November 18, 1998


The Central Land Council (CLC) is proposing a change to the Federal land rights laws so that each of its nine regions can "sign off" on major commercial deals within their own areas, including mining agreements.This would take the wind out of the sails of the Reeves Report, which is recommending the setting up of 18 small land councils in the NT, sounding the death knell for the powerful CLC and the Northern Land Council (NLC).The Act, as it stands, currently requires that such deals are ratified by a full land council, which includes a multitude of language groups with responsibilities for different lands. This exposes the CLC and the NLC, each looking after roughly one-half of mainland Northern Territory, to criticism of being in conflict with a fundamental requirement of Aboriginal law: people must not - even upon penalty of death - make decisions about someone else’s traditional land.The CLC's nine regions are defined - at least broadly - by languages and tribal identity.If the Federal Parliament amends the Act in line with the CLC submission, then no language group would need to become involved in the commercial dealings of another.What's more, if the CLC gets its way, Aboriginal people in The Centre would gain a measure of regional independence, while preserving access to the services of a land council which now has more than two decades of experience in commercial negotiations and political lobbying, a budget of more than $8m, and under the Act, is governed by a fully elected council.APPOINTEDOn the other hand, under the Reeves model key commercial decisions, and the bulk of Aboriginal funding, would be placed in the hands of a Northern Territory Aboriginal Council (NTAC) whose members are not elected, but appointed by the NT Chief Minister and the Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister.(Mr Reeves recommends that "in due course, Government appointment of the members of the council should be replaced by their election by Aboriginal Territorians on a basis providing for an appropriate spread of regional representation."This election should take place once the land claims process has been completed, the boundaries of the Regional Land Councils have been settled, and a further review of the Act has been undertaken."Given the tensions between Federal Aboriginal Minister John Herron and the big land councils, as well as their intense loathing for Chief Minister Shane Stone, Mr Reeves' proposition seems likely to attract wide-spread comment.Mr Stone's government is already actively supporting the setting up of smaller land councils, offering $50,000 to groups making applications for "break-away" councils. Under existing legislation, the Federal Minister may approve a new land council if he is satisfied that a "substantial majority" of adult Aborigines in an area want it.In Central Australia, the Anmatjere group around Ti Tree and some Pitjantjatjara interests at Ayers Rock have expressed interest in going their own way, and MacDonnell MLA John Elferink says "there are plenty more than two groups in Central Australia who are interested true self determination".The report is currently before the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.A spokesman for Senator Herron says the Minister would not comment on the report until he has received advice from the committee, most likely in the first half of next year.The Reeves study, commissioned by Senator Herron and estimated to have cost $1m, is the first review since 1983 of the Land Rights Act which came into operation in 1976 and under which about half the Northern Territory became inalienable (incapable of being sold) Aboriginal freehold land.John Reeves QC, who's been in the Territory for 24 years, was a solicitor and town council alderman in Alice Springs, and during that time, a vociferous opponent of the US controlled Pine Gap intelligence gathering base here.Mr Reeves now works as a barrister in Darwin.His recommendations - predictably - have come under fire from the two big land councils, but also from other sources, including Ian Viner.He was the Aboriginal Affairs Minister in the Liberal Fraser Government which brought in the Act, after most of the groundwork had been done under Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.Mr Viner, who is now a Queen's Counsel in Perth, describes the current NT Government's attitudes to Land Rights as "virulent" and those of earlier ones "a disgrace".He says in a letter to CLC president Max Stuart that the review "should withstand the desire of the present NT Government to gain control over Aboriginal traditional lands" despite "the hope of sectional mining, pastoral and other economic interests to gain access to Aboriginal land with the help of government and even the desire of some indigenous interests to break down the protection of inalienable title".Some of Mr Reeves' recommendations "would simply be seen by powerful political and economic interests, government and private alike, as a justification for taking away rights already granted," says Mr Viner.Breaking up the CLC and the NLC into smaller councils "would be seen as a political exercise to divide and conquer the Aboriginal population".He says Justice Woodward, on whose 1974 inquiry land rights in the Territory is based, said Aborigines "should not be subjected to conditions intended to compel development".Mr Reeves' call for 18 smaller land councils appeals to those who regard the CLC and the NLC as cumbersome and aloof.Mr Reeves himself says they have become "substantial bureaucracies filling roles and functions beyond those originally intended".However, it appears that the smaller substitutes he recommends, called Regional Land Councils (RLCs), would have little power and few resources.The new RLCs recommended by Mr Reeves have identical boundaries to the CLC's nine and the NLC's seven regions (Tiwi and Groote islands have their own land councils, which would make up the balance of 18).In The Centre, the proposed funding of around $400,000 annually per RLC would total $3.6m - less than half the current CLC budget.It is not only funding, but their proposed functions which raise suspicions that the smaller land councils would be little more than window dressing, although Mr Reeves' language is far from clear.He says the ministerially appointed NTAC would "maintain strategic oversight of the activities of the RLCs relating to major agreements, delegation of their function, their financial and administrative functions and the appointment of their CEOs"."Strategic oversight" clearly means intervention and control by the NTAC rather than giving friendly advice.The NTAC would become the sole "Native Title representative body" in the NT, and provide "financial, technological and human resources support (at cost) for the RLCs".While Mr Reeves recommends a dramatic shift in decision making from an elected to an appointed body, at least for an indeterminate period, he is proposing a quantum leap in the handling of traditional land owners' financial entitlements.A large slice, some $35m a year, comes through the Aboriginal Benefit Reserve (ABR) mainly from mining royalties, paid to Aboriginal interests as a result of Federal laws which recognise prior Aboriginal ownership of land, damage done to it, and disruption to communities through mining.The companies pay royalties to the Commonwealth which in turn pays "royalty equivalents" where mining activities take place on Aboriginal land: 40 per cent goes towards funding the land councils; 30 per cent is paid to "affected communities", and 30 per cent is allocated, at the discretion of the land councils, for the the benefit of NT Aborigines, to projects for which documented proposals are made.The "affected communities" portion is paid to trusts, not to individuals, although a good deal of that money is ultimately spent on cars for individuals via order forms from the trusts.The land councils argue that royalties are private income, which is taxed, and which the recipients are entitled to spend as they please - even if foolishly: any Australian citizen has the same privilege.The CLC said in a submission: "As compensation payments, the application of mining royalty equivalents, or any replacement revenue, should be the prerogative of the intended beneficiaries."ASSETS 'SEIZED'The councils argue that to to "seize" that money from royalty associations, as well as existing assets, and put them at the discretion of the NTAC, as Mr Reeves proposes, would amount to confiscation of private assets.Mr Reeves goes further in his apparent recommendation of the NTAC's financial role, albeit by hint rather than clear recommendation.He says: "NTAC will be responsible for ... any other funds allocated to it by the Northern Territory and Commonwealth Governments or ATSIC."This could mean, in addition to the $35m from the ABR, some $167m from ATSIC, plus between $246m and $536m paid to the NT by the Commonwealth for Aboriginal programs.This would put up to $800m a year at the disposal of the NTAC which is answerable only to the NT Chief Minister and the Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister - a whole new interpretation of Aboriginal self-determination.In Mr Reeves' view, the "NTAC should develop an investment strategy, which is aimed at becoming self sufficient to the amount of income from a particular mining resource by the time that resource is estimated to be expended. The balance of the the ABR's funds should be expended by NTAC and the RLCs on programs for the cultural, social and economic advancement of Aboriginal Territorians."Mr Reeves proposes an "investment trust", acting as a bank for the RLCs - under the control of the NTAC, of course.The proposals for the RLCs themselves appear controversial.Any Aboriginal person "who has traditional affiliation to an area of land within the region, or who is a permanent resident of the region, is entitled to be a member of an RLC".This would create an explosive situation in Alice Springs, for example, where members of several language groups are "permanent residents" on Arrernte land.Mr Viner draws a link between the Reeves report and the NT push for statehood in his letter to Mr Stuart, written in May - before the unsuccessful referendum last month.(The letter was also a submission to Mr Reeves and is dealt with in his report.)Mr Viner writes about the NT Government's "unremitting opposition to land rights claims, their repetitive resort of anti-land rights propaganda and the ‘race card' at election after election" and now, through the [Reeves] review and the drive for statehood, about the push to "obtain compulsory acquisition powers over Aboriginal traditional lands ... the further diminishment of Aboriginal consent to mining, objection to native title and the denial of recognition within future constitutional arrangements of Aboriginal customary law and traditional rights".Mr Viner says the present Act requires land councils to be "subservient and answerable to the traditional owners" although an education program may be needed: "I think many traditional owners would be pleasantly surprised at how much independent control they in fact have over their own land and their own affairs."He says it is a "notorious part of recent history" that miners want to deal more directly with traditional owners because the miners think "they can get a better deal for themselves in this way than from having to negotiate with and through a land council".Mr Elferink says: "The land councils' job is to manage the land as directed by traditional owners.""Nearly all CLP members who spoke [on the Reeves Report] have said they support the ownership of Aboriginal land by Aboriginal people. "This includes Shane Stone. "The Reeves Review is full of quotes from land owners who say that the land councils consistently ignore them. "If this regionalisation is such a terrific idea, why did the land councils wait until they were forced into acting? "They are a statutory body created to serve a sector of the public."That means they are in essence a public service department. "If I want the assistance of a public servant in the management of my land I ask them, I don't expect to have [it] imposed upon me as is currently the case, for Aboriginal people," says Mr Elferink. "If it's good for you then it's good for them. People want control of their own land. What is so hard to understand about that? "For heaven's sake, if I had land in my possession that was about the size of a small European country and after 22 years of management by someone else I still was on the dole, I'd sack the bloody manager."Stuart MLA Peter Toyne says he welcomes news that the large land councils "are placing themselves on a strong regional footing, while retaining their powerful ability to provide strong legal and strategic advice."He says assertions that the mining companies don't like dealing with land councils isn't borne out."The Minerals Council told me they want to deal in an orderly process which the land councils can provide," says Mr Toyne."They also provide a guarantee that arrangements are held in place once negotiated."This provides certainty."Mr Toyne says the NT is "coming to a crunch point: how are the land tenure issues going to be negotiated in the future?"He says: "The confrontational approach by the NT Government has been closing off a lot of opportunities."With the amendments to the Native Title Act we have tremendous potential for enhanced Federal funding, with Canberra paying 75 per cent, providing we turn our backs on the confrontational route. Unfortunately, the NT government is preparing supplementary legislation more prone to generate legal combat than negotiated results," says Mr Toyne.


Chief Minister Shane Stone seems set to get his place in history as the father of Territory statehood after all - principally because he's made such a hash of it.His handling of the early part of the process, resulting in the defeat of the statehood referendum, has stirred substantial public interest after more than a decade of apathy.More than 60 people turned up to a hearing on Wednesday evening last week when the Legislative Assembly's standing committee visited Alice Springs.The four CLP and three Labor members had been busy all day hearing individual submissions.Mr Stone, who according to reliable sources is facing leadership challenges from at least three colleagues, is still casting a shadow over the proceedings: this week an ALP member of the committee, Peter Toyne, has threatened resignation if the Chief Minister doesn't "withdraw from the direct manipulation" of the statehood process.Mr Toyne says Mr Stone has commissioned an opinion poll, apparently investigating why some CLP supporters had voted "no" to statehood.Mr Toyne says the standing committee had not been informed in advance about the poll, had not been consulted on the questions being put to the public, and had been given no assurances about getting access to the results.Mr Toyne says this is undermining the work of the committee."How can Territorians be sure that the positions they put to us will be respected," says Mr Toyne.He says if he quits the committee he will work with Territorians for Democratic Statehood or "any other grassroots citizens' group" to further the statehood campaign.Meanwhile Steve Hatton, the committee's chairman, a former Chief Minister, is delighted with the public interest which he describes as "dramatically higher since the referendum"."I spent 12 years trying to get people to talk about it, with great difficulty, because it was in the too hard basket," says Mr Hatton."Someone else can worry about it [was the attitude]."The crisis, the controversy, have focussed people's minds."People always believed at some stage they'd be getting a say on this."For more than a decade we've been saying, this may seem like a politicians' show, but when we've finished the job, we'll be handing it over to you."What happened was that it wasn't handed over to the people, and it was seen to be still under the control of politicians."That's when the people burred up."Mr Hatton says the current Territory-wide hearings so far have shown an overwhelming desire for statehood, but the process must "involve the people. It can't be seen to be driven by politicians".He says the public wants to better understand the issues, "both sides of the argument".Mr Hatton says the message the committee is getting is "take your time and make sure you do it properly."There's some interesting debate about how you put together a convention on the constitution, and how you get people involved in the constitutional process."A lot of people were dissatisfied with the processes earlier this year because none of those criteria were met."Mr Hatton says at the Alice Springs meeting - packing the town council's Garden Room - there were two outstanding messages.One came from a Filipino migrant."I've only been here eight years but this is very important to me, because this is the legacy I'll be leaving to my children and my grandchildren," Mr Hatton summarises the man's comment. "So this has got to be done properly."And a lady was saying, what's absolutely critical is the whole process has got to have integrity, and be seen to have integrity."That is an underlying message we're getting throughout the Territory," says Mr Hatton."People are very critical of politicians because of what has occurred this year."What's important is that we set the process moving down the road but we don't try to control the direction it's going."The people have got to feel they are in control of this, particularly the constitution issues."Mr Hatton, whose committee is due to report to the April Assembly sittings next year, says the statehood process "could be a great vehicle for Territorians to come to grips with what the Territory is all about, and amongst ourselves, as Territorians, set future directions."This is where we're going, this is how we're going there, how we live together, and how we're governed to achieve that outcome."Mr Hatton says a key task is to seek public views about how detailed and prescriptive the constitution should be.He says it needs to at least provide a broad framework of government, but "how complex do you get beyond that point?"Are there things that no government should ever interfere with?"He says there have been several calls to include a Bill of Rights in the constitution: "You can take it to the extreme. "You can put down every little thing you can do and can't do."It's a judgment thing. People need to work through on that."The constitution has got to reflect the nature of the community you live in, your own history, your own environment."No one thing works everywhere in the world."And don't confuse state constitutions with national constitutions."He says the often quoted South African constitution is a "national constitution for a federation of states. "We're hoping to be one of the constituent states in the Australian Federation."You can define all the rights, such as in the American model."They have the right to bear arms and the right to privacy."And then you have a whole swathe of court cases defining what that means."People got off murder charges because the police who found the body in the boot didn't have a search warrant to look in the boot."I don't think Australians want that level of involvement."There could be some rights, you could say, no government can ever interfere with, and you may want to protect those rights by putting them into your constitution."But the case is, the more detail you put in your constitution, the more you put today's value systems in place."Mr Hatton says we can't be sure that this would reflect the value systems of the future."It's a balance between providing those essential protections versus hamstringing yourself by going into too much detail."The convention process would need to talk this through."He says the fundamental question is, "how do we make sure that the government of the day is going to be accountable and answerable to the people."While governments need to be elected to govern, openness is the best safeguard of the public interest."You don't hide the decisions. The executive in our system is accountable to the Parliament."Bills of Rights, Freedom of Information, constitutional independence of auditors general, ombudsmen - all get raised."The difficulties of a very small Parliament is that the executive is such a large part of that Parliament."The ACT are exploring the possibility of moving away from the Westminster style Parliamentary system into an executive government system, where there is a directly elected Chief Minister who will form a Cabinet from within and outside the Parliament, and there is a different function for the legislature, more along the lines of the American model."That's part of the checks and balances, too."The earlier process had dealt with recognition of Aboriginal law: "There was a clear acceptance that something needs to be done to recognise this, that we're living in a two law society at the moment."There's got to be a clear recognition of the realities of the Northern Territory and its people, particularly the significant Aboriginal population."It's finding how to get an accommodation between the Aboriginal traditional community, the ethnic community."How do we make these laws compatible, to bring them together into a single body of law?"We're an extraordinarily multicultural community."How do we reflect that in our aspirations?"No other constitution has ever attempted to do that."Mr Hatton says the strong voice of the Aboriginal lobby "is going to be a threat", but the question is, "how much faith do you have in the people?"Have faith that they'll talk it through, from both sides, and find a middle ground everyone can live with."That's the challenge for us."If you sit them down to talk to each other, maybe they'll work it out."It's all about having the courage to allow it to happen, and allowing the time to do it."Mr Hatton says the public hearings are an important part of the process but are prone to be dominated by special interests."I'll be more interested in getting a feel for it through the broader opinion polls, when you get to the people who don't go to meetings, but who do go in and vote."Mr Hatton says there is no easy answer to the focus on race issues, at the expense of most others, in Territory elections."My experience, particularly in the last three or four elections, is that the race issues have actually been raised by the Opposition."The Labor Party depend on the Aboriginal vote to get any seats in Parliament, virtually, except for two in Darwin."If they can have Aborigines believing the CLP are anti Aboriginal, they can keep their seats up."Labor are pushing the race issue and they are looking for an opportunity to generate it."I know governments have tried very hard not to get involved in the race argument but are being sucked into it."Mr Hatton is blunt about his opposition to electoral systems that would favour minorities."There's an argument that we should have two houses of Parliament."It's not a view I hold."People who can't get a majority are seeking "to sneak in through this proportional representation bit: if five per cent of the people vote for me I get five per cent of the seats."That's a very self interested argument, coming from people who're going to be advantaged by it."I don't blame them for pushing those causes. I blame them for not getting their act together. People should blame them for not getting their act together."Don't blame the winners. Blame the losers for being so bad. "That's the bottom line."If there was an alternative, people would change the government. "But they can't see an alternative, and that's a reflection on the Labor Party, not on the CLP. I'm not prepared to accept criticism because the Labor Party is hopeless."Some minorities have "some rather strange, way-out ideas that don't reflect the views of the broad community effectively controlling the agenda."I find it absolutely obnoxious that some old man from Tasmania, who for years has been milking the system to overfund Tasmania [in exchange for] his vote in the Senate" can set a national agenda."Two or three other people on the 12th ticket, which means they have about seven or eight per cent of the vote, are saying, [after] we've had a whole election campaign on the GST, they argued against it and now have a mandate to stop it happening. I think the party that's doing it ought to change their name - they're not democrats."If some "splinter group" prevents the government from honouring their election promise, "that's obnoxious".Mr Hatton says: "That's the big danger of some of these super democratic electoral processes. You end up with minority governments."There is a balance between democratic government and effective government."The government must be able to make not the popular decisions, but also the critically important hard decisions."Tasmania is a basket case, and has been a basket case for years and years, [because] of minority governments."We've seen these problems in Queensland emerging with this minority government structure, and in NSW. In New Zealand they never know who is going to be the Prime Minister tomorrow. That's the balance people have to think through."Meanwhile, in the Territory, where Australia's first constitution in 100 years is in the making, Mr Hatton says "the people are saying, just let go of the reins for a minute, let us do this."The challenge for the politicians is whether they have the courage to do that."


The older we get, the more we realise that we need to take care of ourselves if we wish to continue to enjoy the energy and activity we took for granted in our younger years. "Life Be In It" and similar campaigns remind us from time to time of the importance of keeping active in fun ways and eating the right foods. Living in Australia, particular Central Australia, the "Slip, Slop, Slap" campaign to slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen and slap on a hat, becomes even more meaningful at this time of the year. Attending my appointment at NT Breast Screen last week, reminded me that cancer is not necessarily the fatal disease that we once all thought it to be, although when it happens to us, or those near and dear to us, we quite naturally fear the worse. Early detection improves the likelihood of successful treatment and survival. As a woman with a family and a number of responsibilities, I'd prefer to know as early as possible if there's a problem that requires attention. Seeking regular screening tests gives me peace of mind. As part of everyday life all women should carry out breast self-examination which is examining the breasts yourself, once a month. You can learn how to do this from your doctor or the professional staff of organisations such as the Family Planning Association. Leaflets are also available. The other type of screening is a medical examination by your doctor once a year. Additionally a Pap smear every two years gives you the best chance of preventing the most common type of cancer of the cervix. While it is important to seek medical help if unusual symptoms occur at any time, once over 50, men should have a check of the prostate (a small gland located below the bladder which is part of the male reproductive system), and women a mammogram (x-ray of the breasts). Primarily a disease of older men, prostate cancer is rarely found in males under 50 but is one of the most common cancers in men over 55. Yearly medical check ups for men 50 years and over appears to be the best advice at the moment for detecting and treating this problem. Prostate cancer is usually a slow growing cancer. Many men who discover they have this type of cancer continue to enjoy a good lifestyle for years after it has been diagnosed. While there is ongoing research into better screening techniques and improved treatments for all types of cancers, one of the more recent benefits of medical technology for women has been introduction of mammograms which assists with the early detection of breast cancer. NT Breast Screen - Central Australia, which is part of Territory Health Services (THS), has been operating in the Alice with a visiting service to Tennant Creek, for a number of years now. In fact this was my second check-up, for having passed that certain age I have now made it a part of my lifestyle. The service is well-run, friendly and efficient. My appointment took precisely 20 minutes from the moment I walked in the door to the time I left. This is a service of which THS can justly be proud. The staff are meeting target numbers, and an increasing number of Aboriginal women and migrants who do not speak English as their first language are accessing the clinic. If you believe you may have a problem you should see your doctor first for this is a screening clinic not a diagnostic service. NT Breast Screen is free for women over forty, and those who are between 50 and 69 years of age are especially encouraged to attend. You do not need a referral from your doctor. If, as is the case from time to time, a check-up reveals a problem, do follow your doctor's advice and don't hesitate to seek assistance from the groups and organisations that are experienced in helping those diagnosed with cancer. Talk about what's on your mind and ask questions, particularly if something is not clear. Make good use of support groups - they are a valuable source of help, encouragement and friendship. There are some who feel most embarrassed at the thought of having check-ups. While tests can be embarrassing, they can save your life. The competing demands of work and family often see us put ourselves and our health last, but if we don't take care of ourselves, how can we do our best for others. So don't delay. Make that phone call for your check-up today. And make regular examinations part of your life. Contacts: NT Breast Screen : 132050 (cost of local call); Alice Springs Cancer Council: 8951 5887; Family Planning Association: 8953 0288.
[The quote in the heading is from George Bernard Shaw.]


Sir,- I have grave misgivings about the statehood process, and the direction that it appears to be working in.It is apparently about "ways to facilitate the statehood process".This could be interpreted as "let's ignore the results of the referendum, the silly buggers really do want statehood, they just don't know it yet. All we need to do is spend a few more millions of the taxpayers money shoving it down their throats".A more realistic approach would be to examine what the government is offering as "statehood".There are many things that the community is concerned about. Government accountability, freedom of information, and land rights, to name a few.However, I submit that one of the things that is a serious concern is the issue of Senate representation. This is being swept under the carpet. It is "to be dealt with later".Why ? Because nobody is even suggesting that the proposed new "State of the Northern Territory" will get full statehood rights. We will not get 12 Senators. We might get three or four.So what we are being offered is not "statehood". It is second class statehood. Most people probably don't see it as much different to what we've got, and when you stack up all the other concerns, it's not really worth it.But of course 12 Senators is ridiculous! Is it? Perhaps. But that does not mean that the NT should accept second class statehood.Citizens of the NT deserve the same constitutional representation as the other citizens of Australia. Clearly the proposal on offer does not give them that. I submit that this is one reason why it has been rejected.It is also clear that under the present Federal constitution this problem is not likely to be resolved. The answer is to change the Federal constitution.Now the people of the NT cannot do this, but we should be able to present this situation to the Australian people, and convince them that change is necessary.The conservatives in the Australian community always come up with the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" response to proposals for constitutional change.In this case I think that we can prove that it is "broke". The people of the NT cannot get equal political representation under the present system.What kind of change is required ? There are many possibilities, but I submit that the most sensible one, even though it is a radical change, is to abolish the states, form sensible geopolitical regions, and have a two tier system of government. Is this impossible ?Let us say that we define a region of Central Australia, as roughly within a radius of about 600 km from Alice Springs, including bits of WA and Qld, and a fair bit of northern SA.I submit that if we conducted a referendum offering an autonomous regional government, equal to regional governments in the rest of Australia, it would be carried overwhelmingly.Repeat that line of argument with all the other sensible geopolitical regions in Australia, and I submit that the idea of radical change becomes feasible. Senate representation could then be based on these regions, not on arbitrary lines drawn on maps by people who had never seen most of the country they were dividing up.Where is the famous Territory pioneering spirit? Are we going to sit back and be content with a proposal for second class statehood, or are we going to grab the opportunity to lead the rest of the country in making sensible, much needed changes to our national constitution?And let's not be bulldozed by an arbitrary date, or an anniversary. It may take a bit longer than that, but it will be worth it.
Dr Charlie Carter
Alice Springs


What will it be like to live in Central Australia in 15 to 20 years' time? And will you want to?Imagine - and it is not far fetched - that there is a sharp decline in the availability of fossil fuels worldwide. Will we be poised to take up the opportunities such an event would present this sun-drenched country, or would we have stagnated as an unimaginative, service provision economy?A two day seminar conducted in late October by the Northern Territory Research and Development Advisory Council (NTRDAC) asked participants to consider scenarios for the future of Alice Springs and Central Australia.Participants included representatives of Territory and local governments, industry, Aboriginal organisations, researchers, and visiting experts Ron Johnston (Sydney University), Barney Foran (CSIRO Canberra, Resource Futures Project) and Roger Smith, Secretary, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.Professor Johnston, Director of the Australian Centre for Innovation and International Competitiveness, is known internationally for his expertise in scenario planning. Bruce Walker, Director of the Alice-based Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) says participants went away "fully committed" to this process of "foresighting", which developed three scenarios under the headings : "Grim and Grimmer", "The Great Awakening", and "The Sky is the Limit"."Under the ‘Grim and Grimmer' or ‘more of the same', scenario, the whole group was almost in shock," says Dr Walker. "The conclusion was definitely that we cannot afford not to think about this."Such a scenario extrapolates from an economic rationalist present, where there is a focus on efficiencies, the cost of service provision, and on crime and social disorder, to a future where Alice Springs has become a welfare and service provision town, with the cost of those services, especially in remote areas, having risen, leading to an urban drift throughout the region."People being people, they will follow the services," says Dr Walker. "It's been a pattern worldwide."That scenario doesn't hold out a lot of hope for a lot of people."For business people it presents a local market that is fairly depressed in its ability to spend." Dr Walker cites outsourcing as one trend that in a relatively small centre like Alice Springs could contribute to such a future. "In a larger centre institutionalised companies with quality assurance systems to back them up, are able to provide some stability of service despite a range of fluctuating factors including staff turnover and rapid technological change. SMALLER FIRMS"But in a small centre without institutional backup, you can have smaller and smaller businesses trying to provide services, with people getting burnt out or making their money and going elsewhere. "So, in our context , the logic that justifies outsourcing might not be totally relevant."Approaches to native title and land rights are also worth thinking about in terms of the future.Dr Walker explains: "In 15 years time, it may well be that the sort of technologies that are on the horizon now will require large tracts of land to accommodate huge arrays of solar panels. "In order for those technologies to be successful, and provide work and opportunity for everyone, we are going to have to cut a [land] deal with Aboriginal people. "If we extrapolate from short term policies that are under way, not only in relation to land issues but also in areas of education and the justice system, will the people who become the Aboriginal leaders then and are currently suffering those experiences now, will they want to cut these deals? "These are the linkages that we need to think about."On the issues of land rights and native title, as soon as you leap forward to a scenario 15 years ahead, which presumes that you have resolved these issues amicably, and then work backwards, you find it's much easier to see solutions now. "People will know why they are going into a regional agreement, whereas at the moment, all they can see is that they're losing things, and they don't know what's out there."This is the sort of "awakening" envisaged in the second scenario. The third scenario goes further, trying to conceptualise a radical breakthrough.Dr Walker: "You not only make structural changes but you also get some hits along the way. "You might, for example, interest an oil rich country whose reserves have suddenly dropped, to invest in renewable energy, to set up something here that dramatically changes the local economy."That scenario title is ‘The Sky is the Limit', and perhaps our solution here is in the sky, in its clarity, the clean air, the lack of humidity, the isolation from other centres, the lack of electronic pollution."There's a whole lot of factors that we don't explore because we don't have a research capacity of any strength in the arid zone. "All the research is done on the coastal belt, largely driven by people who live in urban environments. Their sensitivity to certain issues that might spark an opportunity is not honed, they're not out here in the dust and heat trying to grapple with it."In this scenario we are suggesting that we focus more attention on doing some of that research in the arid zone."Alice Springs could be the focal point of the area of Australia's greatest untapped potential. "We could take a view which says we are the largest town in this zone, what are we going to do about it, what sort of leadership do we need to develop this?"Dr Walker says Tennant Creek has shown the way."They've been able to reach a community consensus that says we need to do something about our future, not just sit here and complain that all the mines are closing."They're trying to reposition themselves and get on some larger agendas, without the help of having any high level research capacity up there." With the sky as the limit, imagine an Alice Springs with 50 per cent of the houses using 50 per cent less embodied energy, harvesting water and using resource-conserving waste treatment processes. Imagine the attraction of such innovation to the eco- and techno-tourism sectors.ALICE TOWER?Imagine Alice Springs with a built icon, something comparable to the Eiffel Tower - why not? - a symbol of engineering excellence in its day and now a tourist attraction and the icon for one of the great cities of the world.But, "you've got to invest in that", Dr Walker reminds us."They paid a lot more for the Sydney Opera House than it appeared to be economically wise to do, but look at the reward!"There are opportunities for us to do that but we've got to have a sense of why we are doing it and where it might lead to, and who it might invite."It may be that while we have the bright ideas we may not have the critical mass of intelligence to actually drive these things through, but my sense is that there are a group of people in town who could map out a positive future that doesn't disadvantage anybody. "It just requires a community consensus which says we do believe this community has a future and we want to hitch it to something. "The only thing that makes us different, that gives us a market niche, is where we are and the geographic and cultural mix that's here. "How do we build on that and strengthen it?"NEXT WEEK: Governance is one of the issues that may require debate.


Alice Springs' energy needs may one day be met by solar power generators, but while research continues into renewable energy sources in Australia, over the next 10 years the greatest energy savings will come about by better use of existing energy sources. This point was made by Dr Dean Patterson of the NT University's Centre for Energy Studies speaking at a seminar on renewable energy held in Alice Springs last week.The seminar organised by the NT Research and Development Advisory Council brought together industry and research organisations including Alice Springs' Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT). These NT organisations are linked to other researchers through the Australian Cooperative Research Centre for Renewable Energy (CRC) and others.As well as renewable energy, the CRC has a brief to investigate greenhouse gas abatement technologies. The six hardware programs the CRC is researching cover power generation, energy efficiency, energy storage, power conditioning, systems integration and efficiency of energy use in buildings.Power generation programs are focusing on solar and wind turbine power, though there are tidal power experiments on Bathurst and Melville Islands as well. Solar energy still faces the barrier of the high production costs of solar cells. A way around this is to use fewer cells but better focusing of solar energy onto them using curved mirrors or big dishes which track the sun.A proposal some years ago to install 27 big solar dishes in Tennant Creek failed due to the capital cost of around $20m and the high price of the power generated. The array of dishes was estimated to produce power at about 10c per kilowatt hour compared to the best power price of 1.8c per kW/hour on the Sydney spot market.Keith Preswell of NTU said Alice Springs climate means that is "one of the best towns for solar energy" and it could "be a neat little plum in that industry". However this is still some time away. He said technology changes will make larger conventional power stations less competitive. Under national competition policy anyone with the appropriate licences should be able to produce power and feed it into the grids. Already a consortium, represented by former Chief Minister Paul Everingham, has forced the NT's Power And Water Authority (PAWA) into a rethink with their bid to use the Mt Todd Gold Mine power plant to supply electricity to the NT grid. CAT can already put power into the Alice grid from a solar array but only on an experimental basis, not commercially.Research continues on wind powered turbines, especially smaller units for remote communities. The wind turbine at Coober Pedy has a 160 kW capacity but the future seems to lie in units producing a quarter to an eighth of this. If they can prove to be viable here, there is a huge market throughout SE Asia to provide power for remote villages.New efficient generators and electrical motors will make the new systems more viable. An improved motor is one feature of an NTU project which has produced a more efficient ceiling fan. The blades look like a ship's propeller, and it also features a conical cowling, between the ceiling and the blades, that creates better airflow.Storing power generated by systems relying on erratic wind or solar energy is still a problem. Zinc bromide batteries are improving as are thermochemical systems. This later system centres on solar heat being used to split ammonia based gas into its components, then generating power as needed from the controlled recombining of the gasses. It will return 95 per cent of the stored energy compared to only 75 per cent of the energy in the zinc bromide battery.Power conditioning means efficiently controlling power generated by mixed systems incorporating wind, solar or diesel, balancing the advantages of each for maximum benefit. For example this might mean sophisticated computer control of the household solar hot water system electrical booster. MIXED SYSTEMSSystems integration examines how well mixed conventional and renewable systems work in the field and tries to develop standards and protocols for new systems. CAT has been analysing mixed systems in remote communities. It cites unrealistic expectations of the reliability of systems and inadequate maintenance as huge problems. These factors resulted in only about 60 per cent of mixed systems in the remote communities studied working properly. Due to the enormous costs associated with sending maintenance teams from major centres to service faulty units, for many communities reliability of power generators is more important than their energy efficiency. Hybrid diesel / solar systems still tended to cost more that diesel systems alone. Much of the work in the NT into the energy efficiency of buildings is going into controlling heat light exchange through windows. This includes electrically controllable window tinting to block between 20 to 80 per cent of light. Passive light control might be achieved by glass that blocks light at certain angles for example hot afternoon sun during summer. Other systems use outside light but redirect it while dissipating its heat.While we learn more through research about energy efficiency there was some concern our power wants are escalating and we are forgetting some old techniques. One participant at the seminar was horrified to note several new buildings in Alice going up with no shading roof eaves.For most of us our main interaction with renewable energy will remain a shower with hot water from our roof top solar system. Its design is about 30 years old. Inadequate maintenance leading to their destruction, and the high cost of hauling a new one onto the roof, remain barriers to their wider use.


The Alice Springs Art Foundation has been able to acquire two works submitted to the Alice Prize in addition to the winning canvas by Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff) artist Marlee Napurrula.One is G.W.Bot's Drought. Said judge Alan Dodge, Director of the Art Gallery of WA: "Although it's not apparent at first, this is actually a linocut, a print process on paper. "It almost looks as though it was done with watercolour. "It has an oriental sensibility about it, I found it very beautiful."He also recommended the more expensive acquisition of Maria Buchner's Stream of Gold Project , photographic documentation of a land art project in the desert."Maria has painted stones with gold leaf, placed them along a path [perhaps a dry creekbed] in the outback, which she has then photographed."They almost imply a narrative, they add a lyricism and poetry to an already dramatic setting. I loved the idea."FINALISTSIngo Kleinert, Hossein Valamanesh and Tanya Hoddinott were the other artists in Mr Dodge's group of "finalists". Kleinert's Red Black Country "evokes landscape by forcing textures, probably with acids, on old iron assembled in a gridded composition."The textures are beautiful."Valamanesh, an Iranian immigrant to Australia, has created a work about a "sense of displacement", titled Longing Belonging 1997.A photograph documents a small camp fire lit in the middle of a Persian rug in bushland. The rug itself is displayed in front of the photograph, with the burnt hole filled with a "wonderfully deadpan black, almost sucking you into a vortex." Finally, Hoddinott's The Letter impressed for being "very well painted, using a set a symbols as if the canvas were in some diaristic or archeological relationship to someone's life. "There are little hints, words like love, open, friend, a clock representing time, and symbols of cats, trees, houses, a church, implying a whole narrative which might have been contained in a letter."It's got a really nice surface, the overpainting letting all the texture from behind act as one of the dynamics of the painting."The Alice Prize - the 29th presented by the hard-working foundation - shows at Araluen till Sunday. Meanwhile, a small show of Ikuntji painters can be seen at Gallery Gondwana in Todd Mall till November 29.

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