Story Archive » Volume 19 » Issue 25 »

June 21, 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 »

Donna Ah Chee acting CEO of Congress as board seems headed for the chop

 

 

Prominent Alice Springs woman Donna Ah Chee (pictured) has been appointed acting CEO of the troubled Congress.
Ms Ah Chee is the former deputy CEO of Congress but spent the last year heading up the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) in Canberra.
Meanwhile speculation is rife that the NT Department of Justice, under whose legislation Congress is incorporated, will sack the Congress board and appoint a statutory manager. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. 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 »

Henbury carbon farm: more than watching the grass grow

A perennial water hole on the Finke River with Alice Spencer, Program Administrator: Community, Climate and Biodiversity for R.M.Williams Agricultural Holdings. Photo by Martin Vivian Pearse, R.M.Williams Agricultural Holdings.

There’s more to carbon farming than locking up land and watching the grass grow. To earn money from carbon credits in this brave new world there needs to be “additionality”, in other words, the project needs to have come about as a result of the carbon markets, not as a result of land management improvements for other reasons.

There also needs to be “permanence”: the farm needs to keep doing its sequestration job (pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it)  in perpetuity.

This is where there is potential for local jobs now and into the future, drawing on a similar skill set to the pastoral industry. So explained Rebecca Pearse, manager for R. M. Williams Agricultural Holdings’ carbon project on Henbury Station, when she spoke to the recent ABARES Regional Outlook* conference in Alice Springs.

Ms Pearse and her husband David will be living at Henbury, 130 kms south-west of Alice, when the carbon farm “goes live” next month – quite a change from the esoteric world of the “weather derivatives market” in Europe, which is what they were involved in previously.

KIERAN FINNANE reports. 

 

Pictured: Rebecca and David Pearse who will soon call Henbury Station home. Photo by Martin Vivian Pearse, R.M.Williams Agricultural Holdings. FULL STORY »

Overseas trips with no report back to Congress – allegation

Congress CEO Stephanie Bell and Board President Helen Kantawara travelled to Hawaii last year together with Board member, Darryl Pearce (former CEO of the native title holder body, Lhere Artepe, since sacked) and a family member of Ms Bell’s, according to reliable community sources.

Ms Bell’s partner Brian Stirling, also a Board member and former chairman of Lhere Artepe, was booked to go on the trip but cancelled due to ill health. His fares could not be refunded.

If the trip was in some way connected with Congress business – the delivery of health services to Aborigines in The Centre – the sources say the organisation has never received a report about it. ERWIN CHLANDA reports.

PHOTO: A recent Board (from the Congress website) – at left Mr Stirling, at right Mr Pearce, center Ms Kantawara (red shirt, standing). FULL STORY »

Tangentyere ‘cell visitors scheme’ may have prevented death

 

Hourly visits to police cells checking on inmates were a routine task for social workers employed by Tangentyere, says former Alice identity Eddie Taylor (pictured).
He says for four or five years in the late 1990s the youth night patrol called at the police cells, spoke to all prisoners and made sure they were OK. Mr Taylor says if the scheme had been continued, it may have saved the life of Kwementyaye Briscoe whose death in the police cells is the subject of a coronial enquiry. FULL STORY »

From rags to wearable riches

A bridal gown from a tablecloth, a party dress from a curtain, a coat from a blanket. And how? Raid the op shops, then recycle, deconstruct, reconstruct, embellish. Sewing skills are a must; tacking is advised. Above all, have an eye for design, for the possibilities.

They call it “sustainable couture” and last night was its fourth showing in Alice Springs. Well-known names were joined by first-timer Jane Lloyd, who has recently found the time to resurrect the sewing skills taught by her mother when they lived in Darwin in the days before TV.

There’s a camaraderie between the designers, all of them women. So much so that Nicky Schonkala, known for the clean lines of her designs, feels that her style is “morphing” into Carmel Ryan’s – more complex and decorative. – Story and photos by KIERAN FINNANE

 

Pictured: Aviator’s outfit with a difference, designed by Nicky Schonkala, modeled by Madly Bodin. 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 »

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 »

Briscoe inquest: Alcohol’s ‘flotsam and jetsam’ forever a burden on police?

When Kwementyaye Briscoe died in the Alice Springs police watch house in January it was a tragic event for him, his family and the community.
The coronial enquiry heard evidence that police procedure surrounding the death was inadequate and more appropriate action by several officers may have prevented the death of the extremely drunk man.
Counsel for the Northern Territory Police Association (NTPA) Lex Silvester addressed the enquiry and acknowledged the severity of the events: “That Kumanji’s death occurred in the circumstances then prevailing is a matter for profound regret. The loss of a child, brother, sister, relative or friend causes terrible grief the extent of which can only ever be known to those closest.”
However, much of Mr Silvester’s address to the Coroner, in its content and significance to the community, went well beyond the events of that night.
It painted a horrendous picture of the trauma, mayhem and tragedy alcohol is causing, and the intolerable burden that is placed on the police, every day. It went further to urge a sweeping independent review of the take-away liquor trade in Alice Springs. 
The Alice Springs News Online has been an important forum for discussion about better management and control of the use of alcohol. It is in this spirit that we publish excerpts from Mr Silvester’s submission.

PHOTO: Police CCTV image of Kwementyaye Briscoe in the watch house shortly before his death. 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 »

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 »

Massive fuel price savings not passed on to Alice motorists

 

 

When it comes to the exorbitant fuel prices in Central Australia it’s not about the bottom line but about the top line – namely the yellow one in the two graphs above.
It shows what you are paying at the pump compared to the Terminal Gate Price (TGP, mauve line) and the Singapore Parity price (blue line).
And the gap is what the dealers are pocketing.
In the last three months that margin grew massively: the TGP dropped significantly but the dealers hardly adjusted their prices, so that the margin, per liter, is now around 40c.
That’s around five times the average around Australia. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. FULL STORY »

Council gets the drum on community harmony, Port Augusta style

While he was “really impressed” with the many “community harmony” initiatives taken in Port Augusta, and with their apparent success reflected in the town’s general appearance and atmosphere, the consultant reporting back to the Alice Springs Town Council was at pains to point out the “very significant” differences between the two towns.

Alice has twice the population, said Craig Wilson of Craig Wilson Consultancy, formerly an employee of the Alice council, now based in Mt Gambier.

Port Augusta has only one Aboriginal community on its periphery, Davenport, in contrast to Alice’s 18 town camps.

Davenport, which is not a dry zone, has a population of around 200, compared with the 2000 to 3000 living in Alice’s camps.

Around 1300 people from outlying areas use Port Augusta as their regional hub, as opposed to the 11,000 to 12,000 for whom Alice is the regional centre, said Mr Wilson.

Key among the initiatives have been the Port Augusta Aboriginal Community Engagement Group and the City Safe Program. The engagement group’s enquiries into budgets and outcomes of various government departments and agencies were initially seen as “threatening” but are now well accepted. City Safe is in the hands of a private contractor whose personal qualities seem to account for a good deal of his success. KIERAN FINNANE reports.

PICTURE: Port Augusta’s ACEG in session. From left – Khatija Thomas Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement,  Aaron Stuart, Katy Burns, Alwyn McKenzie and Corey McKenzie. FULL STORY »