ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
February 28, 2008. This page contains all
Alice uranium town: in search of
the facts. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
Hundreds of workers building and operating a uranium mine and mill 25
kms south of Alice Springs would live in the town, according to Rick
Crabb, chairman of Paladin Resources.
The NT Government last week gave approval to Paladin and its partner,
Cameco, to apply for an exploration license.
Up to 50 people would be engaged in the proving up of the deposit,
known as Angela and Pamela.
If that work results in a mining approval, some 500 to 800 people, half
of them potentially local contractors, would be engaged in the
Mr Crabb expects this would take a year and a half.
And some 200 people would be employed to run the mine and mill,
expected to have a life of 10 years on presently known deposits.
These are worth $2.5b, and there is a strong possibility of further
The deposit was discovered some years ago, before the meteoric rise of
Mr Crabb says the mill may also be used by other uranium producers
likely to mine in Central Australia: “There are a number of other
players who have got quite good prospects.
“It could be the start of a whole new Alice Springs based uranium
Chief Minister Paul Henderson described the project as “a huge stride
toward potentially billions of dollars worth of economic opportunity
and jobs for the Territory” at a time when “in the face of climate
change, the world is seeking clean energy solutions”.
Paladin is a Perth based company, has two uranium mines in Africa,
40,000 shareholders and a market capitalization of $3.7b.
Cameco is the world’s largest uranium producer, accounting for 20% of
world production from its mines in Canada and the US.
“Our leading position is backed by 500 million pounds of proven and
probable reserves and extensive resources,” says the company.
“In the past five years, Cameco generated more than $1.4 billion in
The Angela and Pamela project has come under fire from local
Natalie Wasley, of the Beyond Nuclear Initiative, says the deposits
“are within our water catchment, less than 10 km from the proposed new
drinking water borefield.
“In-situ leach mining, possibly to be used, involves pumping acid into
groundwater to dissolve the ore.”
“The ISL mine at Beverly, SA, disposes of contaminated waste water
directly back into the aquifer.”
The mining company strongly refutes these assertions.
Says Paladin’s Brendan O’Hara, who is in charge of special projects:
“There is no basis for this statement.
“On the information we have we are of the view that In Situ Recovery is
not appropriate for the extraction of uranium from the Angela and
Wasley: A shallow open pit mine risks surface water contamination from
tailings and release of radioactive radon gas.
O’Hara: This issue will be carefully managed (including the use of
hydrogeological studies) so that there will be no contamination of the
current or future drinking water of Alice Springs.
Mr Crabb says Paladin has an “immense amount of experience” in
Its mine in Namibia is in a very dry environment, similar to Central
“There is a barrier to that aquifer and the mining will not breach this
“We are going to mine an existing ore body and will not be going beyond
Mr Crabb says if the ore body were connected to Alice Springs’ water
supply, then radioactivity would show up now in the water.
“We’re talking about a radioactive ore body.
“It’s existing material which we are going to mine.
“If anything we’re going to remove the problem.”
These concerns are “a complete red herring”.
Ms Wasley also claims that “mining the small uranium deposits at
Angela-Pamela would be short term, with minimal infrastructure and job
But Mr O’Hara says the development could bring a number of significant
economic benefits, including opportunities for Indigenous business,
support for existing local businesses and employment.
He says: “It would typically take at least $200 million to develop a
mine for this type of operation and half that much in annual operating
“It is important to us that we consult and work with the Alice Springs
community as we go along to ensure that the community derives the full
benefits from our operations.”
Mr Crabb says the company is “very conscious” of the need to build
Malawi, where Paladin has a mine, “is a very poor country.
“We balance imported skills with local training, using our mine as a
nursery of skills.
“We can take the same approach with the Pamela and Angela project.”
Mr Crabb says there is a “misconception” that the product, U3O8 is
“Radioactivity of the yellowcake, which is in sealed drums and stored
in containers, increases when it is processed further, which is done
overseas, in a handful facilities in the USA and Europe.”
A pound of U3O8 yellowcake was worth $8 in 2001, rose to $140 in 2007
and is now worth $75.
Paladin says there are 439 reactors producing 16% of the world’s
electricity requiring 173 million pounds of yellowcake.
There are 33 reactors under construction in 13 countries.
There are plans to build 316 further reactors by 2030 with a generating
capacity almost a great as the total capacity today.
The proposed mine near Alice Springs would be initially open cut but
soon move into an underground phase.
The size of the open cut “is yet to be determined,” says Mr Crabb.
Parks will be handed over to
Aborigines. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
The new Federal Government will transfer ownership of Territory
national parks – most of those in Central Australia including the West
MacDonnells – to Aboriginal ownership.
They will schedule 13 parks and reserves under the Aboriginal Land
Rights Act NT, “as agreed to by the previous government,” Indigenous
Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin (pictured) told the Alice Springs News
She gave no timeframe for the action.
The request to transfer ownership came from former Chief Minister Clare
Martin. None of the several Coalition Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs
preceding Ms Macklin complied with the request.
Ms Martin had claimed the parks were under threat of land claims and
that it would be better to surrender the parks, and get a 99-year lease
back, rather than contest land claims in court.
The Martin Government stonewalled the Alice News enquiries on the issue
The move was the subject of a strongly attended public meeting in April
2006, with a majority opposing the move, and six Alice Springs aldermen
called for a moratorium on the process pending meaningful consultation,
which never happened.
Responding to other enquiries from the News Ms Macklin said
• “local people will take increased responsibility” in response to
improved services delivered as a result of the NT Intervention;
• public housing tenants will be “required to pay regular rents and
look after their homes” as announced programs of upgrade, repair and
construction continue under the $793 million MoU signed with the NT
government in September 2007;
• income management is still being rolled out, community by community,
now applying to over 6000 people in 25 communities and three groups of
• improved services for Aborigines are being funded by $587 million in
supplementary funding to Australian Government agencies in the current
financial year, as allocated by the previous government, as well as a
further $740 million funding for longer-term measures as announced by
the previous government;
• “we are working with the NT Government to link school attendance to
Strategy to stop flouting of new
Dry Town laws. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
Police Commander Bert Hofer has outlined several ideas which he says
may help tackle public disorder and flouting of dry town laws.
He proposes inviting a number of responsible Aboriginal women to a
forum, “where their insight may produce a change to the existing way
the problem is dealt with,” he says.
He has had “informal discussions” with Tangentyere Council and asked
them to consider an expansion to the existing “return to country”
He is proposing having Tangentyere attend regularly at the Alice
Springs Watch House.
As people are being released, Tangentyere will be asked to take care of
the repatriation of people from remote communities, who for one reason
or another are unable to return home under their own steam.
Cdr Hofer says provisions for dealing with recidivist offenders need to
“There are people who have been issued with infringement notices, who
are repeatedly taken into protective custody, some several times a
“Existing structures to have those persons placed before the courts to
impose prohibition or rehabilitation orders are quite difficult,” says
The existing “return to country”service is part of Tangentyere’s
Indigenous Case Management Service, which started in October last year
and is funded by the Department of Justice for three years, for around
To date in Alice it has consisted mainly of booking clients on
commercial transport like Greyhound and Bush Bus.
Greyhound journeys up and down the Stuart Highway, while Bush Bus has
routes to the west – Kintore, Docker River, Pipylatjara, Yuendumu – as
well as north to Tennant Creek, picking up passengers and dropping off
freight at places along the way.
The clients repay the “return to country” fare in full using Centrepay
deductions (from their Centrelink payments).
In November and December 46 people were helped return home using this
The Alice service has also bought a troopy to take people to
communities not serviced by commercial transport. It was ordered in
October, but is yet to arrive and be fitted out, as there’s apparently
a troopy shortage in Australia.
The troopy service will also be user-pays, says Catriona Elek, social
services manager for Tangentyere.
Numbers of people catered for are expected to rise once the troopy is
It’s not known how many have been turned away while waiting for the
Ms Elek says the service also works with people to identify other needs
or supports they may have, including in their community when they
return, and to see if they can get any other support to help them
return home or pay their fare.
She says the service is also working with the Department of Corrections
on a partnership service for prisoner repatriation.
Town Council fuming over NT Govt
largesse to Darwin. By KIERAN FINNANE.
“Unfair and discriminatory” towards Central Australia is how the Town
Council labeled the Territory Government’s recent largesse with an
anti-social behaviour package in Darwin.
They compared the government’s minimal commitments to Alice Springs’
CCTV for the mall (a $150,000 grant and half the monitoring cost for
the first year) with their generous allocation in Darwin: $3.125m over
In all the government announced over $10m worth of anti-social
behaviour initiatives for Darwin.
The matter was raised at Monday night’s council meeting by CEO Rex
The normally mild-mannered Mr Mooney was particularly galled by the
government’s announcement of a “dedicated anti-social behaviour
reporting line” for Darwin and their CCTV funding compared with the
paltry allocation for Alice. The issue was taken up with some heat by
Ald Melanie van Haaren asked whether there are two police forces in the
She vehemently objected to what she saw as Alice police Commander Bert
Hofer’s view that monitoring anti-social behaviour in Alice was not
core business for police.
(This is not an accurate representation of Cdr Hofer’s views. He told
aldermen that police accompanying council rangers on their river patrol
was not core business. However he also told them that there is a local
unit of 29 officers whose sole business is to police anti-social
behaviour. See Alice News, February 14.)
Ald Robyn Lambley was the first to suggest discrimination against
Alice had been “begging for years”, she said, while Darwin had “hardly
put the matter on the table “ and $10m had been “dished out”.
Aldermen resolved that council would write to the Chief Minister asking
for an “equal focus” on anti-social behaviour in Alice Springs,
“believing the current proposed distribution [of resources] unfair and
discriminatory to Central Australia”.
They will be asking particularly for increased funding for Alice’s CCTV
and a police hotline for reporting anti-social behaviour.
The aldermen’s defiant mood also saw them vote down their earlier
recommendation to relinquish council powers over closure of laneways in
This had been born out of their extreme frustration with the NT
Government, following the government’s rejection of their
recommendation that the Laver Court laneway be closed.
Ald van Haaren described the recommendation as a “protest” over
Ald Murray Stewart said aldermen should not allow their frustration to
convert to “putting up the white flag”.
Ald David Koch also did not want to see council relinquish any further
control over “our town”.
Ald Samih Habib said government ministers need to know they are “not
Ald Jane Clark said nonetheless council needed to deal with the issues
of laneway closure more diligently.
Ald Lambley called for the Territory Government to resource the council
for this: there are currently 15 applications waiting to be dealt with,
at an estimated cost of $15,000 each.
The aldermen’s sense of injury was a further theme to debate over the
appointment of a non-Central Australian as Minister for Central
Australia, when there were suitable Central Australian candidates (a
vote of confidence in the bush MLAs Karl Hampton and Alison Anderson).
A letter will also go the Chief Minister on this one.
Discrimination also came up elsewhere in the meeting when Ald Clark
declared her interest in a recommendation that council condemn “as a
matter of policy” the introduction of party politics into local
This recommendation had been formulated during Ald Clark’s absence (due
to her child’s hospitalisation) at the last committee meeting and was
in response to her contesting the mayoral election as an endorsed
On Monday Ald Clark read with controlled anger a prepared statement,
reporting on advice received that the council’s motion would be in
breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act (NT) section 19(1) which states
that “a person shall not discriminate …..on the grounds of ….political
Her advice was also that the motion would probably be unconstitutional,
as it sought to “restrict our inherent democratic rights to freedom of
She called on the mover and seconder to withdraw the recommendation,
absenting herself from the chamber for the ensuing debate.
The aldermen, with a bit of huffing and puffing in particular from Ald
Lambley, stood on their digs, passing an amended motion with the words
“as a matter of policy” removed.
The aldermen, led by Ald Stewart, also got decisive about the presence
in front of the council chamber of a “certain vehicle”.
Ald Stewart said the vehicle bore “derogatory slogans” about the
council, sending a negative message to staff and tourists .
The owner (who was not named in the debate) had a right to free speech
but he should exercise that right in newspapers and on the radio, said
Mr Mooney revealed that the owner had been issued with multiple parking
infringement notices – two a day, for some time.
Mr Mooney had also spoken with the police who would be taking action
“in line with the legal avenues they have available”.
Presumably action was taken the next day as there was no sign of the
offending vehicle as this paper went to press.
Murray the man. By ERWIN CHLANDA.
Two distinct camps are forming as the campaign for mayor gathers pace.
One camp thinks the council should confine itself to roads, rates and
rubbish, while the more challenging issues are left to our masters
north of the Berrimah Line.
Murray Stewart is most distinctly in the other group, wanting to expand
the council’s role and influence, in which he’s broadly joined by
Melanie van Haaren, David Koch and (maybe) Meredith Campbell.
Ald Stewart thinks the council, firstly, needs to lift its own game.
And secondly, if it is “in the best interest of the town,” as Ald
Stewart puts it, council needs to firmly kick governmental backsides on
a range of issues beyond the council’s power.
Ald Stewart made it clear at his presidential style campaign launch on
Sunday, with some 70 people as his guests, most of them running
well-established small businesses, that he’s going to be relentless in
his promoting of the town if he gets the top job.
The only problem is, Ald Stewart may have to live to 110 to achieve all
the goals he’s setting himself.
MC Dominic Miller set the tone for the drinks and nibbles gathering
with a well-aimed swipe at rival candidate Damien Ryan: “There’s much
more [to being mayor] than fixing footpaths.”
And besides, there’s no such thing as a “birthright to represent you,”
said Mr Miller, clearly alluding to Mr Ryan’s born and bred pedigree,
as opposed to Ald Stewart’s relatively recent arrival.
“I am not shackled by connections although I share the values of the
old timers here,” Ald Stewart told the Alice News.
Two warm-up speakers, champion runner Eli Melky and martial arts
instructor Grant Oaklands, paid tribute to the unflinching commitment
to sport and fitness of their candidate and mate, blind since birth.
Mr Miller said it was a mark of Ald Stewart’s commitment to his mayoral
ambitions that he dropped out of the Bejing Paralympics.
He holds several national and world records for disabled people in
Sharon Everett, who’d worked as a manager with Ald Stewart in
Melbourne, praised his business skills as the owner of a health and
fitness club, and a therapeutic health centre, with a combined staff of
more than 40.
In Alice since 2001, Ald Stewart owns a therapeutic goods company here.
His speech was testament to his boundless confidence in his own
ability, occasionally a source of irritation for fellow aldermen, but
Ald Stewart said he had “no regrets” about anything he’d ever said.
Law and order was at the top of the long list of issues he’d be
• Community patrols, such as the ones undertaken by Neighborhood Watch,
• He would give “in kind” assistance to the police.
• Rather than escalating alcohol supply restrictions, which don’t work
as a long term solution, we should “remove chronic alcoholics from the
bottle” and commit them to obligatory rehabilitation.
• Ongoing safety audits should prompt action on all issues, even the
• Police shouldn’t be hindered by political correctness. If the force
is short of resources Ald Stewart would lobby for boosting them.
• He would start a youth council and give young people an opportunity
of being involved in the town’s development.
• The Youth Centre looks shabby and tired and needs to be upgraded.
• The town needs a music and sport centre for “black and white”.
• Alice should become the sports tourism capital of the world, with
events including cycling such as the Bull Rider, an adventure cycling
• “We should never accept kids being in the streets at night. They
should be safe in bed.” Ald Stewart doesn’t accept the excuse that a
curfew cannot be enforced. “We are not a large town. We can police
• He will lead a fun run every year.
• Alice should capitalize on our “hard fought for” status as a solar
• The council should marshall federal resources to introduce recycling.
• The town needs a potholes hotline.
• Town planning should be transferred to the town council. There should
be an NT Government grant for that. “It wouldn’t cost you one cent.”
• New mining projects will require housing or else the companies will
just set up fly-in, fly-out operations.
• The relationship to the arts community needs to be strengthened.
• A Yellow Brick Road should guide visitors to “reputable galleries”.
• He will stay on the committee of Tourism Central Australia (the
• We need “thousands” of tourism ambassadors.
• The Todd River should be returned to its “iconic status”.
• He will invite Italian operatic pop tenor Andrea Bocelli, also blind,
to stage one of his concerts here, celebrating international icons.
• Too much land cannot be rated. Rate exempted benevolent institutions
– the exemptions for some of which are “very questionable” (and which
include the town camps) – should be asked to make voluntary rate
• We need a Fred Hollows eye hospital.
• Let’s invite the entrepreneurs of the world to invest in our town.
• Aldermen should get paid only for the meetings they attend.
• Ald Stewart said he would do “something” about high fuel prices.
Again having a shot at Mr Ryan, the only mayoral candidate so far who
is not a sitting alderman, Ald Stewart said: “We don’t need someone on
a learner’s permit.
“The town needs a mayor with council experience.
“You have given me my apprenticeship.
“Let’s not press the pause button now!”
Mr Ryan did not respond to the Alice News’ invitation to comment.
Pine Gap show and tell? By KIERAN
The top secret American spy base at Pine Gap will have to make a full
and frank disclosure about what it is doing, on the doorstep of Alice
Springs, next time a government wants to prosecute trespassers on Pine
Gap land under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952.
This could be a consequence of the acquittal of the Pine Gap Four, in a
unanimous decision by the NT Supreme Court last Friday.
The four pacifists – Donna Mulhearn, Bryan Law, Adele Goldie and Jim
Dowling of Christians Against All Terrorism – had been convicted
under the never-before-used Act of charges related to “entering a
prohibited area” and using a camera in a prohibited area.
The charges carried a maximum penalty of seven years in gaol, though
Justice Sally Thomas imposed only a money fine on the four, which the
Crown appealed as being too lenient.
The four have since served time in Darwin’s Berrimah Prison in place of
paying the fines.
They always admitted to carrying out a “Citizen’s Inspection” at Pine
Gap in December 2005 – involving cutting a fence to enter the base,
climbing on the roof of a building, unfurling banners and taking
However, they contested the validity of their charges under the Defence
(Special Undertakings) Act, challenging in pre-trial legal
argument the declaration of Pine Gap as a prohibited area.
For the declaration to be valid, the Act required that the declaration
needed to be proven necessary for the purpose of the defence of the
Commonwealth, ran the argument.
Justice Thomas accepted the contrary argument of the Crown that words
could be read into the Act allowing the declaration on the basis of the
Defence Minister’s satisfaction that there was a security threat to
Australia. (See the Alice News web archive, October 5 and 19, 2006.)
Had Justice Thomas accepted the defence argument, presumably witnesses
could have been called to try to establish doubt over the security
threat – historic and current – and Pine Gap’s role in relation to it.
In other words, there would have been evidence in court about what Pine
Gap is and does.
Reasons for the the acquittal judgment have yet to be published, so it
is not known what Justices Martin, Angel and Riley have to say about
all of this, for instance, whether under the Defence (Special
Undertakings) Act the Crown would have to prove that the declaration
was necessary in the first place and still necessary at the time of the
conduct subject to charges.
Of course, there would undoubtedly be other legal recourse open to the
Crown to prevent detail about Pine Gap’s activities becoming public
But it is unlikely, given the embarrassing result this time, that the
draconian Defence (Special Undertakings) Act would be used in
non-violent civil disobedience cases again.
Justices Martin, Angel and Riley unanimously agreed last Friday
that Justice Thomas’ earlier decision had resulted in a
miscarriage of justice.
A statement released on behalf of the Pine Gap Four quotes Ron Merkel
QC, who headed their legal team, as saying, “They were precluded from
raising the very issue which, if successful, would have resulted in
Mr Merkel is also quoted as saying, “No reason was given at any time
for singling out [these people] for indictable charges”.
Mr Law has vowed to continue working to expose Pine Gap, and was quoted
in the Weekend Australian on plans for another incursion into the base
on Anzac Day.
Ms Mulhearn described the appeal decision as “a slap in the face
for those who seek to use draconian legislation to respond to
non-violent civil disobedience”.
Ms Goldie said that the decison set “a precedent for future acts of
Reporters Without Borders (Reporteurs sans frontieres, RSF), the
international press freedom organisation, has welcomed the appeal
RSF says the Pine Gap Four sent photos they took inside the base to
media, including 18 Australian newspapers.
Several of the newspapers and their editors were threatened by police
with consequences under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act to
dissuade them from publishing the activists’ photos.
The Alice Springs News received such a call but went on to to
publish the photos as did the Canberra Times, the only two to do so.
Says RSF: “The dismissal of the convictions makes further prosecution
of the activists and – eventually – the media under the Defence
(Special Undertakings) Act of 1952 highly unlikely.
“Even the mainstream ABC News has now shown an incriminated photo in
Darwin, two years after initially receiving it.
“Several editors told RSF that they regretted having been initially
intimidated from using these pictures.
“The present decision of the NT Supreme Court removes this
long-standing ‘chilling effect’.”
The Alice Palace. By DARCY DAVIS.
What a wonderful citadel of gig heaven The Alice Palace is! On Saturday
night, I spent my time enjoying everything this venue had on the menu.
I, like many others, had come to see The Bush Pistols who had just
returned from their world tour – The Bush Pistols, our very own born
and bred Central Australian super group, back home from another global
trot – showing the world their own brand of magic, mulga funk.
A lot of the punters milled about in the foyer. The thing I like about
The Alice Palace foyer is that its simple acoustic accoutrements make
it easy to have a conversation; no shiny surfaces like tiled floors or
huge panels of reflective glass or hard ceilings to ricochet your
verbage randomly about the place so that chatting produces a general
sense of disquiet or a look of strained concentration on the face of
Oh no, The Palace foyer is easy on the ear and easy on the eye; we
stood and watched the magnificent holograph projected into mid air at
the centre of the room – an amazing sequence of images of traditional
dance from somewhere in the desert.
Of course, The Bush Pistols were sensational; their creative talent and
originality has been honed and polished over and again from their
Their final number, “Olga in the Mulga”, induced the entire crowd to
perform the belly dancing sequence made famous by their controversial
film clip – the part where Olga gets vulgar.
Let’s be fair though; the calibre of music being performed by Swat,
Terracottage and Arid Bone was enough to make your heart sing even
before The Pistols came on stage.
As I headed back out through the foyer and down the street to check out
the music scene at the Spin Effects Club and The Work Party Room I
reflected on the bad old days. Do you remember those times? I remember
the violence, the decadence, the social breakdown, how unsafe
Then the Government got it right, finally; they didn’t mean The
Intervention to last so long – I suspect they didn’t mean The
Intervention to evolve into The Right Intention the way it did, but
that’s what happened.
Once they got The Right Intention underway it was like doors opening to
let out bad air. They poured taxpayers’ money into high quality
services and resources; they brought in high quality people, they
established great facilities, they built The Alice Palace; the Berrimah
Line got rubbed out. The Right Intention got the right result.
Actually, cruising down the main Alice drag on a warm February night in
2008 can be a mildly depressing experience. The Melanka is pretty
empty, a few drinkers loll about the outside tables, bored security
staff hover at the entrance, disco doof-doof emanates from loud
In the shadows of the 24Hour across the road a gang of youths stand
about; a cigarette is glowing. Two youths are leaning on the wall,
defiantly looking as though they don’t care whether they’re leaning on
the wall defiantly. I’m glad I’m in my car.
Further down Todd Street Bojangles is jangling. The crowd control
fellas seem to be doing their job, showing their very big muscles as a
deterrent to any wayward behaviour; the crowd inside is stacked along
the walls pouring alcohol down their throats at a rate of knots.
The joint is jangling very loudly; I can see Ben Slip in there, guitar
on hip leaning into the mike, singing – well his mouth is moving but I
can’t hear above the jangle.
Next door The Rock Bar is, well, I wouldn’t say it was rocking; it’s
very busy serving people alcohol to swill, the bar staff are flat out,
the cash register is ringing; maybe it should be called The Ring Bar.
Is that it? Is there somewhere in town to sit, kick back and listen to
some good, live, music? Somewhere … anywhere? Well, certainly nothing
that I could locate on a warm Saturday night in February.
If you want flowers to grow, you need a garden bed.
ADAM CONNELLY: Let The Tribe
For the town of Alice Springs, last Friday was for all intents and
purposes just another Friday.
Sure there was a bit of dusty gusty wind and it was a bit hotter than
usual but that can happen any day.
Last Friday was filled with Friday type things and when they went to
bed that evening all the people of Alice Springs thought about
was that tomorrow would be Saturday.
However an event that will have massive implications for the town had
passed by without anyone really noticing. Quietly this event slipped
through the fabric of the day without pomp, without fanfare.
If not for the press release I wouldn’t have even known that
enrollments had closed for the local council elections.
Doesn’t sound like much but that simple, quiet event has set into
motion the basis of what is about to become the crazy carnival of the
It will be crazy. Let’s not think for a moment that the next few weeks
will be measured and controlled and formal.
There are six upstanding members of the community fighting to replace
Fran Kilgariff as the head cheese in council. Six men and women who
have a deep sense of public service. Six men and women who for the next
few weeks won’t be afraid to dress up in a gorilla suit if that’s what
it takes to get your vote.
Why on earth would you want to become the mayor? That has got to be the
most thankless job in Alice Springs. Everyone has their two bobs’ worth
of advice and they aren’t afraid to share it with you. On the other
hand no one says thanks when the footpath doesn’t have a crack in it,
Nonetheless every time you turn around there goes another paragon of
society raising their hand to run for council. What is the attraction?
It can’t be the money. There isn’t much of that. It can’t be the orange
robes which to be honest don’t scream “Alice Springs Mayor” as much as
they do “Soweto revivalist preacher”.
The only positive I can see in running for the council is that you get
the good seats at the Camel Cup.
With the electoral rolls now closed and voting compulsory it is
incumbent upon those on the rolls to choose one of those six to be
This may seem daunting. Out of the six who will best achieve that which
you want achieved?
But if the choice becomes a bit too much, think on the fact that at
least our six probably won’t charge you for ladies’ undies and Star
Wars merchandise (yet another example of high humidity affecting the
minds of people in power).
In fact with the federal government showing a massive interest in
Central Australia, and the Territory government doing their darndest to
reform local government, maybe the mayor of Alice Springs will only be
able to focus on rubbish and footpaths.
That said I think that if the next few weeks are going to be the circus
I think they might be, why not go the whole hog? In 2008 with the
popularity of SMS and Australian Idol, why not have a Survivor-style
Think about it! “Tonight on Survivor Civic Centre … Murray Stewart and
Meredith Campbell go head to head in a dry town battle. Who will win
What a great show. Drama, intrigue and ritual humiliation of public
people. All things we love.
The only problem being that Channel 10 would probably buy it and then
we won’t get to see it.
Too many pollies. PART TWO of a
COMMENT by ALEX NELSON.
Territorians are seriously over-governed.
To make the point it’s worth comparing the governance of the ACT with
the NT’s. The ACT’s population is 340,000 while ours is 215,000 –
a difference of 125,000.
The ACT has three multi-member divisions comprising a total of 17
seats, which equates to 14,050 enrolled voters per member. The average
enrolment for NT electorates is currently 4744.
Its Legislative Assembly has two less seats than the original 19 of the
NT Legislative Assembly between 1974 and 1983, when our population was
considerably smaller than it is now.
Now, of course, we have 25 members to the ACT’s 17, despite the latter
being far more populous.
Looking at it another way, the Northern Territory has more politicians
per capita than any other region in Australia; and – taking into
account the elected members of municipal councils, community
government, land councils, and federal politicians – it is a fair bet
the NT has the greatest concentration of politicians per head of
population of any region on Earth.
To top it off, the NT Statehood campaign committee demands we should
have 12 senators, like all the other states!
The Northern Territory is truly unique – it is the only jurisdiction in
Australia in which each local member can know, or at least meet, with
every constituent of his or her electorate. This creates a very
distinctive “dynamic”, as Territory politicians are far more accessible
to the “ordinary, everyday” person. It is a backbenchers’ paradise,
where parochialism is at its greatest.
It is also a ministerial misery because the duties and responsibilities
that come with portfolios are in addition, and often in conflict, to
the undiminished duties of being a local member.
This is where being a politician in Darwin becomes an advantage as one
can literally hop on a bike between the local electorate office and the
ministerial office in the heart of the city.
Equally Darwin constituents have far greater access to their local
members who are ministers than do those living outside of Darwin, whose
local member as a minister is obliged to spend most of his or her time
absent from the electorate.
Modern communications only partially redresses the balance; however,
human evolution has a head start of several million years over
technology, and nothing beats face-to-face consultation.
Consequently, the farther a member is from Darwin (or the more remote
is the electorate) the harder it is to be a minister or political
leader. It seems counter-intuitive but it is clear that the more
accessible politicians are in a democracy, the more difficult it is to
The situation is worsening because there is a steady decline in the
provision and standard of services to regional centers and remote areas
(for example, it is no longer possible to fly to Tennant Creek, one of
the Territory’s major towns).
Simultaneously Darwin and nearby vicinities are booming, which leads to
ever-increasing allocations of money and resources, population growth,
and – inevitably – an increasing concentration of electorates, all at
the expense of the rest of the NT.
It is our system of governance that is leading to a vicious downward
spiral, although – from the perspective of a Darwinite – this is a very
difficult notion to comprehend. It’s all going extremely well up there!
It is no accident the Commonwealth, using emergency powers, stepped in
with the Federal Intervention last year, while the NT Government
dithered in response.
There is a great and pressing requirement to change policy priorities
to address needs wherever they are greatest, not to pander to the
self-interest of lacklustre politicians representing comfy
over-serviced suburbs in Darwin.
The first priority – and probably the most difficult – is reform of our
political system to create multi-member electorates. In a future piece
I’ll explain in greater detail why this would make a difference.
When, and if, this can be satisfactorily achieved, there will at last
be no reason why a political leader in the Northern Territory cannot
come from somewhere out of Darwin.
And that would be a very good thing.
LETTERS: Sad loss of volunteer
Sir,- It’s with great disappointment that I read your article last week
on the winding up of the Kurrajong Area Residents Association (KARA).
It was formed, based on the successful Eastside Residents Association,
through a lot of work and encouragement from myself during the early
years of my role as the Member for Greatorex.
I conducted a survey of the area back in 1997, following which KARA was
formed almost a year later.
We had a very dedicated group of residents in the Kurrajong area who
were keen to adopt their park and contribute volunteer labour to
beautify the area.
Through my office, we got the group incorporated, and then sought
funding from the Northern Territory Government for funding to improve
As Minister for Local Government, I personally negotiated with the
Alice Town Council to ensure that facilities were created in the park
with further funding from the NT Government.
The park became a joint project between the town council and the
residents of the Kurrajong area. A Special Purpose Grant was
provided to the Alice town council for projects to be carried out at
several council-owned parks, the Kurrajong park being one of them.
We now find that the council has abandoned the efforts of the
ratepayers who have strived so hard and for so long to keep their park
beautiful and in a usable condition. Before KARA was involved the park
was full of bindiis, no play furniture, and no clean grass areas where
children can play without fear of rubbish, glass and prickles.
When will the town council wake up to encourage the goodwill of
I blame senior council officers who seem to have an agenda of their
own. Knowing several aldermen, I note their keenness to be
responsive to ratepayers but continually fail to push council to follow
With the coming council elections on the horizon, it is again time
Alice Springs ratepayers seek strong commitment from EVERY aldermanic
aspirant as to what and how they intend to make the town council more
responsive, and how they will keep senior council officers accountable
for their inaction.
Any contract between the town council and a senior council officer has
to include a clause for termination of services if that officer fails
to perform to his or her duty statement and key objectives.
It is important for council to not only provide what objectives it
wants from senior council officers, but also what OUTCOMES they must
Sir,- I read Meredith Campbell’s paid advertisement on the front page
of the Alice News (Feb 7) and feel compelled to reply. By proposing to
not offer alcohol at council-sponsored functions, Alderman
Campbell is acknowledging that there is a community-wide problem but
this is hardly tackling it effectively.
Offering alcohol at a town council event may show people that it can be
consumed in moderation and not branded “demon drink” by a wowser
firebrand claret socialist mayor-to-be.
Sir,- I would like to add to Mike Gillam’s comments regarding other
possible uses for the civic centre.
A few months ago I visited Mt Isa and took the opportunity to visit
their new visitor centre, which happened to be constructed around the
same time as our civic centre and for around the same price. I couldn’t
help thinking about the difference in attitude between the two towns.
Mt Isa’s new centre portrays a fantastic sense of welcome to its
visitors, especially when told that a huge amount of the work,
including a complete underground mine, was wholly constructed by
volunteers! The difference in attitude shows in the numbers of happy
smiling visitors on their streets.
Alice has had a large tourist sector for some 50 years yet we still
don’t have a visitor or transit centre; instead, we have a large civic
centre occupying the town’s prime tourist location - a building for
bureaucrats. It does not even have something as useful as a town hall -
in fact, most of the building is mothballed for future use.
What kind of message are we sending to our visitors? At best we portray
an unwelcoming air of indifference.
For minimal funds, I believe we could convert the civic centre into a
pretty darn good visitor and transit centre.
Cut a bus lane from Todd Street past the southern end of the Andy
McNeil Room through to the car parks and Leichhardt Tce, build a
veranda down this side of the building and rent space to the various
tour agencies and bus companies, and put in a 24-hour café and
The council could maintain its existing shop front and the use of
office space on the building’s north side, and the library stays where
it is. The Andy McNeil Room converts to a visitor centre.
The region between the bus lane and Stott Tce is large enough to
construct a traditional greeting area, including a large hall for
possible use as a youth centre.
When you put this whole concept together with the surrounding
nightclubs and restaurants and the fantastic new Melankas development,
we will have created a living exciting hub for our town that will
always be full of people and activities 24 hours a day. It would
generate an exciting and warm welcome for our visitors at a facility
offering all the services at one location for the first time ever in
That’s got to put smiles back on a few faces.
This proposal also calls for the complete reopening of Todd Street to
traffic. The past years of designing nice leafy, “car free” places in
our town centre has also made it unapproachable, especially after dark.
Towns are about people, not empty spaces. The noise and movement of
traffic; of kids walking and riding, doing “Toddly’s” as they did in
days gone by; all add to a special atmosphere of place. Malls have
failed all across the world, and ours has, too.
Presently the town centre feels like a place going nowhere and where no
one really cares. No wonder a recent survey has backpackers describing
the Alice as a dull uninviting destination.
Let’s get rid of the bureaucrats from the town’s centre, and fill
the the empty spaces with people, sidewalk cafes and buskers, all
together on the sidewalks; and fill the streets with cars, bikes,
horses and other modes of
Bring our town centre back to life!
ED: Mr Brown’s concept for a bus transit facility at the civic centre
is very similar to the one proposed by local businessman and current
alderman Samih Habib, and supported by then-Alderman Daryl Gray, as
reported in the lead article “Private coach stop mooted” (Alice News,
May 3, 1995). The main difference now is that Mr Brown suggests to use
part of the new civic centre as part of the transit centre.
Mr Habib’s proposal was endorsed as council policy until 2001 when it
was dropped in favour of plans for the new civic centre.
The town council opted to support a plan by Sitzler Brothers to build a
bus transit centre – including offices for coach companies, tourist
information and booking centre, coffee lounge, internet café and
snack bar, hire car and taxi ranks, and additional parking – in
conjunction with the Ghan railway service in the western precinct. This
proposal likewise has never proceeded.
Sir,- I write to correct a loose interpretation of the truth put by
Jane Clark in last week’s comment piece “Dry Town was set to fail”.
She refers to the council’s trip to Port Augusta in the summer of 2006
to investigate the effect of their dry town regime, which had been
introduced as a 12 month trial by the SA Government.
She stated that she was the only mayoral candidate to do the trip and
gather the info. This is incorrect as I was there too. I travelled in a
different car with Alderman Samih Habib and Mark Blackburn, a former
council director, whose report formed the basis of the council’s
decision to use NT Government legislation to obtain dry town status.
This is not the first time that Alderman Clark has incorrectly badged
me as part of a group of elected members who say a lot and do nothing.
I wasn’t even on council to be one of the alleged “knockers” whom she
described in a recent letter to the Alice News.
But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Ald Meredith Campbell
Sir,- I was disappointed, having seen the photo of Jaime Jesus and
Marcia Percival (the salsa performers I brought to Alice Springs for
the 2006 festival) to promote the Red Hot Hearts event, to see no
mention of the salsa part of the evening in Darcy’s review in last
week’s Alice News.
It was truly a hit and I had many compliments from friends, strangers
and the organisers about making everyone feel comfortable and setting a
fun tone for the night.
It’s nice to have the Alice News back for 2008!
Sir,- I was a little shocked, though not surprised, to find this year’s
rental for my small mailbox at the post office has gone up again to $75
for the full fee, or a “bonus” fee of $70 if paid by 31 March.
Box renewal invoices show that in 2003 the fee was $52, in 2005 it was
$56, and in 2006 it was $60. Last year it jumped to $70 (or $65 if paid
by 31 March).
This is an increase of more than 44% since 2003 if paying the full
amounts, or 34.6% if taking advantage of the “Pay on Time” bonus
What justifies a percentage increase in costs of this magnitude in a
time of record low inflation rates – I think it’s roughly 10% over the
Sir,- I thought I would drop you a little note just to say how much I
enjoy your newspaper website. Keep up the great stories. You have a
very talented staff.
Beloit, Wis, USA
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