April 8, 1998


Despite reassurances that local concerns about the Landscape Strategy would be taken into account, the Department of Transport and Works has already ordered plants, some three quarters of them exotics, for the first stage of its "enhancement" of the North Stuart Highway.Alice Springs Deputy Mayor, Geoff Miers, who has over 20 years’ involvement in the horticultural industry in the Centre, describes the move as "totally out of touch"."This aspect of the strategy falls down in three main areas," says Ald Miers. "It doesn't appreciate and reinforce the uniqueness of this environment; the species selection is inappropriate; and the intended irrigation, the infrastructure for which is costed at $1.5m, is completely at odds with everything PAWA and a whole lot of people, myself included, have been campaigning for over the last decade."The council resolved at its last meeting on March 30 to write to the Minister for Transport and Works to express its "in principle" support for a landscape strategy, but also to express its concern over:
a lack of effective community consultation;
a lack of a clear arid zone focus;
the inappropriate plant palette; and,
the proposal to construct substantial water resources infrastructure to irrigate plantings in a number of zones.Ald Miers understands that some species on the plant list may have been changed, but the substitution of plumbago by lantana, a noxious weed in most states in Australia, is hardly reason for great hope."Transport and Works should be completely rethinking this element of the strategy and engaging people with expertise in the Alice Springs community to ensure that appropriate species and design elements are used," says Ald Miers.The landscape strategy, which plans to create "an oasis in the desert", was released late last year. It has recently been promoted via public displays in local shopping centres, accompanied by a questionnaire. The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) has expressed extreme disappointment over both the proposals and the lack of public consultation.ALEC coordinator Deborah Metters says Geoff Christensen, Regional Manager Transport, has confirmed that the plants for the Wills Terrace to Woods Terrace section of the highway have been ordered.Ms Metters says she was heartened by the response of shoppers at last Sunday's Todd Mall Markets to the ALEC stall: a sign asked if they wanted to see oleanders [one of the species on order] on the highway and watered by our drinking water?"Lots of people, not our typical supporters, stopped to say how much they disliked oleanders, that they have allergies to them, and they don't want to see them here," she says.ALEC is particularly concerned over the promotion of weed species, including oleanders, date palms (if they get into water courses) and buffel grass. Says Ms Metters: "We read in the public display that ‘irrigation will be used to promote the growth of buffel grass', and it shows a futuristic photograph of a median strip on the North Stuart Highway filled with this bright green exotic weed species, which they are going to water!"Government and community strategies around this country are promoting the importance of Australia's unique and dwindling native remnant vegetation. Meanwhile in Alice Springs we have a strategy which disregards native species, especially grasses and ground covers, and promotes exotic species that already dominate and threaten our arid ecosystem."We live in the middle of a desert. Our ancient water supply is finite, precious and being rapidly depleted. Now we have Transport and Works proposing to use drinking water on inappropriate plants, while at the same time other government departments and community groups are promoting arid zone gardens, low water use and water conservation."ALEC took part in the public consultation in 1996, but we only recently found out about the plans for the North Stuart Highway. We are very disappointed. The public display has only come out since the release of the strategy, with a very glossy and misleading finish. People come to Alice Springs to enjoy and appreciate our unique arid landscape. We don't want to see an urban landscape that contradicts the natural one."The Alice News asked John Baskerville, Regional Director South, for an update on the landscape strategy and its implementation, but he had not responded at the time of going to press.


Delegates' hearts and minds have been well and truly focused on constitutional issues during the second week of the Territory Statehood Convention. As well as the convention's formal gathering, there have been working groups, public forums, and much informal discussion.It has become apparent to those of us attending that we are not writing a constitution - that must be left to the people with the technical and legal skills in parliamentary drafting. What we are doing is framing a set of principles to be included in the Territory's proposed constitution and establishing the framework of how we wish to be governed. It is perhaps appropriate to mention here that many delegates have spoken of the need for all Territorians to vote on whether we should become a state.A number of working groups have been established, with some delegates attending several groups, where possible. While one group is looking at the issues on each days' formal agenda, others cover such topics as local government, representative government, Aboriginal issues, and a bill of rights. Working groups are registered each day with the convention chairman. Meetings are squeezed into whatever time available, with regular early morning starts and short lunches. Evenings are taken up with further discussions, and the weekend break has given additional time to working groups for meetings.Additionally, delegates may attend public forums such as one which I attended with many other female delegates. This was a Territory Women's Constitutional Forum held under the auspices of the YWCA of Darwin and the Australian Federation of University Women (NT). Guest speakers included Barbara James - well known local historian and author; Dawn Lawrie - Anti-Discrimination Commissioner and a former Territory politician; Merran Short - NT Women Lawyers' Association and a delegate to the Women's Constitutional Convention held in Canberra earlier this year; and Evelyn Loh - Equal Opportunity Officer with the NTU Student Union. Discussion time was spirited. For me, it was also a great opportunity to catch up with those in the women's movement that I have come to know well during my time in the NT.A resolutions group has also been appointed for the convention. The members of this group are the two Deputy Chairmen - Bob Collins and Jim Robertson; two politicians -Denis Burke (CLP) and John Bailey (ALP); George Roussos who is a lawyer and a delegate elected by the ethnic communities; David Curtis who is an ATSIC RegionalCommissioner and well-known as one of two publicly elected delegates to the Australian Constitutional Convention. The final member of the group is myself, and I find it a real privilege to work with such a skilled and experienced group of people. The role of the resolutions group is primarily to formulate a series of draft resolutions which, as far as practicable, exposes for debate and decision all those proposals which have attracted significant support amongst convention delegates. This means that we must pay particular attention to all the issues raised in general session. It is important to ensure that topics which may not have been covered by a formal motion, but have been raised and discussed, do proceed to draft resolution stage, for debate and voting by delegates in the final sessions.So what has been the process? The first two days, as I mentioned in my column last week, were taken up with the formal opening, guest speakers and introductory remarks by delegates. This enabled those attending to learn a little of each other's background and what they felt in general terms about statehood.Following this, four days have been set aside to discuss separate aspects of statehood, focussing mainly on what should be included in the proposed constitution. Discussion at this time, while related to specific topics, has been general, with some formal motions being proposed. Topics have included:
the protection of the independence of the judiciary and issues such as the appointment of Supreme Court judges (and by whom).
the executive. Who should we have as head of state, a governor or publicly elected president? Should we have and, if we do, what are the roles and function of, an executive council? Should the constitution recognise the body known as "Cabinet"?
representative government and the legislature, its structure, voting system, and length of time between elections; its legislative powers and systems of laws.Those attending have grappled with the intricacies of various electoral systems - from the ACT's Hare-Clark electorate system, the New Zealand systems, to citizens' initiated referenda. The concept of "organic law" which is not in place anywhere in Australia, but forms part of Papua New Guinea's legislative system, has also been another area of learning and debate. Accountability has been frequently mentioned.The fourth day, which will be taking place as this goes to print, covers "other matters" such as a constitutional preamble (should we have one and, if so, what should it contain); issues of local government, provisions in respect of language, social, cultural or religious matters, Aboriginal land rights and sacred sites. Mention has been made by a number of delegates of a bill of rights, the environment and freedom of information. These too are likely to be discussed in more detail. A declaration of statehood has also been suggested.Delegates have been lobbied by individuals, organisations and special interest groups, from across the Territory, on a wide range of issues, through letters, faxes and email. I was particularly pleased to be contacted by several people in response to my request for a suggested name for the NT as a state. Gavan Breen, who works with the Institutefor Aboriginal Development here in the Alice, raised the idea of a native Australian name. I have passed the thought on to David Curtis who has undertaken to discuss it firstly with Aboriginal delegates. It would be important to choose a name that is relevant to all language groups.The final two days of the convention will see reports from the resolutions group covering days one to six, and delegates will move to finalise the various aspects of the proposed constitution on a more formal level. Wherever possible, consensus will be sought. Under the guidelines, "if consensus cannot be reached, a majority of delegates present voting will be sufficient."The surprise of the week, to outsiders, was the broad support given by delegates to recognising Aboriginal customary law as a source of law in the new state. During delegates' introductory speeches in the first week, Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM (specially appointed delegate), spoke eloquently in relation to an understanding of Aboriginal customary law.He said that, to his knowledge Aboriginal clan nations across the country each have a very similar foundational principle of law, and that to him there are three important and main elements to any good law."First, the law must create a state of peace, harmony and tranquillity, with true justice for all citizens, for all people, for all Territorians. "Secondly, the law must be perfectly consistent ... and thirdly with good law, it must be assented to by the citizens in ceremony that shows that they are all under the discipline, responsibility and protection of the law."When addressing the topic of "systems of laws", Aboriginal delegates took the opportunity to build on the remarks of Rev Dr Gondarra and to put forward the point that for Territory Aboriginals there are two sets of laws and young people particularly play off the two laws against each other. Eileen Cummings, who is a member of what we have come to call the Stolen Generation, spoke of Grandmothers' Law and aspects of Aboriginal women's business in respect of that law. Denis Burke (CLP) spoke of the strong attachment to customary law and Julian Swinstead (a former editor of the NT News and a specially appointed delegate) pointed out that aspects of Aboriginal law are already incorporated into some Territory Acts of Parliament. It was certainly most moving to be present as delegates, with a few exceptions, rose to speak in support.However, as with other issues, the matter will face more formal voting procedures during the final stage of the convention.As we move into the final days of the convention, I would like to share with you a story told to delegates by Jimmy Tipungwuti, an elected delegate representing Land Councils established by or under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976. The story has been handed down from John Baptist Pupungamirri."A long, long time ago Tiwi people were really healthy. Tiwi people painted up everyday with red and yellow ochre. They painted without a ceremony. This was for their health. "In those days the Tiwi did not wear clothes. They only covered some parts of their body. Later clothing came. "Tiwi now cover up with clothes. I used to mix with the old people; I listened to their stories. One day I asked ‘Why do you paint everyday?' They answered ‘Look at us, we are healthy. This is because we paint our bodies everyday with ochre.' "I said "But you don't have a ceremony, you just paint up.' ‘That's enough' the old men replied. ‘You see sickness and ochre cannot live together. It's just like a man and his mother-in-law. So ochre keeps sickness away.'"Contact details for me and other convention delegates:Convention Secretariat, GPO Box 3721, Darwin, NT 0801.Telephone: 8946 1480. Fax: 89461504. Email: Statehood Convention Webpage: http;//


What, an Upper House for the Territory Parliament? More politicians? Shock, horror!A meeting in Alice Springs last week was told that there's more than that to the argument.The point was made by the promoters of Territorians for Democratic Statehood (TDS), who've brought back the pleasure and excitement of looking at our calcified and authoritarian political system from all sorts of different perspectives.The group's co-convenor, Steve Hatton, says a House of Review, such as exists in all Australian states, and which would resemble the Federal Senate, isn't TDS policy at this stage.However, it's certainly on the group's agenda for discussion, as are most other issues which could enhance - introduce? - democracy to a Territory hurtling towards statehood.We've got 25 politicians, Mr Hatton says. Would another 10, for example, in a second Chamber, be such a great burden on the taxpayer?The Territory has 15,500 public servants. The most senior ones earn 50 per cent more than Ministers and unlike politicians, you can't vote them out of office. Do we really need so many bureaucrats?Democracy may be better served, so goes Mr Hatton's suggestion, by cutting back a few departmental positions and using the money saved for elected people furnishing a check - with the power to veto Bills - on a government presently accountable to no-one on a day to day basis.Mr Hatton's fellow convenor, Colin McDonald, continues the train of thought: When Alice Springs people succeeded in the Supreme Court to save the old gaol from demolition, the government promptly changed the legislation, allowing the Minister to do what he likes.Minister Mick Palmer was asked to justify in the House the draconian statute but "could not explain the law," says Mr McDonald, and the CLP majority ultimately gagged debate."Thoughtful arguments" are more likely to surface in a House of Review.An Upper House may have put a stop to Mr Palmer's bulldozer tactics.These tactics look like the end of the old gaol story, at least for now, until Canberra, especially the Senate, has cause to put Territory political practices under the microscope in connection with the question of whether or not we should get statehood.For example, the statehood convention's lack of credibility is likely to lead at least some Senators to the conclusion that "this is a joke," said Mr McDonald.The aspect likely to put the wind up the Territory's CLP government is that there could be multi-member electorates for a House of Review.In answer to a question from the floor, Mr Hatton said the Upper House members could well be elected by the Territory as a whole, not electorate by electorate.This would finally give a voice to sectors of the population disenfranchised or at least disadvantaged by the voting system for the Legislative Assembly.Mr Hatton is no less than a former NT Chief Minister, but is now relegated to the back bench.For a CLP politician he has certainly the most unexpected of bedfellows: for the TDS launch in Alice he was joined by Mr McDonald, head of the NT Bar Association, and "a real - not self appointed - Queen's Counsel", as one speaker at the meeting observed.Of course, the man Mr Hatton's now rebelling against is Shane Stone, a QC by self appointment.The meeting's MC was Fran Erlich, a town council alderman. Although she's a member of the true blue CLP Kilgariff family, she's in the throes of setting up her own political party, in opposition to the CLP.A key speaker was MLA for Stuart Peter Toyne, one of the ALP's rising stars, who told the inaugural meeting at Witchetty's that he'd left his party badge at the door for the evening.The speakers, and ultimately, the meeting, called for a "people's convention" to sort out the most crucial preparation for statehood: formulating a constitution.Mr McDonald said unless the constitution provided protection for the citizens, "you'll have tyranny and you'll have it within 100 years".TDS' main beef, by now widely reported, is that the NT government's statehood convention - due to close tomorrow - is undemocratic because its delegates are all government appointees, although some have been nominated - "elected", as the government likes to put it - by special interest groups.Mr Hatton had spent 12 years as the head of the sessional committee on statehood, consulting with thousands of people across the length and breadth of the Territory.The government's enthusiasm for his enquiry seems to have waned in the last few years when travel funds for Mr Hatton's committee dwindled and ultimately there wasn't even enough money to put the final reports into all public libraries.CLP front bencher Denis Burke presented to the convention a draft for a "minimalist" constitution, omitting key points in the Hatton draft.The reports, recommendations and draft constitution compiled by the sessional committee are contained in a paper stack "14 inches high", said Mr Hatton.Some delegates received this material the day before the convention started, and none had more than a week-end to come to grips with the material's 1.3 million words.Some delegates were named on the Friday preceding the convention, the Alice meeting was told.One called into Mr Hatton's office two days before the convention started, wondering whether he should attend.It has always been a cornerstone of the sessional committee's recommendations that at least 75 per cent of the statehood convention delegates should be popularly elected.As it happens, none of them were, nearly three quarters are men, and the regions outside Darwin are woefully under represented in this event which is meant to shape the future of the Territory for many generations.Mr Hatton takes care not to blame the delegates for the fiasco: he says they're coming up with "wise solutions", but their "work will be diminished" because of the flawed process.Territory people won't have "a sense of ownership" in the outcome because the delegates were not popularly elected.Mr Hatton says some selections were close to farcical: his wife is of Greek origins, but didn't get a say in the choice of the ethnic candidates because she doesn't belong to an ethnic club.Mr Hatton, not being ethnic himself, did get a say because he is a member of several ethnic clubs.One man wanted to be a delegate but didn't fit into any of the arbitrary categories set by the NT government: an exasperated official described him as "just an ordinary person" - and as such there was no place for him at the convention.Speakers at the Alice meeting reflected the growing mood that far from preparing us for statehood, the convention was proof we're not ready for it.Peter Clements said with "Idi Amin at the helm" of the Territory, Canberra still had a role as a watchdog, safeguarding the NT public from the excesses of a government lacking maturity.Graham Pearce said he is gay and wanted to represent people with similar sexual preferences. He wasn't given that chance. He said the convention should be taking place in a less "frenetic" atmosphere and have publicly elected delegates.Pam Ditton said since it seems clear statehood will proceed, "let's do it democratically".She said TDS has an important role, either to steer the process onto a democratic path, or to be a vocal critic if the flaws continue.Betty Pearce said small groups can be quite capable of getting results. When in 1976 business people protested against blacks being settled in middle-class suburbs, Aborigines banded together to boycott the outraged residents' businesses.The outcry soon faded.The meeting was attended by 36 people; 16 put their hands up to form a steering committee of a Central Australian branch of Territorians for Democratic Statehood.TDC now has branches in Darwin, Litchfield, Nhulunbuy and Central Australia.s


In the wake of the proposed demolition of the old Alice Springs Gaol and changes to the Northern Territory's Heritage Conservation Act, which give the Minister sweeping powers to "demolish or destroy" heritage places, KIERAN FINNANE asked newly appointed chairman of the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC), Peter King to discuss local heritage issues.Mr King was in Alice Springs on the weekend to open at Araluen the commission's national touring exhibition Places in the Heart.A prominent Sydney barrister, former Rhodes Scholar, and former alderman and Mayor of Woollahra Municipal Council, Mr King has pointed to the "decay of rural heritage places, towns, traditions and life" as one of the pressing problems in Australia at the moment.He also intends to "get away from the ‘lists and penalties' mentality [of heritage preservation], and to move to a situation in which heritage is a mainstream issue for decision makers in business and all levels of government."News: Is the AHC concerned about the recent changes to the heritage legislation in the NT?King: At this stage it is not part of our administration to direct or otherwise say to the Northern Territory Government what is appropriate about its internal administration. That's a matter for it.But in due course we are hoping to have a national heritage places strategy. We're hoping to put that in place over the next couple of years and at that time it will be important that every state and territory has in place an administration that is going to ensure that the principles and standards that are applied all around the country are done so in a way that is going to be effective.News: Would that strategy be binding? King: It won't be binding, but in order to achieve the benefits of the program one would need to ensure that one has an appropriate standard of heritage conservation.News: What would the benefits of the program be?King: To ensure that we have a uniform and appropriate response to heritage issues all around the country.News: In the minds of a lot of people in Alice Springs the changes to the heritage legislation have paved the way to the destruction of the old Alice Springs Gaol. Is that something that you are concerned about?King: As I said, the internal arrangements of the Northern Territory in relation to its heritage preservation is a matter for it, but because the gaol is a place on the Register of the National Estate, certainly the Heritage Commission would be concerned if anything was done which would have the result of not preserving the historical significance of the gaol which is the critical aspect of its heritage and its listing.News: What can you do with that concern?King: Ultimately these are matters for the Northern Territory Government. In these matters, where we are not dealing with a Commonwealth owned property, we have moral, supportive and consultative roles only. We can't tell the Northern Territory Government, nor do we wish to, how to organise their own affairs in these matters. I suppose one benefit of the legislative changes that have occurred is that they give the Minister, with an appropriate and responsive attitude to heritage issues, a direct say in ensuring that those items are preserved and that there is a proper response in any particular case. But one of the benefits of having a heritage council or office for input into these matters, is that you have experts who can take account of the very special heritage values that may be associated with a particular place. So when you remove that protection you may not always get the best informed decisions.News: For some people the gaol is no more than a collection of ugly old buildings where a lot of people have suffered. What would you say about its importance as part of our heritage?King: I've had a look at the gaol. It obviously has historical significance as a heritage site, but I don't know that the whole of the gaol needs to be preserved in order to ensure that the historical heritage aspect of it is maintained for future generations. It may be that a sensitive development which would take into account the historical environs as a part of the development could be a sensible compromise.News: Have you had discussion with the Government about the gaol and the legislative changes?King: No, that wasn't the purpose of my visit. The purpose of my visit was to open this exhibition and to ensure that we have improved communications and relations with the Northern Territory Government. Those relations have been not as good as they could have been in the past because there hasn't been sufficient communication by both sides. Part of the purpose of my visit is to ensure that that is improved in the future.


The violence and moral corruption of his elders destroys the world view of a young man; the cynical anger that he then vents on the young woman he loves and who loves him, drives her to madness and suicide.The themes make of Shakespeare's play Hamlet an apposite story for our times, suitable for a modern setting.Centre Stage Theatre (CST) director Bryn Williams got psychologically convincing, and at times very moving performances out of his young actors Cale Morgan as Hamlet and Jill Newton-Tabrett, in her first leading role with CST, as Ophelia.Indeed, although Cale carried the greater dramatic burden of the play on his shoulders, and shone in his scenes as Ophelia's tormentor and his mother Gertrude's accuser, Jill appeared to sit in her role, like hand in glove. Her youthful beauty and delight in love in her early scenes sat in perfect and tragic counterpoint to her distress and outrage at Hamlet's increasingly harassing behaviour, and finally her horror and despair when he kills her father, mistaking him for his uncle, the murderer of his own father.My only misgiving with regard to her performance was with the stage direction of her suicide: she actually walked off stage, which I thought undermined the emotional impact of the scene.Other performances worth particular mention were those of Julie Bruno who rang true as Gertrude, and David Hood as the gravedigger. David also played the ghost of Hamlet's father, and although the timbre of his voice and his Scottish accent suited the role, he was more sure of himself as the gravedigger, to which minor role he lent a certain richness of character. A very successful scene was the play within the play, which gave some of CST's exuberant younger talents a chance to do their thing. The choice of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana as the accompanying music offset their playfulness with the ominous seriousness also required by the scene.The "in the round" presentation (with the audience sitting on the stage) and the minimalist set made for an involving, focussed experience for the audience. I thought, though, that at times the ladders were a little awkward to use. The pre-publicity of the production emphasised its ‘fifties character, and the inspiration of James Dean. I appreciated what felt to me like a loosely contemporary setting, rather than one more tightly defined.How great it was to see a communicative and moving interpretation of a Shakespearean play, and to know that it comes from the creative energy and talent of these young and not so young fellow residents of this remote, small Australian town. All credit to Bryn Williams and his dedicated band of players and behind-the-scenes supporters at Centre Stage. They continue to show us that you can aim high.

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