March 15, 2000


Aldermen Meredith Campbell and Fran Erlich have launched a stinging rebuke of Ald Geoff Harris' attack on senior town council staff last week.They describe in a joint statement Ald Harris' claims as a "cheap shot" against people "unable to retaliate in an unfettered public discussion", and they say he has an "axe to grind".Ald Harris claimed in last week's Alice Springs News that after a short period of "courting" new council members, senior staff of the council have a strategy to hamper effective decision making by elected members.This, he says, includes "swamping" aldermen with information, wasting time by diverting attention to trivial matters, ignoring the input from community advisory committees, and controlling the brief and outcome of consultancies.Ald Campbell, who won a by-election three years ago and will not be seeking re-election in the council poll in May, says council staff have at no time interfered with her objectives.These included keeping "a watching brief and having an influence on community development and social reform" and "the way women should be treated, respected and noted as members of the community"."My influence has been felt in progressing alcohol management issues," says Ald Campbell."I also had strong and sensible input into the debate about whether two child care centres would merge and now we have seen the win-win result in both child care centres assuming their own separate identities and having their own places."I am happy with my accomplishments."Ald Erlich has been on the council for the past six years, also initially after a by-election, and has not yet announced whether she will stand again.She says contrary to Ald Harris' claims, council members are well able to be effective.She says she has succeeded in what she had set out to do, "trying to get adequate community participation in decision making" on matters including strategic planning and the recently released community analysis on social needs.She had been instrumental in setting up a youth advisory committee, "giving young people a voice".This had let to the annual Youth Expo, and the current debate on the council's strategic plan for parks and verges, including whether or not a park along the Todd River should be put forward as a Federation Project.Ald Erlich says the senior officers targeted by Ald Harris can't respond because it is "a well recognised convention" that staff cannot "attack their bosses in the media".Ald Erlich claims this also includes responding to attacks. She does not know whether any specific instructions had been issued to the officers on this occasion.The Alice Springs News last week offered council CEO Nick Scarvelis the opportunity to respond, but he declined. A comment from him about the role of outside consultants in the area of waste management and reduction appears elsewhere in this edition.Alds Erlich and Campbell say in their statement the timing of Ald Harris' comments "is impeccable if he wants to discourage fair-minded and committed people from standing at the forthcoming local government elections."They reject the assertion that officers are "ingratiating" towards the newly-elected aldermen: "It didn't happen in 1994 for Fran Erlich nor in 1997 for Meredith Campbell, and nor were we ‘feted', nor did we have our ‘egos stroked'. "Maybe the latter only happens to those who possess egos."We are quite able to do the reading and preparation required for committee and council meetings, despite family, work and other commitments. "And we reject the implication that fellow aldermen called Ald Harris a ‘woos' for complaining about the workload when they themselves hadn't read their papers. "To state that all aldermen don't do their homework is ridiculous."Alds Erlich and Campbell say Ald Harris has only himself to blame for failing to get "certain of his key issues" – notably management of the town's landfill – through council: "The key to being effective on Council is to convince fellow aldermen of the value of your arguments. "The officers provide advice, but they do not sit in the chamber and vote."To say ‘there are those that have fallen into line and will support the bureaucrats by rubber-stamping reports and recommendations' is completely insulting to the body of aldermen. "We are not a bunch of yes-men, rather we are individual and independent people ably guided by detailed reports and unbiased counsel provided by the said bureaucrats."Alds Erlich and Campbell say the consultants' report on waste minimisation, "overseen minutely by Ald Harris's dedicated band of waste-busters", does not deliver results and recommendations which could in any way whatsoever benefit the officers, materially or ideologically. "The senior officers, whom we shall name – Nick Scarvelis, Suzanne Lollback and Roger Bottrall – will, like any other resident in this community, have to cross that weigh bridge when they come to it. "Nobody is getting a special deal."Alds Erlich and Campbell say "bigger and better offices for white collar staff" – as Ald Harris described them – "are indeed required at the moment, if only to avert the possibility of a huge insurance payout (to be met by the ratepayer) because one of these people tripped and broke an ankle on a daggy end of carpet in the ill-lit corridor."Have a look at the conditions other so-called white collar staff expect in the industrial environments of the late twentieth century, Ald Harris, and compare these to the way things are down at Todd Street HQ. "All aldermen, including Ald Harris, have recognised that the present offices are a potential occupational health and safety hazard."Ald Harris's constant references to the bureaucrats, the officers, the white collar staff, we find to be particularly insulting. "We totally reject the implication that these nameless and faceless men and women are operating in some shadowy, cloak-and-dagger nest of intrigue in order to derive some sort of personal benefit. Ald Harris never explains what these benefits are."


Local man Chris Richardson claims he was sacked by Australia Post in Alice Springs for daring to question their employment practices.He says he was employed at the Alice Springs Post Office shortly after arriving in town in late 1994, on a three month, five hour a day contract, but worked full time "from day one".After the first contract expired he says he was "complimented on [his] work ethic" and given another three month, five hour a day contract.Once again, he says, he was working full time, seven hours and 21 minutes a day.He says other workmates told him they had been signing short-term contracts for up to three years.Mr Richardson, now employed full time elsewhere, showed the Alice News a series of continuous short term contracts (three to six months) made with the one employee of Australia Post over a period of more than two and a half years. Only after this period was his former colleague offered permanent employment.Mr Richardson says that when he was working in the Alice Springs Post Office 17 employees out of about 40 were employed on contract.Of these, 10 had been on short-term contracts for over year, he says.He told his workmates that under the Australia Post Conditions of Employment Award they should have been made permanent after 12 months.The award says probation periods should be for six months, extended to a maximum of 12 months if necessary.It also says that: "If, at the end of a fixed term engagement, the period of continuous employment has exceeded 12 months, Australia Post shall engage the person as a permanent employee or terminate the employment contract."Mr Richardson says he raised this matter with a manager at Australia Post. Shortly after, his contract was terminated one month before its expiry date.He was told "due to changed staffing arrangements" he had become "surplus to requirements".Yet, one week after his employment ceased Australia Post was advertising casual relief vacancies.Mr Richardson had previously worked for six and a half years for Australia Post in Melbourne.He complained of his treatment at senior levels there, before lodging a discrimination claim with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).This resulted 18 months later in a conciliation meeting, during which he was offered by Australia Post a $2000 payout of the last month of his contract. He refused the payout, saying he wanted his job back.He then lodged an unfair dismissal claim with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which was dismissed, and subsequently an appeal to the Full Bench, also dismissed.Mr Richardson then asked Martin Ferguson, former head of the ACTU and now a member of Federal Parliament, to take up his cause. Mr Ferguson did so through the CEPU (Communications Electrical Plumbing Union) but they met a brick wall.A letter from Australia Post to the CEPU quotes a HREOC Regional Director as saying "I have discontinued my investigation into this matter because I am of the opinion that the complaint lacks substance", and the AIRC Full Bench as stating "the [earlier AIRC] decision does not warrant correction on appeal".The letter concludes: "Having regard to the above, Australia Post does not agree that it has an obligation to find alternative employment for Mr Richardson nor compensate him for not doing so."Should the matter not rest there?No, says Mr Richardson, because the bottom line issue of Australia Post's employment practices has never been addressed.The Alice News put Mr Richardson's allegations to the local post master.We were referred to Adelaide-based Julie Green, Manager of State Communications.We asked her whether it was a practice, past or present, of Australia Post in Alice Springs to employ people on short term contracts for periods longer than 12 months, which we understood would be a breach of the award.After making enquiries, Ms Green said: "Australia Post is complying with award conditions and regulations totally, not only with Mr Richardson but with all staff in Alice Springs."When the News pressed Ms Green for more detail on practices during Mr Richardson's period of employment, she said: "I have no comment on Mr Richardson's specific case. I don't think it is fitting."


Waste management has been pretty topical recently so I thought your readers might like a brief insight into the way Maunsell and McIntyre, an environmental engineering consultancy firm, has been used by Council to help it develop a framework for managing waste In Alice Springs. You might ask, "Why change what we are currently doing?" We currently run a dump, not a landfill operation that would be licenced under the Government's new legislation. The rules have changed and community expectations of waste management services are different today than when a dump was simply a dump. Under the new legislation and licensing requirements, Council will be required to dispose of various wastes in very specific ways. The site itself will have to be developed and we estimate that the total cost of new infrastructure at the landfill site will be in the order of $1m. The infrastructure will be developed over five or six years. There is an even more important imperative for modernising our landfill operations. We have a community obligation not to cause environmental harm through our landfill operations; to reduce waste to landfill and thereby extend the life of the landfill; and encourage recycling and resource recovery wherever possible and practical. Council through its Waste Management Advisory Committee, which helped develop the tender specifications and select the consultants, asked Maunsell and McIntyre to do three things:
• Undertake scientific tests to ascertain the relative health of the current landfill site in environmental terms.
• Prepare a Landfill Management Plan that would form the basis of Council's policy framework for its landfill operations. It is also a prerequisite for attaining a licence from the Government to operate the town's landfill facility.
• Prepare a Waste Reduction Plan that is consistent with the objectives of the Landfill Management Plan and community aspirations regarding recycling and waste minimisation.
The work which has been done by the consultants and overseen by the Waste Management Advisory Committee will form the basis upon which decisions are made about:
• the future management of the town's landfill facility;
• how to meet the costs of the new operations and infrastructure; and
• how to work with the community and commercial sector to encourage waste reduction initiatives.
On the first task, Maunsell and McIntyre found the dump to be healthier than most around Australia. It is pleasing to know that we have a benchmark of the health of the current site. This is however, just a snapshot in time and continuous monitoring will be required, which will also be a new cost. The Landfill Management Plan has been prepared and has received in principle support from the Government's officers. The consultants have also provided Council with a breakdown of infrastructure costs and a possible development schedule. A weigh-bridge is part of the proposed infrastructure and operational arrangements. The weigh-bridge will serve two purposes. Firstly, it will be the basis upon which Council will collect accurate data about the volumes and composition of the waste stream going to the landfill and secondly, it will form part of the charging system. It has been suggested by some that a weigh-bridge will necessarily lead to increased costs to the average resident who currently pay for waste disposal through a waste charge. This is in fact not so. If there is going to be an increase in revenue I would expect it to come from the proportion of commercial waste which is currently not incurring a charge. I would hope that Council can keep user charges to a minimum (compared with the rest of Australia) but it will simply not be sustainable both in economic and environmental terms to allow waste to come into the landfill without the waste generator incurring a charge. In the case of residents this charge may be, in part or in full, in the form of a general waste charge. In the case of commercial waste it is more likely to be a direct user charge. These views are purely speculative but in the next two months decisions will need to be made. On waste reduction the consultants have given Council a strategy for getting down to the business of reducing waste to landfill volumes and being pro-active with regard to waste minimisation and recycling initiatives in the town. The consultants suggest that a Waste Reduction Strategy be developed in cooperation with commercial operators. It acknowledges that Council does not have the capacity to do it alone but is in a position to provide incentives and the right business environment for commercial operators to get involved in waste reduction and recycling. This may be in fact a worthy focus for Council's economic development program. It may also be possible to reduce costs to individual businesses of commercial rubbish disposal at the landfill, by encouraging waste generators to source separate those materials which can be recycled and which may incur a lesser cost or no cost at all for disposal at the landfill. Clean green, demolition and landfill waste could go to the dump free of any charges. Maunsell and McIntyre have outlined a number of waste reduction strategies to work on. One of these is to set up a mechanism to conduct audits of the waste stream so that the strategies being developed are based on real volumes and not estimates. They have also encouraged Council to further investigate how the container deposit scheme at Broken Hill operates and whether a similar scheme can be established in Alice Springs. They have not recommended a full scale kerbside collection process but have suggested that Council consider the re-introduction of some form of collection centre for those products where a viable market can be found. They suggest that this should be done in conjunction with business. The results of a Waste Minimisation and Recycling survey conducted in 1997 showed that there is strong support for recycling in the Alice Springs community. However, the one very important question the survey neglected to ask was how much individual ratepayers would be prepared to pay for a kerbside recycling service. Maunsell and McIntyre estimate that a kerbside recycling service in Alice Springs would cost about $80 per household or a cost of $800,000 to Council. I believe that in the term of the next Council we will see the introduction of a sustainable waste reduction strategy. If in due course a successful waste reduction strategy is put in place it will demonstrate the value of the policy makers (the elected Council) working with the officers and the best possible advice from consultants to achieve practical outcomes to waste management issues for the people of Alice Springs.
Nick Scarvelis
Chief Executive Officer, Alice Springs Town Council
Note: Mr Scarvelis provided the followings costs for the Maunsell and McIntyre consultancy:-Testing the health of the current landfill: $30,000
The Landfill Management Plan: $30,000
The Waste Reduction Plan: $15,000
A further $7000 will be spent on developing a charging mechanism.


Sitting quietly in the front row, NT Education Minister Chris Lugg, less than two months in the job, last Thursday watched as graduates of the Institute of Aboriginal Development (IAD) received their certificates.The ceremony, unfolding in front of a huge Aboriginal flag, was as much a proud demonstration of achievements as a dramatic reminder of the NT Government's shortcomings in indigenous education.Many of the 70 students being honoured with awards for completion, and a further 214 for part-completion of courses – all of them adults – had taken subjects normally completed in primary or early secondary school: Reading and Writing I and II; Oral Communications; Numeracy and Mathematics I and II; Preparing for Work and Training; Writing Skills for Work, and so on.Several of the courses prepared students for work in Aboriginal organisations or on communities, but some – including the Certificate in Tourism (Tour Guiding) – aimed at getting people into the mainstream work force.Some graduates were not present to collect their certificates. They were absent for the most admirable of reasons: they had full time jobs at remote locations such as the King's Canyon Resort or in Tennant Creek.The other upbeat feature of the function was the overtly cordial relationship between IAD and Mr Lugg: he handed the institute's chairman, Merv Franey, a cheque for $2.6m for the reconstruction of the campus in South Terrace.The money, a Federal grant to be spent at the discretion of the NT Government, had been withheld in a protracted standoff during which Mr Lugg's predecessors insisted on IAD's relocation to another site, preferably adjoining the Centralian College.Mr Franey told the gathering the conflict was now "water under the bridge" and Mr Lugg made it clear that his approach towards fixing the "disaster in some areas" of Aboriginal education will be conciliatory.He later told the Alice News that he's still working his way through the damning report by former Labor Senator and Federal front bencher Bob Collins about Aboriginal education in the NT."I've got this gut feeling the answers are out there under our nose," says Mr Lugg."We may just have to work a bit smarter."I know there are pockets of achievement where things are happening."What I'd like to do is look at those, draw what's good from them and try and apply that."I think the key is getting the right people in place [in the bush schools], particularly the principals."We need to get the right principals in there and support them."Apart from enhancing the opportunities and lifestyles for a large number of Territorians, "getting it right" would also save a great deal of taxpayers' money.All of last week's IAD graduates were adults. Some received recognition for achievements in advanced courses, including subjects offered by Latrobe University and the University of South Australia.But around half were only brought to a level normally achieved by children or teenagers.This costs about half as much again than in the Territory's public school system: about $16 per student hour compared to less than $10.The bulk of IAD's money came from Canberra, raising serious questions about the Territory's performance in one of its most fundamental responsibilities.IAD says it delivers yearly about 100,000 in-house teaching hours and 30,000 in other schools.The institute has a total of 100 staff and 400 full and part-time students in "accredited courses".IAD's total budget of $5m includes $2.4m from DETYA, $950,000 from ATSIC (both Federal), $340,000 from NTEDA (Territory), plus "project money" from ATSIC and other sources.IAD director Richard Hayes says in addition to the "accredited courses" the institute offers language training in schools, cross-cultural awareness programs, dictionary research, interpreting and translating, cultural maintenance, supports a "major indigenous library" as well as a publishing house.(The Alice News calculated the NT Education Department's cost per student hour as follows: The department's total budget for 1999/2000 was $304.3m. The department's latest annual report on the NT Government's web site is – amazingly – for the 1997 calendar year when there were 31,625 students. For the purpose of this calculation we assumed that enrolment numbers remained the same in 1999/2000 and that each student receives 1000 teaching hours a year.)Speaking to the Alice News Mr Lugg said about the Collins report: "My initial impression is that it's a sensible, worth-while, practical type of assessment."Most of it is just common sense."He says test results of Aboriginal pupils' reading skills in the national Multilevel Assessment Program (MAP) are "pretty disappointing, well below the national average."It's something we must address."Last week it was reported that just 30 per cent of Aboriginal students in the NT had passed the MAP reading tests. Mr Lugg says the Collins Report referred to occasions where the principals had apparently carried out the MAP level tests "for the kids because they couldn't do it".He said: "I find that appalling, if it's true. It's just an absolute waste of time."However, he says that advancements in Aboriginal education must become a priority for the whole community: "The Government acknowledges that it's got work to do there."But as Bob Collins rightfully pointed out, if the kids won't go to school they won't get an education."I guess the challenge for me is to somehow turn that around."All the facilities are there, the schools, the equipment, the teachers are there."But if the classrooms are empty because people choose not to come, that's the area we've got to have a look at, and try and turn that around."Mate, if I had the answers to that ..."Mr Lugg says a key element will be the right choice of school principals: It needs to be "someone who's committed, basically. It's all in attitude."I'm sure there are people around the Territory or the country who are willing."The job they do is of critical importance."We will not accept mediocrity. There will be no passengers," says Mr Lugg."I would like to say to the good ones, let's learn from what you're doing differently, and see if we can apply that and lift the others, if they need lifting."What do Aboriginal people say about why many of their kids aren't going to school?"I haven't been to too many Aboriginal communities yet, but I've talked to fellows I went to school with in Darwin 30 years ago. You know most of the reasons, either they don't feel motivated, or there are problems with substance and alcohol abuse, dysfunctional families, all of those things I guess come together and make it hard to see the importance of getting kids into school."Getting up to that survival level of English oracy and literacy, that gives people a choice."They can go into white society or they can make other choices."But if they don't get up there they don't have a choice. My approach is really to have a look, have a listen, then take a decision and give it a try."If it's not working, don't be frightened to put is aside and try something else. Be pretty critical, focus on results and if you're not getting them, take the hard decision," says Mr Lugg.


As the push towards alcohol restrictions in Alice Springs is getting into top gear with a community meeting on Tuesday next week, KIERAN FINNANE asks Tennant Creek locals – for whom "Thirsty Thursday" has been a reality for four years – what's working and what isn't.

A decade after their first alcohol abuse meeting, six years after their first trial alcohol restrictions, four years after variations to liquor licences making long-term these restrictions (due for review in November this year), people in Tennant Creek may disagree about whether they're working, but everyone the Alice News spoke to does agree that something has to be done about alcohol.This is the plus of the restrictions, says Yvon Magnery, Director of the Barkly Region Alcohol and Drug Abuse Advisory Group (BRADAAG)."The restrictions have created an awareness that alcohol is causing problems, and that's a good thing," says Mr Magnery.He has been involved with BRADAAG for nearly 16 years. It runs a sobering-up shelter and a treatment program.He says the restrictions don't stop people drinking, but people are drinking less, especially on Thursdays when there are no take-away sales from pubs."There is no need for us to open the sobering-up shelter on Thursdays," says Mr Magnery.He has observed that the streets are generally a lot quieter than they were 10 to 15 years ago, but this may be because there is more proactive policing."Since the restrictions were introduced there has been a 100 per cent increase in people taken into protective custody."We used to get 500 to 1000 each year in the shelter. Now it's 2500."Mr Magnery has an interesting approach to running the shelter: he says it is the only one in the Territory, and possibly Australia, that does not feed its clients."You shouldn't feed the problem."Our beds are there for people to get sober, a few hours is usually enough . "If they were promised breakfast in the morning they would stay all night, and the shelter would soon be flooded. We could no longer accept self-referred clients."Mr Magnery says his policy means that the shelter's 15 beds can be used by up to 25 people per night."We're utilising our resources to the maximum, increasing the number of people sobering up, decreasing the number of people in police cells."Mr Magnery says "people need to suffer to initiate change". He doesn't want the shelter to be "like a revolving door"; he hopes that people "down in the depths" will realise that they need to do something about their drinking, and seek treatment.The manager of Tennant's other treatment program – the Alcohol After Care Service, specifically for Aboriginal clients, run by Anyinginyi Congress – is Judy Murray.Ms Murray is also convenor of the Beat the Grog Committee, a broad-based group made up of representatives from the obvious agencies and organisations, the commercial sector and the liquor licensees.Julalikari Council,which took a leading role in the campaign for restrictions, has a seat on the committee. Kent Peak, Deputy Manager of Julalikari, says that alcohol restrictions are a community issue, and that Julalikari is content, between hearings of the Liquor Commission, to have its position represented by the committee.Ms Murray says she has recently been asked by a combined Aboriginal organisations' group to reactivate the committee to look at loopholes and alleged breaches of the restrictions.The alleged breaches include supply of alcohol to customers by a staff member of licensed premises before 8am on a "Thirsty Thursday"; supply of alcohol after hours; and sale of alcohol to intoxicated individuals.There are allegations of " instances of intoxicated customers being ushered out the back door of licensed premises while a police car is waiting at the front door," says Ms Murray.She prefaces her comments on the restrictions by saying that she is a comparatively new resident in Tennant Creek, but "I listen to people"."There are some people who feel they are discriminated against because of the anti-social behaviour of other people."But a greater number of people, by a long way, feel that the restrictions have benefited the town."It's generally acknowledged that they worked better when Social Security payments were made on Thursdays. [Payments on other days were allowed from mid last year.]"Julalikari Council and Anyinginyi are trying to do something about that [through approaches to the Commonwealth]."There are mixed feelings about any extension of the restrictions. Some people are saying we can live with them as they are, but no more."Ms Murray says research has shown that, out of a number of measures analysed, restricting supply has the greatest benefit in terms of reducing alcohol-related harm.She says different treatment programs work for different people and a range of options is necessary.Jasmine Afianos, Editor of the Tennant and District Times, and, in the period leading up to the restrictions, the licencee of a tavern (no take-away), questions the effectiveness of the restrictions, especially now that Social Security cheques can be collected on any day of the week."If you could see Thursdays up here you would know they're not working but for some reason everyone wants to pretend that they are."I think everyone wants to do something about drinking, but with the restrictions they tried to target the blacks without harming the white drinkers."But it doesn't work like that. There are some pretty serious drinkers in the white community."With domestic violence the policy is get it out in the open and then we'll be able to deal with it, but with alcohol the policy seems to be it's okay as long as it's behind closed doors."She says anyone who wants to drink on Thursdays can: while front bars are closed, lounge bars are still open and do a roaring trade. If you're a member of a club, you can even get take-away."If there are going to be restrictions at all it should be right across the board. If we're going to have an alcohol free day then we should really have one. Stop it in the clubs and restaurants too."But I don't think restrictions really address the problem. "What I think would make more sense is not allowing Social Security money, whether it's going to blacks or whites, to be spent on grog. It's meant to be bread and butter money. "Why should the Government fund the grog problem?"She says most people in Tennant don't really care about the restrictions because "they don't really affect anyone who wants to drink"."They've mostly just served to inconvenience tourists. They think we're really queer."Mayor Paul Ruger told the News "there is an improvement' since restrictions were introduced, but then suggested we speak to Gavin Carpenter, outspoken proprietor of the Tennant Creek Newsagency.Gavin Carpenter is adamant that the restrictions are "not bloody working"."On Thursday we just get more well-dressed drunks [in the lounge bars]," he says.He says the restrictions worked while Social Security payments were being made on Thursdays, but now "they don't make any difference".Four litre casks are prohibited from sale in Tennant. Mr Carpenter says all that measure has achieved is more broken glass around the town and people spending their money elsewhere. He says most Tennant residents visit Alice Springs regularly and stock up on four litre casks there. "I can't believe Alice Springs would be so stupid as to look at banning four litre casks," says Mr Carpenter.However, he argues that the Liquor Commission could have done more for Tennant's problems by putting an inspector in and "hammering the licensees" to stop them serving drunks. As it was, "they came in here making their moral judgments and then pissed off leaving us with our problems".He would favour now a return to "normal trading" but with reduced hours, as in Katherine.But he also says: "Booze should get back into the pub where it belongs. We need to get away from take-away booze out in the scrub."What has worked, in Mr Carpenter's view, is policing."Gary Mosely told a meeting about 18 months ago, ‘We're going to fix the problem' and they had patrols out on the streets within 48 hours."They haven't solved the problem but at least it's not out on the street."There's a quick response to any complaint – seven minutes is the longest I've had to wait."Acting Senior Sergeant Steven Edgington says there are two members on foot as a permanent presence in the CBD, removing intoxicated people and tipping out any alcohol being consumed in public."That has increased our patrol generated jobs, like identifying offences against the two kilometre law and dealing with public drunkenness, and reduced substantially the number of complaints from the public," says Snr Sgt Edgington.

Per capita consumption of pure alcohol in the Northern Territory is significantly higher than in Australia as a whole, but contrary to popular perception, this is not solely because of heavy drinking by Aboriginal people.A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (2000 Vol 24 No. 1) shows that in the Territory while the Aboriginal mean annual per capita consumption of pure alcohol for the period 1994/96 to 1997/98 was 19.05 litres, the non-Aboriginal consumption was 13.83 litres.These figures compare to 9.67 litres for Australia as a whole.The study also shows that there is considerable variation by region in the Territory's consumption of pure alcohol.The lead in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal consumption in the four year period was taken by the Lower Top End centred on Katherine, with 21.01 and 15.25 respectively. (Trial restrictions on the sale of alcohol were introduced in Katherine at the beginning of this year.)Central Australia follows with 20.26 and 14.70; then the Top End with 18.50 and 13.42; and the Barkly is last, with 16.45 and 11.94. (The Barkly's figures reflect the impact of restrictions, which have seen a 19.4 per cent reduction in annual per capita consumption of pure alcohol in the two year period since restrictions were introduced in March,1996.)The authors of the study, Dennis Gray and Tanya Chikritzhs, of the National Drug Research Institute (Curtin University, WA), comment: "In part [these figures] highlight what has already been well documented. That is, among some sections of the Aboriginal population consumption levels and associated harm are extremely high. "However, these estimates clearly indicate that the problem of excessive alcohol consumption is not confined to the Aboriginal population."Consumption levels among non-Aboriginal people in the NT as a whole are estimated to be 43 per cent greater than among Australians as a whole."Thus, even if some magic solution was found to reduce the harmful levels of consumption among Aboriginal people, the NT would still have a significant alcohol problem."

As part of the Liquor Commission's 1998 review of Tennant Creek's alcohol restrictions an independent evaluation surveyed community support for the measures.The measure with the least support was the closure of hotel front bars on Thursdays. However, even this measure had a total of 61 one per cent in favour of retaining or strengthening it.The closure of takeaway outlets from hotels and liquor stores, and the ban on the sale of wine in casks greater than two litres had 63 per cent in favour of retaining or strengthening them.On the whole, there was a majority in favour of retaining or strengthening all of the measures.The authors of the study comment: "It may have been the case that the majority of people in Tennant Creek was opposed to the restrictions when they were first imposed by the Liquor Commission. However, the results indicate that, when they had experienced their operation and effect, the majority was in favour of them. A majority of the population had also come to favour some additional restrictions."[Source: Beating the grog: an evaluation of the Tennant Creek licensing restrictions by Dennis Gray, Sherry Saggers, David Atkinson, Brooke Sputore and Deirdre Bourbon, in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2000 Vol 24, No. 1.]


Our system rewards people who try hard, right? Wrong.Aboriginal single mother of three Vicki Lindner, who has a responsible public service job and has just been offered promotion, is thinking of going back on the dole and into welfare housing because she can't make ends meet.She says not only NT and Federal government instrumentalities have let her down, but also an Aboriginal controlled housing association which receives public money and is headed by a prominent activist.Vicki, who has strong traditional affiliations with the Alice Springs area through her Arrernte mother, packed up her children now aged four, nine and 12 and moved south from Katherine in 1997 "to make a fresh start".She enrolled in a course at the Institute for Aboriginal Development and soon gained employment as a secretary and receptionist with the Education Department.That's when her problems started.She says because she was then no longer on welfare, her Territory public housing rent tripled from about $45 to $130 a week; she lost her medical entitlements and her electricity and water concessions; she had to pay full car registration.If she accepts her promotion she will lose public housing access altogether because she won't pass the means test.In any case her current take-home pay of around $400 a week just wasn't enough.Vicki and her children moved in with her mother who has a small house in an Aboriginal town lease area.It is one of 16 special purpose leases around town providing homes for Aboriginal people.Each lease area is governed by its own incorporated body.Vicki's mother's two-bedroom house is now inhabited by five adults and three children, including Vicki's cousin, brother and nephew.The home is kept immaculately clean, has a neat garden, but there just isn't enough room.For example, Vicki's mum spends her nights in an open sleep-out, also used as a storage area.Recently the four bedroom home next-door became vacant.Vicki quickly put in for it, directing the application to the Tangentyere Council.She says no-one told her that Tangentyere – which provides support services to all the "town leases" – wasn't the proper place to go.In fact Vicki should have applied to the housing association.Before she had the opportunity of doing so, she says the house was allocated to a single man, the teenage relative of a long term resident of the "camp" and the president of its association.Vicki says the president's immediate family is strongly represented on the housing association committee.Last week Vicki discovered she could obtain housing entitlement only by being a member of the association.Its constitution says "membership shall be open to those Aboriginal people residing in the [Aboriginal living] area and who apply for membership".Vicki clearly qualifies on all counts, and the word "shall" indicates she must be admitted as a member, provided she pays the fee "as the Association in General Meeting shall from time to time fix".Late last week Vicki handed her written membership application to the president. According to Vicki, a short time later his wife returned the letter.Tangentyere explains it has no power over who can or cannot be a member of the housing association, although Tangentyere acts as a rent collector for most of the associations.Considerable amounts of public money have been spent over the past two decades to set up the "town lease areas" in Alice Springs, in a bid to provide decent housing for former fringe campers.However, it is unclear how much is spent on individual living areas.Money for construction and maintenance on the lease areas comes from ATSIC (Federal) and the Indigenous Housing Authority of the NT (Territory).This is paid to Tangentyere which then apparently makes its own decisions about how to spend the funds.Tangentyere does not publish annual reports containing financial information.Vicki is now thinking of quitting her job, passing up her promotion, going back to Katherine, getting on the dole again and moving into subsidized housing.[ED: The names of the association, its president and his wife are known to the Alice Springs News. We offered the president a right of reply on Saturday and again on Monday, but he declined the offer. After deadline on Monday, at 5pm, we were contacted by a local solicitor who said he was acting on behalf of the president and Tangentyere, threatening the Alice Springs News with defamation action. We think this story is in the public interest, have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the information passed to us by Mrs Lindner, and we stand by her right to have her say in public on a matter of vital interest to her. Our offer to the president to exercise his right of reply in the Alice Springs News remains open.]


Last week I spoke out concerning my experiences as an Alderman on the Alice Springs Town Council in order to provide some insights to voters and prospective candidates. There has been a mixed reaction to my comments. One response has been: Why didn't he say something two years ago? It seems that some people prefer to shoot the messenger, rather than deal with the issues at hand. I will, however, respond briefly to this criticism.1. Two years ago several new senior staff, including the CEO, joined the Council administration and I hoped the situation would improve. Apart from a flurry of initial changes I now believe my hopes were substantially misplaced.2. I have regularly voiced my frustration on these issues. For example: "...the reality check of being on Council has been discovering how long it takes to get things done..." (Alice Springs News, July 8, 1998).While last week I focussed on some of the problems I confronted as an Alderman, this week I would like to make some suggestions for improving the situation. While I am an optimistic person, I believe that democracy is currently very ill in local government. It will require more than sustained hard work and commitment from a majority of the newly elected members to effect change. I believe the following reforms and changes will help the community to get more from its elected members.Ratepayers need to identify and elect people who have ideas, a vision and a solid track record or at least some genuine passion about this town. Some people may run for Council because someone said that they were popular. Some may see it as a stepping stone to NT politics. It would be nice if such people had the interests of the town at heart as well. Ratepayers need to grill candidates about what they actually stand for and whether they have anything of substance to offer. After the election, ratepayers need to continue to press their expectations on elected members.Once in office, the 11 elected members must involve the community to a far greater extent in decision-making. No elected member or Council officer possesses universal knowledge and wisdom. Community consultation can inject ideas, enthusiasm, common sense and a reality check. Some elected members think that because they are members of the community they can sit in a huddle and impose any decision. Listening to the community and involving them can often lead to superior outcomes than were originally thought possible. In my experience over 90 per cent of the agenda items discussed by elected members are generated by unelected Council officers. This leaves very little time and energy for items (often of high priority for the community) to be generated by the elected members. With over 100 full time Council staff this imbalance is not surprising, but is it good for democracy?Aside from the myriad of normal meetings, elected members should also have regular (at least monthly) meetings where they discuss both broad and specific issues. These meetings should specifically exclude Council officers, unless particular information is required from them to facilitate (rather than control) the discussion. These meetings would allow elected members to focus and maybe even agree on community priorities. As I have said previously: "Local government is a difficult arena, we don't have [political] parties so everyone is an individual and it's important to create a team. That's a major part of the Mayors job..." (Centralian Advocate, June 4, 1999).Lack of time is one of the important barriers which prevents elected members from effectively representing the community. Currently the allowance for each Alderman is $6000 per year and for the Mayor less than $30,000 (plus a car). The Mayor is expected to work part-time while Aldermen fit Council work into their spare time. A few independent and highly capable people might be enticed with $6000. But most people know that Council is much more than a spare-time proposition if you want to be effective. It will almost certainly erode your existing livelihood and your family goodwill.By contrast the top Council bureaucrat earns almost the same amount as all of the 11 elected members combined. A key element in encouraging elected members to dedicate sufficient time and effort to Council is to pay them substantially more. For example if the Mayor was on a package of $50,000, this would be considered a full time job. If Aldermen were paid $25,000 each, their role would be viewed as a part time job. This proposal would mean that the total amount paid to 11 elected members would roughly equal the total amount paid to the top three bureaucrats.As an outgoing Alderman, I would not gain financially from any increase in the members' allowances, but as a ratepayer I firmly believe Council is in need of urgent reform. With an annual budget of about $11m and a broad spectrum of issues facing the town, the financial and other responsibilities of being an elected member are far greater than those of volunteers on a sporting or school committee.I do not expect this proposal to be popular. I didn't like it much when Ald Tony Alicastro first proposed it, but I see the sense of it now. Whilst there would be no guarantee that elected members would work any harder, I believe that over time this would change with more competition for Council seats. With increased allowances, ratepayers will be less willing to excuse poor performance and low attendance. Currently elected members are paid for periods of absence and this practice should cease.DOUBTERSI have made some strong statements in this and last week's articles, and some people will find them hard to believe. Doubters should come and view Council meetings from the public gallery over a few months. Of course most people simply don't have the time. Ald Sue Jefford once put forward the idea of broadcasting public sessions on community radio as a way of making Council more accessible and accountable to residents. I wonder what happened to that good idea? The problems I have outlined are not confined to the current administration. I will leave the last words to a former Alderman, Daryl Gray, from the previous Council. He expressed his frustration in the media saying: "The Alice Town Council resists change unless it is dragged screaming ... Council is under the thumb of its senior staff ... The officers run the Council, if they don't like it, it won't happen ... Informed debate doesn't often happen on Council." (Alice Springs News , January 4, 1996.)


In Alice Springs you get to have friends of different ages, say Alice-born twelve year olds Clancy and Tom Scollay, who returned to town in 1998 after spending most of their primary school years in Canberra.In Canberra, they found that they had friends mostly of their own age, whereas in Alice they count among their friends kids of eight up to twenty year olds.It also seems as though you keep your close friends, despite years of separation.The boys at age 10 picked up where they left off at four and a half with a whole group of friends, whereas after little more than a year they have all but lost touch with their mates in Canberra.They had had a couple of holidays back in Alice and lots of visitors from Alice while they were in Canberra. As well, their parents, Jeanne and Clive, always counted on coming back to live, and kept their house in Ilparpa Valley.The boys remembered the house, more the outside than the inside, but they say it now seems quite small.Canberra had in its favour a bigger house, but here they have a few more acres on which to run free.Clancy has built himself a BMX track on the block, although using it is impossible at the moment because of the huge growth of buffel grass following February's big rains.They like getting around town on their bicycles. This independence is another plus for Alice. They bring their bikes to town in their parents' car and after school can get to training or visit friends under their own steam.Canberra they remember for its good facilities, like the Indoor Cricket Centre."That's what I miss the most," says Tom.Clancy adds the Skate Park, going to the coast, surfing and visiting his grandparents.They say people in Alice, "the ones you don't know", are friendlier."If someone bumps into you in the street, they say sorry," says Clancy. "In Canberra they wouldn't say sorry."Both boys are keen cricketers and soccer players. Their chance of being able to represent Alice and even the Territory may be greater than would have been their chance to represent Canberra.But when he's older sport might be what takes Tom away. He's not shy about stating his ambition to one day play cricket or soccer for Australia and to do that he would have to go to the big cities.Clancy also says he will have to leave Alice to go to a good university – "unless they have a good university here by then."They started high school this year, at St Philip's. They say doing well is up to the individual.Clancy says some friends don't really care about school, but there's no pressure from peers to either succeed or not succeed."All schools are good if you try," says Tom. "It's your attitude that matters."They have a number of friends who have gone through high school in Alice Springs. "They were among the top students in the Territory and all got into the courses they wanted to do at college or university," says Tom.


The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) has started off the new year and the new century with a new office, a new coordinator and new fundraising efforts.ALEC is a community organisation which researches, networks, informs, advocates, and acts on environmental and social issues applicable to the arid zone.Last week ALEC moved from its old premises off Todd Mall to its new office at the Old Hartley Street School."We couldn't ask for a better location," new coordinator Glenn Marshall said."We really hope to turn this office into a public space which can be accessed by everyone."The office has a library of information on arid zone issues and hopes to be a place where people can come to learn more about social issues."We also hope to feature a community notice board so people know what is happening in the Centre."Glenn started his work as coordinator last week."I've been a member of ALEC for several years and I have lived in Alice Springs on and off since 1988 and love it," Glenn said.A geologist, Glenn said he has spent the past four years working as a consultant in the field of sustainable water management which includes water conservation and low-technology waste water management particularly in remote communities."ALEC is involved in three main frontiers," Glenn said."These frontiers are rangelands, sustainable living, and mining."ALEC has a membership of more than 100 individuals; others are corporate members."The membership is dynamic and the combined skills of the volunteers and their willingness to be involved are impressive."Members come by the office and ask ‘what can I do to help?'"Round-the-world cyclist Richard Gregg was among the first this year to offer to help ALEC by holding a slide show featuring slides from his travels.Glenn and Richard had gotten to know one another via the Internet and an interest in cycling and the environment.Richard was in Alice Springs en route to Ayers Rock, a place he has wanted to see since he was a school boy in England.But it had taken Richard almost a decade to cycle as far as Alice Springs:"I left England 9 years and 5 months ago."But the first day I only got about seven kilometres from home when my bike broke down and I had to call my mother to come pick me up!"Richard's second start , with a new bike, was more successful.He has travelled through Europe, Egypt, parts of Africa, Pakistan, India, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia , Philippines, among others, and now Australia, taking slides along the way."Cycling around the world has been an evolutionary process," Richard said."I remember when I was 8 years old and saw a picture of the Taj Mahal while in class."I said I am going to go there someday."I read books about the Amazon."I had a Pakistani friend who was born in Britain but would go to Pakistan for summer holidays."I would quiz him as to what life in Pakistan was like."I was never satisfied just watching television."Richard said he followed the "education mill" and got a degree in mechanical engineering, but came out of uni knowing he wanted to travel."I had a long mental list of where I wanted to go."I got a job and made half an attempt on a career path, after all it was a way to earn money to travel."I had thought about getting an around the world air pass or travelling by bus but I like being with the people."When I see things from a vehicle I feel like I'm separated from the people, but when I'm on a bicycle , I feel like I'm with the people."Richard said he had originally only planned to spend five years travelling, but he's "slow about everything".During his almost 10 years on the road, Richard has been back to England three times, the longest period was 10 months while he recuperated from a knee injury caused when he fell through a maintenance manhole cover on a stationary houseboat in darkness in Kashmir."I had just cycled along 7000 kilometres of some of the most dangerous roads in Kashmir where getting shot was more likely!" Richard said.He had traveller's insurance so he went back to England to recover and for physical therapy."The physical therapy has probably been the hardest part of my whole cycling experience so far."Richard also spent two and a half years teaching English in Japan, arriving there in late 1994."I was in Japan when the earthquake hit Kobe," Richard said."I wanted to help so I volunteered to deliver things on my bike."And the people were so good; even though they had little, they wanted to give me something in return to thank me."I realised that by offering something in return, it gave them a sense of pride and a feeling of normalcy which was very important to them."So I tried to get a 24-hour cyclethon going and get other people involved ."It was while trying to arrange the cyclethon that I entered the computer era."A friend in England set up an email account which I could access while travelling."This way people can contact me even if they don't know where I am."I also started writing a little guide based on my own experiences."I have a lot of material but it changes so quickly. And people can swap addresses and information as to where one can stay."A friend of mine set up a website for me,"Richard has been in Australia for several weeks now, stopping first in Darwin for a month.His slide show was attended by about 20 people, many of them interested in learning more about what one needs to bicycle long distances as well as seeing Richard's slides which were fascinating, non-commercialised, views of the environment as well as the people Richard has met in his travels.The photographs of smiling children irrespective of which country they came from were particularly captivating.Richard told his audience that he carries a load of about 60-70 kilograms, which includes his camera, writing materials, Walkman, spare parts for the bike, a water filter, sleeping bag and tent, pots and pans, and clothing."I didn't have to carry much food while in Asia, only some dry food, as there was food everywhere."And I try to plan my trip according to where water is available."With the long distances between places in Australia, I'm going to need to carry more food and water."Richard expects to be in Australia for about six months before heading for New Zealand.As for ALEC, the organisation's next fundraiser will be Zero Compaction, which is described as "a dance extravaganza" to be held at Witchetty's on April 8.

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