ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
July 23, 1997
AYERS ROCK RESORT COMPANY: WINNER IN SECRET
The NT government is concealing crucial details of its multi million
dollar investment in the Ayers Rock Resort where the Territory
taxpayers is mostly the loser, and a private company the winner,
alleges Peter Kavanagh, Labor candidate for the Alice Springs seat of
He says when it comes to pumping public money into the resort, it is
considered to be a town like any other.
On the other hand the company runs a security force with powers quite
beyond those of the police: In those cases, the town conveniently
becomes a private resort.
Mr Kavanagh, writing this contribution exclusively for the Alice
Springs News, has a unique insight into the affairs of Yulara.
He's worked there for six years and played a key role in its civic
life, such as it is.
He says the resort company is acting within its rights - but the NT
Government has a lot to answer for with respect to the arrangements it
has put in place.
Mr Kavanagh, originally from Sydney, where he was operations manager of
a bus company, moved to Yulara in 1991 "for a bit of a change".
He worked for AAT Kings and later, for VIP Airport Services, managing
the Ansett agency. He became a member of the Yulara Council in its 1992
inaugural election, the NT Local Government AssociationÍs
vice-president in 1994, and its president less than a year ago.
Mr Kavanagh resigned from that position last week to be able to contest
Greatorex after moving to Alice Springs earlier this year. He was also
the NTÍs representative on the Australian Local Government
Association for just under four years.
The Alice News has found getting official answers about the resort to
be all but impossible.
Our countless enquiries - most recently put to Chief Minister Shane
Stone and CLP candidate for MacDonnell, John Elferink - have
consistently been stonewalled.
It seems that Yulara, although gazetted as a town in 1974, oscillates
between being a resort and a township at the whim of the Country
Liberal Party administration.
Many of the common law rights enjoyed by Territorians in other towns
are denied the citizens of Yulara.
Successive CLP governments have abrogated their responsibility to
govern and protect the residents of Yulara through such instruments as
the Yulara Tourist Village Management Act and the Ayers Rock Resort
These Acts empower private security officers contracted by the Ayers
Rock Resort Company (ARRC) to control the lives of Yulara residents
with greater powers than trained NT police officers in any other town
in the Territory.
Under these Acts, security officers have the clearly unconstitutional
power to force residents to leave town and to arrest them if they do
When questioned about these excessive powers, the CLP administration
has consistently responded that the town of Yulara is secondary to the
Ayers Rock Resort and that these powers are necessary if the resort is
When the CLP administration promotes community government as an
appropriate form of local government, one of their major selling points
is the ability of community governments to create by-laws.
Yulara has had community government status since October 1992 but has
yet to have its first set of by-laws approved.
The problem has been that the government will not approve the draft
by-laws unless the Ayers Rock Resort Company approves of the by-laws.
If Yulara really is a town then this is an untenable situation. How can
the government justify giving so much power to a company that is 40 per
cent privately owned (and will soon be fully privately owned)?
What promises will be made to prospective buyers in order to secure the
sale? What will be the future of the community in Yulara who seem to be
used as pawns by this government?
It is apparent however, that the notion of "town" assumes primary
importance when massive capital injections from the NT coffers are
required to upgrade or develop the infrastructure necessary for the
operation of the resort.
Although 90 resort rooms have been constructed over the past two years,
the Country Liberal Party claimed that the $200,000 budget allocation
to upgrade the Yulara power plant was for the benefit of the "town".
If this is indeed the case, then why are the hotel rooms and resort
facilities the last areas to lose power in the event of generator
The resort properties and operations clearly have priority.
As there is no freedom of information legislation in the NT,
Territorians may never be fully aware of the arrangements entered into
by the government.
For instance, we may never know the details of the lease arrangement
that the CLP government has entered into with ARRC regarding the Ayers
Rock (Connellan) Airport.
I am sure that most Territorians are unaware that the airport has the
capacity to generate between $8m and $12m annually because each
passenger flying in and out of Connellan Airport with QANTAS, Ansett
and Kendall Airlines pays $36 in airport fees.
Will Territorians have an opportunity to share in these profits when
the resort is sold? Will resort shares be available to Territorians in
the form of a public float or will a large part of this dividend
continue to be shipped interstate?
Treasurer Mike Reed was reported to have announced that the majority of
YularaÍs public housing - owned by the NT Housing Commission -
may be sold, possibly to the resort company.
If Yulara is a town (the argument used for the construction of most of
the infrastructure), why are residents not being offered the
opportunity to purchase their housing as is the case in any other NT
What will be the selling price of the 600 plus residential units?
We donÍt know and may never find out due to the lack of freedom
of information legislation.
The bottom line is that every other community in the NT, big and small,
is subsidising the operation of the resort.
Under the Yulara Community Government Scheme, the Ayers Rock Resort
Company (owner of a resort with an overnight capacity of about 5,000
visitors, and owner of commercial properties generating significant
income from private operators in the form of rent) pays only $100,000
annually to the Yulara Town Council in lieu of rates.
This is a ridiculously small amount, particularly considering that the
council pays more than $35,000 annually in rent to ARRC to occupy the
Further, when ARRC constructed an additional 44 residential units, the
government refused to amend the scheme to allow for an increase in the
payment in lieu of rates.
If the Housing Commission had constructed the additional units, they
would have been liable for about $18,000 in increased rates.
Why should a company that is 40 per cent privately owned be subsidised
in this manner? Someone has to make up the short fall.
Under the scheme as it stands, ARRC is liable to a maximum payment to
the council of $100,000 annually.
If the scheme is not amended prior to the sale of the public housing,
the Yulara Town Council stands to lose in excess of $250,000 annually -
the rates currently being paid by the Housing Commission.
The ARRC has approached the Yulara Town Council to assist in providing
an operational subsidy for the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Yulara.
Although the council was not opposed in principle to offering funds to
support this essential service, we were opposed to allocating public
funds to make up the operational deficit when we became aware that ARRC
charged the RFDS in excess of $80,000 annually for rental of their
We were not going to use public funds to subsidise ARRCÍs
In 1992, after years of financial mismanagement and multi-million
dollar losses were incurred by the government, the ARRC took control of
the management of the resort.
The most damning indictment of the government's managerial incompetence
was that within three years, ARRC was able to declare an operational
The "arm's length" policy adopted by the government proved successful.
Since that time, even though the government still owns 60 per cent of
the resort, they have been reticent to become involved in the
management of the resort in any way.
This has left ARRC in a powerful position, even to the extent where
ARRC has de facto planning powers and has denied the council permission
to construct a community centre (incorporating council chambers so that
the amount in excess of $35,000 paid to ARRC each year in rent may be
Although Mr Reed, the Minister for Lands, has been asked by council to
intercede in this issue (as his Ministerial powers allow), he has
constantly refused to do so.
Again, public monies are being used to subsidise the resort.
The question of where the public funds that are used to subsidise the
resort come from still remains.
The answer is simple. Each rate-payer and resident of any area
incorporated under local government is footing the bill.
The NT Government pays each community government and association
council an operational subsidy to make up for budgetary shortfalls
experienced due to limited rating capacities.
Since the resort only pays a fraction of the rates that it would
attract under normal circumstances, the Yulara Town Council also
receives an operational subsidy.
If the resort paid more reasonable rates, this subsidy would not be
required. It can be argued quite strongly that this subsidy could be
better utilised to improve conditions in remote communities or to
develop strategies to combat the anti-social behaviour issues facing
our regional centres rather than to subsidise discounted rates for
More importantly however, for residents of Alice Springs, is the fact
that due to mismanagement on the part of the government, Alice Springs
rates are higher than they might otherwise have been.
When operational subsidies were introduced, municipal councils were
also eligible for subsidy payments.
After years of seemingly haphazard local government development and
ridiculous rating levels at Yulara, operational subsidies had to be
removed from municipal councils.
The financial burden resulting from this incompetence has been shifted
to the ratepayers of Alice Springs and the other municipalities.
Unless freedom of information legislation is enacted and Territorians
have access to open government, the deception is likely to continue.
NON-GAY AIDS IS MORE COMMON IN THE TERRITORY.
Sixty per cent of Territorians who have tested HIV positive list their
risk factor as male to male contact and 19 per cent via heterosexual
sexual contact, according to Tim Errington, coordinator of men's
services with the Aids Council of Central Australia (ACOCA).
"This is in stark contrast to the rest of Australia were 80 per cent
list their risk factor as to male to male sexual contact and eight per
cent via heterosexual sexual contact," he says.
"To our knowledge, no person with HIV-AIDS has committed suicide in
Alice Springs in relation to being diagnosed HIV-AIDS. "In the past two
years, 5 people have died from AIDS related disease in the NT, but as
we do not know how many people are living with HIV-AIDS in the
Territory, we cannot give a death rate."
There have been 14 cases of HIV and three cases of AIDS in Central
Australia since 1985, according to a report by MrErrington.
AIDS, or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a group of symptoms
caused by infections and cancers that develop due to HIV infection
destroying the body's immune system.
The statistics quoted by Mr Errington were maintained by the National
Centre of HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research and Territory Health
Services, but only reflect where a person's first HIV or AIDS diagnosis
was initially made.
Mr Errington says: "This means that people living with HIV or AIDS in
the NT, who were first diagnosed elsewhere, are not shown.
"People who were diagnosed with HIV-AIDS in the NT may no longer live
here. Also some people may be HIV without knowing it. It is therefore
impossible to know how many people with HIV-AIDS are living in Central
Australia or the NT at any given time."
To December, 1996, 86 men and four women were tested HIV positive in
the NT. Two of these positive results were for persons under the age of
Also 27 males have been diagnosed with AIDS following HIV infection,
and 22 males have died from AIDS related disease. Gaols undertake
compulsory HIV testing of all inmates.
No other service in the NT should do compulsory testing, Mr Errington
says, but many offer HIV testing in situations where knowing your HIV
status would be of benefit.
"For example, prenatal testing may be offered to pregnant women.
"Treating a HIV positive mother with anti-viral drugs during pregnancy
can reduce the chance of the baby being affected."
Specialised support services, apart from ACOCA, for people living with
HIV infections and AIDS are Clinic 34, Central Australian Aboriginal
Congress, the Tristate Project and general practitioners. "HIV is only
transmitted by blood, semen, vaginal fluid and breast milk,"
Mr Errington says.
The rate of HIV infection in the NT is 50.6 per 100,000 population.
This is higher than Tasmania (17.3), South Australia (43.5) and West
Australia (49.9). Mr Errington comments: "At the Aids Council, we do
not use words such as ïsufferer' or ïvictim' when describing
HIV-AIDS people. "Instead we use words that empower and validate people
living with the HIV-AIDS."
REMOVALIST COMPANIES SAY MORE PEOPLE ARE LEAVING
Local removalist companies are saying that an unusual number of
residents are leaving town.
A survey conducted in April this year by the Alice News indicated that
arrivals and departures were then fairly evenly balanced.
Not so now, it would appear. Operations manager of Red Centre Removals,
Fred Carberry, comments: "At the moment there are certainly more people
being moved out than are coming in.
"Over the last 12 months, we would have averaged two or three removals
out of town per week, and we would only be bringing in one or two per
Manager of Arrow Freight Lines, Dean Edmunds, says: "From what I can
gather, a lot of people seem to be retiring and moving elsewhere. "Many
of them have been in the Alice for ten years or so and they say they've
They want to get out. "They tend to say the Alice was a nice friendly
little place ten years ago, but now it's going to the pack. "They keep
saying they have 'served their time' and they are off somewhere else. A
lot of the younger ones move away because they miss the faster life
"There are many reasons given as to why they are leaving. Most just say
they have had enough. "There's definitely more going out. Double the
amount, in fact.
A lot of people are moving from the Alice to Darwin, it seems to me,
and lots go south, too." Spokesman for Ansett Wridgways Removals, Bob
Forster, observes: "Having taken a close look at our figures, I was
rather surprised to learn that there has been a 62 per cent increase in
removals going out of Alice Springs.
It's a bit scary actually. I can't say why so many people are taking
the trouble to move away from the place."
In 1996-97, Wridgways moved 12,491 cubic metres out of Alice Springs,
compared to 9,648 cubic metres in.
This is in dramatic contrast to the preceding financial year when they
moved 10,086 cubic meres out, compared to 10,438 cubic metres coming
Stuart MLA, Peter Toyne, says probably ten per cent of people
responding to the survey he recently conducted "identified themselves
as long term residents of the town [but] claimed that because of the
deterioration of the life here they were seriously thinking of pulling
up stakes and going elsewhere to live.
"This has also shown up in the extensive door knocking I have done
around the Alice. We have door knocked about 3000 houses and there is
quite a clear attitude being expressed.
"Many are long term residents, people who have lived here for five, ten
and fifteen years. "Another factor, too, are the Federal cuts in the
public service and many positions have gone.
It is no longer a booming economy. There isn't masses of work available
in the construction industry. "There is no longer the buzz around the
place that brought people here and kept them here.
Small business around town are saying things are fairly flat or patchy
and no one seems excited about the economic prospects. "All this,
together with the constant presence of anti-social behaviour around the
place, is contributing to the general malaise.
We are constantly hearing the views of residents who are leaving, or
planning to leave, because they believe the quality of life in Alice
Springs has badly deteriorated."
HOW THE TOWN COUNCIL COULD MAKE ALICE SPRINGS A
There is a role for the town council to reinforce and enhance Alice
Springs' identity as a "strongly bi-racial community living in an
extraordinary natural landscape and responding to the constraints and
challenges of an arid climate."
This role is outlined in a draft cultural development plan which, when
finalised, will be incorporated into the town council's 10 year
The draft proposes that the town council develop Alice Springs as "an
international centre for culture, arid zone technology, ecology and the
arts" and that it should "lead by example".
Prepared by the council's Arts and Cultural Development Advisory
Committee, the draft identifies three main areas for action.
The first is the development of a regional identity in the built
environment through the promotion of local design standards, products
The draft says the council's existing "buy local" policy should be
extended far beyond the purchase of products.
It recommends that a "design competency approach" to tendering be
This would establish the relevant skills of architects to be considered
for civic projects.
These projects should meet basic arid zone design standards in regard
to energy efficiency, water conservation and landscaping.
Several features of the built environment are ripe for improvement,
according to the plan:
´ Public carparks should use local materials for surfacing, such
as Native Gap aggregate and White Range quartz.
´ Causeways deserve more attention to detail. In particular the
road, pathways and causeway shoulder at Wills Terrace would be enhanced
by an integrated approach.
´ Colour could enliven existing bridges across the Todd River.
´ Modest design consultancies are recommended for shade
structures in public parks, rubbish bins in the mall and CBD, and for
´ Subdivision drains should be used to contribute to the
"greening" of Alice Springs.
The draft plan suggests that the existing system of public recognition
awards for good design be expanded, including local architectural
awards, and that ways of encouraging protection of the town's built,
cultural and natural heritage be explored, including a review of
council's rating policy for heritage properties.
Heritage properties would be exempted from a general policy of planting
Central Australian native species in all public places, while tree
protection by-laws are recommended to preserve established shade trees.
The draft plan recommends that approvals for billboards on roads
leading into Alice Springs cease and ways of removing existing
billboards be investigated.
It also recommends enforcement of the council's existing signage policy
which it describes as reasonable and adequate.
The second area for action identified by the draft plan involves
recognition and highlighting of the diversity of contemporary cultures
which co-exist in Alice Springs.
Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal sections of the
community should be a focus of "relevant council undertakings".
It also recommends that the council be proactive in assisting
cross-cultural events, with particular emphasis on youth entertainment
and events with a proven track record or demonstrated community
Possible actions include:
´ dual naming of significant landmarks within the town;
´ periodic cross-cultural training for council staff;
´ trialling a trainee structure on council projects for
´ supporting emerging talent and improving entertainment
opportunities for youth;
´ reviewing the annual Aus Music Day, with safety and
accessibility for youth important factors in planning;
´ supporting organisers to continue with proven sporting events
such as the acclaimed Aussie Rules game between Essenden and the
The third area for action is in reflecting and highlighting our unique
natural setting and cultural diversity through the production and
support of locally based community art and the promotion of artists.
The draft plan recommends that the council develop a long term
art-in-public-places program employing local artists and craftspeople.
It proposes a reconciliation festival organised by the council and a
broad coalition of other organisations, as well as annual grants for
arts activities based on racial harmony, reconciliation and
NAIDOC day could be expanded to encourage participation by the whole
The council should commission a major piece of public art addressing
reconciliation themes; sponsor a major visual arts festival; support
artists' workshops to be advertised nationally; develop and manage a
festival program in conjunction with other centres; promote, in an
illustrated booklet, the existing and ever-expanding public art
collections housed at the Araluen Centre as well as existing art works
in public places.
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