KEEP PARKS PUBLIC . Report by ERWIN CHLANDA .
"There will be no free land outside the boundaries of the township of Alice Springs where anyone can go.
"The town is threatened to be made into an island, and there will be no way off that island."
That's the bleak view of Ian Builder, long-time local and retired businessman.
He has teamed up with outspoken businessman and alderman Murray Stewart in a bid to block Chief Minister Clare Martin's plan of handing over to Aboriginal interests the ownership of national parks, now in public hands.
Mr Builder says Aboriginal or pastoral lands "are not available for tourists and people of the town".
"If our parks are being shut down I'm going to tell people, get out of the place while you can because we're imprisoned," he says.
Ms Martin says she wants to surrender ownership because she doesn't want to spend money on fighting native title claims that may be lodged over the parks, mainly around Alice Springs.
But her government fought - and last Friday won - a compensation case in the Federal Court brought by Aborigines asserting that the construction of Ayers Rock Resort, formerly Yulara, had extinguished their native rights.
The CLP's Member for Greatorex Richard Lim is providing support for Mr Builder and Ald Stewart.
Time is running out: as the final act in the handover process, Ms Martin has asked Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough to schedule the parks as Aboriginal land, and he's likely to do so in May.
Mr Builder and Ald Stewart say they will now go all out to mobilize public opinion against the transfer.
They have no hopes of changing Ms Martin's mind, and will rely on Mr Brough to at least delay the transfer of ownership - or knock it on the head altogether.
Ald Stewart says he suspects Ms Martin is motivated less by saving money, than by repaying the Aboriginal land councils for decades of election support in the bush for the ALP.
"The land councils are calling in some IOUs," says Ald Stewart.He and Mr Builder, are distributing pamphlets, canvassing a petition at functions such as the Todd Mall Market on Sunday, and calling a public meeting (at the Memo club at 5.15pm on Tuesday next week, April 11).
Mr Builder is unconvinced by assurances from Ms Martin that there will be "no fees and no permits" under her planned 99 year lease-back of the parks following their handover to Aboriginal ownership.
He says the key issue is what visitors would be allowed to do once they are inside the parks: at Aboriginal-owned Ayers Rock - Uluru, for example, there are significant restrictions on movements, photography and other activities.
Mr Builder, supported by his partner Francoise, says on the vital issue of allocating concessions inside the parks - from shops to hotels to tours - Ms Martin had agreed in secret negotiations with the Aboriginal land councils to give Aborigines priority.
HELP Last week a pamphlet authored by Mr Builder and Ald Stewart was distributed through local print media.
The pamphlet was produced with help from Dr Lim who says he'd been approached, as a local Member, for assistance and he'd agreed to make available, as much as he can, the resources of his office.
Mr Builder came to Alice Springs in 1955 for two years, returned in 1969, and is now the patriarch of a family spanning three generations.
He has three sons and six grandchildren.
One of his brothers lives here with his wife.
One son, Scott, is interstate training to become a Qantas captain, crowning a flying career that began in The Alice under aero club legend Ossie Watts: "Scott's probably going to come back to Alice Springs when he retires," says Mr Builder.
"That was their plan. They all love the Territory and they all want to come back to Alice Springs.
"It's a great town but we have lost quite a few freedoms. We don't want to lose any more."
Mr Builder, a former real estate agent and auctioneer, says typical comments for his initiative are like these: "We're all in favour of what you're doing.
DONATION "Can you give us more information.
"One of them said, here's a $100 donation.
"He's with the Walking Club.
"What about all the other clubs [losing full parks usage]?
"This is no time to walk away from this without a thorough debate by the whole community in Alice Springs."
Ald Stewart says some supporters of the Martin strategies are the same people who would vehemently oppose the privatisation of public assets in other circumstances.
"Why do they think that privatisation of our parks, into the hands of organisations, not people, would benefit the rank and file of the average Indigenous person?" asks Ald Stewart.
"You only have to look at Mutitjulu [the Aboriginal community at Ayers Rock] as an example of that.
"It's one of the most dysfunctional communities on earth."
He says far from being the prime example of benefits of the handover of parks, the Rock hand-over "hasn't worked for those Indigenous people."
NO BENEFIT The Martin parks strategy would result in "a take-over virtually by company structures, so you might find three or four people might benefit, but the average Indigenous person doesn't benefit at all, and to be frank, probably couldn't care less."
The Federal Court last Friday rejected an application for compensation by Yankunytjatjara people over the establishment of the Ayers Rock Resort, formerly called Yulara.
In his conclusion, rejecting the application, Mr Justice Sackville said, in part: "First, the applicants have not shown, on the evidence, that the Indigenous witnesses, or members of the compensation claim group, acknowledged and observed at the relevant times the laws and customs of the Western Desert bloc as pleaded in the Points of Claim.
"Secondly, I am not satisfied that any laws and customs relating to rights and interests in land that may have been acknowledged and observed by the Aboriginal witnesses are the traditional laws and customs of the Western Desert bloc."