TRUCKING WOMEN LOBBY CANBERRA ON FUEL AND ROADS . Report by KIERAN FINNANE .
The cost of living in Central Australia could go down if Alice Springs' road transport supremo Liz Martin has her way.
As vice-chair of Transport Women Australia Ltd (TWA) she is in Canberra this week, together with other executive members of the organisation, to have talks with Federal Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Warren Truss.
Among 10 industry-wide recommendations TWA are lobbying for reform of fuel taxes that would see lower prices for diesel, and for an end to the under-investment by governments in regional and remote road networks.
Action on these fronts would lower trucking overheads, a decrease that would be reflected in lower prices on consumer goods brought into Central Australia as well as other regional and remote parts of the country, says Ms Martin.
The organisation is also pushing to keep the Diesel Grants Scheme (to be scrapped from July this year but essential for maintaining cash flow in small businesses, they argue) and a single national framework for road transport governance.
Among the reforms such a framework would implement is an increase in the maximum size of loads. Ms Martin says the recent generations of trucks are more than capable of carrying heavier loads than presently allowed, but the state of rural and regional roads don't permit it.
With two trucks making the journey instead of one, cost of goods increases and there is also an environmental impact, she argues.
Nationally the cost of bringing our roads network up to scratch is estimated at $26b, says Ms Martin. Australia is more dependent on road transport than any other developed country.
Apart from the truckies themselves, those who bear the brunt of the present inefficient and unfair system are the residents of rural and remote communities away from rail corridors and major transport routes. In Central Australia that means not only Indigenous communities - making up one third of the regional population - but also mining communities and pastoralists.
TWA's case to the federal government is based on a national study of owner operators and small fleet owners in remote, regional and rural Australia, titled Australian Trucking Families in Crisis.
Ms Martin says that the recommendations make economic sense but there are also social justice issues at stake.
The inequalities in the present system of road transport governance result in small businesses carrying 60 per cent of road freight but earning only 11 per cent of total income. TWA want a national Standard Schedule of Rates to redress the current system where big transport companies and big customers set prices without consultation with the sub-contractor base who do most of the carrying. While many sub-contractors are forced to go out of business, the only hope of those who survive is to pass costs onto the consumers.
In Alice Springs, the national picture as much as the extension of the railway has changed the dynamic of the trucking industry. While owner-operators formerly made up about 90 per cent of the local industry, they now account for only 10 per cent.
"But it's still the small bloke who will go out to the places the big companies won't go, so they're essential to the survival of Central Australia as we know it," says Ms Martin.
CLEAN, GREEN, SAFE ASPEN: HOW DOES ALICE STACK UP? Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Alice Springs and Aspen, Colorado, USA couldn't be more similar: populations under 30,000, in a remote part of the country, tourism the main industry, surrounded by magnificent landscapes.
Alice and Aspen couldn't be more different: Alice is a creature of politicians and bureaucrats who've failed, over half a century, to solve race issues and to grasp obvious commercial opportunities. Social and economic woes now have the town in a tailspin.
Over the same time span in Aspen, individuals with vision and resolve have avoided relying on governments, and built up staggering wealth by creating a playground for the world's super rich, providing a kaleidoscope of physical and intellectual pleasures.
While Alice has failed in four decades to set up proper camping areas for Aboriginal visitors, some of whom are causing major disruptions, Aspen is getting more holiday homes and apartments, worth on average $4m and topping $20m. Rudimentary facilities in the national parks around The Alice are much the same as they were 30 years ago, while Aspen's four mountains are spanned by a network of lifts, and its ski runs are some of the world's best groomed.
You can marvel at the magnificent vista of Central Australia's MacDonnell Ranges after a five hour walk to the top of Mt Sonder, carrying all the supplies you need.
There are walks just like that around Aspen, but it offers also the option of being pampered, big time: at Snowmass, the six-a-side chair lift whizzes you 700 metres up to the 3000 metre Sam's Knob in just under 10 minutes.
The peaks of the Rocky Mountains take your breath away, over a cup of hot cider and a slice of cake, handed to you by the private skiing company's staff, before you glide down in powder snow or on a choice of manicured runs.
And while Aspen and its 300 businesses, including 80 restaurants and bars, keep on their merry way to yet bigger and better things, many a Central Australian businessman polishes his white shoes and checks real estate prices in Queensland, where he finds the Oz answers to Aspen.
The Territory Government gets ready to administer the coup de grace to Alice Springs, giving away its greatest assets, the national parks, to the least productive sector of the community.
And Alice greenies exclaim: "Lifts? Never! Anyway, we'd rather have the West MacDonnells to ourselves."
And yet a very good argument could be had about who's doing more for the preservation of the environment: Is it Aspen's - maybe - billion dollar Skiing Company? (It is privately owned by the Chicago Crown family, not stock exchange listed, and so can be very tight-lipped about money.)
Or is it Central Australia's earnest environmental movement, currently hoping to make Alice a solar city. This may eventually become a worthy endeavour, but Aspen already gets more than half its energy from renewable resources and the Skiing Company has set its target at 100 per cent by this year!
How does the solar bid differ from the "do we have a great program for you, mate" style of initiatives, seen so often in the region's past 30 years.
Who will repay the taxpayers if the solar city initiative founders when the Federal hand-outs cut out?
Who in Alice Springs will put their money where their mouth is, as has been the case in Aspen for half a century?
Apart from the nation's highest use of solar hot water systems, boosted by generous grants from the Power and Water Corporation (who need the renewable energy brownie points), Alice has no credible track record in use of solar energy, its obvious opportunities notwithstanding.
Any achievement by the Centre for Appropriate Technology's "Bushlight" has to be considered in light of its massive cost to the taxpayer (google the Alice News web site).
The local consortium behind the Alice solar city bid, consisting of the town council, the Power and Water Corporation and Desert Knowledge Australia, felt compelled to engage an outside consultant, at a cost of some $70,000 to prepare the bid. What does that say for the town's renewable energy track record?
The Aspen Skiing Company will be completely reliant on electricity from renewable sources by the middle of the year. (The City of Aspen gets 56 per cent of its energy from renewable sources including wind and hydroelectric, and is looking for more.)
The company's environmental spokesman is Auden Schendler: "Buying wind energy credits is increasing the market and the demand for them and driving more wind energy creation.
"You pay a premium. It costs more to produce wind energy."
How much more?
"It depends where you buy it from and whether you're buying the power or the credits.
"Direct wind energy costs about 30 per cent more, and the credits are significantly cheaper.
"We're making the energy more viable on the market, and in turn we get to claim the emission reduction credits."
All in all it costs the company more to buy electricity from renewable sources. So what's in it for them?
Says Mr Schendler: "One, we're deeply concerned about climate change, and we're also po sitioning our brand.
"We want to be perceived as the greenest ski resort in the world, and we believe that's where the market is.
"Guests are going to make their decisions about who's environmentally responsible."
Does that include the high rollers, the super rich people who come to Aspen?
"They even more so because they have the discretion.
"They can go anywhere."
Once they get to Aspen they're embraced by a town obviously very pleased to see them.
Pedestrians have right of way over vehicles.
Shops, from the two supermarkets to branches of the world's glitziest fashion houses, are open till 9pm.
That is so tourists have some five hours' shopping time after they've come back from their outdoor pursuits, a logic that mysteriously is still escaping many Alice Springs businesses who're closing at five.
People in Aspen have practically no fear about their safety: "We haven't had a murder here in 14 years," says Loren Ryerson, Chief of Police.
People leave their homes unlocked.
There is no public anti-social behaviour and no rubbish in the streets.
The exceptions, according to Chief Ryerson, are "two or three" domestic violence cases a month.
The closest Aspen gets to the Alice's prolific public misconduct are a few pub brawls: "There are a handful a week at bar closing time," says Chief Ryerson.
Around half a dozen or so?
These minor villains finish up in court on Wednesdays.
The numbers of pub brawls are "way down," he says, as drinking habits seem to have changed: "Of course I'd like to take credit for it," he laughs.
"We used to have a handful of bar fights a night now it's a handful a week."
There are some drugs in Aspen "like in most communities," says Chief Ryerson, "but we don't have a lot of gang activity that's related to that.
"A lot of the big city crime that revolves around drug activity or substance abuse doesn't seem to have made its way here."
Once a week Chief Ryerson acts as an "ambassador" for the town, guiding guests down the ski slopes of Aspen Mountain.
"You are welcome to join me for a run or two," he said to me.
And so a Town Like Aspen is reaping the fruits of more than 100 years of daring, savvy and sheer hard work by some exceptional individuals.
Both Aspen and Alice have their roots in mining.
The first miners came to Arltunga, about 100 kms east of Alice , in 1887, working alluvial and reef gold until the early 1890s when the town was deserted.
It enjoyed another flurry of activity with the construction of the government battery and cyanide works in 1896.
This kept Arltunga, the actual forerunner of Alice Springs, active until about 1916.
Gold mining there had an odious renaissance in the 1980s when the CLP government allowed a company to open-cut mine the White Range, destroying dozens of historic sites of potentially inestimable value to the tourist industry, while producing a tiny quantity of gold, and paying negligible royalties to the Territory.
In 1884 in Aspen, at that time called Ute City, Jerome B Wheeler set up a smelter, and 500 silver miners moved in.
Some became millionaires overnight.
The Smuggler mine produced a nugget weighing 2350 pounds (roughly a tonne), 93 per cent pure silver.
Ute City became the third largest town in Colorado. In 1837 Congress had established a relationship between silver and gold at the ratio of 16 to one (meaning that 16 ounces of silver were to be equal in value to one ounce of gold).
But in 1893 Congress discarded this "silver standard", in essence ceasing to underwrite the price of the precious metal.
Within weeks 80 per cent of the Ute City mines failed, ruining their owners. The population soon dropped from 10,000 to 700. Wheeler went bankrupt in 1901, lost his frontier empire which by now included the Hotel Jerome, and his "beloved" opera house - an odd thing to have created in a frontier mining town.
In today's Aspen, the Wheeler Opera House is a major attraction, run by the town's local government, City Council, a major player in Aspen's phenomenal success story.
The Wheeler opera house is smaller than Araluen, some 300 seats, yet a classy venue for stars of world fame.
And the Jerome, too, has been lavishly restored, and has a great bar with a huge mirror, dark wood paneling, chandeliers.
A schooner of full strength Budweiser beer is $3.90.
The name of the old town has nothing to do with utilities, but the Ute Indian tribe.
Where did they go?
"I don't know exactly," said one of the several public relations people in the town.
"Indian tribes were given land (reservations) and many Indians live there."
In fact the Indians' treatment was a little less benign than that, according to Venita Taveapont, a descendent of the Utes formerly in the Aspen area, co-ordinator of the Ute Language Program and teacher of Ute history.
"The Ute people were forced to move out of [the Aspen] area," she says.
"They moved several times within the State of Colorado.
"The miners depleted the game, and they ruined the water system by pollution," taking away the hunters' and gatherers' livelihood.
"The miners had the government remove the Indians.
"They told them they would have to move, for safety."
Ms Taveapont says it's not true the Indians were "given reservations".
Did they have to go onto other tribes' land?
"No, because the whole State of Colorado belonged to the Ute people."
Were they compensated in some from?
"Not right away. And it's never been to the advantage of the Utes.
"It's always been to the advantage of the non-Indians.
"You know about treaties and how they were broken.
"The Utes were promised payments which never came through."
Ms Taveapont says today there are three distinct tribes - the one she belongs to; the Mountain Ute Tribe located near the four corners area of southwestern Colorado; and the Southern Ute Tribe in the mid-southern part of Colorado near the New Mexico state border.
She says her tribe has land now, the Uintah and Ouray Reservation, which is run by a tribal "government", in a basin whose land forms range from arid country to mountain areas.
Industries are forestry, oil and gas, water which is a "great commodity", a grocery store, a couple of service stations, a bowling hall but, unlike the other two Ute tribes, no casino.
Ms Taveapont says the reservation is 10,000 square kilometres (the size of the largest cattle stations in the Northern Territory).
There are 3,100 enrolled members of the tribe, two thirds of whom live on the reservation.
"We have people who go to Aspen to perform, and to make a connection with that area.
"They go to ski and to gather plants and other things."
FORTIFIED WINE DRINKING DROPS . Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Consumption of fortified wine in Alice has dropped by more than half, according to the latest statistics by the NT Treasury.
Since September 2003 drinkers in Alice Springs consumed on average five times as more fortified wine compared with Darwin and accounted for roughly three quarters of all fortified wine purchases made in the Northern Territory, according to registered wholesaler liquor returns.
But during the quarter ending in June 2005, drinkers in Central NT consumed 79,000 litres of fortified wine compared with 162,000 litres for the same period in 2004.
Central NT stretches up to Tennant Creek, across to the WA and Queensland borders and south to the border with South Australia.
(Figures for quarters since June last year have not yet been released.)
The Licensing Commission's Brenda Monaghan says consumers are gradually replacing fortified wine with casks of wine.
"It's a slow change but the liquor of choice is turning back from fortified wines to wine [in] casks," she says.
The liquor trial which began in 2002 banned the sale of casks of wine larger than two litres.
It caused a sharp increase in the consumption of fortified wine when alcohol merchants made available cheap casks of port and other fortified wines.
FOR TRUCKING FAMILIES ALL ROADS LEAD TO ALICE . Report by KIERAN FINNANE .
The road transport industry could scarcely hope for a better lobbyist than Liz Martin. She has made it her life's work for the three decades, and last year's National Road Transport Hall of Fame's 10th anniversary reunion, attracting some 7000 participants, confirmed Alice Springs as the heart of the nation as far as trucks and trucking families are concerned.
The Hall of Fame run by the Road Transport Historical Society, which Ms Martin helped to found, is going ahead in leaps and bounds. It has a local membership of around 100 but a national membership of well over 2000.
Members put their money where their mouth is. The latest asset is a 1973 International prime mover in original condition and working perfectly. Its owner, Victorian man Jim Jackson, knocked back an offer of $28,000 in favour of preserving his beloved International at the museum for posterity.
Hall of Fame roving ambassadors Greg Livesay and Sid Mitchell offered to drive it up to Alice, arriving last week.
This followed hot on the heels of another arrival, a 1966 B-model Mack truck restored at a cost of $100,000 by private donor and former Territorian Barry Clough. This is the fourth truck he has restored at his cost for the museum.
This year two large new sheds will be built at the transport heritage precinct to accommodate the expanding number of displays.
Concern by some that part of the museum's large collection, in particular the cars and associated memorabilia, may be sold off to cover various expenses is unfounded, says Ms Martin.
"We have a national charter to preserve and promote commercial road transport heritage.
"There is a constant exchange of vehicles and parts around the country but it's all done in keeping with the goals of our charter and strict policies and procedures. "Any proposal we receive in writing is considered by our committee and to date, even though our charter is national, there has been a strong commitment that anything having historical importance for the Territory must remain in the Territory.
"We have had two offers of $35,000 for the 1932 B-model Ford that is on display, once the property of Snowy Kenna and later Eddie Connellan.
"No decision has been made as yet but if we were to let it go, it would only be temporarily and on condition that it be restored to full working order.
"That would be a gain for Territory heritage.
"We would love to have the money to restore the cars but 90 per cent of our funds comes from interstate interests and they are designated for specific purposes, overwhelmingly for the restoration and acquisition of trucks.
"The historical cars we have are a value-added part of our display but they are not a priority for our membership."
Overheads are recovered from entry charges, membership subscriptions and the sale of souvenirs.
Ms Martin, as CEO of the society, is paid for 15 hours' work a week and "I do 80", she says.
The society has two other paid part-time staff who both do double their hours as volunteers. The majority of volunteers at the museum are members of the Coach and Motorhome Club of Australia.
"We couldn't do what we do on the strength of local volunteers," says Ms Martin.
This regime has the society in a very healthy financial state, with $250,000 in the bank.
"We'd be one of the most financially secure community-based organisations in Australia," declares society president, and husband of Ms Martin, Kel Davis.
"We're not in the business of putting out our hand to government and we don't know the meaning of 'can't'."
ALICE COUNCIL DECIDES SLOWLY ON SPEED LIMIT . Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
After some 12 months of debate and indecision aldermen have rejected a 50 km per hour default speed limit for Alice Springs.
The vote was virtually along gender lines, with Alderman Robyn Lambley joining the blokes.
Ald David Koch said he didn't believe the public wanted to reduce the default speed limit. Ald Marguerite Baptiste-Rooke suggested that a survey be taken. This was supported by Ald Jane Clark who said an online survey would be quick and cheap.
Ald Melanie van Haaren said there was no need for a survey. There is a "mountain of evidence", she said, proving that a 50 km default speed limit would decrease the number of accidents and resulting morbidity.
"Why would the town council ask people if they want a safer community?" she asked.
Ald Murray Stewart said the lower speed limit would not influence the "leadfoots".
Ald Samih Habib said that new cars handle speed better than old cars.
Ald Meredith Campbell urged council to make a decision one way or another and commented on the gender divide, wondering whether it was because women are the ones dropping children to school and thinking about safety matters.
The decisive mood was catching, for aldermen also voted to trial immediately and for three months a new regime of council meetings. This will see a replacement of the three committee meetings (run over two nights) by a forum, which was in place previously, and another ordinary council meeting. The change was proposed by CEO Rex Mooney.
Ald Stewart voiced his concern over reduced transparency.
He told the Alice News: "Ordinary council meetings are approval meetings in which standing orders apply, limiting debate. "The public will only be hearing things that have already been discussed and decided on.
"At present the public gets to hear the discussion in committee meetings and there's time to raise awareness on issues and lobby aldermen before the next ordinary meeting.
"Raising issues in ordinary meetings is limited to other business but the meeting has to approve what's discussed. If they don't want something discussed, then it won't see the light of day.
"Other business has been used to bring up some important issues in council, such as the Opal fuel rollout, the national parks handover, the Araluen closure on Tuesdays."
The News asked Mr Mooney if Ald Stewart has a point?
Mr Mooney said that anything the aldermen considered to be controversial or in need of consultation with the public could be deferred.
"So I would not agree with the comments by Alderman Stewart."
Mr Mooney said a number of aldermen had asked for the return of the forum, which can take the form of a workshop on specific issues, or questions and answers between officers and aldermen, or presentations by the CEO and the directors on their various areas of responsibility.
CAMPING In last Monday's "other business" section of the meeting, Ald van Haaren raised the issue of camping in the Basso Road area. All aldermen had received a letter from a "highly respected gentleman" on issues in the area.
Presumably these are the same or similar to those experienced by Gerry Baddock reported on in last week's Alice News. Ald van Haaren said there is an unfortunate impression that council has given permission for camping in the area and also an impression that ministers in the Territory government are "brushing off the issue".
"We should take immediate action," she said.
Ald Koch said there is not much more that council can do, that at times council rangers have attended the area five times in a day, and police much the same.
Ald Lambley described the whole situation as "hideous" and the Territory Government's suggestion that there is not really a problem as "hard to believe". "If they don't think there's a problem, let's pass it on to them."
Ald Stewart was inclined to agree with Ald Lambley that the problem should be handled by the NT Government but he also said council's "best isn't good enough, we must strengthen our by-laws".
The situation "goes totally against the standards Lhere Artepe is talking about [with its cultural protocols on appropriate behaviour in Alice Springs]".
A motion to meet with police and Tangentyere Council on the issue (specifically in the Basso Road area) and to take immediate action was carried.
ALICE MISSING OUT ON WHEEL GOOD TOURISM OPPORTUNITY . Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Central Australia is missing out on a niche sector of the tourist market: cycling tourism.
South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales all now hold large-scale cycling tours through the countryside which each attract between 800 and 2000 people and altogether nationally inject more than $9m into the tourist economy.
The NT still has no such event. "Cycle tourism is a growing niche within the tourism sector, particularly in regional and rural Australia," says Rosemarie Speidel, the program director of the Cycling Promotions Fund, a body which promotes cycling in Australia.
She says cycling tourists are passionate about what they do and " each person spends a significant amount of time and money on cycling".
Local cycling identity John Dermody says the Centre has "some of the best cycling country in Australia" but "unfortunately the Tourist Commission appears to have little idea of the value of cycling tourism".
"It seems to me if you're not in the Chardonnay drinking group then the Tourist Commission shows no interest in looking into cycling tourism," says Mr Dermody.
He is one of a number of locals taking part at present in the Great Western Australian Bike Challenge: along with 2000 people, he'll ride over 800 kms across Western Australia, cycling through and camping at the main beauty spots including Bussleton, Bunbury and Albany.
The tour has been organised so that the cyclists will spend their two rest days in the Margaret River wine area.
"Where to ride magazines have lists of events all around Australia like in Victoria and WA where thousands of people enter. The dollar value to those areas is huge. We're missing out," says Mr Dermody.
Craig Catchlove of CATIA says the organisation won't do anything on road cycle tours until the Mereenie Loop is sealed.
"We will start investigating once we have a product to make it possible.
"It will be a great bonus when the Mereenie is sealed, and the loop between Glen Helen and Hermannsburg.
"Cycling tourism is growing and it's a significant niche market we can work with.
"We do believe there is an opportunity to position Central Australia as a mountain biking destination and no doubt road tourism too."
Yes, the Mereenie Loop road "will be one of the great rides of Australia", says Mr Dermody, but there are plenty of opportunities to market cycling tourism here already.
"It seems that they're waiting until the Mereenie Loop is sealed and gee, that could take 10 years.
"In the meantime the Tourist Commission could still be proactive and promote cycling tours to either the Ross River area or Glen Helen area incorporating places like Simpsons Gap."
Money to be made from the sector comes in part from entry fees and what participants spent on transport, as well as on food and accommodation during the event, says Rosemary Speidel of the Cycling Promotions Fund.
But many cyclists from interstate or overseas will also extend their stay in the area afterwards for a holiday, or return later."
The fund commissioned research into cycling tourism in 2003, surveying 341 participants in the Break-Away Tour, part of an international bicycle race in South Australia.
It found that most were between 25 and 54 years old, professional or semi-professionals and had a high disposable income.
They paid $60 to ride in the tour but spent more than 10 times that amount while in South Australia, on average $723.85 each on food, drink, accommodation, entertainment and organised tours for 7.5 bed nights.
While all interstate people surveyed spent at least one night in Adelaide, 40 per cent spent time in regional areas and over half said they intended to visit the wine region on another trip.
Importantly, 83 per cent said they would consider visiting SA again in the next 12 months.
"The report found that organised cycling events encourage residents to stay at home rather than travel interstate or overseas," says Ms Speidel.
Research was also carried out by La Trobe University in Victoria, on the rail trails of Victoria, specifically developed for tourism as well as recreational users.
They are abandoned railway lines and are now used by cyclists, walkers and horse riders.
The university found that people using the trails spent on average up to $51 a day on food and accommodation.
Other research show Victoria's Murray to the Mountain Rail Trail contributes around $0.5m to the local economy directly per year and up to $1.9m indirectly. "Organised cycling events offer enormous potential to generate tourism income and increase awareness of regional destinations," says Ms Speidel.
KEEP TALENT IN ALICE, SAY YOUTH REPS . Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
"I've gone through high school and college here and kids I've grown up with have left Alice straight away afterwards.
"They say there's nothing to accommodate their talents here like uni or sports and so they've gone interstate," says Kelsey Rodda, 21, (PICTURED LEFT) one of two young people from Alice Springs to represent the town on the 2006 Youth Minister's Round Table of Young Territorians.
"We need to keep what talent we have here for as long as we can," says Kelsey. "Admittedly, we can't keep people forever but we can look at ways to bring them back into town. A lot of my friends say there's nothing to do here, why would they come back?"
The round table met for the first time in Parliament House in Darwin last month, and will meet three more times throughout the year before presenting research and recommendations to youth minister Marion Scrymgour.
Kelsey with Emily Ryan, 16, from OLSH (PICTURED RIGHT), will research what needs to be provided to attract young people to stay in the town. They're putting together a survey which they'll distribute to schools, sports clubs and youth centres: "We're looking at how to keep people here, more opportunities, maybe a better university," says Kelsey.
"We think that the biggest interest is in sport and music," says Emily. "The ideas for events we've thrown around are things like a regular battle of the bands, more music concerts, and a sports day with a coach from interstate.
"Youth in the NT feel like they have to move interstate to get facilities. I nearly moved from the NT because I didn't have a coach for my event [the triple jump] and I've got a long-term injury from a bad run up because of the facilities here.
"There's not enough fun here, or things to do: that's what causes youth to turn to drugs and alcohol for entertainment." Kelsey's a good example of a young person continuing to make the most of opportunities here after leaving school. She now works for the Office of Central Australia, after doing a traineeship with the government when she left school, and she has represented the state in netball.
She says it's her friends who have kept her here: "I'm on the committee of the Finke Desert Race and that keeps me busy. Sportswise, we do have a lot of opportunity and I think that's improved from when I was young. The NTIS scholarship wasn't around when I was 16 and I think that helps keep people's motivation up now." But she says education can't offer what she needs: "The career opportunities aren't that hard here but higher education is. I've tried to find a graphic design course here but I'd have to go to Darwin for it. I'm having to slowly teach myself." The girls wanted to get involved in the Round Table because they believe youth needs a louder voice: "I'm more of the type to speak up more than my other friends," says Kelsey.
"Youth is never portrayed in a positive light. A lot of us are good rather than bad."
Both she and Emily hope Marion Scrymgour will listen to their research carefully when it's presented. "I think she will be taking it seriously, there is a greater emphasis on youth with anti-social behaviour and the curfew that the town council is talking about," says Kelsey.
This year, the youth round table has been taken from the Chief Minister's portfolio to Ms Scrymgour's. But Kelsey sees this as a positive move rather than a demotion: "I think they're placing more importance on the round table. We'll be speaking to the youth minister first hand, rather than to the chief who has to pass it on."
At last month's meeting the girls met the other representatives from centres across the NT, including Tennant Creek. "It was really fantastic," says Emily. "It was great to listen to everyone else's ideas and issues about their communities." The next meeting will be held in May.
LAUGHTER BEST MEDICINE . Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
Four clown doctors which have been visiting the Alice Springs Hospital twice a week for a month now are really making a difference to patients, their families and medical staff, says Dr Rob Roseby, head of the department of paedatrics.
"They're making a huge difference to the whole hospital and to our whole department.
"They're bringing smiles to the children and are also really good for their parents by brightening their time," says Dr Roseby.
"The clown doctors program has become very special. It's an example of the community embracing the hospital.
"The hospital has had bad press in the past which is bad for staff morale. This is something really good for the staff.
The clowns can help relieve sad or stressful times, and are good at diffusing what can be tense situations.
"They're really well trained and very professional. They really go to some quite effort to work in with hospital staff."
Robin Laidlaw, Tanya Dann, Nique Murch and Sarah Katz are now recognised clown doctors, after finishing training workshops with Australia's leading clown doctor, Jean-Paul Bell last month.
They visit all the wards in the hospital twice a week, and also travel to the Darwin Hospital every three months.
"Laughter is the best medicine," says Mr Bell, who is the co-founder of the Humour Foundation and has been a clown doctor for 10 years. He volunteers at two children's hospitals in Sydney. "We'll use laughter or music or mime to distract a child, or their parent, whoever needs it more, during a medical procedure like having a dressing changed or blood sample taken.
"We visit adults as well. We'll make up a song to help them feel relaxed and to temporarily distract them from the pain and suffering.
"We found the humour translates very well to Aboriginal people - they have a very visual sense of humour and they love seeing us sending ourselves and the healthcare system up."
Funding for the project in Alice Springs is thanks to the community fund at the Commonwealth Bank from staff donations.
LETTER: NT LABOR GOVERNMENT: IS IT THE 'MOST TAXREFORMING' OR 'BIG SPENDING, BIG TAXING'?
Sir,- I will be taking the Territory's strong message on Federal funding to Canberra when I attend my fourth Treasurers Ministerial Council meeting this Friday to discuss the distribution of GST monies and the tax reform agenda.
I will be taking the message to Canberra that the Territory has special needs recognising the high cost of delivering services across our vast land mass.
I have consistently opposed any moves by the larger States to change the fundamental philosophy of equity and fairness underpinning our Federation.
The Territory has one of the best performing economies in Australia with funds invested in vital new infrastructure, improved police services, better health services and stronger education outcomes. The Martin Government has also been the most tax reforming Government in the Territory's history. We have removed $40 million worth of taxes to date and are scheduled to remove a further $40 million over the next four years.
At this years' Treasurers Conference we will be putting forward our program of reform.
1 July 2006 - Abolish stamp duty on unquoted marketable securities.
1 July 2006 - Abolish stamp duty on Leases on franchises.
1 July 2007 - Abolish stamp Duty on hiring arrangements.
1 July 2009 - Remove stamp duty on non property component of business conveyances. In addition to these taxes the Territory Government will continue its plans to provide a nationally competitive payroll tax system. Federal Treasurer Peter Costello is expected to respond to the NT Government's review of taxes.
Sir,- During the next sittings of the NT Parliament, I will introduce a bill to freeze all Territory Taxes and Charges at current rates for one year.
In 2001, when this government came to office, the own source revenue for the Territory was $216 million. This year it is projected that the Territory will take $317 million from Territorians. This is over and above the extra $750 million that the Territory has received from the GST in the past five years.
TIME It is time to say stop.
This government keeps telling us that its financial management is within targets and so the extra $150 million from the GST next year should be used to bring tax relief to Territorians. Something the GST was always designed to do.
Consequently, I have decided to take this government at its word and introduce a bill that will have the effect of freezing all taxes and charges for one year. (The bill will allow for charges and taxes to be lowered).
If the Treasurer's assertions about the condition of the Territory's finances are correct then this should be an easy thing for them to do.
acid test ALP support for this bill will be an acid test for this government. If they support this bill then perhaps they can be believed in terms of their financial management. If however, they choose not to support the bill then they are signalling another round of increased charges.
I have noticed that builders' licensing fees have increased as have fees for security firms. It is expected that fees will be introduced to run chook raffles and there are a raft of other areas where fees may be increased.
spending The time has come to say that this big spending, big taxing Labor Government should live within its means, which are already substantial.
The fact is that I don't believe that this government will support the bill because they have to increase fees and charges to cover their own increased costs brought about by excessive spending such as over $20 million per year on the 136 extra executive level public servant positions they've created in the past four years.
Shadow Treasurer, NT
SOMETHING STRONGER THAN MUTUAL RESPECT NEEDED . COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
If heaven is a place, or a state of complete peace, I suspect many of us will be bored once we've had a good rest.
So much of our time here on Earth is taken up with problem solving, from the most basic, the finding food and shelter, to conflicts between nations. We might think we want more leisure time and limitless bank accounts and a hassle-free existence, but we would soon find new problems to solve, or get drunk to forget that we have no purpose, nothing to do.
Yet, at least once a day I am told, "It is all too much", by my children especially. On days when the dishwasher is doing an impersonation of Stephen King's "Christine" and tar is being used as finger paint all over the house, I'm tempted to agree. Luckily I have reached a point where I don't get as upset as I used to and these things hardly register on my personal Richter scale. Like a police horse trained to cope with rioters by being exposed to a massive clanging of pots and pans, I usually take it all in my stride these days.
Growing up I used to wonder how people could stay in places like Northern Ireland and the West Bank, raising their families and getting on with life despite bomb blasts, riots, rubble and tension. I can see now how they just had to deal with it. Many would not have considered leaving, even if they had the money or the skills to be accepted elsewhere. It was life as they knew it and despite everything it was still home.
However, no one was surprised when seven Commonwealth Games participants "disappeared" recently. In Sierra Leone, where they come from, most of the population live in poverty. You cannot blame them for wanting to disappear into the Victorian countryside after having seen the riches this country has to offer.
As our lives become increasingly affluent, when we have to get rid of quite a bit of stuff just to be able to clean the house properly, we should consider how to best use our innate problem-solving qualities. The hunger we will suffer from otherwise will be for a meaningful existence, and no number of square metres, cars or holidays will satisfy it.
We are often told that the Territory offers a great lifestyle, that our lifestyle is something unique to this country, yet we have the highest suicide rate in Australia, nearly twice the national average. That so many should choose that road in a society as rich as ours is alarming. Something is not right in paradise.
Although I am a great fan of Harmony Day and other such initiatives we need something stronger than "mutual respect" and "getting along" to get on course as a society. We need to figure out what to do with ourselves once we've sorted our most basic needs, how we can provide and encourage meaningful occupation.
The disadvantage of a high-tech society is that it tends to marginalise those lacking certain skills or not meeting certain "criteria". Rather than trying to turn everyone into computer geeks we should look at all the different aspects of what makes up a well-functioning human society. To begin with we need to keep both our minds and our bodies busy.
It takes a lot of valuable energy to get angry and upset, energy that could be used constructively. Instead of spending a high proportion of our tax dollars on detention and restrictions we could spend it figuring out how to get people motivated and involved.
We are great problem solvers so it shouldn't take too long.
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