April 2, 1997

Council is snookered: Pinball in government's court

Following a spate of residents' objections, the Alice Springs Town Council last week shot a pinball parlour application into the too hard basket.
The application is to licence a games arcade at the corner of Larapinta and Lyndavale Drives near the Larapinta Welcome Mart.
Alice News has obtained copies of objections to the application lodged with council, including several from individuals, and one each from Loraine Braham, MLA for Braitling, and Eric Poole MLA for Araluen, which claim to represent a number of complaints from local residents.
Complaints have also been received by phone.
Most of the objections centre around a belief that pinball parlours are more suited to town locations rather than residential areas, yet three of the four existing licences are in residential parts of town: Sadadeen, Eastside, and the Gap, with the remaining parlour in Gregory Terrace.
A dilemma was created for council because under the Places of Public Entertainment Act there are only two grounds on which such an application could be refused by council: safety or sanitation, and the premises in question breached neither of these requirements.
Council therefore decided to pass the application on to the department of the Minister for Local Government, Mick Palmer for a decision.
Mayor Andy Mc Neill says: "We've looked at the legislation and it appears to us that we would have no choice but to grant the application.
"We've also suggested to the Minister that the government should look at the legislation so that there is something that says perhaps if there's going to be an amusement centre built, then plans should go on public display and people get the time to make comment on it.
"There's no provision within the Act for notification of the public, to let people know what's going to happen, so they could then take whatever action they want."
Managing Director, Stephen West, 30, of the applicant company Spice Cane Aust. Pty Ltd says: "While we are very keen not to be seen to be making trouble for the Larapinta area, we feel our current application has been blown out of all proportion.
"What we are requesting has already been done in suburban areas, and if I had kids living in Larapinta I wouldn't want to see them riding bikes long distances into town or some other area at night to play.
"After all kids will be kids and if these games are available anywhere in the town, they're going to play them."
Mr West's company already runs another of the games arcades in town at the Dustbowl in the Gap area.
He believes this enterprise is "successfully run, provides a service to youth, with no harm to anyone, and it would be the same with the proposed new venture."
He points out that his company is local with a history of sponsoring football clubs in Alice, and believes that a new pinball parlour is not going to increase crime in the area.
Mr West is concerned that he has so far invested around $16,000 to set up the proposed pinball parlour in Larapinta, and now the project may not be able to go ahead.
He's been told he'll "have to wait a few more weeks for a decision."
Alice Springs police say they have no concerns about pinball parlours in Alice in general: "We do get calls to the vicinity of Matilda's in Gregory Terrace, but these are not usually related to those premises, more to the fact that youngsters tend to congregate in the nearby areas of the Mall and on the council lawns."
Asked about the other three parlours in residential areas, police say: "They're not a concern to us.
We'd have no more problems with them, than if they were say a retail shop."
Another objection voiced by some Larapinta residents is: "When kids run out of money to feed the machines they are tempted to break into nearby homes to get more."
Police say they have no evidence to support this view.

Braham challenged from within own CLP branch

Police sergeant, university student and writer John Elferink, 31, is challenging MLA Loraine Braham for the Alice Springs seat of Braitling.
He's understood to be the only member of the CLP in The Centre seeking preselection by the party against a Member sitting on the government benches.
When asked what are the electorate's three major concerns, Mr Elferink says: "Crime, crime and crime."
However, he says the need to improve the local economy, boosting tourism and obtaining statehood follow closely behind.
"The states enjoy protection under the constitution not afforded to us at the moment," says Mr Elferink.
"There's perpetual interference in Territory matters that we wouldn't have under statehood.
"Commonwealth meddling with Coronation Hill and Uluru, and the Andrews anti-euthanasia Bill, are just some of the examples."
The preselection candidate, whose fate will be decided by the Alice Springs branch of the Country Liberal Party later this month, says he's a strong supporter of the government's policies on sentencing for crimes.
Mr Elferink, a Territorian since 1969 and and Alice Springs resident for all-up five years, now living in Braitling, says he would see his role as a mixture of representing his electorate as well as the town as a whole.
The current row over a proposed pinball parlour in Larapinta (see story this edition) is the kind of local issue he would take on "vigorously" - but in line with the community's opinion.
"It seems a clear case of interests of a single proprietor pitted against the interests of the community as a whole," Mr Elferink says.
He would have an "open door" and not only take part in community consultative processes, but also facilitate them.
He says he's not out to criticise Mrs Braham, but had applied for preselection in the CLP's spirit of "putting up the best people for election".
He says: "I'm offering an alternative. If they choose me, then well and good."
Mrs Braham, new to the Assembly, won Braitling with 55 per cent of the primary vote, says Mr Elferink.
The CLP's candidate will be facing Labor's Peter Brooke, 42, an ex-teacher with a long record of trade union executive membership.
Mr Elferink says a realignment of the electorate's boundaries since the poll in 1994, and a shift in population, may be working in favour of the ALP, especially through a growing number of Housing Commission tenants.
Mr Elferink says the Larapinta area may soon need another primary school, and should look at maximising commercial opportunities from visitors to the new Desert Park.
The town as a whole needs to enhance its appeal to tourists, especially through the "extreme fascination" which overseas visitors have for the local Aboriginal culture.
Mr Elferink is married to a paramedic.
He's in his final year studying politics and history at Monash University, a columnist for the Alice News, has been a keen amateur actor and public officer of the local "HOG" Harley [Davidson motorbike] Owners' Group, riding a Heritage Sofatil 1340cc motorcycle.
Mr Elferink says he won't mix political and police business: "Unlike Joh Bjelke Petersen, I'm well aware what separation of powers means".
He says he has "no ambitions" to stand as an independent.
"I believe in the unity of the CLP as a fundamental priority. Nothing can be gained by fracturing the conservative vote."
Mrs Braham would not comment.

'Buy back our taxi plates', say operators

Alice taxi operators say they would happily sell back their licenses because unfair competition allowed under NT government regulations is making the industry unviable.
Samih Habib, a director of Alice Springs Taxis, says most of the owners of the town's 33 "plates", would like the government to buy back their licenses.
Plates have recently been sold by tender for up to $173,000, up from $60,000, 10 years ago, and apply to only one vehicle.
Bus operators, on the other hand, can buy their licenses "over the counter" for just $500 - and use them for as many vehicles as they like, says Mr Habib.
The issue came to a head in Alice Springs last week amid alleged threats of violence and unfair practices between bus and taxi operators.
The government has now announced a freeze on the issuing of hire car and bus licences (see story this page), but Mr Habib says this may be coming late.
He says local MLAs Eric Poole and Richard Lim are trying to "sort out the mess".
Minibus operators are running a "de facto taxi service", picking up passengers "on the run," and taking 'phone bookings, Mr Habib says.
Bus services should be restricted to designated runs, operating according to a time table.
"They should not be operating like taxis," says Mr Habib.
"We have no problem with the minibus operators, but the Act needs to be changed."
Alice Springs Taxis, a co-operative of some 20 individual owners, is by itself already over-servicing the town, with, Mr Habib says "around one plate for every 700 residents, while the average elsewhere in Australia is about one in 1000."
According to Mr Habib, any further damage to the industry could have serious effects on the local tourism trade.
"Taxis here are providing a very professional service while minibuses run mainly when it's busy," he says.
"We staff our base at night and during public holidays, paying radio operators up to two and a half times the normal pay.
"Some drivers work for $3 to $4 an hour after midnight, yet we feel we've got to provide a service at that time."
Mr Habib says according to the company's computer records, 93 per cent of dispatches occur within five minutes of a passenger's call.
He warns against wholesale deregulation which he studied in Quebec, Canada, some years ago: Mr Habib says after a period of utter chaos and deterioration of service there, the industry had to be regulated afresh.
He says similar problems occurred elsewhere, including Tasmania and New Zealand.

Euthanasia will soon be forgotten

By Dr Alistair Heatley, NT University

The long-running suspense about the outcome of the Commonwealth Parliament's move to override the Territory's euthanasia legislation was finally put to rest last week.
Despite some cautious optimism that the Senate might not support the verdict of the House of Representatives, in the end it voted as realists had predicted. While the level of support in the Senate (53.5 per cent) was considerably lower than that in the House (66 per cent), it was nevertheless decisive and, for the first time since self-government, a Territory law, presumably within the competence of the Legislative Assembly, had been nullified.
Interestingly, the manner in which it was achieved was not through the provision, specified in the Self Government Act, which allows the Commonwealth to disallow any Territory law within six months but through the use of Section 122 of the Constitution which preserves the Commonwealth's unfettered authority to legislate on Territory affairs.
The campaign against the "Andrews" measure, from the Territory and outside, was largely based on arguments that it breached the principles of Territory self-government and the democratic rights of Territorians; to opponents, it was an unwarranted and unfair intrusion by the Commonwealth Parliament and it served to highlight the systemic weakness of the constitutional position of self-governing territories. The point that Parliament could not treat the states in the same way was continually emphasised.
But the constitutional and political arguments, while they might have swayed a few, were, for most who voted, not particularly significant. It was abundantly apparent that moral attitudes were paramount in deciding voting choice. That Parliament did not reflect community views on euthanasia came as no surprise; as an institution, it is rarely representative of national sentiment.
Given the special situation of euthanasia as an issue, using its nullification as a harbinger of future Commonwealth action in respect of Territory laws is, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, not well founded. Unwelcome as the decision may be to Territory politicians (and the majority of non-Aboriginal residents), it is certainly not a precedent for a wholesale onslaught on Territory autonomy.
Inevitably, the euthanasia decision became intertwined with the statehood issue. Two schools of thought have developed. The first suggests that the quest for statehood has been made more urgent and desirable because of the demonstrated insecurity of the present constitutional position; the second sees euthanasia as yet another example of the Territory's unfitness to claim statehood. In my opinion, however, there are really no clear ramifications to be drawn and no conclusive grounds for arguing that the decision will either impede or assist progress towards statehood.
Statehood aside, what are the political consequences of the overturning of euthanasia? In electoral terms, as both the CLP and Labor had substantially the same strategy, neither party can expect a vote bonus. By the time the election is called (probably late in the year), the issue, which was never likely to be party divisive at any stage, will have faded from political prominence. The fears, held initially by some CLP supporters, that euthanasia would erode the party vote, do not now seem justified. If there is to be some electoral advantage, albeit very small, the CLP surprisingly may be the beneficiary.
One factor which has traditionally favoured the CLP has been its ability to assert its independence from its federal counterparts and euthanasia has provided an issue which serves to distance the CLP from John Howard and indirectly his government to some degree.
As a response to Parliaments action, there have been suggestions that the Territory's Federal representatives should move to the cross-benches. Labor's Senator Collins will certainly not do so and it is unlikely that the CLP's Nick Dondas will be forced to desert the Liberals and Senator Tambling the Nationals.
Aside from their own personal preferences, the CLP organisation, as in the recent past, will not insist on their cutting party ties. The "hard-heads" in the CLP will recognise that there is little to be gained by that strategy, even in demonstrating a show of independence.
By May, when the CLP's Central Council will revisit the question, the delegates will find that the euthanasia issue has lost its political salience. Overall, despite its prominence over the last two years, the impact of euthanasia on local politics will prove to be small.

ATSIC cracks down after 'work for dole' allegations

ATSIC has stopped funding six major initiatives at the Indulkana community south of Alice Springs, and says grant controllers may be appointed to several settlements.
This follows allegations of rorting and mismanagement in the Pitjantjatjara lands, published in the Alice News.
A fax dated March 26 and headed "Breach of ATSIC Vehicle Conditions", from ATSIC acting regional manager Maralyn Leverington to the chairperson of Indulkana's Iwantja Community, was leaked to the News.
Ms Leverington says she had received advice that "vehicles were used for purposes outside the purpose of the grant" and "as of 26 March, 1997 the Iwantja Community Inc is now in breach of the ATSIC Terms and Conditions of funding".
Ms Leverington says "until such time as your organisation provides, to the satisfaction of the Commission, detailed strategies on the future management and the use of the vehicles, no further funds will be released."
The programs affected are community infrastructure, BRACS (a remote areas broadcasting scheme), sport and recreation, arts and crafts, CDEP (work for the dole) "capital and recurrent", and CDEP wages.
Asked for comment, an ATSIC spokesman in Canberra, who requested not to be named, says the money is being withheld due to "minor technical breaches".
Contrary to Ms Leverington's fax, the spokesman says CDEP wages are not being withheld.
Asked why ATSIC was implementing such serious measures in response to "minor breaches" the spokesman says the commission is under "intense scrutiny" and he expected the money would "not be withheld for very long".
The spokesman says it would be the function of grants controllers, who may be appointed to several communities, to ensure funds are being used as specified by ATSIC.
Grants controllers have the power to release of withhold funds on a day to day basis.

Darwin railway in a couple of years

Trade Minister Eric Poole, in an exclusive interview with the Alice News, last week suggested The Alice needs to focus on self promotion if it wants to end the slump in "visitor nights". But what can the NT government do for tourism in The Centre? This is part two of the interview by editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
News: The NT Tourist Commission spends $25m a year. That's roughly 10 times more per head of population when compared with South Australia. What would be wrong with the Alice region saying, OK, give us half, $12.5m, and we'll do our own thing?
Poole: I don't think you'll find the marketing expertise within the tourism industry here.
News: What's the marketing expertise of the Tourist Commission done for Alice Springs in the past five years?
Poole: It's maintaining the numbers. I don't want to preempt what [new commission managing director Tony Mayell] will be doing. When you employ someone to do that job there's not much point in telling him what to do.
News: The promotion has been patently ineffective for - say - the last five years. Why has the government not intervened?
Poole: They tried to address it, with the Kennedy report, for example ...
News: It's done nothing for us ...
Poole: Well, you don't know. The numbers might have been way down.
News: What will the Darwin railway, if it's ever built, do to the transport industry in Alice Springs?
Poole: It will certainly downsize them. They'll never go away; even now you have the situation where you could bring up all your containers by rail, but they still compete with road freight.
Alice Springs will probably gain in the overall picture with regard to work crews and train crews stationed here.
There will be a major depot here for the new railway.
News: How will these benefits compare with the economic activities of the trucking companies?
Poole: It's hard to quantify. They probably wouldn't be as good as the benefits of having the trucking industry.
News: Are there figures that indicate the exact difference?
Poole: There's been some work done on this, but I don't think there will be anything conclusive 'til you know the structure of who's operating the railway, and how.
At the moment we don't talk about passenger trains going through to Darwin.
But undoubtedly someone will come along and say, I want to run a passenger train.
I've already had a group come out from Canada to talk to me about running the Ghan from Sydney.
It's a company that got involved with Canadian Pacific, and took over a railway line in Canada to run as a tourist attraction.
They believe you can develop a market for an Orient Express type of service.
They run the train slowly, stop at sidings, you have your dinner under the stars, and so on.
News: How close is the Darwin railway?
Poole: I would suggest to you it's very close, certainly within a couple of years.
News: Within a couple of years maybe - or definitely?
Poole: Oh no, definitely, I would suggest to you. Sometime this year the Federal Government will tell us whether they'll help us, and if they decide not to, then we have to look at the alternatives, building it ourselves, with participation from the South Australian Government and private enterprise.
News: The present expectations are $100m each from the NT and SA, $300m from Canberra and $500m from a private investor, a total of $1billion.
Poole: I don't think we'll get the money out of the Feds, but what you might get is a concession of some form, whether it be a taxation concession or whatever. That's basically what we're looking for.
News: When will Canberra let us know?
Poole: I don't want to be specific. I know where the talks are at, but I don't want to talk about Cabinet matters.
News: Some people say you're the Member for Brunei and you're never in Alice Springs.
Poole: My answer to that is, I don't know of anybody who wanted to see me and hasn't been able to see me.
The truth is, I've been to Brunei twice in the last two years, but like all former Central Australian Ministers, I find I spend a lot of time in Darwin, having to attend Cabinet meetings every Tuesday.

Promises kept, broken

Plains of Promise
by Alexis Wright
University of Queensland Press,
304 pp., paperback.
A stranger arrives in an isolated community in the grip of a cruel regime.
Her death, after her child is taken from her, is the first in a series, suspected to be suicides.
A cover-up by authorities leads the clandestine Council of Elders to conduct their own investigation: the results are inconclusive and the stranger's child is made a scapegoat.
The long shadow of these events are the narrative stuff of Alice Springs writer Alexis Wright's first novel, Plains of Promise.
The "promise" of these plains (the papery grass Gulf country where Wright comes from) appears to be that life inexorably renews itself despite all the painful obstacles put in its path, and the myriad deaths experienced along the way.
The country itself is portrayed in this way - one of the great strengths of the novel.
Its endless cycles of renewal are in harmony with the spirit world that enlivens the land with beauty and terror.
Thus the stranger is driven to her death:
"Alone she saw the blackness of the night and the men who came, small and faceless creatures. They slid down the ropes from the stormy skies, lowering their dirty wet bodies until they reached the ground outside the hut while she slept. There in silence they went after her..."
The traveller on his journey to the stranger's country almost dies at the centre of the dry Great Lake, surrounded by thousands of dead pelicans, like him deceived by the mirage of water.
The rain comes and holds him just this side of death. He lies unconscious, entombed in a web of grass.
"At night the dead returned, marching over the flat land. This time they feigned their identity as mosquitoes, unrecognisable in their sameness as the stars in the sky ...
"Slowly, painfully Elliott awoke. His tomb a sanctuary of dead clanspeople who left as soon as they felt the renewal of life in the heat he began to generate. They were no longer necessary; relieved of the urgency of family obligation, they could return to fighting one another."
The human drama of Wright's story is fascinatingly amplified in this way throughout the 160 pages of the first section of the novel, under the title The Timekeeper's Shadow.
By its conclusion the stranger's child, Ivy, has all but reached the end of her journey. After year's of sexual abuse at the hands of her "protector", at just 14 years of age she bears his child who is taken from her before she even sees her.
In the meantime, she has been married off to Elliott who passionately loves a woman promised to someone else. He vents his rage on Ivy, who in any case is the whipping "boy" for the entire community.
The story is one of tragedy without redemption, brought painfully alive by Wright's obvious powers of observation, imagination and writing skill.
From this point on Ivy stagnates in madness, with only the occasional glimmering of hope or pleasure in her life but with more insensitivity, injustice and crushing solitude than any one individual should ever have to bear.
To a certain extent Wright's narrative starts to mark time too. The first section has moved along apace, weaving many lives together in a communal tapestry of profound resilience, passion and despair.
Now we follow in a chronology of much lesser density Ivy's long years in a mental asylum from which she is eventually released, with little preparation or care, for reintegration into "the community" - what community? is of course, the question.
She is taken in by a woman suffering from more than a usual dose of delusion and through years of paranoid coexistence they eventually goad each other towards an event that kills the woman, leaving Ivy to a life of scavenging, an unwanted cur.
We then leave Ivy to follow the life of the daughter she's never known, Mary, who after the death of her adoptive parents, is bent on discovering her origins.
They have told her in their will that her mother was Aboriginal. She is a tertiary educated city girl and her search starts with an urban Aboriginal organisation, the Coalition of Aboriginal Governments.
Wright in the novel doesn't have a good word to say about this as a personal experience - Mary is left to fend for herself as the outsider, the stranger much as Ivy and her mother were.
She isn't beaten into submission but she does suffer a fair degree of mental and emotional abuse.
Her work with this organisation finally leads her back to the community, no longer a mission, where Ivy grew up.
We meet again the characters of the first section, now old men and women. The story's interest intensifies. You realise how much you had entered into their lives in the earlier section, how much more food for Wright's creativity there is here.
Wright also evokes very well the kind of blankness that holds Mary back from personal fulfilment. She circles round and round the question of her belonging with nothing to reach out to - where there should be relationship, detail, information, memory, there's a blank.
Even when she finally meets Ivy, in frightening circumstances, she does not realise that she is her mother.
By coincidence, another set of events forces her to leave the community without ever understanding what it had to tell her of her past, of the "Aboriginality" that she wanted to discover.
The concluding fable of Plains of Promise seems to be, devas-tatingly, without any hope. Yet, the reading experience of the whole novel is a hopeful one and the hope, it seems to me, lies in this: that all experiences, even the most terrible, offer the possibility of understanding, of creating meaning.
Wright's novel pursues these possibilities with great story-telling commitment and talent.

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