HOSPITAL: WHOSE MESS? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
A government report leaked to the Alice News casts new light on the relentless pursuit by the Opposition of the Health Minister, Peter Toyne, over the problems with the refurbishment of the Alice Springs Hospital.
MLA Jodeen Carney (CLP) is leading the charge, but she's mum about the fact that many of the woes Dr Toyne is now being blamed for seem to be the product of incompetence by her own party colleagues.
Dr Toyne says the full story about the fiasco needs to come out, especially the level of project supervision by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment (DIPE).
In the course of redevelopment work, hospital staff have been suffering disruptions, inconvenience, frustrations and fear for their own safety since 1998, already twice as long as should have been the case.
And that's not all by any means.
Dr Toyne says a raft of new faults have been found and fixing the mess will take three more years.
For example, all walls, currently made from flammable material, will need to be stripped from the entire "refurbished" section.
To create temporary accommodation for patients, the private wing will now be upgraded to cope with care of the highest level, right up to intensive care.
That wing will then, in turn, accommodate wards including pediatrics, maternity, ICU and day surgery, as repairs are carried out.
The stress caused to staff by these endless disruptions is likely to make worse the hospital's other current problems, including recruitment and retention, the subject of incessant media releases from Ms Carney.
At the same time the taxpayer looks like coughing up $10m more than the initially budgeted $30m.
Unfortunately, the Territory's first Labor administration isn't helping itself, by keeping the public in the dark about the mess surrounding the upgrading, initiated by the CLP government well before its defeat in 2001.
A significant portion of this mess is described in a secret report by DIPE, dated April 21, 2003.
The Alice News got wind of the problems later that year but we were told by the report's author, Ken Hawkins, that the problems were minor and except for one, which he said was well in hand, had all been rectified. We dropped the story. (Alice News, Feb 9, 2005.)
Mr Hawkins report is marked "internal confidential document". The copy we have now obtained makes fascinating reading.
Most of the contractor's mistakes Ð some of them life threatening Ð had clearly already been made when the Martin Government came to power in August 2001.
In fact most of the work phases were certified "practically complete" within half a year of her taking office.
This is how the fiasco unfolded.
The redevelopment contract, advertised for tender in May 1998, was awarded in that year to John Holland Construction and Engineering Pty Ltd.
The Health Minister at the time was the CLP's Steve Dunham, and the Transport and Works Minister Ð heading up the agency responsible for the contract Ð was Mick Palmer.
The present Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Lim, a doctor and the Member for Greatorex, was the Parliamentary Secretary to Cabinet, and later became Minister for Central Australia.
He has frequently declared that as a doctor what goes on in the hospital is of special interest to him.
The refurbishment job was unusually wide-ranging, taking in "planning, design, documentation, construction and commissioning".
This included certification, confirming the work had been done properly and the refurbished facilities were ready for use.
This was in the hands of the NT firm Acer Forester, employed by John Holland: So the contractor, who would get paid only if their work had been certified, were also the people paying the certifier.
The Alice News understands the standard of that certification work is now a key issue in a process that may lead to litigation.
Mr Palmer says projects "of this magnitude" are often managed on a self-certification basis.
Says Dr Toyne: "You can be assured that we will pursue legal remedies against any parties responsible."In any case, the CLP government at the time had a watchdog in place, Darwin architect Les Platt, the "superintendent's representative".
His job, on behalf of the Minister, was to make sure Ð essentially Ð that taxpayers' money was being spent properly.
We understand Mr Platt's performance is now also under intense scrutiny: A lot of money is being spent, and countless patients and staff are being acutely inconvenienced, fixing up flaws in work which it was his job to monitor.
If his supervision is found to be wanting then the responsibility may be sheeted home to Mr Dunham, Mr Palmer (whose department appointed him) and Dr Lim.
Oddly, Mr Platt now has a key role in the $1b Darwin waterfront development in which the NT Government has a share of about 10 per cent.
The document leaked to the Alice News includes a memo from Mr Platt to Mr Hawkins, dated January 22, 2003, when Mr Hawkins was taking over Mr Platt's job.
What Mr Platt says in his memo about unresolved issues and faulty work is bizarrely bland in contrast to the dramatic language of Mr Hawkins' report only three months later.
John Holland's failings on Mr Hawkins' list include:-
¥ No interim back-up power for intensive care life support systems.
¥ A nurse being trapped in a coolroom for 45 minutes and escaping only "by a chance". Mr Hawkins demanded "an urgent explanation from John Holland as to why a non-conforming, unsafe installation was certified as fit for occupancy".¥ Power outlets, including those in a whole operating theatre, were screwed into the plaster wall instead of a metal backing plate. (When an operating theatre nurse tripped over a cable, the socket and cabling were pulled out of the wall).
¥ "Ambiguous and misleading" responses from John Holland.
¥ An electrical switchboard design which could have caused "major system damage".
¥ The hospital was without a reliable "uninterrupted power supply" and emergency generator for at least eight months; another generator failed.
¥ Lack of "required fire separation" representing a high risk area with potential for multiple failures.
¥ An inadequately secured liquid oxygen tank.
¥ A pager system that was dodgy for two years.
¥ Inadequate airconditioning (later causing an uproar among patients and staff).
¥ Alarm panels that switch off and on with the room lights.
¥ John Holland's statement that "each area, prior to occupation, has been tested, witnessed by the hospital and certified by the Medical Gas installed and therefore complies" is "just not true," says Mr Hawkins.
¥ Children on the "maternity balcony" can climb onto an adjacent roof and could "fall three to four metres to the ground".
¥ A stress room without a "code blue" facility to deal with patients at "extreme risk".
¥ A missing child proof gate allowing kids from the paediatrics ward to get to the "main road".
In stark contrast, Mr Platt's handover memo to Mr Hawkins, ending with the words "good luck", expresses urgency in respect only to the most trifling issues: "The "clients" are destroying the landscaping," Mr Platt says.
"We must (and must is written in bold type) revisit this issue.
"To date plants have been destroyed, planter beds are walked over, trees have been destroyed."
And: "During construction the hospital, to stop the kids "escaping", put a bloody awful second hand door in the corridor" and Mr Platt says he wants it replaced with a door "to match the front Paeds fence".
MONEYAbout the balcony Mr Platt says "the balustrade meets the [building] code".
Mr Platt recommends a change but asks: "Where do we get the money from?"
Mr Platt seemed to regard himself more as a watchdog over the hospital management rather than over the redevelopment contractor, John Holland: "Be careful as the Hospital may try and make all problems and issues a 'redevelopment issue'," he warns Mr Hawkins.
Twenty-two "outstanding" issues in Mr Platt's memo are described by code only, for example: "06.02.39: need recommendation, cost from Acer Forester [through John Holland], assess then proceed if we have the money."
DIPE last week declined to reveal what these codes mean, but unlike Mr Hawkins' later assessment, none of Mr Platt's comments conveyed a sense of immediate action being required.
On several issues Mr Platt says he has commissioned Acer Forester to investigate a shortcoming, or he is relying on an Acer Forester report.
These issues including fire safety and airconditioning.
It seems odd Mr Platt would seek advice from Acer Forester: The firm worked for John Holland, whose performance Mr Platt was instructed to monitor.
Would Acer Forester be inclined to declare faulty work it had already certified as OK? Perhaps not.
Why did Mr Platt not call in independent experts, as Mr Hawkins did very soon after his appointment?
For example, Mr Hawkins commissioned Project Building Certifiers (PBC) to examine the plant room extension, the cool room in the pharmacy, the oxygen enclosure and another plant room.
PBC's Duncan Cooke reported to Mr Hawkins, in part: "We have considerable apprehension about the compliance of the sections of Alice Springs Hospital assessed here.
"The works in our opinion are not in compliance with the NT Building Act 1993 nor the Building Code of Australia."
He says the department should complain to the Building Practitioners Board about "the conduct" of the building certifier, Acer Forester.
It is unclear why the Martin government left a quality check system so obviously flawed in place for 18 months (until Mr Hawkins took over as the Superintendent's Representative).
Dr Toyne says that in May 2004 his Government approved $2 million towards the cost of repairs.
"Since then, further investigations have revealed that the problems are moreserious than we first thought.
"We have now announced a further package of $8 million to fix them.
"In the meantime, the Fire and Rescue Service has confirmed that the evacuationplans and fire safety systems mean that staff, patients and visitors arecompletely safe.
"Under this Government, base spending at the hospital has increased by over 30 per cent, from $57.2m in 2000/01 to $75.5m in 2003/04.
"In addition, we have committed $11 million for additional staff and equipment in the Intensive Care Unit and employed 39 extra nurses.
"We will continue to support and extend the services available at this vital partof our health system."The Alice News sought comment from Mr Platt, Acer Forester and John Holland. None responded.
HOSPITAL A LEGACY FROM CLP, SAYS TOYNE.
The government has gained ground on key Alice Springs hospital issues but there are still challenges ahead, says Minister for Health and Central Australia, Peter Toyne.
"We inherited from the previous government a hospital where funding and management were deficient in many areas.
"We've settled the issue of senior clinical leadership, with the appointment of a full complement of clinicians, including two intensivists (for the first time ever), two extra anaesthetists, full time surgeons, and others: "This should provide staff with the professional leadership they need.
"On the administration side, Vicki Taylor's appointment as manager has put her in one of toughest jobs in the NT," says Dr Toyne.
"She's had to keep a hold on expenditure, and establish a culture of working through due process within the hospital. There are 310 nurses, but despite this number, they have been working under pressure because of the unusually high numbers of patients in recent times.
"I want to see more permanent nursing appointments, and equity in the conditions for nurses.
"This will mean a drop in pay for agency nurses, but these changes should be gradual rather than sudden. We will also provide a strong package of professional development and other incentives for our permanent nurses.
"We're embarking on a very intense national recruitment campaign for permanent nurses.
"Elective surgery waiting lists have been an issue. With the new anaesthetists and surgeons we will be resuming elective surgery on February 28."
The Opposition claims there are now 1600 people waiting for elective surgery.
"Another key group are our junior doctors. We have 93 places for junior doctors, and 79 positions are filled.
"At least 10 doctors were recruited in London, some of whom will work in Alice Springs.
"This will increase the total hours worked by junior doctors. I'm aware they need more supervision by senior doctors.
"Junior doctors are also seeking professional development and specialist skills, ambitions we will strive to meet.
"I've been fully briefed about the three year plan to rectify the serious faults uncovered in the building.
"The further corrective work (see story this page) will be a further extra burden on the staff.
"I'm most grateful for the commitment the staff have made to see this process through for the next three years.
"I want to assure people of Central Australia that their hospital provides a safe and good quality service, and that the staff fully deserve the national accreditation they received last year from the Australian Council of Health Care Standards."
OPPOSITION CHARGE: HOSPITAL SECRETS AND PROCRASTINATION.
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Lim says the government received at least two reports, one in January and one in April 2003, "the first of any such reports received by any government about the hospital.
"The government sat on these reports, have kept them secret, and we now find the government is putting in $10m to rectify the faults identified in these reports, and more than 20 others.
"The government has been negligent, and has been dragged kicking and screaming to deal with the problems. They are still refusing to tell us what the problems are."
Dr Lim says the first time he saw the Hawkins report of 2003 was in the office of the Alice Springs News last Sunday.
Former Health Minister Steve Dunham says: "The public has been told by press release that an additional $8m will be required to fix the hospital, taking the total to $10m.
"The mid-year report of the Under Treasurer tabled in December has a certification from the Under Treasurer that all the numbers of the document are true, and are a reflection of all government commitments and forward commitments.
"Within a month Dr Toyne tells us he needs $8m more for issues going back three years. I don't buy that timing. Labor Health Minister Jane Aagard accepted the building. We didn't. It was a turnkey operation," says Mr Dunham.
He could not recall how much John Holland had been paid by the time the CLP lost power but claims "this figure can be easily obtained."
In fact, the News asked the question on Monday morning but had no response by deadline for this issue, late Monday.
"For the government to have accepted the hospital, in its deficient stage, is a massive problem," says Mr Dunham.
"We're now having a debate by media release.
"Why did Dr Toyne not discuss the issue in Parliament? He has been totally silent on an expenditure of $8m. If you had the opportunity of saying Dunham is at fault, why would you not take that opportunity?
"I'm happy to have the debate, but armed with the same documents Dr Toyne has. They've had a problem for a long time. It's now a game of finding a scapegoat rather than remediation Ð that's why it's taking so long."
Dr Toyne is saying the public has a right to be informed about the circumstances of the redevelopment fiasco, especially about the time it took for the major deficiencies to surface.
But when he took over as Health Minister from Ms Aagard in December 2003 the assumption still was that the problems were minor.
What's more, "letters right up to recent times from DIPI to Health suggested there were merely some minor problems," says Dr Toyne. "We're still not sure today about the total extent of the problem."
He says he didn't want to suggest in public or in Parliament that Mr Dunham and other CLP Ministers had been asleep on the job.
That would be weakening the government's case in the event of litigation, "as Ms Carney cheap shots on this issue are doing".
It seemed clear that supervision of work on the Darwin hospital, also under self-certification, appeared to have been more thorough. Dr Toyne says the need for work costing $8m came to light late last December and consequently was not included in the sub-treasurer's half-yearly report.
"We're investigating and fixing the mess the CLP created."
"YES, MINISTER" ON WORK FOR THE DOLE. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Consult, set targets, monitor outcomes, have partnership agreements with each individual community. It hardly seems the stuff of major change the widely rorted, dead-end CDEP "work for the dole" scheme needs. Yet that's how Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews describes his proposed CDEP reforms.
Does he agree that the scheme currently disguises unemployment; that if you include CDEP participants the electorate of Lingiari (the whole of the Territory outside of Darwin) has a 25 per cent unemployment rate?
Mr Andrews avoided answering this question, but said that CDEP must lead to real jobs, not be "a destination" in itself.
Will he tackle the obstacles to enterprise development represented by the Land Rights Act, which makes it impossible to negotiate deals with individual communities? All proposed ventures must be negotiated through the land councils.
That issue, said Mr Andrews, lies within Senator Amanda Vanstone's portfolio as Minister for Indigenous Affairs. So why does he refer to the Federal Government having a "whole of government" approach to Indigenous affairs?
As Employment Minister, he would be "part of [the Lands Rights Act] discussion" should it arise, noting that Warren Mundine, member of the National Indigenous Council, has made comments about such changes.
Would the Federal Government be committing resources to develop infrastructure and communications in remote communities, paving the way for economic development?
The Federal and Territory Governments should coordinate their efforts in this regard, said Mr Andrews. But what about additional resources?
The allocation for CDEP, at present about half a billion annually, will "remain the same".
There will also be "no diminution" of funding for Indigenous affairs as a whole, at present about $2.9b annually. The changes to CDEP will be negotiated community by community, with each community determining its own program and how its success should be measured. On-going funding will depend on performance outcomes.
The changes will not happen overnight, but will be negotiated over three to four years.
The pace of change "will vary greatly" from community to community. Change in communities "with a strong job market" will obviously happen more quickly.
Is the consultation period of four weeks long enough?
The consultation will be "intensive" over the next week and will continue through the next four weeks, after which an audit will establish whether any groups have not responded to the discussion paper (titled CDEP Building on Success). They will then be invited to do so.
Will the revamped scheme be using a 'stick' approach?
"Not at all. We will be working in partnerships. The communities are saying they want a change. We are looking at how to move that forward."
In the future will it be possible to still find people who have been on CDEP for 10, 20 years?
"That would be undesirable in a perfect world.
"But particularly in locations where there are no job opportunities that could be an outcome.
"In such a case we would be asking questions about whether that situation is disguising a real job opportunity?"
Should government services, from local to federal, ever be delivered involving CDEP workers?
That too will "vary".
"It's our intention that all services continue."
Meanwhile, there was only one Territory CDEP participant (Linda Williams from Groote Eylandt) among the winners in Monday night's CDEP achievement awards, hosted by Mr Andrews.
This is despite CDEP participants representing 16.8 per cent of the Lingiari workforce, a participation rate 47 times greater than the national rate (one third of one per cent).
TOWN CAMP LITTER IS "UNACCEPTABLE". Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Health Minister Peter Toyne says the council needs to seriously address the problem of rubbish in town camps in the long term.
Last week the Alice News reported on piles of rubbish strewn across land between Charles Creek camp and St Philip's College. This has now been cleared up Ð but the minister says it's not enough.
"The current state of some town camps is totally unacceptable."It's a terrible advertisement for Alice Springs when the first thing passengers on the Ghan see is piles of rubbish on the ground."The town camps should have the same regular service enjoyed by people in town."There has to be a long-term, sustainable solution, not just a big clean-up and then the problem forgotten about until the rubbish starts to pile-up again."
The council's environmental health officer can legally prosecute town camps if it's recognised that rubbish is a potential risk to public health, explains Fiona Smith, manager of the council's environmental health unit.
"The circumstances in which health inspectors would act would be if there is a public health risk from the camp, such as the potential for a disease outbreak.
"Health officers can enter the property to determine the problem and if there is a risk of it becoming a public health problem. If a significant risk exists they can apply any relevant regulations.
"We can address any health hazard associated with public or private property. On private property it must constitute a public health risk, that is, extend beyond the private property and put the public's health at risk."
In response to Dr Toyne's comment, Ms Smith says, "I agree with the health minister. We need to overcome the problem. But we need to look at the deeper issues behind the litter."
One health inspector is employed by the council, and is in contact with Tangentyere Council over the matter. The council has also employed two trainee indigenous environmental health workers, plus the council's ranger unit is involved.But despite the fact that camps are littered with piles of food, stagnant water and human waste, no action has been taken by environmental health officers. It's ironic that outside the Mpwetyerre camp on South Terrace there's a sign announcing it as a Territory Tidy Towns Camp.
Residents of the Mpwetyerre camp (Abbott's camp) say they feel "shameful" of the situation. They say the problem is lack of support.
"We've got no CDEP worker," says one long-term resident. "When I was a CDEP worker we did a really good job here. We used to work every morning clearing up the litter. The problem was solved. There were six or seven CDP workers at that time but now we have no support.
"Tangentyere come once a week but they only do little jobs here, just a quick clean up and then they go.
"They only bring six rubbish bags. It's not enough. And they only do the parks and outside areas not the yards.
"They should make it easier for us. We've been asking for three or four years for new bins. We've only got these old drums. We try, try, try to put in for things but we get ignored.
"Why can't they drop rubbish bags to us during the week? At the weekends, we'll buy our own.
"My lawnmower got stolen and we've been asking Tangentyere for a tin shed to put our tools in but they ignore us."
Another resident says the litter is also due to too many people living in the camp. "There are too many visitors from other camps like Papunya, Hermannsburg and Docker River. It's out of control. When I saw the newspaper last week I was upset," says the resident. "Tangentyere should wake up."
A spokesperson for Tangentyere Council declined to comment.
TWO MINISTERS AND A LAKE ON AGENDA OF SECOND CHANCE DENIS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Central Australia will loom much larger in Denis Burke's mind if he becomes Chief Minister again after this year's elections.
While much of the Central Australia platform is still under wraps Ð "better policies by far" than those he took to the 2001 election Ð Mr Burke revealed to the Alice News some initiatives.
¥ "I commit to two ministers in Alice Springs" instead of the one last time. He would again have nine ministers in all.
He says the Labor government with its eight ministers has 30 more staff than he did with nine ministers.
¥ Alice Springs will have its recreational facilities "enhanced in a major way".
"We're talking about a major new facility," says Mr Burke.
Does that include a lake?
"You can read that between the lines, if you like," he says.
¥ He will also "once and for all" be guaranteeing the water supply for Alice Springs.
¥ He will ensure Alice Springs will get "a greater profile" by positioning the town "in its rightful role as not only the centre of the outback but a city that is environmentally at the forefront of world technology, particularly of solar power".
For more details we have to wait for the policies to be rolled out.
¥ Alice Springs should become the world centre for how indigenous art is marketed globally.
¥ Mr Burke gave a commitment that Desert Knowledge, set in motion by the CLP, "will continue in its entirety" but would get a stronger role in the tourism industry: "The tourist potential of the Desert People's Centre figured prominently in the early stages and that's not coming through now."
Mr Burke says his re-appointment as Opposition Leader marks the start of a new era: "If I made mistakes in the past then they are mistakes I acknowledge.
"I've made a determined decision that under no circumstances will I go back to the fighting with Aboriginal people unless that's the way they choose to go. I'm determined to get good relationships in the future. I believe I can do it."
In fact that's likely to be easier said than done, given the government's handing over of national parks to Aboriginal ownership, a move vehemently opposed by Mr Burke.
He says keeping the parks in public ownership doesn't preclude "getting Aboriginal involvement, Aboriginal economic potential in these parks".
"I can do far better than the Labor Party have done on that front. We don't believe that one needs to arbitrarily hand over land. At the end of the day we all want economic activity.
"A handout mentality and tokenistic efforts don't give Aboriginal people the economic benefits, in our parks and elsewhere, that they deserve.
"I commit to joint venture arrangements in the same way as they exist in Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge)."
A joint management structure could be reached through an Indigenous land use agreement.
A Burke government would take a "facilitator's role" in the development of residential land in Alice Springs.
Mr Burke's experience with residential land development involving Aborigines is a happy one.
As Chief Minister he brokered a deal with the Northern Land Council (NLC), on behalf of the Larrakia people who by now have benefited to the tune of "millions of dollars".
Mr Burke acknowledges that native title rights in Alice Springs are confirmed by a court ruling, whereas that is not the case in Darwin.
So to start with all the Larrakia had was the Ð strong Ð likelihood of owning native title over an area of scrub, and an array of sporting facilities at Arther.
The NLC, representing the Larrakia, went to Mr Burke with a three-pronged deal.
Firstly, the Larrakia wanted to keep native title over a portion of the area.
They were happy to relinquish native title over the sporting areas, including a gun club shooting range, a scout hall and a BMX club.
All of them had been set up before native title became acknowledged, but were now liable to native title claims.
In exchange the Larrakia got a development lease for the remainder of the area.
That land will ultimately house a suburb, Darla, of some 390 allotments for residential use and the usual public facilities such as a school, church, shopping and parks.
Says Mr Burke: "The Larrakia people bought the land at market value and developed it.
"The government has taken no role at all, except helping them to get a joint venture partner in the development.
"In my mind that's a better way to the government having ownership of these things.
"We need to facilitate the land release and ensure the Aboriginal people can then progress it with the private sector.
Mr Burke says Mt Johns Valley in Alice Springs "has always figured prominently in my mind as a major area for land release:"That can't occur without the full co-operation of the Aboriginal leadership."
BORN AGAIN CLP TAKES BACK THE NEW BURKE. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Mid last year the powerful Alice Springs branch of the Country Liberal Party couldn't wait to see the back of Denis Burke.
Now they're welcoming him back as the Opposition Leader.
"He is a different man," says David Forrest, a member of the branch and one of two party vice-presidents.
"We were very vocal in our support of a leadership change.
"But Denis has had time to reflect.
"He's had time to come up with newer, fresher ideas, to develop a fresh approach.
"He was under enormous pressure at the time of the rebirth of the CLP," says Mr Forrest.
"The party had a long, hard look at itself.
"There have been changes in the management hierarchy, new presidents, a new executive.
"We have new views about where the Territory is going.
"It was a humbling and difficult process, but we're a very much better party for having gone through it."
Mr Forrest says the party's finances are "fine".
Are they in the black?
"I don't think we were ever in the red."
[In September 2003 the Alice News quoted a party insider as saying that the 2001 campaign had cost the CLP more than $1m and $250,000 was still owing. That report was not contradicted by the CLP. We also reported that businesses which were traditional contributors had withdrawn their support because of internal strife in the party.]
Mr Forrest says: "There is a closer relationship now between the party and the [parliamentary] wing.
"We listen to each other.
"We had time to have a good look at what the community wants. We have a closer feel about what a Territorian wants."
What does Alice Springs want?
"It wants to be looked after, not ignored," says Mr Forrest.
"We have obvious issues, law and order, not different to Darwin, but I think they're exaggerated here.
"This community has been ignored for years."
Mr Forrest says if Alice Springs branch members were not happy with Mr Burke's return to the leadership they would not hesitate to make themselves heard.
"Alice Springs people aren't shy. If we weren't happy, our actions in the past show that we'd be saying so now."
And Mr Burke "would know about it, that's for sure".
PRINCE CHARLES: A PALACE IN THE ALICE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Prince Charles will spend his last days as a bachelor in Alice Springs when he visits next week.
I hope he's looking forward to coming Ð after all, our town does hold special memories for him, particularly for eating out and places to stay. The first time he visited in 1977 he got food poisoning from eating jellied chicken and seafood at an official buffet lunch. He subsequently celebrated his 29th birthday sitting on a very different throne from the one his mother uses.
The next time he dropped in, with first wife, her two hairdressers and baby son in tow, he had to stay in a $75-a night motel in the Gap instead of the newly-built casino because floods had blocked roads.
(Unofficial rumours that Camilla has forbidden him from attending afternoon tea on Sunday in Lady Di's Dining Room at the Airport Motel have yet to be confirmed).
And he's got plenty of friends here Ð though no one knows if he's emailed his old pal Dino Diano, the Mitsubishi salesman who had him round for a swim in his pool in Burke Street last time.
But no worries that Dino's left town, he's got new friends in Ernie Nicholls and the staff at Bojangles, who've offered to chuck a buck's night to remember.
With the Mrs at home in Blighty, Ernie reckons he can put on a right royal knees up: "He's a bit of a lad. A few beers, a couple of rums, we'll get him going."
But if he's missing wife-to-be too much, Charlie can get Camilla to log on to Bojangles' webcam Ð and even dedicate a song to her through the internet via Sun FM. Hound Dog maybe?
AND WHAT THE PEOPLE SAID É
Should Prince Charles be Australia's head of state? ELISABETH ATTWOOD asked strollers in Todd Mall.
"No. I'm a republican and he has a redundant role in our country." Lucy McHugh.
"He should be given a chance as king of England but there shouldn't be a monarchy in Australia, those days are gone. The referendum of 2000 didn't represent the feeling of people in Australia." Pamela Brown.
"We should have a president instead, but not someone like John Howard. We need a down to earth true blue Aussie Ð someone who is in touch." Kathryn Willis.
"You ask that of an Irishman? You think I really care?" Jim O'Grady.
"I think he'd make an excellent head of state. He has a fabulous personality, he's a straight thinker and takes time to make decisions. It would be very fitting to have him." Ian Towns.
"Prince Charles is of no relevance to us. An Australian should be head of state Ð an old legend, someone like Slim Dusty if he was still alive." Janice English (left) and Jo Warren.
"A bloke 12,000 miles away shouldn't be dictating. Australia should be independent." David Evans from England.
"Through his love life Prince Charles has proven himself to be an ordinary man not suitable to be head of the state."
Trish Carpenter, US citizen.
"Prince Charles doesn't even live here. Australia should be its own country, we've been here long enough. " Brian Robbins.
"He's no good. It doesn't make sense having him. I should be the boss of this country. I know what's going on." Woody Weeta.
"He should step aside and let William be head of state. He's learnt by what's gone on in his family and he's level-headed and sensible. It's what Diana would want." Keith and Mary Bell from Canada.
"A royal head of state is outdated and just a sort of formality. Australia needs to identify and recognise itself as an independent country. We don't need kings and queens, we need people who are democratically elected." Rob Olzomer.
ARTISTS WANT ADMINISTRATOR BUT LAND COUNCIL SACKS HIM. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
A manager of an Aboriginal arts organisation is alleging he was wrongly sacked by a Central Land Council lawyer purporting to be acting on the group's instructions.
The lawyer, Michael Prowse, went to the shop of Sandover Art Pty Ltd in Gregory Terrace on February 2 and confronted its manager, Narayan Kozeluh.
According to Mr Kozeluh's account Mr Prowse shouted at him for several minutes, telling him he was sacked.
Mr Prowse demanded the keys for the company's car and offices, and passwords to enable "continued operation of the business".
Mr Kozeluh says he felt threatened by Mr Prowse's conduct.
Mr Kozeluh called police who are investigating an alleged assault.
The altercation was observed by John Oster, the executive officer of Desart, a support organisation for Aboriginal owned and operated community art centres.
"It was a heated incident," Mr Oster says.He says he was requested to attend by Mr Prowse.
"Desart's interest in this matter is twofold," Mr Oster says.
"Firstly, we wish to support the continued operation of the Sandover art business, and secondly, we wish to ensure that the Aboriginal stakeholders, who are the owners and operators of this business, are listened to and supported."
According to Mr Kozeluh, Mr Prowse used as authority for his actions a letter signed by Graham Kngwarrey Long, who has an association with the art group.
However, the document needed a second signature to be valid under the organisation's constitution.
It appears at the time of Mr Prowse's actions the letter was invalid.
Nevertheless he proceeded to change the locks in the building, says Mr Kozeluh.
The following day Mr Prowse went to Ampilatwatja and obtained a signature from Eileen Bonney, an artist.
She has since said she doesn't want her signature to be on that document, and has signed another one to effect its removal, "to take that signature off", as she put it.
Mr Prowse's partner, Katie Yeowart, was an employee of Sandover Art Pty Ltd and had several disagreements with Mr Kozeluh, her superior at the time, according to Mr Kozeluh and to Wilma Ross Ngal, chairperson of the Artists of Ampilatwatja Aboriginal Corporation.
Mr Prowse later made several demands of Mr Kozeluh in a letter on Central Land Council letterhead.
Wilma Ross Ngal wrote to land council lawyer David Avery, with a copy to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone, to complain about Mr Kozeluh's sacking.
Ms Ross told the Alice News it was a case of "white people not getting along with each other".
"The artists want Narayan to stay, he's worked for the artists for so long.
"The ladies have decided to keep Narayan as painting coordinator.
"Katie didn't want to carry on working with Narayan, she got so upset.
"We don't know the reason, how it started," says Ms Ross.
"They are both adults, they should sort it out and not carry on.
"All the pressure gets on to us.
"It's a quiet community, no petrol sniffing."
Mr Oster says he visited Ampilatwatja, 300 km north-east of Alice Springs, on Wednesday last week and had "a long and detailed meeting with a large group of artists.
"This meeting was supported by an interpreter. The sentiments expressed at the meeting were a clear indication of their support for Narayan Kozeluh."
Mr Oster says he assisted Ms Bonney with a document that withdrew her authority from Mr Prowse to act on behalf of Sandover Arts, effective February 18.
The Alice News contacted the Central Land Council's media section in an attempt to offer Mr Prowse a right of reply.
Central Land Council director David Ross issued the following statement: "Sandover Art is a business wholly owned by Aboriginal interests from the Sandover River region of Central Australia.
"Sandover Art runs a Gallery at 13 Gregory Terrace Alice Springs.
"The business is relatively new, having opened the Gallery in February last year.
"Sandover Art provides much needed support and assistance with the production and marketing of art by artists from the Ampilatwatja and Utopia communities.
"Central Land Council is pleased to provide ... assistance to Aboriginal people in its region to carry out commercial activities.
"It came to the attention of the Central Land Council that the manager of the business ... had indicated that he wished to close the business.
"In order to protect the business the CLC sought instructions from the directors of the company and pursuant to those instructions the manager's employment was terminated.
"A new manager has been appointed."
The Central Land Council declined to comment further.
MOBS OF DUST, MORE TO COME. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.
The white haze that hung in the Alice Springs sky last Thursday was dust, not smoke, carried by hot south-easterly winds from Lake Frome in South Australia, some 800 kilometres away.
This is dry limestone country, the floor of an ancient sea, which explains the whiteness, as opposed to the more typical red dust of our region.
We know the source of the dust because of satellite aerial photography provided by DustWatch, a cooperative research project monitoring the extent and severity of wind erosion in Australia.
An extensive volunteer observer network contributes to Dust-Watch.Funded primarily by the Desert Knowledge CRC, its other research partners are the Lower Murray Darling Catchment Management Authority, the NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, and Griffith University in Brisbane.
Scientists working on DustWatch attended a recent review of Desert Knowledge projects, signing the local Natural Resource Management unit of the Department of Lands onto their brand new web-based mailing list.
So when the dust haze moved across Alice, regional manager Neil Phillips knew who to ask about it.
The source of the dust fell outside his management area, but Mr Phillips says DustWatch provides an invaluable tool for his unit's work.
They are tasked to look after natural resources in the southern region, from Elliott to the border, an area of more than 750,000 square kilometres.
Previously a satellite survey of the area required the purchase of some 40 Landsat images at $1500 apiece, and these gave only a single snapshot in time.
DustWatch offers free access to its web-based resource, because what it gains in return is the knowledge of people on the ground.
"We can bring experience and judgement to their scientific work," says Mr Phillips. "That's what the Desert Knowledge partnership process is all about."
He says current technological capacity is "way beyond anything we could have accessed five years ago".
Not only is it more affordable, it's also more user friendly.
Remote sensing by satellite provides infrared and other wavelength signals which require interrogation and interpretation by highly trained individuals, whereas DustWatch provides aerial photographs at a regional scale, and soon should be able to get down to a property scale.
This type of monitoring still needs "ground truthing". For instance, an area with little vegetation cover may be in its natural state, rather than degraded by human-related activity.
It's only possible to establish that by assessment on the ground, but the photographs make it possible to target attention in our vast, sparsely inhabited landscapes.
This improved capacity should lead to more effective assessment and thus better land management decisions.
Mr Phillips says we can expect to see more dust, from closer to home, as we move through our third year of extremely dry weather.
In fact, large parts of the Alice Springs region experienced the driest six months on record in the latter half of last year.
The 60mm that fell last May brought on a marvellous season of wild flowers (and Bogan Flea), which have now dried out and blown away. But it didn't do anything for the big grasses more critical for holding the soil together. These need summer rain.
"If we don't get it, then the country will pull back. Just look around Alice Springs and you can see that it already has," says Mr Phillips.
"This is part of a natural cycle in the desert. With sound soaking rain the country will bounce back.
"The issue, in relation to human impacts, is not to push them beyond the point where the country can bounce back."
If Mr Phillips' unit does become concerned about impacts on pastoral leases Ð which cover most of the particularly dry area to the south and south-east of Alice Ð it can make a report to the Pastoral Land Board, a body of five government-appointees who have authority under the Pastoral Land Act 1992.
Two of the appointees must have pastoral experience but otherwise there is no specific expertise required.
Without referring to specific examples, Mr Phillips says the board can and do make orders for remedial action to protect the natural resource, such as resting areas of land, fencing areas and so on.
The Pastoral Land Act is currently under review.
A majority of submissions to the review have called for an increased membership of the board, including 'public interest' representatives.
There was also general support for improved enforcement of remedial provisions and stronger sanctions for non-compliance.
RUGBY: EARLY BATHS FOR DEVILS AND CUBS. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
Rugby in town is rapidly on its way to being a game that matters.
With only three fixtures remaining before the finals play off, the Eagles have firmed their position at the top of the table with another win, this time at the hands of the Devils.
But the wooden spooners for 2004-2005 took away some consolation as they stretched their opposition to a 32 to 27 result. Mike Goddard and Julian Oakley each registered a try, while the flamboyant Levi Calesso scored two tries, two conversions and a penalty.
Eagles however were steadied by two tries from Shane Hooper, singles to Shane Kerr, Dave Kerin and Malcolm Hill and a try plus a conversion to Mick Hauser.
In the game between the second and third placed sides, Warriors took the psychological advantage by registering a 29 to 12 win.Warriors relished in the conditions with Jethro Campbell scoring two tries and singles going to Rob Wilson and Salesi Taunalolo. Russell Satour capped off the scoring with a try and a conversion.
In the Cubs camp Stuart Bright and Chris Powell each scored a try while Brian Castine successfully converted once.
RACING: FIRE JOE IS ABLAZE. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
The five-event card at Pioneer Park at the weekend was a real indicator of the strength of racing in the Centre.
Compared with nominations at the same meeting a year ago, interest is up dramatically Ð and with key racing just around the corner, trainers are now earnest in ensuring their horses will be in peak condition come April.
The Pavilion Class Five Handicap was raced over 1400m with Rubotto from barrier five making the early pace and racing two off the fence.
Fire Joe was content to sit in second place and bide his time.
At the 600m mark Craig Moon made his move on Fire Joe and took control in the straight.
Spakatak, who had run an honest race then ranged up on the outside to claim the lead, only to find the pull in weights to be too much.
Fire Joe fought back and went to the line a winner by a neck. Captain Snaadee completed the placings but was a further five lengths off the pace.
In the 1200m New Membership Class Three Handicap, the Darwin galloper Orso saluted. Leading for the first time, Paul Denton ensured the winner had an easy run.
He was not challenged in the going and registered a comfortable six-length win over Saratoga Boy and Play Again Sam who tracked the winner throughout.
Probably the best bet of the day came in the third when Ready and Go accounted for Southern Renegade and Murphy's Law.
In the running, Darowby Livewire and Compass Boy set the pace with Ready and Go perched in fourth place. Ben Cornell however didn't need to resort to the whip in the straight as he cruised the winner to the lead riding hands and heels.
Haunting Chant won first up at Pioneer Park and repeated the dose in the 1100m Pioneer Park Class One Handicap. After sharing the lead early, Haunted Chant burst a length and a half clear to be unchallenged in the straight. Fiery Prospector ran an honest race but could not last, conceding by a margin of two and a half lengths on the line. Admiral Harry then ran on from midfield to complete the placings.
In the "get out stakes" the favoured Marzotto stayed true to the punters.
The Guinness Bar Trobis Three Year Old Class Two Handicap over 1100m saw Marzotto mow down the best field of three year olds assembled at the Park this season. Abetacrew led with Marzotto on the outside. Reports from NSW were that the speed of Abetacrew was superb, but this belief was put to sleep as Marzotto responded to the silk hands of Paul Denton to take a two-length lead that he extended to seven lengths by the line. Kappa toiled honestly for second money and Sandover came from midfield to claim third place.
CRICKET: ALL ROVER FOR BLUES. Report by PAUL FITZSIMONS.
It was all over after the first innings at the cricket over the weekend, when Federal beat RSL Works and Wests defeated Rover.
Federal had a literal stroll in the park in their fixture. They batted first at Albrecht Oval and on Saturday made maximal use of the pitch conditions to amass 336 for the loss of seven wickets.
From the first ball the minor premiers were aiming for a total above 300, and the in-form Blain Cornford ensured that the goal was achieved. He dominated proceedings with an almost faultless 183, following on from his century in the last game.
Backing Cornford's power play was Tom Clements who compiled 41, Brendan O'Dwyer with 30 and Brendan Martin, 25.
Because of overnight watering of the pitch, it was too damp for play to get underway until after 2pm on Sunday.
It didn't upset the outcome of the match though, as Federal went about their task of dismissing Works. It was in the 28th over of the day that a result was achieved. Michael Smith in sending down eight overs claimed 4/20, and skipper Clements returned 4/19 off a mere seven overs. Otherwise it was the honest Curtis Marriott who bagged 2/18 off seven overs.
In the RSL camp things went from bad to worse as Tom Scollay top scored with 35 in a team total of 81.
The result no doubt leaves RSL in a position whereby they need to reform rapidly if they are going to provide West with real opposition in the elimination final.
Meanwhile at Traeger Park, West were able to take the first innings points after Rovers made an impressive start to the game.
The Blues set the Bloods a target of 183 thanks to an impressive 55 from Col Cattell and 39 from Nick Clapp. With the ball skipper Darren Clarke toiled for 28 overs to snare 4/48 while the invaluable Peter Tabard returned 3/33 off 14 overs and Ben Reichstein 2/8 off 5.1.
On Sunday, although Tabart fell cheaply for 10, James McLaughlin partnered Rory Hood making 40 and 62 respectively. Jeremy Bigg then took control linking well with Kevin Mezzone to achieve the target in 64 overs. Bigg was dismissed when on 33.
In view of the fact that their run to the finals is somewhat interrupted, the West skipper then wisely decided to bat on, giving his men a chance to hit out.
The local competition now goes into recess as the Imparja Cup began on Saturday evening continuing through until Sunday night. In a fortnight's time a round of one day matches will complete the minor round, and coincidentally will decide the winner of the One Day crown for this season.
On the smell of an oily rag. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
It has been said that it is greater to give than to receive, but it assumes the giving is voluntary.
To give because you feel obliged to do so is a different kettle of fish entirely. You choose between feeling guilty if you try not to and resentment if you do.
As parents of school aged children we were recently invited to join the school council. I don't feel entirely comfortable about not signing up, but I'm already on another committee which takes up quite a bit of my private time.
One night a month isn't much, but then there are sub-committee gatherings, and mail, phone calls, minutes, letters etc, and the time adds up.
A recent article in this paper about the difficulties the Old Ghan Preservation Society faces made me ponder on all the voluntary organisations we have in this town. While many people are involved because they have both the time and the inclination to be, others become involved to keep the boat from capsizing.Many essential community services including the local bushfire brigade and meals on wheels are dependant on volunteers. A host of sporting and community organisations are entirely volunteer based. While these may not individually be essential, collectively, they are critical to the well-being of the local community.
While I think that volunteer-based organisations are great for mateship and community belonging, our governments should allocate adequate resources to essential services, rather than outsourcing to volunteers.
Our community is very resourceful and blessed with a wealth of talent, experience and goodwill, but why should so much be run on the smell of an oily rag. Maybe there isn't enough money for fire fighting or aged care services or perhaps it's a sign of a trend of cutting back on core government functions.
People are more than willing to take an active part in the community but don't feel that they are being heard. A million dollars here or there is no big deal with a redevelopment project, but its too expensive to pursue kerbside recycling, despite strong community support.
With all the volunteer activity, many of us don't have the time or energy left to fight a thousand small battles. Our leaders and governments need to organize and provide structure, to look at the big picture and better consult community groups about their individual needs.We need to reconsider and define the core needs and goals of our community, by effective community consultation. This is an expensive exercise that requires specialist skills and adequate resources as well as time to do properly, but must surely be worthwhile.
Unless we sit down and work out what it is that we want, we are destined to keep treading water and muttering about the sad state of affairs.
Our key community organisations should not have to beg for grants to keep going. Recognition should be given to services they provide, not by paying for expensive advertisements expressing appreciation, but by providing real support. It is our money that is being spent and we should have a proper say.
It is time to work out our priorities. Near enough is not good enough. We have the ability to do great things.
Waiting for the DVD. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
If you're invited to see a movie showing at the cinema, but you'd prefer to do something else instead, the standard response is to say "I'll wait for the DVD".
It's quite simple and it's now a part of our culture. Before DVDs, we used to say "I'll wait for the video" but DVDs are much more credible because of their extra features and neat little case.
Despite my disdain for collecting things, I find myself with a growing DVD collection. Each one has features that I will never appreciate because I can't get around to watching them.
Someday, all these disks of films and live music will be bequeathed to someone in my family. They will peer at them with mild contempt, in the same way that I consider a Jim Reeves box set or a special edition of The Sound of Music. Then my precious collection will end up at the op shop and I won't be there to explain why Bruce Willis was good in Twelve Monkeys or why the guitarist from Pink Floyd did a great acoustic concert in 2002.
There should be a law against collecting stuff. The other day I was in Toyworld and I almost bought a model of Thunderbird Two on the pretext that it was once my favourite toy. Who, for Pete's sake, wants a dust-gathering reminder of childhood days staring down at them from a peeling shelf?
Thinking about childhood only reminds me of getting beaten up on my paper round and saying stupid things to girls that I wished I could shove back into my mouth the moment I had uttered them. Collecting unnecessary paraphernalia is dangerous.
Talking of which, how were your Christmas gifts this year? Mine were nice but deep down I was disappointed that nobody bought me a head torch. I hardly ever camp and I don't go opal mining, but it's a gadget that holds a fascination for me. There are 101 uses for a head torch and 102 if you stick it on your forehead and shine it in front of you. I didn't get one for Christmas but I saw a head torch in a sale in January and I didn't buy it there either.
What's the point of mindless shopping beyond the high of the initial purchase, which dims anyway if you have to cradle it in the checkout queue for more than 15 minutes.
At least shopping has given us the useful phrase, "I think I'll wait for the DVD". I would like to make the case for this phrase being given wider use. For example, when the summer starts in Central Australia, I would prefer to wait for the DVD. Let's skip the heat and move on to a film version of summer with extras like air-conditioning that actually works and doesn't cost an arm and a leg to service.
Likewise, let's fast-forward past the season of actors giving prizes to actors. It goes on for weeks, it is even more self-indulgent than cricketers giving awards to cricketers, and the frocks alone make my minor spending splurges seem almost acceptable. Please, could I wait for the DVD of all the awards ceremonies and then I'll conveniently forget to watch it.
What else can we afford to miss out on the pretence that we'll see an enhanced version of it later? Well, how about the latest delivery of under-par fruit from somewhere down south. Or punctures in puncture-resistant inner tubes.
The tedium of breakfast TV presenters complimenting each other on their dress sense. And interviews with Ricky Ponting that start, "So you're hoping for a win tonight?"
Put that lot together in a DVD and I would gladly go to the cinema instead.
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