It’s always profoundly disappointing to read stories of this nature …

Comment on Sit-down money: Pointless jobs for the dole by Alex Nelson.

It’s always profoundly disappointing to read stories of this nature but not at all surprising. Today we have Labor Opposition NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy attacking the failure of the Community Development Program (CDP) for which NT CLP Senator Nigel Scullion is responsible as Minister for Indigenous Affairs.
Over three decades ago essentially the same story was played out in the media but the roles of the respective political parties were reversed: “The Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) is floundering in many areas of the Northern Territory, CLP Senator Bernie Kilgariff told the Senate last week.
“He claimed in some settlements, Aborigines are listed as being in the workforce and are being paid accordingly, but in reality not attending work or carrying out their duties.
“This is causing a great deal of discontent among those Aborigines who are working for their pay,” the Senator said. “They are angry that others are receiving the same amount of money for doing nothing.
“In this situation the CDEP is nothing more than another form of unemployment benefit,” he said.
“Senator Kilgariff said he had asked the Federal Government what plans it had for encouraging increased Aboriginal employment in the remote areas and has suggested that funding for employment be channelled into areas such as fishing, garden plantations, animal husbandry and abattoirs.
“He said lately funds had been unavailable for such projects despite their ability to be high employment initiators” (CDEP ‘floundering’, Centralian Advocate, October 12, 1983).
The CDEP program was stoutly defended by Labor MLA Neil Bell, Member for MacDonnell, who “this week attacked comments made by Territory CLP Senator Bernie Kilgariff on the Community Development Employment Programs for remote Aboriginal communities.
“There are certainly problems with administration of CDEP’s [but] the CDEP schemes are an attempt to address the short-term and long-term effects of epidemic unemployment on these communities’, he said.
“He said the public should be aware CDEP schemes were funded essentially out of money which would otherwise have been paid out in unemployment benefits. He said the schemes were a valuable form of job creation” (Centralian Advocate, December 16, 1983).
So, here it is, exactly 33 years to the day between publication of Neil Bell’s comments and the latest story on Alice Springs News Online – and there has been no shortage of similar stories on the same and related themes between the decades.
Nearly two decades ago I had my own personal experience of working on the CDEP. I witnessed and recorded first-hand the deliberate rorting and corruption of the program administered by the (subsequently defunct) Arrernte Council of Central Australia but there was no response from any of the government organisations (including police) or mainstream media (notably the ABC) about the information I presented to them (His life on jobs for the dole – On one occasion I confronted one person about this situation, only to be rebuffed “if everyone else can do it, why can’t we?”
It’s particularly telling that Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion now maintains a studied silence on these kinds of issues. This wasn’t the case in 2008-9 when, as an Opposition senator, he was at the forefront of a Senate inquiry into Centrecorp chaired by then Shadow Attorney General George Brandis: “The News has been covering the Centrecorp controversy in 44 reports and comment pieces since April 1998, and a dossier of Alice News reports was a substantial part of the briefing NT Senator Nigel Scullion gave Senator Brandis” (Alice Springs News, November 8, 2008).
(The subsequent report on Centrecorp would rank as one of the greatest exercises in white-washing I’ve ever seen).
Senator Scullion was also vociferous in his criticism of the NT Government at the time: “Billions of dollars in Federal funding earmarked for Aborigines and disabled people has been misspent by the Territory Government, a Federal politician said.
“And he has called on his colleagues to join him in his strident demands for an inquiry to find out where the money went.
“NT Senator Nigel Scullion last night said he had ‘deep suspicions’ the Territory Government had misspent the funding.
“[He said] There is more than $2.5 billion in GST revenue being given to the Territory Government. The spending of this money should reflect the Commonwealth Grants Commission formula.
“There are also other grants which are tied – the money is specifically for indigenous and disabled Territorians. But I’ve been looking around and I can’t see that there’s anything different or that anything’s been improved for them” (Centralian Advocate, September 5, 2008).
Conveniently, the NT Government was then Labor including Malarndirri McCarthy, Minister for Children and Families (amongst other portfolios). How the wheels turn!
All this endless circularity reminds me of the dialogue between two US paratroopers depicted in the episode “Carentan” (Band of Brothers, 2001) when 1st Lt. Harry Welsh jumps into a foxhole with Pt. Albert Blithe, who had earlier been traumatised in battle.
Welsh: What happened at the aid station today?
Blithe: Doc Roe, he called it hysterical blindness.
Welsh: It’s a game, Blithe. That’s all. We’re just moving the ball forward one yard at a time. Nothing but a game.
Blithe: What is, sir?
Welsh: This. The whole thing. Just a game.

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Inquiry into fracking: Giving it the green light?
@ Hal Duell (Posted December 15, 2017 at 10:56 am): There have been several proposals and experimental projects for tapping into tidal power around Australia, including the northern coastline.
In the mid 1990s experimental work for harnessing tidal power in the Apsley Strait (which divides Melville and Bathurst Islands of the Tiwi islands) was conducted in a joint project by the Northern Territory University (now CDU) and the Power and Water Authority. Nothing seems to have come of it.
If I recall correctly, the Member for Nelson, Gerry Wood, suggested more recently that Apsley Strait (which is directly north of Darwin) be investigated for harnessing tidal power.
It does seem to be an obvious location for such a facility.

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”.(
Another website ( 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.

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