ALDERMAN TONY ALICASTRO CALLS FOR THE ISSUE OF VOUCHERS INSTEAD OF CASH TO WELFARE RECIPIENTS
Federal Government welfare payments in Central Australia should be
made mainly in the form of vouchers for food, clothing and rent,
according to an Alice Springs Town Council alderman.
Only a small amount should be paid out in cash, says Ald Tony Alicastro, claiming the scheme would be the only viable solution to the region's out-of-hand problem of alcohol abuse.
He says the idea - proposed also by former Alice magistrate Denis Barritt some years ago - is likely to have overwhelming support from locals. Ald Alicastro says strategies being promoted at present - lowering the number of liquor outlets and banning take-aways on Thursdays and Sundays - have done little more than create bitter divisions within the town.
"I don't want to pick a fight with people who're looking for solutions," he says. "They've highlighted the magnitude of the problem. "However, we're bogged down on bans and restrictions. We're achieving nothing except to split the community while the state welfare system is destroying people's lives.
"Does the taxpayer want this on his conscience?"
Ald Alicastro says claims the measure is racist would not stand up as it would be applied irrespective of race. He says a voucher system in Alice Springs would be appropriate even though it's not in use anywhere else in Australia, because the link between welfare money and alcohol abuse is more widespread here than in most other regions.
Other towns may find the system attractive and join in calls for its selective introduction, he says. "Welfare payments exist to help people in difficulty, who at a particular time cannot obtain the necessities of life.
"Instead we're helping people to drink themselves into the grave.
"First we give them cash and then we're looking for elaborate measures to make sure it's not spent on alcohol. This is absurd.
"Why put these people in a position of buying alcohol in the first place?"
Ald Alicastro says the initiative would need the backing not only of local government but the town in general - including Aboriginal leaders. The idea would need to be taken to the Territory's Federal Parliamentarians who in turn would get Canberra to act.
Ald Alicastro says grog control measures, which in other circumstances would be regarded as discriminatory, are common in The Centre. These include restrictions on quantities sold and trading hours in such places as Ti Tree, Yulara and Curtin Springs - usually the results of community decisions.
"Special measures are needed to solve special problems.
"A fully centralised system doesn't work."
He says a reduction of the number of outlets wouldn't make any difference. In much of Europe, for example, there are liquor outlets "every 20 metres", around the clock, and if the outlets argument were to hold up, "you wouldn't find a sober person anywhere".
Ald Alicastro says: "All you would do is concentrate the buyers in fewer locations.
"Alcohol is a drug and addicted people will do almost anything to get it.
"They won't stop because they have to walk a few extra metres.
"There's evidence that people go to great extents to get a drink, and pay astonishing prices."
He says he's in favour of a take-away license for Tyeweretye, the Aboriginal-owned licensed club adjacent to Blatherskite Park, provided it would not create additional problems for people in the near-by Old Timers village.
ALICE SPRINGS: WHERE TO IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS?
As Alice Springs' population grows towards an expected 50,000,
double its present size, where will it expand to?
Undoolya has been the preferred option, but the town may yet squeeze through the Gap. These options are among those likely to be addressed in a discussion paper on the future development of Alice Springs, expected to be released this month.
The paper is part of the review, begun last August, of the existing Alice Springs Structure Plan. Until now the review has been in the hands of a steering committee, chaired by John Baskerville, Regional Manager of the Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment, and made up of representatives from government departments, as well as a representative each from the town council and of the consultants Sinclair Knight Merz.
While the discussion paper will represent the first opportunity for public comment on the review, there has already been consultation with government departments and authorities, Aboriginal organisations, the town council, some real estate and construction interests, the Chamber of Commerce, the Joint Defence Facility, Greening Australia, Undoolya Station and MLAs Richard Lim and John Elferink. Other Alice MLAs have been contacted as have a number of other "stakeholders".
The Department of Lands says: "Community support and Ôownership' will be a key element of the Structure Plan's success, as it will be the primary land use planning instrument setting the broad policy framework and guiding the future development of Alice Springs."
The revised Structure Plan will incorporate the completed Mt Johns Valley and Alice Springs Central Area Land Use Objectives and the AustralAsia Railway Land Use Objectives.
Another project known as "The Face of Alice Springs in 10 years", being developed by the Alice Springs Regional Coordination Group (representatives of all government departments, again chaired by Mr Baskerville) will "form an integral part" of the review.
Ultimately the plan will also be declared a land use objective, governing future development in the areas of land tenure, flooding and stormwater drainage, water and sewerage infrastructure, taking into consideration the route and impacts of the railway, sacred sites, the urban drift of rural populations, tourism and building heights.
JUNE'S GEMS - Our new column by June Tuzewski
Has a new Paul Albrecht or Pat Kemp arrived in town?
It may appear contradictory, but the one constant aspect of living in The Alice is the sea of changing faces. It is that time of year when many of us have farewelled friends and acquaintances which seems to happen even more over the summer break.
We are reminded as fresh faces appear in our offices, shops, banks and schools. And so, just as old friends have taken up a new lifestyle elsewhere, newcomers arrive with all their hopes and dreams to take up life in Central Australia.
If you have recently arrived in town, welcome. Welcome to the heat, dust and flies but also welcome to a special place many of us call home.
If you're after some help whilst settling into town, Margot and Diana at the Community Information Centre located within the Alice Springs Library on Gregory Tce (Tel 8950 0544) can point you in the right direction.
They also have contacts for clubs and special interest groups. There seems to be a club for just about everything except some of the snow and water sports.
Jenny and Christine at the Women's Information Service (Tel 8951 5880), can assist with info on local support services ranging from Nursing Mothers Association and Alcoholics Anonymous, to services for the disabled.
Leony at the Migrant Resource Centre (Tel 8952 8776) will also be able to help if you are from overseas.
Alice Springs has grown and drawn its character as much from the many people who have come and gone over the years, as from the unique landscape that surrounds us.
I mention Paul Albrecht especially because he and his wife, Helen, are leaving town shortly.
People meeting Paul for the first time are surprised to learn that he is a Pastor of the Lutheran Church. He is a quietly spoken man with a sharp sense of humour and quick wit who has a deep understanding and respect for Aboriginal people. Whilst he is well known for his work on translating the Bible into the Aranda language, I believe that his day to day life is an example of a true contribution to the reconciliation process which occurs at many levels in this community but doesn't make headlines.
Likewise the many years of dedicated work by people such as Pat Kemp, working as a Bush Nurse, also help bring about true reconciliation, and I was delighted that her work has been recognised and honoured with an Australia Day award. Community organisations and the individuals which comprise them have become so much part of our lifestyle we forget that such facilities as childcare centres, BMX tracks, rodeo grounds and The Old Timers were started by volunteers and much lobbying of Government to give some sort of recognition and assistance.
I have always found it fascinating that those of us who have been here for quite some time, compare the town and its facilities to those in the cities and not to towns of a similar size elsewhere in Australia.
At the same time the majority of locals support the keeping of building heights in line with treetops and other measures which enhance the outback image and take into account our climate and natural scenery. Alice Springs is a special place, and we should fight to keep it that way.
It may seem petty, but I get really annoyed with roadsigns pointing to the "Eastern Suburbs". Why can't it just be Eastside and Sadadeen. That's what the locals call it.
Similarly, whilst everyone in the community welcomes the NT Government's initiative for the Urban Enhancement Program, the letting of a tender for plants along the North Stuart Highway which are inappropriate to that particular location and to the climate is a waste of public funds. And yet it would cost no more to get this right than it does to get it wrong.
Often these decisions are made by Ministers and public servants in Darwin, the public gets angry, and local parliamentarians and public servants go into defence mode.
The present review of the Alice Springs Structure Plan will be an opportunity for locals to have their say.
Whether our comments will be taken into account remains to be seen.
Lest I be accused of only negative comments at those across the Berrimah Line, let me take this opportunity to commend both the NT and Federal Governments for their quick response and assistance to the current crisis in Katherine.
The Territory becomes a pretty small place after you've lived here a while and many of us have friends and relatives in the Katherine region. Old timers know that such a disaster could easily happen in Central Australia under freak conditions, so let's give the people of Katherine our support.
Donations can be given at the Commonwealth Bank in Parsons Street or by phoning the Red Cross on 8981 4499.
UPROAR OVER PLANS TO PLANT NON-NATIVE AND POISONOUS TREES AND SHRUBS IN TOWN STREETS
Alice Deputy Mayor Geoff Miers is accusing the NT Government of a
breach of faith over the Urban Enhancement Program.
He's also hitting out at the choice of plants to be used in it - including at least one species carrying a potentially lethal poison.
Ald Miers says the transport department had undertaken to consult with the town council before going ahead with beautification of main roads in the town.
However, a tender for about $33,000 to buy shrubs and trees has now been let although discussions - originally scheduled for December - have still not taken place.
A meeting has now been set down for February 15 - clearly too late to stop a series of blunders to which the department has already committed itself, says Ald Miers.
The professional gardener says among the 7000 plants - mostly non-natives - for the Stuart Highway between Wills and Woods Terraces are 1900 dwarf oleanders whose sap is "highly poisonous".
Three people in Queensland are known to have died after stirring their tea with an oleander branch, and Ald Miers himself has fallen ill twice after pruning oleander bushes.
Ald Miers says the poison "can kill a cow": There have been reports of fatalities in cattle feeding on the plant.
Oleanders are also among the greatest harbourers of pests, and infestations could spread to nearby gardens.
Ald Miers says the plants - including 1700 plumbago shrubs - were apparently chosen by departmental officers in Darwin in line with recommendations from a Darwin-based consultant.
"They clearly have no idea about Central Australian conditions," says Ald Miers.
The town council, after considering the report last year, told the department it was picking the wrong species - advice that was clearly ignored. Ald Miers says the plant selection is in direct contradiction to the government's campaign - through the Power and Water Authority (PAWA) - to grow native plants which require small amounts of water and little maintenance.
The dwarf oleanders are likely to grow to three or four metres and will need frequent pruning.
The Japanese honeysuckle to be planted is suitable for lightly shaded areas but not for the blazing sun of the Stuart Highway.
The plumbagos are likely to be burned by the sun in summer and the frost in winter, and will require monthly pruning. Just two ghost gums and a few other eucalypts are a mere token towards local native species, says Ald Miers.
The department's intention of beautifying the town is "fantastic", says Ald Miers, but "it would cost no more to get it right".
OTHER HIGHWAYS He says apart from the entire length of the Stuart Highway within the township, other roads included in the program are Stott Terrace, Sadadeen Road and Undoolya Road; Larapinta Drive; the Ross Highway and Stephens Road.
THE MURRAY NECK TRADING DYNASTY: We continue our historical feature.
The Second World War had exposed insular Australians to the world,
marking a change in their psyche.
Now, in 1956 the world came to Australia with the staging of the Olympic Games in Melbourne.
That year also saw the introduction of black and white television in Sydney and Melbourne.
However, Alice Springs residents were to wait another 14 years before the ABC installed the first local transmitter, still with a black and white signal although the metropolitan centres had gone to colour.
After his return from boarding school at the end of 1947, Murray had joined his parents' business.
When his father David decided to leave Alice Springs in 1949, Murray managed the shop with his mother Dorothy.
Sadly, Dorothy died from cancer the following year.
By 1956 Murray had bought the business and set about expanding and modernising it.
The building remained until 1987 when it was sold to Bill Ford, the developer of the Ford Plaza, now the Alice Plaza.
Murray recalls travelling with AWA to Sydney in 1957 to view their latest products.
He was certainly curious to see the new televisions but of greater practical interest for his business were the radio and hi-fi systems: "Shortwave portable radios were being developed, great for the bush person who couldn't get medium wave."
During the following decade the business continued to consolidate.
Transport communications had improved and customers came from throughout the Outback into Alice Springs, from Tennant Creek, from mining settlements, and from inland Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, via the Connellan air links.
Although expensive when compared to today's prices, the latest electronics products and domestic appliances were in big demand.
Among them were the first Sunbeam mixmasters, selling for 19 guineas, the equivalent of about three weeks' wages.
"Today they sell at about $140, which is less than half a week's basic wage," comments Murray.
"When they first came on to the market I put in an order for six because I could get an extra seven shillings and sixpence discount by buying in bulk."
"I was a bit worried that they would send them all at once and I wouldn't be able to pay for them, but Sunbeam assured me I would probably be getting two at a time because they were being rationed.
"To my horror the six arrived, but to my utter delight I sold them all in the first month."
One of Murray's regular customers was Albert Namatjira: "He was a great man Albert. I knew him quite well, he was a good customer.
He bought radios, records and when we put in firearms, he bought these.
"He once did a deal in exchange for a high-powered rifle."
I'll give you a painting,' he said. I wasn't too sure about that because the rifle was expensive and his paintings weren't at that time.
"But we did the deal and I eventually, very reluctantly, sold the painting to pay for some boarding school fees for my children. He was very well known and I asked him if he would mind if I had my photo [at left] taken with him looking at a 12 inch LP of Leonard Teale reading Banjo Patterson's A Man from Snowy River. I gave him something pretty reasonable in return for his appearance."
Murray had also begun to stock sporting goods, and did a similar publicity shot with the famous painter looking at a new Slazenger "Ben Hogan" golf club.
NEXT WEEK: Cars, bikes - then back to music - and movies come on tape.
COMMENT by Editor ERWIN CHLANDA: 1998 A WATERSHED YEAR FOR ALICE SPRINGS
Welcome to 1998 - the Alice Springs News' fifth year of publication.
Many say it will also be the year that will make or break Alice Springs where small business has been doing it tough for at least a couple of years, principally in the wake of a creeping decline in the tourism bed occupancy rate (the low-budget backpackers excluded), and minimal NT government capital works spending.
The exception to the latter is the Desert Park, whose benefit to the economy is yet to be gauged: any gains there are likely to be more than offset: the NT government flogged off its (our) 60 per cent share in the Ayers Rock Resort to an interstate company with no apparent responsibility to the Central Australian community.
According to the NT Department of Industry, Pine Gap will be spending $25m on housing in the current fiscal year, presumably USA and Canberra money.
The NT government's spending will be far from spectacular: it includes hospital works worth $5.1m, and $4.2m for the new Larapinta Primary School.
This school was promised not before the last election, but the one PRIOR to it!
Yulara will get "general power augmentation" worth $1.7m. This is a straight gift for the Rock resort's new owners who, despite enjoying a virtual trade monopoly at the nation's premier tourist attraction, receive government utilities at the standard rate.
The government has been refusing steadfastly to disclose to the Alice News how much money it's losing there - presumably millions a year. The Alice police station will get new cells for $2.3m, and the town's "electrical distribution capacity" will be upgraded at a cost of $2.1m.
All in all, Alice will get just $13.6m, not a great chunk of the NT's $2500m Budget.
We'll see whether the Katherine disaster will prompt a further diversion of funds - not that the folk up there don't need all the help they can get! Just for a laugh, the department is listing an expenditure of $1000m for the Darwin railway under "proposed" projects.
So, we'll need to get better at going it alone.
Some obvious initiatives worth looking at:- Force a change of direction in tourism promotion: do we really want to court people from Sydney's western suburbs, the typical audience of "Mr Territory" Daryl Somers?
Or should we market ourselves directly to the richest people of the world's richest countries, perhaps through inexpensive and highly targeted professional magazines?
If we still have a shortage of residential land, then let's push the government into developing the Ilparpa Valley by setting up a high-tech sewerage plant that doesn't stink, recycles water, and occupies a fraction of the land.
The balance of the area - around two square kilometres under freehold and as such unaffected by Native Title - could be sold to the public.
At the same time the marvellous southern flank of the MacDonnells, with dozens of picturesque gullies, could be made more accessible - an instant additional tourist attraction, within 10 minutes' drive from the post office.
At half past five every day you could fire a gun down Todd Mall and not hit anyone except perhaps a few drunks.
In most other countries with a similar climate, especially those relying on tourism, such public areas come to life in the early evening.
Ours drops dead.
What is the matter with the plethora of management committees and paid promotion staff in this town?
It's time our leaders and elected representatives are called to account for allowing the heart of this town to resemble more a war zone than a place where locals and visitors can have a good time.
This will be a good start.
There's plenty more that could - and must - be done.
Let's roll up our sleeves and get cracking.
At the end of 1998 we'll need to look a lot better than we did at the end of 1997!
PAINTER ERIKA CALDER PUTS OUT LIVES IN THE CONTEXT OF OUR SPACE. Review by KIERAN FINNANE.
Central Australian born and bred artist Erika Calder wants visitors
to her current exhibition at Araluen to shift their ideas about where
Alice Springs is.
Rather than their habitual location of the town at the centre of the continent, the halfway stop along the Stuart Highway, she emphasises its position in the north-western corner of the Lake Eyre Basin and its relationship to the rest of the basin.
We drink and wash in the basin's waters every day, in common with our far-flung neighbours in Camooweal, Coober Pedy, Broken Hill and Longreach.
Three of our major national parks are within its boundaries - the West MacDonnell, Finke Gorge and Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Parks. Significant regional economic activity, in particular that of 65 Northern Territory pastoral leases, and some tourism, draws on its resources. Aboriginal people in the NT are also significant landholders within the basin, of areas estimated as greater than 12,000 square kilometres.
We don't learn all this from the paintings themselves; they are not didactic works but they do more than draw our attention to the area's great natural beauty, recording landforms and details of flora and fauna.
They somehow mesmerise, draw the viewer deeply into their aura.
A couple of early works in the exhibition (catalogue nos 1 & 2) suggest that Erika has long been able to paint beyond the representational.
They are clearly aerial views of desert ranges but have an ethereal quality, a dreaminess pushing towards lyrical abstraction.
Then, from the Coongie Lakes, through the channel country, to our own well-known landmarks of Mount Sonder, Glen Helen, Simpson's Gap, the Desert Park, Erika's survey of the Lake Eyre Basin, accumulated since the 1970s and which makes up the rest of the exhibition, becomes less dreamy, more powerfully meditative and intense, as if beating with a pulse, imparting a sense of heightened perception.
It is not surprising, once you've experienced this work, to learn that Erika has a passionate interest in the conservation of the Lake Eyre Basin. She participated as a volunteer in the first comprehensive study of the ecology of the lower Cooper river, sister to the Georgina-Diamantina system along whose banks she spent a number of childhood years.
Both systems flow into Lake Eyre.
She belongs to the Friends of the Lake Eyre Basin, formed under the auspices of the Conservation Council of South Australia, and helpfully supplies in the gallery a copy of the Lake Eyre Basin Steering Group's Issues Papers, published in September 1997.
The Friends group had their first victory when they succeeded in preventing a 1996 plan for cotton-cropping at Windorah, which would have drawn irrigation waters from the Thompson-Barcoo and Cooper system.
The irrigation issue is unlikely to be over however, with a Flow Management Plan for that system presently being developed by the Queensland and South Australian governments.
The key issue identified by the papers is the necessity of coordinated cooperative management of the entire basin which comes under the jurisdiction of four governments.
It is difficult to get an overall view of the condition of the basin environment.
The pest animal and plants picture, with rabbits at the top of the list, is certainly depressing.
What is clear, from each one of the issues papers, is that there are large information gaps and the need for baseline criteria in order for good management decisions to be made.
Community concern over the future of the basin will make it more likely that the various governments fund the necessary research, which is where Erika Calder's paintings come in: without at all undermining their artistic integrity, she has made them a convincing cri de coeur for the protection of one of the world's last unregulated, wild river systems.
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