a proposal from Mr Riley to start or restart any program, despite encouraging him to do so.
"He has in fact not started or restarted any program in more than six months at the community," says Dr Lim. Mr Riley says he wrote to Dr Lim on April 18, asking for assistance with the training of councillors. Mr Riley says the only response he received, on April 27, was an acknowledgment of the letter, and advice that it had been forwarded to Dr Lim. "I have not heard from Dr Lim," says Mr Riley.

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