Story Archive » Volume 19 » Issue 24 »

June 14, 2012

Congress board members appoint their own successors – stonewalling has started

The serious issues raised in yesterday’s breaking news report about Congress are not new. The leaked letter was dated April 23, 2012. Two months later, what has the Congress Board and / or the Australian and NT Governments done?

Specific questions put by the Alice Springs News Online to the Congress Board President Helen Kantawara have gone unanswered today. Ms Kantawara’s response to our  report yesterday failed to address many of the concerns raised.

The News asked her today, in particular, what action the Board is taking about the apparently acknowledged inappropriate use of a corporate credit card by Congress CEO Stephanie Bell (pictured), to which there was no reference in Ms Kantawara’s response.

The News also contacted Warren Snowdon, MHR for Lingiari and Minister for Indigenous, Rural and Regional Health, nominated by the Department of Health and Ageing as the Australian Government person for the News to seek comment from. Total silence, in keeping with his recent treatment of other legitimate enquiries by the News.

Meanwhile, the NT Department of Justice says they are enquiring to matters raised about the changes to Congress’ constitution. FULL STORY »

Shock report into Congress health service

An investigation into the Alice Springs based health organisation Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, which is understood to have an annual budget of around $40m, has found there may be a string of serious flaws in its financial accountability and governance.

The organisation’s principal funding body, the Federal Department of Health and Ageing, called a meeting with Congress members last night to answer their “questions, queries and concerns”.
An audit commissioned by the department suggests that “in excess of $2m” could potentially be recovered from Congress.
A letter from the department, obtained by the Alice Springs News Online, outlines apparent irregularities with the charging of a 20% administration fee for each project; transfers of funds between projects; the use of a corporate credit card by CEO Stephanie Bell (pictured); unauthorised overseas travel and the failure to return unspent project funds to the department. Italso raises questions about the dealings of Congress with the Central Land Council-controlled Centrecorp and the purpose of large funds invested in a Centrecorp related entity.

Recent changes to the Congress constitution are also of concern, “having a direct impact on the extent to which the organisation might be considered community controlled”. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

 

 

UPDATE 13:20 CST

 

John Elferink (MLA for Port Darwin, CL, at left) raised the Alice Springs News Online report in this morning’s NT Estimate hearings.
The Territory pays about $6m a year to Congress, including $2m for the Safe and Sober campaign.
He asked Health Department officials about the acquittal process: “They defended their process but could not describe it,” says Mr Elferink. “I would be disappointed if the acquittal process were just tick and flick.”
His questions were taken on notice.

 

 

UPDATE 15:00 CST
Congress president Helen Kantawara replied to this report. See FULL STORY.

  FULL STORY »

It’s official, the dingo did take and kill Azaria Chamberlain: Coroner

 

After 32 years it’s official: a dingo or dingoes took baby Azaria Chamberlain from her family’s tent at Ayers Rock on August 17, 1980, and the cause of her death was “the result of being attacked and taken by a dingo.”
This was the finding of Territory Coroner Elizabeth Morris this morning, with mother Lindy Chamberlain Creighton and father Michael Chamberlain – now separated – in the Darwin courtroom for the fourth inquest into the sensational case.
It was flawed by faulty forensic work, and had seen Lindy convicted and jailed for murder of her daughter.
She was exonerated, but officially the cause of Azaria’s death remained open until today.
Coroner Morris, after handing down the finding, her voice shaking, gave her “sincere sympathy” to the family, for the loss of their “special and loved daughter and sister, Azaria. I am so sorry for your loss.”
Recent evidence, especially dingo attacks elsewhere in Australia, moved Coroner Morris, on the balance of probability, to come to the “adequate, clear, cogent and exact” finding that “a dingo or dingoes took Azaria,” a conclusion further supported by finding dog or dingo hairs in tent at the base of Ayers Rock.
The full text of the coronial finding is here.
The photos are from an ABC Four Corners documentary produced and filmed by Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA. This included a re-enactment, at Ayers Rock, by the Chamberlains from which these photos are taken. Chlanda was the first reporter on the scene, and then covered the case for television and print in Australia and around the world for several years.

NT Attorney General Rob Knight did not apologize to the Chamberlains.
All he could say in a media release this morning, as an affair came to an end that had put the Territory’s legal and police processes in disrepute the world over, was to thank Coroner Morris for “bringing this matter to what should be the end of the legal process.
“My thoughts go out to Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton and Michael Chamberlain and their families and hope that today’s decision helps deal with the tragic loss of their child.” FULL STORY »

Move for town council to manage the aquatic centre

The town council may manage the aquatic center in its own right, according to a well informed source.

This follows the collapse of the arrangement with the YWCA which withdrew from the job, scheduled to run until 2014, saying it had substantially under-quoted.

The source says the council is looking at expressions of interest so far received from organisations around Australia.

The council has been managing the landfill since the collapse of the Subloo contract, and public opinion seems to be that the council staff running the dump now are doing a fine job.

If ratepayers’ money can be saved, keeping the pool management in-house may be a good idea, says the source. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. FULL STORY »

Mid-field placing for Chinese racers, and big win for Alice

 

“Where is the dunny?”
This was the first question asked by Chinese Rally Champion Xiao Fa Guo when he arrived in Finke.
He had to use sign language because he doesn’t speak a word of English. He thought the Finke Desert Race would have a toilet stop half-way.
Alice Mayor Damien Ryan later explained, through an interpreter no doubt, that the local custom out bush is to have a dingo’s breakfast: a pee and a good look around.

A swag and billy tea were subsequent local discoveries for the driving champion.
Anyway, that’s how Alice photographer and businessman Steve Strike tells the story.
Mr Strike has an office in Guangzhou, southern China, and it was his brainchild to invite Mr Xiao and navigator Xie Jin Lin, plus a crew of around 15, to the Finke.
Their performance in the tough race was nothing short of outstanding: driving a 6 litre Chev V8 truck after just 20 minutes of practice they came 29th outright and third in their class.
The vehicle was borrowed from Top End pollie Ross Bohlin, MLA for Drysdale.
Mr Xiao announced he wanted buy a top-of-the-line buggy and was told they go for around $450,000.
“No worries,” replied Mr Xiao – or whatever the Chinese equivalent is.
While the visitors finished mid-field, The Centre had a great victory: a TV crew for a Guangzhou sports channel with an audience of 100 million is tagging along, says Mr Strike, shooting not just the race but the competitors’ visits to the full gamut of local attractions – including the Reptile Centre, Flying Doctor, hot air ballooning and the School of the Air in town, and Glen Helen, Palm Valley, Hermannsburg and Ayers Rock Resort further afield. Photos STEVE STRIKE. L- R Navigator  46 yr old Xie Jin Lin and 52 yr old Driver Xiao Fa Guo from Gaungzhou in Southern China.  It was their first attempt at an international race and said they will be back next year with more experience. FULL STORY »

Shires: either revenue must go up or expectations, down

Revenues either have to go up or expectations of shire councils have to go down. If neither happens, shire councils cannot achieve financial sustainability. That’s the broad conclusion of the Deloitte review of the NT shire councils, released today by Local Government Minister Malarndirri McCarthy .

The situation regarding roads within the shires is one illustration of the immensity of the task facing the councils and the paucity of current revenues to help them achieve it.

As always, the interest of the Alice Springs News Online is particularly in the two shires surrounding Alice Springs and having their headquarters here, Central Desert Shire and MacDonnell Shire.

What would it take to bring the roads in and around the Growth Towns in those shires up to a standard expected elsewhere in regional Australia?

There are two Growth Towns in Central Desert Shire – Lajamanu and Yuendumu. Yuendumu is better off than Lajamanu, for which over 90% of the roads with a 50km radius are deemed in poor condition (about 15% for Yuemdumu).

The review estimates an expenditure of $205.12million – a sum many times the entire shire budget – would be required for upgrades and major repairs, with a further $4.57million required annually for the ongoing repairs and maintenance. The review stresses that this backlog estimate does not include all communities within the shire, only the Growth Towns. KIERAN FINNANE reports.

 

Pictured: Google earth view of ‘Territory Growth Road’ Lajamanu: over 90% of its roads within a 50km radius are in poor condition.  The price tag to fix: over $200m. FULL STORY »

Painting the deep patterns of life

With time inevitably short, three old men from Wanarn, way out in the Gibson Desert, speak to us on canvas with a sense of urgency. They give us the essence and they move on. The fundamental design elements of Aboriginal art from the desert  – the familiar dotted lines, roundels, concentric circles, interlocking grids – are deployed without “embellishment”, as Dallas Gold of RAFT Artspace says.

Their names are Ben Holland, Tjunka Lewis and Neville Mcarthur. They live in an aged care facility at Warnan, pictured at left on painting day in a photo by Peter Yates, Tjunka Lewis in the foreground. KIERAN FINNANE reports. FULL STORY »

A powerhouse of endeavour with a very human face

 

 

It’s a place where none of us wants to be.

Every day it fights battles of life and death.
It is one of the town’s biggest employers, a $150m a year operation of extreme complexity, drawing its highly skilled staff from all corners of the globe.
Last week I got a first-hand look at the Alice Springs hospital, getting a new left hip (that’s me pictured, getting back on my feet a couple of days later).
It was the small things that touched me most: “Hi, I’m Annie, I’ll be looking after you for the next few hours. Do you need anything? OK, if you need me, just ring the bell.”
To a person, the nursing staff start their shifts in this way. It takes around 30 seconds to say these or similar words, but they make all the difference: I wasn’t an object having things done to it. I was a person and I was with people who cared. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. FULL STORY »

Pay dispute with Robert de Castella: Alice runner John Bell raises new issues.

A bitter dispute has erupted between Alice sporting identity John Bell and former world marathon record holder Robert de Castella over a project that took four young Territory Aborigines to New York, to compete in the annual marathon there.

Two of the young runners, Charlie Maher and Caleb Hart, are from Alice Springs.
The project was featured in an ABC TV documentary and is receiving $1.2m from the Federal Government to make it an ongoing initiative, according to Mr Bell.
Member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon had helped to arrange the grant.
Mr Bell says Mr de Castella owes him $100,000 in wages for 20 months’ work but Mr de Castella says Mr Bell was a volunteer and had declined to accept money so as not to affect a disability pension. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

Picture by Dan Himbrechts, Adelaide Now. Robert De Castella with (left to right) Charlie Maher, Juan Darwin and Caleb Hart.

NOTE NEW COMMENT BY MR BELL. FULL STORY »

Native Title to become national path to indigenous land acquisition?

After years of bitter conflict there’s no place in Australia where changes to the Native Title legislation and management are more relevant than in Alice Springs.
On the 20th anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision, the Federal Government’s objections are clearly to morph Native Title into a path for Indigenous people to acquire land, across the nation, similar to the way landrights were making it possible in the Territory and parts of South Australia. Meanwhile, around the country the subject seems to be a yawn: the telemovie Mabo, directed by Alice Springs’ own Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae), flopped on the ABC, according to The Australian, rating 544,000. It’s unfair to a well-made  story about a battler who doesn’t give up, starring Jimi Bani (The Straits) as Eddie and Deborah Mailman as Bonita. The sometimes dry legal cases in Queensland and finally the High Court – changing Australia’s history – are lightened by the touching love story. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. FULL STORY »

Tourism promoters sit on their hands as Alice feeds Venus transit images to the world

 

It appears NT tourism promoters have fumbled an opportunity to capitalise on free world-wide publicity for Alice Springs when Venus transited the sun today.
The American space agency NASA picked The Alice as one of two sites around the globe to record a live feed of images on the internet, motivated in part by our great weather – the sun being in clear view.
Did Tourism NT (TNT) and Tourism Central Australia (TCA) explore opportunities for hammering home, in connection with the transit, the point about The Centre’s great weather?
It doesn’t appear so. A major chance for “leveraging” – that favorite buzzword – has clearly been missed. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

IMAGE: The black dot is Venus. Photo by Alice Springs photographer MIKE GILLAM. See also his comment on the FULL STORY page. FULL STORY »

Send in the taskforce: councillor

A prominent councillor says if necessary, the police taskforce should be deployed to keep the peace in town camps: “We must not return to the situation where police are kept out of the camps after dark and needed permits to enter,” says Cr Steve Brown (pictured).
Cr Brown, who had the highest vote in the recent council elections, was commenting after a riot in Hidden Valley Town Camp on Wednesday, when it was alleged rioters attacked police, released prisoners from a paddy wagon and smashed police vehicles. Police were also attacked and injured during a melee in Hidden Valley in May. FULL STORY »

The Magic Roundabout of Alice in Blunderland

Recently installed – at a cost to the ratepayer – traffic islands at the intersection of Undoolya Road and Sturt Terrace will make way for a new roundabout – at a cost to the taxpayer. L’il Antz childcare centre is on the left corner, Casa Nostra pizzeria on the right.

The announcement that Alice Springs is getting a new roundabout at the intersection of Undoolya Road and Sturt Terrace, costing $300,000 warrants careful scrutiny, argues ALEX NELSON. Do safety issues at the intersection really require this expensive infrastructure? Is a bridge to cross the river at this point still on the cards, as mooted during the time of the 11th Alice Sprints Town Council? If so, the roundabout would have to go. In any case, traffic islands at the intersection installed at ratepayers’ expense will have to go. Wouldn’t a simpler and cheaper solution achieve the same results in terms of safety for the childcare centre on the corner. It came some time ago from Greatorex MLA Matt Conlan but he seems to have forgotten all about it. The decisions to build the roundabout is “symptomatic of what is wrong with the governance and administration of Alice Springs and Central Australia”, says Mr Nelson. FULL STORY »

Local Labor always opposed u-mine at Angela Pamela: Araluen ALP candidate Adam Findlay

CLP incumbent Robyn Lambley says it’s a non-issue: she also opposes a u-mine ‘on top of the water table’

 

The Labor Government might have a  credibility problem with its stance on a possible future uranium mine at Angela Pamela, but the local branch of the Labor Party does not: “We were always at odds with the government over their support for the exploration process on that site so close to town,” says Labor’s candidate for Araluen, Adam Findlay (left).

But the Country Liberals’ incumbent Robyn Lambley (right) says Mr Findlay will struggle to make this an issue in the campaign as there is “no point of difference” between them: “There’s no way in the world that I could ever support a uranium mine on top of the water table in Alice Springs unless its safety could be demonstrated beyond a shred of a doubt.” KIERAN FINNANE speaks to the two contenders for the seat of Araluen in August’s Legislative Assembly election. FULL STORY »

Angela Pamela u-mine core message in Greatorex campaign?

 

Rowan Foley and wife Michelle with supporters – from left, Andre Burgess, Sandra Ball, Andrew Ferguson, Barbara Ferguson (obscured), and Paul Acfield – at a community barbecue where he wanted to hear from Greatorex residents about their concerns.

Labor candidate for Greatorex Rowan Foley has chosen a possible future uranium mine at Angela Pamela, 23 kms south of Alice Springs, as the point of difference between him and Country Liberals incumbent Matt Conlan. Apart from the “I love Alice” tag, opposition to the mine is the dominant message of Mr Foley’s initial campaign flyer.

As a core campaign message it seems to turn back the clock to the 2010 Araluen by-election campaign when the Labor Government, a little more than a week out from polling day, announced it would not allow a uranium mine to proceed so close to Alice Springs. Labor candidate Adam Findlay claimed that the government had listened to the views of the electorate but any bounce for him was nullified by the Country Liberals following suit, and their Robyn Lambley going on to win the by-election.

How much currency does the issue have now? With the Territory Labor Government on a knife edge, relying on the vote of independent MLA Gerry Wood, every seat counts. Labor has obviously judged this as an issue where the Country Liberals (CLP) are exposed in Alice Springs and especially in the seat of Greatorex. KIERAN FINNANE talks to Mr Foley and to independent candidate Phil Walcott, who is also opposed to a uranium mine so close to town. CLP incumbent Matt Conlan did not respond to the invitation to answer questions.


FULL STORY »