March 10, 1999


MLA for Stuart, Peter Toyne, says that Neighbourhood Watch figures for property crime in Alice Springs do not indicate any decrease since the introduction of mandatory sentencing for property offences in March 1997."In fact the Neighbour-hood Watch figures indicate a change in the other direction," says Mr Toyne."There's been an increase not only in the total value of goods stolen but perhaps a marginal increase in the number of crimes being committed. "There's certainly no evidence of a strong decrease."With Chief Minister Denis Burke looking at extending mandatory sentencing to cover more serious crimes, Mr Toyne says it is time for the Government to convince the electorate that the policy is working."Mandatory sentencing is a public policy, involving the expenditure of public monies to an announced objective for the health and wealth of the community," he says."The basic justification of putting the program in place was to reduce property crime."Clearly, there is some responsibility on the part of Government to give the electorate some feedback on whether that policy is having the desired effect."Mr Toyne says there has been "a wall of silence" on the outcomes of mandatory sentencing:"The only figures that have been publicly announced were those by former Chief Minister Shane Stone some six or seven months after the policy was brought into effect."They were simply a mishmash of police figures with no cause and effect issues dealt with. "To get a full picture you would need to know the property crime rates, the police charging rates, which charges end up in court, which ones attract a mandatory sentence, how often people re-offend after being punished – which would give us some idea of whether it's a deterrent or not. "You'd have to know imprisonment numbers, and you'd actually have to interview detainees as to whether they consider mandatory sentencing was a factor in whether they did or didn't commit crimes."Mr Toyne says he has written to every department which would provide information of this kind, including the courts, the police, and correctional services, but has got nowhere.OFFICIAL FIGURES"They're basically saying it's too hard or they're not in a position to release figures," he says.He admits his graphs based on the month by month Neighbourhood Watch figures are "rough and ready" in statistical terms."All I am saying is that on face value they don't show any decrease, and if those figures aren't accurately reflecting what's going on, then the Government should give us some figures which do, which show that it is actually working as a policy, or else review the policy and go in another direction that may give us a better result."It doesn't make any sense to throw even more money at what might be a flawed public policy."What we do know about it is that it is cluttering up the courts, filling the detention centres and gaols to capacity, and it's costing us a very large amount of money. Against that, you would want a result for the public's concern about property crime."The Chief Minister had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.


During a recent discussion with some Alice Springs businessmen, we did some crystal ball gazing regarding the ways in which the Centralian economy could expand beyond its present size. Our starting point was the fact that the Centralian economy has been relatively stagnant and that the size of Alice Springs is also static. I put the proposition that, short of the discovery of a major new mining precinct, there was nothing around at present which could significantly grow the region's economic activity – except regional agreements under the provisions of the Native Title Act.What has got me excited about the possibilities of regional agreements is a recent (and self-funded!) trip to visit our cousins in Kiwiland. I arrived in the South Island at the time that the government had just concluded the Kai Tahu Land Claim with the Maori people, a success coming after 150 years of false starts in the time since the Treaty of Waitangi.What I saw was $170m being injected into the tourism, horticulture, pastoralism and fisheries sectors of the stagnant South Island economy. Instead of being individually compensated, the Maori traditional land owners were being assisted into a significant role in productive commercial developments. In most cases their new stakeholdings complement those of other emerging business ventures in the region. Many of the arrangements bring Maori strengths into the economy as a whole. More effective exploitation of the famous greenstone jewellery will occur, Maori knowledge will be available to the management and conservation of the natural resources of the island, and new land use developments will occur in a clear framework, rather than being held in limbo. Gaining a significant place in the economy represents the best chance for the Maori people to reduce their reliance of welfare and to support themselves in many other ways. People running businesses and working in regular jobs get sick less and become more skilled. Also apparent was the end of the decades of antagonism, mutual suspicion, and downright bloody-mindedness which had dogged the relationship between the government and Maori groups – sounds familiar doesn't it! Many problems have been put aside in this new spirit of reconciliation. For example, continuing Maori ownership of Mt Cook national park was acknowledged by the government, and the area was immediately deeded back to the New Zealand people for their use and enjoyment.It makes you wonder what could be put together in Centralia with a lavish helping of honesty and goodwill. The federal government has a standing offer to put up 75 per cent of compensation funds where regional agreements are forged under Native Title. That could allow us to bring in $100 million in Centralian development for an NT outlay of $25 million. Imagine what an injection of this level of new development could do for our region!There are lots of good ideas around which could be built on. The Land Council is keen to undertake a major citrus development in the North-East, we have been talking about the Outback Highway to create a major new East-West route across Australia. We have not even started to exploit the potential of Aboriginal culture as a tourist attraction, and what about a major development in the production of media and infotainment based on the region's unique environment and culture. In Shane Stone's time as Chief Minister the very mention of the term Native Title would bring on a fire and brimstone speech somewhat akin to the ancient prophets of doom. During the last sittings of parliament however, Denis Burke signalled a major departure from this stance when he expressed support for "settlement where appropriate" and voted in a motion of parliament to this effect. If he is serious, let's get a process going – one which seeks out common interest rather than further division.


Despite a $1m injection of funds from the Commonwealth, administered by the Northern Territory Department of Arts and Museums (DAM) over the last two years, regional arts appear to be having less money spent on them: one third less in 1997-98, compared to 1995-96 figures.What money has been spent seems to have been done so without any vision of realising the very significant potential, cultural and economic, that the arts have in the Territory.The Regional Arts Fund, amounting to $6m Australia-wide, was devolved to the states and territories by the Commonwealth arts body, the Australia Council.The Australia Council says that with the fund it "particularly seeks to encourage increased recognition of the distinctive qualities which characterise regional arts practice; to encourage new partners and supporters for arts activity in regional areas; to increase opportunities for regional artists to undertake professional development; and to better promote the Council's programs throughout regional Australia."The Territory fared well under the scheme, considering the size of its population: its allocation was $1m over two years, compared to, for instance, Western Australia, which received $900,000 over the same period for a much larger population spread over a greater land mass.The size of the Territory's allocation undoubtedly reflects the outstanding contribution that Aboriginal artists from regions around the Territory, and in particular from the central desert regions, have made to Australian culture nationally and internationally, all this in spite of their environmental and resource disadvantages.In 1997-98, according to figures in the Tourism Monitor, there was a spend of $50m on Aboriginal arts and crafts in the Northern Territory (compared to a national figure of some $70m). Over half of this amount was spent in Central Australia.One might have thought then that the extra $1m in the Regional Arts Fund would have been astutely used to develop exciting and very substantial initiatives to take regional arts – indigenous and non-indigenous, for the two are importantly linked – into the next century.But a comparison between the 1997-98 Annual Reports of DAM and the Western Australian Ministry for Culture and the Arts is depressing.DAM reports that a Regional Arts and Cultural development strategy has been implemented. The emphasis of the strategy is on "facilitating collaborative partnerships between artists, arts organisations, local, Territory and federal government[s]."The only activities considered worth specifying are a $22,000 funding package to Katherine in the aftermath of the Australia Day Floods, the conduct of Arts Tax, Arts Law and Business, and Arts Marketing workshops, and the development of presenter groups and regional touring.Money was otherwise spent on sponsoring some 99 initiatives "with an average sponsorship of $4533 where an average of 18 artists were involved per project." By contrast, in Western Australia the Regional Arts Fund does not appear to have been used for sponsorships, which have continued to be allocated from the state-wide budget, with regional arts a stated priority in all categories. It has been used rather to undertake big regional projects with a long term view such as, among others: $185,600 for oral history projects throughout the state; $165,000 for projects coordinated by Country Arts WA, including the appointment of a regional development officer in the Goldfields and an indigenous arts officer; $135,000 towards Aboriginal youth arts development in the Pilbara; $75,000 towards the development of a contemporary arts space at Kellerberrin (a little town on the highway between Perth and Kalgoorlie, with a shire population of just 1400!); $70,000 for the appointment of a part-time literature officer in Broome.A substantial sum was also allocated to the promotion and development of a local government cultural development strategy.The Regional Arts Fund in Western Australia will, it would seem, leave a lasting legacy, while in the Territory, whatever the worth of the many individual sponsored projects, it will soon become no more than a fleeting detail of funding arrangements.Further, the boost to regional arts coffers that these funding arrangements should have allowed has not occurred.According to the Annual Report of the then Office of the Arts and Cultural Affairs for the years 1995-96, the regions benefited from $1,596,400 in arts sponsorship.With the advent of the Regional Arts Fund, in 1997-98, it would be reasonable to assume that this amount would increase quite significantly.Yet the 1997-98 Annual Report of what is now the Department of Arts and Museums states that the regions received only $1.08 million, which represents a decrease from 1995-96 of $516,400 or approximately 30 per cent.The total allocation in NT arts sponsorship in 1995-96 amounted to $2,733,000. This has decreased in 1997-98 to $2,570,992. However, this decrease of $162,000 is significantly less than that suffered by the regions, where meanwhile substantial new resources were supposed to have come into play.The Alice Springs News asked DAM's Chief Executive Officer Sylvia Langford why, in dollar terms, regional arts had not been improved by the advent of the Regional Arts Fund? The News also asked if the fund been used in part to relieve the NT Government of financial responsibility for arts in the regions, and how DAM expected that the Regional Arts Fund would make a significant long-term difference to the development of the arts in the regions, given the way it has been spent to date?No answers to these questions, faxed to the Department last Thursday, had been received at the time of going to press.


After a year on the road talking to people in the bush about what it is like living outside the cities, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has published its Bush Talks Report.Commissioner Chris Sidoti, releasing the report, said that "after 12 months of travelling around the country, I am distressed by the growing gap between city and country".While there are a lot of great opportunities in the bush, many, especially if they are poor, young or black, apparently find that the most basic opportunities, or rights, like health, education and respect, come hard.The report says: "Far from being cherished in public policy, children and young people throughout Australia bear the brunt of unemployment, reduced services, diminishing income support and increasingly punitive criminal justice processes."Mandatory sentencing in Western Australia and the Northern Territory were cited in the report as abuses of rights, particularly those of youths. At the talks in Alice Spring, youths were critical of their relationship with police, talking of harassment and the effect of being banned from places like Todd Mall.On this point as well as some others apparently made in the report, the document has come under fire from NT Assistant Commissioner of Police Bruce Wernham.Mr Wernham has criticised the report as "factually incorrect" and lacking "a balanced perspective". He says the NT Police are not fining people for loitering on the street, nor are they issuing restraining orders or trespass notices to keep them away from the Mall. "Individual citizens, shop and shopping centre owners have the right to issue trespass notices against people who have caused problems or committed offences such as damaging property or stealing."Action to remove people from private property is the right of any citizen."The public would also expect police to question juveniles acting inappropriately, which young people may interpret as harassment. For example, police frequently speak with juveniles in the area of nightclubs and shopping centres in the early hours of the morning, because we constantly get complaints from the public about graffiti and vandalism in these areas," Mr Wernham says.Mr Wernham also denies that there are armed private security guards patrolling Alice Springs."It should be made clear that private security guards can be armed only on payroll escorts in the Northern Territory," Mr Wernham says.He says that police commissioners around Australia have agreed that police should form a strategic alliance with security organisations. "While we don't walk away from our own role in dealing with public order, it would be unrealistic to suggest that private security does not have a role to play," says Mr Wernham.Mr Sidoti had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.ATSIC Chairman Gatjil Djerrkura says the report shows "indigenous and non-indigenous Australians face the same basic problems, but Bush Talks illustrates graphically how the additional problems of racial intolerance and ignorance about indigenous culture drive the levels of indigenous disadvantage even deeper."The commission along with the Australian Law Reform Commission is developing national standards for juvenile justice. The commission will also publish a guide for government and welfare workers on protecting children's interestsThe negative attitudes to youth makes finding housing difficult for them and crisis accommodation is stretched to the limit.The report says: "Many young people feel pessimism and despair. Alarming youth suicide figures mask disturbing trends in unsuccessful suicide attempts and depression in rural and remote communities."Beneath the tip of the iceberg of suicide lies the much larger issue of youth mental health. Depression is now one of the most common mental health problems experienced by young people. It is frequently a cause of significant problems such as school failure, family and peer disengagement and substance misuse. It is a major factor for youth suicide." "Between one half and three quarters of all suicides are linked to depression", according to a submission from the National Health and Medical Research Council.Gay and lesbian youth in rural areas also make up a large proportion of youth suicides. Their rights and proposals for support networks will be addressed in another follow up report from the commission.As part of the consultations Commissioner Sidoti and staff spent five days in Central Australia last October, visiting Alice Springs, Yuendumu, Papunya and Tennant Creek.In Alice Springs commission staff held a public meeting hosted by the hospital. It also met with the NT Cattlemen's Association, the Papunya Regional Council, young people and youth workers at a meeting hosted by the Alice Springs Youth Accommodation and Support Services (ASYASS), and they toured Aranda House and the new Alice Springs Goal. In all they spoke to people in 25 rural and remote communities including Kalgoorlie WA, Biloela Qld, Port Augusta and Peterborough in SA.The report gives an overall view of rural and remote Australia compared to the capital cities. Central Australian consultations and submissions are quoted in the report but as illustrations of larger problems many people face.Access to health services, cuts to services and the ill health of rural populations was a central concern of the Bush Talks.The Catholic Welfare Commission submission says: "Research suggests that the general health of rural people is, by urban standards, very poor. Rural populations have above average rates of premature mortality and death through heart disease, cancer, suicide and tuberculosis. Poverty and the associated family problems which arise from income deprivation are higher in rural than urban areas. The health status of Aborigines is disgraceful. Aborigines have a mortality rate over four times that of non-Aboriginal people and life expectancy is about 20 years lower."The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare submission says: "The level of expenditure per available hospital bed declines sharply with increasing rurality, for both public and private hospitals. In 1995- 96 the rate of expenditure in comparison to ‘capital cities' was 20 per cent less in large rural centres and 54 per cent in the remainder of Australia".There is a shortage of mental health services throughout rural Australia especially considering the higher incidence of male suicide in the bush.A submission from the Aboriginal Health Congress in Alice Springs notes that: "Over the last 40 years, the Aboriginal infant mortality rate has declined (though it is still over three times the national average); over the same period, adult mortality in the Aboriginal population has increased".Lack of dialysis in the bush, poor aged care, few dentists, inexperience and high turnover of health staff are problems across the bush.In the next part of the project the commission aims to identify successful rural and remote community health initiatives to inspire others ."Everyone deserves an education", according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but Bush Talks exposed serious disadvantages in accessing education in the bush. However, the commission is now conducting a national inquiry into rural and remote education which promises to take the issue much further, especially in the NT.As a result of Bush Talks, Race Discrimination Commissioner Zita Antonios will again look at the supply of water to bush communities, its quality and cost. This will follow on from the 1994 commission report called Water , in the preparation of which the Centre for Appropriate Technology in Alice Springs played a major part.

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