October 15, 1997

The "normalisation" of Yulara promised by Chief Minister Shane Stone has stalled, as efforts to sell the Ayers Rock Resort Company (ARRC) move into top gear.
A spokesman for the company says that under current legislation, all commercial operators will continue to require the approval of ARRCÍs new owners, in the event that a sale or float is successful.
That means it is possible that by the end of the month, interstate or foreign interests will control all trading activities in the resort, as well as having an extraordinary influence over the residents lives.
If ARRC is floated, locals and other NT residents, through any individual share holdings, could have control and influence, according to the spokesman.
However, a campaign mounted by mother and son team Shirley and Paul Brookshaw to get locals to buy the NT Government's 60 per cent share of the resort met with a lukewarm response ( see Alice Springs News, May 7).
ARRC owns the freehold title to the 100-odd square kilometres of the town area, as well as all the major tourist accommodation facilities and several other businesses.
However, the NT Government provides - clearly at a significant loss, although details are not available from the government - all utilities including power, water and sewerage, as well as a school, police and health services.
Despite its exclusive control over the resort, ARRC pays no more than normal commercial rates for these utilities. Partly because of that, Mr Stone said earlier this year that changes would be made so that Yulara will function "like any other town" in the Territory, where people can start businesses, buy land and rent accommodation.
However, Yulara council president Anne Smith is unaware of any such moves.
"We're the last to be told about any changes," she says.
"No-one from the government has spoken to us about the sale." Mrs Smith says the resort company's intended sale would be a good reason for strengthening local government, now five years old, so it could act as a "watchdog" over ARRC's activities.
However, far from being informed, the council is being denied information it has been asking for.
For example, the council wants to buy, for its staff, two NT Housing Commission dwellings.
"We've had no response to our letters," says Mrs Smith.
The commission announced recently that it wants to sell its 400-odd dwellings in the resort, but Mrs Smith says several residents who have offered to buy the homes they now live in have received no response.
It is believed that the entire commission stock is on offer to ARRC, currently managing the dwellings under contract.
There have been several allegations that ARRC's housing policy is discriminatory, and people denied housing by ARRC are forced to leave town.
ARRC will give itself till the end of this month to achieve a private sale, after that a stock market float is mooted.
Meanwhile, ARRC has announced that for the year ended 30 June, the net operating profit after tax increased by 26.8 per cent to a record $10.4 million, up from $8.2 million in the previous financial year.
The company says: "The improved profit, the highest since Ayers Rock Resort opened 13 years ago, was achieved on total revenue which advanced from $70.1 million to $79.4 million, including a rise in hotels revenue from $50.7 million to $59.9 million."
However, a large slice of the earnings appears to be coming from a tax on passengers using the Yulara airport, owned by the NT Government but leased to ARRC.
According to ARRC, it charged $18 a head for the 320,000 travellers arriving or departing by air, a total of $5.8m.
ARRC has spent $13m on upgrading the airport.
The company says a record 355,000 people stayed at the resort in 1996-97, despite a drop in tourism elsewhere in the NT.
The latest improvements, worth $31m, has seen the resort's hotel occupancy levels grow from 61 per cent in 1992-93 to 74 per cent in 1996-97, notwithstanding a significant expansion in capacity.

The campaign of the People's Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) for liquor take-away bans on Thursdays and Sundays has suffered a serious set-back.
Two prominent PAAC figures, Dr John Boffa and Bob Durnan, failed to be elected to the committee of the Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA) at its annual general meeting last week.
Iain Morrison, an avowed opponent of trading restrictions, was reelected president unopposed.
Todd Tavern licensee David Koch was unsuccessful in his bid for the vice-presidency but was elected to the committee.
DASA coordinates an ongoing forum on alcohol abuse, with some claiming that this forum should have the running in the controversial liquor debate.
The forum has barred even discussion of restrictions because the subject is "divisive", according to Mr Morrison, a senior Alice Springs police officer.
Liquor commission chairman Peter Allen, who addressed the meeting last Thursday, made it clear that the commission would not be entertaining restrictions unless there was a clear consensus in their favour within the local community (see interview this page).
The packed meeting was attended by more than 80 people, all of whom were given the opportunity of voting for office bearers and committee members.
Anglican priest Gerald Beaumont was elected vice-president.
Other committee members are June Goodwin, the coordinator of a women's counselling program run by the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programs Union; Ken Lechleitner, senior liaison officer of the Office of Aboriginal Development; Ken Newman, an assistant director of correctional services; and the liquor commission's local deputy registrar, Rosemary Ellis.
Helen Ogden is treasurer, and Phil Gibbs, Secretary.
PAAC's Barbara Curr says PAAC will now focus its activities on the submission to the town council.
"This is the body elected by the people of Alice Springs," says Ms Curr. "The council has been asked to be an active participant in the alcohol debate, including formulating its own policy."
The council is expected to deal with the issue next week.
Mr Allen, who had been criticised for not ordering a study of voluntary trading restrictions since the beginning of this year at the Curtin Springs roadhouse, announced they would be the subject of a hearing at Yulara on December 16.
Mr Allen told the Alice News that the commission either already had or would obtain the "licensee's figures from Curtin Springs and every other premise nearby", as well as health statistics and information from police about call-outs, accidents and other facts.
Mr Allen said: "It is the commission's plan to make that information available to all interested parties."
He says that, plus "what might be almost public consultation, the way we're structuring this process will really be a fairly in-depth approach."

ERWIN CHLANDA interviews Liquor Commission chief Peter Allen

News: You were saying measures such as take-away bans on Thursdays and Sundays are not a long term solution. Would you consider them a short-term one?
Peter Allen: If a community is able to agree on them, and the community is able to make them work, they may well be a short-term solution leading to a long-term gain. But unless there is that strength of will across a large percentage of the community, even if implemented they may only be a token and fail and be discredited.
News: What do you regard as an acceptable consensus? It seems the liquor traders, for example, won't ever agree.
Allen: It's not actually true that the liquor traders will never agree. They put in a 12 months trial here, no wine casks before 4 pm, and then abandoned that trial. There are liquor distributors in other parts of the Territory considering, as their own initiative, some form of restrictions. I don't want to name those because I don't want to compromise their deliberations.
News: Is it true to say you would not bring in restrictions if the licensees were against them?
Allen: I'm not saying that at all. The licensees are part of the community. They have to be involved by a community and it should never be assumed that they will automatically be opposing restrictions.
News: But so long as they are you would not approve restrictions?
Allen: I am not saying that at all. If a community had what it believed was a consensus they would have to prove, in a court, firstly in the [liquor] commission, how that consensus was obtained. It would have to be objective, indeed, scientific, not just anecdotal. The liquor commission itself may be called upon to show proof. There are higher courts which may assess how we do our job. People who bring evidence to us have to get it right so that we can get it right.
News: What would the commission require to be demonstrated for it to approve restrictions?
Allen: It would need to be a whole-hearted community view.
News: How would that need to be demonstrated?
Allen: I can't assist you on that question. The community will know when it has consensus.
News: How will it know that?
Allen: I'll have to pass that question. When a community's got consensus, it knows.
News: You won't tell me what constitutes such a consensus?
Allen: No, because indeed it will have to be measured on the evidence on the day. There are no goal posts.

KIERAN FINNANE speaks with Peter Gunner

When Peter Gunner, council president of the Utopia Region, moved to Artekerr Outstation in 1993 he saw vehicle tracks going in every direction, trees and bushes destroyed, in short a dust bowl.
"I didn't sit around and wait for someone to give me advice," he says, "or come along to tell me when are you going to do something about your little place, when you going to clean up, what you going to do about these roads going through your living area?
"I got up and started doing my own planning, I started cutting off the roads.
"Once I'd controlled the cars I thought I've got to start replanting. "I started putting everything back into roads that have been put through more than 15, 20 years ago. "Today it's so great, I feel so great, I can relax and sit down, I have done something, not for myself, I've created something, it's a model for the everybody else to follow."
Peter's achievements have been acknowledged recently in the Northern Territory Landcare Awards in which he was awarded a Certificate of Merit as an Individual Landcarer.
He also features prominently in a series of educational videos, released last week, about changes to the land in Central Australia and what to do about them, made by the Tangentyere Landcare and Environmental Health Unit.
In the Utopia Region, with a population of 820 people living in 16 communities, three communities have already followed in Peter's footsteps. He now hopes that the video will spread the message further: "It's not just a matter of talking to people. One or two catch on, the rest will follow along, I reckon. "It's the only way to go, it might be very slow, but it will eventually happen. "Once the tape is in the communities and they see myself in it and the place, it's in their own backyard, and they can actually see the picture of what's happening, I think it will give a lot of people the encouragement to get them going."
Peter has been shocked by the extent of land degradation that he has seen around Australia.
He worked in Mt Isa Mines in the seventies, then in the cattle industry, mostly stock work in the Territory and other states: "I've worked on cattle properties where there's not a tree left, the grass all gone, people would hope it would rain again, sometimes it doesn't rain and you're left in a cloud of dust for a few years.
"It gave me in a clear picture what I wouldn't want to see happen where I live."
He thinks we're well off here in arid Central Australia compared to areas he saw during a bus trip to the eastern states last year: "I might be fighting to find a way to beat the termites back home but down there, it's like the termites have already knocked down every bloomin' tree throughout NSW.
"Someone went mad there with the chain saw and the bulldozers. "I wouldn't want to live there, it's not like where I live, we still have got trees in the most desert area and we've got to preserve those trees. "It's the native trees that survive and give energy to everything else where you live, without them we don't have no energy. I believe in all this sort of thing so hard. "You can balance the land and the dollars. Without dollars we don't live; on the other hand if we don't care for the land, we also don't live, we're just another dead planet. "People think we've got to do something about our backyard because it looks awful. But there's one big backyard and people have forgot about this big backyard that we all live in - all these sort of things I sit back and look at. "Australia is the most wonderful country in the whole world, we're lucky to live that way, every other country has got bigger problems. "We should keep it that way, this beautiful peaceful land of ours, balance the dollar and the land." Peter says it's not enough for Aboriginal people to be happy about getting their land back: "There's far more enjoyment when you start taking better care of the land and protecting your wildlife. "A lot of people were just as bad as the mining companies, they got the land back, they started to clear the whole area. They didn't realise they were doing just as much damage as the mining company. The place they loved so much, they wanted back so much, now it's disappearing . "If you want a clean healthy place you've got to work for it. "If we're not strong enough to protect what we've got then one day it will turn out like the moon where there ain't a living soul."
The first step Peter took to restore his living area was to block off access to cars and to animals, especially horses.
"They used to say mad fella, he's working too much, but now they say gee, you've got a good place here, we want one like that too."
It took well over 12 months of hard work before Peter started to see results.
He had no money and no equipment: "It was all done by my own skill, all I had was an old Landcruiser, that was my tractor. "With my skill I made up my own plough, I got bits of iron from the dumps, I would hook it onto the Toyota, I would rip up the ground, and we would plant a lot of the seeds we had collected , native stuff. "The Toyota eventually blew up on me, then I had to fall back on the pick and shovel again, it didn't stop me, I worked more than I ate, I was thinking so much, all these ideas were coming so fast, all I thought about was getting things done. "It takes me two days to crack through the soil before I can put a tree in, because it's solid hard, it takes a lot of soaking. Then I can get the hole done, get the plant in. It takes two days to do about 40 holes. "Now I've put in almost 250 trees, and I'm still going, expanding on what I set out to do. I've fenced off more areas during the last few months, something like 20 acres, keeping horses out and letting vegetation grow back."
Peter met people from Tangentyere Landcare a few months after he started. He says they've been a great help, especially giving him "that extra bit of support" when he needed it, like when he lost the Toyota.
Centralian College horticulture students and staff also got involved: "They gave me some of their valuable things, especially soil testing , and I gave their students a lot of valuable ideas, we were exchanging all of last year.
"Soil testing has given me more confidence. Now I can test my own soil and work it from there, what type of plant the soil can take."
Peter had had bad luck with fruit trees and now understood why.
Since then he has had a very successful crop of melons, and his vegetables are going well after he's fed the soil.
Water is plentiful but salty.
By observation he has learnt to water less: "If you do a lot of watering you're only feeding the soil with salt and nothing won't grow. "That's why I prefer the native trees, once they get going to a certain height, I don't water them anymore and they should be able to survive."
Peter has always made sure that children are "part of his team": "They've been involved in a lot of this work, digging holes, they've planted a lot of trees too and they've kept watering them until they grew, they're proud kids.
"They're proud we got all the nature back, all the birds have come back, hundreds of birds, giving the whole area a good feeling, the life is back. "I won't be around to help them later on, so I thought I would put all my knowledge into it and the children would follow on from what I did."
Other Southern Region winners of Northern Territory Landcare Awards were:- ´ Lyn Leigh of Murray Downs Station, a little south of the Devil's Marbles.
Lyn won the Coodardie Brahman Stud Primary Producer Award for land management addressing the problems of stocking levels, weeds, feral horses, fencing and degraded areas.
´ Ann Stanes on behalf of the Centralian Land Management Association, the Territory's oldest Landcare group formed by Centralian pastoralists in 1988, won the Landcare Council of the NT Community Group Award. ´
Harold Furber on behalf of the Central Land Council Land Assessment and Planning Unit and Aboriginal Landowners of Loves Creek, Karlantijpa North and Irmarn, won the BHP Research Award for an approach to mapping Aboriginal lands and developing sustainable management plans which empowers traditional owners.
´ Ian Blevin of TREC Gondwana won the Fuji Xerox Business Award for developing educational, minimal impact, non-degradational tourism and recreational alternatives which promote enjoyment, adventure responsibility and affection for the environment.
Territory winners automatically qualify for the National Landcare awards, which will be announced in March next year.


An Alice Springs based expert says solar energy technology is ready to go in Central Australia, but it is facing political, social and financial obstacles.
"It's a proven technology all over the world," says Michelle Guelden, an electrical engineer working in power systems for remote communities, employed by the renowned Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT).
"But a lot of bureaucrats are not aware of this. "The Federal Government is still subsidising diesel fuel to remote areas through rebates, but they won't fund solar energy applications. "Diesel rebates are an on-going enormous cost to the government.
Remote communities are eligible for about 25 to 30 cents per litre rebate.
"The bigger picture is that the government spends $1.4 billion per annum on the rebate."
Miss Guelden says various research groups around the world have predicted that within the next two decades, the cost of electricity generated from solar cells will become competitive with the electricity generated from fossil-fuelled power stations.
Yet in the NT, the government frequently rejects solar projects due to "high costs".
At one time the government wanted to extend the power grid from Alice Springs' power station to Hamilton Downs Youth Camp. Environmentalists hit the roof over running power lines through a national park.
The upshot was that Hamilton Downs now has a government-subsidised solar plant - due to be officially opened this Sunday.
On the other hand, a proposed solar thermal station in Tennant Creek - also mooted for Yulara and Katherine - was put on the back burner because it was considered too expensive.
"Cost is all relative," says Miss Guelden.
"We have the mind-set that we pay an electricity bill every three months.
People prefer an ongoing bill rather than a large up front cost. "But an upfront fund plan known as the SunFund, is now being put to Federal Parliament.
This would give remote installations the opportunities to invest in solar power.
You can apply for 10 years' upfront funding for the cost of a renewable energy system based on power requirements similar to the diesel fuel rebate.
"Another way is a leasing scheme, as being developed by the company Ethical Investments. In this way you pay by instalments and it looks more like that regular electricity bill."
This scheme could overcome the reluctance of private enterprise to become involved.
In The Alice, two solar companies, Suntec and EcoEnergy, have been set up privately without government help.
"The government hasn't been particularly supportive of smaller solar industries," says Miss Guelden.
"There are no business grants specifically set up to promote solar power."
Miss Guelden says government disinterest in solar energy is even more puzzling in The Centre's remote communities where sunshine is abundant and diesel very expensive.
Electricity from diesel-powered systems costs $2 per kilowatt hour compared to a 12 cents per kilowatt hour cost to Alice Springs' domestic users (16 cents for commercial users).
"Some remote communities have solar water pumping systems but only a very small number have whole systems."
So, if governments are not going to get behind sustainable energy generation, then why would the average person?
Says Miss Guelden: "Renewable energies are always seen as a bit of an alternative and hippy type cause. "We've really gone beyond that now. It is wrongly seen as another one of those 'green' issues at the bottom of the list. "There are fewer and fewer solar hot water systems being installed in Alice Springs. "The NT is still the largest user in Australia of solar hot water systems, but we're really not progressing much further. "A lot of other states are well and truly on their way up, whereas we're stagnating."
The Power and Water Authority's Steve Sawyer believes that Alice isn't solely responsible for such regression: "Alice too often misses out on funding."
Miss Guelden says the government can get away with its lack of support for the development of solar energy because the general public is ignorant.
"People don't know what's out there, and what's able to be achieved. "People on the communities have to know about solar power to apply for it in the first place."
CAT, she says, is playing a key role in educating the consumer towards the most appropriate technology for the future, rather than the most convenient.
At present, less than a third of Central Australian communities, and some cattle stations, use any solar power, but even these still rely largely on diesel power generation.
All of these communities are small.
So why do we all but ignore those energy bloated sun rays, harnessed by solar cells made from silicon, the second most abundant element on earth?
Rare as it may be, there's proof of the technology's viability: Intjartnama, Boomerang Bore and Hamilton Downs have "hybrid" systems, but their diesel component is hardly ever needed.
Experts disagree most vehemently about the cost of solar energy.
Consensus is rare because some look at the short term, others at the more distant future.
According to the Energy information Centre, the cost for a single solar cell has dropped from $500 in 1955 to less than $20.
PRICES DROP "The price of panels is coming down with time, but only at a rate of three per cent a year," says Mr Sawyer. "Diesel fuelled electricity is rapidly going up in price but it is still cheaper. "For example, peak loads in Alice Springs require 40 megawatts. "For this you would need a massive number of panels worth $350 million, covering huge amounts of land," says Mr Sawyer.
Miss Guelden disagrees.
"Panels are very expensive but in the next 10 to 15 years we're looking at producing them at an astounding $1 a watt instead of $10 a watt.
"As for land mass, we only need to cover an area of 36 square kilometres with solar panels to provide the electricity needs of the entire country."
Miss Guelden says solar power should be used as a supplementary energy source in Alice Springs, not only in the communities, especially to meet peak demands for air conditioning in the middle of summer.
Says Suntec's Toni Wallace: "The capital cost of solar is less than the price of a car, and after 20 years you're in front."

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