Consider these scenarios: first looking at Alice Springs – lots …

Comment on Town gets a say in its economic future as $2b cut hits home by Alex Nelson.

Consider these scenarios: first looking at Alice Springs – lots of empty shops, a struggling tourism industry (nothwithstanding hopeful indications to the contrary), rampant crime and chronic youth justice problems, the loss of an urban electorate in favour of a new one in the Top End, and the town’s tallest building under construction.
At the Territory level – Darwin’s scene much the same as Alice Springs except it’s even worse in several respects: There’s a large capital works project under construction in Darwin, a new pipeline linked to the Amadeus to Darwin gas pipeline is on the verge of construction, Shane Stone is the president of the CLP, and the Chief Minister (the Member for Fannie Bay) has led his party to a remarkable election victory.
On the national scene: A slowing economy, a rising budget deficit, record levels of personal indebtedness, unemployment trending upwards, a crisis in housing affordability, energy distribution posing serious problems for the manufacturing industry, an unstable Federal Government returned to office with the smallest majority since 1961.
Sounds very familiar but I’m actually referring to the situation that existed in 1990.
There are a few twists compared to the current scene, for example the Federal Government was Labor under PM Bob Hawke (we’ve just passed the 27th anniversary of Labor’s wafer-thin election victory) and the NT Government was CLP led by CM Marshall Perron.
The biggest twist is that in the lead-up to the NT election campaign of October 1990 the CLP government had been wracked with controversy for several years and by early 1990 was set for electoral defeat for the first time.
Instead, in an astonishing turnaround, the CLP was comfortably returned to office with an increased majority (a situation that has never been properly analysed and also had profound consequences for national politics – but that’s another story).
However, what’s not different to now was the budgetary situation confronting the returned Perron Government with severe cutbacks of Federal funding for the NT.
Shortly after the NT elections of October 1990 the NT Government responded to the worsening economic situation by establishing an Expenditure Review Committee, headed by Treasurer Barry Coulter. The ERC’s decisions were released in April 1991, announcing widespread cutbacks in government expenditure and the slashing of 1,220 positions in the NT public service.
This coincided with the onset of a national economic recession, which as contemporary history now shows was the last occasion this has occurred in Australia.
It was also in April 1991 that Alice Springs’s tallest building, the four-storey Territory Motor Inn, was officially opened to great fanfare for the tourism industry.
Simultaneously, Magellan Petroleum announced that natural gas reserves in Central Australia “were more than adequate to supply another market on top of long-term requirements in the NT.
“Negotiations were continuing to pipe the Central Australian gas through the national grid to Adelaide and Sydney and to supply gas to MIM operations in Mount Isa.
“Plans are being completed to pipe gas from Katherine to Nabalco operations in Nhulunbuy”.
A few months later the owners of the Territory Motor Inn went into receivership and of course the gas pipeline developments never proceeded.
So what of the present? Well, NT Treasurer Nicole Manison will be announcing her first NT Budget in May, which undoubtedly will be heavily revised in light of the $2b cuts in GST revenue announced for the next four years.
Coincidentally (perhaps) the new NT Supreme Court building in Parsons Street, the tallest building in Alice Springs, is scheduled to officially open about the same time … and as for the new pipeline from Tennant Creek to Mt Isa – well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Given the uncanny parallels between 1990-91 and current conditions, there should be no surprise if Australia soon enters into its next major economic recession for the first time in over a quarter of a century.
Incidentally, one of the biggest casualties of the “recession we had to have” in 1991 was PM Bob Hawke, who was replaced by former Treasurer Paul Keating late that year. Will history repeat with the current Federal Government?
Forewarned is forearmed.

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

How does a future in opera sound?
There is an intriguing link between the Sydney Opera House and a singer who got her big break in Alice Springs.
In 1958 a young couple and their family in NSW came to live in the Alice, they were Tom and Lorna Oliphant. Judging from a street address published on one occasion, which was in the (then new) railway cottages precinct just to the west of the town’s centre, Tom Oliphant must have worked for the Central Australian Railway.
Lorna Oliphant (nee Beulah) was a Wiradjuri woman originally from Forbes, NSW. Both were accomplished singers and soon became the stars of the newly formed Centralian Musical Society from about 1960 onwards.
In 1962 Lorna Oliphant entered a national talent quest held for that year’s NADOC week (as it was then known). Mrs Oliphant, who entered the competition by submitting a tape with three songs, won first prize which led to her gaining a scholarship at the prestigious Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
The family was given a big send-off with a variety concert held at the Alice Springs Youth Centre later that year; and in time Lorna Beulah, who came to be known as The Nightingale, became a renowned opera singer performing in concerts around the world.
It was her voice that was used to test the acoustics of the brand new Sydney Opera House prior to its official opening in 1973.
Strangely she is now barely remembered. She passed away in 2012.


Sweet Country, a voice demanding to be heard
I’m looking forward to seeing this film, to study it as much as to just watch it. For this reason I will probably see it twice because there’s always too much to take in from a single viewing of a well made film.
I noted with interest Pip McManus’ observation: “The camera rarely moves above eye level, in fact it most often looks upward from ground level and focuses on rich grainy detail of flesh or rock, hand gesture or marks in the sand. Elders Archie and Sam know they are witnessing the desecration of country, the potential loss of sacred knowledge.”
I will be intently watching the landscape, especially the vegetation, to see if and how often buffel grass can be observed.
I anticipate the scenery, as much as the story, will tell us how much we really know of our recent history, of how much has changed and is still in the process of being lost.
Another point worth noting: “While Sweet Country does adhere to many of the tropes of the Hollywood Western genre – wide open spaces contrasting with close shots and dark claustrophobic interiors, silhouetted sunsets and liquor-sodden saloons – there is a determined turning of the tables.”
It’s worth remembering that amongst Aboriginal people across regional Australia for much of last century by far the most popular film genre was the Hollywood Western, of cowboys versus red indians as often as not – exemplified on February 19, 1942, when Tiwi islander Matthias Ulungara seized the pistol of crash-landed Japanese fighter pilot Hajime Toyoshima and reputedly ordered him to “stick ’em up allasame ‘Opalong Cassitty” thereby capturing the first prisoner of war on Australian soil.
A final point to keep in mind is “that signature blackfella humour and playfulness” which is as much alive today as it’s ever been, and is often deployed against the unwitting amongst us. It is used to great effect in the mainstream media, creating impressions that aren’t necessarily accurate.
None of this is to deny or downplay the conflict and confusion that did arise as Europeans encroached upon the territories of indigenous people. Sweet Country seems likely to offer much food for thought.


NT News interfered with reporting to protect ad income from NT Government: Allegation
This situation has been going on now for 30 years.
It commenced from July 1988 when the Centralian Advocate had the temerity to publish a scathing front page editorial after the CLP dumped Chief Minister Steve Hatton and replaced him with Marshall Perron.
This was the fourth leadership change in government in as many years and the Advocate didn’t pull its punches in its savage criticism of the CLP.
During this period the CLP was rocked by the resignation of Deputy CM Ray Hanrahan from all his portfolios and then from the CLP, finally resigning from politics in August 1988.
This was followed by the Flynn by-election of September 10, 1988, in which the CLP suffered a 21 % swing against it in what was formerly a safe seat.
It was clearly evident from this result that the CLP could no longer rely on any seat in the NT being safe and its hold on power was at great risk.
It was exactly at this time there was a sudden change of management of the Centralian Advocate, when accomplished reporter and long-serving editor Bob Watts was replaced by Gary Shipway and sent to do mostly court reporting for the NT News until his retirement in 2005.
(For his part, from about 1991 onwards, Shipway went on to serve as the chief media advisor to the CLP for many years – he is now a reporter for the NT News).
In the late 1980s the CLP cultivated extremely close relations with the management of News Corp in the NT, to both sides mutual advantage. It was a crucial factor for the success of the CLP during its “bonus decade” in power of the 1990s.
This situation has largely continued to the present day, with News Corp essentially prostituting itself to whichever political party happens to be in government; with the notable exception of the self-destructing Giles Government with which it was impossible to be seen in public support of it.
I am able to provide evidence to verify my claims. There is no doubt that the independence of the media in the Northern Territory (not just News Corp) has long been severely compromised to the overall detriment of good government of the Territory.


Telling the stories of war: we could do so much better
It’s worth noting that many of the plaques that “stud the walking path along the river” as a major component of the “Australian Armed Forces Commemorative Walk” might be described as “understated.”
Recently I walked along part of that pathway and found that many are now so faded they are barely legible.
All that public expense in their production and installation – only a little over two years ago – appears to be well on the way to being wasted.
Perhaps it’s in keeping with the demise of the RSL Club on the north side of Anzac Hill, which couldn’t sustain the attempt to revive its operation at the time. The whole exercise seems to have been badly mishandled.


To die for country
Two Centralian veterans of mixed race parentage, Harold and Milton Liddle, were prominent in the years following World War Two in highlighting the injustice to people who, such as themselves, who had fought in the war but were denied equal rights as citizens of Australia.
Together with another prominent Australian veteran, London-born Jim Bowditch, who from 1950 to early 1954 was the editor of the Centralian Advocate, they succeeded in gaining citizenship in 1953 for part-Aboriginal people and some full-bloods (the terminology then officially in use) in the Northern Territory.
This is an important part of Central Australian history that is largely overlooked.


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