March 11, 1998


A bid to bring the Alice Springs airport under local control came to grief only days before tenders to buy the facility from the Federal Airports Corporation (FAC) closed late last month.Most members of a local consortium dropped out of the project under controversial circumstances, leaving a controlling interest of 75.1 per cent with the Melbourne-based Australian Pacific Airports Corporation (APAC), which initially had an interest of just 10 per cent.The only remaining local players are now the construction company, Sitzler Brothers (about nine per cent), and the Aboriginal owned investment company, Centrecorp (about 15 per cent). Sitzlers chief, Michael Sitzler, is the chairman of the consortium.APAC’s chief financial officer Kirby Clark says his company filled a gap when the local consortium "collapsed".However, a former member of the consortium, motel owner Jim Thomas, says it was APAC that forced most locals out of the deal.According to meeting minutes of the town council's Economic Development Committee, which last year initiated plans to bring the airport under Alice Springs control, Mr Thomas reported that APAC had demanded 75.1 per cent, and had "decreed" it would participate in the bid only if Sitzlers and Centrecorp were its sole partners.The minutes report Mr Thomas as saying: "As this ultimatum was issued only one week before the submission deadline, it was reluctantly accepted."Mr Clark describes this account as "unfair".He says: "Other people backed out and we stepped in."The collapse of the syndicate wasn't our doing. We would have been happy with 10 per cent."Asked why his company ultimately wanted 75.1 per cent, Mr Clark said "for legal reasons".Mr Clark says: "We hope we win the bid. What's good for Alice Springs is good for the airport. We want to be a good corporate citizen."He says APAC is involved in two other bids but declined to disclose which airports these are for.The Alice News understands they are Launceston and Hobart.According to a former member of the consortium, who asked not to be named, the group has had a chequered history for most of its life.The Ayers Rock Resort Company (ARRC), initially interested in a 25 per cent stake, bowed out when it considered the venture to be incompatible with its core activities.However, according to Mr Thomas, the other consortium members had arranged to make up for the shortfall.Mr Thomas told the Alice News that following ARRC's withdrawal, APAC also withdrew.Apparently because of this, says Mr Thomas, the Bank of New Zealand, which had offered to bankroll around half the bid price, pulled out as well soon after.Mr Thomas says APAC would then rejoin only on the condition that it received 75.1 per cent of the consortium's equity - which it did in the end.As last month's submission deadline drew near, and APAC issued its alleged ultimatum, the Alice Springs members realised there wasn't enough time to find another partner with the required aviation expertise: The consortium was stuck with the Victoria-based multi-national.The former consortium member says two local accountants, each representing a string of Alice Springs interests, withdrew angrily.Neither responded to request for comment from the Alice News.The town council, despite its early interest, failed to take a significant role.The APAC bid is the only one known to have been submitted for the Alice terminal in the current round of airports sell-offs by the Federal Government.The Federal Government is expected to announce the successful bidders by the end of this month.APAC's shareholders include AMP, Axiom (formerly the NSW state superannuation fund), Hastings Fund Management and the British Airports Authority (now BAA PLC).Mr Clark says while aviation safety considerations are paramount, nothing is "included in or included out" so far as future uses of the Alice terminal are concerned.Its land area is by far the biggest of all airports currently owned by the FAC, covering 3548 hectares.Brisbane comes a distant second with 2685 hectares, Melbourne third with 2365.Sydney - the nation's busiest airport - is on only 881 hectares, according to the FAC 1996-97 annual report.Adjoining the existing Rangeview Estate rural residential subdivision, the northern section of the airport land extends in the west to the Stuart Highway, north to Colonel Rose Drive and east to the Todd River.In addition there's a big chunk south of the runways, a total area nearly 10 times the size of the suburb of Gillen.Mr Sitzler is keeping mum on the project, but it would appear that the prospect of massive amounts of development land - under a 99 year lease and most probably immune from native title claims - is a key factor in his interest.Mr Clark would not disclose details of plans for the airport because there could be a second round of bidding - if the FAC isn't satisfied with the results of the first one - and it would not make sense to tip off potential competitors.Malcolm McDermott, a spokesman for ABN AMRO, a Dutch Bank which is in charge of evaluating the tenders, says he will not disclose how many bids have been received for the Alice Springs airport.He says although submissions have now closed, the Federal Government reserves a right to negotiate with existing tenderers or other parties.If the use of land for non-aviation purposes is a consideration, then the closure of one or both of the minor runways appears threatened.The approach and take-off paths for both the 17-53 and the 06-24 runways, used extensively by light and medium-size planes, are over what appears to be potential development land.Another ticklish point is the use of the airport by the top secret US defence base, Pine Gap.The Alice News understands that Pine Gap makes some financial contribution towards the upkeep of the main runway.However, under a military agreement between the two countries, no landing charges apply to the giant US Airforce Starlifter and Galaxy transport planes landing here at least weekly with supplies for Pine Gap.Deputy head of Pine Gap Brian Ely says the matter is under discussion in connection with the impending sales of airports around the country.Alice Springs Deputy Mayor Geoff Miers says he is "disappointed" that the control of the consortium is no longer in Alice Springs hands."The bid's strength was that local people were looking after local interests," he says.The town council's involvement was limited to "support in principle" - which was all the council had been asked for by the consortium. We weren't asked to put up dollars."Ald Miers says there had been a division "in the council and in the community" about whether or not local government should be playing a major role in the bid.Ald Miers says the council spent some tens of thousands of dollars in the 80s for consultants to investigate a possible purchase of the airport, "all for nought".


Greatorex MLA Richard Lim is calling for compulsory measures limiting alcohol take-away sales to Aborigines in Alice Springs.In a submission to the Liquor Commission he also claims the town has "too many take-away outlets", and suggests licenses should be confined to "traditional" merchants of alcohol, clubs and pubs, applying a sunset clause to the other businesses.He says provided a consensus with black leaders and organisations can be achieved, mandatory restrictions - targeting Aborigines only - could be brought in, similar to those in force at the Curtin Springs roadhouse near Ayers Rock.Dr Lim says in the submission, leaked to the Alice News: "Aboriginal people [could decide upon], in a cohesive action, to voluntary seek a restriction of take-away supplies for all Aboriginal people."If my information is correct, an agreement was reached between Curtin Springs Roadhouse with 15 communities in the surrounding district that there would be no alcohol sold to Aboriginal people from these communities."This agreement was reached following strong representation by the communities themselves and supported by the commission."In a similar vein, could it not be possible for the commission to initiate discussions with Aboriginal leaders ... to bring about a form of restriction, in Alice Springs, of alcohol sales to Aboriginal people."When an agreement is reached between all Aboriginal groups, in particular the Arrernte people whose ‘country' we are in, the commission may implement, say, a six-pack limit or its equivalent in other forms of alcohol, on all take-away sales to Aboriginal people."Purchases can only be achieved through presentation of a calender card (no card - no purchase, and it does not matter whether the card was lost, stolen, destroyed or sold)."At the point of purchase, the card is punched at the appropriate date. Once punched, the card is no longer valid for purchase on that day," says Dr Lim."All licensees will be required to observe the conditions of their license."In other words, all licensees are treated equally."I can already hear the arguments from the liquor industry that they are being penalised unduly, that the core problem is a combination of poor education, high unemployment and a general loss of direction among Aboriginal people, and that unless these problems are rectified, restriction of alcohol sales and the freedom of choice cannot be targeted."I suggest that the argument is spurious. While the taxpayer, through the services of government, tackles the issues of education, employment and social identity, private enterprise contributes its share of profits to enhance society in general."Dr Lim suggests a "10 to 25 year" sunset clause could be applied to the licenses of many of the "non-traditional" alcohol takeaway outlets.He says: "By ‘non-traditional' I mean outlets that are not traditionally associated with hotels or clubs."

JUNE'S GEMS. Column by June Tuzewski

March being Landcare month and anticipating cooler weather, my thoughts turn to spending some time in the garden. It's certainly been a long, hot summer.If you began to wilt, what happened to your plants? My best surviving plants have been the local natives which I planted when converting an area of unused lawn into a low maintenance garden. A few weeks ago, in my capacity as chair of the Alice Springs Water Action Group (ASWAG), I presented the town library with a video on arid zone gardening. On my way there, I remembered that the library is officially named after Neville Shute, author of "A Town Like Alice".Neville Shute grew up in Portsmouth on the south coast of England, and I'm not sure if he ever visited Australia, let alone Alice Springs. There is a spot in the story where one of the characters comments that "Alice is a bonza place. Plenty of water in Alice: people living there, they leave the sprinkler on all night, watering the lawn."In 1950 when the book was published, Alice Springs water came from the town basin which was recharged by flows in the Todd River. Contrary to Neville Shute's perceptions, water was not plentiful and restrictions did occur. Even then the search was already on for a new source of water to meet the demands of a growing population. Since the early 70's our drinking water supply has come from Roe Creek, some 15 km south of town. Six percent of the entire output of our power station is required for that water to reach our homes and workplaces. We have become used to turning on the tap and having the cheapest water in Australia, and yet we live in the driest area of the driest continent on earth. Newcomers to town are amazed that we have no water restrictions. Unlike the Town Basin, the Roe Creek bore field does not easily refill. We are essentially mining water that is over 20,000 years old and when the current area becomes uneconomical, water will have to be drawn from a new site. Current estimates to relocate the bore field are $40 million. The time will come when we will have to pay more and it's in all our interests to put that off for as long as possible.About half the town's water supply goes onto our gardens, hence the focus by PAWA and groups such as ASWAG to use arid zone plants. With PAWA's backing, the town council's move to use non-drinking quality water from the town basin for watering sporting ovals, and community support for projects such as Cut-the-Lawn, overall water consumption from Roe Creek has been reduced. But we can do more. Timers on our garden taps and watering between 8pm and 8am can save on water and dollars. Lifestyles do change. The kids grow up. While it's nice to have a patch of green, do we really need the patch to be so large.Do we need to be spending all our time watering, mowing and fertilising grass? Lippia, a low maintenance ground cover, might be easier to maintain. It really does makes good sense to use local plants. Local trees and shrubs have adapted to out hot summers and cold winter nights, need less water, and you won't have to spend as much time looking after them. If you want more variety, why not use plants from environments similar to Central Australia. Local nurseries are very helpful and some are cultivating more native plants for domestic gardens.If you're new to Alice, or just looking to give your garden a facelift, there are a number of brochures available from PAWA which you can pick up in the Greatorex Building when paying your bill. Alternatively, phone Janet Taylor on 8951 554 and she will pop some in the mail to you. Jenny at Greening Australia, who is also a member of ASWAG, can supply local plant lists. She can be contacted on 8953 2882. The Arid Zone Gardening video is available from the town library and the Centralian College library.Want to see the real thing. A demonstration garden at the PAWA Sadadeen Valley complex is well worth a visit, as is the garden at the Alice Springs airport, immediately opposite the terminal. A visit to the Olive Pink Botanic Garden and a chat to the friendly staff there, may even lead you to joining the Society for Growing Australian Plants, which meets at 7.30pm on the first Wednesday of each month at the garden. The Alice Springs branch has produced a Guide to Public Gardens landscaped with Australian plants. Further information about the society is available from the local branch secretary, Debbie Stein on 8953 1505.Don't forget - despite what Neville Shute wrote - Alice Springs Water, it's too precious to waste.


Sir,- Re "Private Schools Boom" (AS News, March 4.)
Since coming to office, the Federal Government has actually increased funding for government schools. Direct Commonwealth funding for government schools in 1998 was up by more than $127m over 1996, the last year of the previous government.Each State will be receiving increased funding from the Commonwealth when compared to 1996 - the last year of Labor.For example, the Northern Territory received an additional $2.35m in Commonwealth supplementation for government and non-government schools in 1997.The Commonwealth Government provides funds to government schools through two mechanisms: by means of tied specified purpose payments for recurrent, capital and targeted programmes, and through untied Financial Assistance Grants, a proportion of which States apply to schools.In addition, States provide funds to government schools from within their own revenues.Contrary to what Mr Sandford [of the Australian Education Union] says, Commonwealth general recurrent grants are not "finite".These grants are provided on a per capita basis for all students in both government and non-government schools. The Federal Government has implemented the Enrolment Benchmark Adjustment (EBA) to prevent cost shifting between the Commonwealth and the States. The EBA is triggered when the proportion of enrolments shifts significantly from the government to the non-government sector.It is neither aimed at individual schools nor affected by movement in actual numbers of students.Claims that one student moving to the non-government sector means a loss of funding equivalent to four students are untrue.Funding is only affected by shifts in proportions of enrolments in each State and Territory.The EBA mechanism includes a buffer arrangement to protect States from minor fluctuations to the proportion of non-government enrolments.Through the application of the buffer the Northern Territory has not incurred an EBA liability for 1997.This means that for 1997 the EBA has cost the Northern Territory nothing.
Nick Dondas AM MP
[ED - Further to our report, the Araluen Christian School advised that it is an inter-denominational schools and has 148 students enrolled.]


Key conservation areas of the Ilparpa Valley should be fenced, banned to vehicles and have otherwise restricted access, according to a draft report on the area, prepared by the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC).The draft report recommends three zonings in the valley, the first a conservation zone for areas of high natural and cultural values, such as the claypans, the Ilparpa swamp and the Coolibah forests. The second zone, designated for conservation recreation, could be available for low impact activities such as horse-riding and mountain-bike riding, as well as for bushwalking and nature study. Proposals for the third recreation and development zone, could include picnic areas and tourist facilities. It could also be an area for exercising dogs on a leash; the draft report recommends exclusion of dogs from the other two zones.The draft report recommends banning recreational off-road car and bike access in all zones. ALEC coordinator Deborah Metters says it is an illegal activity and directly contributes to soil erosion, vegetation degradation, dust, claypan damage and is in conflict with other passive recreation activities.Ms Metters says putting up a fence with a "no go" sign would not work. ALEC intends rather, together with other stakeholders, to consult with off-road drivers about using alternative areas, which she says are available and adequate. Off-road vehicles, together with changes in the natural hydrology of the valley, have been the major causes of degradation in the area.The area recommended as a conservation zone has been subjected to the greatest degradation, due to a combination of vehicle disturbance and the absence of any management plan by the various government bodies responsible for Crown land.Once fenced, the draft report recommends that existing tracks in this area be covered, and that weed management and a revegetation program commence.The valley contains significant populations of plants and animals with high conservation values, the future of some of which is already severely threatened. In the Commonage's relatively small area of 26 square kilometres, 464 indigenous vascular plant taxa have been recorded. This is an astonishing figure when compared to the 490 taxa recorded in the Finke Gorge area of 450 square kilometres. In the era of eco-tourism, what an asset!Of these, 41 taxa are considered rare, threatened or significant, including the MacDonnell Ranges Cycad, a sedge (Eleocharis papillosa ) and a daisy (Minuria tridens ).The sewerage ponds and the Ilparpa swamp provide permanent deep and shallow wetlands for nomadic waterbirds. A walk around the claypans after rain reveals, among other creatures, a variety of shrimps. The area is also home to the black-footed rock wallaby, considered to be "vulnerable", the "rare" freckled duck, and the "possibly threatened" floodplains skink, to name but a few. From a "whole valley" perspective, the draft report recommends close monitoring of changes in vegetation and hydrology."We should tackle the whole hydrology picture rather than focus on just one aspect, such as mosquitoes or salination," says Ms Metters.The draft report recognises that the sewerage ponds have interrupted the natural hydrology of the area and thus contributed to problems including weed infestation and a rising water table which leads to salt encrustation of the surface.It recommends further investigation of the situation, including consultation of experts and study of similar situations around Australia.It also proposes looking at alternatives for the disposal of excess effluent and the designing of a waste water discharge regime which would allow the swamp to completely dry out at least once every 18 months, thus emulating what was once a natural wet-dry regime.The draft report is based largely on consultation with a broad range of "stakeholders", including residents and traditional owners. It recommends involvement of residents in the revegetation of the area, and recognises consultation and collaboration with traditional owners as fundamental. A large part of the area studied is under native title claim. Recognition of the claim would thus have significant consequences for the future of the valley.The report was prepared with the assistance of a National Landcare Program grant, with work to make an inventory of the natural and cultural resources of the valley starting back in July 1994.ALEC is now looking for further input on the draft from all the groups consulted and welcomes any new input.Some 20 residents of the valley recently met with Ms Metters and expressed their desire to see "on the ground" work proceed.Restoration of some areas is more straightforward than others. The Coolibah forest- considered the best known stand of the species in Central Australia because of the diversity of its perennial plants - has not been threatened by off-road vehicle use. It mainly requires some weed control (buffle and couch grasses) and the removal of rubbish.Another possibility being canvassed is the establishment of a demonstration area as a working example of land management that addresses the concerns and values presented in the draft report. Greening Australia has applied to the National Heritage Trust for funds to employ an urban bushland officer for the Alice Springs municipality. Given the Ilparpa Valley's rich vegetation communites, quite a bit of the officer's work would be focussed in the area.It could include weeding, fencing, the construction of interpretive signs and revegetation.Waterwatch of Central Australia is also about to start monitoring water quality in the Ilparpa swamp and claypans. If anyone is interested in learning to do a simple water test, they can contact the Waterwatch regional coordinator on 8952 9476.Meanwhile, ALEC will hold a public meeting within the coming weeks to discuss issues raised in its Ilparpa report. Time and venue to be advised. Interested parties are also welcome to ring Deborah Metters on 9852 2497.


How sustainable is pastoralism in the arid zone?The question has a long history. Now, it is increasingly recognised that it doesn't have one answer, but many answers. The broad brush of "arid zone" or "rangelands" sweeps over an area where landscapes vary enormously, as do people's understanding and management of them."It homogenises a huge area on the same sort of scale as Europe," says CSIRO researcher Mark Stafford-Smith."To suggest a single land use proposal for the whole of Europe would be nonsensical, and it is for Australia too."Landscapes across the country have very different levels of resilience. Some of them, like the black soil plains of western Queensland for example, are very resilient. Even if people make land management errors such as over-stocking, the country there will recover.In other places where, for example, there are duplex soils (typically on floodplains where a lighter layer covers a heavier one), it takes a very long time or a huge investment to recover errors. "If the top layer is eroded, then the only way to get it back is either by ponding-type works, major earthworks which are very expensive, or waiting for the next huge flood which might be a thousand years away," says Dr Stafford-Smith."In those areas, one would far rather avoid the problem in the first place, but we're not necessarily very good at delineating them."We need to be, to make sure that the right sort of monitoring is going on to enable problems to be picked up and prevented before they reach a point where it's uneconomic to recover them."Identifying these areas involves economic and social criteria as well as environmental and scientific ones:"You're more likely to be able to pay for recovering the damage to soil in a grazing system which is close to markets, so that you can produce cattle and send them to market with low costs in transport and things like that, than you are for damage to the same type of soil that is remote from markets," says Dr Stafford-Smith."There are a whole lot of forces which link the environmental, the economic and social factors in actually deciding how to implement any sort of understanding of resilience across the regions. "We are gradually evolving that sort of understanding, people are starting to talk about all of those things together." Are there such vulnerable areas in Central Australia?"Even here there is huge diversity. If you talk to pastoralists they will identify areas which once damaged are very, very hard to recover. People like Bob Purvis [at Atartinga Station] will tell you that there are areas where, if you are prepared to put in the huge effort that he has [in doing major ponding works], you can recover them. "But then there are other areas where it's really hard to do that, because they have such low productive capacity that it just doesn't pay for itself."Centralian Land Management Association's Bob Millington agrees:"Bob Purvis is a very good land manager, one of the best. He started this ponding exercise for erosion control and we followed on from him. There are now a dozen stations doing it."CLMA is the pastoral industry's Landcare group for Central Australia whose aim is to manage for a balance between conservation and production. It has 90 per cent of the pastoral leases in the area as registered members .The association has acquired a laser truck to assist members in ponding works. The principal of ponding is to slow the flow of water across the countryside, so that it infiltrates further and deposits nutrients on its way. This is done by creating banks to hold back water, but they have to be properly built or they create further erosion problems: water gathers into one corner, then goes over the top, making a gully. The laser truck is a surveying device used to measure the gradient of the banks."Better not to be done at all than not done properly," says Mr Millington, "and it needs to be good land to start with, otherwise you spend a lot of money for very little return. The good areas are naturally the ones that have been severely hit in any bad time, so they are the ones that are worth spending money on."Mr Millington estimates that up to 10 per cent of the country in Central Australia could benefit from ponding: "That's without doing any measurements, but it's not 100 per cent by any means."Are there areas in Central Australia where productivity is so marginal, that alternative land uses need to be found?Mr Millington says market forces sort this out:"Areas that aren't suitable to pastoralism aren't under pastoral lease. "Probably, as happened everywhere, in the early days some went too far and they have retreated. "Now, it's far more a marketing problem than a land management problem. The economics are hard to plan ahead if you haven't got a stable market."However, Dr Stafford-Smith says that market forces alone cannot be relied upon to decide the question: "There are all sorts of constraints which prevent some of that change happening."He cites examples in places like south-west Queensland and Western Australia where some enterprises simply aren't viable. In the Gascoyne-Murchison area in WA, a community-based strategy includes the intention to, in five years time, reduce by 60 its present 240 pastoral leases. Some of those leases will be amalgamated with others, but some will not go back into production. The same sort of strategy was the intention in south-west Queensland, although very little has yet been accomplished there.To the north, in the Gulf area of the NT and into Queensland, a lot of properties have moved out of cattle production as a primary enterprise over the last decade.Says Dr Stafford-Smith: "These episodes aren't very happy because they cause disruption in the local community, but as well, quite often there are some serious structural difficulties, driven by inflexible tenure systems and things like that, which make it quite difficult for the adjustments to happen. "The same can be true in the opposite direction, where people are trying to diversify. There are a huge number of diversifications, which we've documented at one time or another, through different areas of the rangelands. But there are a lot of places where people find it difficult to take opportunities to improve viability, because of things like not being able to use a tenure for multiple purposes. "There are some states and territories which are better than others for allowing those sorts of things to happen."Historically, the pastoralist has just been a pastoralist.But changing times require ingenuity and resilience, which Mr Millington says is are qualities that can be counted on. Quite a few pastoralists are now doing their own "clean, green beef" marketing and "they're getting quite good at it," he says. "Problems in the Asian economies have thrown them into a hiccough, but that's all, it'll come," says Mr Millington.A lot of pastoralists are also diversifying to give themselves income stability. Eco-tourism is probably the most talked-about alternative industry, but Mr Millington and Dr Stafford-Smith agree that it is not a panacea."If there's a profitable industry possible, it's already there," says Mr Millington. "I think tourism is a brilliant industry for this part of the world but as an industry it suffers first when things start to go bad. So I worry when I hear people say that eco-tourism is the answer to all our problems. What do you do? Subsidise people to go and take a holiday in the arid zone?"In fact, according to CSIRO research, the feature of diversification in the rangelands is that the diversifications are incredibly diverse. "The successful things are those where there are only a small number of people doing them, scattered around," says Dr Stafford-Smith.


Former solo nurse for 20 years at Neutral Junction Station, turned local historian, Jose Petrick was among five Alice Springs women whose contributions to the community have been acknowledged in the NT Women's Achievement Awards.The other women are Molly Clark, Leony Bowey, Dianne Wade and Esme Tyson. Jose, recently in the front line of the battle to save the old Alice Springs Gaol, has a passionate interest in the town's heritage, which has borne fruit in her History of Alice Springs through Landmarks and Street Names, now in its third edition.Last year she was awarded a grant by the Department of the Chief Minister to record the history of a mural at St Mary's Family Service Chapel, and its painter Robert Czaka.Molly Clark, of Old Andado Station, is the founder of the National Pioneer Women's hall of Fame in Alice, and is now overseeing establishment of state branches of the Hall of Fame in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.Leony Bowey is coordinator of the Migrant Resource centre of Central Australia where her main role is to help migrants settle into their new life in Central Australia.Dianne Wade has spent 20 years developing and promoting equestrian activities in the Centre. Under her guidance, events in the NT have grown in popularity and competitiveness.Esme Tyson, coordinator of the Alice Springs Women's Shelter for 10 years, is largely credited with its success in helping thousands of women and children escape domestic violence. She also helped set up other women's services in town and other women's shelters across the NT.

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