ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
February 25, 2004.


LATHAM: MARK MY WORDS! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The heart warming ideals of democracy were high on the agenda for Mark Latham on Monday night, over beer and snags, at the Feds Club in Alice Springs.
Gosh, even public servants should be able to have their say, the new Labor Leader declared in reply to a question.
"Democratic freedom says that people are entitled to have their say as citizens and working in the public service should never be a bar to people being able to speak their mind and have their say in our democracy."
Heartfelt applause.
"Get on the street corner and get a megaphone and have your say."
Wonderful.
The last Opposition leader drew a crowd of 20, said one of the faithful, and tonight there were around 300. And they were in such high spirits!
But democracy, even for Labor's new wonder boy, has its limits and these are reached at the gates of Pine Gap through which Mr Latham had passed during the afternoon, something not included on the running sheet for the day.
This newspaper politely declined an invitation to have coffee with Mr Latham in the morning but made two email requests last week for an interview with him, AFTER his visit to Pine Gap.
The first one was declined and the second one was ignored.
Pretty well all the public got from him on the subject of the US base was this at the barbie: "We won't be investing money in the son of Starwars, we didn't support Starwars when the Hawke Government was in, we don't support the son of Starwars now, and I dare say we won't be supporting the grandson of Starwars."
Investing? Interesting. What about tolerating its conduct from our soil?
And there were a lot of other questions we would have asked Mr Latham, many of them emanating from interviews with the erstwhile outspoken MHR Warren Snowdon.
In August 2000 he told us: "It is imperative that all members of Parliament be fully informed about what goes on at Pine Gap."
Would he inform Mr Snowdon about such matters, we were going to ask Mr Latham.
And, said Mr Snowdon: "National Missile Defence would not add to world security and would leave us, especially in Alice Springs, less secure.
"Pine Gap is accepted as an important part of our community, but it should not be involved in NMD research and development."
Would Mr Latham tear up any treaties the current government may enter into for NMD?
And in March 2002 we discussed with Mr Snowdon that Pine Gap had referred us to the "the very complete statement" about the facility made by then Prime Minister Bob Hawke in the national Parliament in November 1988.
Given that since then there has been the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, the closure of Nurrungar, the election of George W. Bush, his commitment to "Star Wars", September 11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, would Mr Latham tell Mr Snowdon what Pine Gap is up to now? No answer from Mr Latham.
And yet Mr Snowdon made his point so eloquently: "We, the people who are required to vote on legislation concerning our treaty obligations and security arrangements, are expected to cop the explanation that this is all a matter of ‘national security' and not be briefed.
"Parliamentarians should have a security briefing of a high enough order to understand competently the functions of Pine Gap and, if matters of public importance are at stake, we should be able to deal directly with the Ministers concerned.
"We need to understand the exact nature of the activities at the base and how they might have changed over time and may change into the future."
Well said. And when Mr Latham declined to be interviewed about Pine Gap, what did Mr Snowdon do?
He valiantly put his body between his Leader and two reporters, this one and one from the ABC.


WHO WILL PAY $2M HOSPITAL REPAIRS? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The NT Government is investigating whether it can recover $2m from John Holland Constructions for "significant and serious" defects in the $30m upgrade of the Alice Springs hospital.
Health Minister Peter Toyne says an audit has uncovered a lack of compliance in the construction of firewalls, faults that will cost $1.5m to fix.
And the air conditioning, as already reported by the Alice Springs News, is faulty in about 20 per cent of the hospital, including the children's section.
Dr Toyne says the government has made $2m available so that work can start immediately.
"We will investigate whether the contracts were complied with," says Dr Toyne.
A John Holland Constructions spokesman, Richard Mickle, when asked for comment, said: "I'm sorry but I have no idea what you are talking about.
"I will however contact the relevant staff to find out what the issue is and if it relates to our work or responsibilities."
He later said a Darwin based spokesman would issue a statement but none was made before close of this edition.
The original $34m refurbishment project was cut back to below $30m by the former CLP government, and the current compliance audit will examine whether reduced spending has led to the problems.
The project was supposedly completed before the change of government in 2001.
Dr Toyne says people are not at risk but property may be.
He says according to the fire services "there is no immediate threat to patients and staff".
"There is a threat to the building because a fire can spread.
"Other safeguards allow business as usual."
The troubles surfaced in May last year and were confirmed in a comprehensive audit concluded this month, says Dr Toyne.


WERE RAIL FUNDING PROMISES BROKEN? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The NT, SA and Commonwealth Governments would fund the construction of the Darwin railway, not its operation, so the public was told.
But now it has been revealed that public money is available to the private consortium, which owns and will operates the line for the next 50 years, during a three year "ramp-up" period.
Paul Tyrrell, chief executive of the Australasia Railway Corporation (formed by the governments), and the NT government's principal railway planner, says the money is there "should it be required".
But he claims it's unlikely the funds will be needed because the business plan of the venture is "very robust".
The question remains why a part of $79m in additional government funding provided in 2001 remains available at all.
Now that construction of the line is completed, what else could the money be for other than "operational" purposes?
And that's exactly the kind of purpose for which former NT Chief Minister Denis Burke – among others – was adamant taxpayers' money would never be available.
Mr Burke said in a letter to Australian Trucking Association vice president Peter Goed in November 1999: "There will be no operational subsidies paid to the consortium." Initially the $1.3b project received subsidies of $150m from the South Australian government, and $165m each from the NT and Commonwealth governments (plus, of course, the existing the Tarcoola to Alice line, worth around $700m).
The balance – $800m – came from the private Asia Pacific Transport Consortium, consisting of Australian and overseas companies.
When in 2001 a US investor, the John Hancock Group, dropped out, the three governments kicked in a further $79m – $26.4m each.
Mr Burke said at the time: "Once the consortium finds another private sector investor, the stand-by facility will transfer from the three Governments to the private sector."
And: "The bottom line is that the current arrangement does not increase the amount of taxpayers' money going into the project."
Well, a lot more money already has, and yet more may, contrary to government assurances that the $79m wasn't a grant, but a loan on commercial terms: the lenders, which include you as a taxpayer, would get their money repaid, plus interest at market rates.
Mr Tyrrell insists that the injection of money was "support on commercial terms" or "an investment on commercial terms", with all the attendant risks, and clearly capped at the $26.4m from each government.
He says that the funds may stretch well beyond the construction phase was also made clear in Mr Burke's 2001 statement which said the some of the money "will not be required for up to six years".
But no new "private sector investor" put up his hand and the governments got in a lot deeper than they had led the public to believe.
The Territory and the Commonwealth acted in tandem.
Firstly, they each loaned $5m of their $26.4m in new funding to the Australasian Railway Corporation over 12 years, at ruling commercial interest rates.
So far so good.
That money will be repaid, even if the loan extends well beyond the construction phase.
But the next move was clearly in conflict with earlier assurances: each government bought equity in the company for $8m.
That's very different to a secured loan: if the venture is a success, taxpayers are winners.
But if the line turns out to be a dud, the governments' share may be worth zilch.
This kind of risk was not made clear when the additional funding was announced: That's "taxpayers' money going into the project".
Thirdly, what will happen to the Territory's remaining $13.4m not yet drawn on, and the unspent money from the two other governments?
Under what circumstances would the governments give the consortium more money?
Says Mr Tyrrell: "The company may need a further injection of equity because of circumstances that might arise.
"Triggers would need to be met."
What triggers?
He can't go into that, but "it is definitely NOT an operational subsidy."
There may be "business case parameters that might not have been predicted … and if the business case is not quite met" more funds may be paid, but definitely not more than the $79m between the three governments.
Mr Tyrrell says there will be no problems "if the business case is stuck to, and the business case is very robust and conservative".
FAITHIn fact the business case put to the public in the past few years relied heavily on notions such as "faith" and "potential", with the consortium steadfastly declining to say what the railway line will actually be carrying.
Only in the past few weeks have concrete announcements about some freight bookings been made.
If the business case goes OK "we would not need to pay any further money", says Mr Tyrrell.
But if it doesn't the NT Government – and maybe, the others – will, and that sounds awfully like an operational subsidy.
To get their way with governments seems to be all in a day's work for at least one consortium member, Halliburton, whose subsidiary, KBR, heads up the Asia Pacific Transport Consortium.
The New York Review of Books (Feb 26, 2004) was one medium having most uncomplimentary things to say about "the company that made Dick Chaney rich".
Reviewing new books about the family of US President George W. Bush, the magazine reported that Halliburton "has been given multibillion-dollar contracts, without competitive bidding, in occupied Iraq.
"Suspicions of profiteering are widespread; critics think they have found a smoking gun in the case of gasoline imports.
"For Halliburton has been charging the US authorities in Iraq remarkably high prices for fuel – far above local spot prices."
That is a long chalk from the website pitch by Franco Moretti, the key negotiator for the consortium: "Halliburton is well respected in Australia, having had a long association with the oil and gas developments of the North-West Shelf and Cooper Basin," says he.
Meanwhile Chief Minister Clare Martin says the railway will bring "an influx of passengers" to the Territory and the estimated "$27.7 million economic boost they bring will be an annual addition to the local business environment."
She does not explain where in the NT these passengers will be spending their money.
Ms Martin says: "Tens of thousands more tourists travelling the Territory will be important in attracting more international and domestic flights to and from Darwin and Alice Springs." (See also Ann Cloke's comment on page 2.)
At the same time Ms Martin says her Government has allocated an additional $27.5 million to the NT tourism promotion budget (a remarkably similar figure to the expected additional income from the railway), and spent almost $8 million building and upgrading passenger terminals in the Territory's major centres.


THE ROAD LOBBY FAILED TRUCKIES.

The road transport lobby "did nothing at all for us" when it became clear that the Darwin railway would threaten the livelihood of local truckies.
This is the claim from one of Alice Springs' few remaining road train operators, Tim McBride, who has two rigs on the road. By his estimate about 60 drivers from four companies in Alice have lost their jobs since the freight trains began running this year.
Mr McBride says the industry wasn't "vocal enough", and failed to get a fair deal for the truckies.
And he says Chief Minister Clare Martin's claims of a bonanza from the railway seems to ignore that the governments and the local economy will lose massive revenue from the trucking industry. For example, the annual registration for a three-trailer road train is worth $11,000. Insurance costs $52,000.
The typical annual turnover of a road train is $300,000 of which around 80 per cent goes on expenses, including fuel and tyres, a big shot in the arm for the local economy.
In June 1999 the road transport industry in Alice Springs said it was not opposed to the Darwin railway if it would be competing on an "equal footing".
Peter Mostran, southern vice president of the NT Road Transport Association, said the massive grants by the NT and Federal governments to build the Darwin rail line must be matched by a similar expenditure for roads in the region.
Mr Mostran said the road transport industry would be seeking a multi million dollar government investment in an extended and improved network.
"There are not too many regional roads in good condition," said Mr Mostran in 1999.
Road widening, upgrades and new bridges would be a start. Mr Mostran estimated at the time that the road transport industry was bringing up to $40m a year to Alice Springs, employs some 250 people directly, earning up to $10m, and about 500 people in a variety of road transport support enterprises were earning all or some of their income from the industry.
He said about 200 trailers a week were bringing in freight from Adelaide, and 300 a week travelled from here to Darwin. Mr Mostran said the road transport was likely to remain quicker than rail, because trains travel at about the same speed but have rigid time tables, and can't deliver from door to door: trucks have to be involved at either end of the journey.
He said the local trucking industry would "most likely" grow with a new railway line, retaining the perishables business and creating "shuttle" services from railway stations along the route.
Mr McBride says: "This country has wasted enough money on other useless projects.
"Let's cut our losses, rip up the railway line and sell it as scrap metal. The pipeline from Ord River is a much more viable project. No-one will be put out of work: It will create work."


TEENS TAKE POLITICS SERIOUSLY. Report by JULIA WINTERFLOOD.

"All politicians are a bunch of dickheads and they bore me stupid."
So said character Jacob Coote (played by Kick Gurry) in the popular film, "Looking for Alibrandi". Unfortunately, this is the view held by many young Australians. Why?
It's because youth aren't represented in state or federal parliament, and feel alienated and distanced from it. There isn't a 15-year-old Member for Lingiari or a 19-year-old Shadow Education Minister.
Although the reasons for this are perfectly understandable, and enshrined in the law itself, it does raise the question of whether or not the youth of today, and our issues and concerns, are being properly represented within the processes of our democracy.
This is the role National YMCA Youth Parliament fulfills. It provides a forum for young people to put forward their issues and perspectives, and to bring these to the attention of those who make the laws on our behalf.
Surfing the net one day I clicked on an advertisement reading, "So, you want to have a voice, you want to be heard?" It took me to the home page for the YMCAs of Australia. Another click and I was at the National YMCA Youth Parliament (NYP) homepage.
Even though I'd previously done Northern Territory YMCA Youth Parliament (NTYP), I didn't know that a program on a national level even existed. I applied straight away, and about a month later, I got a call: I was in.
An hour later, a teleconference was held, and I was thrilled to learn that my fellow team-members were David Caffery and Dane Campbell, two amazing people whom I'd done NTYP with.
We discussed bill topics and David suggested a bill that would propose that Executive Decisions concerning Australia's Defence Force would have to be passed independently through both houses of federal parliament before being executed. And if the Executive Decision was blocked three times, then the case would be lost.
Basically, we didn't want the decision to involve Australia's military in a war being left up to one person. We saw it as a violation of the democratic principles that our country prides itself in.
So, about a month later, late last year, our team brought that bill, the "Military Decisions Bill 2003", or the "Preservation of Democracy Bill 2003" as we preferred to call it, to the Youth Senate in Old Parliament House in Canberra.
It passed, with amendments, and without a division. It was a great feeling to know that our fellow youth senators and ministers held the same opinion, that war is not the answer, and if it is, it should be a democratic answer.
Other bills we considered in two days of extremely heated and vigorous debate were the legalisation of homosexual marriage, paid maternity leave, parental contribution to higher education, linguistic and legal education for migrants, assumed organ and soft tissue donation, flag desecration, and mental health bills.
Although these were the fundamental aspects of NYP, it wasn't these that made the camp what it was: the most amazing experience I've ever had. No, it wasn't standing up in parliament and screaming about what we think is immoral and unjust about this country, or what we want to see changed, or what we are most passionate about.
It was the people. Ninety-nine young people from all over Australia. Muslims, Indians, Italians, Wallaby supporters, Pom supporters, meat-eating rurals, vegan suburbanites, homosexuals, bisexuals and heterosexuals, artists and writers and sports people, trendies and yuppies and bogans, lefties, right-wingers, communists and self-confessed fascists, we even had a cross-dresser. Such diversity in one group of people. But even though we all had our own opinions, ideas and perspectives, we were all passionate about one thing: Australia. Every single one of us was concerned with the future and current situation of our country.
And yes, I am going to turn this into another punk/rock song about the youth of today being the future of tomorrow, the kind that our parents scream at us to turn down because of the "offensive" language, but I'm not going to apologise for it.
Because it's true. We are the future of this country and even though we know that we will be determining the state of the nation in years to come, we also know that we must not, cannot forget the past. For if we are going to look at the future, we must first indulge in the past.
YMCA Youth Parliament has been running for forty-five years, bringing young people together, giving them a chance. The 2003 National YMCA Youth Parliament was the most incredible, invigorating, memorable experience I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.
I'd like to thank and congratulate the taskforce members and all the politicians who contributed to the funding of my trip. I'd also like to congratulate my teammates and close friends, David Caffery and Dane Campbell. Dane was one of the recipients of the Parliamentary Recognition awards, for outstanding personal achievement.
But most of all, I'd like to thank every one my fellow youth parliamentarians, for making me believe that yes, our country does have a future. And a great one at that.
[Julia Winterflood is a Year 11 student at Charles Darwin University secondary college in Alice Springs.]


BIRDS UNDER LOCK AND KEY.

By the middle of this year, the sewerage ponds, a manmade wetland in the desert that's become a regular stopover for migratory birds and a favourite site for birdwatchers, will be accessible only to those who've signed an indemnity form, carry identification and possess a key.
Power Water won't release specific details yet, but a spokesperson says that by July access to Alice's ponds will be brought into line with access to Darwin's Leanyer ponds, at which these conditions apply.
"It's unfortunate," says Bob Read, keen birdwatcher and president of the local Field Naturalists Club, "but it's not the fault of Power Water.
"They are simply reacting to the legal environment they find themselves in."
That "environment" means that people have to be warned that the water in the sewerage ponds may contain "waste matter" and that the edges of the ponds may become "wet and slippery" – surprise, surprise.
Mr Read is philosophical:
"Throughout Australia the situation is like this and in some cases access has been closed off.
"To be fair, what Power Water have done is as good as we can expect."
Pictured are birdwatchers Connie Spencer, Rhonda Tomlinson and Bob Read at the entry to the ponds.



MOUNT KOSCIUSKO IS A PARK WITHOUT PARANOIA. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.

The size of the West MacDonnell National Park is 2000 square kilometres, it has six permitted camping areas accessible by vehicle, 11 staff, 150,000 visitors a year, one resort (Glen Helen which, in fact, is on its own lease excised from the park) and about two dozen businesses operating in it, mainly tour companies.
The Kosciuszko National Park is 6750 square kilometres, has 32 serviced camping areas, a practically unlimited number of permitted camping areas (so long as you are "out of sight of the roads and at least 100 metres away from water courses"); 175 staff; two million visitors a year; 10 resorts, including Thredbo, a small town; and hundreds of businesses ranging from trekking, horse riding, abseiling, bird watching to trail bike riding.
So, per 1000 square kilometres, Kosciuszko has twice as many serviced camping areas than the West Macs, thousands of casual camping spots while the Macs have none; five times as many staff; four times as many visitors and three times as many resorts.
In fact the ratio is even more dramatic because roughly half of Kosciuszko is declared a wilderness area and accessible only on foot.
The Snowy Mountains park is a relaxed, accessible, user friendly place compared to the sometimes paranoid regime in the West Macs.
For example, at Kosciuszko you can drive anywhere there's a track.
You can ride mountain bikes on most fire tracks.
You can walk anywhere you like, although for about two more years, there are some restrictions to assist with the rehabilitation following the massive fires a year ago.
The following low-key instructions are given: "Where there are tracks, stay on them.
"In open country with no tracks, spread out.
"Do not wash in streams and lakes" – but no worries about swimming.
It's a far cry from the West MacDonnells where visitors are corralled in a few locations, notwithstanding that most have come to experience the wide open spaces.
Kosciuszko – the same length as the West Macs – has 1100 km of sealed and unsealed roads. The Macs have 160 km of through road with a few side tracks leading to the gaps and gorges nearby.
Driving anywhere else is strictly verboten although, for example, no damage would be done by four wheel drivers in creek beds, and for most visitors that would be an unforgettable adventure.
Andrew Bridges, of the Territory's Parks and Wildlife Service, says relaxing the restrictive regime, and giving people access to wherever they want to go, would be "unacceptable".
He says: "In order to provide a quality experience to the majority of people you have more rules and regulations."
Visiting the Snowys' one would wonder about that statement.
Clearly, there does not need to be a forest of signs lecturing visitors about what they can and cannot do.
Take the equipped camping areas: there are a few fire places and a few excellent drop-pit dunnies with lots of toilet paper, quite large tin structures with concrete floors.
That's it.
Everybody takes their rubbish with them and leaves the sites spotless.
The Kosciuszko park management clearly has faith in its visitors, and they don't abuse that trust.
There's no better time than now for a good, hard look at the West Macs, Alice Springs' major commercial asset: Like all other parks, the Macs will become Aboriginal land, with a lease-back to the NT Government which will continue to manage the areas.
A new master plan is being drawn up.
It's early days but CATIA's Craig Catchlove says there have already been some interesting hiccups.
"It was apparent from the initial meeting our industry had with Parks that the issuesaffecting the West MacDonnells hadn't been given much thought at that stage," says CATIA's Craig Catchlove.
"This park is an integral part of our region's tourism product, and in the future will be even more important with the promised sealing of the MereenieLoop Road.
"The incorporation of parts of Owen Springs and possibly relevantAboriginal land under the joint management arrangements would make theWestern MacDonnells an incredible jewel in the selling of our region."



CRICKETERS JINXED AGAIN AT TRAEGER. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.

Rain has dashed the hopes of the RSL works team from pulling off a victory and overhauling Federal at the top of the Alice Springs Cricket Association A Grade ladder.
On the somewhat jinxed Traeger Park pitch yet again a no result was the outcome when after 34.1 overs of a scheduled 82 over game it was called off.
On the first day of play Federal let RSL off the hook, allowing a 44 run tenth wicket partnership to set Federal a target of 178 runs.Matt Forster claimed the key wicket of opener Tom Clements albeit for 29, and then spinner Wayne Egglington was able to reproduce form that he has shown in the practice wickets. By dropping the ball on line Egglington was able to claim the scalp of Mike Smith, caught by Scott Robertson for two.
Skipper Jason Swain then put together a somewhat scratchy 16 before being bowled by Egglinton. At close of play Brendan Martin was still at the crease with 22 not out and Federal were 3/79.
For RSL Egglington's 2/23 off 10 overs was impressive, while Forster returned 1/11 off 13 and Matt Salzburger bowled 11 overs without a wicket and conceding 37 runs.
This result in fact assists Federal marginally in terms of finishingas minor premiers.
With one game remaining, after the Imparja Cup, an outright win by RSL or against Federal seems the only way top position can be obtained by the Works boys.
Unlike at Traeger, a full day's play at Albrecht allowed West to record an outright victory.
On day one the Bloods had set the game up by being 0/165 after dismissing Rovers for 141.
West went on to make 9/266, in fact 102 extra runs for the second day.
Adam Stockwell fell after adding a single to his over night 123 n.o., but partner Luke Sprague took the initiative and put together a match winning 64. With the ball Darrell Lowe did well to take 5/40.
In their second dig, the Blues couldn't get themselves back in the game.
They scored 109 (seven more than West for the day) but fell an innings and 16 runs short.
Brendan Smith top scored for the Blues with 43, while that man Sprague was in the picture again claiming 3/13, assisted by the "pie man" Darren Clarke who claimed 3/37.
HOPEThe result gives West some hope for the finals and they will be looking for another outright in the minor round finale.
For the Blues however the day was not all disaster. In the C Grade Tom Slattery made a last minute attempt to catch the eye of Cricket Australia's selectors with a tantalising 7/16.
Slattery could be a good thing if Shane Warne finds the going tough in Sri Lanka, as he headed Rovers to a resounding win over RSL. The Blues pounded 179 on the board in the first dig, with Steve Trindle making 66 not out.
It was then that Slattery made it all happen with the ball, dismissing the opposition for 39.
This weekend the Imparja Cup will be held in Alice. For what started only 10 short years ago as a friendly between Tennant Creek and Alice Springs based Indigenous sides, this carnival has risen to dizzy heights. Every state in Australia is now represented in the cup contest.
Alice, Darwin, Tennant and Katherine will vie for the Communities Plate. Bathurst Island, Borolloola, Melville Island, Normanton, the Rivers and Timber Creek will be there in Division Two. Six women's teams have nominated and four schoolboys sides.
The carnival begins Friday with a traditional welcome and will go right through the weekend.



ASTUTE TRAINER RAZOR SHARP. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.

Terry Gillett is not known by the name of "Razor" for nothing.
On Saturday the astute young trainer and hoop Tim Norton landed two winners out of three, at Pioneer Park.
In the pipe opener the Pavilion Class Five handicap over 1200 metres the import from Victoria, Darrowby Livewire made it into a procession as he gobbled up the local track.
Rain for the days prior to the Saturday meet and the continuing tractor work by the ground staff, has the track improving by the week.
Over the 1200 metres Norton jumped Darrowby Livewire to the lead and soon controlled things with favourite Edge to Edge some three lengths in arrears and Mr Cardin third by a further three.
Travelling under no pressure at all the new comer made every post a winner in the straight and claimed a six and a half length victory over Edge to Edge. Mr Cardin was a further four lengths behind picking up third money.
SCOREVeteran hoop Barry Huppatz returned to Red Centre racing from a recent stint in Darwin, and had every opportunity to score on Stun Gun in the New Membership Class Two over 1000 metres.
Huppatz capitalised on Stun Gun's speed early and led with Snow Key at his girth and keeping him honest.
Meanwhile Monkey Boy, as $3 favourite, and with Norton on board, settled nicely back in the field but on the fence. When the business end of the race came, Stun Gun was leading Snow Key but racing some two lengths off the fence, leaving a virtual highway for Monkey Boy to move along. In the tight run to the post, the firm inside running gave Monkey Boy the advantage and he bobbed up to win by a short head over Stun Gun, with Snow Key a neck away third.
In the last of the day, the Members Bar Open over 1400 metres, Nev Connor took home the cheque when Gamera saluted. Huppatz again led in this event, with Cypress Lakes setting the pace.
Stable mate Above All camped in behind Cypress Lakes, with Gamera a couple of lengths further back.
The favourite Queens Image sat further back and wide.
At the turn the leader felt called for more air, and in racing wide invited an assault party to attack down the inside. One hundred metres out, Gamera took control of the race and went to the line a winner by a length. Above All took second place and Queen's Image finished third.



LETTERS: Controlling litter, liquor & camping: It's all much, much too hard!

Sir,- I write as a former Alice Springs Police Officer and, more recently, as the Town Council's Statutory Services Director for 10 years.
Your headline (Alice News, Feb 18), "Town council shirks the big challenges", followed by your statement that "illegal camping, littering and public drinking are here to stay because the Town Council is unwilling to provide the resources to stop them", demonstrate an incredible naēvety on your part.
You clearly have no comprehension of the technical and practical difficulties attendant upon law enforcement, particularly when the offenders are itinerants with no fixed abode and no proof of identity.
The same laws of evidence and burdens of proof apply to council by-laws offences as to any other offences at law.
Before Territory Police Officers are allowed anywhere near the public, they undergo six months months intensive classroom training in the theories and practice of law enforcement, including the myriad rules and procedures that apply to the arrest and removal of suspects, the seizure of property and the prosecution of offenders.
This is followed by 18 months of supervised probationary service before they graduate.
Council rangers, on the other hand, are given brief familiarisation training, they are issued with a uniform and, within a day or two, are on the streets learning at the coal face how to administer council enforced legislation, priority being given to parking and animal control. They do not have powers of arrest, and neither should they.
I served in Alice Springs as a Detective Sergeant almost 30 years ago. Public drunkenness and anti-social behaviour emanating from the Todd River and other areas were an issue in those days.
However, even with their superior numbers and training, Police have been unable to get on top of this grog cycle in all those years.
During a Liquor Commission hearing at which I was giving evidence, former Police Commander, Robin Bullock, advised the Commission that, notwithstanding the thousands of litres of liquor confiscated and poured out each year, and the hundreds of persons taken to drying out centres, the problem is far too extensive for local Police to do much more than keep it manageable.
While illegal camping certainly features in council by-laws, its original purpose was to discourage tourists from locating tents and caravans on open land around the town, and to require them to resort to formal caravan parks and camping grounds which provide the necessary amenities.
During the ‘nineties, because of public and political pressure, I redrafted this by-law on behalf of the Council to include the Aboriginal style of camping without tents and caravans.At this point, it should be emphasised that camping by-laws apply only at night time.
Aboriginal people, just like non-Aboriginal people, are permitted to congregate, socialise and have picnics in the Todd River and elsewhere during daylight hours provided they behave themselves properly.
When I drafted the camping by-law, I flagged the difficulties facing council officers in enforcing it. Consequently, with the approval of the Police Commissioner, I amended council legislation to specifically empower Police to enforce by-laws where necessary.
This was done on the understanding that Police retain the prerogative whether or not to use council legislation.
It was about that time that the Honourable Mike Reed, NT Treasurer, proposed that, for an initial two year period, money from the wine cask levy should fund a team of two council "storm-troopers" to clear the Todd River and other vacant crown land of all itinerant campers.
The proposal received the derision it deserved. The idea that two inexperienced council officers could achieve in two years what hundreds of highly trained Police officers had found impossible for over 30 years was as naēve as your article in the Alice News.
Minister Fred Finch was sent to Alice Springs to repair the damage Mr Reed had caused, and he met with the Social Issues Working Group comprising Police, Aboriginal Councils, OAD, and the Town Council which I represented.
As a result, the Tangentyere Warden Scheme was initiated to assist in finding alternative accommodation for long term itinerants and to encourage short term itinerants to "return to country".
The Warden Scheme has achieved an acceptable level of success, but it was never going to entirely resolve the problems attached to the urban drift from bush communities into the major towns.
There are a host of reasons why Aboriginal people come to Alice Springs, including social, commercial, sporting, health and criminal justice purposes and, in some cases, a boredom with life in the bush.
While non-Aboriginal visitors to town stay in hotels and the like, Aboriginal people prefer to camp in the open.
While I was a member of the Social Issues Working Group, I lobbied long and hard on behalf of the Council for the release of land on the northern and southern edges of town to create properly supervised short-term camping areas with facilities to accommodate various tribal groupings.
The Government's response was that this was impossible because of the Arrernte land [native title] claim on all vacant crown land.
Representatives of the Central Land Council denied that this was a problem, but the matter remains unresolved to this day.
For these people, then, there is nowhere else for them to stay other than in the Todd River and similar areas of vacant crown land. This would all be very fine if it were not for the addition of alcohol to the equation.
No, Mr Chlanda, the blame for public disorder and drunkenness does not lie at the feet of the Alice Springs Town Council, neither does it reflect any failure on the part of the NT Police.
There is little doubt that the availability of liquor to some individuals who have a low metabolic tolerance for alcohol, combined with a lack of temperance exercised by those same individuals, is ultimately to blame for the situation that has plagued Alice Springs for many decades.
While the Town Council should certainly contribute to the war against this community scourge, it cannot be held responsible for not having resolved it already.
Phillip J Carr
Alice Springs

ED – The article specifically raised the question of there being no place for bush visitors to stay and quoted Clem Wheatley, Ranger Unit manager, on the need for serviced camping facilities.

Aldermen did good job

Sir,- Thank you for your kind invitation to tell of my personal experience of assistance by councillors Mostran and Jones.
As we are coming up to council elections, it is a splendid idea of yours to allow Alice Springs residents to recount details of any help received from ASTC aldermen.
In my case after phone calls and letters to two senior members of ASTC, and subsequent long silent waits, I approached Ald Mostran regarding access to a very busy business, which resulted in an immediate visit from her in the company of Ald Jones and three other aldermen.
The issue was taken to council that night and a meeting set up by one of the senior members previously silent on the matter, at which a satisfactory maintenance of the access was agreed upon.
This was followed by gazetting of that road, which enabled the police to regulate vehicles abusing that road, which of course they had been unable to do while it was a private road.
In the last two months, Ald Jones has made several representations complete with pictorial evidence regarding the disgusting state of the Charles River in the Braitling electorate, for which he is now a candidate.
Gerry Baddock,
Alice Springs.


Truck parking 'for your safety'

Sir,- I am writing in response to your article in relation to truck parking bays and rest areas for travellers (Alice News, Feb 11).
I feel that this story was only researched from one angle and I'm sure that caravan park operators and the whole of the Northern Territory Tourism Industry would have appreciated the opportunity to express their views or at least have been contacted for a comment. This issue not only affects the caravan industry but all operators who rely on the drive market, such as wayside inns, hotels and motels.
Rest stops along the Stuart Highway are there for people to rest. There is no argument that they are required. I feel that we need to be careful that we offer adequate rest areas without damaging the environment and the tourism industry by encouraging free roadside camping. The truck parking bays that you mention in your article are for trucks and road trains only, purely for safety reasons and shouldn't even be an issue.
Trucks and road trains require dedicated rest areas for the following reasons:
• Most truck/road train drivers are undertaking long trips and will require undisturbed sleep, not just rest.
• These vehicles can be up to 53 meters in length and require room to manoeuvre.
• For safety reasons drivers plan their rest breaks. Can any of us afford to have a tired road train driver on the road because he couldn't find a spot amongst the caravans to stop and sleep?
• Travellers with children would feel safer if they didn't have these large vehicles pulling in and out of the rest stop.
There have been reported cases where caravaners or campers have used the truck parking bay to stay overnight and have woken the truck driver to ask them to turn his refrigerator motors off so that they can get to sleep.
It makes it very hard for road trains to gain access if there are caravans and campers in the way. In one instance a road train driver could not fully access the parking bay and had half of one trailer sticking out over the road. He had to ask the people with the caravan to move so that he could gain access to the truck parking bay.
The road sign that was pictured in your newspaper should maybe read:
"TRUCK PARKING ONLY FOR YOUR SAFETY. This is a designated rest area for Truck Drivers Only, Strictly no camping."
On July 22 of last year the Bulletin Magazine published a two-page article outlining how "the irresponsible disposal of human waste by travellers in the Australian Outback has become an environmental time bomb".
The article goes on to say that "the main problem is the baby-boomer soft-adventure sector who freeload at roadside stops or dump human waste willy-nilly" and quotes Jamie Kirkpatrick, professor of geography and environmental studies at university of Tasmania, "the soiling of the nations tourist trails has reached the stage where cryptosporidium, Giardia, E.coli and associated bacteria pose a serious health threat".
The caravan industry does support rest stops that provide a shaded, safe resting place along the Stuart Highway. We do not support the implementation of rest stops that contain amenities that only serve to encourage people to stay overnight and longer (some for weeks).
There are plenty of wayside inns, roadhouses and towns along the Stuart Highway, in fact every 100-150kms, so it is only an hour to an hour and a half between most of the stops. These businesses provide accommodation, fuel, toilets, food and much more.
To provide these services, the businesses must pay tax, council rates, water, sewerage, insurance and payroll tax. If we provide (free camping) rest areas with toilets, water and BBQs, who pays for cost of cleaning and maintaining these facilities? Guess who! The Northern Territory taxpayer.
What will the cost to the environment be? Will the NT Government be liable for any insurance claims if people burn themselves on the gas BBQs?
If the toilets and BBQs aren't cleaned every day, just imagine the volume of complaints that will be received by the Northern Territory Tourist Commission. If the toilets aren't cleaned every day, travellers will just by pass them.
In summary it's not about the NT Government protecting the income of caravan park, wayside inn, motel and hotel operators, it's about offering safe rest areas for all travellers while preserving the environment and looking after one of the Territory's biggest industries – tourism.
Brendan Heenan
President
Northern Territory Caravan Park Association

Compulsory acquisition

Sir,- Mr Elferink and the CLP have still not come to grips with native title and its legal operation in the Northern Territory, which explains somewhat why they did not release any land subject to native title in Alice Springs during their term in government.
The NT's power to acquire land arises by virtue of the Lands Acquisition Act (NT) which reflects the Commonwealth Native Title Act.
The Native Title Act merely prescribes that the same procedures should be followed for the acquisition of native title as those followed for the acquisition of other title – which procedure is laid down under Land Acquisition Act.
The expedited procedure in the Native Title Act does not extend to a compulsory acquisition under the Lands Acquisition Act. In short, the absolute minimum time in which an acquisition could proceed under the legislation is eight months and 21 days – this is on the basis that the matter is resolved at the end of the compulsory acquisition period.
Past practice with these acquisitions is that whole process is not completed in less than 12 months.
Any attempt to compulsorily acquire Larapinta land would almost certainly be vigorously opposed by the native title holders, so we can confidently expect any attempt to do this would take from at least 18 months to upwards of three years.
Peter Toyne
Minister for Central Australia

Schools: where's the debate?

Sir,- I read your "debate" ("Private, public schools: Alice debate hotting up", Alice News, Feb 4), waiting for the debate to occur. Where was it?
I am dismayed at the rhetoric that surrounds the provision of education; the "poor bugger me" attitudes I encounter and the misuse of information.
I am not sure of the financial figures you quoted. Where is the breakdown of income and expenditure? I don't just mean government funding, how about all funding? That way at least there would be a full meaningful picture of public and private education costs.
It is easy to cost public high school education as higher than private. The government provides a unit cost that does not identify the variances.
The cost of providing high school education varies greatly between urban, rural and remote. Costs also vary depending on how many "special needs" students one has at a school. These factors need to be represented if we are to have a quality debate.
Public high schools provide quality education and holistic care for our children too. I have admiration and respect for the dedication and commitment of staff providing excellent teaching and pastoral care for my children.
As for public schools providing education only until year 10, what is wrong with that?
Many students leave school at this age to take up VET courses. Not everyone is able to cope with academia. For those who wish to undertake years 11 and 12, public school students are able to attend Centralian College. This education facility is also available to ex-private school students. To enter the debate, surely information from this facility would provide balance. But hey, who wanted equal representation?
Historically private schools were set up to provide education for young people whose parents wanted a particular religious focus, elitism and of course for those few "gifted" students from the working class who received a scholarship.
This may not be true for the majority of parents in Alice where other factors are influencing them to abandon public schools. Your article is one of many which will influence parents of primary school children. The promotion of private schools through negative public school media is sickening for those who support public schools. Come on, give us equal representation. I know that private schools have issues with staff etc, why don't we hear about them?
With an increasing number of private school places being filled, fewer students attend public high school. Lower enrolments and the ongoing issue of attendance impact on public high school budgets negatively.
If you really want the debate to "hot up", give us all the facts and figures from governments and charitable institutions, private schools etc. That is if anyone really wants to give them to the public. Excuse my cynicism.
In my public school education I learnt that information is power, and usually the most powerful or influential controlled it for their own ends. Come on Alice Springs News, let's have a real debate.
Chris Haskard
Alice Springs

ED – You will need to direct your call to have a "real debate" to the public. The Alice Springs News is doing its part by publishing relevant information and comment.
Our report was about the spending of public money on secondary education, and revealed that the private schools are getting a lot less. We compared the Tertiary Entrance Rankings (TER) of two of the town's schools for last year, the first ever comprehensive facts published on the subject, so far as we know. Today we are revealing TER details from the third school, which were not available at the time of publication of the original article, as clearly stated. We made no comment on the value or otherwise of VET courses; the report was not about them.

All kids deserve good start

Sir,- The current secondary education funding system allows for some of the wealthiest schools in our country to get a very large share of the funds.
The ALP is not saying fund government schools rather than non-government schools but that the whole funding arrangements should be equitable.
I have personally taught in a very poor Catholic primary school in Melbourne. They would benefit from a system that recognises their needs and also their lack of capacity to raise additional revenue from parents and the community.
The current system does not address the real needs and lack of resources in the allocation of funding that is necessary for all kids to have the best start in life.
Trish Crossin
NT ALP Senator

Food baskets

Sir,- Re: Territory food prices (Alice News, Feb 11). It is curious that the NT Treasurer had to write a Letter to the Editor to give the December 2003 results of Treasury's six-monthly food price review.
From the December 2003 survey, the Darwin basket cost $166.05 at the cheapest place, while the Alice Springs basket was $159.40 at the cheapest shop.
That means Alice Springs food basket was 4.15 per cent cheaper than Darwin's food basket.
The results were consistent with the finding of the Northern Territory Food Price Review which I chaired in 2000. The Parliamentary Committee, which included Syd Stirling, found that the same food basket in Alice Springs was around 2-5 per cent less than Darwin.
I now ask the Martin Labor Government to assure us that with the advent of the railway line and freight moving by rail, the cost of living will go down.
I also ask the Martin Labor Government to assure us that Alice Springs food prices will remain between 2-5 per cent below that of Darwin.
If food prices in Alice Springs move towards the prices in Darwin, then all of us living in Alice Springs will know that the Martin Labor Government has allowed freight prices to be differentially structured so that Central Australia subsidises the Top End.
For us to be able to judge for ourselves that food prices are not only moving upward too rapidly and which shops sells the cheapest food, it is necessary for the Government to go back to the three monthly food price reviews.
It is only then that we can put pressure on all the shops to keep their prices down by choosing to shop at the cheapest stores.
Richard Lim
MLA Greatorex

ED – It was our decision to run Mr Stirling's press release as a letter to the editor.

Hoppers love bright lights

Sir,- From whence came the myriad of grasshoppers to Alice Springs recently may not be clear but the reason for their presence can be explained. It is lights at night.
During the course of my working life I sometimes camped overnight at sites within 30 to 40 kilometres from Alice Springs. The location of town could be seen at night as a glowing hemisphere of light. On cloudy night this glow was much intensified. This undoubtedly attracts insects from a long distance. Anyone who has used a lead light while camped out on a warm night will know what a profusion of bugs will be attracted to it.
My family occupied a house on the Arid Zone Institute (A.I.B Farm) when 8HA was built. A large, bright sign was lit up at nights at 8HA. I made use of this to get rid of our garden pests. I would switch on the outside lights of our house and allow the insects to gather about them. Then I would turn the lights off - and watch our army of bugs migrate to the 8HA sign,I spent a bit of time at CSIRO's Division of Entomology in Canberra in 1955. A feature of that place then was a bright light on the roof at night used to attract and collect insects.
We live in a part of the rural area, which is nice and dark at night time. Grasshoppers are a rarity at our place.
So, bright lights attract bugs. It's not practical to turn off the town lights to solve the problem. Perhaps a battalion of chooks could be employed. They love grasshoppers.
(Or - whisper it - Cane Toads!)
Des Nelson
Alice Springs

Territorians' taxes fund healthcare for the rich

Sir,- Territorians who have no access to private hospitals are being forced to pay higher taxes if they refuse to take out private health insurance.
I have told Federal Parliament that the number of Territorians with private health insurance is 25 per cent below the national average, the lowest level in Australia.
I explained that there's a very good reason for this – most rural Territorians have no access to private hospital care.
There's just one private hospital in all of the 1.4 million square kilometres of the NT.
Yet despite this, rural Territorians are bullied by the government into paying for a health service they will never receive.
We are effectively subsidising the healthcare of affluent consumers in metropolitan areas, such as Kirribilli.The Federal Government forces those who earn more than $50,000 to pay a higher Medicare levy if they don't take out private health insurance, regardless of whether private health services are available.
The system is a "rort", with people in rural areas of the NT facing disproportionately high healthcare costs, including the highest GP fees in the country.
For many rural Territorians, the only accessible healthcare is provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Yet while Territorians give more than their fair share through the government's health insurance scheme, the Flying Doctors struggle for enough funding to allow their staff to work safe hours.
If the government was serious about targeting health expenditure more effectively, it could do little better than provide this organisation with better resources.
Warren Snowdon
MHR for Lingiari



Where's the Ghan bonanza? COLUMN by ANN CLOKE.

The theory is that we should have an influx of visitors to Alice now that the Ghan comes in three times a week – from Adelaide around noon on Saturdays and Mondays, and from Darwin on Thursdays.
David and I chatted to Ernie, Licensee of the Firkin and Hound, and he said he hadn't had many Ghan travellers in – one couple walked from George Crescent, in 40 degrees, and over a couple of beers related that there were no cabs or mini buses at the station that day. No welcome at all to a town like Alice.
I asked friend Lori, owner of Outcrop Gallery (OCG), if there'd been any dramatic increase in the number of visitors wandering along the mall lately: she had a good laugh (she has a great sense of humour) and said not that she'd noticed…
Others, including Ben from the Sports Bar also said they hadn't noticed any impact on trading. It is early days, however if it's not happening now, what new initiatives need to be taken to ensure that it does?
Lori (OCG) mentioned that a number of mall traders would like to see levies currently paid to the town council better utilised – perhaps providing mini-bus transport for Ghan passengers into town.
Years ago, David and I flew into Cairns and were impressed to see people wearing Welcome to Far North Queensland gear distributing promotional material at the airport. The message was: "We're so pleased to see you in our part of the world."
Craig, owner of Mad Harry's, agreed that any council initiative involving specifically appointed "Welcome to Alice" reps would be a winner.
I spoke to Michael Jones, Alderman, Saturday morning. He said he'd heard rumblings about disgruntled Ghan passengers arriving at the station and wondering where they actually were. He thought that the idea of a mini-bus service to the town centre could have merit.
CATIA's website is extensive and informative, as is Rail Australia's, but are intending visitors receiving the right messages about an Alice-based Red Centre stopover when they visit other sites? Some are dubbing the longest train journey in the world the "Darwin Ghan"…
The NT Visitors' Bureau "travel on line" and Top End Tourist site promote the Ghan, luxury transcontinental train from Darwin to Adelaide…(north to south!?). Scrolling down: Darwin and Surrounds has about 15 points of interest: Kakadu National Park (a long spiel mentions Jabiru, Jim Jim Falls, Mamukala and Twin Falls); The Territory Wildlife Park (60 kilometres south of Darwin, a big promo there); Arnhem Land (a huge piece incorporating Nhulunbuy, Litchfield National Park); Katherine (eight places of interest); the, Red Centre. The header is Ayers Rock, then Kings Canyon. Alice Springs follows with 11 must see's: Frontier Camel Farm, Alice Springs Reptile Centre, Old Stuart Gaol, National Women's' Hall of Fame, Royal Flying Doctor Service, National Road Transport Hall of Fame, School of the Air, Adelaide House, Aboriginal Arts and Craft Centre, Cultural Precinct and Desert Park…Of Alice Springs it says, "It is a spirited bush town … that still wears its outback heritage on its sleeve."
Tennant Creek is next on the list (geographically, I'm not sure why), followed by our magnificent West MacDonnell Ranges, the Eastern Macs and Simpson Desert.
The Northern Territory Holidays site states that Alice Springs is an ideal base from which to explore the wonders of the Red Centre but a suggested itinerary, Top to Bottom on the Ghan, shows: Sunday, fly into Darwin, be met and transferred to a hotel; Monday, sightsee around Darwin, historic sites are suggested; Tuesday, enjoy a free day in the city; Wednesday, board the Ghan… "pausing" at Katherine , cruise through Nitmiluk National Park; Thursday, arrive in Alice Springs, take a town tour to see the Telegraph Station, School of the Air, Alice Springs Reptile Centre and view from Anzac Hill; Friday, a free day, and the one and only suggestion is a trip out to Palm Valley; Saturday, board the Ghan and travel back to Adelaide.
The Australian Tourism Net sports a photo of Ayers Rock above which is written: Alice Springs, Northern Territory. The blurb under, and heaven knows who pens these pieces, reads: "An oasis in the desert is a spirited celebration of life – and that's a perfect description of Alice Springs, oasis extraordinaire. Here in the middle of Australia's Red Centre, the doctors make house calls by plane, the townspeople race bottomless boats down dry riverbeds, while visitors take camels to dinner." Not bad … but is it the image we wish to convey, does it inspire action?
It goes on: "The Alice (as the town of 20,000 is affectionately known)…" Out-dated perhaps, or, heaven forbid, the Australian Tourism Board pre-empting "new" population figures. Either way, the image of Uluru doesn't help the marketing of Alice Springs as a destination in its own right.
The Ghan pulled in early on Saturday. On the platform Pat Dodds exhibited locally produced Aboriginal art and crafts, paintings, place mats, postcards, hand painted boxes and beads as people milled around, collecting luggage. Some, possibly Gold Kangaroo passengers whose ticket includes entry and lunch at the Desert Park, boarded coaches.
A few companies have been given permission by Great Southern Rail to set up booths on the northern side of the station … I chatted to Mal, who, with his wife, Sandy, runs Alice Wanderers: he meets the Ghan and promotes the benefits of Alice, but says most passengers are pre-booked. Some Gold Kangaroo travellers don't necessarily wish to spend their stopover at the Desert Park – they want to see Alice and Mal and other operators are happy to oblige.
Visitors need to know everything on offer before they arrive – they can then plan to spend days between trains in Alice, helping to boost the local economy, and enjoying the Outback Capital of Oz, the best, the only base from which to explore the Red Centre.



Mars probe veers to Red Centre. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

This is the story of a Mars probe that took a wrong turn on the way to the Red Planet and went to the Red Centre instead.
I was standing in the scrub a couple of weeks ago watching the Minister for Central Australia learning how to operate a backhoe to turn the first sod at the site of the Desert Knowledge Precinct. As forty degrees of sun and a lack of shade took hold, so my thoughts wandered.
Far away on Mars, a similar act was taking place. A robot digger was scratching through the red dirt in search of exciting prospects that we can only begin to imagine. So exciting that I can't remember them ever having been explained properly.
But given the technical challenges of reaching Mars and the fact that three spacecraft were up there at the same time, it would be understandable if one of them took a wrong turn, searched frantically for the nearest piece of red earth and plunged down into Ilparpa.
So let's suppose that this actually happened. That Mission Control thought that it really had arrived on Mars, when in fact they had spent a sum big enough to end world poverty on a trip that people do on a tour bus. Anyway, in the haze of childish rapture and backslapping, the Mission Control beardies press on with the venture. "Return with evidence of life," they instruct the Ilparpa lander.
If you were asked to prove that there is life in Central Australia, how would you go about it? Would you send home a postcard of the MacDonnells or a piece of Aboriginal art wrapped in a jiffy bag?
That's too easy. This is supposed to be a Mars probe, so come along, let's probe a bit deeper. Life means different things to different people. So, after digging a while through the Ilparpa red stuff, our rogue spacecraft shuffles off in the direction of Heavitree Gap and up Gap Road.
Life, but not as we know it. To less decrepit members of the population than me, life means nightlife. Music venues, pubs and clubs, that sort of thing. So Bojangles would qualify and the probe could communicate with Mission Control by waving its digger arms in front of the saloon webcam, like other extra-terrestrials. This would have the Houston beardies in raptures.
But then again, life could also mean economic life, of which there's much, even if it is mostly tourism, welfare payments and government subsidies. How is the economy doing anyway? Good for some, bad for the rest and tough for many even if they're working.
I never can work out whether wildlife in Central Australia is in crisis or not.
I saw a leaflet the other day that described the flora and fauna as being almost pristine. I know nothing, but with all the ferals and the buffel, it doesn't look that way. At any rate, this sounds too difficult for a Mars lander to work out.
The Minister's backhoe and the Mars probe somehow belong together, but I couldn't work out why. The life of Beagle 2 was expected to be 180 days, after which Martian dust and extremes of temperature would put it out of action. Watching Peter Toyne and his midday digger lessons, I expected to last three minutes.
One sign of life in a remote region is the wherewithal to organise major projects like the Desert Knowledge Precinct. Ideas that bridge Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures in a way never achieved before.
steve@afishoutofwater.com

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