July 22, 1998


After a five year fight, and just three weeks before it was due to come before the Federal Court, an Alice Springs man has been given permission to see his Territory Health medical records.Peter Holmes was a patient in the psychiatric ward of the Alice Springs Hospital for about three and a half weeks in February 1992.He was diagnosed as suffering from paranoia, a diagnosis supported by more than one psychiatrist, but which he has always challenged.He has also refused the prescribed treatment, saying that the drugs make him feel terrible, and that while he was in hospital he was "walking around like a zombie" and felt "threatened and confused".Mr Holmes continues to have contact with the hospital "for support" but says he has not seen a psychiatrist for five years and does not take any psychiatric medication.He wants to obtain his medical file in order to "prove his sanity", particularly to the police whom he alleges constantly harass him, an allegation which the police deny.Under Territory Health departmental guidelines a health professional may refuse a client access to medical records if he or she "considers access would be prejudicial to the physical or mental health of the patient."The guidelines also state that "practitioners need to exercise extreme care when deciding to deny access on this basis, and must have very good reasons for, and be prepared to defend, such decisions."Mr Holmes, represented by the Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission, took the Northern Territory before the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) in August and September, 1996.He argued that he had been the victim of unlawful discrimination "on the ground of a perceived disability" when authorities decided in about June 1993 to deny him access his medical records.After conciliation had been unsuccessful, his complaint was referred to HREOC.The commissioner found that Mr Holmes was refused a service, or had terms or conditions put on the receipt of that service, on the ground of his disability, but that the refusal did not amount to unlawful discrimination. The principal reasons for the refusal given to the HREOC hearing by the senior specialist psychiatrist were that seeing the file would be likely to cause Mr Holmes distress, and that his reaction to people who had written the file could be dangerous.Under cross-examination the psychiatrist emphasised that Mr Holmes was not receiving treatment and that his delusions were therefore not under control: "If he were receiving treatment and the delusions were therefore under control, a different view might well be taken."Now, although Mr Holmes still refuses treatment, a different view has been taken.Mr Holmes sought a review of the HREOC decision before the Federal Court. The case was due to be heard on August 11.In a letter dated July 10 to Mr HolmesÕ legal representatives, David Lisson for the Solicitor of the Northern Territory says he has been "instructed that Mr Holmes is in a well controlled condition" and "as a result [the treating psychiatrist] is prepared to allow him access to his medical records."Mr Lisson writes that he trusts this decision will lead Mr Holmes to abandon his application to the Federal Court for review.Mr Holmes says the authorities were "frightened" for the case to come before the Federal Court. While he has an appointment tomorrow to finally see his file, he says the story wonÕt end there: he wants $150,000 compensation for "six years of hell"."Legal Aid say they canÕt support me in this, but I won't give up," says Mr Holmes."It's not for the money, it's for the principle."I've travelled all over Australia for 40 years, including five years with camels, and I've never had any kind of trouble. "I haven't had any treatment for six years which proves that there's nothing wrong with me, but now I've lost my good name."Everyone in town thinks I'm a mental patient. I will give all the money away if we get Freedom Of Information legislation in the Territory, so noone else will ever have to go through what I've gone through."


A chest thumping media release last week by NT Police Commissioner Brian Bates, claiming a sharp reduction in major crime, has raised more questions than it answered.He says Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures about "reported" crime show a massive 54 per cent decrease in the murder rate, 44 per cent in attempted murder but only three per cent in manslaughter.The figures compare 1996 with 1997.Mr Bates concedes that the Territory still has the "highest rates in Australia for murder, assault and sexual assault" - but he says things are looking up.It is difficult to apply these assertions to Central Australia.ABS says it doesn't have crime statistics broken down by region, only by state. A senior Alice Springs police officer says the force has figures for individual police stations, but these can be released only by the police media section in Darwin.That section's Annie Darcy says it is policy not to disclose these figures until the annual report is published, and the one dealing with 1997 isn't due out until November this year. A spokesman for Police Minister Mike Reed confirmed that.Furthermore, Mr Bates' statement refers to "reported crime", which is explained by Ms Darcy as follows: when an event is reported to the police as murder, and on the basis of their investigations police form the opinion that it was murder, then the event would be regarded as murder for the purpose of the statistics quoted by Mr Bates, irrespective of the outcome of any court proceedings.The principle that the accused are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law is fundamental to our system of justice, but for the purpose of statistics, the power of judgment has apparently been transferred to the police.This creates some difficulties, says George Georgiou, head of Territory Legal Aid in Alice Springs: "If they ignore completely the outcome of a particular investigation, then I think you're bound to have a higher murder number than what's in fact the case."Many charges of murder eventually result in a plea to manslaughter or a charge that we commonly call a dangerous act causing death."Unlike murder, neither of these lesser charges carry a mandatory life sentence.Mr Georgiou says in the past three and a half years, five or six or his clients were charged with murder, but none of them were convicted of murder.Some pleaded to manslaughter, one to "dangerous act causing death", and one to "concealment of child death".Says Mr Georgiou: "When you're looking at this manslaughter figure, do they define that to mean cases where the police suspect the death was one of manslaughter, or do they mean cases where people pleaded to manslaughter, or a jury has returned a verdict of manslaughter?"If those statistics are based purely on a police officer's perception, I wonder if they have guidelines to help them in forming their conclusions?"Mr Georgiou, who has been a lawyer with Territory Legal Aid in Alice Springs for three and a half years, says his organisation has not had a single client convicted for murder during that period.Michael Brugman, a lawyer for Aboriginal Legal Aid in Alice Springs, says so far as the service knows, there hasn't been a murder conviction in Alice Springs for the past four years.This suggests that with respect to the murder rate, the decrease from 1996 to 1997 in Central Australia has been not 54 per cent, but zero per cent - namely from zero to zero.Mr Georgiou says the workload within his service does not suggest a major reduction in serious offences: "From my own experience there does not appear to be a significant decrease in crime."In terms of workload and the types of cases that are coming through there is no significant change."The minor drop in manslaughter, when compared to the drop in murder, invites speculation about the wisdom of mandatory sentencing for murder - life in gaol.Mr Georgiou says other jurisdictions in Australia have dropped this regime because "they felt that juries were being deterred from entering a conviction for murder, and because they wanted to give flexibility back to the system, give the judge sentencing discretion".Says Territory Legal Aid lawyer Russell Goldflam: "It was felt the system works more effectively where the judges have that discretion, and the juries' functions were not distorted by mandatory life sentences lurking in the backs of their minds." Says Mr Georgiou: "Anybody doing their job properly would be concerned by the prospect that somebody could spend the rest of their life in gaol, on the basis of an incorrect decision."There's always a fear that if we get it wrong, a defendant could spend the rest of his or her life in gaol."We have that concern in any case - whether they're going to spend 14 days or the rest of their lives in gaol, but obviously the stakes are bigger when the person is facing mandatory life imprisonment."


The mid-year school holiday has provided a change of pace for many locals with events such as the annual Alice Springs Show at Blatherskite Park continuing to attract visitors and locals alike.The show has gone from strength to strength since it was first held in 1960 on Anzac Oval with its move to Traeger Park the following year. Some in the community would like to see more local businesses and retailers with show-stands, and comments to me have included whether consideration should be given to combining the Alice Springs Expo with the show. The continuing dedication of those behind the scenes, who organise the show year after year with very little public acknowledgment, is to be highly commended. Likewise the many Centralians, especially the volunteers, who run their stalls, act as entrants and judges, and whose contributions make this a true community event we can all enjoy.The annual Camel Cup run by the Lions and Lioness Clubs is another highlight at this time of the year. Again the number of hours given by volunteers and the sponsorship of local businesses deserves recognition. This event, like those of other local Service Clubs which provide entertainment that attracts significant numbers of visitors, raises valuable funds for many good causes in our town.
The holiday season has also seen the usual increase in visitors. One wonders, therefore, at the wisdom of the town council choosing this moment for the roadworks taking place adjacent to their offices. Not all visitors are first timers. Over the past month it has been great to catch up with old friends who used to live here. However, what do you do when the guest list becomes full and there is no space in your home even to roll out a swag? A "B & B" may be the answer.The recent win in the Territory's Brolga Awards for Tourism Excellence by Lynne Peterkin, in the Hosted Accommodation Category, highlights this small but growing niche market in the Territory's tourism industry. Lynne, who has been managing Orangewood Bed & Breakfast, is now in her third year of operation, and Chairman of the Australian Bed and Breakfast Council. Bed & Breakfast accommodation, more commonly referred to as B & B, now has 20 operators in the NT. The Northern Territory Bed & Breakfast Council is in the process of becoming an incorporated body and works as a lobby group for its section of the accommodation industry. It has been most pleased with the support and co-operation it has received from the NT Tourist Commission, Town Planning, health authorities and the Liquor Commission. Jan Heaslip at Bond Springs Station was the first local resident to set up a B & B five years ago. This year has seen Tom & Vicki Engeham establish Tmara Mara B & B and Anne Cormack has opened Nthava Cottage. Accommodation here is of a high quality. B & B guests generally prefer a more personalised holiday experience. They stay an average of two to three nights and are willing and able to spend good dollars on tours, car hire and meals. Again the economic contribution of this accommodation sector to the region should not be under-estimated. I am sure it will continue to grow.
With the return to school this week some computer students will be keenly waiting for the Northern Territory judging round of the 1998 Australian Schools Web Competition. Through the Internet, the competition is Australia-wide and this year's theme is Cool Solutions to Hot Issues. Student teams are required to design and publish a web site that looks at an unsolved local problem. Research, including using the Internet to find out if another place in the world shares a similar problem, is an important aspect of the competition. The web site designed by the students must also explain their local solution to the shared problem. Judges consider student initiative, creativity, design and technical competence. State and Territory finalists are then considered for national awards. Alice Springs High School has entered a team who have chosen to look at water conservation in the Alice. We wish them and the other Centralian students every success!


Stuart MLA Peter Toyne says according to a senior Federal official, Canberra has rejected a proposal from the NT Government to set two education standards - one for indigenous and one for non-indigenous students.The Territory is receiving special Federal funding under the Indigenous Education Agreement (IEA), as well as other contributions, which means the NT is getting five times more money per head of population when compared with the states.Although the extra money is meant to compensate for special difficulties, "the outcomes of our education system are still the lowest in Australia," says Mr Toyne, with the poorest retention rates and three quarters of Year Five students below the national level of expected literacy.Mr Toyne claims that Canberra is thinking seriously about taking a direct role in Aboriginal education, rather than channelling its funds through Territory authorities.He says Canberra is forming the view that the Territory is abrogating one of its core responsibilities: "This does nothing for our case for statehood and credibility, quite apart from the suffering of indigenous Territorians."Mr Toyne says he has been able to obtain, under the Federal Freedom of Information Act, details refused to him by the NT Government.The information, about the IEA, shows that the Territory is "acknowledging the parlous state of indigenous education".According to the NT Education Department's Aboriginal Education News [1998] little more than half of indigenous students obtain a Grade C or better for Year Ten assessment in English, while nearly 80 per cent of non-indigenous students do; and in Level One mathematics, the respective figures are 33.3 and 70.5 per cent. In 1997, just 22 indigenous students (22 per cent of the Year 12 indigenous enrolment) received an NT Certificate of Education, compared to 520 non-indigenous students (50.5 per cent). Only 10 indigenous students achieved NT University Entry Level, compared to 413 non-indigenous ones.Mr Toyne says a report into delivery of education to remote Aboriginal communities was completed last year, after a two-year study by the Territory Public Accounts Committee, taking evidence from 100 witnesses. He says 14 months ago he submitted to the Education Minister 180 follow-up queries, "simple questions of fact such as in which schools are trials being conducted to combat the excessive truancy rate".However, when he met with Education Department deputy secretary Chris Makepeace for a briefing last week, Mr Toyne says he was shown a 60 page report, but told it couldn't be handed over because the minister hadn't given permission."Mr Makepeace should be in a position to provide free and frank information," says Mr Toyne."The CLP Minister Adamson is trying to hide his shameful incompetence by erecting a wall of secrecy."Mr Makepeace declined to comment.


Bernie Kilgariff, former Northern Territory Senator and, in pre self government days, a Legislative Councillor, says he can no longer make a positive statement about public drunkenness.Asked to comment on his speech to the Legislative Council in 1974, in which he supported the decriminalisation of public drunkenness and promoted the provision of a detoxification centre (see Alice News, June 17), he said he would have to reconsider his position."The problem of public drunkenness has become immense," said Mr Kilgariff."The extent of it has probably only increased in proportion to the population, but the problem now is that Alice Springs attracts people from all our neighbouring states."How are we going to deal with people from so many different groups?"He said that detoxification efforts have thus far been half-hearted, money down the drain for little result."I'm walking around the issue of criminali-sation, but I think it has to be discussed, because something has to be done, there's no doubt about that."Mr Kilgariff suggested that we may be able to learn from the early industrial period, when "a lot of the population, because of their poor social situation, were drunk rotten on cheap gin.""If social conditions could be improved, maybe we would see less public drunkenness."It is critical for the younger generation who are on the loose in the arcades and around the malls in Alice Springs."Meanwhile, two participants of the Alcohol Issues Forum say they expect the re-criminalisation of public drunkenness to come up for discussion at their next meeting on August 19.DASA's John Spink says he thinks discussion of the Chief Minister's recent comments is "inevitable".Ian Morrison says that "hopefully by then we may know exactly what the Chief Minister has in mind".Mr Spink says it is surprising how many people are unaware of the provisions of the two kilometre law, and that a sub-committee of the forum has been working on ways to improve awareness.


The recent outstanding price of $200,000 paid to Sotheby's for an early dot painting by Papunya painter Billy Stockman is but one example of why Alice Springs should think more seriously about development of its arts and cultural industries.Director of Economic and Community Development at the Alice Springs Town Council, Suzanne Lollback, says culture has to be one of our biggest export industries, particularly in the area of Aboriginal art, for which the town is a collection hub. "That's certainly something that I want to quantify," says Ms Lollback, "what's already there and what the economic development possibilities are."Some work has been done in the area: Desart's Executive Officer Ron Brien says ATSIC-commissioned research puts the value of Aboriginal cultural industries to the Northern Territory at $30m per year. It also reveals that for every dollar put into arts centres on Aboriginal communities, there is a three dollar return.The interest is underlined by the extraordinary response to the Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre's website. General Manager Paul Ah Chee says the site receives some 10,000 "hits" per day!Mr Ah Chee says it is too early to measure what this may mean in economic return: "We'll look at it in 12 months time."However, in just three years this award-winning business has more than doubled its turnover, from around $300,000 in the first year to $700,000 in the last financial year."We have spent a lot on marketing and are now getting about 40 per cent of our custom from inbound bookings direct from overseas, principally Europe," says Mr Ah Chee.But what about cultural industries more broadly?"Culture more broadly is one of the biggest attractors for the town," says Ms Lollback. "Visitors are coming for the experience of how we live in this environment."What's lacking is the promoting and coordinating to formulate policies, projects and programs."We need to develop a relationship with the cultural providers. It's early days as far as council goes, what we are actually getting into it."The council's Arts and Cultural Development Advisory Committee is close to finalising its cultural plan, and putting it before elected members. The committee, described by Ms Lollback as a "strategic partnership", is made up of representatives from the Araluen Arts Centre, the Department of Arts and Museums, schools, Centralian College, and general community members, and is chaired by photographer and campaigner for appropriate regional development, Mike Gillam.The plan works with a broad definition of culture: "Culture is the experience of life embodied in our history, language, religions, work, traditions, laws and politics, economics, built and natural environment, social interactions, leisure and our creative expressions. "It is about how we live our lives and how the environment in which we live Ôimpresses' upon it."Says Ms Lollback: "The plan will not necessarily be about creating new stuff, but about enhancing what we have."Alice Springs is already extremely rich in community run festivals, like Henley on Todd, the Camel Cup and the Bangtail Muster, but with some coordination and promoting, we can make it even richer and more dynamic."There are, however, a couple of new moves in the wings. Council has applied to the Commonwealth fund for the Centenary of Federation Cultural and Heritage Projects to develop a cultural interpretive centre. As a building it would be linked to the new CATIA building and any upgrading of the existing council buildings.Its purpose would be to highlight the town's heritage, the innovations in, for instance, the area of communications, and the people whose lives tell those stories. "There's always been a creative element in Alice Springs," says Ms Lollback, "there has had to be, to survive and go forward."The interpretative centre would then point the way to the places where people could further explore what is of particular interest to them, such as the Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame, the Flying Doctor Service, or the Desert Park.It would also aim to raise the profile of arid zone technology in its many forms, and less well known activities such as archeology: " All of these things are part of our cultural heritage, how we live our lives within our environment," says Ms Lollback.Public art is another item on the agenda.The pilot pavement project, designed by Sonja Peter, and due to start construction this month in front of the CATIA building, will be a first step in this direction."We will be listening for feedback from the community, but these are the types of initiatives we are thinking about that will add colour and dimension to the town," says Ms Lollback."There's certainly interest from other groups to put the pavement project in other parts of town."We'd also like to develop a few different projects, and will apply for funding through the Australia Council. For instance, we want to work in the area of youth cultural development. You can do that as a fun thing, but it can also address social issues."I'm really interested in hearing from the community about what they'd like to see develop. Darwin, for example, has business incubators around cultural industries, such as artists' studios. Is that what people would like to see here?"It would take planning and research. The cultural plan is about identifying those types of opportunities. "What comes to fruition will be based on our research and the level of public interest in doing it."


Among the many pleasures of the program of six short films Shifting Sands, recently screened on SBS and at Araluen, is the presence of so many fine dramatic talents.Indeed the compelling performance of a young Aboriginal albino girl, Melissa Middleton, is central to the success of CAAMA director Danielle Maclean's My Colour, Your Kind. This, Maclean's first film, is a meditation on the pain of relationship to the world when you are a white Aborigine, conveyed with infinite sadness by Middleton, in expressive scenes conceived by Maclean as a series of virtual tableaux vivants.The most beautiful is undoubtedly the final scene, where the girl lies down with her brown skinned mother (played by Christine Palmer) whom we have seen repeatedly smearing her daughter with red mud. The girl obsessively, painfully reiterates this ritual when she is taken away.The film has received an AFI nomination for "best screenplay in a short film".A strength of the screenplay is the muteness of the girl, particularly successful in the scene when, after she has run away from a religious children's "home", she is picked up by a friendly truckie.By contrast, the stereotyping of the voluble nun, while a turning of the tables in an historic sense to be sure, is a weakness in the film.Maclean had a $192,000 budget for her 11 minutes, a luxurious budget for a first film, and this after a hot-housing of the project from its inception (along with the others in the series) by the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission.Such a budget and process entails a certain style of production, with values guaranteed by a large professional crew. This can shield first-time filmmakers from using their ingenuity to make hard decisions, and can lead to the loss of a personal "voice" in the film-making. I would have liked to see some of the less assured films of the series in a rawer, more singular state.I also think, with respect to Maclean's film, that the process could have been expected, in the development of the screenplay, to take the film beyond what was really only a single premise.Strength of performance in the two best films of the program - Tears and My Bed, Your Bed - is matched by finely-tuned direction, where the material means at the filmmakers' disposal did not outstrip their grasp of what needed to be done.Both films benefit from unity of time and place in their storyline.In Tears a teenage couple walk along a country road: in a few encounters much is said about life on the "mish" they are running away from, none so powerful as the girl's glimpse through a car window of a crying baby in the arms of her teenage mother. The girl sees the oppressive likelihood of doing no more than reproducing her own dissatisfaction unless she makes a change. The moment, conveyed in just three shots and no dialogue, is decisive in her resolve to get away. The boy never has this clarity of perception and in the end just can't bring himself to leave what is familiar.This film was shot by Allan Collins from CAAMA, and deservedly won "Best Achievement in Cinematography" at this year's St Kilda Film Festival, as well as "Best Film" and "Best Achievement in Direction" for its writer/director Ivan Sen.In particular, the many judiciously timed and framed close-ups of the young runaways are a triumph for director, cinematographer and actors alike.The program ends on a high note with Erica Glynn's comedy My Bed Your Bed.Glynn has had a long association with television in particular, having worked for CAAMA for 15 years, and now training at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Completely at home with her means, Glynn's film works at every level. It's a funny film, full of charm, that would make any audience laugh, while at the same time unself-consciously evoking contemporary Aboriginal life in Central Australia.In the opening scene senior women, by a fire at night, sing and dance a traditional love song and a wide-eyed young girl is told that she is promised in marriage to a certain man.We meet her again in young adulthood, living in a semi urbanised settlement, packing up her few possessions to take to the house of her promised man, while the old women look on, full of mirth. The film proceeds without dialogue: everything is said in facial expressions, glances, gestures and a kind of awkward dance around their house as the young couple separately move swags from room to room, trying to get used to what their cohabitation means.In the funniest scenes of the film, the arrival of the young women's relatives forces the young man's hand and he finally settles down to sleep next to his wife. Only the slightest smile is necessary to show her satisfaction with this outcome.Everything in this film reveals a "just enough and not too much" touch, from the perfect timing of the scenes and the understated acting, to the keenly observed clothing and possessions, and the interior of the house, virtually empty but aglow with bold colour on the recently painted walls that nonetheless reveal past habitations.My Bed Your Bed offers a brief, warmly felt entry into a world where the audience senses a fullness of life, a past and a future for its characters, that make it a really satisfying experience.Little surprise that it won a Dendy Short Film Award during the recent Sydney Film Festival and, along with Tears, has been nominated for an AFI "Animal Logic Award for best Short Fiction Film".

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