DEPT. 'REMINDED' TO REPORT CHILD SEX OFFENCES . Report by KIERAN FINNANE .
Health Minister Peter Toyne says the CEO of his department, Robert Griew, emailed health staff reminding them of their mandatory responsibility to report suspected cases of child abuse in "mid-May 2006".
This coincides with the ABC Lateline's broadcast on May 15 about child rape and domestic violence in Aboriginal society, which sparked national outrage.
Dr Toyne would not be drawn on whether the reminder came because of under-reporting, nor whether it followed the broadcast of the interview with crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers detailing a number of horrific cases.
There is no clear picture of the extent of such abuse, but statistics on children presenting with sexually transmitted infections give part of the picture.
Dr Toyne, in an interview with the Alice Springs News, also said he saw as a "peripheral issue" pleas of customary law as mitigation in sentencing.
He says the health department "periodically reminds staff of the importance of reporting suspected physical or sexual abuse".
In fact, under the Community Welfare Act 1983 it is mandatory for all members of the community to report cases of suspected child abuse, says Dr Toyne.
(This is not the case with suspected sexual and physical abuse of adults. Health staff would urge adults to report any such cases to police. For staff themselves to report, the patient would have to agree. To do otherwise would breach of patient confidentiality.)
Dr Toyne says police and Family and Community Services (FaCS) staff jointly investigate child abuse cases.
He says Territory police began a campaign to target sexual assault offences in 2001.
Since that time the number of offences in that category has consistently fallen and continues to fall.
In the latest Office of Crime Prevention crime statistics for Alice Springs (for the December 2005 quarter), sex assaults had dropped from 35 to 27 (23 per cent) in the year to year comparisons. These figures include assaults on children.
Dr Toyne says there are a record number of children in protection arrangements at present but "whether that has covered all the need remains in front of us.
"I don't think anyone knows the full extent of the need. There are many unreported crimes in that area and that applies right around the country."
FaCS reports that there were 324 children in the care of the Minister at June 30, 2005.
They did not supply a more up to date figure.
The number of Indigenous Child Protection Reports has doubled since 2001.
Where reports are substantiated and it is not considered safe for a child to remain in his/her home, FaCS finds a carer for the child.
The number of Indigenous children taken into care has also doubled since 2001.
Indigenous children make up 67% of the children in care in the Northern Territory. The Alice News asked Dr Toyne about what investigation is done when children show up with sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Statistics supplied by FaCS show infection of six children under 12 years with gonorrhoea in 2001; seven in 02; five in 03; three in 04.
Infection of children under 12 years with chlamydia numbered two in 2001; five in 02; 10 in 03; eight in 04.
For children aged 12 to 13, there were 19 gonorrhoea infections in 2001; 25 in 02; 19 in 03; 17 in 04.
There were very big increases for the 14 to 15 years age group (80, 118, 116, 113).
Infections of children aged 12 to 13 with chlamydia numbered 11 in 2001; 21 in 02; 12 in 03; 16 in 04.
Again, there were many more in the 14 to 15 years age group (57, 88, 110, 93).
Dr Toyne referred the News to FaCS Minister Delia Lawrie who supplied the following information about the protocols for dealing with minors presenting with STIs.
"Guidelines require that a report is made to FaCS or the police:- when there is any suspicion of abuse or exploitation; when a pregnancy has occurred in a person under 14 years; when sexual activity is occurring in a person under 14; when a sexually transmitted infection is diagnosed in a person under 14; when sexual activity is occurring in any person under the age of 16 not considered mature enough to understand the concept of consent to sexual activity.
"In summary this means that with young people under 14 the guidelines state 'Report to FaCS in all cases.' "For anyone aged 14 or 15 the guidelines require that if there is any suspicion of abuse or exploitation, also report.
"In addition if a young person aged 14 or 15 does not have family support, is being secretive or does not seem to understand what they are doing, then these would be a trigger for a GP or other clinician to refer the young person to FaCS.
"If a young person aged 14 or 15 has strong family support, is clear about what they are doing, then counselling and education is often the best support a GP or other clinician can provide.
"This is the way to ensure that young people with an infection get the treatment they need and the support to make good life choices."
Dr Toyne says the government has responded "very strongly in terms of funding" for child protection - "that has got be acknowledged".
Funding has quadrupled from under $8 million in 2001-02 to nearly $32 million in 2005-06, and there are 51 additional FaCS officers across the Territory.
He also claims "everything possible" has been done "to make the court process accessible to victims", including the recording of evidence of child victims so they don't have to face traumatic cross-examination in court; and protection arrangements for victims and witnesses.
"In an area where you typically get a low conviction rate, often victims and witnesses pull out of the process, feeling intimidated, but again this is the case right around Australia. "This being said, there are plenty of offenders in our gaols, and the maximum penalties to deal with these types of offences are quite high." To encourage more and more successful prosecutions two new public prosecutor positions dealing solely with sex crimes were created last year . Dr Toyne says there have also been changes to courtrooms, "even in the regions and remote areas", to allow victims to give evidence without being confronted by the offender and their family.
Other measures have included the Victim and Witness Support Unit, and recent changes to crime victim compensation arrangements, allowing "a higher level of payment to seriously victimised people".
Meanwhile, Dr Toyne says debate about customary law as a mitigating factor in sentencing submissions is getting away from "the main game".
The issue is "very peripheral in attempts to counter violence" in Indigenous communities.
"The main game is the relationship between grog and violence.
"80 per cent of people in gaols who have committed violent offences, have done so under the influence of alcohol.
"If we are really serious about getting violence levels down in our communities we'll deal with that relationship. This is where I want to lead my contribution to the debate, what I want to do at the national summit."
CUSTOMARY LAW He says all customary law defences have been removed from the Criminal Code which applies to all Territorians equally, "without fear or favour". Likewise all Territorians have a right, he says, to have their personal and cultural viewpoints included in sentencing submissions.
"Customary law, along with Greek culture or Italian culture or any other background or personal world view, is part of what the court takes into account when sentencing."
Dr Toyne says that only in a "very small number of cases" has customary law had a major influence on sentencing since he became Attorney-General.
This is contested by Opposition leader Jodeen Carney who says it is used in court "regularly", and, as she has repeatedly been quoted as saying, "it is a shield behind which violent Aboriginal men hide".
She says it ought not to be allowed in relation to crimes of violence and sex crimes.
Reacting to the same issue, Loraine Braham, Independent Member for Braitling. is calling for a review into how sentences are decided.
"There should be minimum mandatory sentences rather than a recommended maximum penalty which judges and Chief Justices seem to ignore," says Mrs Braham.
"The Chief Justice [Brian Martin] has admitted he made a mistake in giving a one month sentence to an offender who assaulted, sodomised and kidnapped his 14 year old promised bride. "He was quick to criticise me publicly when I questioned his methodology in this case.
"Now he says he got it wrong.
"But again he contradicts himself by saying it would be a mistake to see this case as evidence that Aboriginal people were receiving lighter sentences due to their customary law.
"This is exactly what the Chief Justice did. He said in his sentencing remarks: 'The penalties I am about to fix are less than would be applied in most cases because of ... your belief that what you did in your law was permissible and justified. ...I have a great deal of sympathy for you...' "However, earlier in his sentencing remarks the Chief Justice said, '...there was nothing in your Aboriginal law which required you to strike the child or to have intercourse with her'."
Says Mrs Braham: "No wonder Aboriginal women and girls are reluctant to report assaults when the legal system fails them.
"People were outraged at the sentence. The community expects a punishment that reflects the seriousness of the offence."
ALICE: 'LOTS TO DO AND SAFE' . Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
New arrivals in Alice, Rosemary McKean and husband Tim, say it's a perfect place to bring up their family, Angus, three and Bonny, one.
"It's a really good place to be with young children, there's so much to do," says Rosemary, who moved to Alice in January from Benalla in Victoria.
"There are great organisations like the Toy Library, storytime at the library, kinder gym, playgroups. You can do at least one activity a day.
"It's a very friendly town and I've found it easy to make friends. I've met quite a number of mums in the same situation and it's been great."
Rosemary has found locals keen to make the most of opportunities here.
"Because of the isolation, there are lots of great things that have sprung up because people need them and are committed to providing them, like the Toy Library.
"In other communities there is a temptation for people to sit back and not get involved because everything they need is already there."
As the public relations officer for the National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame, she says the volunteers at the museum are a good example of displaying this can-do attitude.
"They are really committed and do it because they love it and because it's important, not because they have to."
Rosemary and Tim visited Alice Springs when they were travelling around Australia six years ago. "Well, we were supposed to be travelling but we ended up working with my brother [on a station] near Kulgera and didn't see much more of the country!" says Rosemary.
"We really enjoyed it up here and always thought if we could come back we would."
When Tim was offered a job in Alice as manager for the livestock agent Landmark, they "grabbed the opportunity with both hands".
"For someone in the livestock game Alice Springs is one of the places to be," says Rosemary.
"And part of the reason was so the children could grow up in the outback," says Tim, who grew up on a farm in Leongatha in Victoria.
"It's good to be out of town and I think kids learn a bit more out here. It's fresh air, space, outdoors.
"I've got a passion for livestock and the industry. Angus will spend time out bush with me, and Bonny will too when she's older.
"Moving out here, it's a way I can bring them up like I was."
In Benalla the family they had a "pretend farm" on 40 acres. Rosemary says she misses the green of Victoria and her English-style garden but the isolation of living in Central Australia doesn't worry her.
"You can get everything you need here without any problem at all, and I'm really fortunate that my brother is up here in Alice and my sister is out at Uluru, working for Voyages there. She comes and visits when she's in town, about once a month, and we're looking forward to visiting her.
"I'm expecting lots of visits from friends and family too: my dad just went home [recently].
"It's very important to keep in touch with friends, and it's nice to take people out around town and do the tourist thing."
Rosemary says she feels safe bringing up a family here.
"I certainly haven't felt unsafe in town.
"There are many, many places around Australia that have social problems like alcoholism but they're usually behind closed doors: it could be your next door neighbour but you wouldn't know. In Alice Springs it's all out in public.
"It is bit off putting when people are yelling and carrying on in the street but it seems to be a safe place for families."
ONE HUMP OR TWO? .
This is the one about sex and camels you haven't heard before: an Alice service club helping to run the Camel Cup had to shut down because an escort service was sponsoring one of the camels and the club's interstate heavies didn't like it.
And so the Kiwanis Club of Alice Springs disbanded this week after 22 years helping th community.
Minnie Made, a local escort agency, is sponsoring one camel in the event this year, and the Australia District office of the national Kiwanis Club has objected to the Alice branch's involvement because of this.
Members of the Kiwanis and Lions service clubs make up the Camel Cup committee which runs the event.
Around 20 businesses sponsor camels and races in the Cup each year. Members voted unanimously on Sunday to resign from the Kiwanis Club at its final meeting.
"Chris Tangey, the on course announcer for Camel Cup, wrote to the Kiwani Australia District office saying were they aware we were involved in an event sponsored by Minnie Made," says Jeff Farmer, who after 16 years, is the service club's longest-standing member.
"They said that we had to either leave the Kiwanis Club or Minnie Made had to be asked not to sponsor the Cup.
"We had a helluva decision to make.
"If we had pulled out, there wouldn't have been enough people on the committee to run an event which raises around $40,000 for the community.
"We decided the Camel Cup had to go ahead and our membership had to resign."
Mr Farmer says the issue being made over Minnie Made sponsoring a camel is unnecessary.
"The Australia District office jumped to conclusions over this without talking to us about it.
"Most people we talk to are under the impression Minnie Made is a cleaning service. What Chris Tangey has achieved is a lot of publicity they would never have found otherwise.
"Alice Springs has lost an enormous amount through this. We are a very active service organisation and our members have regularly contributed over 7000 hours of community service a year."
Recognised as one of the most successful in Australia, Kiwani volunteers built the playground at the NPY Women's Council and sponsor the Alice Women's Shelter where they also built the sandpit and cubbyhouse.
Volunteers also help at the Old Timer's Fete, the Alice Springs Show, the Hamilton Down's Youth Camp, local schools and community groups and individual people.
The volunteers have also raised money for equipment and services for children with disabilities, and the Terrific Kids Program, which recognises the citizenship skills of primary school children.
"The program has been generously sponsored by local businesses and has been a regular feature of end of term assemblies for many of our local schools," says Mr Farmer who says it's probable that a new club will be formed.
"Most of the members want to continue on with community service.
"We won't be associated with a national service organisation but will form a local club in Alice Springs before the end of next month," he says. Mr Tangey allegedly also wrote to the International Lions Club.
"They had no problem with it," says Paul Barreau, Lions spokesperson and public officer for the Camel Cup.
The Alice News was not able to contact Chris Tangey before going to press.
FREEDOM FROM INFORMATION? . Report by ERWIN CHLANDA .
Freedom of Information is neither free nor necessarily informative in the Territory, at least not when the government's controversial MLA Alison Anderson (MacDonnell, pictured) is involved, as well as the council at Papunya, which her clan is apparently running like a private fiefdom.
Opposition Leader Jodeen Carney put more than 250 questions to the Local Government Department.
Her office got a bill for more than $5000, but no answers to nearly half the questions.
Later in the process it's likely that Freedom of Information Commissioner Peter Shoyer will become involved (Ms Carney is appealing).
He will put the failures to reply to a "public interest balancing test," and determine which answers must be given.
But for the moment it's open slather for the department to reject, delay and bamboozle.
The first two rounds are just between the enquirer and the government instrumentality being quizzed.
The first round is the asking the questions.
If the responses are unsatisfactory the second round is an appeal.
The questions are now asked again, this time directed to someone higher up in the departmental food chain.
If the reaction to that is still not good enough Mr Shoyer takes over.
And if you don't like what he does you have recourse to the Supreme Court.
Nearly a third of Ms Carney's questions were rejected or "edited" because they are "not within the scope of the application".
Mr Shoyer says this is another way of the department saying "this isn't what you asked for".
One would have thought that a person making the enquiry, and paying for it, would know very well what they want to know.
More than 20 questions were rejected by the department because "disclosure of the information would be an unreasonable interference with a person's privacy".
For example there are several documents called "Field trip to Papunya Community Council Inc", all in 2004.
Those dated January 29, June 18 and September 28 were refused on privacy reasons.
Those dated February 12 and 19, April 29, August 19, September 10 and October 29 were refused because they were "not within the scope of the application".
The one on October 5 was declined both on the grounds of privacy and scope.
It would be fascinating to know what could be legitimately concealed from the public about: field trips by public servants investigating the affairs of a council under multiple investigations, Federal and Territory; a body spending public funds, that has apparently been acting as a clearing house for dozens if not hundreds of second hand car deals; has apparently failed to spend road grants on designated purposes; and has defaulted on a string of financial reporting requirements (google the Alice Springs News web site).
One document was refused by the Local Government Department because it "is publicly available through the Papunya Community Government Council".
Surely, they jest.
The Alice News has made several requests to the Papunya council for information, without the slightest joy.
Another bizarre reason why information can be withheld is when it "was communicated in confidence and disclosure of the information would reasonably likely to impair [sic] the ability of the Department to obtain similar information in the future and it is in the public interest that such information continues to be obtained".
This is brilliant: If you tell a department something in confidence it can keep mum about it if it can proved that getting confidential information is a good thing.
There is another beauty: The document "Grant Agreement between OSP and Papunya 26 June 2002" was withheld by the department "as the information is of a financial nature and disclosure of the information is likely to expose the Papunya Community Government Council unreasonably to disadvantage".
Like what disadvantage?
Getting prosecuted for mishandling public money, maybe?
Another blow to the information seeker is that you don't only pay for what you get.
You also pay for what you don't get.
Mr Shoyer says sometimes FOI charges are limited to copying or "supervised access," but usually there's a $30 application fee and after that you pay $25 an hour for "looking for documents, consulting people and making decisions" - even if those decisions are telling you to go jump in a lake. Mr Shoyer says 1000 Freedom of Information applications have been lodged with public sector organizations since the Information Act commenced in the NT in July 2003.
"FOI is about open government but it recognises that sometimes information needs to be withheld to protect community interests and the private and business interests of others. "The NT Privacy Protection scheme is also about finding an appropriate balance.
"The Office of the Information Commissioner also provides policy input on proposals that raise privacy issues.
"Advances in technology and the demand for government access to more and more personal information in response to concerns about crime and security mean that important privacy issues are now arising more frequently than ever.
"Whether it is the National Access Card, anti-terrror laws, or a 'Do Not Call' register, there is an ongoing need for privacy issues to be raised as part of the debate on whether and how initiatives like these are implemented at a Territory and national level."
FIX WELFARE 'FOR THE KIDS' . Report by KIERAN FINNANE .
"Only after we have begun to put their world in order and begun to reverse the downwards spiral of all the social performance measures, can we turn our minds to the kids."
In his lacerating 2004 paper for the Menzies Research Centre, Do Indigenous Youth Have a Dream?, Bob Beadman, veteran Territory and Commonwealth public servant, now retired, put welfare reform at the top of the agenda "to fix things for the kids".
Many of the paper's ideas for Indigenous policy reform seem to have caught the ear, at least partially, of the Federal Government.
But unlike many in the current debate, Mr Beadman argued that there is work available in remote communities.
Mr Beadman described welfare as a "cancer" needing "radical surgery" and set out steps to accomplish this.
He suggested that a quick inventory on each community of who did which job for the years 1973, 1983, 1993 would show that 30 years ago most of the jobs on communities were done by local people.
Small enterprises that engaged them then have disappeared.
Outsourcing has taken over many former local government jobs, with contracts being won by the big firms from town.
To turn this around, "you would do a job skills audit, so that all future training inputs were properly targeted, and a job was there at the end of the process, unlike the haphazard approach of recent times".
"At the same time you would detail all of the contracting work available in the locality, and factor in the potential for savings in welfare outlays in assessing the lowest tender price.
"In this way the head in the sand approach of awarding the work to a contractor from town while the local people sit under a tree and watch him might be corrected.
"This will require close cooperation between the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory Governments. It may involve the Territory letting a contract at a higher price, to enable, say, a remote community to purchase a grader in order for them to take on a road maintenance contract.
"The Territory may have to lay out an extra $100,000 to cover the grader, only to watch the Commonwealth save $500,000 over the life of the contract in welfare outlays, as people take up work and come off benefits." Mr Beadman argued for new housing funds to be conditional on communities developing their own building teams: "There is something obscene about locals sitting under a tree with their ankles crossed and in receipt of welfare benefits watching outside contractors, sometimes themselves recent migrants, building houses in remote communities.
"The country cannot afford the double impost of relocating a contractor from town to do the job, while at the same time paying the locals to do nothing."
He argued for reviving the enterprises welfare replaced and reducing imports, identifying the potential jobs, targeting training accordingly, accessing the myriad of small business support programs "so the job was there as training finished".
In such a setting, a suitable work test could be devised, he said. With work available, capable people would not be allowed to choose to do nothing.
He said the CDEP scheme "could be the nursery of the work gangs moving into the real economy as these measures bite".
"We cannot hope for 100% employment [but] we can do a lot better than 100% unemployment, with all the available jobs currently taken by non-Aboriginal people from elsewhere."
Such people would be on a limited term contract, "with a performance objective to train a local replacement", a measure which has been "allowed to slide."
VOUCHERS Mr Beadman also argued for providing welfare benefits in the form of food vouchers, rather than cash, in cases where the benefit is being spent largely on grog or illicit substances.
The complexities involved "must be tackled": "We are a neglectful society, not a caring one, if we continue to pay a benefit to a person to drink himself to death while his family starves."
Family Allowance Payments (up to $137 per child under 13 per fortnight, see Alice News, April 20) should also be tied to a satisfactory school attendance record. Said Mr Beadman: "There is no real excuse for parents not being responsible for their children's whereabouts.
"Unless we take such radical measures to ensure school attendance, we will almost certainly be consigning yet another generation of Iindigenous youth to lives marked by substance abuse, violence, welfare dependency, and premature death."
He also called for a number of " self evident" adjustments to welfare payments, such as removing the disincentive for the unemployed to study, by reversing the values of the dole and Austudy and Abstudy. For over 21 year olds these payments now appear to be line ball. However, there seems to still be plenty of scope when it comes to removing the incentive for youth to leave school early and go onto Youth Benefit [available from 15 years of age if you are considered independent].
Mr Beadman also called for the removal of the disincentive for people on benefits to earn additional income, by revising the tax and side benefit losses; and for splitting the welfare benefit where one member of a family is drinking the benefits for the others, and pay the woman hers and the kids' share direct.
(The latter would appear to be possible, with the woman raising children able to directly claim Parenting Benefit and Family Tax Benefits. Her partner on the dole or Newstart, for example, would not also be able to claim her Parenting Benefit.)
TO COME: Mr Beadman's ideas about reform of the Land Rights Act; substance abuse; law and order.
RECIPE FOR BLACK SUCCESS . Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD .
Rayleen Brown may be petite in stature, but her drive and vision are huge.
She founded up Kungkas Can Cook, an Indigenous catering business, six years ago, with her business partner, Gina Smith.
"There are a lot of unemployed Indigenous people out there. We want to be a role model for them," says Ms Brown. "I love cooking and I really want to pass on that knowledge so that I'll have created a foundation that's not going to stop.
"In 20 or 30 years I want to see our name all over Australia!"
After getting the idea for the company over a cuppa with Gina Smith, she says developing Kungkas Can Cook has meant commitment and hard work.
"It was scary: not only were we Indigenous coming into the business area but we were two women and it is a man's world out there.
"A lot of times when I turn up at functions people have a surprised look on their face: 'Oh, I didn't realise you're Aboriginal!' "People do put you in a box."
Kungkas' first job was to cater for a Department of Education meeting at the community of Laramba. "We didn't own a thing," laughs Ms Brown. "We used the kitchen in the women's centre.
"But the people said the meeting had been such a success because of the food."
The next job was at the Yeperenye Dreaming Festival in 2000, winning the tender after competing against national caterers.
"We prepared 14,000 meals over four days. After doing that we thought we could do anything," says Ms Brown.
Since then the business has grown into catering for Indigenous and non-Indigenous events across the Northern Territory and is committed to employing Aboriginal staff. She has employed an experienced kitchen hand for two years, and is sponsoring a 20 year old to study for her certificate III in business at CDU while working as an administrator for Kungkas.
"They're all pretty motivated, and we're getting young girls coming in on their own now, asking if we can give them work.
"We're hoping that more Indigenous kids will become involved in the industry, that's what the industry wants."
Ms Brown regularly goes into Yirara College to talk to students there, and the school has also visited the kitchens four times. Next month several pupils will do work experience at Kungkas.
"They feel shy and a bit funny going to CDU. We're the bridging place for them to work at the Crowne Plaza or other places after that.
"We show them the bush tucker stuff on our menus, like damper and bush tomatoes.
"They've seen their nanas collect bush tomatoes and now they're seeing it on the menu so it means something to them."
Ms Brown says Aboriginal people are well suited to working in the catering industry. "Food is an important part of us. Way back when it was one of the main things we cared about, the reason why we travelled and moved."
She says that employers in Alice Springs should put more effort into employing local Aboriginal people. "It does take a lot more time: Indigenous girls are shy but if you get them when they're young and happy, they won't get into alcohol or drugs and you can give them another path to follow.
"I love to see these girls working, it builds their confidence and hopefully they'll work in a supervisory role eventually. It takes a lot time to recruit people from overseas."
Last year Ms Brown spoke at two Indigenous business conferences, sharing her knowledge and encouraging Aboriginal people to start up their own enterprises in Broome and Adelaide.
"I want to show people that it's not out of their reach, there is lots of support if you find your direction."
She says she has suffered negative comments from other Indigenous people, but says it only made her more determined to succeed. "For lots of girls, it's 'shame job, shame' but you can't be.
"As soon as I left school, dad said I had to get out and get a job. I worked as a trainee at the library. I couldn't be shame doing a job like that."
After working in various administrative roles in Alice Springs including for the Central Land Council, Ms Brown wanted to be "independent".
"I was getting into a rut and couldn't see myself going any further.
"I had to challenge myself to learn how to run a business. I made mistakes and I struggled but I never went back to school, I think it's common sense. Like budgeting: I learnt that from my mum bringing up six children."
Ms Brown was born in Darwin and went to school in Alice Springs, growing up travelling with her family in work camps as the road to Darwin was being built, watching her mum work as a bush cook: "I had to help with my five brothers and sisters, cooking for them.
"We travelled so much so I dropped out at year nine. I tell the students I speak to now that they should try and stay at school if they can.
"We have to start with the young kids. Some are lost: they drink alcohol, don't know if they want to be in town or not in town. We can't change them all but there are so many negatives, we need some positive outcomes in this town."
Ms Brown is also keen to develop employment opportunities for other women in Indigenous communities. "The momentum has begun for us. We are hoping we are going to roll and pick up other Indigenous women along the way.
"For example, they bring in a caterer to do meals on wheels in communities. We want to go in and train the women there to do it themselves. They are capable of doing it but need to come forward."
Gina Smith has now moved to Tennant Creek to look after family but is still involved in developing the business, and Ms Brown says there is so much more potential for the company.
"Visitors to Alice Springs want something different, they want contact with Aboriginal people.
"We want to make Alice Springs the bush tucker capital of Australia, to give people another reason to come here."
NEWS IN BREIF .
CLARE MARTIN ECHOES MAL BROUGH: CAMPS WILL BE 'JUST LIKE ANY OTHER ALICE SUBURB' Permanent residents of town camps in Alice Springs will not be kicked out of their homes and moved to other parts of the town, says Chief Minister Clare Martin. Reports that have suggested this are wrong.
"Town camps will not be closed - and the tenants living there will not be moved.
"Town camps will be upgraded so, over time, they will become just like any other Alice Springs suburb.
"Power, water, sewerage, and street lighting will be improved to the equivalent standard of surrounding residential areas.
"As part of this, all new public housing built in town camps will come under Northern Territory Government public housing management.
"In response to this action, Minister for Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough will consider more funding to address the housing backlog in the Northern Territory.
"The introduction of public housing management for new homes in town camps is part of a strategy to tackle the challenges in Alice Springs.
"The Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government recently committed an extra $30 million for new housing and urgently needed short-term accommodation in Alice Springs."
MEREENIE LOOP JOB LET A $4m contract for work on the West MacDonnell Range Tourist Loop Roads has been awarded.
Larapinta Constructions, a Joint Venture between Ntaria Council (Hermannsburg) and DAC Enterprises, will provide gravel for the project.
Under the contract, Larapinta Constructions will excavate, screen, crush and blend gravel at the intersection of Namatjira Drive and Haasts Bluff, commonly known as Beer Can Corner.
Infrastructure and Transport Minister Dr Chris Burns said the contract would provide substantial employment and training.
LOADER "While DAC will provide much of the plant and management, Ntaria has purchased a 960 Cat loader and will provide people for training." The gravel will be used to sealing Namatjira Drive from the 86km mark to the 134km mark (extending the seal from Glen Helen through Tylers Pass).
Design is complete and tenders are due to be called in the very near future.
Dr Burns said upgrading the roads to sealed standard will allow more Territorians and tourists to enjoy "some of the most spectacular country in the Territory".
$13.9m has been allocated to the project in the 2006/07 Budget, though much of this amount has been brought forward from last year's budget, when $17.3m was allocated and only $6.8m spent.
SOME SERVICES STILL AT FAMILY PLANNING Concerned patients have been contacting Family Planning in Alice Springs following a cut in services (Alice News, May 11).
Because the organisation can't afford to pay a doctor, procedures like pap smears can't be offered any more.
The services which are still being carried out by the association (located on Todd Mall) are dispensing pills from current prescriptions, pregnancy testing, the morning after pill (ECP) plus information about all of these things as well as consultations and information on other services.
ADMINISTRATOR STARTS JOB Suspension of the appointment of an administrator for the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation (NAC) has been lifted by the Federal Court.
The administrator, accountant Eamonn Thackaberry, has recommenced his activities with NAC.
However the appointment is still the subject of a legal challenge under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 and will go to trial later this year.
The appointment arose after an independent accountant examined the affairs of NAC in December, 2005.
The Alice News has reported on some of the accountant's findings in articles on May 4 and May 11.
LETTER: NANETTE ROGERS 'SHOULD BE COMMENDED' .
Sir,- I was dismayed to read your response (Comment and Analysis, May 25), to Crown Prosecutor Nanette Roger's disclosure about the level of child abuse in Aboriginal society.
The opening paragraphs of your analysis set the tone by remarking that these disclosures come at an "opportune moment" and then proceed to slam Ms Rogers (and almost in the same breath, her husband who works in the area of child protection) for not having brought this topic to the national headlines years ago.
The tragic trail of societal dysfunction and violence is paraded before the courts, hospitals and police stations (and hence the public record) on a daily basis. Both Ms Rogers and Mr Ross are deeply committed to the welfare and rights of the victims of violence and abuse.
For Ms Rogers to step outside of the parameters of the courtroom and beyond her expected brief in the DPP was an extraordinary and courageous move, undertaken I assume, with much deliberation.
To blame her, personally, for not making this desperate plea years ago is about as useful as the Martin government constantly blaming the CLP for today's failures.
The dollar figures you published regarding the disastrous discrepancy between the necessary spending in FACS assessed by the Grants Commission and what the current NT government (and previous governments) actually spent confirms the misplaced priorities (eg the Darwin Wharf) of successive, Darwin focused governments.
Nevertheless, it's time to dispense with the pernicious climate of blame and buck-passing and to look towards a constructive, bipartisan approach to crisis resolution.
Certainly there should be more "investment in community-based prevention and early intervention strategies not just crisis response and tertiary services" as noted by Mr Harris, formerly from NTCOSS.
Ms Rogers should be commended for her stance and acknowledged for the spirit in which these devastating disclosures were made.
Yes, it is a deeply troubling failing of mainstream Territory society that we have not all, in whatever capacity or field of influence, stood up years ago and demanded more action and more collective responsibility for the most vulnerable members of our community.
Let us not be divisive here. You ask for immediate action - it is Ms Rogers who has thrown the ball into an open court.
[ED - The Alice Springs News offered opportunity to comment to both Ms Rogers and her husband. Neither responded.
During all its 13 years in publication the Alice Springs News has devoted tens of thousands of words to the issues raised by Ms Rogers.]
Sir,- I just read Adam Connelly's (is that pronounced Con Nelly, or is it Conly?) column (may 25) about the orthography used in writing down Indigenous place and organisation names.
This is a fascinating history, especially in The Centre. The first attempt at Arrernte (Arunta, Aranda etc.), I understand was by Kempe out at Hermannsburg.
He was followed by Albrecht (father and son), Strehlow, and others living and working at the coalface.
Then sometime in the 1970s the closeted academics Connelly referred to replaced the "a" with an "e" and added a few consonants for good measure.
Yes, it is a dog's breakfast, but if Adam looks at all those melodic Irish names we have come to love, can he be sure the English got it right when putting their peculiar form of Gaelic onto vellum.
I enjoyed the article almost as much as I tried making Ampilatwatja sound like Am-blood-y-watch.
As an aside - bring back the Fish.
David Stokes Alice Springs
[ED- Fish is missed but very busy in a new job, so no can do.]
Sir,- I read the column, "Enough to make a grown man cry" by Adam Connelly (Alice News , May 25).
I am not a linguist, but have done a small amount of study in linguistics, and several language courses through the Institute for Aboriginal Development. I thoroughly enjoyed the courses, and am persisting with my language learning.
While the Eastern/Central Arrernte spelling system does look quite complicated, it is based on a systematic set of rules, and once learned, makes reading the language reasonably straight forward (though there are still some challenging words - especially the longer they get).
However, one of the fundamental issues is that Eastern/Central Arrernte has sounds that are simply not used in English, so the challenge for linguists has been how to represent those symbols using English letters.
Another issue that needs consideration is the spelling system used in English. While English may look easy to those of us who have grown up reading and writing it, there are a large number of exceptions to the rules, as well as many variations on the sounds that can be made with particular letters (eg, the 'a' in apple, article, arrange) or groups of letters (eg, 'ough' in enough, through, cough, though, thought). Can you imagine how difficult English is to someone whose first language uses a completely different alphabet or set of characters (eg, Chinese), let alone for Central Australian Aboriginal people who spoke oral, not written languages!
The reality is that the spelling system for Eastern/Central Arrernte is actually far more consistent than the English language!
It sounds like Adam was given a tough assignment on his first day in the newsreader's seat.
Maybe he can suggest that all new newsreaders from now on, as well as current ones, enrol in an IAD language learning course - and get to know some local Arrernte speakers as well. In fact I'm surprised a component on language wasn't part of the orientation to the job.
There is also an excellent article, "Have you ever wondered why Arrernte is spelt the way it is" by Myfany Turpin, which would be well worth reading.
Available at http://www.clc.org.au/ourculture/arandic.pdf
Sir,- Two Saturdays ago, at the early hour of 2am I was startled awake with a loud fireworks display from the transformer on a pole outside my house. For about 30 seconds vivid electrical light and a "cracking" good show illuminated through the blinds of my bedroom window.
Thoroughly awake, I threw the covers off, calming my daughter in her bedroom to go back to sleep. Our Jack Russell puppy was growling and the neighbour's dogs were barking. My teenage son in his bedroom didn't stir - it would take more than an earthquake to wake that young man!
I soon realised that our house had no power and found a torch. The phone was useless without power and I used my mobile to call Power and Water. Within 15 minutes of my call to a Darwin-based operator he had organised a crew to my street and they worked in our Alice Springs freezing four degrees and fixed the problem.
Amazingly, some 13 hours later, I had cause to call them again - I had no water! Within an hour - the water was back on.
I read recently that our NT Power and Water people have a response time to fix a problem equitable to any city in Australia.
I am a home owner and totally appreciate the services of the guys that maintain what people take for granted.
Sure, we pay for what we consume - but the people who are on-call, who get out of their own warm beds to climb poles at 3am, should be paid accordingly! I have never questioned my Power bill in that respect!
Thank you to the guys that were called out - sure, a call-out bonus - but well earned!! It wasn't me up a pole at 3am in the cold and with your qualifications, experience and essential knowledge. Please continue to keep us safe.
Sir,- I thought I would drop a line to mention that I refer to your website on a regular basis to keep track of things in the Alice and the NT.
I worked at Tempe Downs Station in 1948/49 when Joe O'Brien was the station manager, and one of his sons, Jack, was head stockman. I and a Jack O'Donnell from Queensland built a round yard at Kings Canyon big enough to hold 2000 head of mixed cattle, with bloodwood posts and desert oak rails, with bronco panel and double swing gates, using cross cut saw and axe.
It took about six weeks to build from scratch. We also built another at Baggott Springs, property then owned by Tom Fenn of Adelaide and secretary of the Cattlemen's Association.
I left Tempe in 1949 and worked in SA Leigh Creek coalfields until 1951, then shipped out of Melbourne with the largest shipment of sheep to New Mexico, aboard the SS SIERRA Matson: 456 Corriedale sheep and 52 Border Leicester rams to San Francisco.
All walked on board and all walked off at Pier 45 in San Francisco. I have made several shipments of stud cattle in travels around the world, but finally left Australia in '73 and have lived in Western Canada since.
Now going on 82 years and still in relatively good health, I have many great memories of the NT and Oz and many stories to tell.
I should thank you for the opportunity of writing to you. Certainly there have been many changes in the Alice since the days of the Underwood [sic - Underdown?] Pub etc. I spent several nights in the sleep out at the Underwood Pub till it was time to head for Tempe with Jack O'Brien. Eric Walton
INDIGENOUS SPEND MORE THAN TWICE 'WHITE' FIGURE Sir,- The Territory Government spends 49.7% of its annual budget on delivering services to Aboriginal recipients, according to tahe 2006-07 Budget Papers (No 2 pp 50-51).
The government spends $19,069 per year per Aboriginal person (Aborigines make up 29% of the Territory population according to the ABS) whereas the rest of the population receives $7873 worth of government services annually.
For every dollar spent on non-Indigenous Territorians $2.42 is spent on Indigenous Territorians.
These statistics do not include Commonwealth expenditure but I would dare say that the spending practices would be similar from a Commonwealth perspective.
The question that needs to be asked is, "Where are the results?".
The Territory Government has used its GST windfall to increase spending substantially in the areas of health and education, but it is clear from the past few weeks that those spending practices haven't made inroads into the endemic problems in the bush. Clearly the answer is not more money because it does not change the way that people behave.
The extra money for Indigenous people has done nothing to protect the women and children that are the victims of these horrendous sexual and physical assaults.It is time to revisit the way in which this money is spent and put a wrecking ball through those programs that aren't working. Surely we can expect more from our tax dollars than we're getting.
I know that services are critically important for the people who live in the bush. At the moment we're spending the money and we're not seeing the services improve. This cannot continue.
We cannot allow cultural sensitivities to diminish the basic human rights of the people in these communities.
It is well past time to ensure that the money that's spent delivers outcomes.
Leader of the Opposition
24 YEARS TO GO TO BECOME A LOCAL . COLUMN by ADAM CONNELLY .
This week marks a significant point in my life: it's my first anniversary of moving to Alice Springs.
Or as it has been coined in some circles my Aliceversary.
A year! Without sounding all hippie about things, oh how I've grown! If you are a local and haven't lived in another city, this may come as a shock but Alice Springs is probably the most contradictory town in the world. That's not a slight, it's a statement of fact.
Let's not mention the obvious river without water or even the bathroom doors at Bo's. Many a Saturday night can be spent sitting at the bar at Bo's watching backpackers with full bladders trying to work out the mechanics behind the unopenable doors (the locals seem to have no problem, backpackers are funny).
Is Alice the quintessential country town?
Yes, but what about all the swanky restaurants. Is it a cosmopolitan city? Sometimes, but it also prides itself on being a place to get away from the hustle and bustle.
Is Alice Springs a tourist town? Absolutely, but what about the thriving local scene?
Every statement you make about the town has an equally convincing counter argument.
It's Newton's Law of the Alice. Black and White. Conservative and Counter Culture.
Residents of this town have a casual relationship with time, as I've said, but once again, the opposite is also true. It has taken me a year to figure it out but Alice Springs actually runs not minute to minute but from year to year.
It's like Groundhog Year in Alice Springs.
Let me explain. I touched down in Alice for the first time in late May, 2005. Everyone was getting ready for Finke.
What happened after Finke 2005 - the Alice Springs Show. In between was the Beanie Festival.
What are we all doing this year? Getting ready for Finke - packing swags, picking our spots trackside.
Next it will be the Beanie Festival, the Show, then it's Camel Cup, the Harts Range Races, Old Timers Fete and the Rodeo.
Spring comes along and it's Desert Festival time followed by Henley on Todd, an obvious contradiction in itself. I could go on but you get the point.
Instead of "How many years have you lived here?" in Alice it's "How many Finkes have you been to?"
We don't mark time by May or January but by Cup Day and the Australia Day Ball. In fact I've caught the bug.
When asked by a friend if I remembered a particular incident, my reply was, "Was that around Bangtail Muster time?".
And I don't mind it, although it does take some getting used to.
It's comforting to know what is coming around the corner. In fact the system can work in your favour.
If you are planning annual leave, you don't want to be away during Finke.
And you'd never forgive yourself if the trip to Adelaide fell on the same weekend as the Show.
When else is it socially acceptable to eat a battered sausage on a stick followed by a stick of spun sugar and a ride on the Vomitron!
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