November 26, 1997

The government has muzzled the head of Living With Alcohol (LWA), Ian Crundall, in a furore over the diversion of millions of dollars from the program to unrelated Territory Health purposes.
Dr Crundall was told not to talk to the media about a Cabinet decision to slash the LWA budget. According to Alice Springs' Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA), LWA will lose $7m - or one-third of its budget - over the next three years.
The government will not disclose whether $1.1m of LWA money had already paid for the renal facility opened in Alice Springs last week. According to health experts, alcohol is considered a minor factor in the skyrocketing incidence of kidney failure in the NT.
DASA has fired off a letter of protest to Health Minister Denis Burke.
The confidential letter, of which the Alice News has obtained a copy (not from DASA), says in part:- "It is DASA's opinion that the funds allocated to LWA were never and should never be earmarked for programs such as the one suggested [the renal program].
"Neither the alcohol industry nor the NT drinkers of 'three per cent plus' [who contributed a levy to LWA funds] would have condoned such a move.
"Scientific research completely linking renal failure and alcohol use or misuse is not very forthcoming, evident nor convincing.
"LWA funding is becoming very scare and DASA feels that moving more funding into the 'grey' areas of treatment as opposed to the very definite and precise area of ïintervention and prevention' is being counter-productive."
DASA says the LWA program "enjoys fame and credibility interstate", and that credibility "is certain to be challenged" because of the diversion of funds.
Meanwhile a spokeswoman for Mr Burke failed to answer questions from the Alice News about the amount to be diverted; and about how ministers voted in Cabinet on the issue.
The Alice News understands that Mr Burke opposed the move but was rolled in Cabinet.
The spokeswoman says: "When Cabinet makes a decision, that decision has the support of all ministers.
"The [LWA] program is adequately funded to meet its objectives and this is reviewed regularly.
"A contributing element to kidney failure can be alcohol abuse."
However Wendy Hoy, the NT's top kidney disease expert, says it would be "inaccurate to invoke drinking of alcohol as a major cause of kidney problems."
Dr Hoy, who is the director of the Menzies School of Health Research Aboriginal Kidney Program, says the major causes for renal failure are low birth weight and infant malnutrition; increasing weight laterin life, especially around the stomach; and skin infections as well as "probably other chronic and persistent infections".
Dr Hoy says alcohol abuse is a "minor cause" for renal failure, associated with it only because excessive drinking raises blood pressure and makes diabetes more difficult to control.
"Many people with kidney failure, especially women, are not drinkers and never have been," says Dr Hoy. Meanwhile MLA for Stuart Peter Toyne says it appears that the government is "grabbing money from anywhere" to deal with the chronic kidney failure disaster.
The renal program should get funding from the health budget, says Mr Toyne: "It's a straight-out health problem." He says that LWA is "successful" in that it has contributed to reducing the Territory's alcohol consumption from four times to twice the national average.
Education and prevention initiatives, including night patrols, would save the Territory money in the future, and they must not be impaired, according to Mr Toyne.
He says the government had admitted freely that it has $400m uncommitted, apparently kept in reserve for the Alice to Darwin railway.
He's not surprised at the muzzling of Dr Crundall: "It's in line with the general fear and oppression of public servants in the NT." He says some 200 public servants in Alice Springs had wanted to sign a petition to preserve the old Alice gaol.
"I can't sign it," Mr Toyne says was the common response. "I'm frightened to lose my job."

The successful Supreme Court injunction revoking Minister Mick Palmer's authority to issue a demolition contract for the old Alice Springs Gaol, was brought on by the National Trust just in time, according to Stuart MLA Peter Toyne.
"The bulldozers would have gone in six hours later," said a delighted Mr Toyne on Monday, after he had joined a packed public gallery to listen to Justice Mildren's ruling.
"The timing was exquisite," he said.
"We had worked frantically on gathering pledges of money to support the National Trust's action, which was taken on November 14, with just half an hour of court time to spare.
"The injunction hearing revealed that a letter from Minister Palmer to the contractors, Bernie Earthmoving and Excavating, an Alice Springs company, had already authorised the demolition to begin."
Minister Palmer issued a statement on Monday saying that the Supreme Court had "provided Government with important clarification on its right to deal with its own land under its own legislation."
He claimed the Government wanted to clear the Old Gaol site "to expand the town's hospital". [See examination of this claim in the Alice News issue of November 5].
The Minister emphasised that the Supreme Court's ruling concerned a particular section of an Act of parliament, "not the historical merits of the Alice Springs gaol." Mr Toyne said he had spent the worst hour of his life, listening in apprehension as Justice Mildren read his ruling.
"The NT Government had tried to establish that the National Trust had no special interest in the preservation of the Old Gaol, but the judge found that they were indeed a fit and proper group to take this action," said Mr Toyne.
"The rest of the ruling examined the spirit as opposed to the letter of the Heritage Conservation Act.
"The judge said the wording of the Act was broad enough to allow the Minister to order demolition, but the spirit of the Act was clearly that such a demolition could only go ahead in the interest of public safety.
"It was clearly outside the spirit of the Act to destroy sound buildings that are part of a heritage precinct, for which a plan of management is in place.
"The judge ruled that if the Minister wishes to proceed he has to go through the processes set out in the Act, which require a detailed assessment of the buildings which would then be referred to the Heritage Advisory Council to make a recommendation to Government," said Mr Toyne. However, he described the ruling as a "stay of execution".
"It buys us time to continue our campaign, involving the whole town, and to develop some well-considered alternative proposals for the use of the gaol," he said.
"The hearing has given the Act a very good testing. It has been examined word by word and the judge has said that it must stand as a whole, that its spirit and intention must be honoured."
Alderman Fran Erlich also described Justice Mildren's decision as a reprieve: "We've won a skirmish but not the war," she said.
"The Government can still ignore the assessment of the Heritage Advisory Council, the Minister has power of veto.
"However, the ruling, I understand, has set a precedent, in that, while the Government can use the processes of the Heritage Act to de-list a heritage building, it cannot order the demolition of a listed heritage property.
"If the National Trust had not taken this action, the Government would have been emboldened to demolish the next heritage building that was in its way."
Mrs Erlich said the win had not changed her determination to go ahead with plans to start a new political party in Central Australia, for which she still sees a great need. Meanwhile, a meeting to plan the next steps in the campaign to save the Old Gaol has been scheduled for 5pm today (Wednesday) at the National Trust office in the Old Hartley Street School.

Exclusive report by KIERAN FINNANE

"I was thinking for my family. I was scared. I bin crying."
A 15 year old Aboriginal boy is talking about the night he just spent in the Alice Springs Correctional Centre or the Big House as he calls it.
He is a slightly built boy, wearing the black t-shirt and track pants of his peers.
His expression is confused, worried. "Why were you scared, what did you think would happen?" "Ghosts ... kadaitcha, ghosts." He was taken to the gaol on a bus, together with a lad just two years older than himself, but technically an adult.
They were separated at the gaol.
The 15 year old, speaking exclusively to the Alice News in the first media interview in Central Australia with an underaged prisoner, says he was given a shower, gaol clothes to wear and taken to what he describes as a "small room".
He spent the night there alone.
He says he saw no other prisoners, nor any personnel, except for when he was given his meal - potato, meat and bread - which he ate sitting on his blanket.
In the morning he ate weetbix, again alone in his cell.
Then he was taken outside, to a room where he was returned his own clothes to wear, in readiness for his appearance in court.
His application for bail was refused. He was to spend another night in the Big House.
"No, I don't want to go back," he said, becoming agitated.
"Please, can I sleep there (pointing), please I scared, take me to [a town] camp, I frightened."
His voice was shaking, tears in his eyes. The lawyer acting for the boy made further representations to the court, explaining that the boy was frightened.
The magistrate, unwilling to allow the boy to spend the night at Aranda House, arranged for him to be held at the police lockup. He was bailed the next day.
Last Thursday Eric Poole, Minister for Correctional Services, announced that Aranda House, formerly Giles House which served as a local juvenile detention centre, would be upgraded and developed into a short term holding facility for juveniles.
Once sentenced (a mandatory 28 days for a second offence), they must still be sent to the Don Dale Detention Centre in Darwin, 1500 kilometres from home.
Meanwhile, the Minister's office has confirmed that since the opening of the Alice Springs Correctional Centre in August last year, some 18 juveniles have been held there.
The Minister's office denies that anyone younger than 15 years has been held at the gaol, which would be in contravention of the Juvenile Justice Act.
A spokesperson for the Minister says that two juveniles have been held for "about 10 days", which has been the maximum period of detention. The Minister's office claims that the juveniles are received at the gaol with the same procedures as at the Don Dale detention centre.
However, there are no prison staff in Alice Springs trained to work with juveniles.
Recommendation 242 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody says that "except in exceptional circumstances, juveniles should not be detained in police lockups."
There is no mention of gaol: the commissioners do not appear to have considered gaol for juveniles as a possibility.
In the event of detaining a juvenile in a lockup, the recommendation says "every effort should be made to arrange for a parent or a visitor to attend and remain with the juvenile ..."
Consideration of bail should "be expedited as a matter of urgency", with arrangements put in place to include, if necessary, telephone referral to a magistrate.
It says further: "Government should approve informal juvenile holding homes, particularly the homes of Aboriginal people, in which juveniles can be lawfully placed ... if bail is in fact not allowed."
None of these recommendations appear to be have been taken up in Alice Springs.
Lawyer with the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, Michael Brugman, after becoming aware that juveniles in Alice Springs have been locked up for non-payment of fines, wrote to the Attorney-General to ask whether this was indeed the intention of the Sentencing Act.
He also requested that, instead of imprisonment, community work be reinstated for young people in particular. "I recently appeared for a 14 year old who had no income of his own," he wrote.
"He had failed to pay a penalty for an infringement notice relating to disobeying a traffic control signal [walking against a red light].
"He was kept in the female section of the police cells in isolation serving the period prescribed."
Mr Brugman told the Alice News that he had come across the boy by chance, while he was appearing in court on another matter.
The boy had spent a full day and a night in the police lock-up.
"He was in a distressed state," he said.
INFRINGEMENT Chief Minister Shane Stone, who recently appointed himself Attorney General replied: "As you may be aware, there remains a substantial amount outstanding to the Territory in unpaid fines.
The Sentencing Act provision [the Territory Infringement Notice Enforcement Scheme] was introduced to encourage people to pay infringement notices and thereby avoid prosecution and the prospect of a criminal conviction.
"The Government remains committed to this approach."
Mr Stone had nothing to say on the specific issue of the detention of juveniles raised in Mr Brugman's letter . "In fact, the Government's approach is going to cost the taxpayer a fortune," says Mr Brugman.
"Not only are they going to have to expand and upgrade their prison facilities, but lawyers and the courts will be tied up in contesting areas that were once more straightforward, because the punishment no longer fits the crime.
"Young kids, with no income of their own, who can hardly read or write, doing time in gaol for minor offences: it's hardly going to give them respect for the law, is it?
"The problems they have will still be there when they get out of gaol. What's being done about those?"
A group united under the banner of Central Australian Youth Justice (CAYJ) has organised three days of action, starting today, "to highlight the human rights emergency in the NT".
Activities, including a number of speakers on youth policy and justice from around the country, will take place on the Uniting Church lawns in Todd Mall.
There will be a concert tomorrow (Thursday) night from 6pm, featuring the Country Bumpkins, Cohesion and many more.
There will also be opportunities for prayer and reflection on youth justice issues within the Uniting Church. Contact 89 534200 for more information.


"In some respects these kids are just like other kids, they like Puff Daddy, Coolio and wear Nike, in other respects their lives are completely different."
"They will sleep in as many as seven different places in a week." "They don't have a bedroom, a desk, a phone, not even a cupboard or a drawer." "They look after themselves, they decide where they'll go, and when they'll go."
The staff of the Detour project at Basso's Farm are talking about their students.
Detour, jointly run over the last year by Tangentyere Council and Centralian College, tries to draw secondary age Aboriginal kids who have dropped out of school, into education and training opportunities suited to their needs.
I have visited Detour on three separate occasions.
On the first, the place was a hive of activity; on the second, the start was slow but eventually a sizable group of students turned up; however, last Thursday fortnight only three students had arrived by lunchtime.
What was going on? Says community arts coordinator Peter Lowson, who ran a pilot of the Detour program for Tangentyere last year: "Thursdays are money chasing days, that's completely entrenched, that's been their routine for years." Adds teacher Zania Liddle: "For some kids that money provides their food and clothes for the next fortnight."
Felicity Hayes has two children attending the Detour program and is also employed there by Tangentyere as an Aboriginal teacher's assistant. She was present on Thursday but her children weren't.
She and teacher Nicole Traves had gone looking for them at a favourite haunt, the games shop in Gregory Terrace.
There they found around 20 kids, some as young as seven, and including Felicity's son. "I asked my son to come to school, but he wouldn't," says Felicity.
"He said he was waiting for his father to ask him for money." Felicity's children attended primary school regularly, but she says they didn't want to stay on at high school: "The things they were taught were too hard, they didn't understand. There need to be language speakers in the classrooms."
Felicity, who was educated at Santa Teresa, has done some teacher training and would like to go on: "All our kids are dropping out of school. "I'd like to become a primary school teacher, to get our kids going from there. I would like to have language in school, to teach our kids to read and write in Arrernte."
I asked Zania, herself a member of a prominent Central Australian Aboriginal family, why the mainstream system can't work for these kids?
"If people had a few more resources, it would be easier for some of them to get an education and the effects would filter out into the extended family.
"Many of the students here are loved by their families, but the few resources they have are stretched to the limit.
It depends in whose hands they are, how well they are stretched.
"Those people with resources are in enormous demand to solve problems for the ones without.
The same demands are not made of someone like myself.
"We have tried to alleviate some of these problems by providing a meals program, by picking the kids up for school, by being understanding. For example, if someone turns up but will not participate, we've tried to learn how to handle that.
"It puts a lot of strain on teachers, you can't assume the students respect you, you have to earn it and sometimes you don't feel respected.
"I've learnt things this year about how these families work. I never really understood the transient nature of their lives.
"Some of the reasons why they are so transient are good reasons - if you are in a house where people are waking you up all night, then it's a good idea to go somewhere where you can get a decent sleep.
"These students have large extended families and therefore have to meet demanding cultural and family commitments.
"Lots of those structures and values that we take for granted in other people, like routines, for example, like commitment, motivation, like resources: many people who succeed in mainstream systems have these things in their lives, they go about their lives in a structured way.
"For many of these students, that's not the nature of their lives. "After they leave here at the end of a day in many cases they are not going home to the same house, they're ending up at somebody else's house, it might be with a relative or a friend, it might be at one of the youth services." Says Peter: "You might drop them at one place and the next day they'll be somewhere else.
Aunties or parents will say, 'Oh, they're down at such and such.' "In a mainstream situation where they didn't have anyone who understood how they think, their moods, then it would be really difficult.
Here we understand where it's coming from. "It's frustrating sometimes to have to deal with it, but if you don't support them, then they're going to be left behind, another lost generation."
Detour staff, all of them with many years of experience, have been on a steep learning curve.
Peter: "It wasn't until the second half of the year that we started to figure things out, and changed the program to suit. Hopefully, we'll eventually be able to write something that's going to benefit other schools looking at this type of program." What did they have to change? Zania: "We always knew about the difference in values and life experience, we knew that they were coming from dysfunctional families in a lot of cases, that most of them speak Arrernte as their first language, that most of them have had a lot of problems in their previous school experience, they either haven't been to school much or haven't succeeded in school very well.
"One of the things I tried to do in the beginning was to structure a program similar to the kind I've been used to in mainstream contexts. Even though I was aware of the experiences of those kids, I still went back to what I knew, trying to structure a timetable.
"I've never quite worked out how you teach a program on a daily basis. But I really think now that the way these students can succeed is with a day by day program."
Zania generously acknowledges that fellow teacher Nicole Traves has had more success in making each day's learning self-contained.
Nicole is confident that regularly attending students, of whom there is a core, can complete an NT Board of Studies accredited course. However, because of the impossibility of normal structured timetables, she says these courses need to be taught according to a sequential list of learning outcomes, rather than as modules of work.
They also need to engage the students in real life activities, working literacy and numeracy skills into those activities.
Apart from making each day self-contained, Nicole tries to run individualised programs for each student.
"These students' literacy levels are very low, some of them haven't been anywhere near a school for three years," says Nicole.
"They need specialised, intensive programs and a lot of flexibility. "In a mainstream school time doesn't stop.
Here you have to be able to follow through and spend up to three hours on something, if that's what it takes, not just 40 minutes and then change the subject.
"Some students clearly want to learn, some don't know if they do.
"It's very difficult to meet their aspirations in a multi-level classroom, with a teacher to student ratio of one to 17."
Nicole's day starts at 7.30am, when she goes with the bus driver to pick up students.
The other teachers were also taking turns doing the bus run earlier in the year but found it too much on top of a full day's teaching.
Nicole has maintained the practice because she feels it is important to establish a relationship with the students and to have a lot of day to day contact with their families.
"Also, I'll be more inclined to chase the students than the bus driver would," she says. "By me doing that, they will know that I'm serious about them learning, and it also makes it easier for me to know where they're at personally."
At the beginning of the year Nicole and colleague Paul McLoughlin worked all day and into the night until 9-9.30 pm, they were teaching up to 40 kids, sometimes doing the bus run and sometimes, the cooking.
The classrooms were not air-conditioned during days of 40 degree heat and the flies were "unbelievable, you'd swallow at least one fly every day!"
The Alice News asked Nicole where she finds the motivation to work like this? "I believe in this approach because I've listened to what Aboriginal people have been saying to me over the years that I've been working with them.
"They want mainstream outcomes for their kids but they know they aren't going to make it in the mainstream system.
"These are the kids who belong here, Alice Springs' traditional owners, if you like, and they are missing out on education.
"They are voting with their feet, by not participating in a system that is not sensitive to their needs. But that doesn't mean they are not capable of achieving education outcomes."
All of the teachers says that a sense of family is an essential ingredient of the Detour approach.
NEXT WEEK: What role for mainstream schools?


How relevant are the activities of artists in Alice Springs to the broader community?
This was the question posed by Alice Springs photographer and regional development campaigner Mike Gillam in his opening speech at the recent Regional Arts Conference.
Mr Gillam argued that the mediocrity of the planned environment, in contrast to the opportunities presented by our geography, climate, natural setting and contrasting cultures, points to a need for real change amongst the flourishing arts community.
To this end it would help if the political climate were favourable, he said, before considering the possible impact of the recent elevation of the Office of the Arts to a Department of the Arts and Museums.
The following is a slightly edited (for space reasons) version of his address: This [elevation] will place informed public servants at the highest levels of government, where super bureaucrats meet with politicians, where budgets and public infrastructure are shaped, where museums and desert parks are planned, where art and culture is absent or at best misunderstood.
In the minds of some, Art is something you do at Araluen, for Aboriginal culture you go to the Strehlow Centre, European heritage is at the Telegraph Station and now the Desert Park takes care of the natural environment.
Put them in various boxes (usually big development projects) and proclaim them to be world class.
A danger with this approach is that the complex layers of natural, cultural and built heritage that continue beyond the approved showpieces are often grossly undervalued or viewed by some as expendable.
In the Territory we attach great importance to the lifestyle and achievements of our pioneers.
In 1888, Mounted Constable W.G. South, of Alice Springs, successfully petitioned the Minister for the Northern Territory to save the river gums in the Todd.
He said: ".......the young gum trees will require protection or they will be all cut down by residents for building or fencing... they are a great ornament to the place and it would be a great pity to destroy them..." Imagine that!
At a time when the civilised folk of Sydney, had only recently declared the nation's first National Park, out on the frontier, a policeman was defending the environment as an important issue of public interest. But where are todays pioneers?
Is it possible that Central Australia hasn't produced a visionary since John Flynn?
Do we exist in a vision vacuum where business objectives are slavishly adopted as government policy?
In Central Australia the arts umbrella represents a large, diverse and flourishing industry, full of manufacturers and even exporters.
But how are we really perceived?
Is the government's reluctance to investigate community uses at the old gaol site a strong indication that we are an isolated group, out of touch and unimportant in the context of the wider community?
Clearly then we must take a hard look at our public image and support base.
While contemporary thinking in museums and art galleries has discovered public approval for outreach programs, I believe individual artists must also review the priorities and reach of their work and I'm not talking about the Internet.
I know some of you are ahead of the pack particularly in the performing arts where highly skilled practitioners are luring the wider population into epic and dazzling performances and in the process transforming and enlivening public spaces.
Visual artists also have much to offer the community. We underestimate how difficult life is for our fellow citizens, how mediocre, dull, and harsh urban landscapes are becoming.
Many of us respond by putting significant energy and expertise to work, creating a private bubble, a contemplative Eden in our own home and backyard.
This gives us respite from the rat race but what about the rest of the community?
Observe how many people seek refuge in shopping centres, not just to shop but as a place to take their children and sit for a while.
The community screams for shade and we still get ornamental bottlebrushes in our streets and carparks.

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