TODD MALL WAR ZONE
Report By John McBeath
Todd Mall traders say they are driven to despair by an avalanche of
theft, vandalism, threats to staff, drunkenness, arson, violence,
anti-social behaviour and break-ins.
Last week they urged Alice Springs Police Superintendent Bob Payne to
take decisive action in the heart of the town's tourism precinct.
From one end of the mall to the other, the stories are remarkably similar.
At Dymock's News-agency, a shop window was smashed late last year, then between Christmas and New Year, the back door was broken in costing $1,050 to repair.
More recently proprietor Brook Bateman's car was vandalised in the Todd Tavern car park.
Theft is an ongoing problem: on the day we spoke, a shop assistant found two youngsters outside in the mall, playing with toy cars stolen from Dymocks.
On Safari (formerly Goanna Gear) has had the shop's window smashed 12 times in as many months, and clothing stolen.
The two young female assistants have been issued with hand alarms because of fears for their safety.
A youth recently leapt over the counter to threaten one of the girls.
After renovating the shop front at On Safari, so many repairs had to be made because of people continually swinging from the rainwater guttering, it was decided to remove the guttering completely.
Owners of On Safari, Bruce and Dianne Deans, complain they can't open late at night to serve tourists because the lack of security makes this too risky.
Dianne says: "We've had to get used to the phone ringing in the middle of the night, then we have to go into the shop to wait for the glass suppliers to arrive."
Springs Plaza Arcade, off the mall, has continual graffiti problems requiring constant painting out.
There have been continuous break-ins at various shops in the plaza, and the lighting at the rear is regularly smashed.
Cardboard cartons were set alight in an industrial waste bin one night, igniting a back wall.
So many break-ins using crow bars on the rear doors have occurred that special armour plate glass and heavy duty locks had to be installed, and the arcade was placed under security patrol at night.
Oscar's Cafe, at the northern end of the mall, has regular problems with groups of youths in the mall spitting on the windows at customers inside.
Four bikes and one motor scooter were stolen from outside the restaurant in 18 months, and a customer's car was vandalised.
A sandwich board continually disappears from the footpath in front of the cafe.
Rosemary Penrose's Original Dream Time Gallery has had its main windows broken so many times, there's now a $500 insurance excess on them.
For months there have been at least three or four thefts a day, "mainly by the same offenders," says Rosemary. "I call the police, they pick them up, they're back the next day.
"It's atrociously worse over the last six months or so.
"I had to barricade myself in a back room to escape on one occasion when a drunk tried to attack me in the gallery, after smashing a shopping trolley through a locked glass door.
"We've had the gallery for nine years. I've never seen it as bad as this."
Ms Penrose says she spoke to Chief Minister Shane Stone last week during his visit to Alice Springs, and there has been a minor improvement since.
Her insurance problems are by no means unique.
The huge numbers of claims lodged by traders in the mall, and the CBD generally, have had the effect of raising premiums and "excesses" payable.
Local TIO manager Gary Dolan recommends shop owners undertake "preventative maintenance if they're in one of the town's hot spots."
This may mean installing alarms, engaging security patrols, and covering plate glass with steel mesh, all expensive options.
In the insurance industry it's reached the stage where a set rate no longer exists for this type of commercial insurance.
Each shop must be individually assessed in terms of its location, type and quantity of stock carried, and says Mr Dolan, "most importantly we look at the shop's record of insurance claims over the last three years."
Mr Dolan says: "The average cost of insuring a plate glass window for a shop in the mall would be around $400, but it could range up to $800, and the excess (an additional amount payable by a claimant) would range from $100 up to $500."
While the Novita Gift Shop has a lower record of problems than some - one shop window breakage and one theft over the last two years - proprietor Ann De Marco says she's noticed a definite increase in noise levels and problems in general in the mall over recent times.
She says: "There seems to be a new breed of young person in the mall now, more aggressive, and less inclined to be law abiding."
Mr John Bateman, proprietor of Alice Springs Newsagency, 12 months ago decided, because his shop door and windows had been so frequently kicked in and smashed, to install armour plate glass and reinforced doors.
Since then he's had no problems with the door and windows, but there have been other troubles.
"My coke and soft drink vending machine on the verandah has been trashed and broken into so many times with drink and money stolen, that I've given up on it, and returned it to the suppliers.
"It's not worth having it there; it's just a target," he says.
"Anti-social behaviour and theft have always been problems, but it's noticeably worse over the last few months.
"Theft is a particular worry because often it's not just one item taken.
"For instance, six or seven boomerangs at once will disappear worth $40 each.
"In addition there are certain groups who hang out on the lawns in front of Adelaide House, who seem to make it their home during the day, and who use bad and abusive language very loudly.
"You quite often see them harassing tourists and others for money or cigarettes.
"Occasionally I've seen people urinating in the mall."
Not everyone from the Todd Mall Traders' Association attending last week's meeting with Supt. Bob Payne was reassured by the police response to their concerns.
Many thought proposals to "engage a consultant and conduct an analysis," were insufficient. Some left the meeting early.
One trader asked why police couldn't use funds required to engage a consultant "instead to pay a policeman to patrol the mall full time?"
Others asked why, if the superintendent needed analysis, he couldn't obtain the information by merely listening to the experiences of the Todd Mall traders.
VIOLENCE CLAIMS: COPS SAY ALL IS WELL
A police review of strategies to deal with anti-social behaviour and
violence concluded that "perceptions of an at risk area in the CBD are
Division Superintendent Bob Payne says: "Taskforce members are being utilised in conjunction with local resources to target specific group activity in relation to shop stealing and harassment of local traders."
He says police are again requesting they be contacted by the public if these incidents occur.
"We need a description of the group and the direction in which they are headed," says Supt Payne.
"Police assessment is that rapid, mobile response by police on foot and in vehicles, will be more effective than will a static presence."
This is understood to mean a permanent police presence in the mall, as requested by many traders, is not seen as an option.
Supt Payne says in future all juveniles arrested for criminal offences "will have a curfew placed on them as a condition of their bail."
This is to try and remove them from risk areas at high risk times.
WORK FOR THE DOLE: WHO BENEFITS FROM CDEP?
Without CDEP, Territory unemployment would be the highest in the
nation, shooting up from 7.4 to around 15 per cent. Is our huge "work
for the dole" scheme just a con? ERWIN CHLANDA reports.
If Prime Minister John Howard persists with his plans for a broad "work for the dole" initiative, he'll do well to look at the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) in Alice Springs.
It does practically nothing to enhance "mainstream" employment chances, breeds dependency, and is a back-door way of denying people social services they would otherwise be entitled to, according to Mike Bowden.
Mr Bowden ran Tangentyere's CDEP program for 18 months, and is now the organisation's Manager for Community Development.
On the other hand, he says, CDEP is great for the governments - both Territory and Commonwealth - because it keeps the jobless numbers down to a much more appealing level: CDEP workers are counted as employed people, not unemployed.
Nevertheless, the bulk of the CDEP funding comes from the Department of Social Security, paid via ATSIC to the various participating organisations.
In terms of percentage of the population in CDEP schemes, the Territory leads the nation by a country mile: In 1995-96, the NT had 6324 participants, more than in all of Queensland, and not far behind WA, which had a total of 7300, according to Mr Bowden.
In the current financial year, 6683 Territorians are CDEP "participants", working in 48 programs, according to CLP Senator Grant Tambling.
If the NT's CDEP workers were regarded as unemployed, the Territory's often touted low jobless rate of 7.4 per cent (of a total labour force of 84,000, in January this year, according to ABS) would more than double to 15.3 per cent - the worst of any state or Territory.
In The Centre, Tangentyere Council employs 250 Aborigines under CDEP; the Arrernte Council has 150, and there are major programs in Hermannsburg, St Teresa, Yuendumu and on other bush communities.
Tangentyere's CDEP employees work a total of 16 hours a week, on Monday to Thursday mornings, earning around $11 an hour, just enough to take home, after tax, the equivalent of the dole.
They're working principally for Alice Springs' 18 town lease areas, or "camps", where 1000 to 1200 Aboriginal people live in 180 houses.
The workers carry out municipal functions such as collecting garbage, planting trees, building playgrounds and mowing grass, as well as helping with Tangentyere's home maker and aged care services, and night patrol.
Mr Bowden says Tangentyere's program, now in its seventh year, is meant to be "a stepping stone for Aboriginal people from lengthy periods of unemployment to full employment".
He says: "It's a stepping stone with a safety net. If you fall off the stepping stone you don't fall into the river and drown.
"You've got a support system around you which catches you and holds you and gives you the opportunity of getting back on to the stepping stone."
However, these steps from "CDEP employment, apprenticeship, tradesman, to full time work" are a rare exception rather than the rule.
Mr Bowden says in the one and a half years he was running Tangentyere's program, he became aware of just "three or four" such cases.
Some workers move on to other programs within Tangentyere, such as horticulture training, but there's practically no advancement by CDEP workers into the "mainstream" work force.
And herein, says Mr Bowden, lies the main flaw of CDEP: "The CDEP scheme actually entices highly employable Aboriginal people out of full time employment into part time employment.
"Aboriginal people are much more comfortable working in Aboriginal organisations, under Aboriginal bosses.
"That's the reality.
"Yet Aboriginal organisations are critically underfunded.
"They don't have enough money to employ all the Aboriginal people who want to work for them.
"The only jobs we can offer them are in CDEP. There's just not enough full time work."
What's more, once you're in CDEP, you're no longer regarded as unemployed, removed from job seeking mechanisms offered by CES, for example, and outside any requirements - existing or proposed - for taking a job you're offered.
"CDEP doesn't provide the stepping stone it's supposed to provide," says Mr Bowden.
"It absolves agencies responsible for creating jobs from having to do so.
"It's a trick.
"It's a con job. I personally think there are not enough benefits in CDEP to justify it.
"CDEP isn't creating income generating economic activity," says Mr Bowden. Why not?
"Running a business, tourism or retailing or manufacturing, requires entrepreneurial skills.
"Aboriginal organisations do not have a background in those areas.
"We don't have people employed here who are retailers or tourism operators.
"We're community service providers, mechanics, nurses and welfare workers."
That raises some fundamental questions. In 1995-96, Tangentyere received from ATSIC more than $3m for CDEP. The scheme in the NT cost $77m during 1995-96, and $80.6m this fiscal year.
Some 20 per cent of these funds are spent on "supervision and co-ordination," says Mr Bowden.
Why couldn't that portion of the CDEP budget, or at least part of it, be used to employ clever managers, co-ordinating the vast economic potential Aborigines have in such areas as arts, crafts, cultural performances and tour guiding?
"We tried it here," says Mr Bowden. "We employed an enterprise manager.
"He couldn't do it.
"The difficulties lie in orchestrating a group of Aboriginal people whose life experience has been one of either unemployment or under employment.
"People whose lives are blighted by alcohol abuse and family dysfunction, living in overcrowded and less than suitable accommodation, who are beset by the problems of living in a colonised world, are not the raw material you can work with.
"They need an enormous amount of support, more than an enterprise can generate.
"We've tried. But the people are powerless, poverty stricken and distressed," says Mr Bowden.
"They're stuck in the mud of that destitution, and it's very hard to break it at this stage."
That these are not just empty words is illustrated by the desperate act recently of an Alice Springs Aboriginal, told to the Alice News by a source wishing not to be named.
"The man was so beset by visitors and by people coming in and preying on his resources, and got so absolutely frustrated that he picked up his television, took it outside and set fire to his house," says the source.
"All of his belongings, and all of his life were being destroyed by these people, applying such pressure that in the end, his mind went.
"He saved one possession so he could take it away, and he wrecked the rest, because everyone was wrecking it for him," says the source.
Mr Bowden says CDEP - rather than providing a benefit - can become a device to deny people their "underlying Department of Social Security entitlements".
CDEP workers get paid only for the hours they work.
"If you don't work in Australia you're entitled to social security.
"That's the safety net.
"CDEP says you work for the dole. What if someone doesn't show up for work?
"He might be drunk. He might be away on holidays. He might forget to turn up. He might sleep in.
"And actually, that happens.
"CDEP organisations all over the country fail to utilise the totality of their employment budget.
"If at the end of the week someone's done only five hours they get $55, they have their rent taken out and they get $13, instead of the dole, which would be $160. "The reality is, we're in a moral dilemma.
"How can you allow this to happen?" says Mr Bowden.
"Geoff Shaw [Tangentyere's general manager] is agonising over this.
"The whole idea of CDEP is creating an incentive for people to work."
Yet under the current rules, there seems to be every incentive for choosing the dole over CDEP.
CDEP "WORK FOR THE DOLE" IS MOSTLY OK
CDEP operates 50 projects throughout the Territory, according to CLP
Senator Grant Tambling.
He says whilst there were problems from time to time in a number of communities, such as Tangentyere, the CDEP program should be judged on its successful projects and not just on a few which run into communication, accounting or management problems.
"From my touring around the Territory I am certainly aware that many of the projects are well run and adequately supervised," Senator Tambling said.
"However, there is always a need to exercise vigilant reviews of individual CDEP work plans. These reviews, spot checks and investigations of any repeated project failures require early intervention and monitoring by ATSIC.
"It is important that additional support be offered before any region decides whether a CDEP is to be suspended."
Senator Tambling said the federal Government was currently undertaking a consultancy on CDEPs through KPMG and ATSIC regional councils.
"It is far better to have people in remote communities actively working for their income support than relying on Social Security entitlements and benefits," he said.
PROSTITUTION IN ALICE SPRINGS: NEVER ON SUNDAY MORNING
If you're taking a walk on the wild side of The Alice, chances are
you'll cross paths with La Bella Mafia.
The name was bestowed upon her by her "large" Italian clientele, says the 49 year old who's lived in Alice for 15 years, and operated an escort agency for the past five.
Bella says she has "three girls and a fly-by-nighter who comes in and out, so virtually four girls, plus a couple of male workers, a couple of G stringers and a stripper."
Asked for an estimate of how many sex workers there are in Alice, Bella says: "Without counting the solos, who come and go from town, and usually number two or three altogether, there are probably about eight employed workers."
On legalising a brothel here Bella says: "We've got mixed feelings about it, purely for the sake of discretion.
"It would be great for containment, and safety.
"We could get doctors and authorities in on a regular basis to talk to the girls, but our main concern is privacy: about 80 per cent of our clients are married, and we fear that wives would find out about it, and start a victimisation of our workers."
Nevertheless, there used to be at least one brothel here, according to Bella , who says she worked in it: "It closed in about 1989, after operating for some years in the southern part of the town.
"In those days it was called a house of ill repute.
"It only closed because the manager of a nearby hotel discovered our water supply was piped from his hotel, and because the water rates were getting too high he shut the goddamn water off!"
The average age of a sex worker is mid twenties to thirty, Bella says: "I've had them as low as the legal age of 18 and as old as 50, and depending on their physical attributes, they can earn from $1,000 to $1,500 a week, on a good week.
"But definitely not now, at this time of year.
"Between October and February we struggle like hell; there's a lack of tourists and everybody's getting over their Christmas spending and they're short of money."
Questioned about clientele, Bella protests: "My lips are sealed."
However, when pressed she admits: "We have everyone from the garbo collector through to, well the sky's the limit."
Any politicians? "I'm not allowed to tell you that," she laughs.
Presently the agency services 15 to 30 clients per week, but at the height of the season, they see that many customers per night for six and a half days per week.
"We close Sunday morning, and don't open until about four o'clock in the afternoon."
Charges range from $100 per half hour to $140 for a full hour, but "some of the solos start from $50 base minimum, but that's not for a full service, just a semi service, and go up to $80 for the half and $120 for the full hour."
At Bella's agency "the girls get 60 per cent of those charges, and are driven to the client and collected afterwards."
It seems that local hoteliers are getting in on the action, too: With one or two exceptions, as soon as they discover what a room's needed for, they quadruple their prices.
For example, a $130 room suddenly leaps to $500.
One thing Bella thinks the current legislation has achieved is the elimination of pimps.
She won't tolerate drug use or drunkenness amongst her workers or their clients.
"If someone rings up drunk, I just say look I'm sorry you're too drunk; we're not going to send you a girl tonight.
"Get yourself sober, and if you're still feeling that way tomorrow, give us a ring." She's had two instances of "problems with unsavoury clients in five years, and the police have been great."
In addition to the legalisation of brothels, the Attorney General's Department also floated the idea of registering sex workers.
Bella says yes to that if authorities can licence workers quickly, and provided operators are allowed to advertise for staff.
The NT Attorney General's Department held a telephone hookup last week with operator/managers of Territory escort agencies, and another with their employees, to ascertain responses to the idea of legalising brothels.
Eight representatives from Darwin took part in the managers' teleconference, and one from Alice Springs.
The Darwin participants agreed that one or perhaps two legal brothels could be viable there, but the sole Alice representative was hesitant, believing this town is too small to maintain discretion for customers.
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