October 1, 1997

High-level tourism industry figures appear to be supporting convicted price fixer David Bennett who is serving on the boards of the NT Tourist Commission (NTTC) and the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA).
Rick Murray, president of the Tourism Council of Australia's NT branch, says he has ñno problem with Mr Bennett continuing to be on the commission's board.
Mr Murray says the action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which led to the convictions in the Federal Court of Mr Bennett and several other NT car rental staff and companies, was a civil action, not a criminal one.
Mr Murray says Mr Bennett wasn't guilty of any "major moral wrong".
His action wasn't simply price fixing but "agreeing not to discount".
Mr Murray says: "Discounting is not to be encouraged."
However, ACCC assistant director in the NT Chris Ward says "the removal of a discount in the circumstances was held [by the court] to be equivalent to price fixing".
He says the court found that Mr Bennett had breached the Act in "being knowingly concerned with a contract, arrangement or understanding the purpose or likely effect of which was to fix prices for car rental agreements in the Alice Springs area during the low season of 1993-94". Breaches of Part Four of the Trade Practices Act are civil offences but are "viewed seriously by the Commonwealth," says Mr Ward.
"This is reflected in the penalties which apply ... including penalties and pecuniary penalties of up to $10m per offence for corporations and $500,000 for individuals."
CATIA chairman Wayne Tucker, due to retire soon, said after the court decision was handed down that Mr Bennett would not be asked to leave.
The Federal Court in August imposed a total of almost $1.3m in penalties, and $140,000 in costs, after handing down convictions for price fixing in connection with Ayers Rock specials.
Mr Bennett was fined $80,000.
According to reliable sources, CATIA's accommodation sub-committee has now asked the organisation's executive to explain why Mr Bennett is still on the executive.
CATIA's new general manager, Merran Dobson, and Mr Tucker declined to comment on the matter.
However, the Alice News has learned from inside sources that CATIA is waiting to see what the NTTC will do about Mr Bennett.
NTTC chairman John Rowe has not responded to requests for comment, and Tourism Minister Mike Reed, who appointed Mr Bennett to the 12 person NTTC board, declined to comment.
The Alice News understands that there has been a conversation between CATIA and Mr Rowe, who reportedly supported Mr Bennett.
Mr Reed reappointed Mr Bennett to the board for a two-year term in October last year.
He had been chosen by Mr Reed from three CATIA nominees to represent the interests of the Central Australian tourism industry.
Meanwhile, just released NTTC figures reveal that the industry in Alice Springs has suffered dramatic reductions in visitor nights and income during the 1996-97 financial year.
The commission says part of the reason for the decline was the late start to the self-drive market and a "soft" June 1997 quarter.
Earnings by the commercial accommodation sector from interstate visitors - the major target of NTTC advertising - were down nearly 40 per cent, although in the previous year, bed occupancy was already below 50 per cent.
Earnings from overseas visitors were up 20 per cent, but they are likely to have responded not to NTTC, but to Australian Tourist Commission promotion.
The NTTC spends around $10m of its $15m marketing budget on seeking to attract domestic tourists.
The commission's total budget is $26.5m. Overall, "direct expenditure" by the accommodation industry in Alice Springs was down 16 per cent, according to the NTTC figures, while the Territory overall has had a drop of point three of a per cent.
There are now more international tourists (261,000) than interstate ones (246,000) visiting The Centre, including The Rock and King's Canyon, although those from interstate stay nearly twice as long (a total of 1,172,000 compared to 673,000 nights).

Interview by ERWIN CHLANDA

"The world is our oyster. I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we can do something big." Merran Dobson steps into the position of CATIA's general manager after The Centre's prime tourism lobby had a brief and unhappy encounter with her immediate predecessor, following the departure of the dynamic James Corvan for Queensland.
Over four years Ms Dobson built up the CATIA equivalent on the Sunshine Coast (population 250,000) from 170 members to 650.
She says her work contributed to a "much greater cohesion" between the three towns of Caloundra, Noosa and Maroochydore - on the other side of Brisbane from the Gold Coast.
Income from tourism shot up from $348m a year to $571m.
She managed to rope in private and public companies, ranging from United Breweries to Telstra, to provide substantial material support, and negotiated local government contributions from around $45,000 a year up to $180,000.
The Sunshine Coast is not dominated by big hotels to the extent that The Alice is.
It relies more on "bed and breakfasts" as well as "six packs" - six or 12 units, sold strata-titled, with a manager occupying one unit.
Ms Dobson spoke to Alice News editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
Dobson: I would like to have the whole community involved in tourism. When somebody walks down the street and is looking at a map, somebody should approach them and say, hi, you got a problem? Can I show you where you're going? It's a matter of pride in our town, in our area. News:
In 1995-96 Alice Springs had an occupancy rate of under 50 per cent in the commercial accommodation sector (CAS). From that poor base, income from interstate tourists dropped during 1996-97 a further 43 per cent. Earnings from international tourism is up 20 per cent, but overall, income by the CAS last fiscal year decreased 20 per cent. That's what you've walked in to. What are you going to do about it?
Dobson: Try and change the economics of Australia! I believe we have, predominantly, a seniors and families market. The country's economic condition is significantly affecting their "dollar spend". People in their mid -fifties upwards used to invest their retiring money at 12 to 15 per cent interest. They're lucky now to be getting five. They're just ahead of the baby boomers and they've been through very good times when money has been very available. No longer is that the case.
News: Why do we have to rely on the seniors age group? Is it not true that our world famous attractions should allow us to pick and choose from the richest tourists in the richest countries of the world?
Dobson: You should never assume anything. We need to correct the domestic factor, and we shouldn't put all eggs in one basket. Cairns, for example is suffering badly because of the break down of the Japanese market. The Japanese airlines pulled two or three flights out of there, and Cairns is suffering. Our international market is very dependent on the South East Asian and Pacific areas, especially for Queensland and NSW, although not necessarily for us. We need to look at smart packaging. No longer do people want a generic campaign, aren't the Rock and Central Australia fantastic? The three Ps are product, package and price. For example, there seems to be a boom in Broome. So instead of flying straight across the top, make it a 10 day package where they come into the Centre for five days, and then on to Broome. During Easter, a quiet time here, the airlines put all their marketing along the eastern seaboard. So we talk to the railways and we look at the self drive family market. News: What do you think about the NT Tourist Commission's advertising?
Dobson: The Daryl Somers campaign? It was excellent, but had its time.
News: It hasn't done much for the bed occupancy in Alice Springs.
Dobson: We're not the only destination. Broome has come from nowhere to be a significant destination.
News: How did they do that?
Dobson: They worked from a nothing base and they realised they had to do it. It's the psyche of the tourists. They know the Rock's there and always will be. Broome is something different. The Pilbara is something different. They know we're there. They don't know about Broome. How many images of the Rock have you seen in your life? Innumerable!
News: Does that mean too much promotion puts people off? Dobson: No. But, says Joe down the street, I'll go to the Rock and The Alice one day. They always will be there. Yes, I'll go there, but while I've got the opportunity of going to Bali, Jakarta and Hong Kong, I'll go there first, because I want to go there while I'm younger. I can go to the Rock and the Alice anytime. News: There's our fuddy duddy image again. Dobson: The younger, soft adventure tourists from abroad come here for the same reason as ours go overseas. Everything is so appealing. You get on an aeroplane and you go somewhere different. It's the appeal of the duty free shops. "I'm actually, physically going over water! I need a passport!"
News: So why don't we make Central Australia more exciting? The Larapinta Trail is one of the world's greatest walking adventures. Yet there's hardly anybody on it. Why?
Dobson: I don't know. The attraction is that you're in the centre of Australia. And we Australians are blase about it.
News: Coming from the Sunshine Coast, do you believe primarily in man-made, pampering kind of attractions?
Dobson: Not at all. There are specific markets, and that's where we'll have to look. The [Tourist Commission's] reservations centre now ask people what they want to do - walking, bird watching, trail bike riding, bicycling, and so on. Australian tourism is very much into the niche markets, special interest activities. Because of falling incomes, people want to look at how to best spend their money and how to do their own thing, be it reading a book, playing golf, going to the casino or bush walking, or just sitting down with a glass of champagne and looking at the MacDonnells at sunset, which are absolutely stunning.
News: What are we good at?
Dobson: There is a culture in Central Australia that's unique - white and Aboriginal. But it's got to be a consistent product, and that's very hard to obtain at times, I believe.
News: Where in the world do our attractions rank?
Dobson: Probably around tenth place, between 10 and 20.
News: Given that our industry is quite small - around 5000 beds - is it not astonishing that we're unable to fill them?
Dobson: Not at all, when you consider that Australia is an island, right down the other end of the world. Then there are the misconceptions about Australia among many people, thinking that kangaroos are still hopping down the main street of Sydney. Distances are a very big problem. If you're marketing distances too much people won't come. [I know a travel agent from the US who] wanted to hire a car in Sydney to quickly see Ayers Rock and Alice Springs because he had a flight to New Zealand at three o'clock in the afternoon.
News: Should the Tourist Commission reopen the sales offices in the capital cities, closed following the Kennedy report?
Dobson: Tourist Commissions can either spend money on promotion or on taking bookings, which detracts from private businesses. I worked for the South Australian Tourism Commission six years ago. They had selling bureaux but these were franchised [to private firms]. Having just arrived here I don't know how well the Territory Connections [specialist staff in selected interstate travel businesses] are going.


It is impossible to forecast the impact on Central Australian schools of controversial reading skills policies foreshadowed recently by Commonwealth Education Minister David Kemp, ccording to the Chairman of the Northern Territory Board of Studies, Harry Payne. Controversy has centred on Dr Kemp's suggestion that Commonwealth funding will be tied to results.
"This is a general approach of the Commonwealth," comments Board of Studies Chairman, Dr Payne.
"It is already in place for some programs such as the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program [for which] we have reached agreement with the Commonwealth on how progress will be measured."
However, no agreements have yet been reached on success indicators in relation to literacy benchmarking. Dr Payne says the National Schools English Literacy Survey (NSELS) - carried out across the country earlier this year - has developed "highly appropriate methods for assessing English literacy across five strands - reading, writing, listening, speaking and viewing."
"The survey produced very valuable base data and was intended as an initial survey against which results from future surveys could be compared," says Dr Payne.
However, Dr Kemp, in comparing the NSELS results with draft benchmarks, found that many students performed close to the benchmark line. The comparison is seen by many as misleading for the following reasons, according to Dr Payne: the benchmarks have been drafted for end of year levels whereas the NSELS was carried out much earlier; the benchmarks may include a target component for what is aspired to; in draft form they are based on expert opinion only and are without good empirical validation; and, they have a lot of questions about them which can only be worked through in practice.
Literacy and numeracy benchmarks for Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine, developed by a Task Force, made up of nominees from all education systems, are due to be submitted for approval to a November meeting of all Education Ministers.
When finalised, the literacy benchmarks will be "salient" in NT students' outcomes profiles, says Dr Payne. At present, schools in the NT are able to compare their own Multilevel Assessment Program (MAP) results against Territory-wide results.
In future, they will also be able to compare MAP results against the NT Outcomes Profile for English which will incorporate the nationally-approved literacy benchmarks.
Territory-wide results are publicly available. However, individual school results are released only to the school and its council.
The Board of Studies does not compile regional results. Education consumers, parents and their children, thus cannot make comparisons within a town or region, or within the Territory as a whole, on the basis of these kinds of performance indicators.
President of the NT Principals' Association, Ken Davies, comments that a whole range of factors come into play when parents choose a school for their children.
These can include religious instruction and philosophy, and achievements in non-academic areas such as sport and music.
"I would be very wary in a town like Alice Springs of making school by school comparisons. I would much rather see the whole community working together on improving the range of choices we have," says Mr Davies.
He does not believe that there is a crisis in Australian standards of literacy: "There are more people literate in this country now than there ever have been.
"I personally do not know anybody who could be described as truly illiterate. "If on the other hand you ask the question, 'Are kids proud of what they are able to read and write?', then you would find that there are some students in every class who must improve and who need teacher and parent support to do that."
Mr Davies says teachers are well aware that if students with literacy problems are not picked up by Year Three, it is very difficult to do post-teaching that enables them to catch up.
He welcomes as healthy and constructive any debate which leads to more thinking and additional resources being directed into this area, without disadvantage to other programs.
"I interpret the notion of tied funding as meaning that where programs aren't achieving results, funding will be realigned into programs that are," says Mr Davies.
"I would expect that schools with a high level of need, for example, those with a lot of students with English as a second language, will benefit from this."
He sees benchmarks as a valuable tool for assessing and upgrading programs.
 "There are a plethora of programs that are running, and some are very successful," he comments.
"The First Steps program, for instance, allows us to focus succinctly on the needs of individual students, rather than having a blanket approach, and students' progress along the continuum of learning can be reported with great precision to parents."
Mr Davies says that literacy and numeracy teaching must henceforth take into account information technology: "We have to make sure the basics are there but tie them in with future opportunities."
He says it is important for the community not to put the whole responsibility for literacy and education in general onto schools: "Students are only in school for six hours each day.
There are another 18 hours that teachers can't really influence. "There is no doubt that if students have the support of their family, they have greater opportunities for learning."
He hopes that schools and school communities will work together to find their way through the literacy debate: "The core business of education is identified by the curriculum.
It is then up to the school community to sort out their primary focus." On the so-called "overcrowded curriculum" Mr Davies says: "Schools quickly reflect what is happening in society at large and it seems to me that our whole world is overcrowded.
"At the same time, if you take a whole language approach to learning, then a lot of material can be taught hand in hand with literacy and numeracy."

Next week's DASA annual general meeting will have a significant impact on the debate about strategies to control alcohol abuse and its effects on the town.
The organisation coordinates a discussion forum, and takes part in it, seeking to find answers to the town's burning alcohol abuse problems.
At the moment DASA and the forum refuse to even discuss a proposal for take-away bans on Thursdays and Sundays, similar to the ones in Tennant Creek.
These are being promoted vigorously by the People's Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC).
DASA president Iain Morrison, who will be seeking re-election, says he won't allow the "divisive" issue of restrictions to dominate the debate. He says PAAC has "one single fixated obsessive agenda" and the group has "enough power" to pursue the proposal elsewhere.
"I will not allow DASA to be used as a lobby group at the expense of other issues," says Mr Morrison. Since the DASA four person board, overseen by a nine person committee, in effect controls who may or may not take part in the ongoing forum, the people elected at next week's AGM will hold considerable sway.
There are several other alcohol committees active in Alice Springs, as well as a push to get the town council involved in the decision making. But the liquor industry lobby, as well as vocal but self-styled anti-restrictions spokesman Shane Arnfield, are doing their best to have DASA and the forum recognised as the sole authorities on the matter.
Mr Morrison says there's nothing sinister about the omission of further trading restrictions from the forum's current six-point agenda.
He says these were distilled from 45 topics - which did include restrictions - at the first forum, on February 18 and 19 this year.
Mr Morrison says restrictions were excluded from the agenda by "the forum as a whole, in a democratic process".
However, PAAC's Barbara Curr, a forum participant, says despite DASA's resistance to discussing "trial bans" of alcohol sales on two days each week, they need to be discussed so that the forum remains relevant.
In contrast to the drastic but clear objective of the PAAC proposal to shut down take-away outlets two days a week, including the infamous pension day, the forum's agenda is wide-ranging and general.
There are "performance indicators" but they have a two year time limit, after which it will be assessed how close the programs have come to achieving an "ideal state" for each of the objectives, says Mr Morrison.
The next forum is scheduled for February 1998.
The six points for discussion and initiatives are: The individual's responsibility for alcohol misuse; alcohol education, especially for the young; lack of recreation and employment opportunities for young people; coordinated strategies; alcohol related disorders; and underlying issues and the culture resulting in alcohol problems.
The forum will be looking for "proofs" of progress in these areas: they will be found in the monitoring of increases in voluntary admission to alcohol services, a shift in drinking patterns, a reduction in binge drinking, a change from heavy beer to mid-strength or light beer, reduction in overall consumption; reduction in alcohol related offences, including drink driving.
Ms Curr says "all this has been defined years ago. "Living with Alcohol looks at all of those issues with research and evaluation."
She says the topic "underlying issues and the culture resulting in alcohol problems" could and should include trading restrictions. She also says the second and the third forums were attended by substantially fewer participants than the first one, when 40 were invited and 35 took part. Only 18 people came to the most recent forum, on September 10, including six DASA members and staff.
Mr Morrison says 24 people attended the September forum. Mrs Curr says the forum could easily be discussing the six subjects it has selected for many years to come.
"They've been discussed for 20 years," she says. A major initiative by a forum participant, Employ Alice, less than a month old, is to provide employment for 50 Aboriginal people most likely to fall victim to alcohol. Mr Morrison says he understands 22 people had already been employed under the scheme by Thursday last week, and a further 24 are being interviewed.
Other ideas include putting slogans on the side of cars, including possibly government vehicles, exhorting drinkers to consume responsibly. There is also a slogan contest with prizes worth $4000 "so far" and with more sponsorship expected.
Mr Morrison says the next forum could well decide to put sales bans on the agenda and he passionately expresses his view that any debate on restrictions is likely to be "divisive".
He says: "There will never be agreement on restrictions.
There would be very few concessions from either side.
"If we want to get people to work together, we need to leave restrictions alone."


Two exhibitions currently showing at the Araluen Arts Centre bear witness to the exceptional creative energy and talent of the Aboriginal peoples of a 'remote' Australia.
The shows are a wonderful reminder, in times of preoccupation with anti-social behaviour and economic rationalism, of the cultural enrichment made available to us by indigenous Australians.
To walk into the Desert Mob Art Show is like walking into an Aladdin's cave: batik and painted silks suspended from the ceiling move gently with air currents; every wall is covered with richly detailed and ever more vibrant paintings and prints; nest of plinths taking most of the floor space can scarcely contain their wealth of art and craft objects.
Formerly known as the Central Australian Art and Craft Exhibition, the show is an annual event coordinated and managed by Araluen since 1991.
The aesthetic and technical dominance of the longer established art centres, such as those of Ernabella and Utopia, is increasingly, as the arts and crafts movement spreads, brought into balance by the sheer diversity and freshness of new work .
This year's show assembles more than 500 works from 23 communities.
They range from traditional punu or carved wood items, acrylic paintings and batik silks, through work using a variety of print techniques, to ceramics, glass, basketry, animal and human figures made from spinifex grass, and toy figurines fashioned from wire.
The work is presented community by community with a layout directed by geographic location of the communities in order to reflect the connections between them.
Thus work from Iwantja Arts and Crafts, situated at Indulkana in the Pitjantjatjara Lands, hangs next to work from Ernabella Arts, whose history goes back to the mission days of 1948.
The technical mastery and extreme refinement of Ernabella designs is as noteworthy as ever, especially, in this exhibition, in the work of Nyukana Baker.
Her Walka Wira (Many excellent designs) is well named.
However, the work of the Iwantja artists, in particular their judiciously mounted collection of 31 lino prints, does not suffer in this proximity - it declares itself simple and bold in its difference.
For sheer volume -126 items - as well as aesthetic brilliance in many works of fine art and decorative art, Keringke Arts, located at Santa Teresa (Ltentye Apurte), deserves its place at the heart of the show.
Senior woman Kathleen Wallace produced the screen-printed black and white image of Women dancing that adorns the exhibition catalogue. Her acrylic painting of the same image is an outstanding example of her intricately detailed and exquisitely organised designs.
In this vein Mrs Wallace has worthy successors in Camilla Young and Jane Oliver.
Publicity material about Keringke Arts always emphasises their work on silk, but, in my view, whatever their excellence in this medium, it is way surpassed by their acrylic on paper paintings.
I might have suggested that their favoured high-toned palette for silk work holds their designs at a relatively superficial level, if it wasn't for similar colour values in the paintings of Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) Artists, hanging behind them in the gallery.
Daisy Napaltjarri paints with a hot palette and, with the exception of the restrained and unique vision of Long Tom Tjapanangka, high tones, strong colour contrast and a lot of visual activity have been the hallmark of Ikuntji artists since the reinvigoration of painting in that community from 1992.
The Ikuntji work, and in particular, Narputta Nangala's Karrurutinytja, (pictured above) with its sky blue, white and pinkish brown contrasts, is anything but superficial.
So palette alone doesn't explain my impression.
The silk dyes and gutta technique could also have something to do with it, but Keringke artists undoubtedly bring a different level of intent to the production of paintings, on the one hand, and their silks on the other.
The question of palette leads to the work of Jukurrpa Artists who have their cooperative workshop, gallery and sales outlet in Alice Springs.
No one will miss the vibrant purples and blues in the work of Bessie Liddle and Samantha Napanangka Jones.
While the catalogue entry suggests that their "full palette" reflects the "brilliant colours of the desert plains and flowers", there are surely influences at play here (as well as at, for example, Ikuntji) coming from outside traditional culture and the natural environment.
The women's urban and cross-cultural experiences must also count for something.
The Desert Mob Art Show brings under one umbrella works of fine art and commercially-oriented work, with most works being for sale.
By contrast Printabout, hanging in the foyer, is a collection of 'master' works by prominent Aboriginal artists attending the Northern Territory University's Print Workshop between 1993 and 1995.
The 30 prints on display are now part of NTU's permanent art collection.
The exhibition is being toured by Artback, the National Exhibitions Touring Service (NT) which this year has brought to Araluen a show by four Darwin printmakers, the photographs of Frank Hurley, prints by Tiwi Islands handicapped artists and now Printabout. Artists from three areas are represented : Ernabella, Tiwi Islands and the East Kimberley.
While all the prints are superlative, the East Kimberley artist Tommy Bung Bung stands out for the intense drama of his depictions, with Queenie McKenzie, Lily Karadada and Rover Thomas, also East Kimberley artists, coming close behind for the forcefulness of their images.
Meanwhile, also at Araluen, Alice Springs textile and fibre artist Philomena Hali is showing recent work in the In Transit space.
She has an unerring sense of elegance in her use of fine fabrics, silks in particular, delicately coloured with natural pigments and dyes, occasionally highlighted with a touch of gold paint or textured by folding and tying techniques.
In yet another show, Fresh Eyes, Araluen celebrates the NT Youth Festival.
Young Central Australians have been invited to exhibit a work of art responding to a work of their choice in the Araluen collection.
This is a chance to see, among other work, more of some photographs from the recent Seeing Black training project and exhibition, in which 12 young Aboriginal people from Alice Springs presented their personal visions of life in black and white.
More on Fresh Eyes next week.
At Watch This Space Jacqueline Coates is showing Under My Skin in which luxuriantly drawn and painted body organs are superimposed on architectural plans and drawings of Parisian landmarks. Until October 4, 11-4pm.

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