DUMP EASY DOLE: BLUEPRINT FOR BATTERED AYERS ROCK COMMUNITY. Exclusive by KIERAN FINNANE.
Mutitjulu, the Aboriginal community at the base of Uluru, should not be classified by Centrelink as a remote area, and activity tests should be applied to people there getting unemployment benefit when in nearby Ayers Rock Resort some 1500 jobs are filled mainly from interstate and overseas.
This one of a string of robust recommendations from Gregory Andrews, manager of the Mutitjulu Working Together Project, to tackle "economic passivity and dependency" in the strife-torn community.
€ active reporting and taxing other income sources, such as royalty and gate monies; € linking parent benefits to child development; and
€ the introduction of tenancy agreements and payment rent for the houses at Mutitjulu.
Some of the reforms depend on the enforcement of existing funding agreements, says Mr Andrews, citing a number of examples of officials turning a blind eye.
However, he urges that these "perverse incentive structures" be dismantled cautiously, with "appropriate consultation, compassion, and timing" as "moving away from dependency Š could exacerbate social and economic dislocation over the short to medium term".
In other words, drastic measures over a short time could make worse the mayhem of petrol sniffing, domestic violence and rampant unemployment. In the introduction to his discussion paper an expression of his own views, not the project's Mr Andrews argues that the complex problem of economic dependency "requires the casting of a wide net to capture and test as many ideas as possible.
"We should not be constrained by ideology."
Passive welfare dependency is the first of the "perverse incentives" tackled by Mr Andrews. He argues that "while Mutitjulu is geographically and culturally remote, in economic terms it is not."
Remote area status allows clients to receive Centrelink payments in a one-day turnaround compared to two weeks for non-remote locations and to report at three month intervals rather than fortnightly.
Mr Andrews argues that Mutitjulu's location within the Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park and its proximity to the Ayers Rock Resort give residents access to jobs "many of which are suitable for people with low literacy and numeracy skills". At present no residents of the community are employed at the resort.
"Furthermore, many of the jobs at [the park] are particularly suited to Anangu because of their compatibility with the Anangu cultural responsibility of 'caring for country'."
The park and the community council are the main employers of Mutitjulu residents. Mr Andrews reports that around 70 per cent of residents receive welfare payments, and two-thirds of residents' income is "passively" received (for example, royalties).
He says most working-age residents participate in the market economy only to "top-up" their welfare payments.
Mr Andrews says "the evidence at Mutitjulu" suggests that Centrelink does not apply its activity tests to the recipients of New Start Allowance (unemployment benefit).
"A general understanding exists at Mutitjulu that Centrelink clients are exempt from activity tests.
"Actively enforcing activity tests would be a strong incentive for people to seek employment."
Mr Andrews also urges Centrelink to include other income sources, such as trust and gate monies, in the calculation of clients' benefit entitlements.
This would be a "a direct incentive for this income to be distributed through community-based projects" which are tax exempt.
Mr Andrews says much of the trust and gate monies is currently spent on goods such as cars "treated as disposal goods" or on fuelling the "substance abuse epidemic".
At present it is up to individuals to declare their income. Mr Andrews calls for the cooperation of royalty and trust fund associations in collecting and reporting tax file numbers and royalty and trust earnings "just as public companies collect and report shareholder's tax file numbers to the ATO for dividend earnings".
He says taxing royalties would need to be "implemented progressively, and with a long time frame to allow individual and community organizations to become aware of the policy changes and make informed adjustment decisions".
There could also be a case for linking parenting benefits to child development, despite "strong ideological and pragmatic arguments" against doing so.
"These arguments need to be weighed against the human costs of doing nothing", says Mr Andrews in the context of up to two thirds of the children at Mutitjulu "failing to thrive". This means that malnutrition and/or neglect are hampering their development.
"Given the extent of the addiction epidemic at Mutitjulu, it would be reasonable to assume," he says, "that a significant proportion of [parenting benefits] have been diverted from children's care to the support of substance abuse and gambling".
He does not outline exactly how the benefits could be linked to child development but does canvass the possibility of payment via a smart card, suggesting that the lessons learnt in other Aboriginal communities would help minimise the associated problems.
The way around possible human and civil rights objections to welfare reform is implementation on a voluntary basis.
Mr Andrews thinks many community members would accept reform and says there is research revealing "significant support" for implementing "a locally owned and driven welfare reform agenda", with "much of the design work Š already done".
Mr Andrews says residents also need to start paying rent, signing tenancy agreements and taking responsibility for repairing malicious or careless damage to their homes.
"Clear and defined property rights have proven themselves to be an essential ingredient of economic development Š "The current system encourages Š dysfunction, reinforces the hand-out mentality and perpetuates the lack of ownership and responsibility on behalf of the tenants."
Mutitjulu Community Inc (MCI) should implement and enforce tenancy agreements, including payment of rent, says Mr Andrews. " While funding bodies officially link [rent payment] to their on-going program funding, in reality MCI has evaded its responsibilities without any real consequences.
"Continued funding of MCI programs that do not meet agreed obligations, reinforces the community's expectations of unconditional welfare and service provision.
"Funding bodies should actively monitor and enforce funding conditions." They also need to enforce funding agreements with MCI "that it not allocate funds for the repair of criminal damage unless the incidents and perpetrators are reported to the police.
"If MCI fails to do this, funding should be withheld."
Residents have been paying for electricity from July 1, following a decision by Parks Australia and MCI. Mr Andrews calls for the staged introduction of user pays principles for water and other amenities and services.
Using smart cards rather than Centrepay deductions would keep the expenditure choice with individuals.
"If family heads choose to spend their earnings on grog or marijuana at the expense of electricity, for example, there will be visible outcomes from this choice and they will be accountable to family members who are affected."
Mr Andrews also tackles the creation of a "World Heritage car dump [apparently a phrase coined by a traditional owner] at Uluru", by calling for the charging of owners of dumped vehicles.
"The use of motor vehicles for a few months before disposing of them when they break down is a visible manifestation of economic passivity and waste in Mutitjulu."
NOTE: Mr Andrews' discussion paper is titled "Economic passivity and dependency in Mutitjulu: Some suggestions for change", dated March 2005. He began work at Mutitjulu in September 2004.
He has shared Aboriginal (D'Harawal country, NSW) and European ancestry, an Honours degree in Economics, a Masters degree in International Relations and since 1999 has worked on governance policy for AusAID, from which he is currently on leave-without-pay.
QANTAS PLANE IN NEAR ALICE DISASTER. Report by by ERWIN CHLANDA.
A Qantas British Aerospace 146 plane with 60 passengers on board came close to a disaster at Alice Springs airport on August 20 when its tail dragged on the runway during an aborted landing.
A Qantas spokeswoman said the captain decided to "go around" when the plane, arriving from Cairns, encountered light turbulence on final and an increased rate of descent because of a wind change.
According to eyewitnesses, the plane bounced on the runway about a metre and a half high.
When full power was applied and the nose raised to take off again, the tail impacted the runway and dragged for some distance, leaving a trail of the aircraft's paint.
After flying a circuit the plane landed safely.
A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority says an investigation into the incident is continuing.
Qantas says the aircraft was inspected and was flown back to Cairns the same day.
The spokeswoman says a "go around" following a missed approach is not unusual in aviation but a tail impact is.
PARKS HANDOVER: MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS. Report by by ERWIN CHLANDA.
A Territory academic says of the High Court's "Ward Decision" which prompted the NT government to transfer ownership of national parks to Aborigines: "It is not immediately clear what its application to Territory parks may be."
Dr Stephen Gray, of Charles Darwin University's law department, says the court ruling "concerns Western Australia" and native title issues there.
Asked whether the government is putting a spin on the decision that doesn't seem to be justified., Dr Gray said: "You could say that, I suppose.
"I wouldn't like to make a definite statement on that issue without looking closely again at the decision.
"But Territory Parks are not relevant to it."
The government's national parks web site says: "The decision to enter into Joint Management arrangements [with Aborigines] for Territory parks resulted from the Ward High Court decision that ruled that 49 declared Territory parks were invalid."
Dr Gray says there are precedents for Aboriginal ownership of parks and their lease-back, including Uluru, Kakadu and Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk).
But there is "a very valid point to ask why there is not more openness about the reasons for choosing to reach a direct agreement [about ownership] rather than seeking an indigenous land use agreement" which can be in place while the parks are still under government ownership.
Dr Gray says several decisions beginning with Mabo have left "fairly open" what sorts of acts such as issuing pastoral leases or declaring parks may extinguish native title.
He says the Wik Decision in Queensland found native title could survive pastoral leases but "whatever interests pastoralists have will be superior to that of the native title holder.
"The Ward decision, compared to Wik, marks a more conservative direction.
"It pretty well says extinguishment operates in a wide range of situations such as you outlined in your article (Alice News, Aug 24).
"It has left the possibility of native title continuing on parks.
"As you said in your article, what sorts of actions establishing parks may possibly extinguish native title?
"The question is, in what kind of parks?"
There could be "a past acts regime which could re-ignite or resurrect native title interests.
"You look at the Wik Decision and at first sight you might think it's inconsistent with the decision on pastoral leases taken in Ward.
"There is always a possibility that a court would find that [the situation in the Territory] is different."
Meanwhile the NT government has failed to reply to several questions on the parks' ownership issues from the Alice Springs News.
An aide to Chief Minister Clare Martin pointed out that Ms martin made the following statement in the Legislative Assembly about rentals to be paid to the proposed Aboriginal owners of the parks: "After 2010, based on the current rental valuations provided by the Australian Valuation Office, the total rent per annum will be in the order of about $1m per year in today's dollars."
A government spokesperson claimed the tourism industry had welcomed the parks "package as they recognise that there is unmet demand for cultural experience combined with eco-tourism".
The CEO of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association, Craig Cathlove, says the industry sees "benefits in joint management" and takes the view that to a point it's working well in Katherine Gorge and Uluru.
"We would welcome additions of Aboriginal land to the park estate.
"But we have not expressed support for the hand-over of ownership.
"That's not our industry's call.
"We have no position on that."
Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.
HOT GRANITE POWER MAY BRING REAL CLEAN ENERGY. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The Department of Mines and Energy has formed a taskforce to look at the potential for "hot rocks" in the Territory to generate power.
Put simply, hot rocks are granites with small amounts of potassium and tiny amounts of thorium and uranium which have been generating heat for hundreds of millions of years.
At Innaminka, or rather beneath Innaminka, in the far north-east of South Australia this heat as been kept insulated by gas- and water-bearing sedimentary rocks at a depth within reach of current drilling technology.
The company Geodynamics has secured the rights to this geothermal resource "the hottest spot on Earth outside volcanic centres", they say. They have drilled two holes into the granite, pumping water down one to percolate through an engineered reservoir in the hot rock to the other.
Brought to the surface, the superheated water is converted to power using new heat exchange technology called the Kalina Cycle, which has achieved an increase in efficiency of 25 to 30 per cent on conventional heat conversion.
This progress has allowed Geodynamics, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, to raise significant capital for their venture from Metasource/Woodside, Origin Energy and the federal government. The company claim they will be able to generate power equivalent to 50 billion barrels of oil without any harmful emissions or waste.
What's more they could do it at a highly competitive cost, calculated as significantly less than other renewable energy sources and at only slightly more than coal, while slightly less than natural gas.
This scaling up of developments at Innaminka has stimulated renewed interest in hot rock sites in the Territory. A huge plus at Innaminka is that the hot rocks are "wet", says John Childs, leader until recently of the Viable Technical Services research program at the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (DK CRC).
He was in Innaminka for the latest meeting on the Lake Eyre Basin inter-governmental agreement, and took the opportunity to visit Geodynamics. Their system utilises water trapped naturally in the fractured granite in a closed loop and won't need a large external water supply, indeed may not need any, says Dr Childs.
Another plus has been the extensive geological knowledge of the area, derived from drilling for oil and gas.
"It's given Geodynamics a great head start," says Dr Childs.
Although Geodynamics say they're developing an energy source of national importance, equal to half the capacity of the Snowy Mountains scheme, Dr Childs says it is unlikely that the Territory will be a direct beneficiary.
He says if all goes to plan, the energy generated will be transmitted to the South Australian grid which is in turn connected to the national grid serving the high load areas on the east coast. A transmission line to the Territory would be, he suspects, uneconomical.
Desert Knowledge CRC will be keeping "a watching brief" on what happens at Innaminka, in particular to see how similar resources could be developed in other remote desert areas, including in the Territory.
At a later stage the CRC may also be able to contribute "some good thinking" about the impact of such development on "regional livelihoods".
NOTE: For a more detailed explanation of hot rocks and Geodynamics' project see a transcript of ABC Radio's Ockham's Razor, August 21, at
URANIUM POLITICS. ALEX NELSON continues his historical perspective.
The enormous potential that the Fraser government perceived in the uranium industry puts the granting of self-government to the Northern Territory in July 1978 in a different light.
Canberra's largesse in the early years was clearly never intended to remain the open-ended there was an expectation that the NT would become a major contributor to the national economy through a fully-developed uranium export industry.
It had become apparent in the 1970s that world economic and population growth would eventually outstrip available fossil fuel reserves needed for energy, so attention was focussed on nuclear power to meet the shortfall. According to a 1977 Commonwealth Government publication, "this gap can only be reduced by the development of major alternative sources of energy. It is generally agreed that for most of the developed world nuclear fission power is the only alternative source of energy now available that is at a sufficiently mature stage of development to be capable of making a significant contribution to meeting the expected energy gap in the next quarter of a century." ("Australia and Uranium.")
The coalition government under Malcolm Fraser announced in August 1977 that it would develop Australia's uranium industry: "Only by supplying uranium can Australia have an effective voice in world forums dealing with nuclear non-proliferation, effective nuclear safeguards and aspects of peaceful uses of nuclear energy" (Ibid).
This followed the discovery of significant uranium deposits in Australia, especially in the Alligator Rivers region of the Top End (Ranger, Koongarra, Jabiluka and Nabarlek); also Yeelirrie, Way Creek, Manyingee in WA and Olympic Dam (Roxby Downs) in South Australia.
It was the beginning of Kakadu National Park, the township of Jabiru, and of mining at Ranger and Nabarlek.
The economic incentives were attractive: "A joint OECD-IAEA Study forecast that required expenditure on uranium exploration worldwide would be [about] $7000 million [for] 1976-1985; Australia, with about 20 percent of the free world's already proven uranium resources, and with attractive prospects for further discoveries, could expect to attract a share of the forecast expenditure.
"Export income from uranium was estimated to reach $1500 million per annum in the mid 1990s with cumulative gross proceeds exceeding $20,000 million to the year 2000. On these estimates, annual export income would exceed the revenues Š from any of Australia's other export industries.
"The additional export income from uranium could be vitally important to Australia in offsetting the cost of petroleum imports which may increase dramatically Š if there are no new major discoveries of oil on stream in Australia by that time.
"The real significance of the uranium industry to future economic growth and efficiency is Š reflected in the high returns which are forecast for the industry" being "likely to produce rates of return on capital invested substantially higher than the average rates experienced in mining and manufacturing in Australia" (Ibid).
The Fraser Government's assessment of radioactive waste disposal issues was also optimistic: "Ultimate disposal by deep burial will not impose a burden of management on future generations. The waste will be isolated from man's environment, in sites which will be stable for periods considerably longer than the time taken for the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.
"Australia has no need for nuclear power at present and so does not face the problem of disposing of its own waste. There is also no intention of Australia disposing of other countries' waste.
"Australia is participating in the International Fuel Cycle Evaluation initiated in April 1977 by President Carter.
"Part of that study Š will be concerned with the long term storage and ultimate disposal of radioactive wastes" (Ibid).
Under Fraser, Canberra's generosity towards the NT enabled the CLP to embark on major infrastructure projects such as Yulara, the Beaufort and Sheraton hotels, and so on it was an immensely exciting time during the era of Chief Minister Paul Everingham.
The defeat of the Fraser Government in March 1983 changed the political and economic landscape for the NT; the incoming Labor government under Bob Hawke answered to a different national constituency that was largely hostile towards all aspects of the nuclear power industry.
Labor settled on a compromise, the "three uranium mines policy", which permitted the continuation of mining at Ranger and Nabarlek in the NT and Roxby Downs in South Australia, but banned the development of new mines.
There were other significant issues in 1983 that aggravated relations between the Everingham CLP government and the Hawke Labor government.
The main issues were Labor's reneging on its election promise to build the Alice Springs-Darwin rail link, and also the Commonwealth's commencement of negotiations with Aboriginal custodians over future management of the Ayers Rock-Mt Olga National Park (now Uluru-Kata Tjuta) without the Territory government's involvement.
These apparent setbacks nevertheless provided a grand political opportunity for the CLP: "Š there seems to have been a win-win situation for Everingham. As long as Canberra would supply unlimited money and let it be spent at will, there was a political advantage to the Everingham Government.
Once Labor was in power in Canberra and began to tighten the purse strings, this was also turned to advantage by Everingham. "Used to remote control by distant unseen beings, Territorians now learned a new trick from Paul that of Canberra-bashing. Oh, it was fun!" ("King of the Kids Paul Everingham, First Chief Minister of the Northern Territory", Frances Chan, Diflo Publications, 1992). This was the background to the NT elections of December 1983, when the CLP took 19 seats out of the newly-expanded 25 seat Legislative Assembly. But the tide had turned, for the CLP's emphatic victory meant that Federal Labor had nothing to lose through further confrontation and so continued to tighten funding for the NT.
Frustrated by this turn of events, Everingham contested the seat of the Northern Territory in the federal elections of December 1984 and narrowly defeated the Labor incumbent John Reeves (Everingham and Reeves had been partners in a law firm and resident in the Alice in the 1970s).
Despite this victory his star was waning, for Everingham proved to be politically impotent in Federal Parliament and he retired from office in 1987.
However, it was at the time of the pinnacle of Everingham's success (the NT elections of 1983) that another identity emerged amongst the crop of fresh faces in the CLP, who was destined to play a very prominent role in the uranium debate in the late 1980s he was the new Member for Berrimah, Barry Coulter.
MORE NEXT WEEK.
LEADER AWARD HAS TRAVEL IN STORE FOR HIGH ACHIEVER.
A national award acknowledging outstanding community leadership by a Year 12 student living in rural and regional Australia has been won by Robert Charles, a boarder at St Philip's College, from the Aboriginal community of Pmere Jutunta near Ti Tree.
Robert will be presented with one of two Helen Handbury Leadership Awards at Melbourne University on October 7.
The award will allow him to travel overseas in 2006 to experience a different culture.
He is keen to spend time in Africa, particularly at the village level, and as well as gaining some valuable insights, is hoping to also contribute in a practical way while he is there.
Robert has been a boarder at St Philip's since Year 8, but still maintains strong ties with his community.
He hopes to become a Registered Nurse and return to this community to help improve the health of his people and to encourage them to determine and realise the importance of long-term goals.
He has the community's support for this plan and the Anmatyere Council enabled him to recently participate in a voyage on the Leeuwin so that he could develop his leadership skills. Robert had a wonderful experience on the tall ship and was very proud that a boy from the inland was not sea-sick once!
Leadership is no stranger to Robert. At St Philip's he is a very popular and effective House Captain and Boarding House prefect and a leader on the football field.
Ever since he was young, Robert has put into practise a saying he has heard often from his mother "You can't get to where you want to be, unless you get there yourself".
LIVE SHOWS IN SPADES. Preview by KIERAN FINNANE.
Place, how it shapes us and how we shape it, is a shared theme for two performance works at the Alice Desert Festival.
The works also have in common a long gestation and exploration through a variety of media.
"a place" by the local company, red shoes, will premiere at Watch This Space on Saturday with further shows on Sunday and the following Friday.
"Dictionary of Atmospheres" by the visiting De Quincey Co premieres on Sunday in the bed of the Todd, with further shows on the next three evenings.
This work has evolved out of the Triple Alice "art-labs" led by Tess de Quincey at Hamilton Downs between 1991 and 2001. De Quincey is an exponent of a training founded in Japan, known as Body Weather, melding Asian and Western dance, theatre and martial arts.
For "Dictionary of Atmospheres" this training has been used to explore stories of the Central Desert through outdoor performance, which we'll experience as "drifts of dance entwined with video and sound" while day transforms to night.
The work involves collaboration of musician Jim Denley, new-media artist Francesca da Rimini and film-maker Sam James, and draws on contributions from local artists Anne Mosey, Pamela Lofts, Kim Mahood, historian Dick Kimber, anthropologist Scott Campbell-Smith and enthno-botanist Peter Latz.
The audience will move with performers down the Todd, from Schwarz Crescent causeway (the one near the RSL) towards the HUB-space outside the Totem Theatre. Assemble in the riverbed at the causeway at 6pm.
€ If locals think they saw red shoes do "a place" last year, they're right but this year has seen a further development and refining of the work, an audacious undertaking reflecting the commitment to excellence of this small but dedicated troupe.
Director Dani Powell leads the performers in a process called animateuring, which brings to theatrical life the ideas, experiences and talents of all involved.
"a place", using movement, text, visual imagery and sound, concerns itself with both the urban and bush environments and the rear yard at Watch This Space serves well as a setting.
The performance again brings together Emily Cox, co-founder of red shoes; Nic Hempel, physical performer and musician trained in classical cello, Butoh dance and movement improvisation in Australia, Japan and Europe; Anna Maclean, community based artist who has a background in performing and visual art; and Sylvia Neale, local Arrernte writer who has published several works and performed for the first time in the 2004 creative development of "a place".
€ Two other homegrown theatre groups will present work during the festival. Red Dust Theatre's "As You Wish", by Danielle Loy whose debut play "Justice" featured at last year's festival, takes audiences on a journey into the minds and hearts of two lifelong friends.
Georgia (Laura White) is a highly determined career woman who has sacrificed much in the name of success. Oli (Matt Edgerton) is a man who has not only survived but prospered from a difficult past. The play is self mocking as it examines what it means to live the "Great Australian Dream".
It shows at Araluen on September 8 and 9. The Alice Springs Theatre Group's "Death in the Desert", tells the story of a group of tourists travelling from Alice Springs to Broome. En route one of the passengers dies, leaving the tourists are in a quandary as to what to do now. Featuring a cast of seven, it shows at the Totem Theatre on Tuesday through Friday, September 6 to 9, at 7.30pm.
€ Three of "the edgiest, most experienced headline comedians in the country" will do stand-up at The Lane next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Darren Casey is a regular on the Sydney stand up circuit and has taken his dry wit around the world and into a career in radio and television.
Tommy Dean, with a decade of professional experience behind him, has worked with internationally acclaimed comedians Tim Allen (Home Improvements) and Rosie O'Donnell.
And Chris Wainhouse, described by The Comedy Channel as fresh and daringly clever, has toured New Zealand to sell-out audiences, in 1998 won the Harold Park Comic Of The Year and in 1999 won the Triple J Raw Comedy Competition. € Drama students at St Phillip's College are also getting into the swing of festival things with drama and dance trainee Sarah Schuberts's take on "The Mikado" by Gilbert and Sullivan. Its subtitle , "A Kooky Kabuki Love Story", gives a hint of the direction taken. Shows at the college hall from September 7 to 9.
ST JOHN'S "AT BREAKING POINT". Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
People attending "an emergency picnic" in support of St John's Ambulance on Saturday heard that the service still operates with only the same number of ambulances as it started with, in 1976!
The picnic was organised by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union which called on the Territory Government to take responsibility for the ambulance service.
Ambulance workers say the service is dramatically failing to cope with the current public demand.
A paramedic, who wished to remain anonymous, told the News: "The service is at breaking point.
"It's stretched to its limit for numbers of staff and ambulances."
According to the paramedic, the situation has got much worse since March, when it was decided that every call to the service must be attended to by an ambulance.
The decision followed the findings of an inquest into the death of Marshall Yantarrnga, a Darwin man who died from heart disease complications. Paramedics had decided an ambulance was not necessary in response to his call complaining of a pain in his chest and fever.
"Of course we're happy to go to proper emergencies," explained the paramedic last Saturday. "But every day we respond to minor ailments like headaches, requests to take blood pressure, complaints of not being able to sleep. I had someone ringing about a broken fingernail at 3.30am the other week.
"I'm being serious. You call, we haul."
St John's in Alice Springs has two crews and two ambulances on call between 7am and 11pm during weekdays, but only has the funds for one crew at night and over weekends.
Port Lincoln in South Australia has two ambulance vehicles available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 18,000 people.
"We can't provide a proper service," said the anonymous paramedic.
"The other day we had a call for someone who had hung themself. It took 15 minutes to call staff in from home on their day off. That's a long time for a case that serious.
"The staff are suffering. We're not getting breaks. If I work eight hours I'm lucky if I get a cup of tea."
The paramedic says the problem is partly due to lack of staff: "We can't retain staff in the NT. We're made up of predominantly students who stay for two or three years and move on to a state that pays higher wages."
St John's covers a 250 km radius in and around Alice Springs, and a population of over 35,000. It can take up to five hours to reach a community (the ambulance is usually met halfway by the health unit from that community). Paperwork for each patient takes 20 minutes.
"You wouldn't believe the turnaround time," says the paramedic. "We just can't get to people in time.
"We're concerned for the community."
As well as better working conditions with regular breaks and wages comparable with the rest of the country (NT paramedics are currently paid 30 per cent less than other paramedics), ambulance workers say that the government should not be relying on a charity to provide this essential service.
Unlike any other state except for Western Australia, it is St John's Ambulance and not the health service which is responsible for the running of ambulance services in the NT.
It was given $3m in 2005 to run its services in the NT by the government but this is not enough to provide a comprehensive service.
Miguel Ociones is the union organiser for Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Uluru: "This is an essential service - it should be run by the government.
"We still only have the same number of ambulances as we did in 1976 when St John's took over the service.
"We're calling on the government to stop the bandaid solution to a service which is essential to the community."
Richard Lim, the shadow minister for health, raised the issue in parliament in Darwin last week.
Mr Lim worked as a GP in Alice Springs between 1981 and 1997 during which time he delivered lectures for St John's. He says after working for the health service he understands the seriousness of the problem: "This government is exploiting the charity of the public. St John's has to top up its funding from the government with public donations.
"It's up to the government to foot the bill and cover those who can't pay.
"St John's are doing their utmost to keep patients looked after but they're being exploited."
Liz Byrnes and Ann Jones are both nurses in the emergency department at Alice Springs Hospital, and attended the picnic in support. They see first-hand the problems of the service:
"We're on the receiving end. We see how hard the paramedics work and what a good service they provide.
"They're often called away when they're in the middle of dealing with a patient.
"The service is totally inadequate for the size of Alice Springs - especially as the town has grown so much over the years."
A response by Health Minister Peter Toyne to the issues raised was not to hand at the time of going to press.
7000 FOR DINNER? SHE'LL BE RIGHT, MATE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Alice's hospitality industry coped admirably with an influx of nearly 7000 visitors from across Australia and abroad as part of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame's 10th anniversary reunion on the weekend.
Only in the Northern Territory would workers still be smiling after serving up an incredible 26,400 dishes for 2200 guests at the sit-down dinner on Saturday evening, 4000 burgers and sausages (Keller's estimated sales), 1000 coffees (from Alice Coffee Services) and putting up 7000 bodies for the night as well as providing over 4000 chairs.
Sadadeen Party Hire were the main caterers across the weekend, and coordinated five other local businesses for the dinner on the Saturday evening Hanuman's, The Golden Inn, Keller's, Smith and Brown Catering, and Steinert Tours. The Convention Centre also hosted a breakfast and a dinner for Kenworth.
Blatherskite Park was a sight to see, packed to the gills with swags, tents and caravans as was every other motel, hotel and caravan park in the town. Late arrivals had to camp at Ti Tree, Jim's Place and Aileron.
"I'm not sure if a function this large has ever taken place here," says Julie Collins, the catering director of Sadadeen Party Hire.
"We started coordinating this exactly a year ago.
"It went like clockwork which is amazing usually something goes wrong. All the restaurants and catering companies worked together and it was a great atmosphere.
"We're still washing up though!"
When the Hall of Fame started organising, they expected around 5000 people "but we have been able to cope with the extra numbers", says CEO Liz Martin, chief organiser of the weekend.
"We planned the dinner with military precision about 50 times and the formula worked.
"Everyone has raved about it. Some of the big companies made bets that we wouldn't cope but they've come up to us and said well done.
"People booked for two years to come this weekend.
"We've worked really hard to give the transport industry a sense of ownership."
And there was no doubt after speaking to the truckies and their families that this has certainly been achieved.
Dan Cahill from Melbourne reckoned, "Alice Springs has done itself proud, it was a fantastic effort.
"The dinner was a ripping night. The band was sensational, food superb and the beer was cold!"
Allan Linnett had a "very good weekend". "I've met a lot of old mates I haven't seen for a long time.
"And seeing the Wolverines playing was great, mate," said Allan.
For Ted McGarrity, 85, who began driving trucks in 1946, the weekend was "unbelievable". Ted was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003 and said, "Every time I come it gets bigger and bigger.
He first came to Alice Springs on the old steam Ghan train on his way to Darwin. This time he met up with old friend Bill Bunt, 88, who spent 60 years in the transport industry.
Country singer Travis Sinclair (winner of the Golden Guitar in Tamworth) travelled to Alice in a huge Kenworth truck to perform on Sunday afternoon.
"We got a good response from the crowd today," said Travis.
"It's the first time I've been here and it's quite beautiful. The roads are great.
"People ask why is the Road Transport Hall of Fame in Alice Springs but it's central for everyone to come to. There's lots of transport history in the outback and Kenworth has always been associated with the outback building trucks for tough roads."
LEGEND IN HER LIFETIME. Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.
Jill Lamont, the little girl who wanted to be a truck driver and grew up to realise her dream in the Centre, had her career celebrated at the weekend when she was one of only a few women to be inducted into the Shell Rimula National Road Transport Hall of Fame.
In all 136 people were honoured at the induction ceremony.
"My father was an engineer," recalls Jill (pictured above). "He built heavy machinery from the ground up and I liked to help him.
"I got a job in Melbourne next to the White Trucks company and I would look out the window and look at the trucks and dream away."
In 1966 the family moved to Alice Springs where her father got a job with Ross Engineering. Her mother worked at the Alice Springs Hospital and Jill was "just a lady". Her daughter Sara Laws remembers Jill as "a domestic goddess", with nails, hair and dress always perfect.
"Even when she was driving trucks she had her face on, her hair done, and always had her earrings clipped on," says Sara.
"People said she was too glamorous to be a 'truckie'."
Sara flew in from Darwin to attend the Road Transport Historical Society's 10th anniversary celebrations and especially to see her mother's induction.
Jill got her driver's licence soon after Sara was born in 1970.
Then when Sara was about three years old, she started studying to get her truck driver's licence because she "needed to get out a bit more".
"Studying was very hard for me; I left school at 12 or 13 years of age cause it was hard for me to retain information.
"But I got my road train, taxi, bus, and hire car license all at the same time. "I took my road test in a bus.
"One of the requirements was to take a tourist bus to the top of Anzac Hill and complete the hand-brake test, that is accelerate and release the hand-brake from a complete stop without rolling backward.
"I passed and started driving for Sandrover Safaris; they had their offices at Greenleaves Caravan Park. "I took tourists to Ayers Rock, Kings Canyon and Palm Valley in the late 1970s Palm Valley was my specialty.
"I was the cook, the driver, the lot.
"I gave it up when I lost my sense of humour I asked one fellow to pass me the jerry can and he said it wasn't in his job description.
"I then worked at a cattle station as a non-horseriding jillaroo."
In 1980 Jill's husband bought the pub at Ti Tree and she moved there with him while Sara boarded at St Philip's College.
"I hated being cooped up, I had to get outside, so six months later I ran off with a road train driver," Jill said.
"That's when I learned how to drive a truck properly."
The couple spent most of the next decade carting fuel, prawns, mangoes, and produce to and from such places as Fitzroy Crossing, Kununurra, Halls Creek, Townsville and Darwin.
"We'd drive from Adelaide to Darwin on a dirt road every 10 days," Jill said.
They did take a year off to live and work at Ayers Rock during the construction of Yulara.
Jill worked for Railex delivering freight around the construction site and was the only female on site, complete with her own hard hat.
"We thought we were building a white elephant," Jill said, " we didn't think anyone would stay there." FIRST TRUCK Between 1985 and 1989 the couple were 'off road' for awhile in Alice Springs with office jobs but in 1989 they bought their first truck.
"We were on the road again," Jill said.
"One truck led to another one, bigger and better than the one before.
"We kept working, went everywhere, knew all the drivers, never looked back.
"You were always on the go, as soon as you got home you had to start getting ready to go again. "When I drove the route Alice Springs to Three Ways by myself I'd leave at 4am, load all the freight myself, tie it on, get to Three Ways, unload, and drive back again."
In 1994 the couple moved to Adelaide and began carting fuel twice a week from Adelaide to Alice Springs, a run which continued to 1998 when ill health forced Jill to retire.
"I couldn't get up in the truck any more, my knees wouldn't let me," Jill said. As a voice cried out after she received her medallion last Saturday morning, "Good on ya, Jill!"
OLD GHAN RIDES AGAIN!
The Transport Hall of Fame reunion weekend also celebrated train travel, with the old Ghan carrying its first passengers since 2002.
Puffing along the old Ghan railway line to Mount Ertiva, it made the eight km trip six times over the weekend. Newcastle Coal donated 40 tonnes of coal to help with costs.
Run solely by volunteers from The Ghan Preservation Society, the train was driven by Graham Heller and fired by Phil Unicomb (and son Toby). Tom Lothian was the guard.
Marie Harrison looked after the 250 or so guests across the weekend as they enjoyed a buffet meal, champagne and beer onboard: "The Ghan boys need words of praise for the hours they've put in to get the train running again. They fired it up at 8am on Thursday morning and have been working all weekend.
"Boys and their toys they love it, whether it's trains or trucks. It's great to have the Ghan going again at last.
"We'd love to run it every weekend and for functions but we need more volunteers. The Hall of Fame has got to where it is today with volunteers, and that's what we want to do.
"It's been a battle to get the train going in eight months but now there's no way but up. Hopefully more volunteers will come forward after this weekend."
LETTERS: Nuclear bombs come from civilian reactors.
Sir, Recent public discussion has raised pertinent issues about the mining of uranium and dumping of nuclear waste. In brief:
€ The nuclear power industry is linked to nuclear weapons;
€ The outputs of the nuclear industry are waste and weapons;
€ The more uranium we mine the more waste there is to dispose of;
€ The nuclear industry is a public health risk;
€ Waste provides material for terrorists;
€ We are not faced with a dilemma: greenhouse gases or nuclear. We have other choices;
€ There are vital questions about how to provide energy for humanity to live in the manner we are accustomed to;
€ Fossil fuels are causing global warming but nuclear power is not the answer.
In more detail, the original nuclear reactor was to make uranium for the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The dream of nuclear power, "too cheap to meter", came later. The British Maddox reactor was built, despite the public relations spin, to make material for the British bomb.
All weapons that have been made by the world's de facto nuclear powers, who are Israel, Iran, North Korea, South Africa and others, have come from civilian reactors. So the nuclear power industry is essential to the rapid and expanding round of nuclear weapon proliferation we are currently having.
As climate change stresses the environment and the human political balance, nuclear weapons are going to make managing the conflicts more dangerous. The more players with nuclear weapons, the more likely they will be used by mistake or miscalculation. It is better if they were out of the equation.
The other output of nuclear reactors is waste. Despite over 50 years of research no reliable long term solution for this waste has been found.
Synroc after 20 years of development is still only a promising technology. All waste is stored in 'temporary' sites. The more nuclear reactors there are, the more waste is going to be generated. Even the extensive waste storage facilities in France and Sweden are expensive, and constructing them costly in greenhouse gases. This is one reason why nuclear power is not a solution to global warming.
The whole chain of nuclear industry from mining to waste disposal has adverse health effects. For instance nuclear industry workers have a one to two per cent increased rate of cancer. In reprocessing plants this rate increases to 14 times the base rate. Minor and occasional major accidents happen. Chernobyl is but the worst of many recorded over the years.
Reactors and waste facilities are targets for terrorists to acquire material for use in bombs, particularly dirty bombs. They have to be guarded and kept secure for tens of thousands of years.
Humanity does need to move away from fossil fuel use to prevent more serious global warming than we are going to have. In the short term solutions include reducing demand for energy by using more efficient appliances and by changing how we live so as to need less energy. For example solar hot water, fluorescent light bulbs, adjusting heating thermostats up a few degrees all reduce demand. Gas is less greenhouse gas emitting than coal and can replace coal as the source of energy for giving us electricity in the near future.
In the longer term energy can be harvested from renewable sources.
We need to be making these changes now. The nuclear industry hasn't the time to gear up to make much effect. Even a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study promoting nuclear energy has reservations about nuclear power because the costs of nuclear power relative to gas and renewables, waste, inability to meet demand and weapons proliferation.
It is estimated that reserves of economically recoverable uranium will last only 50 to 300 years. As lower grades of ore are used the economic viability of nuclear power goes down further.
So for economic, security, environmental and health reasons human future cannot be nuclear. Our alternative is not to stay with fossil fuels. Some fossil fuel use may carry us in the short term but in the longer term humanity has to choose more carefully what we need to use energy for and to look at more natural ways of harvesting it from the sun, the wind and the sea.
In the NT now we have to choose if we want to contribute to this expansion of the nuclear industry given the predominance of risk over benefit. Short term gain for long term pain?
As they used to say about uranium, "Leave it in the ground". We have to use our intelligence and skill at innovation to arrange a better world for our children to inherit.
Sir,- How fair, thorough and careful do you think this inquest [into the death of Cynthia Ching on Kings Creeks Station, see Alice News, March 30, April 6, 27] is going to be?
The Coroner refuses to pay for the Chings to come to Darwin for the inquest.
He refuses to provide them legal counsel. A good lawyer costs $400 per hour.
He refuses to allow me to act as their advocate at the inquest. He refuses to discuss who the witnesses should be.
He refuses to negotiate over the length of the inquest. He refuses to release the actual police files and witness statements.
The incompetence and the cover-up continue.
A formal application [should be made] to film the inquest, in the public interest and for historical purposes, so future generations can see how secretive and authoritarian colonial NT was in 2005.
[The Coroner] already refused my request that the inquest be broadcast to the Australian and Canadian public, by fi'm or video through TV, cable or satellite.
John Craig Paterson
Ching family lawyer
ED - The Alice Springs News offered NT Coroner Greg Cavanagh the right of reply. He made the following statement:
The inquest into the death of Cynthia Ching will be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the NT Coroners Act and with due regard to the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice.
The Coroner is an independent judicial officer and any suggestion that this office would be part of a "cover-up" is denied.
Mr Paterson and the Ching family have been told they will be provided with a full copy of the investigation brief including witness statements and a witness list prior to the inquest.
This is normal procedure and will happen in this case.
The Ching family is entitled to appear at the inquest and/or be represented at the inquest by a legal practitioner or barrister properly admitted to practise in this jurisdiction.
It is correct that this office will not pay for the travel and legal expenses of Ms Ching's family to attend the inquest. Such expenses have never been paid by the NT Coroner's Office, and are not paid by Coroners' Offices in any state or territory jurisdiction in Australia.
Sir, I desperately need some help. I lost contact with a very good friend of mine some eight years ago.
Recently as a last resort I joined Friends Reunited and posted a comment to this effect.
As luck would have it he read my posting and emailed me.
I replied but since this time his email has reported as not working.
I'm sure he never received my email and I really hope he is OK.
Is it possible that you might know how to track down a UK boy called Jonathan (Jon) Parkyn who is somewhere in Alice?
He is a trained vet and due to marry an Oz girl this year. I don't know where to start and I hope you can help!
EX5 3JX UK
NETBALL: PANTHERS PROWL OUT. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Central Panthers are out of the netball tournament and lie last in the table, after losing to Sundowners AMEC 18 to 73.
Panthers weren't at their full strength, playing a 13-year-old to make up the numbers, and were forced to finish the game with only six players highly unusual for an A grade netball match.
The Panthers have been hit by absences and injuries this season, and had to rely on junior players to get by for several matches.
When full-strength, the girls have shown they can hold their own against any of the teams in the league, so they'll be bitterly disappointed with their final result.
But Sundowners worked hard to score the 73 goals, showing their fitness by keeping up a relentless formula of passing and shooting throughout the game.
They will have to maintain their high standard this weekend as they face Memo Rovers, who are very determined to get straight through to the grand final.
The Rovers looked fiery as they beat Neata Glass Giants in a comfortable 47 goals to 18 on Saturday.
Their game against Suns promises to be as exciting as the grand final.
In the other A grade game, Wests beat Federal Bonanni, 64 goals to 21.
Wests will play Centralian Masters on Saturday in the semi-finals.
In the A reserve grade, two tight matches made for tense spectating.
Only five goals separated Wests A Reserve from Neata Glass A Reserve the final score in Wests' favour, 39 to 34 goals.
And just six goals separated Memo Rovers PAB from Centralian Masters.
Memo took the match, 27 versus Masters' 21.
The other matches of the afternoon saw Sundowners beat Memo Rovers AR 57 versus 17, and Pints Reserve played well to defeat Federal Bonanni AR 42 goals to 28.
AUSSIE RULES: SOUTHS SHOW STRONG SIDE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
It was business as usual for top-of-the-table South on Saturday, as they defeated Pioneer in a comfortable 19-18 (132).
Pioneer could only manage 5-6 (36).
For the first two quarters of the match Pioneer held their own, with possession of the ball reasonably even between the teams.
The green and gold men worked hard on the pitch but inaccurate kicking let them down.
By the third quarter they failed to kick any points, while South raced ahead to a score of 12-14.
Pioneer bucked their ideas up to manage two goals in the last quarter but it was nowhere near enough to beat South's 19-18.
The other match of the day saw second-placed Wests play third-placed Federals, with Wests proving to be the much stronger side with a win of 20-14 (134) to 8-4 (52).
PICTURED at left is Vaughn Hampton of Pioneer getting a rare chance to score against the strength of Souths. Behind him is teamate and man of the match for his side, Ivan Presley, with South's Bradley Braun to his left.
Meanwhile in the Country Cup mighty Yuendumu take a short cut to the Country Cup grand final after they beat Central Anmatjere on Sunday.
Their score of 21-6 (132) was easily enough to beat Anmatjere's 9-9 (63).
It was much closer between Ltyentye Apurte and Southern AP with just four points deciding the match.
Both teams scored the same number of goals but Ltyentye Apurte took the game, scoring 13-12 (90) against Southern AP's 13-8 (86).
They now go through to the preliminary final on Saturday to play against Central Anmatjere.
Passing time on the cultural cringe. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.
One way of passing the time in places that have more than one major culture is to make remarks about the cultures that are different to yours.
It's a habit that runs in the same family as scowling at the neighbours' front yard and tut-tutting at the domestic relationships of people you hardly know.
The old saying might be 'There's none so queer as folk' but we extend it to 'Everyone is weird except you and me, and even you're starting to act strange'.
I admit that sometimes I have difficulties with the priorities that others apply to work, life and family. But then I look at my own culture and realise that it's nothing to write home about.
In fact, the last 30 years of my culture have witnessed a steady tossing aside of anything resembling an obligation to the point where hardly any kind of formal ceremony or commitment exists any more outside of the workplace. So work is full of rushing to meet one commitment or another, while leisure time is obligation-free and hedonistic.
Most former cultural duties have now become optional including birthdays, weddings and assorted pancake and picnic days. If I fail for consecutive years to contact anyone outside my immediate relatives, nobody in the family seems to have any problem with that.
The ready-made excuse is that we are spread far and wide compared with previous generations, who all lived within the same square kilometre.
So that's alright then. I won't bother to keep in touch, even when you become old and sick.
The bonds weaken and another piece goes missing of that social grounding which makes me more than just an economic entity.
The limitations of my sense of culture were brought home to me at a seminar about engineering. Around 30 people from various countries participated. The organisers, forgetting for a moment that they were supposed to be anally-retentive technical types and not creative or artistic people, decided on an ambitious ice-breaker activity on the first day.
This would be a departure from the usual dirge where everyone says a few words about where they come from and what they do while the rest of the participants nod in unison and don't listen to a word. No, on this occasion we would all perform something that represents our nation.
Strangely enough, this idea brought out the best in people. The Filipinos sang a folk song that brought tears to our eyes, the Nepalese danced and the Germans came up with something special involving hand gestures.
As my turn moved closer, I realised that I was totally devoid of inspiration on how to represent my own culture.
Yet I come from a place that is saturated with ancient history. Britain has Shakespeare and the Beatles, the industrial revolution, Monty Python and the infinite possibilities of the English language. But still I couldn't produce a performance that met the aim of the exercise. Instead, I sang 'You'll never walk alone'. Thankfully, the rest of the participants joined in.
I was reminded of this experience by a newspaper interview with some recent immigrants, young women from middle-eastern countries, on their experiences in Australia. One question canvassed their views on Australian culture.
The universal reaction was puzzlement that Australia was supposed to have a culture at all. The outdoor lifestyle, the fair go, the passion for sport, the Aussie larrikin, jokes around the barbecue and all the local characteristics about which people write books, just didn't register with them.
I sympathise, because I feel the same way. My culture is the Barmy Army, politeness and a never-ending willingness to stand in queues.
Apart from every other task that we bequeath them, our children will have to set about rebuilding the real culture that previous generations gave up.
The big baddies. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
On a regular basis I have to reassure my youngest children that there are no monsters or ghosts in their bedroom, or in the house for that matter. In fact I tell them, there are no such things. But they don't really believe me.
My son won't go out to the car on his own when it is dark and is scared of wolves and werewolves. We don't get wolves in Australia I keep telling him, and werewolves are just figments of human imagination.
To be afraid is part of being human. To invent creatures to symbolise some of those fears is something we've been doing for a very long time. My ancestors believed in trolls, who lived in the deep dark forests and abducted children to eat them.
If the trolls were struck by the rays of the sun they would instantly turn into rocks or boulders depending on how big they were, and these moss-covered hunched-over rocks were then the evidence for their existence.
There was also a fiddler who sat playing in streams and waterfalls and whose music would lure you away from the beaten track, and a woman whose backside was a tree trunk and who would trick men into getting lost.
We tend to scare people to keep them away from possible dangers, or to take precautions so that they will be safe.
We all know garlic and a wooden cross will protect us from vampires, and mozzie repellent from Ross River Fever.
But then there are the threats that many of us deal with daily in Alice, of assault in the car park outside the supermarket, or on the footpath from school. The attempted break-in to your motel room in the dead of night. The drunk drivers, the unpredictable substance abusers, the diseases. The monsters and the ghosts that can not easily be scared off.
Many animals, as well as earlier human societies, have applied safety in numbers strategies. Modern society has been able to reduce many risks but has yet to conquer the night.
We know the deserts and the forests and the seas have never been safe but think we should be safe in our urban environments. One of the problems is that the independent, often lonely lives many of us choose or are forced to live, make us more vulnerable.
We can build fortresses, erect barbed-wire fences, have curfews and anti-social behaviour laws, but we cannot eliminate all the possible threats to our safety and well being.
We can teach our children about 'stranger danger", just like my great grandmother told her children about the big nasty trolls, and we can stick together.
In the bright morning light the town seems safe again, at least one has a better chance of seeing what is coming.
There are no trolls or werewolves, no monsters under the bed or vampires in the closet, but real threats that we have to come to terms with and resolve.
A lot of them are man-made like Frankenstein's monster and come from within ourselves and the society we live in. Despite feeling it has nothing to do with us and that we have a right to be completely safe, we have to move on from fear and superstition to understanding.
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