April 15, 1998


The successful tenderer for the Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Darwin airports, the Airport Development Group (ADG), was the NT Government's "preferred candidate", according to Transport Minister Barry Coulter, although no locals have equity in that group.Another bidder for the Alice airport was a consortium including the local construction firm, Sitzlers (about nine per cent) and the Aboriginal owned investment company, Centrecorp (about 15 per cent).A spokesman for Mr Coulter says ADG was seen to be "meshing in with the tourism industry, serving locals and consulting best with local government."We put our view to the Commonwealth," the spokesman says.Builder Michael Sitzler, the chairman of the consortium, says he's "very disappointed" that his group has missed out."We put in a lot of effort. We were very excited. There was a lot of commitment behind us," says Mr Sitzler.In a comment on early tensions within his group Mr Sitzler says: "There were a lot of hurdles but we got there, stuck together and put in a good effort."ADG spokesman Phil Walker says while no negotiations with potential local equity partners are under way at the moment, they are "entirely possible" in the future.Mr Walker says the Alice airport represented 20 to 25 per cent in ADG's three airports bid of $110m.They were put on the market by the Commonwealth Government in Phase Two of a nation-wide sell-off.Mr Walker says ADG would, in the next 20 years, seek to turn around the Alice airport's present income structure: three quarters aeronautical charges (landing and passenger fees), and one quarter from retailers.In the 1996-97 financial year, the airport earned $2m from aviation charges and only $700,000 from retailers.As the Federal government has limited, for the first five years, any increases of aeronautical charges to the rise in the CPI less three per cent, ADG would be seeking to increase traffic to boost earnings."Volume is everything," says Mr Walker.The company may well be lowering aeronautical charges to hike passenger numbers.This in turn would lead to an increase in turnover for businesses in the terminal, which Mr Walker describes as "one of the best regional terminals in Australia, if not the world".The Sydney and Brisbane airports make 60 to 65 per cent of their money from trading and other non-aeronautical commercial activities.Mr Walker says his company has paid little attention so far to the development potential of airport land not required for aviation or associated purposes.The Alice airport, with 3548 hectares, is Australia's biggest in terms of land mass. Land surplus to aviation requirements was clearly a prime attraction for Mr Sitzler's consortium, although he's reluctant to give details."We had several plans," he says, "but they are confidential to our bid."Mr Walker says any future land development would depend on demand, which at present is "hard to quantify", and on land use policies by the NT Government and the Alice town council."In time this may become very important," says Mr Walker.Attracting international charters may well become a significant way of increasing passenger numbers.While scheduled international flights are subject to bilateral agreements between countries, charter flights are less rigorously regulated.Above all, ADG will be working closely with the NT Tourist Commission, CATIA, the Chamber of Commerce and other promotional bodies to bring more people to Alice Springs by air, with a special focus on the growing global eco tourism trade."We want to grow the market, bring people in through Alice, get the flow going," says Mr Walker.He is the Director of Airports of Infratil Australia Ltd, which has a 51 per cent share of ADG, and is based in Queensland.Infratil has interests worth $230m including in hydro power in Victoria, 49 per cent of the Perth airport, and it owns the Portland marine port in Victoria.Mr Walker's brother, Bruce, is the head of the Alice Springs based Centre for Appropriate Technology, which is active throughout Central Australia and in several developing countries.The 49 per cent partner of ADG is Airport Group International (AGI) which operates the Perth airport and will soon also run the one in Hobart.AGI, entirely overseas owned, is represented in 22 airports world-wide.ADG has a 50 year lease over the airports, with a 49 year extension available at no cost.


Innocuously named "Other Matters" - yet critial to the whole process - occupied delegates for the last two days of the Statehood Convention, leaving the final day for formal voting.The first item was local government, which is recognised to some extent in all state constitutions but not in the Federal Constitution. Indeed in 1988 a referendum of the Australian people rejected it being included.A name for the new state was canvassed in more detail. Alice Springs' Geoff Shaw said he felt quite comfortable with calling it the State of the Northern Territory. He pointed out that while we could call our state by the Aboriginal Arrernte word which means "my place", delegates who belong to other language groups might have another word. There was lively discussion also about picking a name which did not alienate Centralians.We discussed a number of miscellaneous issues such as whether voting in elections and referenda should be compulsory. Charlie Phillips (elected delegate of the Trades and Labour Council) spoke about industrial relations and that the TLC's preferred position was that the status quo be maintained should there be a grant of statehood. Ted Dunstan (specially appointed delegate) put forward the proposal that there should be at least two dedicated Aboriginal seats in the new parliament. The issue was not pursued when John Ah Kit (ALP, an Aborigine himself) said that while Ted had good intent, as an elected politician in the current Parliament, he saw it being viewed by Aboriginal people as "tokenistic". This viewpoint was also supported by Geoff Shaw.Part 8 of the Final Draft Constitution covers Rights in Respect of Language, Social, Cultural and Religious Matters. This, and a proposed Bill of Rights, were extensively discussed. Whether the role and functions of the Auditor General should be included in the proposed Constitution, consideration of the level of Senate representation and the various types of Preamble were also covered.John Bailey (ALP) put forward the proposition that a democratic People's Convention be held to address the issue of Territory statehood. While there was some support for the proposition, it was eventually considered to be outside the matters we had been charged by the Chief Minister to consider.Part 7 of the Sessional Committee's Final Draft Constitution covers Aboriginal Rights. The topics of Aboriginal land rights, protection of sacred sites and Aboriginal self determination were woven into the two days of discussion. There was also further clarification on aspects of Aboriginal customary law.This session commenced with a formal motion from Mr Gatjil Djerrkura OAM (specially appointed delegate and ATSIC chairman) "that any decision on Aboriginal rights including the means by which such rights are entrenched in the constitution, be reserved for later consideration and determination as a provision to be included in the constitution".In responding to clarification of the word "later" he advised that he could propose only a broad outline of the matters that should be included in the NT constitution and that they did not wish to lock themselves into a situation at this stage while there are other people who would like to have a say. The matter was deferred, but was never really discussed because of the walk-out by ATSIC delegates late on the second day.The primary focus of Part 7 deals with Protection of Aboriginal Land Rights. As mentioned in a previous column, there are a number of uncertainties which exist when looking at this matter - the current review of the NT Land Rights Act and the Wik debate in the Federal Parliament.Indeed, both Gatjil Djerrkura and Josie Crawshaw (ATSIC Commissioner) had been in Canberra during the second week of the Territory's convention, partly on business to do with Wik and Hindmarsh Island.However, as mentioned by Josie Crawshaw and Bob Collins, native title is now part of the common law of Australia, having been recognised by the High Court from which there is no appeal, and therefore does not require separate recognition.On the matter of the Land Rights Act, the general feeling was that it would not be beneficial to Aboriginal people to have this entrenched in the Territory's proposed Constitution. Bob Collins, speaking in support of a motion by Gatjil Djerrkura, commented [in part] that "it is a living Act and has been amended substantially on a number of occasions ... usually with the support of the Land Councils. Rightly, or wrongly, Aboriginal Territorians would prefer to take their chances with an unentrenched Act [not entrenched in a constitution], subject to the deliberations of 250-odd members of Parliament in two Houses, than 25 in one single House."Unfortunately, the debate became bogged down. In a series of motions and points of view that were put forward by various Aboriginal delegates, some motions were withdrawn, some deferred to later and some replaced with what appeared to be motions in direct conflict to those already raised. Josie Crawshaw said it was really the spirit of the Act that needed to be entrenched. That the land councils had chosen not to attend also presented difficulties. Although there was apparent confusion, it was obvious that much discussion was taking place among Aboriginal delegates behind closed doors. However, all delegates were stunned when Gatjil Djerrkura advised that he could not, unfortunately, continue to participate, and he and other ATSIC representatives left the convention.We were in the final stages with delegates prepared to work late to ensure that they had a clear understanding of the issues before proceeding to votes on the following day.Bob Collins, who has been a personal friend of Gatjil Djerrkura for some 20 years, was in his own words "profoundly heartbroken". He said "the vote has not been taken yet. Reconciliation with the greatest respect, is a two-way street ... frankly, there is no logical reason for it to have happened now". In speaking for himself from the heart, he spoke for us all.The final day, after the departure of Charlie Phillips (TLC) in support of the ATSIC contingent, saw the remaining delegates move quickly to formal voting on the resolutions before the convention. The presence of Aboriginal delegates who had remained was acknowledged by the convention. It was a time of great sorrow for them but, as Eileen Cummings (specially appointed Aboriginal delegate), said to me: "June, I must remain to represent my people."The principles endorsed by the final voting have essentially preserved the NT (Self-Government) Act 1978 with important additions, including a simple preamble recognising that "since time immemorial the land was occupied by various groups of Aboriginal people".Local Government is to be recognised, and Aboriginal customary law as a "source of law‚ is to be incorporated into our system of laws". While the Bill of Rights was defeated, recognition is to be given in respect of language, social, cultural and religious matters.The preferred name was the State of the Northern Territory and delegates believe we should seek statehood as soon as possible. The delegates also voted in favour of putting the question of whether or not we want Statehood before Territorians by referendum.While the next step is in the hands of the Government and the issue of consultation, particularly with a broader group of Aboriginal people, may need to be addressed, I believe the convention delegates have made the proposed Constitution truly a Territory document. The Chief Minister certainly cannot afford to ignore the results of the convention's deliberations.


Two major deals in recent weeks have put the spotlight on a company apparently set up to benefit Aboriginal people in The Centre, yet considered by many of their leaders as a clandestine operation.Three fifths of the shares in the investment company, Centrecorp, are owned by the Central Land Council (CLC), which makes it the majority shareholder.Tangentyere Council, assisting Aborigines living on town lease areas in Alice Springs, and the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, which is operating mainly in urban health care, each own one fifthe of the shares.Centrecorp in turn owns the local LJ Hooker franchise which has recently announced its merger with another real estate company, Asreal.Centrecorp now also owns 27 per cent of the Kings Canyon Resort: Ayers Rock Management Pty Ltd recently paid $4.5m for 46 per cent of the resort. That makes Centrecorp's share worth $2.6m.Centrecorp, which is understood to be the trustee for the Central Australian Aboriginal Trust, is believed to also own or have shares in the Milner Road liquor shop and food store, and the Yeperenye shopping centre.Centrecorp recently was a major player in a failed bid for the Alice Springs airport.Information about Centrecorp's total worth, how it is run, by whom, for what purpose and where its profits go is withheld not only from the public, but also from the very people the majority shareholder, the CLC, is meant to be serving: the Aboriginal people of Central Australia.The Alice News, over the past two years, has sought information about Centrecorp from at least a dozen Aboriginal leaders throughout the region. The typical answer we got is: "If you find out, let us know."Neither the current CLC chairman, Max Stuart, not his predecessor, Rex Granites, had any detailed knowledge about Centrecorp when the Alice News spoke to them.Others we contacted were or atill are on the CLC executive.CLC director Tracker Tilmouth has told the Alice News he's happy to talk to us about anything - except Centrecorp.John Reeves QC, conducting on behalf of Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron an enquiry into the operation of the Land Rights Act, recently asked a witness working for another Aboriginal organisation about the company: Mr Reeves was told Centre-corp is a "closed shop".The CLC media office told us this month: "We don't know anything about Centrecorp."Because Centrecorp is set up as a Proprietary Limited company, its disclosure obligations are very limited.While the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, under which the CLC operates, does not appear to specifically prohibit the land council from owning a private company, it certainly doesn't list such an activity as one of its purposes.Under Section 22 land councils "may acquire, hold and dispose of real and personal property".However, the Act appears to intend such property to be only for the purpose of carrying out the land councils' statutory functions.What is patently obvious from the Act is that land councils are set up to serve their Aboriginal clients.Yet these are the very people from whom the CLC is withholding information about Centrecorp, as well as apparently its profits.The Act refers, time and again, to the land councils' stringent accountability obligations towards its members in financial matters.For example, Section 35 states in part: "Moneys paid to a Land Council ... shall be applied by the Land Council in meeting its administrative costs ... and, to the extent that they are not required for that purpose, shall be paid" to Aboriginal councils or associations.Centrecorp was set up in the late eighties, apparently to invest royalties from the Mereenie gas and oil operations, and from the pipeline to Darwin. Aboriginal interests obtained an equity in the pipeline because it traverses Aboriginal land.The Act requires mining companies operating on Aboriginal land to pay statutory royalties of at least 10 per cent of the value of production.In some instances, there are also "negotiated" royalties on top of that.All that money is paid to the NT Government; Canberra then forks out an equal amount in the form of a "royalty equivalent".These funds - taxpayers' money - go to the Aboriginal Benefits Trust Account (30 per cent); the land councils (40 per cent) and Aboriginal people affected by the mining (30 per cent).Is it part of this 40 per cent - excess to funding its statutory obligations - that the CLC is funnelling into Centrecorp?And in doing so, is the CLC contravening the Act? These are some of the questions the organisation won't answer.


For Les Brooks, the "pommy" television reception specialist largely responsible for the expansion of our television viewing choices to include SBS, Channel Ten and Austar, seven years in Alice Springs were enough.He left town a fortnight ago, expressing disappointment and frustration (see Alice News, April 1).He blamed those who make a living out of "grog strife" - the welfare industry, in his view - for not taking action on the "bad behaviour in our streets", and the town council for not cleaning up.He declared he couldn't afford to waste time any longer on "trying to get Alice Springs to the level that most towns and cities in the English-speaking world take for granted."Les also took a parting shot at Alice's "backward" social atmosphere, with everyone assuming that if you're single, you've got a problem.This is Part Two of KIERAN FINNANE'S interview with Les on the eve of his departure.At first Les loved Alice Springs. It was beautiful, with so much to offer. "But now, we've got a dirty, horrible little town. There are too many people who are just hoping that grog strife and litter will go away but they won't." The town council simply doesn't put in the resources where they are required: "In Switzerland they vacuum and hose the pavements every night. In England they do the same thing in big cities, and in the smaller towns there are whole teams of people working full time sweeping the streets. We've got one here."Instead, the council squanders resources on petty laws: "I want to get on with the business of enjoying life but more and more I am being constrained by petty laws. I object most strongly to the fact that they're doing an aerial survey of Alice Springs and taking photographs of your backyard to determine whether you've got a swimming pool. "To me a spy in the sky stinks, there'd be hell to pay if they did that in England or France or Italy. Where do we go to from there, Big Brother?"I don't agree with compulsory pool fencing. Fine, stop kids coming off the street, but inside your own household, that's for the individual to decide."How many deaths have there been in Alice Springs of children under five drowning in the last ten years? One! The council's trying to address a problem that doesn't exist. It was based on a report in Darwin where there were five deaths in a year of kids under five in swimming pools. Of those five, three died in pools that were fenced. On that small sample, your child is more likely to die in a fenced pool than in an unfenced pool!"Oh, and I love the by-law on cats: all cats will be in by 9pm. I thought, ‘Oh God, now I have to teach two cats how to tell the time, watches on the paws!'"I know what it's like to have a free life, to enjoy my life and I'm not enjoying it here any more, there are too many people telling me what to do. I want to get away from that."The council's pettiness extends, in his view, to their attitude on cafe tables and chairs in Todd Mall: "I know seaside towns in England where the council provides tables and chairs and cleaning free of charge to restaurants to encourage people to go outside because they want to make an area popular."We've got a council who want to charge them $300 a year. It's not a lot of money, it's the principle. The mall is just starting to come back to life, we need that for tourism, we need that for the locals! It's so small-minded."Until now Les has held the licence for SBS as a private individual through the Alice Springs Action Group, formed around the introduction of the service to the town. He says he offered to donate the licence to the council two years ago: "They ummed and ahhed, they had numerous council meetings, so I renewed it again for another three years, expiring next year. When I told them I was leaving, they sat on it for another six months until they finally said they'd do it. I applied for the transfer of the licence from me to the council, but they've never even come back to me to say it's all gone through. In fact, they've never contacted me once, I've always contacted them."They never even had the decency or courtesy to send me a letter or say thank you, nothing at all."Another thing that Les would have liked to see change, though it's beyond an official fix, is the social atmosphere of the town: "There's nowhere to go in Alice Springs for a single person, unless you're just looking for a wife."It seems as though time has stood still here, socially we're stuck somewhere in the 50s. Anyone out on their own, male or female, the first thing they're asked is do they have a partner or are they looking for one, there's no in between."In Europe there are a growing number of people over 25 who are single by choice. It's a growing lifestyle, it's a fun time, when people can express themselves. "It's ‘abnormal' to be on your own here. I'm not a bad-looking bloke, I'm a clever bloke, I've got a good sense of humour, and people who do know me value my company, so I'm single by choice, I like being single, I don't not like being married, but I'm not looking for Miss Right, and there are lots of other people like me."Les did his bit on this score, having been responsible for more than one singles' club in town, but when he thinks about home, Oldham with a population of 120,000, 15 night clubs and 300 pubs, he knows there's a more exciting night life to be had and he's going to get it.Ironically, while the expertise gained in England equipped Les for his considerable achievements in television reception here, the work he did in Australia on the digital transmission of signals will put him "streets ahead of anyone in England," where digital transmission starts in June. "I'm now taking my expertise gained in Alice Springs back to the UK. I came here for a challenge, and now, full circle, I've got to set up a challenge back there."

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