ALICE SPRINGS NEWS
April 2, 2009. This page contains all
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.
buck passing. By KIERAN FINNANE and BEVERLEY JOHNSON.
Resources Minister Kon Vatskalis constantly passed the buck to
the Department of Environment at last Friday’s public meeting about
uranium exploration, although under Territory legislation it is the
Resources Minister who has the final say.
And it is the Resources Minister who will sign off on Cameco’s Mining
Management Plan – currently with Mr Vatskalis’s department.
Environmental issues and the Environment Minister raising them were
famously side-lined by the Territory Labor Government when they amended
legislation allowing Xstrata to expand to an open-cut operation at
Macarthur River, requiring diversion of the river from its natural bed.
The Environmental Defender’s Office, whose principal solicitor had
initiated legal action in the Supreme Court on the matter, said about
this piece of legislative enabling: “The mine’s operation is now
protected from legal scrutiny.”
The then Environment Minister, Marion Scrymgour, was absent from the NT
Parliament during the passage of the Bill.
However three Indigenous Labor MLAs crossed the floor to oppose it. One
of them was Alison Anderson, who is now Environment Minister.
She was not in attendance last Friday to answer to the public on behalf
of her department – surprisingly, given that environmental issues
are the major causes of concern.
With exploration drilling soon to get underway 25 kilometres south of
Alice Springs, the basic message from Mr Vatskalis was, trust us, we’re
When the crowd – around 100 packed into the Andy McNeill Room, with
temperatures and emotions rising – persisted in challenging him, Mr
Vatskalis resorted to expletives: “Nobody gets a bloody license” unless
they do it safely.
“I’ll never put my signature to it,” he said.
However he also said that any potential uranium mine deserves “the
highest level” of scrutiny, though it will be up to the Commonwealth to
This was welcomed on Monday by the Alice Springs Angela Pamela (ASAP)
Collective as Mr Vatskalis agreeing to support a Public Inquiry into
uranium mine proposals.
A Public Inquiry is the “highest level” under the federal Environmental
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The meeting crowd was overwhelmingly against exploration, let alone
mining. If there were people who supported either, they did not make
The local business community was notably absent – not surprising given
the middle of a working day scheduling of the meeting.
Tourism Central Australia (TCA), representing over 300 members, were
made aware of the meeting but could not attend. General manager Peter
Grigg says the membership’s views are diverse and in consequence the
body has not taken an official stand on the issues.
He says TCA acknowledges that there may be a detrimental effect on
tourism if a mine goes ahead, but notes that this has not been the case
in the northern part of the Territory.
Local head of the Chamber of Commerce, Julie Ross, says she was not
invited to the meeting.
She surveyed local members on the issues last November – 20% replied
and of those, 93% were “quite happy” for the mine to go ahead and would
have no problem offering goods and services to Cameco.
She conveyed these results to Cameco.
She says she has not been approached by the government on the matter.
Environmental groups were well represented at the public meeting. The
ASAP Collective said it was held in response to “repeated requests from
public forums through 2008”.
There were also a notable number of older residents.
Mr Vatskalis was asked whether the assessment of ground water risks
would be completed and publicly released before exploration drilling
That would be up to the Department of Environment. Water quality
assessment comes under the environment portfolio.
(According to Cameco, exploration drilling will start once the
company’s Mining Management Plan has been accepted and a certificate
from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has been received.)
In the case of the Macarthur River mine, requests from the Northern
Land Council, traditional owners and environmental groups to view the
Mining Management Plan were refused, according to the NLC.
Water quality was one of the risks Ms Scrymgour had raised regarding
the Macarthur River mine. It was unclear whether they were resolved in
the mine management plan ultimately approved by the then Territory
Mines Minister, because the plan was not made public.
The Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, at the end of a
separate legal process, has now required McArthur River Mining “to
prepare a comprehensive monitoring plan for marine sediment, mine site
sediment, depositional dust, seawater, natural surface water and
Mr Vatskalis was asked, in relation to concern over dust storms and air
quality, whether his government would commit to an assessment of
seasonal patterns for one whole year, establishing baseline data before
drilling even begins.
He said collection of baseline data has already begun.
He would get back to people on how long the data would be collected.
He was asked if the government has looked into and undertaken to
analyse the impact of the project on the long term development of town,
for example through modeling of water usage?
Where and how that will be done is a decision of the Minister of
Environment, said Mr Vatskalis.
He’s right: in the Territory the Environment Minister gets to
decide what level of assessment will be undertaken, what will be
considered in the assessment and whether or not the assessment is made
available to the public in full.
The Resources Minister is not specifically bound under Territory law to
take into account the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The relevant Commonwealth Act (the Commonwealth retained ownership of
uranium after self-government) has a trigger for an Environmental
Impact Assessment where “nuclear action” is concerned. But in a
bilateral agreement with the Territory, the Commonwealth considers the
results of the EIA carried out by the Territory; it does not initiate
an independent assessment.
Mr Vatskalis did undertake at the meeting to take on board Alice
Springs residents’ high level of public engagement, but he said the
issue is also a Federal and Territory matter – not only local.
There will be a “high level of assessment”, he said. He is “not
prepared to cut corners”.
He sought to reassure the meeting about the transportation of dangerous
and hazardous materials in the NT – our police, fire and emergency
services are strong.
It was put to him that Alice Springs population is a transient one. How
would he ensure that people who are highly trained and skilled remain
here? Would he commit to having a fully competent workforce able to
deal with radioactive situations?
Mr Vatskalis reiterated his confidence in police, fire and emergency
It was put to him that the mine will change the community, will have a
social impact. How would that assessment be undertaken?
Cameco, the company with the exploration license, is preparing that
assessment, he said.
He was asked why there would be no independent assessment.
He expressed his confidence in Cameco. Once the report is completed, it
would be scrutinised by the government who would get back to Cameco on
any issues not satisfactorily dealt with.
Isabelle Kirkbride had her two young children by her side when she
spoke as a concerned mother and on behalf of Families for a Nuclear
Free Future. She wanted the Minister to ask Cameco to leave town: “We
need you to stop the process now!”
Alf Lang, a perhaps surprising bedfellow given his past One Nation
sympathies, voiced concerns for his children and grandchildren.
Voice trembling, he told the Minister he doesn’t want the world’s
uranium dump in NT.
As the NT’s new Health Minister, was Mr Vatskalis not concerned, he
asked, close to tears.
Derek Schild of the NT Greens provided some drama involving a glass of
water and a borrocca tablet, representing one fifth of the world’s
uranium, that fizzed a “radioactive” yellow. Mr Schild asked if the NT
government were aware of Cameco’s alleged involvement in the
contamination of a lake in Canada six weeks prior to government
accepting the company’s application for an exploration license in the
This was the query that drew a frustrated response from the Minister:
Cameco would have to satisfy the government as to safety, they wouldn’t
get “a bloody license” otherwise.
He said the government is requiring a $180 million security bond from
Cameco and would be prepared to demand an even higher amount against
possible environmental damage.
Vigorous promoter of Indigenous perspectives on matters radiocative,
Mitch, accused the government of a lack of concern about Aboriginal
land and environmental factors such as flooding, dust-bearing wind and
storms, limited water supplies.
Upping the ante, she expressed fears for her health: “Before I am
riddled with cancer and a burden on your services, please can you shoot
Margie Lynch, an Arrernte woman who lives out by Harts Range, was also
obviously distressed as she claimed all research says radioactive
material should not be dug up and was angry abut the government’s
failure to address human rights in relation to the issues.
for an overview of the current Territory laws and processes for
assessing the environmental impact of a mining project.
Council booze levy anger. By
Licensees have hit back at the Town Council over the proposed liquor
Council intends to raise $350,000 from charges to those ratepayers
owning property leased by takeaway liquor licensees.
Council justifies the move by the fact that half of the tonnage of
litter picked up in public areas around the town consists of liquor
containers, with green VB cans the major culprit.
Litter and the cleanliness of public places accounted for six of the
top seven areas of concern in council’s 2004 community survey.
Council spends some $630,000 a year on removing litter from public
Ray and Diane Loechel, managing directors of the Gapview Hotel,
attended Monday night’s council meeting.
An angry Mrs Loechel asserted that the levy would be a way for council
to cover budget shortfalls for rubbish collection in the CBD and for
the introduction of a container deposit scheme in Alice Springs.
She asked why council had decided it would be up to just 10 people to
fix a whole-of-town problem.
She suggested that big liquor companies may not have to pay the levy
due to agreements with property owners, which would put smaller traders
at a disadvantage. Where is the equity in that, she asked.
She said some businesses may be driven out of shopping centres,
creating hardship – “and that’s not the role of any council”.
She didn’t believe council had done enough work on their proposals to
have arrangements in place for the next financial year.
She asked for details on the container deposit scheme, including cost
to establish and how it will be financed if it costs more than the
$350,000 raised from the proposed levy.
Has council undertaken feasibility studies, she asked.
And why did council believe it could make a deposit scheme work when as
far as she knew no other council had been able to.
Rawnsley new Deputy Mayor. By
Council’s youngest alderman, John Rawnsley, was elected unopposed as
Deputy Mayor on Monday.
It was a vote of confidence from his peers, all of them older by more
than a decade, in his competent and thoughtful first 12 months as
Ald Rawnsley (pictured) is just 28. No one was unmoved when he spoke,
in a modest acceptance, of this year as an especially significant one
in his life.
He recalled his childhood at Uluru and Kakadu where his father worked
as a ranger and his Aboriginal mother was a teacher. His father was
killed in an accident when he was 28.
Now at the same age Ald Rawnsley holds public office and has had a
leadership role conferred upon him.
Speaking to media following his election, Ald Rawnsley stressed the
responsibility and hard work entailed for the third tier of government,
the one closest to the people.
He referred, by way of example, to the importance of responding to the
pleas and accusations that council had heard from a member of the
public at the start of the meeting.
In an anguished fury, longtime resident Margaret Opie told aldermen
that her husband had been assaulted in their driveway when he refused
cigarettes to a drunken Aboriginal man wielding a thick branch. She
said her husband was knocked out; inside her terrified sons, young
adults, armed themselves with hammers, fearing the man would smash the
This was but the latest and most serious in a long list of incidents –
petrol stolen, windows and fences broken, clothing stolen, children no
longer feeling safe.
She has lived in town since 1962, seen it grow, now finds it
She said it was clear that alcohol restrictions were not working. The
council is not pushing the government hard enough to deal with the
situation, she said.
Out-going Deputy Mayor Murray Stewart told Mrs Opie aldermen spend more
time on this issue than on any other, but there is little they can do
other than lobby on residents’ behalf which they do.
Ald Rawnsley has in the past proposed by-laws to create stronger rules
and consequences for anti-social behaviour, still a work in progress.
But council can’t act alone, he says. Welfare and family payments are
among the levers that the Emergency Response can use to contribute to
Alice tipping point. COMMENT
by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Remember the Good Old Days when the political left was the standard
bearer for democracy, freedom of speech, transparency, open government?
Now we have Kevin Oh Seven’s apology to Aboriginal people rendered
cynical and meaningless by the conduct of his Minster for Aboriginal
Affairs, Jenny Macklin. She just will not answer questions on issues
she doesn’t like.
The Rudd “Sorry” fanfare is far from being matched by Ms Macklin whose
operating system is Brough Lite. She’s taken over some of the
initiatives of the first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs who had a
vision plus the gumption to make it reality.
But Ms Macklin has been diminishing them by whittling away at key
components of the intervention, which came as a response to her
Territory colleagues having lost the plot on Indigenous affairs years
ago. In reinstating the CDEP work for the dole scheme Ms Macklin no
doubt took advice from Warren Snowdon, one of the founders of the
scheme which over more than a generation has been used on an epic scale
to defraud the taxpayer, and which relegated thousands of people to the
pathetic margins of a wealthy country.
In a year and a half Ms Macklin shows no sign of creative and effective
management of Central Australia’s most critical issues: her housing
scheme is progressing at snail’s pace and hardly touches The Centre.
Urban drift, alcoholism, neglect of children and idleness remain
rampant or are getting worse.
Here are the figures for people taken into protective custody – in
short, the public drunks who make our life a misery:– Calendar year
2005 – 7732; 2006 – 7384; 2007– 7806. And in 2008 (are you sitting
down?), a number the government is still keeping under wraps: 13,269,
approaching twice the 2007 figure. How much more can this beautiful
town of ours bear?
All the while Ms Macklin sidesteps and stonewalls enquiries about the
Central Land Council (CLC), intermittent employer of Mr Snowdon, a
statutory body for which she has responsibility, and about Centrecorp,
of which the CLC is the majority shareholder.
Centrecorp has been investigated since 1998 by the Alice Springs News,
encouraged principally by Aboriginal people who had an interest in the
company and were tired of its clandestine conduct.
Our coverage of the Federal Office of Evaluation and Audit (OEA) report
released two weeks ago, commssioned by the Howard Government, when Mal
Brough was Indigenous Affairs minister, has sparked an avalanche of
comment in Central Australia, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people
alike. Not that Ms Macklin gives two hoots about the right to
know of people in The Centre. She has persistently refused to be
interviewed on the subject. We sent an email to her on Friday last
week, saying in essence: The OEA report has vindicated every enquiry
we’ve made, over the years, into the affairs of Centrecorp, and
provided many of the answers you and your predecessors have withheld
We request an interview about several issues, including the
following: The OEA has found that Centrecorp is, or has been,
beneficially holding shares in four companies. This, it would
seem, puts the CLC in conflict with provisions in the Land Rights
Act that “Land Councils can not incur financial liability or receive
financial benefit in assisting Aboriginal people with commercial
CLC director David Ross has told the Senate the CLC has no beneficial
interest in the companies it controls via Centrecorp. In other
words, Minister Macklin, has your employee misled Parliament?
And is it proper for Mr Ross to collect more than $63,000 a year in
directors’ fees, on top of his salary as the head of a Commonwealth
No answer, except a note from the Minister’s minder: “I’m seeking a
response to your questions.” Not arranging the interview, as
requested but, no doubt, “lines” of the meaningless variety. As
Alice Springs identity and acute social observer Mike Gillam so often
comments on politicians and policies: “We’re living in a cartoon.”
If the public can’t get responses from the people it elects (and that’s
the Minister, not a minder), on issues that profoundly affect their
lives, then our future isn’t bleak. We won’t have one.
Plenty more mining in Central
Australia. By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.
The Harts Range Area in Central Australia could well be the next area
hit by large-scale mining exploration, with research undertaken by
Northern Territory Geological Survey revealing new greenfield sites
east of Alice Springs containing rare earth elements, base metals (lead
and zinc), copper gold and nickel-copper mineralization.
“There is a potential here for mineral exploration that hasn’t been
recognized in the past,” says Dr Ian Scrimgeour, Director of the
Northern Territory Geological Survey and senior executive for the
Department of Regional Development Primary Industry, Fisheries and
New data reveals that there are some major geological structures
containing deep faults that lead through the earth’s crust.
These major structures are thought to have been a conduit for fluids
that contain minerals leading to significant mineralization events.
Rocks have been aged from 300 million to 1.8 billion years old.
Dr Scrimgeour says the geology in the Arunta region is extremely
complex and putting research results into some kind of framework that
explorers can understand has been a difficult process.
Exploration is still at a very early stage. Even if a significant
discovery was found in the next year, it would be at least five to 10
years before mining is likely to go ahead, says Dr Scrimgeour.
More research will have to be conducted before it can be determined
whether any of these mineralization styles could provide economically
viable mining sites. Following the NT 2009 Annual Geoscience
Exploration Seminar that took place last week, Dr Scrimgeour says,
“There is a real excitement about the re-vitalization of the Tennant
Creek area as a lot of new exploration is taking place.” Another topic
discussed concerned the large areas of prospectivity for phosphate that
has been discovered throughout Central Australia.
Phosphate is a component used in fertilizers. World phosphate prices
have significantly increased in the last year or so, says Dr
“The Wonarah deposit east of Tennant Creek is now approaching
development and should begin mining next year. There is a lot of
exploration for phosphate. This could provide a major new industry for
In the Territory mines like GBS and Compass have had to close due to
financial difficulties. Dr Scrimgeour says we should not be too
concerned about these closures as there are still projects approaching
development and further exploration funding being sourced through
“Projects such as Nolans in Central Australia should be profitable and
we believe mines that have had to close will be restarted by other
companies in the future.” Dr Scrimgeour says people need to take a
long-term view even during a time when commodity prices are low for
minerals such as nickel.
Areas containing these minerals are still worth exploring as price
values can change.
“Mining contributes 25% to the GDP of the Territory and we need to keep
finding new deposits that will be developed in 10 years’ time or 20
years’ time to keep the economy ticking over.”
Outback Way: NT dragging chain.
The three state
and territory governments relevant to the development of The Outback
Way have yet to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to make a joint
submission to the Federal Government for funding of the project.
But the seed has
been sown, writes Liz Martin OAM, road transport lobbyist, founder and
current CEO of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, alderman on
the Alice Springs Town Council and member of the Outback Highway
The Outback Way is a unique initiative in that it’s a major
infrastructure project of national significance being driven at local
government level. The Outback Highway Development Council (OHDC) now
has seven council and shire members, following the recent joining of
MacDonnell Shire and Central Desert Shire.
The constituents of both these shires will gain major benefits as the
Way reaches full potential.
The Outback Way is also unusual in that the project involves three
state and territory jurisdictions – Western Australia, Queensland
and the Northern Territory. This is also something of a problem because
we don’t fit the norm when it comes to meeting the criteria of funding
We also tend to come in under the radar, as the $50 million we are
asking for is almost small change when it comes to the mega billion
dollar projects that are funded by Infrastructure Australia.
It is really important for OHDC to hold meetings like the one we had
last week with Ministers Gerry McCarthy (Transport) and Karl Hampton
(Regional Development and Central Australia). We’ve recently had some
fairly significant changes in Ministries in the NT Government and we
need to make sure that key people are kept updated on the status of the
Outback Way and are fully aware of the diversity of the financial and
social benefits it will bring to local, state and national economies.
We’ve also recently had changes in Ministers in WA and
Queensland, so the OHDC has been putting its case at state and
territory level and as well recently took a trip to Canberra where we
presented our case to Minister Anthony Albanese and other relevant
What we want primarily is to get the three state and territory
governments working together in the same spirit as do the local
governments across the full length of the Outback Way. There is
amazing dedication to this project from Winton in Queensland,
through Alice Springs to Laverton in WA, and that same level of
commitment needs to go upline to state level.
Queensland and WA have been forthright in offering their support and we
need to get that same level of commitment from the NT Government.
While we’ve had varying degrees of interest and support of the various
governments over the past 10 years, the approach has been somewhat
disjointed with each of the states prioritizing the Outback Way
at different levels (if at all) and of course prioritizing
different sections of the road based on individual state or territory
This sort of approach has been confusing to Federal Government funding
bodies as they get mixed messages. Our approach as a committee
has been to prioritise the worse sections of the road irrespective of
which jurisdiction they are in.
What last week’s meeting was fundamentally about was getting the NT
Government on board with the two state governments to sign a Memorandum
of Understanding to become, not only more consultative with each other,
but to make a joint submission to the Federal Government for funding.
Whether this comes under Infrastructure Australia or Roads to Recovery,
beef roads initiatives, the Stimulus package or another
source doesn’t matter to us. We did not get a commitment
from the meeting for that to happen but the seed has been planted and
hopefully it will grow from there.
There are enormous benefits for the national economy and there’s just
no doubt about it – Central Australia will be a clear winner with the
development of the Outback Way in so many ways.
Indigenous employment in
Canada, Central Australia: A shocking comparison.
By BEVERLEY JOHNSON
One of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Cameco, may have
lessons for the Territory in breaking welfare dependency and providing
employment and business opportunities for Aboriginal people.
Over 50% of the company’s 2000 employees across three mining sites in
Canada are Aboriginal.
Cameco has been given $33m by the Canadian Government to train 1500
Aboriginal people, giving them certified skills that are portable
The four year program includes upgrading levels of education to grade
12, concentrating on mathematics and science as requested by Aboriginal
The students go on to learn trades in order to take up jobs within the
mining industry as miners, electricians, in administration, HR,
communications, and as supervisors and managers.
Cameco also supports to the tune of $2m a virtual high school.
Gary Merasty is Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility at
An Aboriginal man himself, Mr Merasty says Cameco is the “employer of
choice” for Aboriginal people in Canada.
Not only does the company ensure its employees get education and
training, the fly-in, fly-out working rhythm of the industry fits in
with traditional Aboriginal lifestyles.
At a business level, Mr Merasty says, Cameco has for a number of years
strongly encouraged existing suppliers of services, such as security,
catering, construction and engineering, to partner with Aboriginal
In 2004 the company aimed to have 35% of services supplied by
Aboriginal-owned or part-owned businesses. By 2007 the proportion, at
72%, way exceeded expectation.
Since then “the percentage never dipped below 70%”, says Mr Merasty.
Now Cameco Canada has some suppliers that are 100% Aboriginal-owned
Mr Merasty believes that these businesses are “not a facade” and they
“work hard at maximizing Aboriginal community benefits”.
However, driving a new Aboriginal workforce in the Centre will “not
Cameco has already employed a small indigenous workforce from some of
the surrounding communities to assist with on-site labour in
preparation for eventual work on the ground, and traditional owners are
advising the company about land.
With the region’s Aboriginal population expected to increase, Mr
Merasty says dependency on welfare needs to be broken.
“We have to keep picking away, otherwise we are going to lose the next
generation to welfare and poverty.”
Mr Merasty was born in the semi-isolated community of Pelican Narrows,
in the north of Saskatchewan province in Canada.
Pelican Narrows was then much like Aboriginal communities in the
Territory, but with a larger population.
Mr Merasty is a First Nation Aboriginal, one of three reconized
Aboriginal groups in Canada. The other two are Meti and
One of the first to graduate from high school in his community, he
began working at a neighboring community mine, before furthering his
education and becoming a teacher and eventually a Vice Principal.
Switching to politics, he became chief of staff at the First Nation
political organization FSIN.
From 1999 to 2005 he was Grand Chief at the Grand Tribal Council, a
political organization that provides social services across northern
Saskatchewan to 30,000 Aboriginal people.
They make up roughly 75% of the population in northern Saskatchewan,
with issues similar to those in the Northern Territory, such as high
levels of unemployment, increasing welfare dependency, extreme poverty
and alcohol abuse.
One of the functions of the Grand Tribal Council was business and
Twelve Aboriginal communities put up $35,000 Canadian dollars to form
the Prince Albert Development Corporation.
Their first investment was in a hotel. From there they went on to
invest in restaurants, more hotels, and one of Canada’s largest
When Mr Merasty moved on, PADC’s gross profit had grown from $5m
Canadian dollars to approximately $40m.
“The key to its success was cooperation from the communities and that
the communities were willing to work together,” says Mr
In 2006 Mr Merasty was elected as a member of the Canadian national
parliament, specializing in Aboriginal issues. However, he tired of
working for the opposition and felt that change was coming too slowly.
He again changed his career path, joining Cameco.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Ever heard the saying “they couldn’t organise a pissup in a brewery?”
You be the judge if that applies to the Federal Government’s efforts to
combat unemployment in the Central Australian bush, taking the
situation at King’s Canyon as a representative example.
Canberra ploughed $4.8m of public money into Centrecorp – until recent
sensational disclosures a very secretive Aboriginal investment company
– to buy a 33% share in the King’s Canyon Resort, 325 km south-west of
Most of that money has now been repaid, but it was no doubt handy at
This is how the Federal Office of Evaluation and Audit – Indigenous
Programs (OEA) described the reason for the loan made with taxpayers’
money: “One of the original motivating factors for Centrecorp’s
involvement in the initiative was the prospect of generating
significant employment opportunities for residents of local Indigenous
“There are two communities (Lila and Luypinyali) located within
reasonable proximity to the Resort.
“These communities have no other significant employment opportunities
and as a result exhibit high levels of unemployment.”
At this point it is useful to remember that when someone on the dole is
offered a job, the dole is stopped. That’s the L-A-W law.
The job creation effort at King’s Canyon didn’t end with building the
resort: local Aborigines, in a campaign of nearly two decades, were
persistently invited – nay, urged – to throw off the shackles of
Says the OEA: “Discussions with Centrecorp’s General Manager and the
Resort’s Manager revealed that the Kings Canyon Resort investment has
been a challenge for Centrecorp over recent years both in terms of its
overall profitability and the Resort’s success in employing local
“There are currently no Indigenous employees among the resort’s 72
“A range of employment initiatives have been trialled over the 17 years
since the Resort was created.
These initiatives have included the facilitation of guided nature tours
of the local area by Indigenous guides, Lila rock art tours, employment
of Indigenous staff in a range of gardening, laundry and site
maintenance activities and assistance in the establishment of a local
transport business (which has since ceased trading).
“Unfortunately, none of these initiatives have, so far, been successful
in enabling the long-term employment of local Indigenous people.”
So, have all of the people who rejected the opportunities to earn a
living gone back to receiving the dole?
If that’s the case, then we have one arm of the federal government
providing tax dollars to create jobs, while another – Centrelink – pays
people not to take them.
To get details about the job scene around King’s Canyon is a bit of a
We have it on good authority that Centrelink has a sophisticated
database that, in an instant, throws up benefit recipients in any
community and matches them to any benefit, including Newstart (the
dole, in common parlance) and CDEP.
But a Centrelink spokesperson tells us: “The information you seek about
individual communities is not that readily accessible, and is held by
DEEWR [that’s the Department of Education, Employment and Welfare], not
“Checking data on each small community would be time consuming – and
There are in fact three communities in the King’s Canyon region, and
there are further barriers – size and privacy laws – to finding out how
public money is being spent there.
Centrelink tells us “there are no customers recorded as residing at
Lila and receiving Newstart Allowance.
“The population of Ulpanyali is transient and not permanent.
“Ukaka is more than 100 kms from the King’s Canyon Resort.
“There are a very small number of Centrelink customers registered at
Ulpanyali and Ukaka as receiving Newstart or CDEP.”
“I can’t help you with your requests,” says the spokesperson.
“Social Security legislation precludes us from releasing any customer
figure that is less than 20, in order to protect customer privacy.
“’Less than 20’ is the best figure I can give you.”
And why is nothing being done about those?
“It is the responsibility of Job Network Providers to advise Centrelink
of Newstart customers who are not meeting their participation
So off we go and check with the providers in Alice Springs. There are
One doesn’t answer the phone.
One says they don’t cover the King’s Canyon region.
One thinks they don’t service the King’s Canyon area but she can’t be
sure as the boss is away.
The fourth says they do but “I have spoken to my CEO and unfortunately
we are unable to comment at this point in time”.
Meanwhile the reasons for not doing anything constructive don’t stop
“There is no public transport and extremely limited transport options
at Ukaka itself,” says the Centrelink spokesperson.
Enter yet another Federal instrumentality, a Commonwealth statutory
body, the Central Land Council (CLC), controversially the majority
shareholder of Centrecorp.
The CLC is also the owner of a huge fleet of Toyota “Troopies” –
famously deployed to take delegates to CLC annual general meetings in
some of the most remote locations of The Centre where they can be
shielded from the public and media gaze.
Could not one of these Troopies be used to ferry Aboriginal workers to
the resort in which they have a one-third share, held by the CLC’s
And where are the resort’s 72 staff accommodated? They are no doubt
people from all over the world, and having travelled much further than
In staff quarters at the resort, of course.
Is that off limits for Aboriginal workers? Surely not.
What could be a clearer example of the necessity of a
“whole-of-government” approach? Yet it is nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile it’s nice to see that imagination has no bounds in creating
new forms of sit-down money.
There’s a quaint little earner – quite exclusive – for Aboriginal
people at King’s Canyon who can’t be bothered taking a job running
their own property.
“Kings Canyon Resort currently makes payment of $25,000 per annum to
local communities for aircraft ‘fly-over’ rights,” reports the OEA.
Should people under the thunderous Kingsford Smith flight paths in
And what answer would they get?
One service provider dropped a cryptic remark about Kevin Rudd having
just created a “social inclusion” principle in dealing with remote
What does it mean?
“Everyone should have the same right to employment,” they explain.
And the same obligations?
Meanwhile Federal Member Warren Snowdon has announced the 34
“employment brokers” will “finish” on June 30. The Job Netwok is under
RedHOT merges with Alice
A new regional arts body called Red Hot Arts Central Australia (RHACA)
has been formed following the merger last week of RedHOT Arts Marketing
and the Alice Springs Festival.
The meeting was attended by 30 people who passed a new constitution and
voted on 17 nominations for the 11 places on the Board of Management.
RHACA will present the Alice Desert Festival and undertake a range of
arts development services including managing the RedHOT Arts Space.
The new board will have a number of sub committees including the Alice
Desert Festival and Wearable Arts as well as potentially Bush Foods and
These sub-committees will be chaired by a member of the RHACA board and
be open to wider community membership.
The new board is made up of a mix of artists, arts workers, business
people and community representatives, with a range of ages and art
They are: Damien Armstrong, musician, visual artist, cultural guide;
Peter Clarke, production manager at Imparja; Ruth Elvin, president,
Alice Springs Art Foundation, and manager, Technical Resource Group,
Centre for Appropriate Technology; Jan Ferguson, managing director,
Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre; Karlee Foster, artist,
curator and coordinator, Watch This Space; Kelly-lee Hickey, writer,
cultural practitioner, co-producer 2008 Darwin Fringe Festival; Alex
Kelly, creative producer, Ngapartji Ngapartji; Matt Mulga, owner,
Annie’s Place backpackers; Dan Murphy, artist, artistic director and
chair, Watch This Space; Adrian Scholtes, policy, research and projects
with Tangentyere Council; Karlikamurti Suich, writer, Beyond Breathing
Space; and a representative of the Town Council.
Pop Vulture: Close encounter
of the cool kind.
Friday evening DJs Mustaphaa, Rod Stroker and Roclishus gave the
gathering townsfolk a teaspoon of rhythmic flavour as a sample of the
varied feast that awaits them in May.
The line up has landed, complete and solidified. On May 1, 2 and 3, a
new rose will bloom in Central Australia, in the form of the Wide Open
Spaces music, arts and desert cultural gathering.
Amidst the barrage of local talent to grace the stage will be
interstate live acts including Mista Savona, Spoonbill, Combat Wombat,
and the Herds’ Urthboy.
These are certain to draw festival moths to the glowing bass and treble
clef candle flames.
Alongside this musical overload of awesomeness, comes the contingent of
DJs travelling from all corners of the continent, bearing gifts of
These aficionados of aural doctorates include Paul Abad, GhettaFunkt,
TD Shagga, Dr Zaius, Electrode, Billy Dread, Dpvvd, Dakini.
Our minds and bodies are vessels that are set to be filled.
The setting that has been chosen to host this gathering is the
picturesque Ross River resort, an oasis of rolling lawns framed by
the collage of reds radiated from the surrounding East MacDonnell
This is an opportunity for locals and visitors to not only witness, but
also be part of history. So prepare for the “pack probe” musical
injection and a close encounter of the cool kind, as it is now
approximately a month until the mothership lands.
LETTERS: Educators get your
Sir,– While our local tertiary and TAFE providers have received many
millions of tax dollars, the Indigenous people in our region remain
overwhelmingly unskilled and unemployed.
To see why the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD), Batchelor
Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education (BIITE) and Charles Darwin
University (CDU) have performed so badly one needs to look no further
than the various crises these providers are currently in.
The only certainty about IAD is that the fight between competing groups
for control will not stop until the institution is put into
Meanwhile, IAD is totally distracted from its core business of skilling
Batchelor reports that they urgently need more money despite being
funded for years at the highest rate in the country. Tragically, they
have put students through courses that have not led to employment.
There are literally hundreds of Batchelor graduates out in communities,
including many qualified for positions where there are job shortages,
who are unemployed.
They will remain unemployed because they do not really have the skills
to do the job. Communities are well aware of the lack of value of
Batchelor qualifications and have lost interest.
The Batchelor crisis has now reached the point where the institution
signs up students but struggles to get them to attend classes. ‘No
shows’ are now the norm at Batchelor and this massively adds to the
cost of course delivery.
So now they ask for yet more funding on the grounds that their mode of
delivery is expensive. Indeed it is!
Over at CDU, the executive made a brilliant decision some years ago to
stop paying anything like nationally competitive salaries to their
teaching staff. They have not only achieved that goal but many others
such as the highest student dissatisfaction rate, the worst research
outcomes, a low staff morale described by the National Tertiary
Education Union as ‘rock bottom’, poor teaching, high staff turnover
Our CDU is literally the worst scoring university in the country by
just about every measure.
The only thing that keeps CDU going is the cost of interstate
alternatives and overseas students who use its extremely low entry
standards to get a toehold in Australia’s tertiary education system.
To achieve that toehold some overseas students will even endure CDU.
Anyone else with an alternative option will not.
That none of the above features in the media speaks for the tolerance
of Indigenous people who have long expected to get second best.
We are more likely to read about the protests of mainly non-Indigenous
students who find that their CDU law degree is useless for employment.
So when these providers scream for more money, as they regularly do,
they must be asked what THEY will do to get their houses in order.
Promises to improve in the future are no longer good enough.