May 6, 1998


Reports of the resignation of a senior officer, and of legal action blocking the release of findings by an investigation into allied health services, indicate that the crisis within the Health Department in Central Australia is deepening.According to well informed sources, a senior manager, considering thought to be under attack by the study, has initiated defamation action against its authors.At the same time a senior staffer in the area of rural health has reportedly announced she will not renew their contract.And a man suffering from motor neurone disease, well-known cameleer Dennis Wickham, says while staff on the ground are doing their best, resources and administration of support services he's relying on leave a lot to be desired (see story this page).Health Minister Denis Burke has not responded to a request for comment from the Alice News.Meanwhile documents obtained by the Alice News suggest that poor management, communication problems and general neglect of allied health services, alleged in the investigation's first draft, have been a problem for several years. Sections of the draft were published exclusively by the Alice News (April 22).Mr Burke has suggested that he and his department have only recently become aware of the problems, and are acting to fix them. However, Mr Burke's predecessor, Fred Finch, was clearly well aware of them two years ago.He responded to a complaint from an Alice Springs carer in 1996, but according to an analysis by health care professionals at the time, of which the Alice News also has a copy, the Minister's statements were misleading.Mr Finch gave answers about the Seating, Equipment and Assessment Team (SEAT) Clinic, which provides wheelchairs and modified seating for wheelchair dependent people - including more than 20 children.In his letter to the carer in May, 1996, Mr Finch wrote that "despite the recent difficulties in recruiting a [SEAT] co-ordinator, every effort has been made to keep the service operational over the past nine months".The health care professionals commented that "it was not until April 1996 [the month before Mr Finch's letter] that a designated administrative officer was nominated to be the contact person ... for all wheelchair and seating requests".Mr Finch said the service was kept going initially by employing a locum.The professionals say no locum was ever employed.Later, said Mr Finch, "staff from Darwin SEAT Clinic" were brought to Alice Springs "to address the outstanding and more urgent needs of clients".Not so, said the professionals: the therapist and technician could only prescribe wheelchairs, but not provide or build the modifications necessary.Mr Finch claimed that "active recruitment" for a co-ordinator "is continuing".The professionals said Mr Finch's claim was false, and "active" recruitment had not occurred: there were merely "non-specific" advertisements in interstate newspapers for registered nurses and allied health professionals generally, and a specific advertisement appeared only in the NT Government Gazette.The co-ordinator's position was vacant from June 1995 to December 1996 - and again for several weeks early this year.


If you're used to roaming the outback in a gypsy van drawn by camels, and have ridden from the UK to Australia on a Penny Farthing bike, then being struck down by the debilitating motor neurone disease is a cruel blow.Australian legend Dennis Wickham, 59, was diagnosed a year ago.He now lives in a small unit in the Gap area, and, as walking with the aid of a stick becomes increasingly difficult, gets around in a motorised wheelchair."I'm deteriorating daily," says Dennis.He relies heavily on the "allied health professionals" of Territory Health - and the Red Cross: "Those girls earn their cornflakes," he says.The allied health section of Territory Health has been described in a consultants' report as being in deep crisis.The outspoken Dennis, currently writing a book about his adventurous life, is getting a close-up view of the service. He's full of praise for the people on the ground: "They are the ones you trust. When you get to the end of your shelf life, you don't want to be bumped around by a bunch of whackers."He says Territory Health employs an awful lot of people: "If they were chooks I'd cut the heads off some of them," he says. "Only a quarter of them lay eggs."He says for every - highly overworked - person "on the ground" there appear to be "six to eight paper shufflers".When a worker resigns, the replacement seems to be poorly briefed.Dennis says when he recently came back from an extended plane trip, his legs were swollen and painful because of fluid retention.He requested physiotherapy but was told he had to "book in" and wait five days."We're 20 years behind Queensland'" he says. "The matron at Boulia treated a camel of mine for a boil on the shoulder faster than I can get help here in Alice Springs."He hears many stories of excessive stress from the allied health professionals seeing him.They don't "advertise" their services because they're already too busy."When there's a scream you go and do it, appears to be the motto," says Dennis."The question always is, what's the bigger crisis to cover. It often depends on who screams the louder."The clients can get very abusive. The workers are copping a lot of flak for backlog."Dennis' main carer, who'd started with the department 11 months ago, after the position had been vacant for seven months, "was burned out by last November" and has just resigned."She told me she's so overworked that she can't assess the needs of clients properly."What's coming next? You get shaky when they get shaky," says Dennis.He fears that unless the service improves, he may be forced into a nursing home sooner than would otherwise be necessary.


Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron was in Central Australia last week, on his sixth visit to the Territory since his appointment to that portfolio. During his trip, which covered the Aboriginal communities of Docker River, Yuendumu and Santa Teresa, I had the opportunity to meet Senator Herron for the first time.He is philosophical about the recent vote of no confidence in him by ATSIC commissioners. Knowing the ups and downs of the ALP politicians who have held this position before him, he was well aware of the difficulties that would come with the job.Neither does he find himself popular with those on the far right. He talks bluntly about the fact that the wider Australian population must accept that Aboriginal people in the remoter parts of this country will continue to be highly dependent on social security because of so few jobs being available there.At the same time, he is quick to point out how many communities are actively working on employment skills and opportunities for their people, and that some are succeeding.Like many others, he sees education as the way in which Aboriginal people can improve their lives, and he takes pride in quoting statistics which illustrate Aboriginal participation and success. There are 27 qualified Aboriginal doctors, with another 20 currently studying medicine, according to the Australian Medical Association register. He was a doctor himself before going into politics, so has an obvious interest in this area. Further he quotes, 9000 university students and 30,000 on Abstudy undertaking secondary education and TAFE studies. He speaks warmly of Bachelor College's contribution. He points out that not all Aboriginal people seek financial assistance with their studies.Covering the broader issues, he spoke about the Howard government as a "reformist government" and of the urgent need to reform our tax system. Also, Senator Herron draws attention to the Prime Minister's view that if those in the party room were not there to improve the lives of Australian people, they should not be in politics. Using the PM's criteria, and having now met Senator Herron, it's easy to understand why John Howard chose him for this difficult portfolio.Moving on to Territory politics and the recent Budget, the NT Government lost considerable credibility by breaking last year's election promise not to increase electricity charges. The promise at the time was welcome but not anticipated as part of the election platform. Indeed quite the reverse. Increased power charges have been expected by the electorate for some time. No wonder Territorians are left feeling that the Government does not do its homework.While none of us likes costs to rise, water tariffs have also long been due for an increase. Territorians have enjoyed the cheapest water in Australia for a number of years. This was confirmed last year when the Power and Water Authority (PAWA) commissioned McGregor Marketing to undertake surveys of community attitudes with regard to water. While I am unable to speak for the Top End, I am aware that Centralians have been enjoying subsidised water tariffs and that PAWA has not been recovering its production costs. Saving on water also saves on electricity. About six per cent of the town's power is used to pump water to our homes and workplaces. If you have any queries regarding the new charges, don't hesitate to contact PAWA who have set up a hotline on 1800 456 000.Matters "political" are also on the agenda of the Northern Territory Women's Advisory Council (WAC). Under the convenorship of Suzanne Lee, the council established the NT Women and Politics Reference Group, with working groups in Darwin and Alice Springs. Politics here is taken in the broader sense and includes involvement in community groups, unions, school councils and professional organisations. The reference group includes representatives from political parties, the Association of Business and Professional Women and the council itself. The aim is to provide opportunities for women to gain a greater understanding of political processes and to encourage participation.Some locals may recall the very successful forum which the group held in the Alice last year. In response to many requests, a second forum has been arranged for Saturday, 16 May. Entitled "Dealing with the Media" an impressive line-up of local journalists, all women, have agreed to share their knowledge.Additionally, Rosemary Church, the well- known ABC television news presenter, will fly in from Darwin to participate. Many readers would be aware that Rosemary recently secured a position with America's CNN to anchor their evening news bulletins from Atlanta.For those who have not yet met the new convener of WAC, Catherine Wauchope, will also be there to chair the forum. From 12 noon to 4 pm at the Desert Room, Red Centre Resort on Saturday 16 May. If you're interested in attending, please rsvp to the Women's Information Service on 8951 5886 as afternoon tea will be provided.[June Tuzewski chairs the Alice Springs Water Action Group, an advisory body to PAWA, and is also a member of the Women and Politics Reference Group.]


Arts Minister Daryl Manzie appears to have misled the public when he went into damage control mode following last week's disclosure in the Alice News of massive discrepancies between funding for youth theatre groups in Darwin and Alice Springs.Mr Manzie attempted to justify his position in the wake of what Centre Stage director Bryn Williams describes as an "unbelievable" response to the story. Accompanied by a nude photo of him, illustrating plans for a "Full Monty" style fund raiser, the article was not only the talk of the town for days, says Mr Williams, but also attracted international attention. BBC radios One and Five, as well as Radio Germany picked up the story from the Alice News internet site on Thursday and conducted interviews with Mr Williams.When Radio Germany rang, a rehearsal for "Fame" was in progress, and a dozen local teenagers were able to say "hello" to Germany on live radio: "The overseas media saw it as life imitating art," says Mr Williams. In the British hit movie "The Full Monty", a group of men do a nude show to make money.The Alice News report revealed that in 1996-97, the Darwin Corrugated Iron Youth Theatre (CIYT) received $164,025 from Mr Manzie's department, while the Alice-based Centre Stage got just $8700.Speaking to ABC reporter David Richards, Mr Manzie claimed that the allocation to CIYT included a $83,000 grant from the Australia Council.Mr Manzie told the ABC: "Corrugated Youth Theatre, of course, also ... out of that ... received $83,000 fr om the Australia Council."However, CIYT artistic director Susan Ditter says that the $164,025 received from Mr Manzie's department during 1996-97, and claimed in his ABC interview to be in part from the Australia Council, did not in fact include any Australia Council funds.Ms Ditter says $100,000 of that amount had been paid by the department to the Darwin City Council during 1996-97, as 10 years' rent for the part of the Nightcliff Community Centre used by CIYT.She says CIYT received $55,373 from the Australia Council during the 1997 calendar year.Mr Manzie further told the ABC that his department had declined funding to Centre Stage because an earlier grant had not been "acquitted".However, Mr Williams says the acquittal of funds is in progress, fully in line with arrangements made with Mr Manzie's own department.Mr Williams says Mr Manzie's claims are not only untrue, but also a "disappointing disclosure of confidential information".This is what Mr Manzie told the ABC, attempting to justify his denial of funds: "The Centre Stage group haven't acquitted their last lot of funding as per the requirements of the funding process."There has [sic] to be appropriate requirements, administrative requirements followed."It's very important that the appropriate acquittals are carried out."However, the complete story casts an entirely different light on the matter, says Mr Williams.After an initial refusal to provide funding for the Centre Stage production of "Romeo and Juliet", Mr Manzie's department bowed to strong local protest and agreed to pick up the tab for losses of the production.Mr Williams says the department was later given a statement of how its money was spent, at a cost to Centre Stage of some $300 in accounting fees.However, the department later insisted on a complete audit.Mr Williams says that wasn't an unreasonable request: the money from the department was meant to cover losses, and so the show's full financial position was relevant.However, Centre Stage was explicitly granted a deferral of the audit.The group was incorporated in August, 1996.As it chose to operate on calendar rather than financial years, the Companies Office waived the requirement for an audit of the first four months in 1996 and allowed the first audited statement - expected to cost between $2000 and $3000 - to cover that period and all of 1997.That meant that Centre Stage was due to deliver its records to the auditor in January this year - which it did, on time - and the auditing process is under way at present.Mr Williams says Mr Manzie's department expressly consented to accept that audit, rather than forcing the group to spend money it didn't have on a special audit .So, for Mr Manzie to say on the ABC "in regards to Centre Stage, unfortunately, they haven't provided those audited statements yet" is a concealment of vital facts.Mr Williams says the department's refusal of reasonable funding has wide ranging effects on the group's financial affairs.The Australia Council and corporate sponsors, according Mr Williams, seem to be saying: "If the Territory government isn't deeming the group worthy of support, why should we?"Says Mr Williams: "We'd like nothing more than to be self sufficient."But to get there we need some help. We're not getting it from the government."He says neither Mr Manzie nor local parliamentarians have taken up repeated invitations to visit the group.Mr Williams readily concedes that his funding applications may lack polish: unlike the CIYT, which has two full time and one part time staff, Centre Stage relies entirely on volunteers.Mr Williams' only income is as a half-time drama teacher at OLSH.His voluntary work for Centre Stage, with more than 100 young people in dozens of courses and productions, takes up more time than a full time job."Submissions are written at half past eleven at night, after a 17 hour day."It's a matter of balancing between burning out and keeping Centre Stage going for the sake of the client group."I don't know the ins and out of writing submissions. Maybe the funding applications are not exactly what arts bureaucrats are expecting," he says.Help on that score may come in the future from the departmental officer Ruth Morley in Alice Springs, he says."Our office equipment is a tape recorder and a fax machine."Even the computer is borrowed from a student."The roof leaks when it rains. We have to cover up the office desks and the costumes."It's a frantic couple of hours."Centre Stage hires space from the Alice Youth Centre, equally starved for government funds.Because of their outstanding artistic success - including "Requiem" performances at the Canberra War Memorial and in Darwin, where it got a standing ovation on V-Pacific Day - Centre Stage is often assumed to be a financial success as well."The fact is, we're lucky to break even on most shows," says Mr Williams.Most of the group's money is spent on hiring facilities at the Araluen Arts Centre - now again owned by the NT Government.While Mr Williams doesn't consider Araluen's fees unreasonable, he says it's ironic that while other arts groups get money from Mr Manzie, Centre Stage is contributing to his government's coffers.Mr Manzie did not respond to a request for comment from the Alice News.Meanwhile the government has allocated $1m in its Budget for the cultural precinct.The Central Australian Museum will be moved from the Alice Plaza to the Strehlow Centre's main hall, currently occupied by a display about the anthropologist, his work and Arrernte people.The Strehlow Centre board room will house a display about Aboriginal connection to the land. This may include the work of Ted Strehlow, with elements of the current display.Araluen director David Whitney says the arts centre will get increased storage room, improved lighting and air conditioning, new carpets and a paint job.Mr Whitney says negotiations to buy an art collection are also under way - but it's too early to give details.The aircraft museum in the Connellan Hangar and the Kookaburra display will also be upgraded and the precinct - including the Old Cemetery and the Frank McEllister Park - will be linked with signs and pathways.


Much of what needs to be done to stem the tide of youth suicides in Alice Springs is beyond the reach of law makers, says Sister Kay O'Neill, who works for Centacare as the counsellor at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart schools.Support from families and friends can be a big help - but they, too, often feel powerless."We all need to work together," says Sr Kay, "youth agencies, schools, law makers, churches."We need the whole community to work together on this issue."She says it's very difficult to ascertain the exact number of suicides: some single vehicle car accidents, overdosing on drugs, even anorexia could possibly be suicides.Young people who have killed themselves are from all social classes and ethnic backgrounds.DRUGS"There's no common denominator," says Sr Kay - except that drugs "seem to be a fairly common factor".But then, it's not clear whether drugs trigger the suicides, or are a symptom of the despair gripping so many young people living under the very noses of this prosperous community.Sr Kay says she's aware of many young people at risk, but as a counsellor often feels quite powerless: "Sometimes children don't want to come to adults."There may be issues within a family I'm not welcome to be involved in."There could be other factors such as accommodation, transport and employment."We never have the full picture as to why people take that step," says Sr Kay.What the agencies can do, however, is spread the word about how to support people at risk. Many people seem to find it just too hard: "Where do you start?" was the question put to Sr Kay by one parent.A recent suicide awareness evening she organised was attended by seven mothers - and no fathers.BONDINGYet bonding with their fathers is considered crucial for adolescent boys."Why is it that boys are three times more likely to commit suicide than girls?" asks Sr Kay.After family break-ups Mum usually "has the kids" but when as teenagers they get "out of control" they're sent to their Dad, getting the feeling that "I don't belong anywhere, I'm not wanted".Sr Kay says she's annoyed at the notion that young people aren't doing enough for themselves: "You're traumatised by past sexual abuse or domestic violence. You're emotionally and physically abused."You've got low self esteem. You're afraid of going outdoors."You've got no decent transport. You get a bike but it gets stolen."You're sharing a house. Someone smashes up a room and you all get kicked out. You've got no fixed abode."Does that make you feel that you belong, that you're wanted, that you can contribute to this community?"Violence, abuse and family breakdown can cause "post traumatic stress disorder equal to a war zone."In effect they are in a war zone," says Sr Kay."Who is the voice for the kids?"Some children have to "parent their parents", worrying about whether they're driving drunk, when will they get home.These children look after younger siblings, go shopping, cook, put out the rubbish."They're thrown into an adult role."They struggle and do well, but they're are not meant to be in that situation," says Sr Kay."It's about survival, day by day."Centacare in Tasmania has a rural property with bungalows where vulnerable families are invited to a go for a week twice a year, five or six families at a time."There's a waiting list of people wanting to go there," says Sr Kay.


Winning one of the nation's most prestigious motor industry awards - for the second time - gave Peter Kittle occasion to reflect on how he became the Alice dealer who sells more cars than all the others put together."Everyone who works for us strives to do the best they can," he says."There are people who are good in some areas and not so good in others, but if you can get them to perform to the best of their ability, that's much better than having a genius who only performs to a quarter of their ability."You need to be able to judge pretty quickly whether a person can do a job, or whether they could be able to with help in certain areas, or whether they're never going to be able to do that job, and make appropriate changes to put them somewhere where they can perform."Placing everything on the table to start with is important, so you don't get the wrong person in the wrong job and put too much pressure on them so that they're going to struggle."Our people aren't smarter than anyone else, but we work together as a team. When we do things that don't work, we sit down and analyse it, try to work out why and fix it."Communication is the main thing." Territory-born and bred, Mr Kittle says he developed his approach to staff management from his own experiences:"After I left school in Year 11, I did a motor mechanic's apprenticeship, worked on the roads for a while with a brother-in-law, and then I did vehicle sales with my father, Len."I went to England and Europe, working in different jobs here and there, then when I came back I got a job on the floor with TNT, driving trucks, unloading freight until I was offered a position as a parts manager for my father. "So I've done a lot of different vehicle-related work and I've worked in every department of a dealership not as the boss, but with someone above me."There are not that many dealer principals I know of who have done that; some have been in the workshop, but most of them are from sales backgrounds."I know what it's like when you don't get the communication and the help and guidance that you need and respect."The Peter Kittle Motor Company has for the second time won the Toyota President's Award for Excellence.This is Toyota's most prestigious national award, given for performance in all aspects of a dealership, not only in sales.The Alice Springs company first won the award in 1990.This year they were well ahead of their rivals, being the only dealership in Australia to win silver awards for both their service and parts departments.To qualify for the President's gold award a dealership has to attain a minimum of bronze in both.Apart from market share, the award criteria include the quantity of parts sold; the percentage of stock turnover; service determined on the basis of surveys (carried out by Toyota) of customer satisfaction.Other criteria are efficiency and hence profitability in the workshop; product profitability in the whole dealership; business management; and financial reporting to Toyota. Peter Kittle Toyota has had the leading market share in Alice Springs since inception of the motor company in July 1988. They extended the dealership to Tennant Creek in June 1991 and today are disappointed if their sales in their Prime Market Area (PMA), comprising both towns, drop below 50 per cent.They have achieved months where their market share is as high as 78 per cent.With Toyota as their flagship, the motor company has steadily added other compatible franchises, including Mitsubishi, Daihatsu, Daewoo and most recently Holden, formerly in the hands of Len and Robert Kittle, Peter Kittle's father and brother respectively.Turnover has grown from $12m in the first year, to $57m in 1997.Peter Kittle told the Alice News that he expects turnover this year to be close to $70m.NEXT WEEK: Was it Toyota who have shaped the Peter Kittle Motor Company or does the company have its own special ingredients for success?

MIKE'S SHED - Part Three. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.

The old army shed that also served as headquarters for Maskell's Welding Service, now enjoying a new lease on life after restoration by owners Mike Gillam and Maria Giacon (see Alice News, April 22 and 29), would not have survived without the dense screen of athel pines protecting it from the south and east.What to do about the trees, now considered an environmental pest and the subject of a massive eradication program along the Finke River, has been a quandary ever since Mike and Maria moved to the site in Hele Crescent some two and a half years ago.Says Mike: "Anyone who has watched the Finke River progressively choke up with athel pine feels a sense of despair about what's happening and gratitude towards those who are battling the crisis. "When we arrived here, our first impression was that the athel pines would have to go. But I like to think carefully before making irreversible decisions. You can't bring back 50 year old trees, just like the government won't be able to make amends if the old Alice Springs Gaol is knocked down."In a practical sense the athel pines were certainly the main reason the shed was still standing.They acted as a major wind break."After a while we also realised that the athel pines are part of the historical context of the block. We then looked at which pines were critical to keep that sense of context and decided it was the set at the front, along the street boundary." Midway through restoration a severe hail storm hit the place, and it looked like a scene out of Twister. In addition to several major limbs toppled by the storm, Mike and Maria decided to remove all the trees from the side boundary, an estimated 60 per cent of the total. They didn't ask for government assistance for the job because they wanted to maintain some control of exactly which trees were to go."Weeds by their very nature can be benign in some environments and an unmitigated disaster elsewhere," argues Mike. "We want to make a careful assessment of whether these plants can stay or whether they are truly an environmental threat. "We are above the 100 year flood level. The seed needs to germinate in constantly moist, saline conditions. Stormwater is the obvious problem but the trees were planted here sometime after World War Two and there's been no dispersal from this site into the Todd River or Charles Creek."There's no evidence or even a remote suspicion of any expansion beyond the original trees planted at this site. I am aware of only two records of highly localised infestation in the Todd River which were linked to stands of trees in the immediate floodplain."When the athel pine ‘police' turned up, I said to them, ‘Please switch your athel pine radar off!' I wanted them to consider whether all athel pines are honestly a threat? "We decided to proceed with caution. You can see how much the trees add to this site."They were once a major shade tree and wind break throughout the inland."They also became a major pest and in many places they clearly have to go, but maybe here there's some merit in keeping them as an example of that period."If at any stage a tangible risk to the Todd River is demonstrated we will have no hesitation in removing all of the remaining trees and at about that time we will also start lobbying for the removal of the white cedars, peppercorns and numerous other weeds which are already visible in the Todd." Meanwhile Mike and Maria are furiously replanting along the now bare southern boundary. In a few years they will start to benefit from new shade trees and, if necessary, they could live without the front screen of athels whose canopy also provides a huge pool of shade over the slab of what was once a mess kitchen."Unearthing it was like an archeological dig - it's cracked and tilted, just like Pompeii. A day's labour, digging and cutting back, gave us a free patio, where we can sit and watch Hele Crescent go by!"They have also excavated the narrow concrete channels that carried water away from the army camp, using them to harvest water and direct it to new planted areas.The site is large enough to eventually take a new development in the south-western corner. Artists' studios are one possibility."But," says Mike, "if we're serious about protecting this historic building we have to allow it to float on some empty space, command its own area, which means we can't develop too close to it, and we need to establish a clear sight line to Teppa Hill."Mike and Maria estimate that the restoration of the shed will probably have cost around $30,000 by the time it's finished, without counting their own labour and a lot of favours from neighbours, friends and supporters. "People have been amazed and delighted to discover this place, and a lot of them can now understand why this building should be kept," says Mike with some satisfaction."Once we're finished we'll be seeking heritage listing of the building. We took this on in part because we believe that individuals can make a difference especially when the government has lost its way over heritage issues in Alice Springs. "A future enlightened government will not be able to bring back those cultural assets squandered in the so-called development of Alice Springs but perhaps a future enlightened government will have no hesitation in listing some of the buildings in Hele Crescent."

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