May 26, 1999


The tourism industry is in uproar over the expected impact of proposed food control laws affecting bush-style cooking, a key attraction for visitors to The Centre.CATIA general manager Mike Gunn says the new measures may "kill" a growing section of the industry which offers catered bush and camping tours, dinner under the stars and similar entertainment unique to the outback experience.Chris Chambers, of Alice Springs Holidays and Campoven Kitchen, says so far he's been able to get only verbal briefings on the new requirements, but they seem "totally onerous", unnecessary and will force operators to fill in forms "for some bureaucrat on the other side of Australia".Tourism sources say people providing food as part of any commercial operation even volunteers making biscuits for a fund raising stall may be fined tens of thousands of dollars if they violate the new code.However, Territory Health Senior Policy Officer for Environmental Health, Tracy Ward, says the changes are inevitable.Their objective is to ensure that "a hamburger in Yuendumu is made to the same same standard of safety as in the Sydney Hyatt".The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) has produced a draft Bill with the intention of making it an offence uniform across Australia to sell and handle food that is unsafe. The draft reached CATIA only last week, yet the deadline for comment is at the end of this month.Recommendations are due to be put before the Food Standards Council (made up of the state, territories and Federal health ministers) in July and the new rules may become law in all states and territories before the end of the year.The ANZFA says the implementation of any new laws would staged over at least two years. Ms Ward says although at present the Food Act applies to any commercial operation where "food is part of the service", in reality controls are exercised mainly over fixed location food businesses.Ms Ward says some operators will welcome the proposed changes creating "a level playing field".The new system would abandon the "prescriptive regime" in favour of procedures drawn up by each individual operator, which require an official "audit".On the other hand, says ANZFA, compliance with audited procedures could be a legal defence if an operator is taken to court over food poisoning."This as an advantage for the tour businesses," says a spokeswoman for ANZFA.The guidelines resemble John Hewson's celebrated attempt to explain the GST applying to a birthday cake: for example, if a women's auxiliary makes cakes for a fund raiser, the new rules may not apply, but if they make chicken rice or a prawn salad, they may apply.An explanation by Ms Ward of the provisions for charities illustrates the complex nature of the proposals, contained in a 75 page draft Bill and a 172 page explanation:"Two criteria need to be met for food businesses operated by a community or charitable group to be excluded from the food safety program and skills and knowledge requirements of the food safety standards:
charitable and community groups that raise funds for community and charitable causes and where there is no personal financial gain from the proceeds and hold up to 12 such events for fund raising purposes every calendar year; and
the organisation must be selling food that is not potentially hazardous or which is consumed immediately after thorough cooking.
"Guidelines are to be developed that will assist these groups to produce safe food," says Ms Ward."So, in essence, they will be required to notify."This is how the new law would work:-
Operators are required to "identify risk and show strategies to control the risk", and draw up a "food safety plan".
They submit that plan to a government authority for an audit.
"Food safety programs" that do not comply with the Food Safety Standard can result at worst in an enforcement officer issuing a "Prohibition Notice".
The standard and method of refrigeration and storage are likely to be key considerations.
Certain operations may only be sanctioned if the condition of the food, including its temperature, is logged at given times.
In the case of "bush" catering, vehicles and food storage in them will be looked at.
Even if a "Food Safety Plan" passes audit, the question of policing will arise. Within the municipality of Alice Springs the town council's health inspectors will be in charge, according to Ingo Steppat, the council's Environmental Health Officer. Outside the municipality, officers of Territory Health will do the job.Tourism sources say it's absurd to expect that officials can monitor dozens of camping tours travelling the vast outback of Central Australia.Ms Ward says it is recognised that "enforcement in rural areas is one of the difficult parts" of the new regime.Mr Chambers says the new rules would add significant costs to the industry without providing anything of value."We don't have a problem," he says. "Why change it?"Ms Ward says: "The proposed laws are attempting to address problems before they arise."Mr Steppat says there were two "documented" cases in the past 18 months of coach tourists being being ill because of hygiene problems one a local and the other an interstate coach company.However, Ms Ward says reported cases are only "the tip of the iceberg".Mr Gunn says the industry is likely to be making extensive representations to NT CLP Senator Grant Tambling who is playing a major role in the process as the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, and has responsibility for the ANZFA.


New technologies and accumulating resource materials should enable the Northern Territory University to start delivering a greater range of courses in Alice Springs.Ten years ago the university's presence in town was confined to an office offering information about distance education opportunities in universities around the country. At a graduation ceremony at the Araluen Centre last Friday night 26 local graduands received NTU degrees and awards, with some attracting special prizes for their achievements. According to Vice-Chancellor Ron McKay, in the last 12 months the university has been increasing its range of flexible delivery materials, so that it is possible now for a lot more of courses to be done on a self-paced basis."It's the way of the future," says Professor McKay."There's a lot of evidence that more and more people are going to learn that way, although there'll always be a need for some social interaction and some face to face instruction."Palmerston, the Territory's fastest growing population centre, is at present getting a dedicated facility to support that kind of learning."Students will be able to use its facilities and have staff around to help them out," says Prof. McKay, adding that "there is a possibility at the moment of doing something similar down here"."Probably not on such a scale, but we are certainly looking at it. "We have always said we are a university for the whole of the Territory. We've been aware that we haven't been able to do as much as here we would like, we are trying to rectify that."Why not locate whole faculties down here, attracting people to study in the town?"It's a matter of cost and accessibility. While there's a demand here, there is also a strong demand in the northern part of the Territory. Locating an institution down here wouldn't satisfy that demand."Meanwhile, the university is keen to promote the Centre for Remote Health, established this year in collaboration with Flinders University, and to expand its research activities in the Centre.Already a number of post-graduate students in education are working with a research staff member based in Alice, and Prof. McKay says the university wants to become involved in research developments focussed on the arid zone. "One of the things we have managed to do in the research area is pull together Territory resources," says Prof. McKay."There's a lot of expertise in the Territory, but it's pretty fragmented. We've pulled resources together, and attracted a lot of research money, increasing the research and development effort in the Territory by about 25 per cent since the university started. "That's quite substantial, and some of the research is being conducted in Central Australia. There are historians, biologists, and environmental scientists working here, but there's room to do more. "It always come back to finding money."A noticeable feature of Friday's graduation ceremony was the range of qualifications being conferred, from bachelor degrees to trade certificates. NTU has always been an integrated TAFE and higher education institution, a model now followed by "just about all the universities in Victoria", according to Prof. McKay. "It's right for the Territory," he says. "Separately they are not particularly viable. It's an issue of getting critical mass, trying to make sure you have good efficient use of the facilities, and there are also lots of educational opportunities in it. "There are ways to direct people through some interesting pathways to get the education they want, starting with certificates and working them right through to PhDs if they've got the time, the energy and, these days, the money."Many of the graduating students were mature age."That's typical for the whole Territory," says Prof. McKay. "About 75 per cent of our enrolments in higher education are mature age. There's a surprisingly high proportion of mature age students right across Australia. I believe the average age of higher education students is 28. Times have changed."The young people are still going to university, but mature age students are coming back, they need to reskill, relearn, lots of people are changing careers. They need more qualifications to advance, the knowledge base is changing very quickly so they need to refresh themselves."What impact has the university had on school leavers in Alice having to leave home to study?"We have a pretty good idea of what is happening in Darwin, but it's a bit harder to know what's happening in Alice Springs. "If I were to guess with Alice Springs, probably not very much impact because we don't offer yet as many opportunities as we would like to. "In Darwin, we have had a pretty major impact. As a simple example, four years ago we were lucky to get one of the top 20 students staying in Darwin. Now we get more than a third of them. "Territory-wide we get about two thirds of eligible high school students coming to us, but I don't know specifically the numbers for Alice Springs, and our records, which only indicate permanent addresses. wouldn't reveal whether they are external students or have actually moved to Darwin."


How many residents of Alice Springs are aware that currently before the Northern Territory Planning Authority (NTPA) is a "Draft Control Plan Amendment AS326 Document"?This document seeks to amend the Alice Springs Town Plan (1992) by making significant changes to the provisions relating to permitted densities in the various residential zones of our town. But what does it all mean, anyway?The Eastside Residents' Association, as a voluntary, non-political, non-profit community organisation, remains committed to its stated aims. This includes the encouragement of planning and development within the Old Eastside precinct that recognises and complements the existing character of this unique subdivision. Our association has had a long involvement with the issue of appropriate planning for Old Eastside.Currently, the NTPA has before it a proposal to create a new R0 zone. Basically this would allow the development of single dwellings on smaller lots, and multiple dwellings on larger lots. Although other amendments are proposed, it is this issue that I wish to focus upon.The present residential zonings of Alice Springs classify land as R1 (low density), R2 (medium density), and R3 (high density). NTPA Policy 3 currently "guides" (but does not dictate) what can and what cannot occur on each of these classifications of residential zoned land. And therein lies the problem. Whilst there are many strong and controlling aspects of the existing Policy 3, it is precisely because it is only policy (a guide) and not the rule (Alice Springs Town Plan) that the controls that do exist in Policy 3 have been successfully challenged by developers going through Appeals Tribunals. It is obvious that better processes are necessary.Having said that however, it should be noted that Policy 3 is the document that the ERA, the Alice Springs Town Council, property developers, architects and the NTPA recently worked long and hard to construct. It is a guiding document that does have many redeeming features, and one would hope that its principles are not going to be "thrown out with the bathwater!"Is an R0 zoning the answer? No, it is not, according to the town council. In their prepared response to the NTPA, council argues (amongst other things) that an "appropriate restructuring of the existing R1, R2 and R3 zones would provide a more appropriate solution from the proposed."And what does ERA think of an R0 zoning? The emphasis of the response that ERA has made to the NTPA lies with the issue of amenity with respect to the area of the Old Eastside. Our association strongly believes that the impact of spot development is potentially destructive for an area such as Old Eastside. Without consideration of ratio and/or percentage of development, the large residential blocks of Old Eastside become a target for inappropriate speculative development. So, before we reduce the argument to how many metres between this fence and that, how many units can be squeezed onto that block or this, let's take a long hard realistic look at what is it that makes the Old Eastside what it is (or for that matter, what it makes Racecourse, Larapinta, the Gap, the Golfcourse, the rural areas or the town camps what they are for the people who live there), and why it is important for residents to stand up and be accountable for what is going on in, literally, their own backyards.Character and amenity are subjective characteristics, of this there is no doubt! How to legislate incorporating these issues is difficult. But just because something is difficult, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try to do it! The easy stuff is to say two metres between this building and that, three units here, four there. It is far more difficult to define a philosophical base that guides the process!It is not an easy task to remain involved in these issues. There are members of our association who will affirm how difficult it is, as individuals, or as members of a group such as ERA, to experience a fair hearing at unfamiliar, bureaucratic, formal government processes such as "Hearings of the Board of the NTPA". However, it seems that our persistent, long-term efforts are at last being recognized, and to this end ERA acknowledges that there are presently committed and dedicated officers within the Alice Springs branch of the Planning Authority who have gone out of their way to make information available and understandable. The strong and positive impact that good planners can have is not to be underestimated.Our association makes an initial attempt to outline what we believe are some to the characteristics that contribute to the amenity of the Old Eastside, and they include existing residents' long term expectations of:
predominantly large residential blocks;
service lanes to most properties (that we believe should not be used as primary access under any circumstances);
established older style housing;
established gardens and many large trees throughout the subdivision;
predominantly single storey dwellings;
potentially historically important buildings.
a history of community involvement in issues affecting the subdivision.
Without detailed and stated consideration of issues of amenity, we believe that "rules" become the determinants of developments, rather than "rules" supporting a philosophical stated amenity factor.Document AS326 (the proposal to introduce - amongst other things - R0 zoning) was deliberated at the NTPA meeting last Thursday (May 20) where submissions from ERA, the town council, and from developers were considered. Chairperson Fred Finch has forwarded to Minister Tim Baldwin (Lands Planning and Environment) the recommendations of the Authority and in due course the outcomes will be made known. In the interim, the ERA remains confident that the representations it has made on this occasion have had a positive impact, and that the authority did genuinely take on board the detailed comments that were presented.For more information come along to the Gosse Street Park at the foot of Spencer Hill on Sunday, May 30, for a "Picnic in the Park", 3.30 - 6pm. As well as the ERA Annual General Meeting, there will be foodstalls, soup kitchens, lucky prizes, wonderful entertainment by Enterprising Eastsiders, and a chance to catch up with friends, neighbours and colleagues.
(Ms Burgess is the chair person of the ERA.)


"There is no way the oil majors can justify those differentials by arguing transport and volume throughput alone."Until we get real competition at the wholesale level in the petroleum industry we're going to continue to experience those high differentials."That's the view of Joel Fitzgibbon, Federal Shadow Minister for Small Business and Tourism, who visited Alice Springs last week.He said the large sales volume of some service stations in urban areas allow them to work on smaller margins, and they make money on "associated goods such as hamburgers and cigarettes".However, this alone can't explain the excessive fuel cost in Central Australia.Says Mr Fitzgibbon: "I still believe the oil majors are playing games."They take profits wherever and whenever they can."Too often that's why we see these big differentials."He says the remedy is not what the Federal Government is proposing to do, repealing the Petroleum Marketing Retail Site Act, which would only give "the oil majors more power, more control over the retail price of petrol".The best way to "break the power of the oil majors is competition at the wholesale level, in other words, open up access to the terminals so the retailers can bid for the wholesale price."You get competition and hopefully prices falling."Mr Fitzgibbon is also a member of the Federal bipartisan committee currently "half way through" an enquiry into the impact of the major supermarket chains, Woolworths, Coles and Franklins.He says there are concerns about regional Australia being affected by growing dominance of the three "sterile, big chains": small business can't compete and is disappearing. He says price differences are "extreme" in NT.However, the ability of the big chains to hold down prices can have a beneficial impact: "This is where we have to be careful not throw the baby out with the bath water," says Mr Fitzgibbon."One concern is the impact of the big players on the small players, but our focus needs to be on the end results for the consumer."You only get a good end result when you have very healthy competition."It could be if you have three major players that you have requisite competition to keep prices down."Mr Fitzgibbon says he's especially interested in hearing about "unfair practices" to drive smaller operators out of business, including predatory pricing and holding prices low sometimes below wholesale price "just long enough to squeeze the small player out of the market."We're particularly keen to hear examples of that, just as we're particularly keen to hear examples of where the big chains have caused small businesses to gear up to be a provider of goods to big chains, only to have the big chain turn around later and dictate to the small player what price it's prepared to pay."Mr Fitzgibbon says there is "general evidence that the large players have a positive impact on prices in communities".


The iconic scrap metal sculptures of Central Australian artist Dan Murphy are the subject of a solo exhibition, Elevated plains, which was opened on the weekend at the Araluen Centre by photographer Mike Gillam. The occasion also marked the launch of a booklet featuring full colour photographs of a range of Murphy's work, a short biography and an interpretive essay by former Araluen curator, Alison French, who hopes the show and booklet will help make Murphy's "breadth of vision" more widely known.Here is what Gillam, himself an aficionado of the found object, had to say:Dan scrounges his materials from rubbish dumps and the roadside, but as any connoisseur of rust will tell you, an evocative car bonnet or enamel plate is more valuable than Italian marble. These materials are converted into artistic works only after an agonising process of sourcing, collection, hoarding and appraisal.In his recent abstract pieces, both surfaces [front and back] contribute strongly to the artistic vision. These framed works combine the gleaming enamel finish of car bonnets with the rawness of neglected paint and metal, brought into contact with engine heat, oil and acid. With surgical precision this contrast is reinforced with wire and the effective use of blanket stitches while the rear of each panel gains character from a more random touch. Many of these pieces are deceptively two dimensional but their complexity is revealed in response to changing light: with strong backlight the delicate wire tracery and punched holes eclipse the colourful overview, with sidelight the spinifex panels come alive.I particularly admire Dan's choice of honest, weatherbeaten materials which perfectly echo the sparse eroded landforms of the arid zone. There is something precious in the unique patina, in layers of peeling paint, in the imagined history and origins of that tortured piece of metal, in the journeys and final resting place of that car, in materials yielding to exposure, time and decay.Such material integrity is made more poignant by the lack of antiquity in the urban environment of Alice Springs. Tangible links with our history and culture are evaporating and so I realise that nostalgia magnifies my delight in Dan's work.Uncompromising effort is needed to transform his sometimes epic vision into artistic reality. He struggles grimly with sculpturally improbable materials such as barbed wire and bed springs. When most of us would be having serious doubts about starting, Dan jumps off the cliff: he takes up his tin snips and commits. One week later when he realises what he has done and what still lies ahead, Dan pushes aside the regret and fear and calls up that mental stamina which makes him so special.I would like to make a few predictions. Next year Dan will be offered a major commission to create a public sculpture by some confident city council, somewhere like Balmain. The following year he will be approached by Melbourne architects looking for a foyer centrepiece. It seems incredible that Central Australia inspires and propels so many nationally significant artists, and yet our streets are so desolate and unremarkable. Dan transports us away from the sandstone welcome signs and dinky windmill which project our civic standards and symbolise the triumph of commerce over culture in Central Australia. In him our besieged natural environment and regional identity have found a powerful new voice.

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