It’s worth noting that the Alice Springs Watchhouse, opened in …

Comment on Briscoe Inquest: reduce supply of excess alcohol from take away outlets, says Coroner by Alex Nelson.

It’s worth noting that the Alice Springs Watchhouse, opened in 1998, was designed and built in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody two decades ago. I understand this fact was mentioned at the Briscoe Inquest.
The statistics for protective custodies (11,115 for Alice Springs in the 12 months to 30 April, 2012) quoted in this inquest mirrors the figures listed by Chief Minister Marshall Perron in his Ministerial Statement on Crime in Alice Springs of May 1990, when he observed that in “recent years” (late 1980s) the number of people taken into protective custody averaged 11,000 annually, which “suggested that half of the population of Alice Springs is found drunk on the streets at least once per year”.
Perron elaborated on these statistics: “The fact is that figures from the Alice Springs Sobering Up Shelter shows that 97 per cent of those admitted in the 12 months to June last year [1989] were Aboriginals: three quarters were male with an average age of 32 years – you can see why Aboriginal women marched against grog in Alice Springs last Saturday.
“129 people were each admitted 10 times or more during the course of the year; and one individual spent 123 nights in protective custody during the same year”.
In 1994 Mayor Andy McNeill stated that over 13,000 people were taken into protective custody in Alice Springs in 1991, which was his last full year as the Southern Region Assistant Commissioner for NT Police.
In regard to “Assistant Commissioner Mark Payne who has over 25 years experience of policing in the NT”, it’s worth being more specific about the length of his career in the NT Police.
Mark Payne was a classmate of mine at the Alice Springs High School in the late 1970s. I don’t know when he joined the NT Police but his career almost certainly stretches back over 30 years by now.
What was the local policing situation like when Mr Payne was a young constable? Well, the Alice Springs Town Council held a public meeting on alcohol abuse on 26 October, 1982, at which it was stated “20 out of every 22 people in the Alice Springs Hospital are admitted for alcohol related problems, according to the chief surgeon Charles Butcher” (“Liquor main illness cause”, Centralian Advocate, 29 October, 1982). This meeting addressed just about every aspect of alcohol availability, hours of sale, licence conditions, education programs, types of crime and all the rest of it that we are still debating today.
Simultaneously the then NT Health Minister Ian Tuxworth announced that “a series of sobering up centres in the Territory would be introduced within 12 months. The shelters will be used to take in drunk people overnight or until they sobered up”.
The Advocate used to have a regular column called Centre Sidelights; and one comment published on 26 May, 1982, is particularly relevant: “Man who came before Magistrate John Murphy in the Alice Springs Court last week was making his 145th appearance in the halls of justice. Of those appearances, 117 were on drink-related charges. Mr Murphy asked if we were concerned enough about what drink is doing to Aboriginal people. It would seem we are not.”

Alex Nelson Also Commented

Briscoe Inquest: reduce supply of excess alcohol from take away outlets, says Coroner
Ray’s comment, Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm, makes an interesting observation that is echoed from an article published in the Centralian Advocate 30 years ago, which is quoted extensively below:
“Aboriginal deaths caused by alcohol in Alice Springs have reached numbers that frighten police, doctors, coroners and Government Ministers.
“Alcohol as the primary cause of death, in lay man’s terms literally drowning in the stuff, caused just one death last year. However, when one considers secondary causes, more than 100 Aborigines have died as a result of a drunken stupor in the past 18 months.
“The alcohol was consumed mostly in the Todd and Charles River beds.
“Statistics that show blood alcohol contents of up to 0.34 per cent confirm Alice Springs as the worst town in Australia for Aboriginal drink deaths.
“Autopsy records and statistics show the cause of these deaths as loss of blood, smashed skulls and other injuries.
“Sweet sherry, muscat and wine fortified with raw spirits are the real killers.
“All types of grog are consumed in huge amounts and recent restrictions on the amount of one type allowed to be sold seems to make no difference to the death count.
“Some of the men and women who have died as a result of drink have been as young as 25 and to be dead drunk at 35 is not uncommon.
“Port Hedland in Western Australia has about six such deaths a year.
“Alice Springs has the reputation of being the worst town in Australia for the numbers of Aborigines who end up on a slab in the morgue after drinking.
“The Port Hedland hospital serves a town of 17,000 with an Aboriginal population of about 10 per cent in the area [however] the problem was nowhere the size in Port Hedland as it was in Alice Springs.
“The story was much the same in other towns in Australia with substantial numbers of Aboriginal residents.
“Although most did not approach the 25 per cent of Aborigines living in the Centre the proportion of drink deaths was way below that of Alice Springs.
“Bourke in NSW does have a 25 per cent Aboriginal population but only had two drink deaths in the last six months” (“Many die from the grip of the grape”, Centralian Advocate, August 18, 1982).
I’ll leave the final word to Central Australia’s most revered Aboriginal personality, Albert Namatjira, whose observations on this topic reported 60 years ago has proven dreadfully prophetic:
“Albert Namatjira wants full citizenship rights. He believes that some of his people are entitled to it but is frightened at the thought of what would happen if some in the town areas were given their “freedom”.
“They would drink liquor like water,” said the strong featured, quietly spoken artist when asked his views on the subject this week” (“Namatjira wants citizenship rights, Centralian Advocate, October 24, 1952).


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Inquiry into fracking: Giving it the green light?
The release of the draft final report of the inquiry into unconventional onshore fracking in the NT comes just two days after the 50th anniversary of Project Gasbuggy in New Mexico, USA.
On December 10, 1967, the US Atomic Energy Commission detonated a 29 kiloton underground nuclear explosion to test this method for fracking for natural gas.
It was the first of three such tests conducted in the US which was a part of a wider program (called Operation Plowshare) to find civil engineering uses for atom bombs.
Project Gasbuggy was of direct relevance to Central Australia because great expectations were held of this method for potential use in the new Mereenie gas field.
In fact, Magellan Petroleum had already applied to the US and Australian Atomic Energy Commissions for a licence to conduct nuclear fracking in The Centre.
Hopes were dashed when the gas extracted from the test sites consistently proved too contaminated with radioactive particles to be safely used; and the new method of hydraulic fracturing helped bring to an end the research program of Operation Plowshare in the mid 1970s.
Of course, it is unconventional onshore hydraulic fracking that now lies at the heart of the current controversy.


Keith Lawrie Flats – people have had enough!
The Keith Lawrie Flats came under pressure for demolition in February 2004 from neighbouring residents and then Member for Araluen, Jodeen Carney. This story was part of a feature report about the problem of petrol sniffing in Alice Springs.
The Minister for Housing, John Ah Kit, stated the NT Government had no intention of demolishing existing public housing stock, and in March 2004 announced this block of flats would be a part of the government’s multi-million dollar “urban renewal program.”
I was suspicious of the initial report about the Keith Lawrie Flats as it was only three years after the former CLP government had announced its intention to demolish the Cawood Court complex and replace it with house blocks and a retirement village.
The effect of this approach was obvious – it would reduce the quantity of available housing in town at a time of existing short supply and so contribute to driving up the price of real estate.
The CLP lost office before this could happen, and in late 2001 the new Labor government (specifically Housing Minister Kon Vatskalis) reversed that decision in favour of the CLP’s former practice of selling rundown public housing to developers to refurbish the flats and release them for private ownership. Consequently the Cawood Court complex became the City Edge Apartments and sold rapidly when released for sale.
I had a few letters published in the Centralian Advocate (and got some haughty responses) early in 2004 about this matter. The Keith Lawrie Flats were later shut down for quite some time. I took photos of the abandoned complex about January 2006, by that time over-run with weeds.
Later that year the units were reduced in number from 32 to 22, were extensively renovated and (as I recall) were to be closely monitored and controlled to avoid the problems that afflicted them previously.
The stories I have on file about this don’t reveal the public expense involved but sadly it’s apparently entirely wasted as this complex has reportedly reverted to slum conditions again, effectively within a decade.
At least some of the blame for this must accrue to the previous Country Liberals government because the flats surely can’t have declined so precipitously in just the one year of the current government.
In 2004 I suggested the Keith Lawrie Flats should be sold, renovated and released for private sale. The Housing Minister, John Ah Kit, wrote to me saying the government was reluctant to do this because of the adverse impact on waiting times for public housing.
Given the return of the anti-social behaviour at the Keith Lawrie Flats and other complexes, maybe the NT Government just has to bite the bullet on this one and offload these properties for sale.


Pollution? High fliers get it easy.
While it’s preferable that dumping of fuel in the sky is undesirable for a range of reasons, this incident is small beer compared to the overall impact of aviation emissions in the atmosphere and its substantial well-documented contribution towards climate change.
This is clearly evident from the DIRD’s statistics quoted above – if 0.01 per cent of “of fuel used by the aviation industry each year is released into the atmosphere” through dumping then the obverse suggests up to 99.99 per cent of aviation fuel is eventally combusted and emitted as various greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides (which generate ozone at lower height levels), water vapour and other contaminants, all of which contribute to atmospheric warming.
Some more information is provided by DIRD on its web page “Aviation Emissions – Managing the carbon footprint of Australian aviation”.(https://infrastructure.gov.au/aviation/environmental/emissions/).
Another website (https://www.quora.com/) provided some interesting answers in 2015 on the question “What is the impact of dumping fuel by aircraft in the atmosphere?”
One answer states that vaporised dumped aviation fuel contributes to “emissions of atmospheric pollutants such as benzene  and ground-level ozone” but another contributor vividly points out that “it’s a fart in a hurricane compared to all of the carbon being pumped into the atmosphere” and “focusing efforts on fuel dumping would be akin to checking the pedicure on a gunshot victim.”
Others point out that vapours from fuel spills by motorists at petrol stations in total far outweigh the effect of air pollution from aviation fuel dumping.


Pay up, and you’ll make the news, inquiry is told
Manipulation of public opinion by the mainstream media in the Northern Territory is a time-honoured practice that dates back more than quarter of a century, and possibly further.
I awoke to this in the NT election campaign of August 1997 when a Murdoch-owned newspaper published on the day before the election a front page story warning that the vote was too close to call.
This was patent rubbish but it triggered a vague recollection that I’d seen something similar before; and as I’d been heavily involved in the two previous NT election campaigns I checked the back copies I’d filed away.
Sure enough, the same trick had been played with both front page stories and editorials published one day prior to the election days of June 4, 1994 and October 26, 1990, warning of the closeness of the polls. The technique was employed in Alice Springs and worked in favour of the ruling party.
The method wasn’t used in 2001; instead the election campaign began with a front page story stating the CLP was a red hot favourite to win – no prizes for guessing what happened on August 18 that year!
It was this pattern of reporting during the 1990s that alerted me to the value of the (literally) paper trail that has been laid by print media in the NT over the decades.


The ‘tough gig’ of doing things the right way
Thank you, Kieran, for a most interesting article.
Sorry, I can’t help it, but there is one error of a minor nature concerning “Magistrate’s Hill” – the house that used to be on top of it was built in late 1964 / early 1965 and was first occupied by Magistrate “Scrubby” Hall.
When Hall retired in the late 70s he was replaced by Magistrate Denis Barritt whose family lived in that house until his retirement in early 1992.
Thereafter the house was abandoned and heavily vandalised until its demolition in 2000.
It’s interesting to note a letter published in early September 1964 signed by “An Old Timer” lamented the construction of the house on that hill, criticising the unnecessary damage inflicted on natural outcrops that “give our town that unique ‘something’ which is part of its charm and character”.


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