ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
October 3, 2001.



LAND PRICE RELIEF NEAR? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

"Common sense negotiated outcomes" should replace expensive and drawn-out court litigation in dealing with Aboriginal issues, according to Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne. He says this strategy will be applied to the native title claim in Alice Springs. The Central Land Council (CLC) declined to comment but Dr Toyne says he has "no doubt they will try this new direction with us". "I have personal knowledge of a number of people in there, and [CLC director] David Ross' attitude towards me has always been honourable." Real estate sources claim uncertainty over native title has driven land prices through the roof and is the main impediment to the town's growth. Dr Toyne says he had a briefing from local real estate managers last week. He was told that if all that Labor did in its first term was to resolve the native title impasse "we'll love you forever". Says Dr Toyne: "The litigation approach is not doing anyone any good. "The real estate industry doesn't have enough land and housing. "Their business relies on housing stock." Meanwhile a native title holder, who did not wish to be named, says the group will be glad when the Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) is set up so it can negotiate independently from the CLC. "We want to get out from under the CLC umbrella as soon as possible," says the native title holder. The News understands ATSIC is ready to hand over the multi million dollar Yeperenye Shopping Centre to the group once it is formed. The native title claim went before the Federal Court when a negotiated settlement could not be reached. Judge Olney ruled in September 1999 that native title existed in the Alice Springs municipality and ordered the setting up of a PBC. According to the native title holder the judge gave the CLC nine months for the task but more than two years later the PBC is still not formed. Native title exists on 113 blocks making up the bulk of the municipality (see map on p 2): small areas inside the existing suburbs, as well as the much larger area of Crown Land surrounding them. A spokesman for the Native Title Tribunal, Ian Williams, says the Alice claim is the "first successful claim in an urban area. "It is setting a benchmark." He says the native title holders need to "come up with a new form of land ownership and land management which really hasn't been done before". The native title process was much faster in Broome similar to Alice Springs in terms of size and reliance on tourism. There the claim was resolved out of court with an agreement by the Broome Shire Council which resolved to "hand back" land after lengthy discussion with the Rubibi Working Group, which represents the Yawuru, Djugun and Goolarabooloo people. "Land will be set up as a coastal park surrounding the Peninsula of Broome and managed equally by the Shire and the Rubibi Working Group," according to the tribunal's web site. Says Mr Williams: "A regional agreement of some sort, not unlike the one that was done in Broome, might be the resolution" of the Alice Springs claim. Such an agreement could include extinguishment of native title in some places, and would be binding on all parties. "If you can reach agreement with government about what the nature of the native title holding body will be then the court will accept that," says Mr Williams. "Otherwise the native title parties will have to make all sorts of submissions to the Federal Court about what the form of the new land ownership body will be, how they will manage that land and what they will be able to do with it, and whatever funding arrangements may be arrived at. "The Native Title Act is set up to try and achieve agreements between native title holders, governments and third parties." The native title holder who spoke to the News says the constitution for the PBC is still not finalised because a draft is now being considered by the members. There are three family estates one centred on Bond Springs (north of the town), one in the town area itself, and the third on Undoolya (east of the town). The native title holder says there had been only one meeting with the now defeated CLP government. With two exceptions, the native title holders were not expecting "big mobs of money" from the settlement, but were hoping for socio-economic developments, business partnerships, housing and better health care. MLA for MacDonnell John Elferink says the CLP government had attempted to reach an out of court deal with the CLC but " obviously they couldn't come to a meeting of the minds". The apparent readiness of Dr Toyne to renegotiate indicates he is prepared to make concessions the previous government wasn't prepared to make. "Dr Toyne should disclose to the public what these concessions are," says Mr Elferink.

CLP and CLC - is there a difference? COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

With the CLP out of government for the first time in more than a quarter of a century the CLC has lost one of its major reasons for being. Aborigines no longer need a defender against as some would see it a racist regime ruthlessly exploiting racial conflict. The new ALP government has an excellent relationship with Aborigines. It's a coincidence that the acronyms for the Country Liberal Party and the Central Land Council sound alike, but more curious is that, whilst on opposite ends of the political spectrum, their ways of operating are so similar: secretive, unaccountable, manipulative. Director David Ross steadfastly refuses to be interviewed by the Alice Springs News, despite the paper's unequalled circulation to Aborigines in the region (to the town leases and the major remote communities). John Elferink, elected twice to represent in Parliament constituents in roughly half the CLC's area, says Mr Ross simply won't talk to him. What the News would like to ask Mr Ross is what his organisation's more than 100 employees, spending more than $5m a year, have achieved for their clients in terms of social and economic advancement since the start of land rights in 1976. What relationship does the CLC expect to have with the new Labor Government in the NT? No doubt we would be told that the CLC has signed a swag of agreements with mining companies. This may conjure up in your mind an image of hundreds of Aborigines gouging ore out of a deep shafts, crucially involved in vibrant joint ventures. Please think again. So far as we know these agreements with mining companies amount to little more than Aboriginal traditional owners accepting a 10 per cent statutory royalty, which the law obliges mining companies to pay if they want to operate on Aboriginal land. If the traditional owners don't want to play ball the miners can go to arbitration and get their permits and licenses anyway. That leaves us to examine how meaningful are the minor extras on top of the 10 per cent the CLC manages to extract from the miners. One likely to be touted is the opportunity for employment and training. One of the Territory's biggest extractive ventures is the Granites gold mine. It started in 1983 and has 450 employees. The mine runs for Aborigines a string of CDEP, seed collecting, weed control, fencing and other courses and initiatives, but all are casual or part time. How many people from nearby Yuendumu population 750, estimated unemployment 85 per cent, the traditional owners of the mine have a full time job at the Granites? Between two and three. That's how many. Given that the CLC controls about half the Central Australian land mass, we would also have liked to ask Mr Ross how successful Aboriginal owned cattle stations are (the CLC has a big land management section): anecdotal evidence is that most of the black-owned pastoral enterprises are a mess. And what has the land council done to capitalise on those most tangible assets in Aboriginal hands, vast open spaces, beautiful country, the world's most ancient living culture, and art works that are a sensation around the globe? Practically nothing, seems to be the correct answer: Aboriginal land is all but inaccessible to the casual visitor, and the arts movement exists on its own momentum, not because of the CLC. All Mr Ross has to say is: "No comment."

HELP FIRMS UP IN THE AIR: ALP. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

The Federal Government should ensure that businesses suffering in the wake of the Ansett collapse "have got the means to see themselves through the crisis", says Territory MHR Warren Snowdon.Labor has released a rescue plan for the tourism industry, which includes a promise of up to $50m in "concessional loans" for tourism-related small businesses, particularly in regional communities, which can demonstrate cash flow or working capital problems as a result of the Ansett collapse.The rescue plan also promises to double funding for the Regional Tourism Program focussed on developing tourism infrastructure.However, Mr Snowdon says the concessional loans scheme is of greater immediate relevance for Alice Springs."I don't think our regional tourism infrastructure is deficient. We've got plenty of attractions, of course we'd welcome more over time, but my major concern at the moment is making sure people stay in business. "In Alice Springs tourism is quite clearly the major driver behind the private sector economy. "If businesses are having great problems meeting their bills because people aren't coming through the door, you've got to give them access to cheap loans to make sure they can keep operating. "We don't want them out of business, because when we eventually get enough bums on seats into the place, their businesses will be required. "We need to make sure they keep operating. We are talking about small businesses by and large, some very small, and the Government has shown no interest in helping them."A better option, according to Mr Snowdon, would have been to put a lot more money into the rescue process up front:"It's a bit strange to me that the Government has been prepared to pay $400m, perhaps even more, for people to lose their jobs. You'd think they'd rather put that money into people maintaining their jobs."And even now, better than underwriting Ansett tickets for 12 weeks, would be spending a lot more money "to get more planes flying to get people into places like Alice Springs so you don't have to offer industry support".The Government should also be offering support to individuals who find themselves out of a job, or with severely reduced income, says Mr Snowdon. Alice taxi driver has told him his takings are down by $140 a week. He is single with no family support, and he doesn't know how he will be able to stay in the industry.A Darwin constituent who worked for Ansett for more than 25 years, told Mr Snowdon the Federal Government's "guarantee" of his entitlements would see him lose $70,000."Ansett employees will only get eight weeks' severance pay."People who have worked in excess of 20 years and we know of a couple of cases at Alice Springs airport too should be entitled to 70 or 80 weeks' severance pay!" And not only financial support is required. Mr Snowdon says the Government should use Centrelink and Job Network to provide career guidance, retraining, and both personal and financial counselling to those caught up in the crisis."I'm very concerned about the inadequate advice and assistance for people directly involved, but out of the public eye are all those other people who are getting no assistance at all."That's a story which is yet to be told, because the impact is still emerging." (Tim Higgins, Business Centre Manager at Employment National, says their service in Alice has not yet seen a "noticeable" increase in job seekers.)Mr Snowdon promises an immediate response should Labor win government in the upcoming Federal election. His CLP opponent in that contest, Katherine man Ron Kelly, says he has "been in there from the start" talking to Federal Transport and Regional Services Minister, John Anderson, "pushing for the restoration of air services to Territory routes". Mr Kelly says the Federal Government is doing "whatever it can to support the Ansett administrator", and he called on the Territory Government to also support Ansett.He says the kind of incentives they are offering to Virgin Blue should also be offered to Ansett.Mr Kelly says the fact that Ansett was no longer an Australian company hampered what the Federal Government could have done prior to the collapse, but they had "moved quickly to salvage the situation". He emphasised the importance of continuing to market Australia and particularly the Northern Territory as "not only an exciting and magical destination, but also a safe destination" for international travellers whose confidence has been shaken by the recent terrorist attacks in the USA. This is also a point in Labor's rescue plan, which promises a $10m boost to the Australian Tourism Commission "to fund additional marketing strategies".

SLEEP IN THE BUSH: SALVOS' BEST ADVICE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Salvation Army staff in Alice Springs are supplying people with blankets, sheets and ropes for makeshift camps in the bush because they are unable to find them suitable accommodation.In the month of July, following closure of the Red Shield Hostel for homeless men, the Salvos had to turn away 15 single men, two women and six families.They bought seven bus tickets, totalling $1179, to help people leave town.Captain Derek Schmidtke says the hostel is being kept in readiness for reopening, with staff "in the wings and fingers crossed", pending the new Labor Government's honouring of an election promise to do so.Spokesperson for Health Minister Jane Aagard says Barkly MLA Elliott McAdam will conduct a review of the needs of the homeless in Alice Springs, and of the best way to meet those needs. He will start consulting with all stakeholders this coming weekend, with his report to the Minister expected by the end of November. Capt Schmidtke says it was a "travesty" that community concerns over the closure of the hostel were not heeded by the previous government and its Health Minister Stephen Dunham."One wonders how that could happen," he says. He says any review now needs to be of the way the hostel was conducted under new management in the first six months of this year, during which it had an occupancy rate of 80 per cent. He said during this time the hostel offered a "service of excellence" to its clients, a total of 160 men.Contrary to popular perception, only four per cent of these were over the age of 55.Some 46 per cent were between the ages of 26 and 40; 22 per cent were aged 18-25 years; 28 per cent, 41 to 55 years. By far the majority of the men used the hostel as a short-term accommodation option: 38 per cent stayed less than 10 days; 49 per cent, less than 28 days; 10 per cent stayed for between 28 and 60 days; and just three per cent stayed longer than 60 days.About one third of all the clients were suffering mental health problems, that is they were under the management of a mental health case worker. "The Salvation Army is here to stop people falling through the cracks," says Capt Schmidtke. "We look after people who don't fit anywhere else. The majority of our clients are middle aged single men. "Who provides for these guys?"Wally Litvensky, NT state president of the St Vincent de Paul society, describes the continued closure of the Red Shield Hostel, as "a major problem".He says his service has also had problems placing people in emergency accommodation. "Hostels and caravan parks are normally full and even if they are not, many will not accept people referred by charity agencies," says Mr Litvensky.At the Lodge, run by Anglicare, assistant director David Connell presents a slightly different picture. Mr Connell says they are running "at capacity" but have not experienced the big increase in demand they were expecting following the closure of the Red Shield Hostel.The main difference he has observed is that more people are now willing to take a bed in the Lodge's dormitory rooms.They have two, one for men, one for women, with four beds in each."Prior to June 30 few people were prepared to take these beds, they preferred to wait until a single room became available. Now a lot more people are happy to take these beds."

AUSSIE RULES IN DISARRAY.

The CAFL got through another season at Traeger Park last Saturday week, but goes into a summer recess with a bank of clouds over head, and these clouds will only build up and get darker as the months roll on.The League Executive met last Wednesday night and decided to amend their decision on Yuendumu. The club are now only "outed" for 2002, and no other club will take their place as, according to manager Ron Thompson, "It wouldn't be fair for a team to replace Yuendumu for just one year", and further, "Yuendumu are an integral part of the Country League competition".Hence a seven team competition is now proposed to be played in 2002, while the Magpies "do their time". The question still to be asked is why should a whole club be banned when it is widely acknowledged by police, umpires and spectators that in fact the Magpie players were instrumental in protecting umpires from the potential wrath of supporters.If players are free to play under another club banner what is to be achieved? What happens to the up and coming Under 17s, the players of the future? Do they simply spend a year in purgatory?Further, the two Yuendumu officials banned from Traeger Park for life, still have not been given any right to justice. The basic right to a hearing is ingrained in both our legal and social systems. However the executive of the CAFL continue to cling to the statement that there is no case to answer and no hearing required. If they are so confident of the guilt of the two they have "pinged", then why have they refused the right to an inquiry. Each of these clouds will continue to hover over Mona's Bar and the Executive offices in the bunker below throughout the summer.And throughout the community the thunder clouds will continue to roll in, as the CAFL flounder in their attempts to play with a double edged sword alcohol. Football in Alice Springs has been ridden with the problems of anti social behaviour for years. People won't go to the Sunday footy, with this year's (real) grand final attendance figures bearing out their discontent.Propping the CAFL up is the sale of alcohol of a Saturday and to a lesser extent, Sunday. The consumption of full strength beer, in the full glare of the sun, while watching a game that conjures up emotions, is a recipe for disaster.The CAFL recognise this in that they search every car coming into the park and confiscate alcohol. They also engage an inordinate number of security personnel to maintain the "Code of Conduct".But once inside the gates patrons are able to purchase CAFL endorsed product, in green cans, to their heart's content. Ron Thompson again defends such sales as being the only way of ensuring the turnover required for the CAFL to operate. "Look at what happened last time this was tried..." he pleas.Graham Buckley in his letter to the Alice News (Sept 26) is explicit in illustrating the effect on human life, through the open slather approach to the sale of alcohol at the footy.Surely through negotiation with the government basic measures can be put in place. For example, drinking fountains strategically placed around the oval, would assist in alleviating dehydration. In the next four years the Government have pledged $5 million for the Traeger Park complex. Planning for this spending, and how it can improve the lot of the players and supporters, should be top of the CAFL agenda now.

CONTAINER DEPOSIT LAWS FOR NT SOON?

In July and September this year, people in Alice Springs demonstrated strong support for a drink container deposit scheme when they returned 8,000 and 17,000 containers to the Arid Lands Environment Centre at the Alice Springs Show (five cent refund) and Yeperenye Festival (10 cent refund). So why is there no permanent system in the NT, despite strong public support, clear litter reduction benefits, creation of new jobs and potentially $2 million per year being available for litter programs from unclaimed deposits? In this comment, GLENN MARSHALL from the Arid Lands Environment Centre explains the powerful opposition of the beverage industry to a container deposit scheme, as evidenced by no state or territory except South Australia having introduced a scheme in the last 25 years. The Labor party in the Territory, while in opposition, repeatedly called for a container deposit scheme in the NT, and made it part of their election platform. In government, will they finally introduce a positive, permanent scheme to the NT?
Labor in the Territory, while in opposition, consistently called for container deposit legislation (CDL) to be introduced and indicated the same sentiment during their successful election campaign. Since the election, ALEC understands that beverage industry representatives have met at least once with the new Environment Minister, Kon Vatskalis, and he is now saying that various issues need further consideration before a decision is made on introducing CDL. It has strong support from various NT organisations, including the Alice Springs Town Council, CATIA, NT Land Care and ALEC, and all are lobbying the Labor government to introduce it to the NT. It was the Alice Springs Town Council that funded ALEC's recent refund trials at the Alice Springs Show and Yeperenye Festival. Ironically, the previous CLP government made it clear it was preparing to introduce CDL to the NT. They had allocated $100,000 for the Keep Australia Beautiful Council and Landcare NT to find out community attitudes to CDL and develop a CDL model for the NT. The beverage industry in Australia is worth around $60 billion per year, making it a very influential national conglomerate. In the NT alone, something like 100 million packaged drinks are sold each year. Unfortunately companies like Coca Cola and Carlton & United Breweries (through the Beverage Industry Environment Council) are united against CDL. Beverage companies are likely to bear higher costs if CDL is implemented because they will retain responsibility for collecting and disposing of empty containers rather than the current situation where formal responsibility ends at the factory door. The production cost of drinks in the NT may rise by about 10 cents (if five cents is the refund amount to customers the other five cents would cover handling at collection depots) although in South Australia national companies have elected to absorb this cost across Australia, leaving the price of drinks the same in all states. Interestingly, in Germany where a 70 cent deposit exists on containers, most companies have reverted to using refillable glass because it has become more economical than one-trip plastic containers. Beverage companies have employed several techniques to counter the introduction of CDL including relatively minor contributions to state and territory governments for litter reduction programs and kerbside recycling schemes, and numerous arguments that CDL will cause significant financial difficulties and job losses in the beverage industry. These arguments are disputed by CDL advocates, but until recently there has been no credible independent assessment of CDL's merits. In the NT, the beverage industry has traditionally provided $250,000 per year to the Territory Anti-Litter Committee (TALC) to conduct various anti-litter programs. In Alice Springs, the TALC committee has been inactive since 1999 and programs are now limited to the Territory Tidy Towns competition and other minor litter-related programs. Full-scale kerbside recycling in the NT is limited to Darwin and Palmerston and is not funded by the beverage industry. This is because the previous NT government refused to sign a poorly funded national offer that the beverage industry made in 1998 (the National Packaging Covenant). This decision by the NT Government has left the way open for the NT to introduce a container deposit scheme if it so desires. Will CDL cause job losses? Evidence indicates jobs will actually increase with CDL due to the formation of collection depots and transport activities, including in remote communities. Similarly beverage companies claim that CDL will decrease kerbside recycling involvement. Recent studies in other states indicate that CDL would complement kerbside recycling because the refunds for containers put into kerbside bins can be claimed by the bin collectors. This would provide substantially higher returns for them than they currently receive per kilogram of raw material. Other arguments against CDL are the extra costs to update labels (despite companies regularly modifying labels anyway), and that targeting containers does nothing for other litter (an all-or-nothing argument). How would the NT benefit from CDL? Firstly, through reduced litter in our towns, along roads and in the natural environment (as clearly evidenced in South Australia). Perhaps more importantly, through dramatically increased revenue for litter programs, waste minimisation schemes, recycling programs, environmental health programs and alcohol programs. How? In South Australia, 85 per cent of containers are returned for refunds. The remaining 15 per cent of unclaimed deposits go to the beverage industry because they own the system. Overseas, a variety of different models are used, including those where all unclaimed deposits are retained in a specific fund for litter and waste projects (in the NT, environmental health and alcohol programs could be funded as well). It is estimated in the NT that the unclaimed surplus could be as much as $2 million per year, compared to $250,000 per year currently provided by the beverage industry. In Alice Springs, our share of that $2 million per year could fund a green waste recycling operation at the landfill, a kerbside recycling service, additional litter cleanup teams in town, litter education programs in schools and on remote communities, ongoing alcohol education programs and innovative local enterprises which reuse plastics, glass and other materials. How can an educated decision be made on CDL? One of the biggest hurdles for a government when assessing the merits of a CDL program is the conflicting information presented by the beverage industry and CDL proponents. However, there are reports available to the NT government which present independent information on CDL. The previous NT government commissioned a confidential report from Keep Australia Beautiful (NT) in 1999 which is said to conclude that CDL would be beneficial for the NT. Apparently a follow-up report by NT Treasury confirms the report's financial claims. OPENALEC has asked the new Labor government to publicly release these reports as part of their pre-election promise of "open and accountable" government. In addition, a very comprehensive independent review of CDL was recently completed for the NSW government by the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney, which apparently demonstrates strong environmental, economic and social benefits of CDL. Unfortunately that report has not been publicly released and NSW Premier Bob Carr stated earlier this year that CDL is not a good idea for NSW. A recent survey by Keep Australia Beautiful (NT) and Landcare NT resulted in 96 per cent of 1,500 respondents being in favour of CDL. Will CDL be introduced in the NT? It seems clear that the benefits of CDL in the NT are demonstratively positive. If the Labor government doesn't introduce a permanent scheme to the NT (after calling for it for years), then voters are entitled to ask very serious questions about the accountability of the government's processes. It would be ironic if the Labor government abandoned CDL just when the previous CLP government had finally committed to its introduction.

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