ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
July 2, 2003.



THE SHOW: ALICE, WE'RE READY FOR YOU! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
If the man himself hasn't come, he's sent his gear.
But this year, he's here in force, with grandsons in tow.
The crowds to the Territory's shows, including Alice's, are "immense and growing", making the Territory a "last bastion of family entertainment".
"The whole family can have good day out once they have paid their entry - they don't have to pay another penny if they wish, the pavilions are there, the show ring, the sideshows.
"The show is the big annual event.
"Down south, there are so many festivals and other events, the agricultural show is declining. It's not the most popular event of the year."
Johnny has certainly seen some changes here in the last quarter century: "Modernisation is number one, commercialism number two, and better roads of course, they are a very outstanding feature."
He says "support from Aboriginal people is not as great as what we had 25 years ago".
"Aboriginal people used to be very happy to see us show blokes come to town. These days there's a lot of support from the white population, and Aboriginal people are spending less."
As "a Territorian not by birth, but by heart", Johnny regrets the Territory's loss of "characters".
"When you came across the Barkly and Stuart Highways every stopover had its characters.
"Every stopover had a group of Aboriginals around it - they were a tourist attraction on their own.
"And there were other very outstanding characters.
"There are very few left - you have to go off the beaten track to find a character now."
At the show itself, there have also been changes. Apart from the obvious sophistication of riding devices, there's also a later start time.
"When the show first started we'd be up and ready by daybreak, now nine o'clock is plenty of time to get ready." And spending power not what it used to be.
"Years ago a dollar was worth a dollar. You'd give a quid to a kid and he'd have a lot of fun at the show and go home with two or three bob in his pocket.
"Today a quid doesn't buy too much."
In this at least, the Territory is just like the other states.




PORT WINE WILL BE ON AGENDA OF LIQUOR BOSS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Licensing Commissioner Peter Allen says the commission's decision on the future of the liquor trial, due to be handed down on July 10, will "have a great deal to say about port - it must".
He says if he had been asked to adjust the terms of reference of the trial during its course over the last 12 months, he would have considered the request.
He says he discussed problem port drinking with Ian Crundall, chair the trial's Evaluation Reference Group (ERG) some two months into the trial.
Together they "decided to let the trial proceed to see how it panned out in the longer term".
He says the problems arising from port drinking "dissipated after three months".
Nonetheless, he says if he had been asked by the ERG to reconsider the terms of reference, "the sensible thing would have been for us to listen".
"They may not have seen themselves as having the mandate to do that," says Mr Allen.
In making their decision now on the trial's future, commission members are considering more than the ERG's report and the "independent evaluation" of the trial by Dr Crundall and Chris Moon.
The response to the evaluation, prepared for Congress and Tangentyere Council by Dennis Gray of the National Institute for Drug Research, will be taken into account.
Mr Allen has also interviewed the individual members of the ERG as well as former members of the commission, Alice residents Brian Rees and Mary Rydsdale (there are no Alice Springs residents on the current commission) and had transcripts circulated.
He has had discussions with Richard Lim (MLA, Greatorex), Loraine Braham (MLA, Braitling) as well as Syd Stirling, Minister for Racing, Gaming and Licensing, and Peter Toyne, Minister for Central Australia.
He has circulated his clippings file and all letters received.
"It has been pretty exhaustive and exhausting. In my view we have gone the whole hog to get the information we need," says Mr Allen.





LETTER: Alice was let down by poor grog trial report: Congress.

Sir,- re: "Grog trial report fair" (letter to the editor, Alice News, June 25).
The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress also believes that the report on the Alice Springs alcohol trial by Dr Ian Crundall et al is inaccurate and of poor scientific quality.
It is for this reason that we asked Professor Dennis Gray to do a critique of Dr Crundall's report (see Alice News, June 11). Contrary to Dr Crundall's assertions, Prof Gray did indeed speak to key people, including people at Congress and Tangentyere, before he undertook his critique. Prof Gray has followed the progress of the Alice Springs alcohol trial very closely over the past 12 months.
As was claimed by Prof Gray, it is entirely true that Dr Crundall and the majority of the Evaluation Reference Group (ERG) members stood by and did nothing, even though it had become abundantly clear that there had been a major shift to port in the first few months of the trial, and that this was undermining the trial and creating unnecessary harm in the community.
Whilst it is true that the ERG members and Dr Crundall were not themselves given the power to make any changes to the trials, they did have the power to recommend changes. Indeed Dr Crundall had primary responsibility for making suggestions to the Licensing Commission if the ERG decided that changes were needed to the alcohol trial.
SHIFT In fact, when Congress requested through the ERG that action be taken on the port issue after six months' worth of data showed a continued large shift to port, it was Dr Crundall who led the argument against such action. He erroneously claimed that the next three months of data, which the ERG members had not yet seen, revealed that the shift to port had changed and there was a much higher level of consumption of beer and spirits.
Congress had been arguing that the heaviest drinkers were choosing their alcohol according to price and that the ERG needed to recommend banning all cheap products based on the 90 cents per standard drink benchmark (similar to the price of full strength beer). Dr Crundall's assertions undermined this argument because, if it was true that the shift was to beer and spirits, then the price argument was wrong.
Much later Dr Crundall conceded to the ERG that he had "misread the data" and that in fact there had been no shift to spirits and beer as a result of the trial, only to port. Far from using his role as a scientist to assist the ERG to make informed decisions, in this instance his advice in fact misinformed the ERG members at a critical time. In particular, Congress believes that he seriously undermined our attempt to get the ERG to accept that action needed to be taken on the port issue earlier this year. Dr Crundall in last week's article is quick to attempt to deflect responsibility to other organisations and individuals, but the fact is that he failed to exercise the leading responsibility that was given to him to recommend changes to the trial based on the evaluation data.
EVIDENCE In spite of overwhelming evidence of the shift to port and the harm this was causing, he did not act and he advised the ERG not to act. Prof Gray did not dismiss a ban on port as a waste of time: he simply dismissed Crundall's proposal to ban port for only three months and then, if there was no improvement, to remove all the restrictions. Congress supports Prof Gray's view. It is very likely that a ban on port on its own will have little or no effect on alcohol consumption because of further product substitution .
In this regard, based on the Crundall recommendation, we face the real possibility of all the 2002/03 restrictions being removed and the community having to then live with both the shift to port and the reintroduction of cask wine. This would be disastrous and, in our view, is a very irresponsible recommendation. It is also a recommendation that lacks scientific credibility. Dr Crundall then makes the extraordinary statement that "no evidence" was produced to support the view that price is one of the principal mechanisms for controlling alcohol sales and consumption. This more than any other statement highlights the problem of having Dr Crundall as the ERG expert - he seems to be unaware of important scientific literature in the very area in which he is supposed to have expertise.
Numerous reports from all over the world over many years have revealed that price is indeed a key determinant of sales, consumption and harm.
PRICE The World Health Organisation published a report in 1995 "Alcohol and the Public Good" which summarised the evidence to that point and the evidence has only gotten stronger since then. In addition, the data from the Alice Springs trial has provided further evidence. It is most likely that the heaviest drinkers shifted to port rather than other products because it became the cheapest form of alcohol on the market, retailing at prices as low as 28 cents per standard drink.
An expert scientist leading an evaluation in the area of alcohol should not need to be spoon fed evidence from others in order to become aware of the scientific literature. This comment raises serious questions as to whether Dr Crundall has the requisite knowledge and skills to provide expert opinion on alcohol policy.
Dr Crundall also claims now that a more detailed version of the report is available on the website. If there is a more complete version of the report, then this should have been sent well before now to all of the ERG members.
Dr Crundall conceded that the level of statistical analysis in his report is inadequate but then asserts that the proper scientific analysis undertaken by Prof Gray makes "little difference to the conclusions drawn". This is not true.
The re-analysis of the data clearly shows that the reduction in total take-away trading hours by 10 hours per week had a significant effect on the reduction in alcohol related harms between 2 and 8pm.
Dr Crundall had asserted that all this had achieved was a shift in the harms to later into the night. This is a major difference. Even though the ERG members all knew that this restriction had been effective and therefore opted to keep it Dr Crundall's analysis of the data did not lend much hard evidence to support this view.
We believe that the ERG may well have considered calling for greater reductions in total take-away trading hours, if it had had the opportunity to learn about the evidence now presented by Prof Gray.
Again, the WHO report suggests that, next to price, the next most important determinant of consumption is the total number of take-away trading hours. The Alice Springs evaluation would have confirmed this but Dr Crundall did not analyse the data correctly. Congress believes that we should further restrict total take-away trading hours and it is clear that this is very likely to have further beneficial effects. Nowhere in Prof Gray's report does he claim that sales of alcohol dropped during the trial. Dr Crundall's claim that this is a "major error" in his analysis is wrong. Unfortunately, the community of Alice Springs has been let down by the poor quality of the evaluation and by the failure of Dr Crundall to recommend to the ERG to take action to address the shift to port in a meaningful way.
It would appear that Dr Crundall misinterpreted the data such that the evaluation fails to make appropriate, evidence-based recommendations. Prof Gray has helped to rectify the situation by his analysis of the same data.
It is clear that the way forward is to close the loopholes in the restrictions, but this time ensuring the regulations are based on price, not container or product type, and to reconsider further reductions in the total number of take-away trading hours.
Stephanie Bell
Director, Congress

Sir,- re: "Grog trial report fair" (letter to the editor, Alice News, June 25). All I can say is what a load of bulldust.
This Ian Crundall doesn't live on the same planet as the residents of this town? Changing people's drinking habits from seven per cent wine to 16 per cent port! Crazy. Thank God he isn't running my firm - I would be broke.
G.A Govnor
Alice Springs




ALICE NATIONAL TRUST SAYS: WE'LL SURVIVE! Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Four Alice Springs residents have nominated for election to the Council of the National Trust of Australia (NT), "optimising our position", says chairman of the MacDouall Stuart branch committee and long time councillor, Dave Leonard.
This comes in the wake of resignations of three out of six local councillors and the formation of a new heritage advocacy group, Heritage Alice Springs (HAS).
Mr Leonard has re-nominated. Others nominations are Bill Low (also a long time councillor), Brenda Liemandt and Tim Newland. The elections are due in July. Under new voting rules, each branch must have a councillor, and there will be a maximum of three general councillors from any region.
In Mr Leonard's view, this structure allows fair representation of the regions.
The Territory trust is "probably the most democratic of all the trusts in its council make-up", he says.
On the local front, Mr Leonard says the branch expects to be able to form a new committee at its AGM due in August, despite the loss of some members to HAS.
He says the full extent of the loss will not be known until February or March next year, as memberships are not all renewed on the same date.
He says some people are renewing their membership while also joining the new organisation. The Alice News reported last week that HAS membership has topped 70 and is growing.
Mr Leonard says the MacDouall Stuart branch is continuing to work on an education project which will open up the Hartley Street classroom to schools "so that students can experience the site and its history and the different style of teaching arrangements".
He says this project is close to being finalised and will help realise one of the branch goals, which is to promote heritage education. The branch is also considering options about staffing the office, located at the old school, for at least 20 hours a week, to restore it as the focal point for the National Trust in Alice. The office has been closed since May 2.
National Trust funds are "extremely tight and not increasing", says Mr Leonard.
"We have the choice of doing less or raising more funds, and the committee is not confident about the possibility of raising more funds," he says.
Volunteers are continuing to keep the Stuart Town Gaol open to visitors, six days a week, organising their own roster with some help from Mr Leonard.
As for the trust's valuable rented heritage properties - Les Hanson House, 86 Hartley Street (Catherine House), and the Hartley Street School - Mr Leonard says the trust council's decision last year to allow rent monies to be set aside for their maintenance, ensures that they will be well looked after.
He says the amount required for maintenance varies from year to year.
"In the past we relied on grants in aid from the Federal and Territory governments for restoration and maintenance, but these have virtually dried up in the last five years.
"There is no money for heritage bricks and mortar.
"The Federal Government is not interested in the cultural heritage of this country," says Mr Leonard.




HOLD THE LINE, PLEASE: POLLIES IN PHONE FEUD.

Rural Territorians will face a fully privatised telecommunications market, says Warren Snowdon, Member for Lingiari, responding to CLP support for Government moves to prepare for the full sale of Telstra.
Mr Snowdon says CLP opposition to the sale in the Senate would have been an effective barrier to the full sell-off.
"Just like their National Party colleagues, the CLP has sold out its bush constituents," says Mr Snowdon, referring to his survey of Lingiari last year, which showed that 90 per cent of respondents wanted to keep majority public ownership of Telstra.
"How can the CLP now expect Territorians to believe that they speak on behalf of regional and remote Australia? "They should be embarrassed by the Government's decisions, but there's no sign they care." Mr Snowdon says the Esten Inquiry into regional telecommunications has been a sham and the Government's response will do nothing to improve service levels.
However, Territory Senator Nigel Scullion (CLP) says the Government response to the Esten inquiry recognises his concerns, and the concerns of regional Australia, "by guaranteeing that the legislation and measures to address equipment and service standards will be implemented".
Says Sen Scullion: "The Government has accepted all 39 recommendations made by the Esten Inquiry.
"This response, including the requirement on Telstra to maintain its local Telstra Country Wide presence in the Northern Territory, shows that the Government is committed to ensuring that people living in rural, regional and remote Australia reap maximum benefit from the communications revolution. "The RTI was asked to report on whether telecommunications services in regional, rural and remote Australia are adequate and the arrangements that should be put in place to ensure all Australians continue to share in the benefits of further service improvements and developments in technology.
"The measures announced will be delivered in full, regardless of any change in the future ownership of Telstra." The measures include $30 million over four years from January 1, 2004 to provide: █ $15.9 million capital funding for further expansion of terrestrial mobile phone coverage to small population centres and key highways in regional Australia; █ $10.1 million for information technology training and support in rural and remote areas of Australia where formal training programs are not currently accessible; and
█ A further $4 million to expand the Satellite Phone Subsidy Scheme to subsidise handset costs for people living or working in the most remote parts of Australia, beyond CDMA or GSM terrestrial mobile phone coverage.
In order to ensure the adequacy of services, the RTI also recommend that Telstra be required to undertake to make a number of improvements to its existing services and that such improvements be "locked in". The government will therefore require Telstra to provide the Government with formal undertaking on: █ how it will improve, as soon as possible, the quality of phone services affected by Pair gain systems; █ a timetable for the upgrade of its small number of remaining older radio concentrator (ARCS and DRCS) telephone systems; and █ its strategy to improve the performance of identified worst performing exchange service areas with timeframes and funding commitments. Senator Scullion said the Government will also impose a license condition on Telstra to provide a minimum dial-up speed for all Australians of 19.2kpbs or equivalent speed over its fixed line network. "This measure will ensure the benefits provided under the Internet Assistance Program will be guaranteed into the future," says Sen Scullion.




BLOOD ON OUR HANDS: THE DEBATE.

Sir,- Re: "Blood on our hands" ( Alice Springs News, May 14).
I am instructed to write on behalf of the Ali-Curung Community Council Inc, the Ali-Curung Law and Justice Committee, the Yuendumu Community Law and Justice Committee and other Centralian communities with whom we are working closely on law and justice issues.
Whilst we agree with Dr Sutton and others there are high levels of violence on many communities, and that Commonwealth and Territory government policies in Aboriginal affairs have not been successful in addressing these issues, we disagree about how these issues are best addressed.
The "model" being proposed by Dr Sutton, in our view, contains many of the very elements that have contributed to policy and program failures in the past of which he is critical. Essentially he advocates the abandonment of Aboriginal customary law, coupled with an increased policing presence, and a reliance on external intervention as the response to law and justice issues in the bush.
He is reported as saying "external intervention is what is required". This, in our view, continues the process of the marginalisation of one culture in favour of another, and by implication detracts from the ability of our people to use the strengths of our culture to contribute to the solution.
He should also know the abandonment of customary law, which can be seen as the glue holding our culture together, is not a tenable proposition for many Aboriginal people. Nor are proposals that simply call for an increased government and policing intervention and a reliance on external agencies to find solutions.
We see the close cooperation between the two laws as essential in addressing violence. Proposals supporting non-cooperation are flawed as models. Our experience and that of a number of other communities involved in law and justice work is quite different, and at odds with Dr Sutton's proposals. We are asking for a greater, not lesser role in law and justice on our communities.
External intervention as government's primary response to violence, as proposed by Dr Sutton, has proven in the past to have limited value, and there is evidence to suggest from our work that poorly handled intervention simply defers or exacerbates the successful resolution of a problem.
For example, the Kurduju Committee, which has representatives from Ali-Curung, Lajamanu, Yuendumu and Willowra communities, records eight different types of violence that can affect social cohesion on communities. The majority of these disputes have cultural origins, such as those relating to the use of sorcery and dispute between families over customary marriage arrangements. The mechanisms for resolving these disputes are subtly different in each case and often require different people to be involved. These mechanisms may not be apparent to outside observers but are readily understood by community members. (From the Kurduju Committee Report 2001.)
Additionally, we know from our own experiences with government that the majority of agencies are located many hundreds of kilometres from communities and they are not resourced to undertake the extensive and ongoing preventative and educative work that is required for successful early intervention. Visits are usually of a crisis nature. Dr Sutton's proposals are based on a number of improbabilities, such as:-
█ that Aboriginal people will want to, or can be forced to, abandon customary law;
█ that they will accept external intervention in their affairs as the main response to addressing violence;
█ that elements of customary law cannot be utilised in finding solutions to violence and other issues;
█ that Aboriginal people are not seen as part of the solution; and,
█ that government agencies will be massively funded to provide successful early intervention.
The article (and argument) refers mainly to the need for strengthening governments' and the policing role, and therefor by implication decreasing the community role. These are tried and failed practices, and are possibly the origin of many of the failed policies referred to by Dr Sutton.
Other arguments presented in your article are part of the academic debate over the value, or otherwise, of the notion of "traditional" customary law. This is a dated concept, and things have moved on in terms of how our communities and a growing number of other communities view their involvement with both Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal law.
In our view, there is no longer the place nor the time for academic or philosophical debates about customary law. These debates assist in retarding the progress of Aboriginal social development because it assumes and imposes a static notion to the application of customary law in communities today.
The future of social development in our communities today is best informed by practical and relevant strategies that have worked well for us in our communities. Customary law is an important element of this process, but it is not the primary focus for how our communities deal with law and justice. Customary law is complimentary to a range of other initiatives and programs.
It is only since our community assumed a broader and more responsible role in law and justice, which includes the management and control of a number of programs and initiatives, that we have seen improvements in our situation. Prior to this we relied on external intervention and it did not work for us. Now we develop and implement ways to address issues that we understand and know to work.
Of immediate concern to us is the fact that our people fill the jails and clog the justice system. Primarily because of offences against non-Indigenous law, not because of offences against Aboriginal law. This is mainly through property offences, alcohol related offences, vehicle and driving offences and anti-social behaviour.
If we can strengthen the role of elders, and families or incorporate elements of customary law in addressing contemporary law and justice issues, let's do so. Similarly, if we can moderate and mediate in influencing alternatives to the full consequences of customary law outcomes, let's do so. We do this on our communities.
This means both contemporary and customary issues leading to violence must be managed. The logic follows that there must be an incorporation of strategies adopted from both cultures and both systems of law in order to be effective. The strengths and protection from both laws must be maximised, but this cannot happen if one law is continually marginalised.
Dr Sutton provides many obvious cultural reasons why there are limitations to the effectiveness of Aboriginal Community Police Officers, Community Corrections Officers and others in maintaining a policing role in remote communities.
But rather than using these as reasons to downplay Aboriginal participation in finding solutions, it is a matter of developing relevant support systems to enhance the effectiveness of community initiatives.
We have developed law and justice committees, which include representatives from council, community organisations, elders, traditional owners, tribal council, night patrol, safe house staff, community police and others.
These are not "traditional" structures as such, but they are community-endorsed forums that are ideally placed to make courts aware of customary law implications, and to use elements of customary law in community dispute resolution.
The committees have two vital roles:
█ a formal role with the courts and various agencies involved in the justice system, including pre-court conferencing and diversionary programs; and,
█ an informal role in facilitating community dispute resolution.
As such we are able to exercise considerable influence across both systems of law.
At Ali-Curung for example the safe house and night patrol staff (mainly women) have the primary responsibility for facilitating dispute resolution. This role is endorsed and supported by the men. We have been able to effectively intervene in customary law practices that are perceived to be having an adverse effect on families and the community generally, and arbitrate resolutions in these situations.
We take the view that customary law has an important place in maintaining social control, and as such it must be seen to be working fairly and equitably and within a proper framework for the community. We are well aware that in some communities due process has broken down and been replaced by "grog" influenced customary law, or by powerful families trying to dominate the process, or because culture is no longer strongly practised.
This disadvantages some people and groups and is not tolerated on our communities. We have a responsibility to intervene in these situations.
We are not saying the communities in the NPY Lands referred to in your report do not warrant additional policing resources, but these should not become the primary (and possibly only) focus for addressing violence. Rather, the policing response should complement, not dominate, community based initiatives.
Peter Ryan,
Senior Project Officer, Aboriginal Law and Justice Strategy, Kurduju Regional Crime Prevention Committee.




THE DAYS OF TRIBAL LAW ARE OVER.

The Alice News sought clarification from Mr Ryan on the following points, however it had not been received by the time of going to press:
█ If a serious crime is committed, how it is dealt with?
█ Is every situation negotiable or are there clear parameters?
█ How does Aboriginal law sit with Australian law on the communities. Does one law prevail over the other, and if so, which one?
█ How are the police working with the communities?
█ Are there any measurements available yet of the success of this approach?
The News also offered Dr Sutton the opportunity to comment, which he did as follows:- I have read Mr Ryan's intervention on behalf of Aboriginal people in the Tanami region and unhappily find it deeply flawed on almost every basic point.
The argument that everyone should wait even longer for the alleged customary law or "culture" solutions to take effect on an epidemic of serious crimes has to be measured against its own massive and growing failure for the last 30 years, something I have seen with my own eyes since entering the indigenous field in 1969. Large numbers of Aboriginal people leave the "cultural glue" of which he writes and have been urbanising or alternating between bush and town lives, and marrying out, indicating something of their own choice in the mix. Many thus seek individual, not "community-based" and taxpayer-funded bureaucratic solutions to the issues they face. Maybe they know something.
Much more important is that the demands for external intervention to which I referred are coming from Aboriginal people in the remote communities and elsewhere, something I was reporting and reflecting in my remarks rather than "improbably" coming up with the notion all by myself.
I agree with them. Their demands are not new. They make these demands against resistance from those still defending the effective abandonment of the maintenance of social order at acceptable international levels.
If those making these demands for intervention are wrong, Mr Ryan should be arguing against the NPY women delegates and the fellow community members who share their views, as well as myself. He did not take that path, perhaps not wanting to tell them why they are wrong.
Why are they wrong to place such an emphasis on policing improvements, as against trusting a kinship-based society in dramatically changed conditions to develop effective solutions? Is his article a reflection of the freely expressed views of women, including survivors of family violence, in addition to senior men, in his region of employment?
In the absence of any convincing evidence that ghettoised communities in the Centre and elsewhere do indeed generally (if not uniformly) take responsibility for effective social control of behaviours that lead to rape, child abuse, murder and serious assaults, and keep them at a tolerable level, Mr Ryan's model of community empowerment is an ageing emperor with no clothes.
The statistics are clear. Less germane matters are more arguable, I agree. However, where crimes such as serious assault and homicide are not involved, nor legal matters such as land tenure, most applications of local custom should be regarded as in the domain of personal, familial and voluntary activity, rather than politicised through the involvement of ATSIC-subsidised committees and functionaries and used to prop up racially discriminatory approaches to crime prevention.
Aboriginal victims and potential victims deserve the same commitment to their protection as that which is enjoyed by the rest of our society. When it comes to the truly disadvantaged - the seriously vulnerable members of communities - there is simply no time left to allow pie-in-the-sky ╬seventies indigenous liberation politics and its various unfulfillable promises to go unchallenged. Lives are on the line every day.
Dr Peter Sutton




HEALTH AND TAX DOLLARS BEHIND A WALL OF SILENCE. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The trouble with Aboriginal health initiatives, mostly Federal Government funded, is that progress is and has been measured by the amount of taxpayers' money spent, not the number of people cured, rehabilitated or saved from illness and early death.
In this context serious questions are raised by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress' assertion (Alice News, June 25) that it is accountable only "to the Aboriginal community S  and its funding bodies".
Not to the general community which has a responsibility to all its members, and neither to the taxpayer who provides around $7m a year for the organisation.
So we have government run health services, such as the hospital, whose expenditure is transparent down to the last suppository.
And we have a government financed health organisation that gets away with operating in total secrecy.
Worse still, neither Federal Health Minister Kay Patterson nor NT Senator Nigel Scullion (CLP) will provide details about the use of public funds they are passing on to Congress.
They are clearly swallowing the Congress line that "a fundamental principle of Aboriginal community control and self-determination is that it is to the Aboriginal community that Congress is primarily accountable".
On what the government of Senators Patterson and Scullion, as well as previous governments, have been basing their decisions to fund Congress is a mystery: Congress deputy director Donna Ah Chee, responding to the Alice News, acknowledges that much of the data that would report changes in key health indicators "is not analysed by governments at a low enough level to separate Alice Springs from other areas".
For instance, there is no Alice Springs figure for the much-discussed Aboriginal infant mortality rate. However, in the Territory as a whole, Ms Ah Chee reports, there has been a ten fold decline in Aboriginal infant mortality rates over the 30 year period that Congress has been in operation and it is continuing to fall to below 15 deaths per 1000 live births (compared to around 200 per 1000 in the mid-sixties).
Ms Ah Chee says Congress believes "that if data for Alice Springs was separated out the decline would almost certainly be even larger".
There are, however, Alice Springs figures for another key indicator, birth weights.
Says Ms Ah Chee: "By 1995 the average birth weight of Aboriginal babies from Alice Springs was as good as the average birth weight of non-Aboriginal babies and it has remained roughly equivalent since then. This is a noteworthy achievement."
Only now is Congress itself, through the Co-operative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (CRCAH), applying for a research project "to explore the extent to which the provision of primary health care services, especially ante-natal care, may have contributed to this improvement".
It seems extraordinary that this is an optional level of scrutiny, and one that may even be declined. Why haven't all parties, in supporting the provision of separate services, wanted to know whether or not they are being effective?
Ms Ah Chee also reports that data on renal disease has been broken down by ATSIC regions.
"For Alice Springs Aboriginal people renal disease rates are eight times the national average, but for Aboriginal people living in remote Central Australia, outside Alice Springs, the rates are nearly 30 times the national average.
"While these rates are bad, again access to a high quality primary health care service may partly explain the variation," says Ms Ah Chee, although she is unable to say for sure.
She argues, and it is widely accepted, that "other social determinants" - employment, degrees of social inclusion, education and so on - influence a population's health.
Measuring the impact of any health service, taking into account all of these influencing factors, is "an extremely complex task", says Ms Ah Chee. "However it is not a task that Congress seeks to avoid.
"In fact over the last three years Congress has been lobbying for such a research project to be developed to see if it possible to measure the impact of our services."
What's amazing is that such a study hasn't been a prerequisite of the "funding bodies" during three decades.
Ms Ah Chee also makes the point "that there is no requirement on GPs or other health service providers to demonstrate an improvement in health outcomes in order to receive their funding".
She says "doctors groups have resisted attempts by government to make them more accountable for the taxpayer's funds that they are spending".
GPs generally only access government funds if patients choose their services. (The Alice News has given broad coverage to the controversy over the proposed after hours GP clinic where public funds are involved.) The patients' choice exercises a kind of quality assurance: you're not satisfied with your doctor, you go see someone else.
Congress isn't exposed to that cut and thrust of the market - it's getting its millions, it seems, whether or not it proves to be a performer.
The News put to Congress that they appear to be doing some fancy footwork with figures.
In last week's issue they were quoted as saying: "The Central Australian benchmark [for money needed for Aboriginal health] is a funding level of about $2000 per person per year and Congress is currently receiving just over $700 per person per year in total funding".
This would assume that Congress has 10,000 patients who have nowhere else to go.
In fact Congress operates principally in the town of Alice Springs which has a plethora of other health services used by Aborigines.
For example, the hospital's executive officer Jeff Byrne says 75 per cent of the hospital's patients at any one time are Aboriginal.
Ms Ah Chee questions "the plethora of health services".
She says a national (not local) random survey of general practices reports only about one per cent of encounters by Aboriginal people.
She says anecdotal evidence presented by one Alice Springs practice has reported up to 10 per cent of patients are Aboriginal; another has reported five per cent.
"The usage rate is not significant in relation to the population size of the region," says Ms Ah Chee. "As reported in our Annual Report, Congress sees over 7,500 individual patients each year an average of more than five times each - this is better than the national average access rates of non-Aboriginal people to GPs in similar areas.
"If you assume that a service's client population is calculated over a three-year period, then Congress has a client population of over 10,000 individual Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people from all over Central Australia utilise the service of Congress."
Ms Ah Chee says recent data shows that less than 50 per cent of all attendees at the hospital's Emergency Department are Aboriginal people and that by and large Aboriginal people are using the Emergency Department appropriately for emergency issues (heart attacks, major trauma, fits etc) and use Congress as their general practice (chronic disease management).
"On the other hand, non-Aboriginal people, especially pensioners and other health care card holders, are being forced to use the Emergency Department as their general practice because of the cost of GP services in Alice Springs.
"This is a terrible indictment on the mainstream primary medical care system.
"Congress believes that all citizens, not only Aboriginal people, have the right to expect to be able to access bulk billing GP services because they have paid for their health care through their taxes."
A reference in Congress' statement last week to "non-tied monies" may concern a slush fund the organisation is rumoured to be operating.
It may have paid for a trip to the 2000 Olympic games by some 30 top Congress staffers, cabinet members and hangers-on, which incensed a large number of Aboriginal people.
When the News investigated, Congress made a press release claiming it had been a "study tour".
Congress continues to decline to answer any questions about what the study tour achieved.
Neither will it explain why it paid the legal bills - estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars - for a private defamation action by current director Stephanie Bell and director at the time, John Liddle, against me and the company publishing the Alice Springs News.
The matter was settled without trial, with the News undertaking no more and no less than dealing with Ms Bell, Mr Liddle and Congress in the same professional manner as we deal with all our contacts, a situation that was well in place before our Olympic Games trip enquiry - and the expensive and unnecessary legal action.
All parties bore their own costs. It was the first defamation action against me in my nearly 40 years as a journalist.




THE SHOW: ALICE, WE'RE READY FOR YOU! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Aboriginal women have proved with their crochet hooks that beanie making is an emerging cottage industry.
The producers, supply and market are there: what they need next is a marketing manager, to take the industry to the next step.
So says Adi Dunlop, the teacher who went into the Pitjantjatjara Lands to teach literacy and came away with suitcases full of beanies! "It's a sustainable industry that doesn't require any electricity or infrastructure and it is happening on outstations right across the Lands," she says.
Many hundreds of people attended the program of events at the seventh annual Beanie Festival on the weekend, which returned this year to Araluen.
The best entries of the national beanie competition, by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal makers and including prize-winners, are on display at the gallery till August 3.
Over 2000 other beanies, including competition entries, were for sale in Witchetty's, where there were also workshops in beanie-making, and demonstrations by Aboriginal women of their traditional wool-spinning techniques.
Last year more than 2000 beanies sold "without us even trying", says Adi. The festival, which as a community event has grown well beyond the organisers' expectations, has also drawn attention interstate: 50 of the best beanies from the Lands will be the subject of an exhibition at Walkabout Gallery in Sydney, opening next month.
Adi is hoping that people from the fashion design world will see the exhibition. She says there is keen interest particularly in the use of emu feathers (supplied from emu farms).
"To date our plan has worked perfectly," says Adi. "We have developed an icon of Central Australia apparel. "Our goal is to have it worn by the Australian Olympic team!"




BEANIES AN INDUSTRY! Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Aboriginal women have proved with their crochet hooks that beanie making is an emerging cottage industry.
The producers, supply and market are there: what they need next is a marketing manager, to take the industry to the next step.
So says Adi Dunlop, the teacher who went into the Pitjantjatjara Lands to teach literacy and came away with suitcases full of beanies! "It's a sustainable industry that doesn't require any electricity or infrastructure and it is happening on outstations right across the Lands," she says.
Many hundreds of people attended the program of events at the seventh annual Beanie Festival on the weekend, which returned this year to Araluen.
The best entries of the national beanie competition, by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal makers and including prize-winners, are on display at the gallery till August 3.
Over 2000 other beanies, including competition entries, were for sale in Witchetty's, where there were also workshops in beanie-making, and demonstrations by Aboriginal women of their traditional wool-spinning techniques.
Last year more than 2000 beanies sold "without us even trying", says Adi. The festival, which as a community event has grown well beyond the organisers' expectations, has also drawn attention interstate: 50 of the best beanies from the Lands will be the subject of an exhibition at Walkabout Gallery in Sydney, opening next month.
Adi is hoping that people from the fashion design world will see the exhibition. She says there is keen interest particularly in the use of emu feathers (supplied from emu farms).
"To date our plan has worked perfectly," says Adi. "We have developed an icon of Central Australia apparel. "Our goal is to have it worn by the Australian Olympic team!"




COUNCIL RATES - ALICE SPRINGS IS BETTER OFF THAN TOP ENDERS.

The Alice Town Council says its rate increase of 2.8 per cent is one of the lowest in the Northern Territory, with Palmerston rates up 5.5 per cent, Katherine 3.9 per cent, and Darwin 3.5 per cent.
Alice Springs Deputy Mayor David Koch said the objective was to keep rates as low as possible, balanced against Council's commitment to respond to the demands and needs of all residents.
"It is Council's responsibility to provide, maintain and improve a comprehensive range of recreational, cultural, environmental and humanitarian services and facilities - these things cost money," he said.
"The average ratepayer will only pay an extra 30 cents a week for Council to continue providing these services and facilities to our community, which is in direct proportion with the growing rate of inflation."
Deputy Mayor Koch released Council's draft budget and business plan earlier this week. Some of the new initiatives being considered by Council for the coming financial year include:
█ $175,000 for the development of a public amenities block in the CBD.
█ $110,000 to increase security and reduce vandalism at Traeger Park and the Alice Springs Swimming Centre. This is Council's contribution to the Northern Territory Government's overall $5 million upgrade of sports facilities at Traeger Park.
█ $100,000 to carry out recommendations put forward by the resident precinct working groups.
█ $50,000 to improve lighting, shelving, and the reception desk at the Public Library.
█ $40,000 for line marking and signage to improve traffic congestion in the Hartley Street car park area.
█ $30,000 for initiatives to counter the downturn in tourism through world events.
█ $30,000 for a joint project with CSIRO, using computer modelling techniques to predict tourism and create a vision for tourism growth and development over the next five to ten years.
█ $20,000 for a pedestrian crossing where Gregory Terrace meets the Todd Mall.
█ $15,000 to improve car parking in the Frank McEllister Park area.
█ $15,000 for a feasibility study into the relocation of the YMCA to the Alice Springs Swimming Centre.
█ $10,000 to restore the cenotaph on Anzac Hill.
Council is also proposing to allocate the following funds for recurrent budget items: Finance Committee Chair Alderman Geoff Bell said parks, footpaths and verges would continue to be a priority for Council.
"Better than expected savings in areas of the previous budget are going to allow us to put more funds into projects for the coming financial year," Alderman Bell said.
Alderman Michael Jones invited the public to comment on Council's proposed budget and business plan until 18 July.
"Council believes that budget accountability is vital to ensure ratepayers are getting value for their money," he said.

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