ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
April 13, 2006. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.



ALICE HAS BIG SAY ON PARKS HANDOVER. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA and ELISABETH ATTWOOD. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.


It was the "grand final of expression of opinion," in the words of Alderman Murray Stewart, when more than 200 people packed the Memorial Club hall on Tuesday to have their say about the NT Government's plans of handing national parks ownership to Aboriginal interests.
About two thirds had come to support the push by Ald Stewart, businessman Ian Builder and CLP Member for Greatorex Richard Lim to "save our parks".
The meeting was remarkable for the absence of government Ministers and Members, and so the unanswered questions - mainly why the handover was necessary - remained unanswered. There was not even an apology tendered.
Even Central Land Council staffers, who spoke passionately, stressed they were attending as private citizens.
The meeting followed an extraordinary level of interest shown during the Mall Market on Sunday when in just three hours, 500 signatures were collected by the organizers.
Dr Lim told the meeting Clare Martin's plans will come to nothing if Federal Affairs Minister Mal Brough doesn't "schedule" the parks as Aboriginal land.
One of the speakers, Dominic Miller, said plans to sell TIO were "a done deal until the public forced a change".
He said the experience at Ayers Rock, where "hangers on" are doing little more than waiting for gate money, would be repeated if the parks are handed over.
Several speakers supporting the handover spoke about the benefits of joint management with Aborigines.
Dr Lim said he and his supporters were all in favor of joint management, so long as the parks remained in public ownership which, of course, includes Aborigines.
Bob Durnan took Ald Stewart to task for claiming that only one Aborigine was employed at Ayers Rock. Mr Durnan said about 50 were employed by the Federal parks service or its contractors.
Mr Stewart countered that what he meant was that only one was a local traditional owner.
Chairman Ian Builder more or less enforced the two minute limit for speakers from the floor. Mac Moyses, the principal planning officer for the NT parks service, insisted to exceed that limit but added little to the government line plied for years - that legal advice (kept under wraps by the government) had suggested the parks were at risk of claims which were "inappropriate" - he didn't say why.
Mr Moyses claimed a pamphlet distributed in 2003 was proof that the process was transparent.
When Mr Builder asked Mr Moyses to stop talking there were shouts of disagreement from the floor.
When a speaker said "why give the parks away when they are owned by everybody" there was loud applause.
Senior CLC lawyer David Avery, speaking as a private person, said under the agreement with the Martin government, the parks estate had been enlarged by the addition of land contributed by Aborigines, citing the proposed Davenport Range national park.
Trevor Shiell owns a small tourist business taking art buyers to art centres around Central Australia.
He says handover of the parks may have significant financial impact on the tourist industry.
He's leaving town.
"The premium I will have to pay means I'll be out of business straight away.
"I take groups to Yuendumu and come back through the West Macs. [If the parks are handed over] I might have to pay an entry fee and probably get a permit every time I go through.
"I went down with a group of art buyers to Uluru. I was told I would have to pay a $400 concession fee plus $25 each to watch the sunset for half an hour.
"If that's the model for the parks handover, I'm right out of it."
He has no faith in an organisation like the Central Land Council to run the national parks efficiently.
"A very sad example is when three people from Austria wanted to go to Ikuntji [Haasts Bluff] arts centre. They had a limited length of time here. I applied for a permit through the CLC and they said it would take three weeks.
"That was April last year. I still have not received the permit.
"Those three people went to Sydney and spent around $20,000 in the galleries there.
"That money should have gone directly to the artists at Ikuntji." vHe also asked whether, if Owen Springs is handed back to traditional owners, it will affect the town's water supply from that area.
Betty Pearce, of Lhere Artepe, the native title body for Alice Springs, said she supported a joint initiative.
"It's really sad to hear what everyone's been saying here.
"Aboriginal people owned this land before you people ever came to this place.
"To keep claiming this is your country [is wrong].
"Why can't we be talking about this side by side. We need to work together and live together as real people."
The chairman of the meeting, Ian Builder, said: "We believe if we can work together as a community we can change things for the better."
Betty Pearce said: "Then don't do this fear campaigning, this meeting is fear campaigning."
Jayne Weepers of the Central Land Council made a passionate reply to the opening speeches of Richard Lim and Murray Stewart.
She refuted claims that the handover process wasn't being made clear to the public.
"There will be no fees, no permits. And constraints? They are there already, because it is a national park.
"We will continue to have a say, this information is publicly available to all of us.
"The legislation is available for everyone to see. I had a look at it again today.
"The new thing that we should be proud of is for the first time it will be a recognition of the Aboriginal ownership and Aboriginal heritage.
"Aboriginal people can participate in the management of those parks. "It's been a long time coming, wouldn't you say?"
Ms Weepers said that Aboriginal people were already being paid "real money for real work" through national parks.
"Why would any of us who live here be opposed to joint management?"
Richard Lim responded: "No one is saying there shouldn't be joint management.
"But all Territorians should own it, [not one group]."
Joy Jones has lived here since 1960. She said: "When I first came here there were no fees to get into Ayres Rock, that's what it was known as then. Then it was for everybody.
"Then [the charge was introduced and] it cost a dollar.
"Now it's made for overseas people and visitors. For ordinary people with a family, it costs the earth.
"It will go up and up the way it always has done."


MASSAGING PUBLIC ON MIDDLE SCHOOLS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Socom, the company that has conducted the community consultations on middle schooling in the Territory, is a public relations company, not an education consultant.
Their website boasts that "we create and implement communications solutions so you can influence your stakeholders and achieve your goals".
It says, "Once we have worked out the destination, Socom knows how to help you get there."
Under "media relations", it says: "We work with clients to develop their messages and ensure they are delivered in a format that will be used by journalists." In other words, they are spin doctors, not independent surveyors of public opinion.
The Alice News asked Education Minister Syd Stirling, who has personally driven the middle schooling issue, "Why have you used a public relations company, rather than an education specialist consultant?"
His media advisor says it's because Socom is the "best consultancy company in the country" and "other governments have used them".
"The Howard government has used them, the Kennett government." We asked, "Who has commissioned Socom's services, DEET or the Minister?" It's DEET, the Department of Education.
DEET says they were "undertaking a community consultation and therefore they needed to obtain a community consultation expert".
END-POINT We put to Mr Stirling that Socom's practice sounds very much like an end-point has been pre-determined and they are simply showing you the way to get there. This was not deemed relevant for the Minister. We should put it to Socom, said his media advisor.
But we were not asking about how Socom does business, we were asking about how the government does business.
We asked, "At this point, given the 'brick wall' [Mr Stirling's phrase] that has been encountered in Alice Springs, despite Socom's best efforts, how satisfied are you with their services?" Again this was not deemed relevant.


MORE JOBS, FEWER TAKERS STUDENTS. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

The latest unemployment figures show that Alice Springs had 795 people out of work for the quarter ending December 2005.
At the same time, research by ANZ shows job adverts increased by 8.7 per cent in the Territory over the past 12 months (compared to a decrease of 4.9 per cent nationally).
ANZ was unable to provide figures for Alice Springs, but Peter Cowham, CDEP manager at Tangentyere Council, suggests a rough estimate can be found by multiplying the number job adverts in local newspapers by two or three.
Last week, by multiplying adverts two and a half times, there were 167 vacancies. A quarter of these were suitable for unskilled people without a driver's licence, such as cleaning, building or kitchenhand jobs.
Why with high unemployment are there still a high number of vacancies?
Says Kevin Andrews, the federal minister for employment and workplace relations: "While it is good news for Alice Springs to know there are plenty of employment opportunities for jobseekers, a fifteen per cent unemployment is way too high. "It is no secret in Alice Springs that many unskilled jobseekers, especially Indigenous jobseekers, often have multiple barriers to employment.
"Those barriers may include poor literacy and numeracy, a history of low school attendance, access to decent housing, language barriers, employer perceptions, substance abuse as well as the legacy of passive welfare."
Mr Andrews says these are "major challenges" for employment agencies and federal, territory and local governments.
"For the Australian government's part getting rid of sit down money is a high priority.
"This is why we have tougher rules for CDEP participants and are removing Remote Area Exemptions.
"Furthermore my officials in the Alice Springs office are working hard to create strategic approaches with key employers and other governments for Indigenous jobseekers.
"There is something staring us in the face here. The only answer is that if there are vacancies but they're not being filled, it must be because people don't want to work."
Territory senator Nigel Scullion says "we're not about continuing to support people if they don't feel like working where there is employment available in Alice Springs.
"There is an availability of unskilled positions, all you need is to be breathing and upright [to take them]."
Sen Scullion says a number of his constituents complain that they employ people only for them not to turn up the next week. He believes changes to the Welfare to Work program on June 30 will stop this: if a person fails to turn up for work without a legitimate reason they won't be able to claim income support for eight weeks.
Currently, the maximum penalty is a 24 per cent reduction in pay for 26 weeks.
"The demographic is generally happy to wear that," says Sen Scullion.
"Those days are over. This is a punitive measure which will get people back into work and show the benefits of working: pride." MP for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon sees nothing remarkable in the situation: "The issue is matching unemployed people to the jobs available.The only people who can do that is the Job Network. You'll have to ask them this question."
Elsa Lopez is the employment services manager for Centacare NT, one of the job network providers in Alice Springs and has been in the industry since 1998.
"Where a person doesn't require skills or transport to get to a job, there is no reason why we should not be able to place them in work.
"Alice Springs has always had lots of jobs. Some reasons for high unemployment could be attributed to the transient nature of jobseekers, lack of motivation, lack of knowledge of work expectations," she says.
"And for Indigenous people, there are cultural issues. They have obligations which they have to fulfil so they may go out bush. They sometimes don't ring to tell their employer that they are going out bush or that they've moved."
Ms Lopez says continuous support and mentoring from Centacare is "essential" to encourage people to stay in a job once they've got one. A consultant keeps in touch regularly by phone or visiting, and may even pick them up from their home and drop them back after work, or help arrange childcare.
Motivation is particularly important for long-term unemployed people to stick to their jobs, says Ms Lopez.



CDEP REFORMS: 'LET'S GIVE THEM A GO'. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

Changes to CDEP, the 'work for the dole' scheme specific to Aboriginal communities, are supposed to help get people into mainstream jobs: how does the Canberra vision stack up against the Alice Springs practice?
The changes, effective from July 1 this year, include limiting the time people can be on CDEP to 12 months (not applicable in remote communities); reducing payment to those under 20 to encourage them to stay in school or training; and closing down CDEP providers if they're not performing.
Peter Cowham, the CDEP manager at Tangentyere Council, comments on the reforms.
Peter Cowham: One of the most positive things about the reform is that it has identified what CDEP is. CDEP in the past had become focused on communities. Now it has to be reinvented so that it is focused on developing individuals, getting them ready for work and finding employment. This is a big change and I'm pleased with it.
That is the potential of CDEP: not everyone wants to change their life but a percentage of those who sign on, do. For example they want to do a computer course or learn to drive if it is offered to them.
CDEP in the past hasn't been a big success. Let's give these changes ago and see if they make a difference.
But they're not a wand to fix everything. It's one piece of a solution. Until this is backed up with improvements to the education system, it will take a long, long time for these changes to make a difference. Usually CDEP is the first port of call for young people who have left school at an early age. We find many young people have left at primary level and it's not until at 16 they are eligible for CDEP. We're faced with young people with little work ethic, little education, poor role models in their life but who have some expectations of making a better life for themselves. They're flat out filling out a form let alone having skills to go into employment.
Alice News: New participants signing on to CDEP will have 12 months to find work otherwise they will be kicked off the program and at the moment it's thought they won't be able to return. Is this a realistic time frame for people in Alice Springs to find work?
Cowham: If it gets people active and engaged in the job market, then it will be a good thing. Not everyone will be willing or able to find a job. If they don't find work in 12 months, where do they go? It's yet to be clarified whether this will affect existing people on CDEP as well.
News: When a person signs on for CDEP they will have to register with the Job Network (an employment agency like Centrelink) at the same time, a change called direct registration. Currently, it is up to the individual to sign on with an employment agency.
What do you think about this?
Cowham: At the moment people usually don't bother signing on with Centrelink. Direct registration is advantageous because people will now get full support to find work as soon as they sign on. I think it will help more people find work.
News: Minister of employment and workplace relations Kevin Andrews has promised tighter monitoring of the 'no work, no pay' policy. After two weeks of not carrying out work or training, a person can be struck off the CDEP program. Can this be enforced?
Cowham: Two weeks is an unreasonable length of time due to the mobility of the client group in this region. People go bush and we won't see them for six weeks. They might be carrying out ceremonial business, a legitimate reason for being away. News: Those under 20 will receive a reduced rate (Youth Allowance Allocation). Currently, everyone receives $235 a week but under the changes, youth will be paid around $100 to $176 depending on their age. CDEP programs will be expected to use the money saved for training programs.
Cowham: People under 20 will lose pay straight away which won't be very popular. And in Aboriginal society, you can be an adult at 13: our government says you're not an adult until you're 20. I'm not sure how the savings will pay for training, for example, driving lessons. They make a real difference to people, it's the easiest way to get a job basically. But they're expensive. The pressure will be that young people might not join the program and might not participate in anything at all: a big worry.
News: There will be rewards for high performing CDEP projects, others will be closed down if they're not meeting standards. Will Tangentyere survive?
Cowham: We have standards set and are closely monitored by DEWR and we have to meet certain indicators. One of ours was to put 50 people into work or CDEP for the year. With still three months to go we are close to achieving that. I like the idea that we might be rewarded for meeting that target by having our contract extended for another year. CDEPs are being audited and I think announcements will be made in the next few months: there may be some CDEPs closed down. Everything we do now has to be aimed at jobs. We offer community activities like childcare and painting but these will have to be linked to a job, such as training people to be childcare providers themselves.
News: One of the biggest changes is that 50 per cent of the board members of CDEP providers must now be professional people. Is this realistic?
Cowham: No. This brave new world stuff sounds all right in Canberra but the availability of such people in communities to fill board positions is very limited. It's a two year phasing-in period but DEWR will help us get there which is great. News: CDEP providers must develop business enterprises, through which jobs are created. Is this a practical step?
Cowham: I believe they want CDEPs to stand alone eventually.
The potential is there for enterprise as long as it is the appropriate type. Such as providing municipal services on communities like garbage collection. Why can't people on communities be part of it? But you've got to develop people to have an aptitude for business, not everyone has that mind. We see this as a two or three year process for a very small percentage.
Ultimately Mr Cowham says that the reforms could be missing the point of the unemployment issue. "Is employment the answer? DEWR seems to think that it will fix up people's lives and everyone will be happy. I think that's too simplistic. It is one piece of the jigsaw. "Education is the biggest issue. I've seen people who are in full work and their life is still a mess, whether they're Aboriginal or not."


MONEY TRAILS LEAD TO 75 HARTLEY ST. Report By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alice Springs' most secretive investor, Centrecorp, is probably its biggest, involved in a string of businesses including the Peter Kittle Motor Company, the town's biggest car dealership by a mile.
The foundation of Centrecorp's fabulous wealth isn't hard work but a never ending stream "sitdown" money created by the stroke of a government pen.
Canberra and Territory legislation obliges resource companies - miners, oil and gas producers - operating on Aboriginal land to pay its owners a royalties.
That's a privilege not enjoyed by non-Aboriginal land owners.
While Aborigines, The Centre's least advantaged people, remain a major drain on the public purse, they are kept in the dark about the fabulous wealth being amassed on their behalf.
"What's the go with Centrecorp?" I asked a recent chairman of the Central Land Council (CLC).
"Centre what?" was the reply.
Yet his organisation owns three fifths of Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation Pty Ltd.
One fifth each is owned by the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere.
Pretty well the only peep we've been able to get out of Centrecorp in the past is that it has no obligation to be transparent because it is a Pty Ltd company required to answer only to its shareholders.
That may be OK from a legal standpoint but it's a little too cute from a moral one.
Surely, the Aboriginal beneficiaries deserve to be informed about property being accumulated with their money, supposedly on their behalf.
Surely, the Australian public deserves to know what good is coming from a decision by the parliaments it has elected.
Furthermore, as Centrecorp is relieved from the burden of paying income tax, surely the people not enjoying such a powerful commercial advantage deserve to know how the Aboriginal investment company is earning its tax-exempt status as a charitable institution.
In the face of systematic and deliberate concealment of the facts by the people most likely to have them, it's pretty hard - if not impossible - to paint a rounded picture, but let's give it a bash.
We asked Peter Kittle for a comment in connection with a story we ran about Centrecorp's tax exemption (Alice News, March 23/24).
He replied on March 28: "I cannot and will not make any comment on Centrecorp as I am not involved with that organisation.
"As for what concessions they are entitled to I would not know, the same as I don't know what concessions you are entitled to.
"Centrecorp is not a shareholder of the Peter Kittle Motor Company (PKMC).
"The shareholding of the Peter Kittle Motor Company is on the public record, however for your information one of my private companies, Yaamba Pty Ltd, owns 50% of the Peter Kittle Motor Company.
"The Peter Kittle Motor Company pays tax as per Australian Tax Office rules and guidelines."
Mr Kittle describes himself as "a major shareholder and managing director" of PKMC.
We asked him who has the other 50% of PKMC, but he didn't reply.
However, we've been able to trace the company's ownership: Centrecorp was a shareholder of PKMC from 1992 until 2002 when it was part of CAAMV Trust which had 50% of the PKMC shares, together with IBA (the investment organisation Indigenous Business Australia, a Federal government instrumentality).
In 2002 Centrecorp acquired IBA's shares and consequently became a 50% shareholder of PKMC.
This is what IBA's 2001/2002 annual report says about the dealings with The Alice's biggest motor trader: "The Peter Kittle Motor Company was established in 1992 as a trading name for the joint venture, Alice Car Centre Pty Ltd.
"Late in 2001/2002 Centrecorp approached IBA with a proposal to purchase IBA's equity in the CAAMV Trust.
"Due to improved trading and recent restructuring of the business, an independent valuation of the venture indicated a significant capital growth.
"On June 29, 2002 IBA finalised the sale of its units in the CAAMV Trust resulting in a gain on disposal of 69% for IBA.
"Over the years the venture had generated good returns for IBA with an average rate of return of 22% per annum."
According to Australian SecuritiesáandáInvestments Commission (ASIC) information Alice Car Centre Pty Ltd is still trading as Peter Kittle Motor Company.
Alice Car Company has two equal shareholders: Yaamba, to which Mr Kittle referred as one of his companies, and CAAMV, of which Centrecorp acquired sole ownership in 2002.
INVOLVED So while Mr Kittle is saying "I am not involved" with Centrecorp it looks like he's very much involved with a company wholly owned by Centrecorp.
In contrast to Centrecorp, IBA is a shining example of how an Aboriginal investment company behaves that is taking seriously its obligations to be transparent (with the notable exception of its Yeperenye share transfer).
Check IBA's web site: There is a profile of all 30 companies in which IBA has an interest (currently the only one in Central Australia is the King's Canyon Resort), the size of IBA's investment in each case, staffing, future intentions, and so on.
There's a corporate plan, a string of full annual reports, names and profiles of all board members.
But if you google Centrecorp you get: "Centrecorp is a fully integrated and diversified property management and real estate service company specializing in the shopping centre segment of the real estate industry in [and here's the snag] Canada and the U.S."
Centrecorp Aboriginal Investment Corporation Pty Ltd in Alice Springs does not have a web site and if you google for Centrecorp + Alice Springs, you get only fleeting references - hardly any more information than is in the phone book.
The Peter Kittle Motor Company operates principally from Lot 9042, Town of Alice Springs, 8110 square metres housing the dealership's sprawling complex between the North Stuart Highway and Stokes Street.
The unimproved capital value of that land is just over $1m.
The land's owner is "PKMC Property Nominees Pty Ltd as Trustee for The Central Australian Aboriginal Property Trust of 75 Hartley Street, Alice Springs".
That just happens to be the address of the office of Centrecorp about which, remember, Mr Kittle says: "I am not involved with that organisation."
And the owner of 75 Hartley Street is none other than the Central Land Council, the three-fifths owner of Centrecorp.
Another fascinating question is whether the Central Land Council is, and has been for years, in breach of the Act that governs it, the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976.
In Section 23 the Act sets out the functions of a land council, none of which is being a large scale investor in businesses and real estate.
In fact, it seems the Act is explicitly prohibiting such a role: It says land councils may "assist Aboriginals ... to carry out commercial activities ... in any manner that will not cause the Land Council to incur financial liability or enable it to receive financial benefit". As the major shareholder of the clandestine Centrecorp the CLC appears to be doing both.
Food for though for Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough when he launches a major review of the Land Rights Act in the near future.
(See on our web site 'Car dealer expanding "Down South"' in the issue of December 7, 2005.)

ZIP THE LIP
Last week we emailed questions to Owen Cole, a Centrecorp executive and a former head of Imparja and CAAMA, and to the CLC:
What are Centrecorp╣s sources of income and how much was it in the last year for which figures are available? What year was that?
Centrecorp is said to own a large number of properties and assets. What are these and what are they worth all up?
How does Centrecorp earn its status as a tax-exempt charitable institution?
What will Centrecorp do with its property and when?
We also emailed a draft of this report to Mr Cole, the CLC and Peter Kittle - no answers from any of them.

DIFFICULT TO TRACE
Centrecorp╣s portfolio embraces real estate as well as businesses, including the real estate franchise L J Hooker, the Peter Kittle car empire, by far the biggest vehicle dealer in town, and Yeperenye Pty Ltd whose extensive assets have been built on a gift of land by the Uniting Church to Aboriginal organizations in Central Australia.
In a wordy but undated media release Joseph Elu, the chairman of Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), announced IBA╣s transfer of $30m worth of shares in Yeperenye Pty Ltd │directly back to Indigenous hands▓ - without saying whose hands they are.
The News made several calls to IBA communications manager Marshall Wilson enquiring to whom exactly these shares were transferred to - no answer. We believe it was Centrecorp. │Since it opened in 1987 the Yeperenye [Pty Ltd] portfolio has grown to include two more shopping precincts, a bank property, a retail petrol outlet and several commercial buildings including the Centrelink office in Alice Springs,▓ the IBA release says.
The News understands the assets include the Springs Plaza, the ANZ bank building, Leichtodd Plaza, the Centrelink building and the vacant block alongside KFC in Todd Street.
The native title organisation Lhere Artepe owns 40% of Yeperenye Nominees Pty Ltd, which receives money from Yeperenye Pty Ltd, and the Centrecorp partners have the other 60%.
It appears the assets being accumulated are either owned by Centrecorp, or acquired by it and passed on to other entities and so become difficult to trace.

$4m MORE THAN TOWN COUNCIL
According to a reliable source Tangentyere╣s annual budget is $23m. That is $4m more than the town council╣s budget.
Tangentyere director William Tilmouth will neither confirm nor deny that figure. It is not on the public record.
Sixteen Aboriginal town camps for which Tangentyere has responsibilities do not pay town council rates and neither do Tangentyere and Congress for their own premises, according to information obtained by the Alice News.
Congress is understood to have a budget of about $20m a year. The health service╣s latest annual report on the net is 2003 and does not contain financial statements. Congress has not responded to an invitation from the Alice News to comment on this.


ALD VAN HAAREN 'OUT IN THE COLD'. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

"On principle I will not be involved in tete-a- tetes prior to the council meeting, so I've got three months of being out in the cold, not part of the club."
That's Alderman Melanie van Haaren speaking and she's not happy.
The town council is trialling a new way of conducting meetings, which she put to the test last Monday, finding it wanting.
Committee meetings (formerly three per month, open to the public and debating issues before formal decisions were made in ordinary meetings) have been replaced by one closed forum, and closed dinners for aldermen and officers prior to two ordinary (formal) meetings in the month.
Ordinary meetings are tightly controlled through the chair (generally Mayor Fran Kilgariff) and are subject to standing orders which limit the to and fro of debate.
Issues not on the pre-established agenda can only be raised in "other business" and the majority of aldermen need to agree before the matter can be discussed.
Ald van Haaren had several issue she wanted to raise in "other business". First cab off the rank: the upcoming delegation of the mayor and others to Port Augusta to investigate the impact of dry town legislation.
"I wanted to know why we are spending time and money going to look at a park where people are not drinking anymore," says Ald van Haaren. But she didn't get to ask her question, let alone receive an answer, because "we discussed that at dinner". "You should have been there," said Alderman Geoff Bell.
"Is it open? Can members of the public come in?" asked Ald van Haaren. "The dinner doesn't constitute formal council business."
It may not be formal, but it does dispose of issues, because the next one she raised got the same treatment.
She wanted to discuss the invitation for the mayor and others to travel to Afghanistan.
"We've already discussed that."
Only Ald Murray Stewart voted to allow Ald van Haaren to have her say.
However, the mayor did ask for support to allow her to tell Ald van Haaren that the Department of Foreign Affairs' travel advisory on Afghanistan means that the travel plans will not be taken any further at this stage. Ald van Haaren told the Alice News: "I don't object to the decision on Afghanistan, I object to the process. It was discussed over spaghetti Bolognese and wine. There are no minutes, no agenda, you can't even ask to see the minutes to get an idea of what's going on. It's highly unsatisfactory and I'm very upset over it."
On Monday she refused to raise any other issues and she has since lodged a formal grievance. Meanwhile, another heated "open business" debate on law and order resulted in a deputation from the council planning to travel to Darwin to confront Chief Minister Clare Martin, Police Minister Paul Henderson and Minister for Central Australia as well as for Justice, Peter Toyne,


WASTE WATER EXCESS TO REQUIREMENTS? Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

Additional nutrition in water recycled from the sewerage ponds will be a problem for grape-growing at the site chosen for the water reuse scheme, according to a source with extensive local horticultural experience.
The site is on government land used by the Arid Zone Research Institute, abutting the Heffernan Road rural residential area. The scheme was conceived to eliminate dry weather overflows from the sewerage ponds into the Ilparpa swamp (see the Alice News website for numerous reports on the issues).
The News put a number of points made by the source to the Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mines (DPIFM).
A spokesperson for the department says the scheme has taken the nutrient levels of the water into account.
The source, who declined to be named, suggests that the nutrient-rich water would promote excessive vegetative growth, entailing the construction of heavy-duty trellis framework to cope with the weight of the vines.
The vines would also need summer pruning to limit growth. Normally they are only pruned in winter when plants are dormant.
The spokesperson says DPIFM has carried out extensive nutritional and irrigation studies in relation to table grapes at Ti Tree. This work, plus planned applied research, will allow balancing of nutrition in the proposed horticultural development. This will minimise excess growth.
The spokesperson also points out that there are large areas of cropping based on waste water nationally and internationally. The largest immediate area to Alice Springs is at Virginia in South Australia where extensive horticulture uses waste water from Adelaide.
The management of this resource is well understood and its principles will be applied in Alice Springs, says the spokesperson.
The scheme's dissolved Air Flotation Plant, which is currently at the tender stage, is designed to remove algae and other particles. The algae contains the majority of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the waste water. Consequently the nutrient levels will be significantly reduced.
The source also says that, because of the high salt content of the treated effluent, all vines will need to be grown on root stock, which in itself leads to increased plant vigour.
The borewater on the AZRI site is increasing in salinity, says the source, which means it will be unsuitable for diluting effluent water to reduce salt levels. This would need to be done by using town water supply.
If this is not done the soil at the AZRI site will become salty, according to the source, and there is no, practical cost-effective methods to counteract this problem.
DPIFM counters that there are table grape rootstocks available to suit a wide range of situations, including higher salt levels.
The waste water to be stored underground has much lower salinity than the existing groundwater which is being pumped by local residents, according to DPIFM.
Standard irrigation best practice of occasional deep wetting is used to reduce any build up of salinity. This combined with rainfall, provides a sustainable approach to water recycling.
The source says the soils of the site are highly variable, ranging from sandy alluvial deposits to heavy clays and knowledge of the overall ground structure is sketchy. The long-term effects of disposal of effluent on the site are not known.
Not so, says DPIFM. The soils of the site have been extensively investigated and there are large areas of deep drained soils suitable to horticultural development. Any use of sprinklers will ensure noise is not an issue.


BOUNDARIES VS OPEN HORIZONS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

The desert as a place of exile and suffering, but also as a place of open horizons, possibilities, a certain freedom.
Against this, the coast and its hinterland as home, the place of return, of memory and consolation, but also of boundaries, injunctions, a certain oppressiveness.
Landscape is the warp of Jo Dutton's novel, Out of Place; the lives of the women and girls making up three generations of an Italo-Australian family, the weft.
Dutton lives and works in Alice Springs and, in a shrinking market for Australian books, has just had her second novel published, this time by Random House. A triumph in itself.
The human story that the novel tells is one that many readers, especially women, will identify with: the emotional tug-of-war between generations. How does a mother look after children, daughters specifically in this case, without losing track of herself? How do daughters claim their lives without losing track of their mothers?
It turns out that the stakes are very high. The tragedy that occurs just over half way through this narrative lifts the story from one that mirrors the lives of many to one that mirrors their worst fears.
With that turning point I became more engaged by Dutton's characters, and much of what had gone before in the narrative, including the role of landscape or place, gained a retrospective value.
A subtle achievement of the novel is to challenge broadly held and simplistic views of the Australian landscape: that the sea represents freedom, connection with the rest of the world, while the desert is the 'dead heart'.
Dutton allows the picture to be more complex: the landscape becomes an actor in the human dramas she creates but it is not implacable. The relationship between people and place is something of a tug-of-war too.
Nina, the novel's central character, "walked with the Indian Ocean always to one side. A wide ribbon of blue that marked out for her that she lived on the edge of the most isolated city in the world. It magnified her sense of being alone ... She kept an eye on the sea as she walked. It was a blue dance, the water, advancing and retreating, sometimes calmly, often wildly, but never really going anywhere. A bit like her."
Later the ocean ambushes Nina, just as she has been ambushed by unexpected motherhood. After a near-drowning she loses confidence to go back in the water, just as she loses confidence in her own abilities to make something of her life, though she'll claw her way back.
The sea is the stage for this reclamation: Nina bathes, though timidly, and walks along its shores, finding there the materials to work this makeover.
Nina's daughter, Jaz, is at home with the sea, she swims and boats. But when life gets tough, she turns inland to escape. At first this is to "secret places upstream" where, for the first time, there's an encounter with Aboriginal people.
Later, as a trained nurse, she goes into serious exile, in Alice Springs - "a foreign country".
From day one, in casualty, she is thrust up against the calamity of Aboriginal dysfunction and ill health - stabbings, unheard of diseases, diseases perfectly preventable "down south".
That's a key part of the social landscape; the physical environment is a mixture of bracing hardship both in summer and winter, and of steadying, restorative beauty and power.
"Jaz often sat and watched the river from the front veranda of her house. There was no steady flow of water to calm her but the gentle wash of the sunset leaking its pink stain over the trunks of the river red gums under the press of the rarest blue sky was a great replacement. The desert sky at dusk was the only place, Jaz thought, where this colour blue existed. It was not in water, in rivers or oceans, even in skies above sea. It was a blue that lived on red topsoil. It became her favourite colour."
She learns to "step out into country": "It was freeing, this country, because when she went out into it, she didn't have to do anything. It was so different from going to [her grandmother's] farm, where the jobs, the planting and the harvesting kept her connected to the place. Here she was learning to simply be out bush ... This was another country and she was becoming a different person."
But this same country is also deeply threatening: Ella, Jaz's younger sister, who follows her into exile, "could hear the wind sing and feel the movement of insects around her. Although she knew the country was empty, sometimes she felt as if she were in bubbles of nothing. Like this road where she was lying. It felt as if it were on the edge of a great commotion. A noisy business where all sorts of spirits were meeting. Suddenly Ella's skin crawled with fear."
In the overall narrative, the desert is the locus of tragedy, and the coast and its hinterland, where the family farm is situated, is the locus of redemption, where the three generations of this family, with a fourth generation in view, are finally reunited, able to accept and love one another.
This is in keeping with the dominant Australian paradigm but along the way Dutton takes her readers off the beaten track.


LARAPINTA FIRE POLICY IGNITES. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

Locals might be disappointed but walkers will be happy with the ban on campfires along the Larapinta Trail.
So says Chris Day, the chief district ranger for the Parks and Wildlife Service in Alice Springs.
He says the ban, which came into force on April 1, will cut the risk of wild fires, increase the growth of vegetation and help keep campsites tidier along the 223 km trail that begins at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station.
Walkers are now asked to use fuel stoves to cook with instead, or gas barbecues which will be installed at campsites. o
"Some locals might be disappointed," says Mr Day "but the feedback that we get from walkers is that vast majority coming to walk the Larapinta Trail expect it to be stove only."
Mr Day says it's not possible to estimate how many fires the policy will prevent but he says it is vital it's carried out, and not only to reduce fires.
"It won't totally eliminate wild fires but the Larapinta Trail passes through a variety of rare flora and fauna and this policy is aimed at better protecting this flora and fauna.
"I don't think you can totally eliminate fires. There are numerous sources of ignition from deliberately lit fires to lightning strikes.
"The risk of stopping fires is only one issue. Regular campsites have become totally devoid of vegetation because walkers can't carry a large supply of firewood so they collect firewood where they can at the campsite.
"Also campsites become quite messy with old fireplaces left. Rangers can't clean it up because many campsites are not accessible by vehicle."
One of the reasons for the no campfire policy was a bushfire that started near the Ochre Pits and destroyed about 30 kms of land between Ormiston Gorge and Ellery Creek in March of 2002.
It was started by a campfire near Inarlunga Pass that wasn't properly extinguished. It is not known who lit the fire because of the constant movement of walkers along the trail. "We've had a huge amount of feedback from people commenting on how unpleasant it was walking through the charred landscape of that section nine," says Mr Day. "The damage to the vegetation was very obvious."
Central Australia suffered a wave of fires at the end of 2000 and during 2001 because of high rainfall and then extreme heat and winds.
Mr Day rejects the suggestion that preventative burning practices are not adequate in the park:
"We do carry out precautionary burning every winter on the park.
"We look to burn less than five per cent of total park area and we believe we do a reasonable job of determining what needs to be burnt and do it."
The burning is done between May and July to "enhance biological diversity and protect the park".
Rangers are also encouraging walkers to fill in logbooks along the trail so they can be more easily found in an emergency.
This is not a new initiative but an important reminder, says Mr Day.


IS IT CRIMINAL TO LIVE IN THE ALICE? Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

Alice Springs has the worst crime trends in the Territory for assault, property break-ins and motor vehicle theft, the latest figures released by the Office of Crime Prevention show. Although the town doesn't have the highest level of crime compared with Darwin or other regions in the NT, the level of crime here is rising in every category.
These graphs show an underlying average figure, worked out by statisticians to show major changes in the level of crime.
Because of the small population in the Northern Territory, statistics can change dramatically from one period to the next.
Experts say that a better indicator of trends in crime figures can be seen by using the underlying average figures.
The good news is that sexual assault has remained stable: currently the underlying average shows this to be two reported cases per month.
There were six recorded sexual assault offences in Alice Springs in the December 2005 quarter.
This was a decrease of six from the previous quarter and four from the same period in 2004.

ASSAULT
Between October 2003 and the middle of last year, the numbers of common and aggravated assaults (excluding sexual) remained stable in Alice Springs, approximately 68 offences a month, show the underlying average figures.
They rose significantly in June 2005, to an average of 92 offences a month. Compared with the 2004 December quarter for, 115 more assaults happened during the 2005 December quarter: an increase of 59 per cent.
In Darwin, the reverse has happened: the underlying average shows offences have stabilised to around 82 each month for the past 17 months. In real figures, 11 per cent more offences occurred in the 2005 December quarter compared with the same quarter of the previous year.
Overall, the Northern Territory showed an increase in the number of assaults over the last nine quarters: the recorded offences ranged between 302 and the current level of 381 per month.

MOTOR VEHICLE THEFT
The theft of motor vehicles, the unlawful use of motor vehicle and theft from a motor vehicle are all offences which rose by 60 per cent in Alice Springs in December 2005 compared with December 2004.
There were 67 motor vehicle thefts and related offences in the latest December quarter.
But the underlying average shows that motor vehicle theft remained stable at around 20 offences per month over the past nine quarters.
For Darwin, the trends show a one per cent decrease for the December quarter compared with the December quarter in 2004. Overall, the underlying average shows the level is low at the moment: 69 per month. Over the past nine months this figure has fluctuated between 69 and 107 offences.
In the NT, the underlying average shows a range between 124 and 180 offences per month during the past nine quarters, currently lying on 124 per month.

COMMERCIAL BREAK-INS
Alice Springs saw an increase of 160 per cent in break-ins to commercial or premises other than residential houses for the December 2005 quarter compared to the December 2004 quarter.
The underlying average shows over the past nine quarters the figure has ranged between 11 and its current level of 21 offences per month.
In Darwin, the underlying average has ranged between 30 and 69 offences per month during the last nine quarters, with its current level of 39 per month at the lower end of the range.
The NT as a whole has around 100 break-ins per month: the underlying average has been between 100 and 170 per month for the past nine quarters.

HOUSE BREAK-INS
In Alice Springs, the underlying average of house break-ins ranged between 14 and 20 offences per month over the past nine quarters. Its current level is 20 per month.
There were 62 break-ins in the 2005 December quarter, an increase of 59 per cent or 23 offences from the same quarter the previous year. In Darwin, the underlying average of break-ins ranges between 61 and 91 over the last nine quarters. There were 246 actual break-ins in the December 2005 quarter, an increase of 13 from the same period in 2004. The NT's underlying average ranges between 141 and 188 over the last nine quarters, currently lying at 158 break-ins a month. The December 2005 quarter had eight more break-ins compared to the year before.


A DOSE OF JOY. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

Joy and optimism pervade the current showing at Gallery Gondwana. Joy in Aboriginal country, family, know-how such as food gathering off the land, and also in change: there seems to be delight, for instance, in trains, their coming and going, all those people travelling.
The show is called Na´ve, which suggests a certain artlessness but the best na´ve art always reveals a certain knowingness; through its very simplicity it gets to the heart of the matter. Take Marie Shilling's untitled work (above). At a glance it's a landscape: purple forms like risen bread a familiar schematisation of ranges in the desert; the regular rhythm of spinifex hummocks, treetops and flowering bushes across the plain.
It's a bird's eye view and if the eye lingers we see these very birds, flying high above the country.
Linger longer and the tiny human figures become apparent, gathering food, quandongs perhaps, cooking; someone's not feeling well, lying under a tree; someone's looking after him and others are looking after children (their bottoms flowering with little white nappy dots). Not in the camp but not far are emus, kangaroos. There's water in the rockhole. This is a land of plenty, where people feel at home. It is home.
It's a painting about how certain things endure even while certain things change and people can continue to be happy.
As I said, optimistic, and a good dose of it goes a long way at present. Other works like Linda Ngitangka Naparulla's 'Alkipi after Rains' (at right) express similar themes, through sun-drenched colour and a paring down of country to its essence. - K. FINNANE


WOMEN'S CRICKET FIRST. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.

Cricket has proved itself to really be a gentleman's game in Alice Springs. By coaching, umpiring and supporting female players, the men's teams here have done something no other cricket clubs in Australia have done: produced four women's sides aligned with their clubs.
The local AFL and football leagues have tried to get women's competitions running in the past but haven't been able to.
"It's been a huge success," says Jane Mitchell, the captain of RSL and also for the women's side playing in the Desert Rose Cup in Darwin this weekend.
"We've had strong support from clubs, the men have come down and umpired for us every week and helped with coaching. We go to the net session and bowl and bat with them. Sometimes the men take somebody aside and give them extra coaching. It's been great.
"We feel respected. All they want is for us to go out and play good cricket."
Mitchell has played cricket for 10 years, previously in Victoria for Essendon.
"Without the men's umbrella clubs, women's cricket wouldn't be viable long term.
"We need that structure if we want to be playing cricket 20 years down the track.
"Things like this can get off the ground with strong personalities but it needs to have a strong structure to go long term and I think that's what we've come up with.
"Jenny [Kroker, secretary of the Alice Springs Cricket Association] is a real driving force."
"I think it's good for the game," says Bryan Gill, a coach and umpire for the RSL women's team.
"We saw a need that there were girls wanting to play cricket and we've done our best for the girls who want to play.
"I'm on the club committee and part of the agenda is to report on how they are going and how to assist with their games.
"It's good to see the girls appreciate the support and we hope it does continue and improve." Colin Esnouf is the captain of the C grade team from Federal Demons, and has been the coach for the Feds women who finished top of the league this year, and is the coach for the Desert Rose Cup team.
"Quite a few girls could quite easily match the men in their skills," he says.
"It's been fulfilling to see the development of the girls from the start of the season.
Watching their skills and confidence improve makes you enthusiastic.
"The club was right behind the girls to develop a women's competition and I wanted to help them as much as I can."
Esnouf says the women are seen as an important part of Feds. "They take part in everything we do, and they've been accepted by the whole club.
"They're a good bunch of girls and have a lot of fun."
Previously, women's cricket was confined to the indoor cricket centre which closed down in 1996.


LETTER: THE SPACE BASE'S 'GREAT BENEFITS'.

Sir, - I am disgusted by Jayne Alexander's letter ("Alice's role in Iraq war", March 23/24). How dare she write such utter dribble! As a life resident of Alice Springs I am deeply offended in what she wrote as a lot of other residents would be, including our guests from America.
How long have you lived in our town, Jayne? If you are a long term resident you would surely understand the great benefits the base has for us, including the enormous amount of money the US government and the US staff that are based here pour into our community.
socialise Our kids go to school with theirs, they and we all socialise together at times and they contribute to a vast range of charitable organisations around town.
In case you have forgotten, we also have troops based in Iraq. Where may I ask is your patriotism?
Insurgents Watch the news every now and then you will see, yes, innocent people are being killed and a lot are from insurgents killing their own country men and women and children. I am glad we have bases such as this that gather information and intelligence. Imagine how many more poor Iraq police who are trying to restore justice in their community would be killed, not to mention US and Aussie troops!
A lot of US citizens might not agree with it but this is what our government has decided and we have a loyalty to our soldiers who have their life on the line. I am sure they would never have enlisted in the military if they did not want to be involved in such missions.
We, as Alice Springs residents are not indirectly responsible for this "grossly unethical war"! How dare you make such a comment, wipe your mouth and go and crawl back under your soapbox.
People like you should learn to think about what you are saying before you voice your opinion and if it really bothers you that much I might suggest you think about relocating to somewhere else that you may feel more comfortable.
Shoana Annesley
Alice Springs

Drinking policy overkill

Sir, - I sent the following to Opposition leader Jodeen Carney about her alcohol policy:- Jodeen, are you kidding? You want the majority of the population of my hometown to be disadvantaged because a minority section of the population can not seem to be able to control themselves while drinking, regardless of the fact that those problems associated with the drinkers have consumed obscene amounts of resources.
Logic Using your (obviously flawed) logic, why stop there? Let's spay and neuter the town's population because of teen pregnancies, make everyone walk because of vehicle deaths or bring back slavery because of labor shortages.
Talk about the tail wagging the dog, but then again, it's just politics, ain't it?
Mark Fitzgerald
Boise, Idaho, USA

Increase grog price

Sir, - The Peoples Alcohol Action Coalition welcomes the major thrust of the recent report from the Victorian Parliament's Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee and its key evidence based approach at a population level of using price and taxation strategies to reduce alcohol consumption and harm. The report makes reference to the large body of scientific evidence that has shown that this approach is effective, low cost to implement and is highly tested in a cross-cultural context.
The committee recommends that "the feasibility of a minimum or floor price for alcohol be established and whether this should apply to selected or all alcohol products" .
The report also makes reference to key studies that have shown that increasing the price of alcohol reduces death due to four key end points - homicide, suicide, motor vehicle accidents and cirrhosis of the liver. This is clear evidence that increasing the price of alcohol is very likely to reduce the harms that alcohol is causing amongst the heaviest drinkers in Alice Springs.
Alice Springs is facing an epidemic of premature death due to these very same alcohol caused end points. We cannot sit on our hands and wait for more evidence before we act when it is clear that at least some of these deaths are preventable. On the basis of what is currently known we must implement a scientifically evaluated trial of alcohol restrictions based on a minimum price benchmark. It is up to towns like Alice that have the biggest alcohol problems to prove the feasibility of this approach. PAAC believes that the benchmark should be 90 cents per standard drink which is the price of a six pack of full strength beer and spirits. This benchmark would remove cheap bulk grog from the market such as cheap bulk port, wine and sherry. It would not effect the price of beer and spirits and bottle wine would only be effected at the very cheap end of the market.
Three months is all that is needed to trial this approach as the effect will be instantaneous and easily measurable once all cheap alcohol has been removed from sale.
(Dr) John Boffa
The Peoples Alcohol Action Coalition
Alice Springs


GOVTS SHOULDN'T BEHAVE LIKE CORPORATIONS. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.

It wasn't that long ago that royals were considered semi-gods, superior to all other people, primarily their subjects. These days a lot of people struggle to believe in any kind of deity let alone royalty who have become just another bunch of celebrities with no right to privacy.
Yet it is interesting what a powerful position can do to the average human being, or those aspiring to lead the rest of us as our democratically elected representatives. While it would not be unique to the Territory, it is much more obvious in a place with such a small population.
Like the kings and autocratic rulers of times gone past our leaders often seem far removed from the reality of the common man or woman. They come up with bright ideas for reducing spending, like creating the middle school system for example, and then let us now what they have decided. If we protest loudly enough they might change their minds because they might lose votes but otherwise it is full steam ahead.
I must have the wrong idea, but to me government is not supposed to be a corporation selling products in the form of ideas, capital works and government departments. Our government must be closely linked to and always in cooperation and consultation with the community which it governs. It is not OK to come up with products that have not been sought after by the community and then try to convince the voters, or should we refer to 'them' as consumers, how much they need the product.
An area where both sides of politics want to be seen to be doing a great job is in crime prevention and keeping Alice nice, safe and trouble free. The fears and annoyance of the community are highlighted at the same time as we are told how well the problems are dealt with. It is happening at a national and international level as well and is always a convenient smoke screen for lack of willingness or effort in dealing with the underlying issues. Sex, crime and violence is what sells on TV so why shouldn't it do the trick in politics?
I recently came across some articles about the annual Women's Gathering, a forum where country women can meet, discuss the issues that unite them, share information and advice, and listen to inspiring speakers. We have the Alice Expo, Sports Fest and Heritage days at the Telegraph station where people can come together and learn something new or just have fun. But when it comes to the social issues meetings are often, if at all, organised after decisions have been made at top level.
There are lots of people in our town who have a wealth of knowledge and experience that could be shared at a community forum held somewhere like the Convention Centre.
We need to come together and discuss what matters to us and how we can find solutions, not have changes shoved down our throats from above.
A democratic system in a society as large and diverse as ours is not a cheap system to run. To properly involve the members of the community is both time consuming and expensive. But the long term benefits of finding solutions that prevent disease and support projects that will sustain our town in the future are well worth it. The Territory is more than a microcosm of the Western World. It is still small enough to work out a way for a community and its government to be true partners in building a strong society with a bright future.
It may all seem hopeless and tragic at times but there are positive steps we can take. A mother of three teenage boys went along to a talk by a family counsellor at the Women's Gathering.
To better get along with her boys the counsellor suggested that instead of finding fault with them, she should focus on the positive they have done that day and praise them for it. It worked wonders.


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