In 1989 I lived in a unit in a backyard …

Comment on CLC members want forensic probe into their organisation by Alex Nelson.

In 1989 I lived in a unit in a backyard of a property in Hartley Street neighbouring Centrecorp. I was astonished to observe a senior town council alderman, also a prominent local CLP identity and former real estate agent, regularly accessing that property where I learned he was employed.
This dumbfounded me, as this was a period of time when the NT Government (CLP) was in constant furious conflict with the land councils and other Aboriginal organisations across the NT.
I misread the situation next door, as I assumed this was a small but positive step towards finding common ground between the CLP and the Aboriginal organisations (incidentally, David Ross had become the Director of the CLC for the first time, replacing Pat Dodson who had returned to WA and was appointed a commissioner for the Black Deaths in Custody inquiry in that state).
In 1990 I was the chairman of the CLP’s Flynn-cum-Greatorex Branch. On several occasions I divided proceeds from combined branch meetings with the Centrecorp “employee”, himself the treasurer of the Alice Springs Branch, in his office at Centrecorp.
I became quite familiar with the internal layout of the building; and at one stage the floorboards in his office were replaced with expensive jarrah timber.
During that year this person was preselected as a CLP candidate for a new electorate in town (following a redistribution of boundaries).
As a local branch chairman, I was a member of the collegiate panel (in whose creation I had major role) to choose the CLP’s candidates for the seats in Central Australia.
This particular individual won preselection by one vote over another nomination for that seat. Interestingly, in his comprehensive application seeking nomination as a CLP candidate, he made no reference to his position at Centrecorp.
In fact, this fact was never publicised for many years except for one occasion when he was quoted in a Centralian Advocate article reporting the announcement that the tourist lodge development at Kings Canyon would proceed (a project in which Centrecorp was involved from the beginning).
It so happened that our recommendation of the candidate for the seat of Stuart was rejected at the CLP’s Annual Conference in Darwin that year; and I was the unwitting patsy that relayed highly sensitive information about this person (which I’m now certain was wrong) to the party’s leaders that led to that decision.
The meeting chose to appoint two people to oversee the completion of the preselection process for Stuart; and one of those appointed was the Centrecorp employee. In due course I ended up being requested (via the Office of Chief Minister in Alice Springs) to be one of two CLP candidates for Stuart in 1990.
The Centrecorp employee narrowly lost his campaign in Alice Springs; he continued in his roles as a town council alderman and CLP functionary, at one time serving on the party’s Management Committee (not to mention his membership of many other committees in town).
This person (along with his close friend in the Office of Chief Minister in Alice Springs) sought preselection as a CLP candidate for the 1994 NT election campaign.
They were key figures in the attempt to pervert the party’s preselection processes to achieve their aims but ultimately were unsuccessful. On one occasion the Centrecorp employee illegally gained access to private bank accounts of certain members appointed to the preselection panel which led to these people being removed from it (all of this was reported exclusively in the Alice Springs News during 1995).
All of this is just to illustrate there have been serious conflicts of interest involving Centrecorp which stretches back more than a quarter of a century, almost back to its inception in the mid 1980s.
There is no question that there badly requires to be an official inquiry probing the Central Land Council, Centrecorp and its various affiliates and subsidiaries but I warn this will likely blow out to be the NT’s equivalent of the Fitzgerald Inquiry of Queensland in the late 1980s.

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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