CRIME RALLY: NO ANSWERS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Several people at last Wednesday's law and order rally have been victims of crime, but the spirited yet orderly protest left the question open as to whether or not Alice Springs is in the grip of a crime wave.
About 50 protesters and some 25 counter-protesters, declaring they felt safe in Alice Springs, disagreed on the level of crime and whether the government has failed to control it.
Some, saying "things are getting worse", put the start of the decline at before the current government took office, made no distinction between anti-social behaviour and criminal acts, or said they were influenced by newspaper reports.
The government, appearing to be on the back foot in this "hearts and minds" battle, received support from a surprising quarter: independent, Loraine Braham, CLP Member for Braitling until the August 2001 elections, saw the rally as reflecting badly on the image of the town.
She borrowed an "It's my town - I feel safe" placard from one of the counter-demonstrators and, brandishing it, cried: "This is my town, I love it and I'm tired of people putting it down.
"I feel safe, I walk my dog nearly every night on my own!"
Tourism operator Mark Bunting, who MCd the rally and did his best to stir up feeling, argued back: "You might feel safe, but still our houses are getting robbed and this is nothing to do with putting the town down.
"It's showing the government or whoever that we need something done.
"You can't deny that houses are getting robbed and people are getting bashed, come on!"
A woman identifying herself as Sue, said she did not "feel safe to walk this town alone and it makes me feel angry".
She suggested to Mrs Braham: "Try walking without your dog!", for which she got a vigorous round of applause.
"My dog happens to be a little lapdog, this big!" replied Mrs Braham, bending to make her point.
Mr Bunting asked people at the rally to tell their stories, and there were plenty of individual examples, some of them already well-known.A man told of a rock-throwing attack on his daughter's car as she was driving along the North Stuart Highway with her two-year-old son.
Then not long after a rock was thrown through the back window of his own car parked outside the Todd Tavern while he was having dinner with friends.
Moving between speakers, Mr Bunting sought to "maintain the rage": "We hear different stories of course in the media about crime rates going up, and then the politicians tell us crime rates are going down, I mean who do we believe?
"I mean it's a hard thing, especially when it does happen to us. Has anyone else got a story they would like to share?"
A woman identified herself as "the 27 year old teacher who was attacked in the mall by a group of juveniles".
"Unfortunately because they are juveniles nothing could be done about it," she said angrily.Mr Bunting was on a roll: "So what sort of direction do you think we are headed in with this crime?" he asked."Are we just going in the same sort of steps as America, with their crime rate? What can we do about it?"A man called Jarrod took the mike.
He has lived in Alice Springs for 11 years, in Eastside for most of that time.
In the last six months, his property – a business premises cum residence – has been broken into three times.
"It's at the point where we have all had enough, said Jarrod.
Mr Bunting's rhetorical questions about the crime rate had gone unanswered, despite Minister for Justice Peter Toyne being present.
Mike Bowden, former Labor party candidate, now employed in the Office of Central Australia, attempted to turn the tide of feeling.
He spoke without identifying himself.
"I do feel safe in Alice Springs and I'm encouraged by the figures I see that I studied from the Crime NT (sic).
"I saw figures showing that crime in Alice Springs had gone down. (Heckling.) I'd just like to suggest to you that we do need to look at the statistics and we do need to look at them dispassionately despite the fact that some people have suffered personal harm."
Mr Bunting: "Can we just answer the question about the crime figures? You are saying one set of figures and we've got Neighbourhood Watch figures that reflect a different thing and the police figures which say something else.
"Who do we believe and what do we do?"
Mr Bowden: "We have to believe the official figures published by Crime Prevention NT and which are an accumulation of figures put together by the police force.
"They are calculated every year and they've been compared over many years. They show a trend line down."
Opposition member John Elferink (MacDonnell) suggested to Mr Bunting that he ask Mr Bowden who employs him.
"I'm employed in the Office of Central Australia," answered Mr Bowden.
Mr Elferink, angrily: "Run by?"
Mr Bowden did not reply. Someone in the crowd cried out, "He's a public servant!"
Mr Elferink later told the Alice News: "I make no apologies for having a part in organising [the rally].
"I am a leader of the community. I am voted [in] to participate in community issues.
"I do not employ staffers to go around, seeding crowds at other people's rallies, and intimidate them, and use their employees to intimidate them.
"It is a miserable measure of what this government thinks is democracy."
A woman pointed out to the crowd her son, Brendan McGrath, who had just arrived with his twins (see separate story this issue).
"He was the victim of the rock-throwing incident back in February. He's been through absolute hell," she said, with her voice breaking.
"And I'd just like to say, people say that it's veiled racism, this rock was actually thrown by a white kid.
"It's nothing to do with racism, it's nothing to do with political parties, it's to do with us feeling safe to walk around this town.
"We've lived here for 11 years. He was educated here, he was looking forward to bringing his family up here but he's having second thoughts about living here now."
A woman made a point about parents not having the right to discipline their children; another woman told of her child's bike being stolen as was a clothesline full of washing, and the family's cars had been tampered with – a screwdriver inserted into all the locks, requiring their replacement.
NOT RACIALA man took up the point made by Mr McGrath's mother, that the rally was " certainly not a racial thing, ever".
"There's as many white as dark people create problems in this town, and our police force who are over-stretched I think do a fantastic job.
"But I believe a big part of our problem is with the judicial system, those that are apprehended and front court, do not cop the correct penalty, too lenient."
He received a round of applause.
Another intervention came from the counter-demonstrators.
This time it was Tangentyere Council's Jane Vadiveloo who spoke, although she did not identify herself. She was listened to without heckling.
She acknowledged that "there are issues and all of us appreciate that people suffer very deeply when a crime is committed against them".
However, she felt that "as a whole, we do very well in Alice Springs" dealing with the issues that "all towns suffer".
She called for support to be given to people who are working to deal with "the real underlying issues".
(An example no doubt to the forefront of her mind would be the setting up of a youth refuge. The latest location for the sorely needed facility was dumped last week after a hostile neighbourhood reaction.)
Mark Webster (the insurance broker who initiated the rally) told the crowd that "a lot of crime is not reported because it doesn't have to be.
"A window broken doesn't have to be reported to the police but it's reported to me.
"I've noticed the claims in my office are going up exponentially. It's at least 100 per cent over six months ago."
Mr Webster presented a petition to Member for Greatorex, Richard Lim.
Mayor Fran Kilgariff then came forward. She had something of a battle to be heard.
She had just come from a meeting about skateboarding and pointed to it as a good example of people in the town – through a committee of parents, skaters and other government and community group representatives – dealing positively with a perceived problem.
"I do believe we don't live in a town that is any worse than any other town in the Outback or in Australia really. I think it's better than a lot of them.
"You don't have to put up with [crime], but there are solutions that are better than coming and protesting. (Heckling.)
"Protesting is good, I hear what you are saying, but there are other ways of making your town safer … please work with people in the community and with people who are working hard to do that."
The Alice News also spoke to several people at the rally.
Joy Jones, recently the victim of car theft, was "hopping mad".
She believes her car was stolen by young "ferals" and says they should be punished whether they are "10 or 310" years old.
"If it was us, we'd be put in gaol.
"It should be the same for black, white or brindle, if you do the crime, you do the time."
Lori Delgiacco sees criminals as "out of control the last two years".
"This is like a family. If the man is weak, everybody running amok. We need a government that is more strict."
George Gameson, who runs mini-busses and has had three lots of bricks through their windows, also sees a problem with punishment: "Ever since they took away mandatory sentencing, the people that were put inside are not put inside anymore, and they are allowed to continue crime."
Dave English, who has had a vehicle "half-trashed by rock-throwers" and been attacked once in the mall, reiterated:
"I honestly think there's been a big change since the mandatory sentencing…
"They're going tough on drug crime but very soft on other crime and not doing the right measures."
Peter Goy lives in a street where "young kids, young adults are out of control, running up and down the streets all hours of day and night" and three houses have been broken into in the last two months.
He said: "We don't ring the police any more because they can't do anything. They grab the kids and the next day they are back on the street again. What's the point of that, there's no incentive for them to obey the law."
Colin Saunders, who also thinks the judicial system is weak, would like to be able to "vote judges out" like the American system.
"Or we should have a system like they do in France whereby they do a course to become a judge," says Mr Saunders."They are not bloody upstart solicitors, who do one thing when they are solicitors and when they become judges, they are bloody weak as piss."
Many of the people the News spoke to are long-term residents and make the point that public order has declined over a period of decades – something which can not really be sheeted home to the present government.
Tracy Barnes spoke of serious crime – a killing, a stabbing, a rape – she had witnessed when living in a housing commission unit.
"Living there was the worst thing I've ever experienced in my life."
How long ago was that?"Two years ago," she replied.
So if any regime is to be held accountable for that, it is not the present one.
Several people did not make clear distinctions between crime and anti-social behaviour.A woman, who did not want to be identified, spoke of seeing "kids, not just black kids, so many kids in the streets, drunk" when she goes jogging at dawn during the summer."You're not safe. I've been running for 12, 13 years. It's worse," she said.
Diana Johnson said she accidentally knocked down a woman "who staggered out in front of me, drunk".
"Next minute the door is ripped open and I've got another one in my side window, calling me a white f'n c.
"Luckily there was traffic and people and they came to my aid.
"I've had my car bombarded with rocks, from kids up a hill.
"What can you do about it? Didn't report it. They were gone.
"Who wants to go down town and see all the dirt and the filth, and the drunks, people spitting and weeing and defecating, which they do.
"And you can't have any clean, decent area in town because it's full of people and rubbish. No-one can deny that."
The News asked Mrs Johnson if anti-social behaviour and crime the same thing to her?"Sometimes it is, some is not.
"Some of it is to do with people who are alcoholics and just lie around, dirty the town, virtually.
"In Singapore you can walk around any time of day or night and feel quite safe and free.
"Why? Because they have a law and the law is abided by.
"If people don't abide by it they are punished."
The News asked another woman, who did not wish to be identified, what makes her think the crime rate is going up?
Woman: "I read the paper every day. I listen to the news."
News: "Do you make a distinction between anti social behaviour and crime?"
Woman: "I think they are very similar because they are not acceptable."
News: "Would observing anti social behaviour lead you to believe there is a rise in crime?"
Woman: "Because it's not acceptable for people to be doing what they are doing. People are getting hurt."
Jenny Montefiore believed the crime rate was going up because that is what "the general population tell us, when we're talking to people in the street, our friends".
Wendy Brown has been convinced by "the [news]paper, and what you hear from different people, what is actually happening".
Cyril Morton said he couldn't prove crime was going up but that was the "general opinion".
Con Polychronopou-los said "the last five, six years I can't walk on the street.
"Nobody has bashed me but if I was a little bit weak I will be bashed."
BRING IN THE CANE FOR POLLIES? Report and Comment by ERWIN CHLANDA.
"Law and order" may have taken up just 10 per cent of the 200,000 odd words uttered by politicians during last week's Parliamentary sittings in Alice Springs, tirelessly touted as "historic".
But the debate on the subject dominated the proceedings, and far from instilling solid trust in our democratic system, it was more likely to demolish it forever for the people in the gallery, including a captive audience of hapless school children bussed in from far and near.
They would have come to see mature adults resolving important issues in a civilised, rational, economical and constructive manner.
However, if they were in the chamber whenever "crime" was being mentioned – and that was much of the time, especially on Tuesday – they witnessed grown-ups carrying on in a way that, in their schools, would earn them a dressing down from the principal.
An erstwhile school principal and now the Speaker (Loraine Braham, Braitling), although getting somewhat sterner later in the proceedings, on Tuesday let some Opposition Members get away with conduct for which, in her former job, she would have imposed a detention.
The main offenders were Stephen Dunham (Drysdale), Richard Lim (Greatorex) and Jodeen Carney (Araluen), frequently joined by their colleagues.
They were shouting when others had the floor, laughing, waving things in the air.
The more mature students in the public gallery may have been seeking inspiration about how to apply careful research to the solution of complex problems.
But what they saw was the Opposition, in its quest to score points on crime, using as its principal source material reports from the Centralian Advocate.
For months the newspaper has beaten up offences – major or minor, proven or unproven – into lead stories, dominating many early news pages.
The reliance on the Murdoch-controlled paper turned out to be an embarrassing choice for Opposition Leader Denis Burke (Brennan), advised by Gary Shipway, a former editor of the Advocate.
On the Thursday before the sittings, in response to a report in the Alice News the day before, the Advocate led page three with a story claiming "there was a 32 per cent leap in Alice Springs crime last year".
The piece was supplemented by a cartoon ridiculing Justice Minister Peter Toyne (Stuart), the coverage running to a total of 107 column centimetres.
On Tuesday morning Mr Burke, inside Parliament, was thundering gloom and doom on the law and order front, his Opposition colleagues waving about photocopies of past Advocate stories to support his point.
Meanwhile outside the paper was hitting the streets, retracting its Thursday story, and reporting that "crime overall dropped four per cent".
This retraction ran to just five column centimetres.
Ms Carney is apparently privy to the News Corporation's most sinister plans: "The Minister [Dr Toyne, quoted in the Alice News] said recently that it [the perception of rising crime] was the fault of the Murdoch papers, which is an extraordinary statement and one, no doubt, he will live to regret."
[The Alice Springs News offered a right of reply to Advocate editor Jason Scott. He said he appreciated being given the opportunity, but declined to comment.]
The Opposition's strategy was simple: it poured scorn on the quarterly crime statistics, introduced by the Labor Government and compiled from police data by the Office of Crime Prevention (see report this page.)
The Opposition hinted – but provided no evidence – that the figures were wrong and are being manipulated by the Government.
Ms Carney's attack on Dr Toyne was a sample of the standard of debate: "Mr Attorney, people in this Chamber don't believe you.
"People in Alice Springs don't believe you. Crime has risen.
"This minister is a man who believes in Santa Claus and who believes that the earth is flat, Madam Speaker.
"The facts speak for themselves."
What facts? Mr Burke gave a clue: "I can tell you what I got on my doorknock on the weekend at a few houses, and that is that people said to me: ‘We thought we would see our future in Alice Springs. We are seriously considering going'."
So from door-knocking "a few houses" and reading the Advocate Mr Burke found enough "facts" to cast doubt on information supplied by the police about whom he professes to have the highest opinion: "The Alice Springs police do a superb job," he said.
The Opposition clearly aimed to blur the distinction between crime – on the way down, according to the government – and anti-social behaviour – an increasing public irritation in Alice Springs (in this writer's observation over 30 years).
Ms Carney: "There is no doubt that violence and vandalism and antisocial behaviour are in plague proportions."
Ms Carney took the same approach to the discussion of the alcohol restrictions: "Again, when I go doorknocking, when I talk to the people, my neighbours who are here in Alice Springs, they say that the alcohol restrictions are a joke.
"The only thing that's happening with the alcohol restrictions is that the drunks, and that's what they are, they are stinking drunks who obstruct, spit, swear and make life unpleasant for all of us, those people are lining up two hours later to buy their grog.
"That is the only change."
(Whatever the short-comings of the trial, throughout the process the Evaluation Reference Group has provided measures of key social indicators, demonstrating certain other changes, but Ms Carney probably does not believe them either.)
Mr Burke moved a motion to censure Dr Toyne and Chief Minister Clare Martin over their handling of crime.
The motion was accepted by the government members but ultimately lost on party lines.
In his motion Mr Burke accused the government of "overseeing an increase in the number of drunks in the CBD of Alice Springs, who make the lives of people who frequent areas such as Todd Mall intolerable". (See report on page ??)
Having expressed his distrust of statistics, Mr Burke resorted to quoting them in support of his argument: "I see figures that show reported assaults increased by 15 per cent from the September quarter to the December quarter.
"I see figures that show housebreakings rose 61 per cent in the same period. I see figures that reveal there was a 40 per cent increase in break-ins to commercial and other premises."
"This appalling picture is painted by the government's own figures."
The trouble is, while the government is careful to compare apples with apples (for example, corresponding quarters), Mr Burke is not. Crime in the December quarter is usually higher than in the September quarter.
Ms Martin's reply was no doubt appealing to those converted to her cause but lacked the punch and incisiveness to move those she needs to convince.
"There is a problem, when you have been in government, of relevancy deprivation. This is what we are seeing the opposition suffer from," she said, an attempt at sarcasm that fell flat.
"We don't have the one shot in the locker approach [mandatory sentencing] that was the CLP's approach in government."
Is she soft on crime? "We have more in our jails now, more people locked up for the crimes they have committed and been convicted of, than ever before."
Her hints that she would like a bipartisan approach to the problems will clearly fall on deaf ears with a party that – for more than a quarter of a century – deliberately and methodically created a large underclass, in one of the world's most prosperous regions, and successfully and cynically exploited the resulting social problems at every election.
Ms Martin seemed to be trying to formulate something like this point when she said: "It takes time, 26 years of a previous government, of their neglect, particularly when you consider how many seats the CLP held in Alice Springs and yet how strongly the people of Alice Springs felt neglected by the government in Darwin."
Maybe the wisest words during the sittings were uttered, in a media release, by Independent Member for Nelson, Gerry Wood: "Cut the political crap and work together."
He called for a bipartisan committee to "produce concrete and practical strategies".
Don't hold your breath.
[This report was compiled after attending parts of the sittings, including the censure motion, and from the uncorrected Hansard.]
CELEBRITY VICTIM STORY RAISES QUESTIONS OF POLICE RESPONSE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Parts of the story about celebrated rock throwing victim Brendan McGrath not yet reported are far more fascinating than those that have.
Although the attack on Mr McGrath could well justify a charge as serious as attempted murder, and was reported within minutes of taking place, two and a half months later a serious police investigation has still not taken place.
Yet Mr McGrath, his friends and family believe they may know who injured him – a white teenager attending the drunken birthday party for a member of a prominent business family.
CLAIMSMr McGrath was mentioned by the Opposition in Parliament when it was sitting in Alice Springs last week, to lend support to its claims that crime is out of control.
Mr McGrath has also featured repeatedly in the local Murdoch press in its saturation coverage of crime.
On February 22 Mr McGrath, aged 24, was at a party in Lackman Terrace. Early in the evening two of his friends drove to the Head Street shopping complex to buy cigarettes.
Mr McGrath says they were confronted by two Aboriginal youths "mouthing off", and although his friends said they wanted no trouble, a fight developed between the four.
Suddenly several more Aboriginal youths appeared "out of nowhere" and set upon Mr McGrath's two friends, pulling one by his long hair and pushing his face into the sharp edge of his ute's aluminium headboard.
Injured and "ropable", the two returned to the party but left soon after to go looking for their attackers.
When his two mates didn't return Mr McGrath and a friend went looking for them, because "we didn't want them to get into trouble".
They couldn't find their friends and turned back to rejoin their party.
Driving west on Head Street past the park adjacent to the shopping centre they noticed a group of 20 to 30 "white kids aged between 13 and 17, average teenage kids" who were behaving in a "disorderly" manner.
Mr McGrath says they were not the group that had attacked his friends.
"We slowed down, wondering what was going on," he says.
Several rocks were thrown at them, one hitting the front of the car.
"Then I got hit in the face straight away," says Mr McGrath. "I didn't see anything else."
His friend, who was driving, accelerated to escape their assailants.
Mr McGrath says the rocks thrown at the beginning of the attack seemed to have been lobbed by hand, but the one that hit him appeared to have been fired from a slingshot.
"This one came from behind the kids we saw.
"It flew dead level with the ground, over a long distance, and straight through the driver's window.
"It just missed the driver's face."
Mr McGrath was hit in his right cheekbone – about two centimetres from his temple where the impact could have been fatal.
When the two returned to the party Mr McGrath rang the police to report the attack, but found little interest in taking a report.
To ensure the police would take action he went to the police station to report in person the attack on himself and also on his friend earlier in the evening.
He spoke to a female officer at the desk who "said it's the second night in a row that there have been taxi windows broken in that same spot".
"At that stage my face was numb," says Mr McGrath.
"The only thing I really noticed was that the hearing in one ear was bad.
"She said did you want to make a report.
"I said I wouldn't mind getting to the hospital.
"I said even if I did make a report and you caught them, what would you do with them anyway?
"And she said, well, it might be a bit of a waste of time.
"I left it with them.
"She took a note of it and gave me a job number."
Mr McGrath went to the hospital, expecting a police officer to visit him there to get further details.
Mr McGrath received superficial treatment and spent the night in hospital.
It wasn't until two weeks later that Mr McGrath, returning to the hospital because "I had problems with my jaw", had X-rays taken and the seriousness of his injury was recognised.
He was evacuated to Adelaide where extensive surgery was performed, inserting a metal plate into the left side of his face.
Mr McGrath made a formal police complaint on April 4 – one and a half moths after the attack.
The police handling of the incident raises serious questions.
Whether or not Mr McGrath, who at the time was in pain and in need of medical treatment, made a formal complaint, the police had been made aware of a serious crime.
CULPRITSIt seems clear the police should have acted immediately, when they would have had the best chance of catching the culprits.
Police Supt. Trevor Bell says a full police investigation into the incident is under way.
"Police certainly take these incidents very seriously.
"If Mr McGrath or his friends or relatives have any further information, it would be much appreciated if they would pass that on to us.
"We certainly wish to catch the culprits involved in these matters, as it is a very serious injury, and we don't want to see these incidents happening in Alice Springs."
Mr McGrath says in the meantime rumours had begun to circulate that he and his friend, armed with baseball bats, had set off on the fateful night to pay back the Aboriginal attackers of his mates.
Mr McGrath says these rumours are completely untrue.
"I've never been in a fight in my life," he says.
The mild-mannered contractor to an automotive firm lives with his wife, Lisa, a clerk at a local school, and baby twins in a neat ex-commission home in the Head Street area.
His hobby is driving and navigating a rally car he owns jointly with a mate.
The disability in his jaw may be permanent, preventing him from fully opening his mouth, and making chewing food difficult.
BIGGEST SHOW IN TOWN COULD BE LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL. Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.
With over 2000 young people involved, by any measure the Centralian Eisteddfod is a successful community event but its volunteer organisers are stretched very thinly to ensure its smooth running.
In many ways dance adjudicator David Wynen from Melbourne summed up the goals of the eisteddfod when he spoke to the performers in the Modern, Contemporary and Disco, Rap or Pop 18 years and under sections on Saturday night.
"I hope you have come away from your participation in the eisteddfod with some knowledge you didn't have before," Mr Wynen said.
"Remember to smile and enjoy your audience; make eye contact with the audience and look alive.
"And remember to perform from the moment you enter the stage to the moment you leave.
"You all may not become professional performers but if you enjoy it, you can pass that enjoyment on to others."
Mr Wynen said he would also like to see more people participating.
"You all can inspire everyone else to join in next year.
"And you girls convince the guys to join you; and guys, joining is one way to meet the girls."
The first Centralian Eisteddfod was held in 1987, to encourage talent by providing an opportunity for adjudication and a platform for building confidence.
By bringing in adjudicators from interstate, participants are able to get an assessment of their work in the areas of dance, music, speech and drama without having to travel to other parts of the country and enter eisteddfods held elsewhere.
Each year the Centralian Eisteddfod Council tries to incorporate changes based on past experience: less popular sections may be dropped, various age categories combined and new sections added, responding to changing interests in town as well as making the event as entertaining as possible.
One change already planned for next year is not to rely solely on the internet and the eisteddfod website for entries and/or information on the event's program.
This was done to save costs this year.
Centralian Eisteddfod Council president John Cooper said they have.been waiting since May last year for an NT Government grant of $1500 for printing costs.
This year their grant from the Department of Community Development, Sport and Cultural Affairs for the overall event was also less.
"Last year we received $7500; this year only $4400; and this year we had a $2000 insurance cost which we have not had before," said Mr Cooper.
Mr Cooper said however that the Alice Springs community, the Araluen Centre and local businesses, including hotels that provide accommodation for adjudicators, continued to be as supportive as ever.
Volunteers continue to help and people continue to donate their ushering points (gained by ushering at Araluen) to help us hold the event.
"I guess the question is can the eisteddfod afford to continue, but the eisteddfod is a great community event," says Mr Cooper.
"It brings people together and gives young people a chance to perform on the Araluen stage which they might not have the opportunity to do so otherwise.
"This year more than 2000 kids have been involved from bands and dance groups and choirs as well as individual performances.
"The eisteddfod is a testing time as there are 120 hours of eisteddfod sessions plus the final concert.
"The committee is getting tired and running out of ideas.
"But I don't think we can abandon the eisteddfod altogether; it is a too important community event.
"But next year we'll try to do things differently including try to have more media coverage, have a syllabus launch, try to better use the expertise of those volunteers willing to help and also not rely wholly on the internet."
CHEAPSKATE GROG SURVEY IGNORES THE 'PHONELESS'. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
A random sample of 400 Alice Springs residents will be surveyed over the telephone to find out their views about the alcohol restrictions trial.
However, the Substance Misuse Action Group (SMAG), which brings together 15 government and non-government agencies, says the result of such a survey will be unrepresentative.
"Significant sectors of the population in Alice Springs don't have a telephone," says SMAG's Nick Gill, who is also manager of DASA and a member of the Prime Minister's Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation (AERF).
SMAG will be writing to the restrictions trial's Evaluation Reference Group, chaired by the Health Department's Ian Crundall, to request "an explanation of their thinking" and to put "our strong feeling that this will result in an unrepresentative survey", says Mr Gill.
Residents of town camps will be surveyed separately, door-to-door.
However, says Mr Gill, the majority of the Aboriginal population in Alice Springs does not live in town camps.
"And we are not only talking about Aboriginal people who don't have telephones.
"Many people in the lowest socio-economic grouping do not and many of them might be thought to have the most personal interest in the alcohol restrictions."
The Alice News first reported that there was a "resource issue" concerning a community survey about the restrictions trial last July.
The telephone survey was originally conceived of as a cheap solution, piggy-backing on a regular (every two to three years) survey of drinking practices and attitudes conducted by the Health Department.
Mr Gill is doubly disturbed about the decision because "part of the AERF's policy partnership agreement with the Northern Territory Government was that there would be a comprehensive and accurate evaluation".
The evaluation component was significant in persuading the AERF to enter this policy partnership, says Mr Gill.
"Provision of funding for evaluation was one of the things the government asked for from the foundation.
"We provided what we were asked for."
Director of the Department of Health's Alcohol and Other Drugs Unit, Darwin-based Alasdair McLay, would not comment on Mr Gill's concerns about AERF funding for evaluation, other than to say that the funding contributed to data collection over the 12-month period of the trial.
Mr McLay says the telephone survey is no longer piggy-backing on the regular household survey, which has been postponed until next year.
He says cost was only one of the considerations in deciding on a telephone survey. The short-time frame and the availability of a suitably qualified and experienced company to carry out the survey were also considerations.
He says he is confident that the two surveys – the telephone survey plus the town camp survey – will result in "a realistic appraisal".
Just a few questions... COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
Many of the ills perpetrated in the name of market research are carried out by back-packers.
They do their work from call centres in North Sydney or perhaps Moorabbin, counting the minutes until the end of their shift and adding up the hourly-rate dollars until they can afford the return bus fare to Lightning Ridge, a place that they have dreamed of since being raised in a provincial town in Belgium and reading a book about opals. I know about this because I have been that backpacker.
My job was to call people at an ungodly hour to ask if they were interested in receiving some literature on ducted vacuum cleaners, the type that have pipes in the wall that are hard to clear when the dog's bone gets sucked into the u-bend.
I collected my pay in sealed brown envelopes from a downtrodden supervisor who explained that it would be dangerous to leave the city to go to remote New South Wales because of the exotic bugs to which my feeble metabolism would never adjust.
Another part of the job was to survey consumers who might have seen an advertisement that featured the Opera House being painted. If they made the mistake of saying that, yes, they had seen it, then I was required to ask them a further 10 questions designed to work out whether the marketing messages were getting across.
Example: "What was the most important feature of the paint being advertised? Was it a) durable b) attractive or…". You get the idea.
Every other respondent seemed to pick up the telephone with a screaming child on his or her shoulder. This made the call twice as long, reduced my already meagre wages and was only brought to an end when the child was sick on the neck of their parent.
If I wasn't paying attention then the answer that I wrote to question nine would be an expletive about the baby puking. My point, dear reader, is that surveys are usually not worth the multiple-choice paper that they are written on.
But an interesting one came out last week by an agency called YouGov. The subject was emigration from the UK.
The survey found that 54 per cent of people in Britain would like to settle in another country.
The reasons cited were traffic jams, local taxes, the rise in crime and lack of space.
Now the BBC has started a series called "Get a New Life", telling people how to do so.Just imagine that 54 per cent figure translated to everyday life. Every other person you meet would rather be somewhere else. I know that the British have a reputation for whining, but surely they can't be serious. This is the fourth most prosperous economy in the world. It is largely safe and peaceful. Margaret Thatcher has been advised by her doctor to stop talking.
Yet still they hate the place so much that they would up sticks for a completely different country. What on earth does this do for the collective psyche of the population?
That's enough about Britain. I was pondering this subject in the queue at K-Mart, one place in our town where there is plenty of time to ponder.
If we carried out a survey, what would be the number of people in Alice Springs who would want to leave and what would be the reasons? Would half of the people in the line at K-Mart want to go? Play just one more Ronan Keating record over the public address system and the whole queue will leave. I emigrated to get away from Ronan Keating, but there is no escape.Judging by the people that I have met, the number for Alice would be a single figure percentage. There are those who are desperate to leave.
I knew one man who told me how many days he had to remain in town every time I saw him for several months ahead of the date. There are those who stay, come what may.
And there are those people who wish to be absolutely nowhere else in the world but here.
Commitment. COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.
Oxford says "commitment" means "obligation or pledge – state of being involved in this…"
I am sitting on the verandah at friend Libby's house in Brisbane, overlooking leafy tiered gardens which fall away to a (can you believe it?) rippling little stream running through the bottom of the garden – rockeries, a wooden bridge, sculptures, statues and in-ground spa have created an air of the tropics, Cairns perhaps, Indonesia more likely. Despite the fact that much of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales is in drought, it's incredibly lush here. Every type of fern, exotic plant and tree simply flourishes. The gardens are awesome, so many shades of green, and although it could have been easy to pang for the brilliant oranges and reds of our desert-scape, I didn't…
David and I flew over to attend a celebration of life and love, a pagan ceremony, not a wedding we were told. It's a commitment only – Brenda, and her live-in lover, Gerry, decided after months of living together, to formalise their arrangement. What was a relatively straight forward de facto affair has now become, with the assistance of the celebrant, a stunningly beautiful white witch, flown in from Melbourne especially for the occasion, and bridal attendants, drawing upon the powers of the elements, earth, wind, fire and water, a commitment for seven years and one day. A sword and broom played significant parts – the sword to sever the ties with the past, the broom to sweep it away.
It's the first such ceremony we've ever attended. What is the significance of seven years and one day? People in long term relationships speak of the seven-year itch, of surviving it (or not). Seven years to build it up and only twenty-four hours to scratch it?
It was a great excuse for friends from everywhere, Europe, New Zealand and interstate, to catch up. It's a few times seven years and one day since Libby, Brenda and I shared a house in another leafy suburb on the outskirts of Brisbane.
Libby came to Alice last August and the aspiring, sometimes dormant, artist in her was awakened by our colours, textures, space and countryside. She enjoyed a five day camping trip around the Centre, taking in our magnificent landmarks, Kata Tjutu, Uluru, Kings Canyon, Mt Connor and beyond. She couldn't believe that it had taken her so long to reshuffle family and work commitments, to allow herself twelve days a solitaire in the Centre.
It was a privilege to be shown her latest selection of works in April, fabric draped over canvas, Centralian colours, some pieces unfinished or waiting for another quiet time, inspiration still there, but too many on-going commitments to allow for precious hours of sitting, creating in her studio.
Then we touched Montville – again – to see great friends, Heather and Keith, ex-Alice, now Blackall Range dwellers. Another timber deck and yet another incredible vista … Heather always has a great selection of reading for visitors to peruse, and one, Moment to Moment, a book of verse by talented American writer, Rod McKuen, caught my attention. I particularly liked this extract: "Men / While traversing / Their lifetimes / Should not take steps / That lead them / Year to year / Or even day to decade / Only moment to moment."
The idea of consciously revelling in the moment is luxurious!
Substitute "people" for "men" and re-think the whole "commitment" thing. Where do the expectations start and stop? From family and educational institutions, social, community, religion, business, the lot: we're always committed to something, to do our best, to survive. At what point do we make a conscious decision to be totally selfish: commit ourselves to ourselves? Go for happiness!!
I rang Libby, who appears (to me) to be totally over-committed to everything that's happening about her. Her answer machine was on – something like, "Can't take your call right now because I'm awfully busy doing other things." I recited the McKuen piece, a short message about priorities and hoped, as I hung up, that those other commitments included her artwork, and that it wouldn't be years (seven and a day maybe?) until she, and, in fact, any other one of us, re-enters the studio, taking control, doing, being, enjoying.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Booze measures: What's the Opposition on about?
Sir,- I was interested to read [Territory Opposition leader] Denis Burke's leaflet that arrived in my letterbox recently, which outlined his concerns about various community and social issues. In particular I found his thoughts on the alcohol restrictions in Alice Springs very interesting.
Mr Burke quoted Shadow Minister for Central Australia, Richard Lim, who had said that the alcohol restrictions "had failed to stop the social disorder that continues in our streets. All you have to do is walk down the mall, walk down around the suburbs to where the outlets are and see for yourself". I wonder if this is the full extent of the CLP's scientific proof justifying their claim that the alcohol restrictions aren't working!
Mr Burke said the "pro-restriction lobby" (which individuals or groups actually make up this lobby was not explained) want to extend the trial, placing further restrictions on the sale of alcohol to beer only.
However, Mr Burke failed to put this into any meaningful context – i.e. he didn't explain if this apparent "beer only" push refers to take-away sales or over the counter sales or both, and nor does he make reference to what, if any, changes to the hours of sale were being proposed. He then went on to pose the following question: "Is this what you want for Alice Springs?"
What is Mr Burke's alternative suggestion, I wonder? More alcohol. Stronger Alcohol? More hours of sale? More dollars spent on alcohol? More sickness and death? He concluded with the following statement: "The only way to deal with this problem is to direct all efforts at the problem drunks, not to penalize the whole community."
Surely, Mr Burke, after all your years in office you have realised that, at times, governments and communities have to make decisions for the good of the whole community, even if that involves inconvenience or sacrifice for the majority of the population.
To give an example, certain roads, in the south of the Territory have had the unlimited speed limit changed to 110 km per hour, relatively recently. This is despite the fact that on the whole, drivers have driven sensibly in unlimited speed zones. Why the change then?
Well, a small minority of drivers have not always driven sensibly. So while the changes may be seen as an inconvenience, or a restriction on rights, by some, the rules were altered for the good of all. While the rules apply to everybody, they were obviously introduced to target the problem drivers.
As a society, we accept that in certain situations, it is better for everyone to be inconvenienced (or penalised) a little, so that an outcome for the greater good of all (i.e. less road deaths) can be achieved.
It is the same principle at work with the alcohol restrictions. Yes, maybe some people feel inconvenienced or penalised by these restrictions, but isn't that a small price to pay if it means that we can restrict the amount of alcohol consumed by problem drinkers?
(It is also worth noting here that concerns about high levels of alcohol consumption are not just confined to a minority group in Alice Springs, but to the community as a whole, who consume alcohol at a much higher per capita rate than the rest of the country.) Nobody is saying that the alcohol restrictions have been problem free, but hey, this community is at least prepared to try something different to help deal with a significant social issue.
What kind of society do you want to be a part of, Mr Burke? One where individuals merely look after themselves, and disregard more vulnerable members of the community. Or a society where people are prepared to selflessly sacrifice for the greater good of all?
RACING: CATRIONA QUEEN OF THE ALICE SPRINGS CUP. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The Alice Springs Cup Carnival finished in the manner promoters dream of when local trainer Catriona Green was able to take her place before the podium to celebrate a win in the feature race, the XXXXGold Alice Springs Cup on Monday afternoon.
Green was the force behind the win of Duchovny, who had come out of a regime in Adelaide where the six year old bay gelding had performed at Oakbank over Easter and prior to that at Cheltenham Park.
With Simon Price on board, the top weight settled early in the running and allowed the popular choice (by name) The Spunk to lead past the winning post the first time on the 2000 metre journey.
Duchovny travelled well around the back and in coming into the straight took advantage of the running and headed for home in a strong finish which proved too good for the Steven Brown trained, Darwin performer Vitelli, with Viv Oldfield's Cypress Lakes able to snatch third place in a photo finish.
The Cup Day racing was full of such intrigue from the first, when Paul Denton aboard Edge to Edge was able to lead virtually all the way and out gun local Cartoon Hero, who finished over the top of fellow Centralian Upton.
In the second the reason behind betting horses according to name was reinforced when Believe in Victory swept past the heavily backed Regent Copy in the straight to take the money. The Stephen Paynter three year old came home with plenty to spare, with Go Bragh taking third place.
The 1600 metre Australian Fuel Distributors handicap proved to be a sentimental journey for Old Swampy, who was faithfully supported in the ring and ran the race out accordingly, winning with ease from local Gong Napar and fellow local Larapinta Lad.
The William Ingliss & Son Two Year Old Plate gave jockey Phillip Crich, and more so his visiting father, a reason to celebrate. Drifter, the top weight, dictated terms throughout and won in fine style from the fancied Not Abandoned, with the flyer Getting Lucky, who careered over 10 lengths in front around the back, holding on for third.
The Queen of the Desert Handicap for Class Six Fillies and Mares was a keenly contested 1200 metre race, with Covet's Gem from the Ken Rogerson stable taking the money. The well supported Cover Gal, looking to butter up from last year, followed her home, with Darwinite Amber Style in place for third money.
The 1200 metre Qantas Class Two proved to be one for the smart punters, when Palace Lad jumped as favourite and won accordingly. Saratoga Lad and Kotara completed the placings.
In the Zuellig Insurance handicap the fireball Scotro was all the go in the betting, but Monday was Dick Leech's day when his Aspen Star performed superbly to take the money from Skiing and the popular Galliano.
Sprint Day racing at the park proved to be a tussle between two forces, the Top End and the Centre, on Saturday.
Early in the piece the dogged Soccer put Centralians on the map with a desperate lunge for glory to out-perform recent invaders Make Me A King and favourite Crimson Rabbitt over the Class Four 1100 metres.
In the Class One over the same distance, however, the Darwin influence took over, with trainer Annmarie White and jockey Paul Denton ensuring that Queen of the North lived up to her favouritism, downing Viv Oldfield's Burran and Rajah Mahal.
White then buttered up with the well supported Mickymoo, with Denton again in the saddle over the Class Six 1000 metres. Mickymoo stormed to the line by three quarters of a length, with Dark Brandy running on impressively for second, and Jeremiah Bullfrog filling the placings.
Darwin's Caligula, the top weight, then proved an easy winner over the 1100 metres in a Class Four field, when he showed the opposition no mercy with an almost five length win over Sylvan Green and Border.
The 1900 metre Colemans Cup for open competition tipped the scales back in favour of the Red Centre when Tim Norton paced Le Mire to a three length win over the outsider Accelerating, with Red Paddy filling the minors.
Alice based Terry Gillett's stables then sounded a warning of better things to come, when Gerrard surprised with a gutsy run home to take out the Class Three Handicap over 1400 metres. He proved too good for Brookman and the favourite Zadrovski.
The power from the north kicked in again, however, when White saw her third winner for the day in Polisky in the Class D handicap over 1200 metres. Polisky proved too strong for favourite Manatrice to win by a neck, with Cheque Attack finishing third.
The last on Saturday was the prestigious Schweppes Pioneer Sprint over 1200 metres and worth $40,000. In this the infamous pair of Scotro and Nappa from the Gillett stable followed a tried and tested pattern of racing. Scotro, an absolute speedster headed to the lead from the jump, with southern performer and favourite Stand By Me applying plenty of pressure.
In the mean time Nappa camped calmly behind, with Tim Norton patiently waiting for the turn to make his claim. Scotro, who has raced the other way interstate, drifted on the track, making a hole for Nappa along the fence.
In the charge into the straight Nappa made every post a winner along the rails, while Stand By Me and then Erogenous staked their claims.
Nappa showed plenty in the run home and took the sprint by three quarter of a length, from Erogenous with Stand By Me a creditable third.
AUSSIE RULES: THE TIME HAS COME FOR CHANGE. Comment by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The hallmark of the modern world has been change.
In industry, in recreation, in the way we communicate, change has meant those willing to identify the position at hand and act on it are those who survive. Those who don't respond soon become dinosaurs.
In the case of Australian Rules in rural Australia, hundreds of clubs throughout the bush over the last decade or so have realised their plight and taken steps to avoid doom.
In the case of many, the distasteful decision to amalgamate, often with an arch rival, has been the saviour of a club. In other cases whole leagues have had to restructure to keep afloat.
The telltale cracks of a need for change and restructure have been showing for years in the CAFL, but on Sunday the whole shooting match revealed itself when Rovers had to forfeit to West prior to the second league game at Traeger Park.
Frankly, Sunday was a dark day for the diehards of Aussie Rules in town, as both Under Eighteen games were also forfeited.
B Grade went through the motions, and then in the A Grade curtain-raiser Pioneer booted 34.24 (228) to Federals 1.4 (10) in a game where players and supporters were there in body, but far from satisfied in spirit.
As Pioneer piled on seven goals to one in the final term, attention became increasingly focussed on the Rover change room, where only a dozen stalwarts had gathered to lace up their boots and don the Blues guernsey for the match to come.
In good time the final siren blew, providing Federal with some relief from the Pioneer plunder, but for the fans who had gathered for the afternoon to celebrate the playing of our national game, Steve Menzies' announcement of the pending forfeit left all in a state of sheer gloom.
The lack of numbers in the Rovers' camp can be explained by the fact that at Ntaria a communities carnival was in full swing and country players who normally help Rovers make up the A Grade numbers, were committed to bush footy.
Sunday's forfeits, however, should be looked at straight in the eye, and action taken to ensure the survival of the game in the Centre. It must not be swept under the carpet.
Rovers and Federal have felt the pinch in terms of local player strength and depth for at least 10 years. In that era of the ‘eighties (that has well and truly left us) bankers, stock agents, abattoir workers, schoolteachers, and railway men yielded the two clubs an ongoing supply of players. These days the flow from south has been halted, and the change has meant each of the clubs seeking the support of communities-based footballers to field sides in A Grade, B Grade and Under Eighteens.
This ploy to recruit from the bush has meant Rovers and Federal soldiering on, with some good seasons and some pretty dismal.
But the going has been tough, with coaches often depending on players who are unavailable to train together during the week, and in many cases, players of a Sunday have already played either B Grade, Under Eighteens or even both.Hence the CAFL has been faced with a league dominated by a few teams, where often the match margins are so great that supporter numbers have dwindled.
During the same era, Country footy of a Saturday has emerged as the competition to watch. The standard on field has rapidly risen towards being equal to that of a Sunday. Communities have the player depth to field several sides, and their administrative and support teams are growing in professionalism.
In terms of sideline support the crowds of a Saturday are in contrast to the Sunday few, and it is the Saturday revenue that keeps the ball bouncing at Traeger Park.
With each of these factors in mind Sunday's events make it plain to one and all that change must take place at a league level.
Rather than going through another 15 weeks of disappointing Sundays, the opportunity to implement restructure is with us now. By mixing and matching Saturday and Sunday feature games, the League may lay the foundations for a single competition of two divisions for the seasons to come. Through a promotion and relegation system between the divisions, a healthy Saturday and Sunday competition could prevail.
A courageous change now may be just what the doctor ordered!
Coincidentally, the government of the day made an announcement on Sunday to upgrade the Traeger Park grandstand facilities to the tune of $3 million. The state of play within the CAFL needs now to lift to justify to the non-football public this expenditure.
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