August 20, 1997

Neither the Alice tourism lobby CATIA nor the NT Tourist Commission have said that they will require the resignation of David Bennett following his conviction for car rental price fixing in the Federal Court last week.
Mr Bennett was one of several people and companies to be fined a total of nearly $1.3m following prosecution by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Mr Bennett, who was ordered to pay $80,000, is a former chairman of CATIA and a current member of its executive. The organisations present chairman, Wayne Tucker, says Mr Bennett would not  be asked to leave  the 14 member executive.
Mr Tucker declined to comment when asked whether he thought Mr Bennett s conduct may have harmed the tourism industry.
The NT Tourist Commission, of which Mr Bennett is also a member, declined to comment, saying he had been appointed by Tourism Minister Mike Reed.
Mr Reed did not respond to a request for comment, and Mr Bennett failed to return a call from the Alice News.
ACCC chairman Alan Fels says Justice John Mansfield had ordered penalties totalling $1,290,000 and costs of $140,000 for price fixing in the Alice car rental market.
Prof Fels says the order was made against Alice Car and Truck Rental Pty Ltd (trading as Territory Rent-A-Car); NT Outback Adventure Rentals Pty Ltd (Hertz Northern Territory); Stafftoy Pty Ltd (Thrifty Car Rental); Brian Measey, managing director of Territory Rent-A-Car, Mr Bennett, managing director of Hertz Northern Territory, and Nathalie Keller, former manager of the Alice Springs office of Thrifty NT.
In addition, an undertaking of compensation to their customers had been noted by the court.
The possible compensation payout may be in the order of $70,000.
Territory Rent-A-Car and Thrifty NT are part of the Measey group of companies in the Northern Territory, says Prof Fels. 
By withdrawing their defence, co-operating with the ACCC and agreeing to joint submissions to be put to the court, Territory Rent-A-Car, Hertz Northern Territory, Thrifty NT, Mr Measey, Mr Bennett and Mrs Keller saved considerable court time and costs to all concerned of a lengthy trial. 
The benefits of that co-operation were considered by the court in making its final orders.  Justice Mansfield said that Mr Measey was prime mover of the price fixing conduct. 
He ordered Mr Measey to pay a personal penalty of $150,000 for his role. 
This is a record for a personal penalty under the Trade Practices Act.  Mr Bennett was ordered to pay a personal penalty of $80,000.  Mr Measey is the managing director and part owner of Territory Rent-A-Car. 
He stood to receive direct financial benefits.  Mr Bennett was managing director of Hertz Northern Territory. 
The ACCC had filed proceedings alleging price fixing in contravention of section 45 of the Trade Practices Act. The court had found that from late 1994 until around April 1995, the Alice Springs offices of the companies stopped offering tourists a car rental discount called an  Ayers Rock Special  after the companies had reached an understanding with their competitors that they would also stop offering these specials.
The court had found that Mr Measey, Mr Bennett and Ms Keller were knowingly concerned in the price fix. Says Prof Fels:  Robert Hunter, former manager of the Alice Springs office of Territory Rent-A-Car, was also found to be knowingly concerned in the price fix. 
The court granted injunctions restraining Mr Hunter from being involved in price fixing of car rentals. 
The ACCC did not pursue penalties against Mr Hunter because his ultimate cooperation enabled the commission to join Mr Measey, a more senior executive of Territory Rent-A-Car, and also Mr Bennett, the managing director of Hertz Northern Territory. 
In the commission s view his co-operation was a major factor in the decision by the other respondents to withdraw their defences to the action and resolve the proceedings without the need for an expensive and lengthy trial. 
Prof Fels says Ayers Rock Specials were offered to many tourists in the off tourist season in Alice Springs whereby they received an allowance of up to 600 free kilometres per day as part of the rental of a vehicle. 
After the price fixing arrangement was implemented most car rental consumers received only 100 free kilometres per day, paying 25 cents per kilometre for every kilometre travelled in excess of the daily allowance. 
This resulted in some consumers paying many hundreds of dollars more for their rental. "Tourism is a vital industry for the Australian and Northern Territory economies especially with the 2000 Olympics approaching,  says Prof Fels.
"It is essential that the industry not be damaged by price fixing.  The investigation had required interviewing many witnesses, and analysing over 40,000 documents.

NT Trade Minister, MLA for Araluen Eric Poole, Central Australia s only Cabinet member, is a keen proponent of fostering business with Asia. But is he missing opportunities in his own back yard? While most visitors to The Centre are seeking primarily to explore our ancient Aboriginal culture, opportunities for doing so first-hand are few and far between. So are practical solutions to that problem, as Alice News editor ERWIN CHLANDA found when he spoke to Mr Poole.
Following the speeches, when the Alice News asked 10 of the assembled businessmen what they most wanted the NT Government to do for Alice Springs, none of them made reference to geo-political strategies, nor to any of the other lunch topics: Finding sensible solutions to boosting the local tourism industry was on top of the wish list for half of those surveyed (see summary this page).
The News spoke to Mr Poole after the lunch: News: You ve just told us that the NT has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, yet 1570 people in this region - Alice Springs and surrounding bush communities - are on CDEP work for the dole programs.
The work force here - correct me if I m wrong - is 12,500. So while around five per cent are officially unemployed, well over 10 per cent are on CDEP.
Would it not be fair to say that our actual unemployment rate here is more like 15 per cent?
Poole: No, because I would suggest to you that if these people were not employed on CDEP programs they d be employed on some other type of Jobstart programs.
I think everyone acknowledges in the NT that there are special measures that have to be brought in for Aboriginal communities, particularly the more isolated ones, to create employment.
News: The participation rate in CDEP here is immeasurably higher that in the rest of the nation.
Poole: Yes, but you could also say that the population of Aboriginal people, per capita, is immeasurably higher in the NT than anywhere else in the nation.
News: Are CDEP programs are meaningful? Poole: It s probably too early to say. There hasn t been any meaningful research done [on CDEP, showing] how many of those people are moving on to other types of programs. I ve always said, for example, it is illogical to send people out from Alice Springs to replace broken windows in Yuendumu.
What we should be doing is train [local] people to do that work.
News: Your party s had 20 years to do that.
Poole: Well, basically, those areas are being picked up by the Federal Government. We ve always had apprentice training schemes, and we really haven t had a lot of interest shown by those communities.
News: The Aboriginal culture presents a unique opportunity for attracting tourists. Yet one of the few Aboriginal tourism ventures folded, apparently because they simply couldn t handle the paper work. Does your department see its role as providing meaningful support in areas of administration and management? If so, where are the examples of success?
Poole: My department has not concentrated on Aboriginal enterprise. It is only in the last 12 months, as we ve moved into the regional development area, that we ve been trying to address that. We ve made some ground in those areas. We ve helped a number of those community organisations.
News: Which ones and how?
Poole: We ve offered Julalikari in Tennant Creek to do a business plan for them. They have similar sort of problems, with paper work, and so on. We ll help them to train up someone who s capable of doing that.
News: Would it not be more efficient to simply carry out these mundane, automatic, uncreative tasks for them?
Poole: You could get over that problem by providing joint venture partnerships, letting the Aboriginal people do the traditional, cultural things. I don t think this is what Aboriginal people want in terms of self-determination. They would like the opportunity of doing the whole thing themselves.
News: It seems to me that assistance to Aborigines is often seen as distinct from assistance to the other sections of the community. Is it not fair to say that the huge demand from tourists to be put in touch with authentic Aboriginal culture and lifestyles, all but impossible at the moment, could become an important factor in the development of our economy? Why are the two not being brought together? Isn t that the function of your department?
Poole: No, that s not the function of the department. We already provide extensive workshops, training and seminars. The fact is there s not been much interest shown by the Aboriginal community. A number of Aboriginal people have attended courses but there s nowhere near a percentage that equates to the general community.
News: Does that suggest that you re offering the wrong thing? Why don t you do the paper work for them? It seems a minor thing.
Poole: It s not a minor thing. If you did it for an Aboriginal group I would suggest you d end up with hundreds of people involved in that area, and it would be a tremendous expense on government. I think the correct way to address that would be to train the people themselves, and train them properly. I m sure it ll happen, but it will take time.
News: If you had hundreds of enterprises operating successfully because you re giving them a hand with administration, would that not be a good thing?
Poole: Most certainly.
News: So, why aren t you doing it?
Poole: We don t have the resources to do it. I d have to double the size of my department.
News: How many staff do you have now?
Poole: We have 88, of them 23 in the business services area. [FOOTNOTE: Last week we asked Tourist Commission managing director Tony Mayell whether he thought his commission should provide administrative support for fledgling Aboriginal tourism ventures. He said this is the province of Mr Poole s department.]

What would you like the NT government to do for Alice Springs? Peter Kittle (motor trade): Support an international airport. Most [other] infra structure we ve already got here.
Our most under-utilised assets in the Territory are tourist attractions, and [creating an international airport] would be the best way to solve that problem.
Mayor Andy McNeill: Market Alice Springs as a destination in its own right - better. Alex Bohner (motor trade): We need to look at law and order and at developing our tourism further because we ve got very little else.
John McBride (law): Supporting local business. Small business is the backbone of the economy here. Fast tracking, where possible, planned developments that are useful to the local economy and complement the local economy.
Dave Tuzewski (consultant): Develop Alice Springs as an international airline hub for Australia. I think there are enough convincing arguments to make that happen.
Peter Mostran (fuel): Support the projects that are already under development. John Ryan (retired): Get reelected. Ian Builder (auctions): Box off the native title issues, as quickly as possible.
Paul Venturin (food): We need to highlight the fact that Alice Springs has a very large tourist potential. Ayers Rock is very important but we need to get the focus back on town, get the numbers back into town.
Eric Neil (tourism): Continue with a policy of supporting development and supporting business. Asian Relations, Trade and Industry Minister Eric Poole last Thursday invited some of the town s top businessmen to lunch with WA Deputy Premier Hendy Cowan.
Mr Poole and Mr Cowan addressed the gathering on regional economic development, joint NT-WA involvement in the Indian Ocean Rim, the Ord River development and defence  outsourcing  opportunities.

Whilst the NT Tourist Commission sorts out the promotion strategies for Alice it would do well to ask the tourists themselves.
It doesn t take long to find out that their needs are not being met, that there is a lot more potential for the town and its visitors.
Tourism here relies heavily on backpackers so their opinions are crucial.
Most I spoke to were University students taking time out for some travelling, while others had just taken a work or career break.
First impressions always count:  Alice is small-time, not that you expect anything else,  said John, a construction worker from England. 
There is very little to do outside of the hostel.  It s also too much of a tourist mecca and the Aboriginal culture is bled dry and exploited, but apart from that it s great, I really do like it. 
Norman, a manager from Zimbabwe, agreed:  I like the surrounding countryside, I don t really like the town itself much, it s not the sort of town I would spend too much time in. The town is very touristy and commercialised, there are too many Aboriginal art shops. 
Half the town revolves around tourists.  I like tourists but don t like a place which caters just for tourists. I like a town which is natural. 
This is unnatural. I expected it to be the sort of place where you go into a General Store and the guy running it was born here, and took it over from his parents and grand-parents who ran it before him. 
The local tours here are disappointing, says Norman. He spoke in detail of a bush tour he went on to learn about Aboriginal culture.  The first thing I was amazed at was that the Aborigines didn t live at the camp, they all got picked up in town! 
The camp had been specifically built for the tourists.  I didn t expect to see blankets and metal trunks lying around, and Aborigines drinking morning tea. 
Then we spent most of our time listening to a boring tour guide who kept umming and ahhing, didn t seem to know what he was talking about.  Overall, I felt the $70 was money badly spent. 
We were given a demonstration of how the Aborigines throw weapons ... but they didn t get their boomerangs anywhere near the target.  The people on the tour ended up doing it better than they. 
I d been mostly looking forward to trying out the local traditional bush tucker.  The guide produced a witchetty grub. I couldn t wait to try mine ... I couldn t believe it. 
We had to share [one finger-sized grub] between 20 of us, and then I find out that this caterpillar was imported from Victoria.  We then had the privilege of sharing one wild tomato between us all to feast on! 
Jimmy, a university law student from Ireland, has spent one day here.  It s more or less like any of the towns in Central Australia. It s another Mount Isa except that it s got Ayers Rock and Kings Canyon. 
Denmar from Denmark ended up liking it better than she thought.  Its relaxed and laid-back, a cozy town where the people are friendly. 
What do backpackers find most attractive about Alice? The gorgeous weather was the Alice attribute most frequently mentioned. 
Alice has the wonderful climate,  John told me,  and a great location in the MacDonnell Ranges.  The customs and history are a plus.  Says Norman:  Alice does have a romanticised image. "My mother told me ïyou must go and see Alice Springs for me .
"She d heard a lot about it. Alice does have a wild reputation because with only a 20 minute walk you really are out there in the bush surrounded by stunning scenery. 
There were mixed opinions on night entertainment here. Jayne, from Melbourne, reckons the pubs are good and Norman loves the saloon Bojangles, which has good food, great service and music, he says: "It has that pioneer town feel to it. 
However, others thought there weren t enough pubs or bars here and that the present ones were rough. Ed, a University student commented: "I was shocked by how little night entertainment there was for a population of 22,000."
According to Norman "there s not enough to do here - so you don t stay too long. "Everywhere closes early, but that s Australia all over." Rachel and Emma, nurses from England, enjoyed their hot air ballooning experience.
"The telegraph thing was quite nice because it was sunny. We could sit on the grass and admire the nearby plant life. "But to be honest, once you ve visited Woolworth and the post office, that s about it.
"There are some good shops to look around but they are all too expensive. "Alice is better than Mount Isa and Townsville," says Jimmy from Ireland, "but I still couldn t spend more than a week here."
Alice is mainly seen as a base from which to visit the Rock and Kings Canyon. Says Jayne: "This is how it is promoted on passes and tours - as a base not as an attraction in itself.
"That s the only reason I m here, to be honest, although it's the best Aboriginal site I've visited so far and it is nice that you can get around the whole town in half an hour."
"At first I came here to see the Rock, en route, but I needed cash so I stayed." Accommodation isn't an important issue for backpackers here. Many aren't here long enough. Their main concern is getting out to see the sights. There were comments like "well, it's a place to stay".
Some felt that though the hotels are fairly priced they'd become slack due to lack of competition. "There is too much of a big monopoly here, there's no competition," says John.
He says one hostel is "really dirty but they don't bother about it cause there's loads of people coming in all the time ... it's like a factory." Jimmy disagrees: "They beat the hostels in Sydney by a long shot." Many found Alice to be expensive, but "it can afford to be".
Food in particular is expensive compared to the rest of Australia. Of course, I asked what they thought of backpackers and locals here.
Jimmy noticed that "backpackers are more diverse here, Germans, more Aussies, Asians - it's more interesting and healthy than Sydney and Cairns where it's all English, Irish and Scottish".
Many visitors I spoke to were not used to seeing such a large numbers of Aborigines. Says Jimmy: "The Aborigines seemed more at home here and more together than in Cairns."
Most travellers, however, found the grog situation wasn't enticing. "The locals are all pissed," says John. "This Aboriginal woman sat next to me on a park-bench, she rolled off it and smashed her head open on the floor.
"Her daughter laughed and dragged her away whilst she kept shouting out that she needed a drink." "All the Aborigines hanging around in the town centre is disconcerting," said Norman.
"I've got nothing against alcohol if it's been earned and deserved but the alcohol here is lazy and negative. It ruins the atmosphere around town."
Most travellers said that they would have liked to have met more local people and to have gotten to know them better. I asked how tourism strategies could be improved here.
John: "Stop ripping off the Aborigines and give us some quality information and merchandise." Norman reckons Alice could personalise tourism a lot more.
"The tourism industry here treats its visitors like battery chickens, in and out as quickly as possible. "It's a shame you feel like you're on a conveyor belt, and it should never be like that. There are far too many people just going through Alice."
Jimmy: "I would emphasise the Aboriginal side more and the fact that this is the centre of Australia for God's sake, the Red Centre, the vibrant centre of Australia not just geographically but culturally, an essential experience.
"Obviously, people who're interested in partying wouldn't come here so people in their 30s and 40s need to be targeted. They have the money to spend on Aboriginal artifacts and can go further afield to those special remote areas that are usually inaccessible for backpackers."
Ed loved his experience at the Rock but didn't get as much as he wanted from Alice.
"If I worked on the tourism board here I would try and tell people about what there is here, there wasn't enough advertising. "I've missed stuff that I should have been to.
Most people spend a short time here so they need to know what there is before they come. Perhaps they may then prepare to stay longer." Denmar spent some unplanned extra time here.
"We only wanted to go to the Rock but it was fully booked. "We were only going to be here one night so we didn't have any expectations at all. Now we are glad we've had this extra time here, we've really enjoyed it.
We didn't expect Alice to be an attraction in itself." Jayne, a surfer and getting severe withdrawal symptoms, says a nudist colony here would be "very cost-effective, the weather's ideal".
Alice wants tourists to stay longer but it's not helped by hostels which throw out guests after a week because they don't like "long-termers" - clearly more interested in getting a fast buck from tour bookings.
Many travellers complained about this. Work is extremely easy to come by in Alice Springs, though most people I asked had assumed it would be difficult.
"I got a job here within an hour of arriving as a receptionist at a local hotel," said one backpacker. "Still, I wouldn't like to stick around too long, certainly not more than two or three months."
That's a pity: Backpackers are a form of cost-efficient, mobile advertising. Their word of mouth endorsements are a persuasive marketing tool which pervade a growing world-wide network. Backpackers are worth investing in.

At a water hole on Alcoota Station, north east of Alice Springs, there's a window onto a very ancient drama. During a time of severe drought animals, smelling the last remaining water hole in the area, travelled great distances to reach it, instinctively following river and drainage systems.
They started grazing and browsing around the water hole, in ever-increasing numbers, among them the voracious giant animals of prehistory. Soon there was nothing left to eat.
The animals knew that if they went too far to find more food they'd die of thirst, so they stayed close to the water, waiting for rain that didn't come.
Slowly they began to die of starvation. They became weak, staggering around, falling over each other. Big animals stepped on smaller ones, smashing in their skulls.
When the drought finally broke it was too late. The animals lay dead in their thousands. Water rushing in from the surrounding range lands pushed a layer of sediment over the ill-fated creatures.
They lay buried ... for eight million years! The story is told by the science of paleontology - the study of fossils - and the storyteller today is Dr Peter Murray, of the Museum of Central Australia.
This Oregon-born paleontologist, assisted by field-worker and taxidermist Ian Archibald, each year leads an expedition of students from Flinders University to the Alcoota site.
It has become best known to the public for the discovery of the giant bones of one of the world's largest birds, Dromornis stirtoni, originally named and described by Dr Pat Rich in the 1970s.
These flightless birds stood over 2.5 metres tall, rivalling the Malagasy Elephant bird and the largest Moa species from New Zealand. They are the Mihirung Paringmal of Aboriginal mythology and became extinct about 20,000 years ago.
During this year's expedition in July more bones of the species were discovered but the key to the giant bird's lineage is still missing: "We are still avidly trying to find pieces of his skull," says Dr Murray.
"The parts of the skull we have now are rather puzzling. They don't really look like any of the other ratites or giant flightless birds; there are some similarities and some peculiarities.
"The base of the skull has the characteristics we need to decide what their relationship might be. "This would then have some biogeographic implications. Where did they come from in the first place?
"They were here 40 or 50 million years ago, one of the most ancient parts of the Australian fauna, almost certainly a Gondwanan form.
"This would make you think they must have some link with Moas but they have more in common, even though this too is limited, with emus and cassowaries than with any other ratites."
Dr Murray is certain that the Dromornithid's skull will be found at Alcoota, although it may take another 10 years' patient sifting to get it.
Is this laborious search fired only by a passion for erudition or does paleontology contribute to knowledge of our contemporary environment? Dr Murray is emphatic: "Paleontology is very practical!
"We can find real evidence in support of assumptions that ecologists have made. "Without paleontology they couldn't know that there were 10 to 15 species of big kangaroos, up to twice the size of the red kangaroo, as recently as 20,000 years ago, and that many other browsing forms once roamed this region.
"If they didn't know that these animals existed, they would have no idea of what the potential carrying capacity of these range lands is. Eight million years ago it was probably four to five times greater than now."
At Alcoota paleonto-logists can see the beginnings of the process of aridification of Central Australia, with a key factor being the extinction of the large browsers.
The Dromornothids and others contributed to replenishing their environment by being able to eat very poor quality vegetation which they recycled into great dollops of dung, high in nitrogen and other nutrients, dropping them across the countryside.
Once those animals had gone there were only termites left to recycle this vegetation back into the system. Termites help but they don't turn nutrients over fast enough to support big mammals.
Cattle and even kangaroos, being predominately grazers, are only able to replenish a very narrow segment of the total plant community. "So what happened is that a lot of the energy stored in this region over 40 to 50 million years ago is now lost," says Dr Murray.
"If we ever planned in the future to restore these habitats we would have to have a much wider range of animals living here." So why did the giant browsers disappear?
At Alcoota the animals had become "tethered" to a water hole during a particularly severe drought. However, in general during the Pleistocene the climate, although dry, is thought to have been more predictable than it is now in terms of rainfall.
It would appear that human hunting and some ecological changes that took place when humans came to the continent, say 40 or 50 thousand years ago, played a key role in the extinction.
There have been rapid extinctions of giant animals coinciding with the arrival of humans on every continent, except in Africa where people co-evolved with their animals over a period of two million years.
The Alcoota discoveries are only the tip of the iceberg. There is enough work to do on the site for Dr Murray's lifetime and beyond, and there are certainly more such sites.
Indeed, the Northern Territory is a fossil-hunters paradise, says Dr Murray. "It's a matter of looking in the right place," he says, "usually in freshwater limestone outcrops, which are very widespread throughout Central Australia and the southern part of the northern half of the Territory."
The earliest known vertebrate fossils in the southern hemisphere come from the Northern Territory; there are fossil fish that go back 470 million years; and there are the tracks of invertebrate forms - trilobites and other kinds of marine animal - found in the MacDonnell Ranges and elsewhere - yet another of nature's treasure troves on our doorstep.

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