May 17, 2000


A bizarre breakdown in communications between Alice Springs and Darwin has all but brought the RSPCA of Central Australia to its knees.The group of animal welfare volunteers is appealing to the Centre's public for both moral and financial support in a "fight for its life".Its government funding, distributed through the RSPCA NT Council, has been withheld since last October.President of the Council, Liz Chain, says this is because the Centre's group refuses to supply statistics about its operations.Anne Buckley, president of the local body, now separately incorporated, says her committee is refusing to supply statistics because they are not being funded.Appeals to Local Government Minister Loraine Braham to intervene in the matter have not been successful.The conflict goes deeper than the impasse over funding. Its origins are somewhere in a maze of bureaucratic and possibly personal pettiness, but the local body has a number of clearly defined complaints.Apart from no longer being forwarded any government monies, their entitlements have been significantly cut, from $19,800 to $14,000 per annum, on the basis of a formula which Mrs Buckley says was not communicated to her committee and was never debated.Mrs Buckley says that despite the difference in human populations in the two centres, Alice Springs handled just under 200 fewer animals than Darwin did in the previous financial year.She also says the Alice Springs shelter has increased its animal service levels by 350 per cent since it started in 1995, and asks what could justify a cut of almost one third in their funding.Mrs Chain says the formula for the distribution of government funds was circulated to all branches for "weeks prior" to the executive meeting which decided on its introduction, and that branches were invited to produce alternative formulae if they were dissatisfied.Mrs Buckley says, "Show me the correspondence!"She says they never received any information about the formula, and were given only 24 hours notice of the meeting to discuss it. She says neither she nor Vice-President Craig Buckley were able to attend at such short notice.She says the local body has received only two letters and "one or two emails" from the NT Council since their AGM held in June last year.She says the NT Council does not forward any correspondence from the national RSPCA, leaving the local group in the dark about national fund-raising efforts and other activities.Mrs Buckley also protests about the way in which the NT Council, without any advice to the Alice group, contacted other parties to their lease of land – a portion of the Alice Town Council's dog pound – for the construction of a new animal shelter.Mrs Chain says the lease was inappropriately signed under the seal of the RSPCA NT Executive, when the executive had not authorised the use of the seal.She also says: "We advised the Alice Springs branch that the NT Executive does approve in principle the granting of the lease and would approve it on presentation to a Council meeting."Mrs Buckley says the Council's constitution does not prevent the local group from using the seal, but also says: "Darwin are using a technicality as a lever to obstruct our plans."A further complaint of the local group concerns the Darwin branch's Telemarketing campaign in the region.Says Mrs Buckley: "Many regional donators became distressed and angry when they discovered, that although the Telemarketer's phone canvassers advised the monies raised would benefit the regions, it was in fact only benefiting the Darwin Branch."This was despite the agreement at the Ministerial meeting of December 1998 that the canvassing would cease in the Centralian region and the profits raised would be forwarded to the Alice Springs branch."Mrs Chain responds that the branch has never supplied names and phone numbers of complainants so that their complaints could be followed up.The local group is further aggrieved by the Darwin's branch's promotion of its Beneficiary Program to local legal firms, apparently claiming to be the only NT branch recognised by the National Council of the RSPCA. As a separately incorporated body the RSPCA of Central Australia has applied for its own membership of the National Council, which will be considered this month. Concern that the National Council had taken legal action against the local group for use of trademarked materials, in particular the famous logo with its two paw prints, has been dispelled by the National President, Dr Hugh Wirth.Dr Wirth told the Alice Springs News there has merely been an exchange of letters over the matter, and the local group have advised that they will desist in the use of the trademarked materials until such time as they are accepted as members of the National Council.Minister for Local Government Loraine Braham had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.

'NON SOLUTIONS' FOR THE SWAMP. COMMENT by MARSHALL, coordinator of the Arid Lands Environment Centre.

It is encouraging to see the NT government announce a study into mosquitoes in Ilparpa Swamp. It is of great concern, however, to hear some of the "solutions" being touted, including digging a lake in the swamp. These non-solutions do nothing to address the cause of the problem, nor do they take a positive approach to water management in our desert town. I present below a background to the issue, obvious long-term solutions to the problem, and a call for integrated future water management in Alice Springs.Mossies are breeding thickly in the swamp and carry Ross River Fever and Murray Valley Encephalitis. Health risks are very real for people south of the Gap, including Old Timers residents, tourists in the caravan parks, Aboriginal people in town camps and rural block dwellers in the Ilparpa Road and Ross Highway areas. It is unclear how many mossies travel through and over the Gap into town, but they are likely to be numerous.No-one denies the cause of the mossie problem, which is the overflow of effluent from the adjacent PAWA sewage ponds to the swamp. The nutrient-rich effluent creates a near-permanent water body in the swamp, fuels thick reed growth and hence creates prime mosquito breeding habitat. Mosquito predators such as fish and dragonfly nymphs do not thrive amongst the reeds. This summer's rains have filled the swamp during the warmer mosquito-preferred months and mossie numbers have been sky-high. This has presumably prompted the response by the NT government to formally examine the issue.Solutions touted by the Minister for Health on ABC radio on May 10 centred around a puzzling acceptance that effluent will always overflow into the swamp. Options included educating people to cover up, spraying more chemicals in the swamp to kill mossies, purifying the incoming effluent so reeds don't grow as much, and excavating further sewage ponds in the swamp to reduce the reed area (the "lake" option). Not once in that interview did the Minister mention the obvious long-term solution of not allowing effluent to overflow into the swamp at all by reusing it elsewhere. Thankfully his parallel press release mentions in one line (of two pages) that "re-use of the effluent will be considered". Of course it should be! It is the only sensible long-term solution in a desert town attempting to develop a Desert Knowledge Consortium based on selling best-practice ideas to the world.We must first remember that our town water supply is 20,000 years old, extracted (mined) from the underground Mereenie aquifer south of town. It is not replenished by rain, and is lowered by one to two metres per year. It will eventually run out. It is pumped through the Gap into town, we use it once and it flows back through the Gap to the sewage ponds. The ponds are deliberately numerous to allow most of the effluent to evaporate into thin air. Any excess overflows to Ilparpa Swamp and evaporates, or flows across Ilparpa Road as in previous months. This waste of ancient water in a desert is hard to fathom, particularly given that various entrepreneurs have sought to reuse the effluent for irrigation over many years.Reuse of effluent is not a novel concept, and occurs elsewhere for horticulture, timber production, oval irrigation, aquaculture, other uses and even drinking. The simplest reuse option is irrigation reuse, made lucrative by the nutrients (fertiliser) contained in effluent. Since the 1960s in Alice Springs, proposals for citrus orchards, date farms, firewood lots and cabinet timber plantations have all been seriously developed by various groups, but never progressed. Anecdotal evidence suggests a lack of serious commitment from the Government as a major factor in this.To be fair, the Government has shown some commitment to effluent reuse at the ponds. It currently pumps some effluent to irrigate horse pastures at Blatherskite Park. A trial firewood lot was established at the ponds in the early 1980s by the Conservation Commission of the NT. It now remains as a sometimes-irrigated relic deemed not to be economically viable. PAWA last year sought expressions of interest for organisations to resume active management of the woodlot. Several groups responded, one was selected for further discussions but negotiations stalled, apparently due to the resignation of key PAWA personnel and an inward focus by PAWA during its current restructuring phase.Technical and economic issues obviously need to be addressed for reuse options. The seasonality of effluent is spoken of as a limitation to effluent reuse. PAWA has recently undertaken a feasibility study into pumping excess winter effluent into a nearby underground aquifer for extraction the following summer. The results of this study are not yet public. Suitable quality effluent could be drawn from the pond system long before the overflow point at Ilparpa Swamp (for example at pond three of the numerous ponds). Following ponds could be deepened and used as storage dams in winter for irrigation extraction in summer. There are innovative ways to overcome hurdles.Smarter sewage management is only one part of an easily-developed vision for wise water management in this town. Water conservation measures are in their infancy in Alice Springs. In Kalgoorlie in 1994-95, the WA Water Authority spent around $2m installing low flow shower heads, dual flush toilets, mulch and native gardens in houses for free. Water audits were conducted free at schools, hospitals and businesses, and these institutions were subsidised to undertake retrofits. A big community education and involvement campaign was included. This initiative saved the WA government and ratepayers $6 million in three years. In Alice Springs a similar story would unfold, particularly since it costs the government more to deliver water to us than we pay for it now. This is because of a policy of charging identical rates for water across the NT. Further potential exists with the Town Basin under the Todd River, which partially recharges during each river flow. Some water is extracted from this underground dam to irrigate the golf course and some ovals, but more could be done with this renewable water supply. Household rainwater tanks, greywater reuse and stormwater harvesting are three other obvious areas to develop. We as a community must lead Government towards a vision of sustainable water management in Alice Springs. The Minister promised extensive community consultation in the current mosquito study, and we should grab the opportunity to create a sustainable long-term water management regime for our town. It is clear to me that this is readily achievable. We have the vision and enthusiasm within our community and have a Government capable of providing the necessary resources.Let me finish by returning to Ilparpa Swamp. What would it be like if there was no effluent flowing into it? We know the answer from old aerial photos and by asking long-term residents of the town. Prior to the sewage ponds being installed in the mid-1960s, the swamp was an open depression dotted with trees and shrubs and only filled after rain. It would stay full for a few months then dry out again. No reeds were present and mosquitoes were not numerous because the open water allowed unfavourable wave action and predators to exist. Residents of Alice Springs took the opportunity to swim, raft, canoe, picnic, bird-watch, walk and experience first-hand the surface water cycles of our arid region. The area was a true asset for the town, and could easily be again. To picture how it would look, take a drive out to the Ilparpa claypans at the other end of Ilparpa Valley at the moment. They are full of rain, magnificent, have minimal mossies and no sewage. Ilparpa Swamp could be like this – it's up to us to make it happen.


A statement by Education Minister Chris Lugg in the Legislative Assembly last week did not give much hope that this week's budget will address comprehensively the recommendations of the Collins review of Indigenous education in the Territory.With no suggestion of a major commitment of funds, the statement's rhetoric of inclusiveness of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the Minister's long term vision was then undermined by his adjournment speech of the same day in which he described the Stolen Generation as "a fraud" perpetrated by the "Aboriginal industry" for the purpose of "obtaining large amounts of money".Large amounts of money would certainly be needed to turn around the crisis in Indigenous education, most particularly in the bush.A full costing of the Collins recommendations went beyond the scope of initial review. However, Shadow Minister for Education Peter Toyne told the Assembly that of the 151 recommendations, 100 or so are cost neutral, seven actually make savings for the Government, but 43 involve "significant new levels of expenditure".The Minister's statement got specific on expenditure on Indigenous education in only a couple of instances, but the amounts were far from "significant", considering the scale of the problems. The Minister said that expenditure of Commonwealth funds under the Indigenous Education Strategic Initiatives Program (IESIP) has been "redirected" to identify $3.1m for "use on programs that will allow schools to make a difference".When readers consider that according to the Collins review $130m had been spent on Indigenous education in the last year, with a further $10m allocated under IESIP, $3.1m does not sound like a lot of money, especially not when we are talking about turning around the failure of 95 per cent of Indigenous children in the bush to reach Year Three national benchmarks in literacy, a fact acknowledged by the Minister in his statement.We can add to this, however, an additional $1m mentioned by the Minister, derived from the reduction from 46.1 per cent to 10 per cent of the levy "we once extracted to cover considerable salary on-costs associated with supporting these Commonwealth programs".President of the NT Principals' Association Don Zoellner said the association was "ecstatic" about this aspect of the Minister's statement, but that on the whole "we would have hoped for more"."The Collins review identified a lot of instances of good practice already in operation in the Territory. "The NTPA expected a response from Government that would allow for the spread of good practice."We welcome the Minister's in principle support for Collins, but his statement can't be seen as an announcement of a major shift in resources."Mr Toyne made similar points: "The only money beyond existing funding is being put into pilots."We don't need pilots. We need money to implement demonstrated existing best practice. We need to bite the bullet, put the money out there where it is needed. To get decent infrastructure in the bush, including decent teacher housing, we would be talking about $20m. To get complete coverage of secondary age students, it would be another $30m to $40m."If we don't act now, in a situation that is in crisis and spiralling downwards, then in another five to 10 years, it will cost us hundreds of millions in law and order and health expenditure."Mr Toyne also took issue with Mr Lugg's definition of Two Way Learning, which the Minister referred to in his statement as "a term suggested by Learning Lessons [the Collins review]".Said Mr Lugg: "The focus of the school is not to teach local language and custom, which remains the business of the family and community. With Two Way Learning, local languages are used primarily as a means of teaching English literacy."This is in fact a long way from the eloquent and inspiring discussion of Two Way Learning in the Collins review.The review advocated "two way learning" as a term "which removes the current tendency to see learning in the vernacular and in English as somehow in competition"."The evidence is that competency in one tends to be reflected in competency in the other."The review advocated a teaching framework "flexible enough to incorporate in a soundly based educational program the individual situations and requirements of different communities"."At the same time the program must be strongly outcomes based with appropriate assessment provided which includes critical reference to Standard Australian English oracy, literacy and numeracy."The review emphasised that Indigenous education whether "bilingual or not" needs "needs appropriate levels of human and physical resourcing"."The immediate challenge will be ensuring a supply of suitably experienced Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and the establishment of clear approaches within schools that establish the ‘how' of enabling students to maintain their cultural practices and languages while ensuring that oracy, literacy, numeracy and other competencies are attained."Far from local language being only the "business of the family and community", the review urged that the NT "should be leading Australia in policy development and pedagogy for the use of original Australian languages in education".It also said the Territory "should be at the leading edge in the production of educational curriculum" in Indigenous cultures and languages.There is not room here for the review's specific recommendations in this area. Suffice it to say that they were entirely glossed over by the Minister, who talked only about "the rationalisation of the six school-centred Literature Production Centres to four regional production centres".The NT Indigenous Education Strategy outlined by Mr Lugg and endorsed by Cabinet for action will see:• the critical problem of attendance addressed by pilot attendance programs and increased options for access to secondary courses and pre-schools "over time";• the provision of hostels in key regional areas "explored";• children's physical fitness to learn addressed by pilot hearing programs; • multi-purpose early childhood centres combining infant health and pre-literacy cognitive development "being investigated";• access to good schooling addressed by unquantified "targeted recruitment and ESL training for teaching staff" as well as "pilot provision of ESL teachers above current formula for four schools";• work already started on the pilot Student Tracking System in conjunction with the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and NTDE collaborating with Territory Health Services "to incorporate their experiences with developing patient tracking systems";• programs managed "with full accountability";• a new Strategic Results Program funded by "a considerable amount of the $3.1m we've pulled out of ineffective IESIP activities"; and• Indigenous parents and communities sharing responsibility for education outcomes.In relation to the last point Mr Lugg appeared to rule out the "high level partnerships" (that is, between NTDE and ATSIC and the land councils) advocated by the Collins review.Mr Lugg said: "We don't need another layer of bureaucracy for Indigenous leaders to have the imprimatur to broadcast the importance of education to their children's futures."System wide strategies and expenditure, particularly in the Information Technology area, could have a positive impact in Indigenous classrooms, although this is not a point made by the Minister. Said Mr Lugg: "This Government will allocate appropriate and meaningful funding amounting to some millions, to be followed up on an annual basis, to ensure that from this year on, all schools will have access to fast and reliable Internet access for students, and will receive ongoing support in terms of continuing access changes."


There are far more Aboriginal than white children in Central Australia outside the major towns but they make up just a small portion of the enrolment in the School of the Air.Only 24 of its 124 pupils are Aboriginal, raising the question whether this world famous institution could play a bigger role in Indigenous education.Assistant Principal Karen Blanchfield says the school is equipped to do so.It has ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching materials.Ms Blanchfield says because Aboriginal pupils require a higher level of support they are visited in their homes by teachers every five weeks, while non-Aboriginal children get one visit a year.The Isolated Children's Parents Association (ICPA) can recruit tutors – retired teachers – from around the nation who are available to do six week stints in the bush, for just food and board.This program is called VISE – Volunteers for Isolated Student Education.Equipment, too, is available at little cost to families.The famous high frequency two-way radios are supplied free of charge, and part of the revenue from the 55,000 entry fee paying visitors to the school every year is ploughed into buying computers and other hardware, made available to students at a minimal rent.Ms Blanchfield says School of the Air pupils are generally high achievers.She says distance education students benefit from the individual help from their own tutors, formerly known as governesses, at present all of them women, or from the children's parents.


Vandals broke into Eddie Smith's yard in Elder Street on Tuesday one week ago and threw "everything not nailed down" into the swimming pool.This included his lawn mower, rubbish bin, tools, deck chairs, beach umbrella and garden gnomes.Mr Smith reported the incident to the Alice Springs Police first thing Wednesday morning.He suggested that the offenders may be children living in the nearby town camp, who have been into his yard causing minor nuisance before. He says he was told by the officer making the report that nothing could be done without witnesses.A neighbour subsequently told Mr Smith he had seen three Aboriginal boys, about 10 to 12 years of age, climbing over the fence of the block neighbouring his own, on Tuesday afternoon.Mr Smith says this is the route the children have always taken coming into his yard. He told the police about the witness' information but was surprised by what he describes as the officer's lack of interest.Spokesperson for the Alice Springs Police told the Alice Springs News that an investigator had been "tasked" to look into the incident.However, at the time of going to press, almost one week later, Mr Smith said he had still not had any further contact with the police.He says the children need to be told that they are doing the wrong thing."I know mandatory sentencing is bad, but how do we protect ourselves? "I've been here 17 years, I'm no redneck. I've never had any big problems around here before, but someone should talk to the kids about damaging other people's property. There used to be a policeman around here who knew the kids, knew their families. The police need to make some effort."The News made further enquiries with the Alice Springs Police, whose spokesperson said officers had attended at Mr Smith's residence on three occasions over the weekend, but had found no one at home. Why didn't they ring Mr Smith to make a time to meet?The spokesperson said he didn't know if they had Mr Smith's phone number. He said the officers had also made enquiries at the nearby town camp with "no result". They had further attempted to contact Mr Smith's neighbour, but were told he had gone on an overseas holiday for nine weeks."It is still an ongoing criminal investigation," said the spokesperson.


Sometimes there may be a good reason for a journalist's information not to go to press, but in seven years of dealing with Territory politicians, heads of organisations and their media advisors I have come across less than a handful who have understood the role of a background briefing in such an instance.On a story I was pursuing last year I was sorely in need of a such a briefing: it concerned a Government school in a remote community. I was contacted by a community member and a community worker with allegations about the way the school was run, which if they were true, would have been of serious concern. The two sources appeared to be genuine, especially as they were prepared to be identified. I invited the principal of the school to speak to me, but he did not respond. I made enquiries with the NT Department of Education's media liaison officer who referred me to a senior departmental officer in the southern region. A phone call to his office, in which I outlined the nature of the allegations, led me to be referred me to another senior officer. I drafted an account of the sources' statements and faxed it to that officer, asking for further information and comment.There was no reply to my fax but a phonecall on deadline day yielded a hostile and uninformative response, as well as a snide comment about "my processes". In my view, "my processes" were in line with journalistic duty and ethics: I was endeavouring to get both sides of a story which potentially had important implications for a Central Australian community. I was unhappy to go to press with a one sided story and, as the officer said the Department would be investigating the allegations and "may or may not" make a statement "in due course", I decided to hold it. I informed the officer of my decision by fax.Meanwhile, he had faxed the draft to the school, apparently not informing them of my decision to hold the story pending further enquiries.Then, at about 6pm, two hours before my print deadline, a member of the community, in a position unrelated to the Department's functions, rang me with background information that led to me binning the story. She told me she had just left the school staff in tears over the faxed copy of the draft story.I subsequently wrote to the then Minister of Education, Peter Adamson, expressing my hope of "an improved working relationship" with his Department, in these terms:-I suggested that in the interest both of the truth and of protecting his staff, [the senior officer] could have given me a background briefing to enable me to make an informed decision about this story. As the principal at the school had been in the position for a number of years, the officer would have been well acquainted with the way he ran the school. He would already have known all he needed to say to me . I suggested that equally, the principal could have made an "off the record" statement. I have never breached the confidence of a background briefing or an "off the record" statement. As it was, the senior officer was quite prepared for my draft to go to press as a damaging and one sided story that would have served no one's interests: not mine, not the readers', and not the Department's nor the school's. It was only "my processes" that lead to the story being held.I suggested to the Minister, a former journalist, that he spread the word on background briefings and introduce an atmosphere of more open communication with the media in his Department. I told him that there are good stories to be told (on one of which I had just published a detailed report), as well as the not so good, and that I was interested in dealing fairly and intelligently with both. I have never had a reply.NEXT: Shooting the messenger.


The local car industry will be looking to the GST for relief from massive sales downturns, according to the town's biggest dealer, Peter Kittle, but he doubts the tax reform kicking in on July 1 will be a lot of help.He says a five to six per cent saving on new cars will be offset by the 10 per cent GST on used cars, knocking down the value of trade-ins.Mr Kittle says there may be an upswing of private used car trading which will apparently escape the GST.In addition, current "bonus programs" for new cars will finish at the end of the financial year."I don't think car buyers will be better off under the GST," he says."Some customers say they will wait, but most won't."The best time ever to buy a new car was in November last year."Interest rates were lower, we had a good currency, and manufacturers were competitive."Mr Kittle says his company's trading has remained steady because a 30 per cent downturn in retail sales was offset by an equivalent increase in purchases by sales tax exempt fleet and commercial buyers.However, overall new vehicle sales in Alice Springs dropped 29 per cent last year, and a further 12 per cent in the first quarter of 2000.None of this stopped Peter Kittle Motor Company from winning, for the fourth time, the Toyota President's Award for Excellence.It was presented to Mr Kittle last week by the head of the company's Australian operation, Kenichi Asano, who is both president and chief executive officer.

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