GOVERMENTS MUST ACT ON ABORIGINAL MAYHEM, SAYS A TOP FEDERAL ADVISOR . Report by KIERAN FINNANE .
Governments must prevent widespread human suffering and the waste of public money by sacking ineffective or corrupt Aboriginal councils, and make reform an essential condition for funding.
"Unconditional welfare" must be phased out, as well as the reliance on mining royalties.
And these moves must be guided by evidence, not ideology.
So argues Gregory Andrews, former manager of the innovative Mutitjulu Working Together Project at Ayers Rock before he was head-hunted for Canberra's Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination.
In a paper leaked to the Alice Springs News, written while he was still in Central Australia but not yet released, Mr Andrews warns against self-determination that is "focused among an elite who are self-determining at the expense of the community as a whole".
The News understands that a majority of members of the Mutitjulu project, including the Territory and Commonwealth governments, favoured the public release of the paper, titled "Difficult development partnerships".
But some members were concerned about aspects of its contents and it remains a draft.
Mr Andrews counters the argument that intervention is seen as a new form of assimilation.
He says the fact is "that many people in dysfunctional communities are already being assimilated into a deepening culture of addiction and violence".
Mr Andrews' background is in international development. He was seconded to the Mutitjulu project from AusAID.
In his proposals for solving the communities crisis he draws lessons from "difficult development partnerships" with "fragile states" elsewhere in the world.
He argues that the analogy with Australian governments relationships with so-called "dysfunctional" Aboriginal communities is clear.
Such communities are usually characterised, he says, by local leaders being either unable or unwilling (or both) to address "serious and protracted dysfunction and deprivation".
He says the national interests at stake are "substantive and growing", with Mutitjulu providing a poignant example.
Its dysfunction will "harm Australia s reputation as a safe international tourism destination" and affect our international treaty obligations associated with Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park s World Heritage listing.
Governments are already responding: the Commonwealth and Territory have combined to provide the recently opened police post at the community.
Less well known is the Commonwealth's action in September last year, informing the council that its future funding would be dependent on good governance and structural reforms.
The reforms included designated seats for women on the council as "decades of [international] development practice have proven that projects are more successful if women are included".
The national interest at Ayers Rock is "immediate and visible", says Mr Andrews, but many other communities are equally dysfunctional, and the associated health and social costs are "huge".
He says: "Instability associated with fragile states [overseas] has proven to proliferate readily.
"Similarly, the problems associated with dysfunctional communities in remote Australia are spreading including to regional centres like Alice Springs.
"Petrol sniffers are already moving into Alice Springs ...
"Communicable diseases such as STIs are high and growing in remote Aboriginal communities - many of the precursors for an HIV-AIDS epidemic are already existent.
"The demographics of remote Australia mean that the costs of ignoring the dysfunction will grow exponentially ...
"In the NT, Aboriginal people already account for around one-third of the population.
"Around 80 per cent of these people reside in remote or very remote communities.
"And the Aboriginal population is growing fast compared to the non-Aboriginal population.
"Indicative of this growth is the Aboriginal proportion of NT Primary School enrolments which is approaching 50 per cent at a time when Aboriginal attendance rates, particularly in remote communities, are very low.
"Some officials are already talking about a time in the near future when the NT education system will need to be turned up-side-down into an Indigenous system with special programs for non-Indigenous children.
"This trend has been described by one senior official as a 'demographic express train' which cannot be stopped.
"Governments need to respond, and the longer it takes, the more costly the ultimate response will be.
"As the Aboriginal (and largely unemployed) share of the population grows exponentially compared to the non-Aboriginal (and working) share of the population, resources available to address the crisis will diminish while those needed to address it increase.
"International research tells a similar story with fragile states imposing unexpectedly heavy costs on themselves and their neighbours.
"They remain fragile for a long time - on average 56 years - and the spill over effects of conflict, refugees, disease, and broader security issues are also disproportionately large and enduring."
While governments do nothing they are part of the dysfunction, argues Mr Andrews.
"Turning a blind eye to mismanagement, corruption and nepotism has implicitly legitimised dysfunctional behaviours and allowed a few people to self-determinate at the expense of Aboriginal communities as a whole.
"Demanding good governance thus sets the groundwork for real self-determination."
He also says "ill designed government policies and programs" are directly contributing to the problems.
These include the provision of unconditional welfare and other forms of assistance where "individuals' participation is passive involving attendance at meetings and the receipt of royalties rather than real work". (See Alice News, August 31, 2005, and on the web, for Mr Andrews' analysis of economic passivity and dependency and his recommendations for change).
Unconditional welfare results in a weak relationship between a government and its citizens: expectations on both sides are low.
"Economic historians have identified income tax as a key factor in the dramatic improvements in governance, democracy and accountability that occurred during the Western world's Industrial Revolution," says Mr Andrews.
Any solutions need good analysis up front.
"Evidence has proven that analysis needs to be firmly based on broad local community perspectives, not just ideas of the elite or those who have captured power.
"Key elements of analysis need to include the history of a community and its people, who holds power and how it is brokered and used, the informal rules of the game such as how patronage networks operate, and the relationship between these and formal institutions."
Mr Andrews warns against impatience: International development experience shows that change will be "transgenerational".
He says: "Goals need to be modest, particularly in the short to medium term. Progress needs to be measured against the direction of improvement rather than absolute standards."
Employing the right people to work on Aboriginal communities is critical, with cross-cultural communication skills being more important than technical skills.
"It would be fair to say that the acute shortage of quality personnel across remote Australia has contributed to a permissive approach to the employment of inappropriate people.
"Stories from across remote Aboriginal Australia confirm the pervasive and negative effects of recruiting dubious people with criminal backgrounds.
"Failure to conduct proper police and background checks has not only damaged programs, but also put children and youth at risk.
"Residents of dysfunctional communities readily acknowledge that many non-Aboriginal people working for organisations that are supposed to be supporting their community's development supply them with alcohol and drugs.
"Some non-Indigenous people working in dysfunctional communities argue that Aboriginal people need to be 'taught how to drink' or 'use drugs responsibly' .
"The employment of such people in communities suffering from addiction epidemics and that have made democratic decisions to declare themselves 'dry' cannot be tolerated."
Throwing money at the problems is nowhere near adequate.
Mr Andrews quotes the World Bank in arguing that adequate financial resources are "a necessary but not sufficient condition for addressing dysfunction".
He says how the funds are spent and by whom should be the paramount consideration.
If local authorities are delivering services effectively, they should be supported.
"But where they are unable and unwilling to do so, governments cannot hold back from intervening and must direct resources through other channels."
PARKS: NOT A GIVING BUT A TAKING AWAY . Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Former mine worker Max Heckenberg, speaking at last week's very well-attended public meeting to discuss the NT Government's parks policies, hit the nail squarely on the head: If the parks are owned by all of us, he said, then why is there a need to hand them over to anyone?
And that put into perspective what Chief Minister Clare Martin will be doing, if Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough colludes with her plans: She won't be giving the parks to sectional interests. She'll be taking them away from those Territorians who're not part of those sectional interests.
Meanwhile Ms Martin's case is collapsing around her ears.
She asserts the parks are vulnerable to claims under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act: they could not have been declared properly if there were any native title rights over the land.
But that argument has hit a major snag: for any land claims scenario to kick in, there would need to be proof of native title rights at the time the parks were declared.
To provide that proof would be easy, Ms Martin suggests, in a pamphlet distributed at last week's meeting by the NT Parks Service's Mac Moyses: "To date, every native title claim in the Territory heard by the Courts has resulted in a determination that native title rights and interests exist."
Whether intentionally or not, Mr Moyses was misleading the public: in the week before the meeting the Federal Court found that Aboriginal claimants had failed to prove that they had native title rights over Yulara, the Ayers Rock Resort.
And on the day after the meeting the native title claim over Darwin was rejected by the court.
Both the Yulara and the Darwin claim were vigourously - and successfully - opposed by the same Territory Government that wants to hand over Alice Springs' greatest assets - the parks surrounding it - without testing claims over them in a court of law.
The difference, says Shadow Minister for Central Australia Richard Lim, is that the 250 parks and beaches claimed in Darwin, including the "prestigious Cullen Bay subdivision", are in Ms Martin's back yard.
"Alice Springs doesn't matter to her.
"And it's probably payback time to the Central Land Council for the help they gave Labor during many elections," says Dr Lim.
Other highlights from last week's meeting:-
At least three officials from the Office of Central Australia were in the audience, but there was no sign of Ms Martin, Minister for Central Australia Peter Toyne nor Parks Minister Marion Scrymgour.
None of them granted a request from the Alice Springs News after the meeting for an interview about the issues. The NT Government has now been stonewalling enquiries since mid-2005.
Mr Moyses was sent into the fire by his masters clearly without authority to answer questions raised, mainly by the Alice News, over the past 10 months.
He was mostly regurgitating rhetoric disseminated over the past three years. Last year parks service chief in the southern region, Andrew Bridges, invited media to a briefing.
Only the Alice News showed up. When we asked Mr Bridges about the change in ownership he explained he couldn't talk about that - only about the master plan resulting from the hand-over.
MLA for Greatorex Richard Lim raised the scenario of the new parks owners, having received inalienable freehold under Ms Martin's scheme, reneging on their agreement for a 99 year lease-back. Who would sue whom for what?
Dr Lim says he's now "trying to engage the Top End" in the Save Our Parks campaign. Retired businessman and long time local, Ian Builder, who is spearheading the movement, says Alice became the town that didn't sleep after Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin in 1974, helping thousands of evacuees.
"Now we're facing a crisis," says Mr Builder. "It would be great if Darwin would help us fighting the parks battle."
Mr Builder, prior to last week's meeting, asked the Alice News for a summary of its coverage and research of the issues, published since mid last year.
The following is, in part, is what editor Erwin Chlanda sent to him: I've worked on this, off and on, since mid last year. Despite dozens (please note the plural) of requests to Ms Martin, Dr Toyne and and their minders, for comment, explanations and responses, they have stonewalled the essential issues. I leave it to you to judge how that sits with their pledges, during two elections, of running an open government.
Ms Martin has already pushed through Parliament a string of Territory laws which, however, are of no consequence unless Mal Brough schedules the parks as Aboriginal land. Ms Martin has asked him to do this but, according to political sources, nothing will happen until May when a comprehensive overhaul of the Land Rights legislation will take place.
The Land Rights Act is Federal legislation. It's a responsibility of the Howard Government. The Territory's CLP Senator, Nigel Scullion, and Member for Solomon, David Tollner, sit and vote with the Howard Government.
It's Senator Scullion's and Mr Tollner's job to advise Mr Brough not to do anything that's against the majority wishes in the NT.
The CLP has opposed the Martin strategies from the beginning but has been incapable of giving the issue public prominence.
That's hard to understand because in just a few day's canvassing in Alice Springs you have found vigourous interest in the issue and strong public opposition to relinquishment of public ownership of the parks.
I talked to senior Canberra officials. Their line is that convention requires Canberra to do what is requested by the elected government of a state or Territory. This is a cynical twisting of the facts.
In 1996 a Bill by Liberal Kevin Andrews, now the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, knocked on the head the Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.
Only last year Canberra foisted a nuclear waste dump on the Territory, against the NT Government's wishes.
Ayers Rock and Kakadu were transferred to Aboriginal ownership despite Territory opposition.
AUTHORITY The ultimate authority on Land Rights is not Ms Martin but the Federal Minister, advised by the Land Commissioner, a senior Federal judge, currently Justice Howard Olney.
Ms Martin claims the 11 major parks in Central Australia, the life blood of its tourism industry, are "almost certainly" exposed to Aboriginal Land Rights claims.
Ms Martin makes this assertion because of the 2002 Ward High Court case in WA.
The senior aide to Judge Olney says "the High Court raised questions as to the validity of the title" of one park, Keep River.
On the other hand Ms Martin's government asserts that "as a direct result of [Ward] several Territory parks and reserves were found to have been invalidly declared and open to Native Title Claims ... or Land Claims."
Who is right, Ms Martin or Judge Olney?
Ms Martin says the Solicitor General and "eminent counsel" contend that our parks are at risk or Aboriginal claims. Ms Martin refuses to make public these legal opinions, notwithstanding that they were obtained with public money.
The facts are:
Judge Olney, the most authoritative figure on Land Rights, has "disposed of" - without hearings - applications over the 11 parks, 10 of them in The Centre.
The claims were made by the Central Land Council, not traditional owners, some 10 years ago, a day or so before the Land Rights sunset clause kicked in.
Robert Bird, the executive officer of the Office of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, explained the situation in a letter to the Alice Springs News in February.
He said: "In Attorney-General (NT) v Ward ... the High Court raised questions as to the validity of the title held by the Conservation Land Corporation [which has freehold ownership of the Territory's parks] to the Keep River National Park.
"Whether the same or similar reasoning ... is applicable in relation to other areas of land held by the ... Corporation that are the subject of a traditional land claim under the Land Rights Act is not a matter that has been raised either before the Commissioner [Judge Olney] or a Court of competent jurisdiction.
"The NT Government has apparently concluded that the Ward decision 'almost certainly' applies in relation to certain parks and has adopted a strategy to deal with that situation.
"It would appear that each case may well depend upon its own circumstances but so far as the Commissioner is concerned, no request has been made to him to test the validity of the land claims.
"Unless or until this is done or a Court decides to the contrary, the Commissioner remains bound by the law as determined by the High Court [in two other cases] and has no alternative but to treat claims made to land held by the NT Land Corporation and the Conservation Land Corporation as not being valid traditional land claims under the Land Rights Act."
So there are
no current land claims over parks; the speculative Land Rights claims the CLC lodged some 10 years ago over the parks in The Centre, including the West MacDonnells, have been "disposed of" by Judge Olney; the sunset clause doesn't allow further Land Rights claims; and there have been no challenges in any competent court to the way the 11 parks are owned by an NT Government corporation, whose ownership makes them immune from Land Rights claims.
VALID In fact the opposite is true: There are two High Court decisions that parks declarations are valid.
Yet Ms Martin is attempting to spin doctor all this into a clear and present danger of the parks being under the threat of Land Rights claims.
Alderman Murray Stewart has suggested Ms Martin's motive isn't so much protecting the public's interest as repaying the land council for past election support to the ALP.
Ms Martin has little to lose in Alice Springs: The town has turned its back on her government, even more so at the last election which otherwise was a landslide to the ALP.
She can afford to hit Central Australia hard with her parks policy.
Only a few of the parks embraced by the policy are in the Top End, where her key electoral support comes from.
This leaves the second "threat" - native title claims.
The government web site has this to say about the - apparently largely fictional - exposure to parks from land rights and native title claims:-
"To resolve the situation the Territory Government proceeded with resolving Native Title and Aboriginal Land Claims through negotiation."
Negotiation? There is not a word about surrendering ownership of the Central Australia's most valuable public assets.
Ms Martin wants to let go of our parks without any discussion, let alone a fight, so as not to be "divisive".
But just down the road, at Ayers Rock Resort, her government fought Aboriginal native title claimants in court, shoulder to shoulder with the multi-national resort owner, General Property Trust Management Limited, Alice Springs' most powerful competitor for the tourist dollar.
Not only did they fight, they beat the Aboriginal claimants.
In the iconic West MacDonnell National Park it seems that quite a few native title rights have been extinguished.
Because the park is cobbled together from previous pastoral leases, native title holders' exclusive rights to control access are probably extinguished.
The right of access is alive and well - for native title holders as well as the general public, because it's a park.
There would surely be no argument about allowing ceremonies - in fact they would enhance the attractiveness of the place enormously.
So, what's the problem?
Ms Martin makes much of the "no fees, no permits" arrangement.
That's a red herring. The rumored lease-back charge for the parks is $1m a year - or more than $600m over 99 years at a three per cent CPI increase, according to MLA for Greatorex Richard Lim. It seems the public would be paying, very much so.
Most importantly, the government has already made commitments to give Aboriginal interests first bite at the cherry for concessions, the vital facilities and services that make the park work, from hotels to tours.
Aboriginal living areas would also be allowed inside the parks.
The scandalous conditions in the Mutitjulu community at the base of Aboriginal-owned Ayers Rock invite conclusions as to whether that is a proposal in the public interest.
DO IT YOURSELF: IT WORKED FOR SKI TOWN IN US . Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Connie Hamlin, the Aspen Skiing Company's international sales manager, says the company is now focusing on the younger generation, on people who are affluent but not necessarily super rich: "You don't have to be wealthy to afford to come to Aspen" is the new thrust.
Kris McKinnon, the company's director of world wide sales, says the marketing is not just to the youth but to "youthful energy".
Australia provides their greatest number of foreign visitors, followed by Brazil, UK, Mexico, Germany and Canada.
Other advertising for the town comes from the Wheeler Opera House, extensively promoting its programs, some featuring top stars, and from several other art, sports and entertainment initiatives under the council umbrella.
The beauty of this mainly Aspen-based promotion apparatus is that it can respond quickly and cleverly.
"There was concern that we were getting old and stodgy and not very interesting any more," says Mayor Helen Klanderud.
"Where were all the young people? Well, they've come back."
They're coming back because the Aspen Skiing Company has clinched the winter Xgames, for 10 years by the time the current agreement ends.
Ms Klanderud says the games feature the acrobatics of snowboarders and extreme skiers: "That's the new generation.
"It really brought a breath of fresh air into the community."
Lisa Weiss, heading up the Chamber of Commerce and a top skier, says her promotion budget isn't huge but it doesn't need to be, given that Aspen's "strength of brand" is as good as Coca Cola's.
Just 30 per cent of her budget goes on advertising, the rest on "media efforts", that's pitching stories to journalists and assisting them in their reporting.
Promotion through this kind of news coverage "works really well with the more affluent and educated individual", says Ms Weiss.
"There is a preconceived notion of the brand out there and it's really just making sure the message is consistent."
Ms Weiss says she is focusing on journalists in the main feeder cities, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston as well as nearby Denver.
[The Alice News has relied on its own resources and perspectives to produce this series of articles.]
Ms Weiss says after nearly half a century, founder William Paepcke's "mind, body, spirit" vision has survived and is serving Aspen well.
"In summer you could hike up Aspen Mountain, then go to a world class dining experience, and later hear music at the Music Festival that brings in people at the height of their careers."
Mental pursuits are as important to Aspen as the physical ones: Alice has similar opportunities, with the institutions such as the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre and the Centre for Remote Health and a swag of visiting intellectuals , as well as being the hub for desert Aboriginal art , but somehow it doesn't gel into initiatives embraced by the broader community.
"The Aspen Ideas Festival is a new event, with visionary people from around the world," says Ms Weiss.
The festival has an impressive line-up of more than 100 speakers and moderators from the fields of politics, academia, art, sport and journalism, including Madeleine Albright (former US Secretary of State); Alan Greenspan (former chairman of the US Federal Reserve); Jim Lehrer (PBS television news star); Sandra Day O'Connor (former US Supreme Court associate judge); Sydney Pollack (filmmaker), Evan Thomas (assistant managing editor of Newsweek) and R. James Woolsey (former CIA boss).
"You can listen to someone like that speak in a very small, intimate setting," says Ms Weiss.
"You have a real level of access you don't have if you went to see them in New York, for example.
"You could very easily be sitting next to one of these people at dinner because [the event] has such a small, quaint feel to it."
Film stars, of course, have long underpinned the fame of Aspen, beginning with Gary Cooper.
As in Alice, Aspen's local media (including two daily papers, both free) are devoting much space to debate about land use and the preservation of historic buildings, a responsibility of the City Council.
The March 19 issue of the Aspen Times (circulation 14,000) quotes a letter to the council objecting to a development: "When you consider this application, I urge you to consider what will happen to Hallam Lake when other homeowners in the area construct similar pools, decks, tunnels and observation towers."
The argument wasn't unusual but the author was: screen giant Jack Nicholson, who owns a house next-door.
But there is a flip side to all the glitz.
Martha Cochran runs the non-profit Aspen Valley Land Trust, in its 35th year and looking after 70 square kilometers of conservation land.
Most of it has been provided by land owners in recent years, and she expects more will be added through donations which attract tax privileges.
It's a way to preserve open space, an objective in conflict with some real estate developers who have little time for the City's resolve to conserve in their present form several hundred buildings dating back to the mining boom over a hundred years ago.
Mayor Klanderud says the council and Pitkin County also make open space land purchases from council (called City there) and county open space tax revenues.
"Aspen has done a good job taking care of Aspen but it's displaced the problems and moved them down valley," says Ms Cochran.
What are the problems?
"Everything from where the workers live to where the gravel pits and lumber yards are."
Among the consequences are traffic and transportation problems, she says, but Aspen is still a wonderful town "with all the things that Paepcke envisioned".
Cameron Burns, staff editor at the Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy and resources think tank, grew up in Sydney and his sister, Gillian, worked in Alice Springs as a vet in the early 1990s.
He says Aspen has priced itself out of the reach even of people who were born there: "If you're a working guy and you want to live in a mountain resort, and you're born in Aspen, you can't any more.
"You can't live in your own home town. There's something incredibly sad about that situation.
"We have people as far away as Grand Junction [435 km] commuting into work at Aspen.
"Is that good for the environment?
"We live in Basalt [29 km], we've been there for 12 years, and we've seen the road expanded in some places to seven lanes. It was two lanes."
(Mayer Klanderud says: "I have no idea where [Mr Burns] identifies a seven-lane highway - simply nowhere in Pitkin County.")
Mr Burns: "Yes, Aspen's a delight, but some of these choices have impacted on other places and people in very negative ways."
He says Aspen's success is simply rooted in the "staggering wealth" of America.
"It's just the sheer number of very wealthy people, I think.
"It's just surreal.
"Australia simply doesn't have that.
"And Alice Springs may be the most gorgeous place on earth but all those millionaires are in America.
"But I think the United States has seen the high point of its economic life.
"Globally there are not a lot of rich people.
"You will start to see millionaires in places like China which might become a great source of tourism.
"The world is definitely shifting."
So, no matter where the rich people are, how can Alice Springs attract them? What's the formula?
Says Mr Burns: "Aspen has made itself exclusive.
"You can't get into Aspen because you can't afford it.
"In the early 1970s a number of people who loved the town - and they weren't the rich people - got involved with land use legislation.
"They limited development, they said you cannot develop on the ridge lines, you cannot develop on these 30 degree slopes.
"That immediately put a premium on any kind of land, it made land unavailable around Aspen.
"If you go to Vail [a ski resort about two hours from Aspen] you see houses covering the ridge lines.
"They're just smashed in all over the place.
"Aspen people pride themselves on being forward thinking.
"They said let's not get this out of control. Let's preserve the environment here.
"It made the property go through the roof so only the richest people could afford it.
"This became a self perpetuating cycle, a snowball effect, that Aspen has seen in the past 30 years.
"The more exclusive it becomes, the more people want to be there."
The mind boggling wealth of the town is in sharp contrast to how it treats its workers, says Mr Burns: "Wages in Aspen are below the national average, they're lower than if you're in a big city back east, or in California.
"Wages here are terrible."
About reports that the cost of living is 130 per cent of national average he says: "That's probably a good estimate.
"Aspen, I think, has the most expensive gasoline in the country."
Mr Burns says the Latinos, many from Chihuaha in northern Mexico, come in groups.
Most don't stay long, they dream of making money in 10 years, then go home.
The 2005 Benchmark Report issued by the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments lists the following average employment, as well as average annual wages (in US dollars) for Pitkin County, where Aspen is located: Construction (1,298) $44,304; retail trade (1,689) $30,368; real estate and rental and leasing (992) $38,844; government (1,684) $41,704; while accommodation and food services, with 4,046 employees, is the biggest sector but by far the most poorly paid, $22,100.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments could not advise whether the category "Accommodation and food services" embraces seasonal employees; how many weeks a year these employees work on average to obtain the wages reported; nor how much they earn a week.
Mayor Klanderud suggested that tips, which may not be reported in the statistics, play an important role. NEXT: In Aspen the preservation of old buildings, places and things is a participation sport: Hundreds of locals belong to the Historical Society which runs two ghots towns and four museums, and has enough clout to get a $400,000 annual rise in state government funding.
Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud: "You mentioned the word magic. I hear that frequently, from people all over the world when they come here, people who haven't been here before.
"Aspen isn't contrived. It's not a Disneyland where you design something you think will appeal to people. There are people who've lived here for many years who feel we're losing that. I don't think we are."