May 13, 1998


Native Title claimants are raising the stakes in their bid for a joint venture housing development in Alice Springs, by threatening to withhold their consent for the proposed railway corridor through the town.The 13 registered claimants, headed by Aboriginal businessman Bob Liddle, together with a partnership including local developer Jim Watson, are seeking to buy Crown Land from the NT Government in the Mt Johns Valley, at Valuer General's valuation."This is not compensation, it's a purely commercial and private transaction," says Mr Liddle. "It's a win for the government, the home buyers and the Aboriginal people."However, the government has declined to take part in the deal which would initially provide some 100 residential blocks - and possibly more later.The average cost of a block of land in Alice Springs is currently $79,000, up 27 per cent on March 1997, according to Deputy Chief Minister Mike Reed, who blamed Native Title claims for the shortage of land.The cost of residential blocks in Alice Springs is now amongst the nation's highest."It's time the shackles were taken off the growth prospects" in Alice Springs by the passage of the Howard 10-point plan, Mr Reed told members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry at a breakfast in Alice Springs last week.However, Mr Liddle says the Alice claimants are keen to open up housing land in a "mainstream" business venture that would go a long way towards "getting people off welfare".But if the government stood in the way of the Mt Johns Valley deal, seeking to create a residential development north of Stephens Road, the claimants would withhold their consent for about eight kilometres of the corridor for the proposed Alice to Darwin railway, between the Trucking Yards south of The Gap and the Bond Springs Station boundary north of the town.The Central and Northern land councils will be putting a proposal about the corridor to the government by the end of this month.Mr Liddle says so far, the government has offered $3m for Aboriginal land along the full length of the corridor, mainly in the urban areas, and no ongoing rental, "a pittance", he says, considering the project's $1.2b price tag. Mr Liddle says Mr Reed may be ignorant of the provisions of the Native Title Act, 1993. "Mr Reed obviously needs some better informed advisors," says Mr Liddle."He may be deliberately misrepresenting the Stephens Road proposal," says Mr Liddle.The blocks could be on stream before the end of this year, with more residential land being developed further east in the valley soon after.In particular, Mr Reed and Mr Liddle disagree on whether or not a Native Title process is open ended.Mr Reed told the Alice Springs News: "The government cannot deal in the land over which there is a native title claim, without bringing upon the taxpayer enormous future encumbrances."We have to go through the negotiation process under the native title legislation."We are doing that, it is taking an age. Yes, it is time consuming, it is frustrating, and yes, it is holding up development in Alice Springs."You simply can't make some sweetheart side deals under the Native Title legislation because the legislation, for a start, won't allow you to."It might sound nice when someone comes along with some sweetheart deal that he maintains that he's established with some native title claimants."But, for example, with whom under those circumstances do you negotiate?"There is no time limit on it, nor is there any restriction on any person coming out of the blue, and saying, I want a part of this," Mr Reed said."Have a look at what's happened in WA, where these sorts of side deals have been done in the gold fields, in relation to access for mineral leases, where arrangements have been put in place with a group of people."Those arrangements have become known to other Aboriginal people, who immediately have taken advantage of it by coming along and saying, I'm putting a native title claim over this land."The guy says, hang on, you can't, because I've reached agreement with these people. "Might be the case, but now you've got to reach agreement with us."It isn't that simple."Mr Liddle disagrees: "The Native Title Act 1993 allows the NT government to compulsorily acquire Native Title rights over Crown Land."The government must give notice of this, and any Native Title claimants then have two months to register."Mr Liddle says no-one can "come out of the blue" after that period.In the Mt Johns case, the claimants are already known: the Mbantuarinya group of 13 people, registered with the National Native Title Tribunal, who have lodged a claim over Crown Land within Alice Springs.Mr Liddle says the government would still need to give notice of its intention to acquire the rights for the Stephens Road block."It could have done so months ago," says Mr Liddle."No further claimants are likely to come forward during that two months period."Mr Liddle says if there were any Alice claimants additional to the 13 registered ones, they would have come forward when the government gave notice of its intention to acquire rights over the railway corridor.The statutory two months period is followed by six months during which the government must negotiate "in good faith with the Native Title parties ... with the view to obtaining an agreement".Mr Liddle says that process, so far as the Mt Johns Valley land is concerned, is no longer necessary because the "agreement" is enshrined in the joint venture deal between the claimants and the land developer.He says the Act then allows for a further six months period during which arbitration takes place if the negotiations fail - a process not required in the Mt Johns Valley case.The Stephens Road joint venture could be up and running, without any uncertainty to the taxpayer, in little more than two months, provided the Territory Government started the notification process now."If the government were acting in good faith towards home buyers in Alice Springs, and towards the town's Aboriginal people, I see no reason why we couldn't start site works by the middle of this year," says Mr Liddle.However, Mr Reed told the Alice News that the NT Government prefers to wait for a change in the Federal Act: "If there was a solution to it, do you think we'd sit idly by?"If there was a solution to it, we wouldn't be withholding the release of land," says Mr Reed."The only solution to this is for land tenure to be put on a sure footing around the country, the clarification of the native title legislation, and the ability for government to trade in land that is owned by the general public."


My long held fascination on the topics of "women" and "politics" is well-known, and I was asked the other day how it all started. Well, put the two together, meet well-known Australian feminist, Dale Spender, and Territory writer and historian, Barbara James, and a whole new world opens up.I first met Barbara some 15 years ago when I was appointed as an inaugural member of the first NT Women's Advisory Council in 1983, and she was commissioned by the council to produce its first newsletters.Dale Spender was already a prolific writer when I met her and her parents at the Lodge in Canberra a couple of years later. I had been honoured with an invite by the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, to morning tea for International Women's Day and to attend a number of other meetings. However, this was not just any morning tea. The importance of this occasion was to mark the return to Australia from England of the Australian Women's Suffrage Banner. The banner was designed and painted by Australian artist Dora Meeson and had been carried in the Women's Suffrage March in London on 13 June, 1908.Ten thousand men and women took part, and the Australian banner expressed the support of Australian women who had already won the right to vote in 1902.Dale Spender, in England to research links between the British and Australian suffragette movements, had found the banner and was instrumental in its return to Australia, where it now hangs in the Parliament House in Canberra.During the recent Territory Statehood Convention, the Territory's historical status and position within the Federation was mentioned on a number of occasions. The Territory was, for a time, part of South Australia, as many are aware. South Australia, which then included the NT, was the first State in Australia to give women the right to vote (1894).During the Australia-wide suffrage debate the Northern Territory Times carried letters advocating women's rights signed "New Women".When things became more intense, the newspaper likened the possibility of Territory women getting the vote to the chance of the North-South Railway being built, saying "women's franchise is seriously contemplated in South Australia. So are many other things - the Transcontinental chimera for instance."When the legislation was finally passed the NT Times, carried only a one-liner noting that "the Women's Suffrage Bill has passed all stages in South Australia".A year later the paper had only marginally improved on its stance, stating: "Qualified women who wish to record their vote at the election of 1896 should hasten to enrol themselves."Leap year, by the way, is a very appropriate time for women to be making their choice of a man, if it is only for electoral purposes." When the roll was finally published eighty-two women had taken advantage of their newly-won right to vote, but it was to be quite some time before a woman stood for elected office. One of the most inspirational Territory women pioneers who attempted to enter political life is Jessie Litchfield.She arrived in Port Darwin in 1907 and became a most passionate advocate for the Territory. Juggling the various aspects of her life - journalist, poet and writer, housewife and mother - she also became a public figure. From time to time she wrote for both the Northern Territory Times (and was its editor for two years), and the opposition paper, the union-run Northern Standard. I often wonder what she must have thought of the earlier press reports on women's suffrage.Jessie was the first woman to run for local government and stood unsuccessfully for office several times in the late 1920's. She had no doubt at all that people refused to vote for her because she was a woman. An activist all her life, whether it was fighting for unemployment relief (1934), writing letters to politicians and well-known community identities, she let them all know her opinions.A regular contributor to the Bulletin and The Woman's Mirror, on one occasion she wrote to the editor of the New York Times defending traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. At the age of 68, Jessie took her final foray into politics.It was 1951 and she stood, again unsuccessfully, as an independent candidate for the Federal Parliament. Advocating that the Territory should be divided into northern and central "states", but done properly this time, she hired a taxi and travelled 3000 miles to talk to Territorians about her cause.Awarded the Coronation Medal in 1953, she was appointed the first female NT Justice of the Peace in 1955. Jessie continued to run The Roberta Library, which she had established after World War II, until she died in 1956. No wonder Jessie Litchfield is known as "The Grand Old Lady of The Territory".[Sources: Dale Spender - books, papers and talks - also Barbara James, in particular, her publications "No Man's Land" and "Occupation: Citizen", plus "Jessie Litchfield - Grand Old Lady of the Territory" by Janet Dickinson.]


A referendum on statehood questions, promised by Chief Minister Shane Stone, will "sneak up on us like the Constitutional Convention did" unless "we keep people talking and aware", says Fran Erlich, convener of the Alice Springs branch of Territorians for Democratic Statehood (TDS).The branch is planning a series of public forums, the first towards the end of this month on a Bill of Rights, the second a fortnight later on the introduction of two houses of parliament.The format will be a speaker for and against, followed by discussion.Speakers are yet to be confirmed, but Mrs Erlich says she is looking for people keen to express a strong and concise view on the issues."We will continue to do this until the lead up to the referendum," says Mrs Erlich. "It seems that the Government isn't going to do anything to inform or educate the public, so we need to."Mrs Erlich says that the ongoing activity of TDS indicates a politicisation of the electorate."It indicates to me a feeling that I've been getting for a while, that ordinary people feel they are not being heard and that they want to be heard."Everywhere in the Territory, in the last six months and perhaps even since the last election, people are feeling that the Government is operating under its own steam with very little regard for what people actually want."We also have some politicians who really wield their power strongly. We shouldn't live in a place where people are scared to speak out against the Government. It's not being dramatic to say that that is happening in the Northern Territory and I don't like it."Late last year, in the wake of a public outcry against the proposed demolition of the old Alice Springs Gaol, Mrs Erlich declared her intention to found a political party.While not renouncing that intention, Mrs Erlich has put her plans on hold to see "how TDS goes"."If TDS doesn't go well and there is still that level of frustration with the Government, it will be more imperative that we do something about it," she says. "And, we will be closer to a Territory election by then."So far, there has been "one official meeting and lots of discussions" about the new party:"The reaction has been generally very positive. People think that it's a really good idea and about time, the only way in the foreseeable future to make the Government really responsible to the electorate."What has become clear from the discussions is that it will not have an exclusively Central Australian base:"There are people interested from all over the Territory, Katherine, Palmerston, and Tennant Creek, not just Alice Springs," says Mrs Erlich."It started as a party of the Centre, arising out of frustration over the old gaol issue, but any party that is just Central Australian would be ineffectual, inefficient, and doomed to failure. It would have to be a Territory wide party."It would also take a huge commitment of energy, time and resources from a lot of people, not just a couple. You can't just say I'm going to start a party tomorrow. You have to have a sound financial base, for a start." If a party doesn't get off the ground, will Mrs Erlich stand as an independent?"I may," she says. "Outside a party you're not able to influence things as much, but if enough people stood as independents that could create enough of a block for there to be a power shift. "It's a possibility but I haven't yet committed myself fully to the idea of a life in politics. Do I want to live and breathe politics 24 hours a day or do I want a normal life? How wild am I at the Government? "I'm being a bit equivocal but that's because I've a sense that things are moving in the Territory. People have got involved in TDS who are not at all political, but they are upset at the Government's actions. That's a big step in terms of people wanting to be heard."This is also where the idea of a second, upper house, a house of review, comes in. People would be elected differently and represent different groups to have a real role in our political process."Is Mrs Erlich wholeheartedly in favour of statehood for the NT?"Personally, yes. It's like a republic for Australia, it's inevitable. I don't see why we shouldn't have the same rights as people in the rest of Australia, such as voting in a Commonwealth referendum, the same rights to property, and not having our laws overturned. I also think it's important in terms of our social as well as political and economic advancement, to have that feeling of maturity about ourselves, we've finally grown up and are on a level footing with the rest of Australia."But, I think a lot of people have a lot of doubts. They want statehood but have expressed doubts about whether we're mature enough."A lot of people have been disillusioned by the process towards it so far and it makes them wonder whether we should have statehood at any price. "Given the fact that referendums are notoriously hard to get through, the Government is going to have to work very hard on this one, otherwise people well throw it out. I wouldn't like to see that happen."I'd always thought that most people wanted statehood. I've been quite surprised about the doubts expressed at the present time."Does she approve of the proposed name of the State of the Northern Territory?"I hate it, and North Australia is mundane. I haven't got a suggestion of my own but surely we could come up with a name that is a little more poetic."


Claims by the Beverage Industry Environment Council (BIEC) that Territorians are "potentially being more responsible" in improving their littering behaviour, are "hogwash" as far as Alice Springs is concerned, says Alice Deputy Mayor and former convener of the Territory Anti-Litter Committee (TALC), Geoff Miers.BIEC is an industry association representing Australia's leading beer and soft drink manufacturers and their aluminium, glass and PET container suppliers.They base their claims on an analysis of statistics on the litter stream compiled by the Keep Australia Beautiful Council (KABC).However, while ascribing firm figures to the litter reduction, BIEC's interpretation is more cautious, qualifying it with words like "potentially", "possible" and "could".They say that Northern Territory "key insights" from February 1996 to May 1997 include "a possible drop" in beverage container litter from 10.08 per cent of the total litter stream to 3.36 per cent, a total decrease of 67 per cent (compared to a national drop of 45 per cent).They say further Northern Territory key trends include:
beer and soft drink aluminium has dropped from 6.4 per cent to 1.51 per cent, a 76 per cent decrease;
PET bottles has fallen from 1.92 per cent to 1.18 per cent, a 39 per cent decrease;
glass has transgressed [sic] from 1.76 per cent to 0.67 per cent, a 62 per cent decrease.The corresponding national decreases are claimed to be 45 per cent, 31 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.
BIEC also claims, on the basis of its report on attitudes Understanding Littering Behaviour in Australia, compared with "field observations of their actual behaviour", that people are seven times more likely to appropriately dispose of a beverage container than to litter with it.BIEC's Chief Executive Peter Schmigel says: "The beverage industry is pleased that reductions of over 60 per cent in the littering of containers could now be occurring ... "BIEC does wish to ensure, however, that the statistics accurately portray changes in real terms. For example, it could be the case that other litter is increasing while beverage containers' proportion remains about the same. Though that would not be a bad result for containers, it would mean that consumers and companies in sectors such as tobacco and fast food may need to further roll up their sleeves."However, Ald Miers says that simple observation and the town council's annual huge expenditure on litter collection belie BIEC's claims. As well, he says, a team of low-risk prisoners are picking up rubbish."I don't see evidence for their claims at all in Alice Springs," says Ald Miers."We won't see progress until local government, the NT Government , TALC and KABC join forces with industry to develop waste minimisation and anti-litter strategies, and to promote and facilitate increased opportunities for recycling."Ald Miers says the town council is still considering charging commercial users of the landfill, as an incentive for them to minimise their waste stream, as well as looking at strategies and opportunities for the whole community."We understand the community's frustration about the lack of adequate recycling facilities. We could start a facility at the dump tomorrow but how effective would it be? The price of glass, for instance, has dropped right away, and for the current technology it has to be pure. If brown is mixed with green or white then the whole lot will be dumped in Adelaide, completely wasting the collection and transport effort."Maybe we should be thinking differently. For example, we could consider stockpiling glass at the landfill, burying it for use as a resource in the future."


Following the Peter Kittle Motor Company's win - for the second time - of the Toyota President's Award for Excellence (see last week's issue), the Alice News asked dealer principal Peter Kittle if Toyota had shaped the company or does the company have its own special ingredients for success?"Our priorities are slightly different," says Mr Kittle."Toyota's number one priority is to sell as many vehicles as they can, but they also take a long term view, wanting their dealers to be efficient as well as to sell. "They look at the picture down the road, whereas a lot of other manufacturers are looking only at what happens next week."Our top priority is to have a high customer satisfaction index as well as to make a profit."After that we want to sell a lot of cars, but you can do that and make no money. We could sell lots of cars at cost but we have a margin to work with. "However, margins in car sales are nowhere near as great as what people may think; our average gross profit on a vehicle is around $1000."We have a high turnover in dollars because cars are high ticket items, but there aren't big gross profits."One of the reasons is that there are a lot of tangibles in vehicle sales that you don't have in other industries. For instance, when you buy clothes you don't trade your old clothes in, whereas probably 80 per cent of the cars we sell have a trade-in of some description."So in a year when many Alice Springs businesses have been doing it hard, how has the Peter Kittle Motor Company managed to do so well?Says Mr Kittle: "One reason is that we don't have businesses just in Alice Springs. We have dealerships in Tennant Creek and Katherine and some other interests in Alice."But we also tend not to worry about what the economy is like in Alice Springs. We run our business on what we think we can achieve. "If you worry too much about how other businesses in town are trading, then you tend to go into a negative mode and start worrying about what's not going to happen, instead of worrying about what you can make happen."We've concentrated a lot on getting our fixed operation expenses where we want them. We know exactly how many cars and parts we have to sell; we set budgets quarterly, but we use running budgets so we can modify them on a daily basis if trends are changing."The economy here has tightened up a little in the last three or four months, which I believe is mainly an offshoot of government policies. You'd have to be a fool to deny that the Aboriginal influence is an important factor and they've had a lot of cutbacks. "That's got to hurt everyone eventually. "Alice is probably going to have a quieter year than we've had for a long time but I don't believe our company will be affected much. We know where our peaks and troughs are, and we put things in place, sales and promotions, to keep our low months at a reasonable level."We've nearly got our year planned out to the week in certain areas. You have to do that."You may know by the middle of a month that you've had a really good last month, but while everyone's patting themselves on the back about that, you've had a shocker the next month!"NEXT WEEK: Not putting all eggs into one basket - and the part Aboriginal investment plays in the company.


Peter Toyne is well known for the miles he travels as a representative of the people in the Northern Territory's Legislative Assembly.However his ability to put in the hard yards is not a recent development. Toyne emerged as a promising athlete, winning State Schoolboy Championships while at Strathmore and University High Schools in Victoria.By the mid ‘sixties he had developed an association with Ralph Doubell, who went on to Olympic representation at Mexico. Like Doubell Toyne raced over the 880 yards, two lap event which required both pace and endurance. The pair formed part of a successful 4 x 880 relay team in 1964-65, and it was then that the influence of Franz Stampfell, then the national icon in athletics coaching, accelerated Toyne's performance.After three rigorous years which could have ended in Olympic selection, Toyne caste aside his athletic ambition for the world of motor cycling.Such is life in country Victoria however that the attraction of the professional running circuit soon had him back in spikes on grass tracks from Traralgon to Stawell. Toyne revelled in the camaraderie of the pro circus. Every runner regardless of ability has the chance to don the winner's sash thanks to the handicapping system.Toyne recorded a world record over the imperial distance of 600 yards in the time of 70.1 seconds and in fact bettered this with a 69.3 seconds later that year at Stawell. This second record could not be accredited as Toyne, thanks to the handicapper, actually crossed the line fourth.His career included two third placings at Stawell, the most prestigious of professional athletics carnivals, in the years when Warren Edmondsen and then Steve Proudlock took the Gift.These achievements were milestones in Toyne's career and the thirst for victory never left his blood, even when a teaching career took him to the Territory.As a veteran he returned to the Stawell Easter Carnival in the Sandy Hurst stable, and won the Veteran's Gift in 1989, along with the Arthur Postle purse over 75 metres. He was also able to snare the Open 75 metre sashes in Ballarat and Portland before retiring.With such achievements behind him, he was not surprised when door knocking in his electorate. to be asked by a constituent to help out the local Little Athletics Centre.He took on the challenge and soon found himself coaching the talent squad identified for participation at NT and national events. Rather than stressing the old adage of "no gain without pain", Toyne focusses the youngsters on technique. He pays particular attention to style, balance and running up off the ground, rather than with the heel and ball of the foot.Recently a team of his charges were successful at the National Championships in Hobart, and Peter Toyne believes raw talent, like that of young Lahti Burns, is waiting to be tapped in Central Australia.Little Athletics is conducted at Rhonda Diano Oval every Saturday afternoon, for runners from six years and older. The meetings give children experience in contesting all disciplines of Track and Field.

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.