September 20, 2000


The four sitting CLP Members of Parliament in Central Australia are calling for greater enforcement of existing alcohol laws and regulations but their joint statement, released last week, is silent on the question of support for any measures restricting alcohol supply.Greatorex MLA Richard Lim says the four, including Minister for Central Australia, Loraine Braham, have been discussing the issues for the last two months, since the Hauritz report, "Dollars Made from Broken Spirits", was released.He says: "That's the time it's taken for us to work through the issues and come to a consensus. "It's not something we've not been doing or a knee jerk because of all this kerfuffle that's going around. "We have been thinking and talking about it for a while and I think it's good for Peter Toyne to come up with a kneejerk and spout at the mouth. "At least the four of us have taken this issue more seriously and considered the town in its total."Dr Lim says that the report has "covered the issue well in certain places and made some good suggestions", but the four find "the key recommendation ... to take the report in total or not at all ... a little bit hard to accept". Dr Lim would not be more explicit about which suggestions he and his colleagues thought were good:"I'm not able to enumerate the whole lot for you. "What I'm saying is that what we need to do is first of all ensure that our legislation is being enforced and enforced well. "The two kilometre law, for example, needs to be further enforced in Alice Springs. "We are saying that we can improve the policing of licensees [so that] they observe the terms of their licences."The Hauritz report community survey asked its 407 respondents how effectively they thought the two kilometre law worked. Just over half (53 per cent) rated the law as "very ineffective; another 31 per cent rated it as "ineffective". Suggestions about how to increase its effectiveness were wide-ranging, from abolition of the law to severe enforcement of it.Respondents were also asked a range of questions about how responsible they thought liquor licensees were in the sale of alcohol.Just over half (53 per cent) thought sales in licensed venues were responsible; 23 per cent said they were not responsible; 24 per cent didn't know.Questions about licensees' sales of take-away alcohol received a more evenly divided response: 38 per cent said they were responsible; 40 per cent said they were not; 23 per cent didn't know.Licensees of supermarket liquor stores received a greater vote of confidence: 58 per cent said they were responsible; 25 per cent said they weren't; 17 per cent didn't know.Licensees of convenience store outlets were deemed as responsible by 32 per cent; 33 per cent said they were not; 35 per cent didn't know. However, when asked whether convenience stores should sell alcohol at all a decisive 77 per cent said they should not.There was even greater opposition to service stations selling alcohol: 93 per cent said they should not. Over half (56 per cent) said supermarkets should sell alcohol, but a significant minority (41 per cent) said they should not.The survey also asked a number of questions about matters dealt with by the Liquor Commission:¥ a majority (67 per cent) said there should be no more liquor outlets in Alice Springs;¥ a great majority (84 per cent) said there should be more liquor licensing inspections of all venues selling alcohol; ¥ 89 per cent said licensees selling liquor to intoxicated patrons should be severely dealt with; ¥ 95 per cent said licensees selling to under-age drinkers should be severely dealt with; ¥ 98 per cent said sly grog runners should be severely dealt with;¥ 82 per cent said liquor licensing decisions should address public need for another liquor outlet.Dr Lim and his colleagues will discuss how to bring about better enforcement of licence conditions with the Liquor Commissioner in the near future.Dr Lim suggests imposition of stiffer penalties may be the way to go:"For example, you have a licensee who breaches a term of his licence. The commission may suspend the licence for a period or sometimes give a suspended suspension. "There is little incentive for the licensee to observe the terms."What I would prefer to see happen is that licensees have their right to trade suspended for a period of three to four days at a time. "I believe by doing that, not only does it hurt the financial investment of the business, but it actually encourages the licensees' clients to go elsewhere to seek their supplies. "When that happens sometimes the client develops a loyalty to the new supplier, which means that the suspended licensee loses that customer loyalty. "That's the last thing that any business wants. If we break that link between the customer and the licensee, then it would at least achieve or produce an incentive for the licensee to think, ÔI'd better observe the terms of my licence closely otherwise I will lose my clients'."If the suspension is only for one or two days, the customer might come back, but if the suspension is for a longer period of time, then you would go elsewhere. "I'm not saying that three days or a month is the right term, but I am saying the longer the term of the suspension the more likely that the client would develop a loyalty to a different supplier."The CLP four will also be seeking a meeting with Superintendent Gary Moseley concerning more rigorous enforcement of the two kilometre law.Their statement also recommends a review of "aspects of legislation dealing with public behaviour".Dr Lim would not be drawn on other measures he and his colleagues may support, such as measures restricting supply.Dr Lim: "The report in my opinion does not reflect the community wish. "It does reflect a section of the community wish."Dr Lim remains concerned about the size of the sample in Dr Hauritz's community survey, despite the earlier well-publicised assurance by leading authority Denis Gray, Associate Professor at the National Drug Research Institute, that the sample size was appropriate.In the Alice News of August 9, Dr Gray wrote: "Some critics have suggested that the survey sample size of 407 persons is too small to accurately represent the opinions of the Alice Springs population. "This reflects a misunderstanding of scientific sampling procedures by those critics ..."I have independently calculated a required sample size for such a survey in Alice Springs. "This confirmed that the sample size used in the report is adequate to reflect the views of the Alice Springs population. "Increasing the sample size would have made little or no difference to the results and would have been a waste of additional funds."DISCUSSIONDr Lim says: "I believe that some of our suggestions through our discussion with the police and the Liquor Commissioner and others, will bring about exactly what the town wants."I think academic dissection of the rigour of the [Hauritz report] research can go on forever. "If we can't come to an agreement there's nothing much we can do about that. I understand scientific methods as much as Dr Hauritz. I've done that myself. "I'm saying to you I believe that the report is not indicative of the whole of Alice Springs community's wishes."Asked whether it reflected a majority view, rather than a whole community view, Dr Lim said: "That we want to have less anti-social behaviour, less drunken behaviour, that's a motherhood statement. "Every community all around Australia says that. It doesn't say anything about Alice Springs per se."Dr Lim says he agrees the report covers many other areas: "I understand that. I'm not belittling the report in that sense. "I'm saying that in my mind the rigour that it purports to have, the representation that it purports to have for Alice Springs is not justified. "We can argue that forever, people can belittle my comment, they have every right to do so, there's nothing much I can do about that."So let's not talk about that issue, it's a worthless exercise. "What's important is, OK, a section of the community supports the Hauritz report, another section of the community does not support the Hauritz report. "We are saying that the Hauritz report cannot be taken in total. "There are some good recommendations in there, and there are some that are really ridiculous. In fact, the Alcohol Reference Group have decided that alcohol free days are not an option. "They've discarded that also. "What I'm saying is what the four of us recommend and it'll be through discussions with the appropriate authorities rather than through the media that we'll bring about what Alice Springs will want."John Elferink, Member for MacDonnell, says the statement issued by the four is "a big step in the right direction".Mr Elferink hopes progress on the issue can be largely kept out of the political arena."Unfortunately it has entered the political arena lately, but what we've lost on the swings, we've gained on the roundabout. "That is, there is recognition that we've got a problem and it needs to be addressed. Prior to this, there were elements who were saying we haven't got a problem."I was worried that the Hauritz report, because of some of its emotive language, would polarise the community and it did."This statement undoes that damage and gets us back to the negotiating table."Mr Elferink says that what he and his colleagues are calling for is not inconsistent with the ATSIC report (by Brady and Martin, 1998), nor with the Hauritz report, especially with respect to their call for review of legislation concerning penalties for breach of license conditions and with respect to public behaviour.The Alice News put it to Mr Elferink that the statement is careful to avoid any reference to restrictions on sales of take-away alcohol.Mr Elferink: "I still have some personal sympathy in that direction, depending on what is put forward."The ball is now apparently back in the court of the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee, chaired by ATSIC's Richard Preece. Mrs Braham has asked the AARC "to provide her with reasoned and achievable recommendations for consideration by Government."


Police have dropped enquiries into an alleged payback attack in which three people were injured, one seriously, in South Terrace on September 9. A police spokesman says all three victims, a woman and two men, declined to make complaints and refused to be witnesses. The attack is believed to be linked to a killing at Hermannsburg. Residents say neither the victims nor the attackers live in the camp. The police spokesman says in the absence of complaints, police are required to attempt prosecution only in cases of murder or manslaughter, or grievous bodily harm when the victim is too incapacitated to assist police. "Police need to bring evidence," says the spokesman, and without witnesses, taking a matter to court would be "fruitless". Eye witnesses told the Alice Springs News that several men and women armed with knives, nulla-nullas and star pickets had arrived outside Abbott's Camp, an Aboriginal town lease in the Gap area. They chased a man aged 19 through the camp, across South Terrace and to the banks of the Todd, where he was reportedly stabbed in the right thigh and the scalp. He suffered serious blood loss and received emergency surgery at the Alice Springs Hospital. Another man and a woman were also injured in the melee. Police say the man, 20, was stabbed in the thigh, arm and cheek, and the woman, 45, was stabbed twice in the back and once in the thigh and scalp. All three also suffered various abrasions.


Newhaven Station, soon to become a reserve for Birds Australia, will be open to visitors hopefully by the end of next year.As well offering sanctuary to wildlife, the national organisation with 20,000 members says the reserve, 335 km north-west of The Alice, will be a cooperative research area, open to scholars from organisations like Parks and Wildlife, the CSIRO and the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.These uses can co-exist with low impact tourism, if Birds Australia's experience at Gluepot Reserve, near Waikerie in South Australia, is any guide.Managing Newhaven, because of its remoteness, will be a " learning experience for us", according to the organisation's Kate Fitzherbert, but she says there has been no problem with visitors at Gluepot. A detailed plan has yet to be developed but Dr Fitzherbert expects that two to three camping areas with about 12 sites each will be developed.Their facilities will be basic Ð long-drop toilets, water tanks, no fires Ð but they will be in areas of special interest, each distinct from the other, one near the Siddeley Ranges, one by a salt lake, and so on. The reserve will be relying on largely voluntary management. Dr Fitzherbert says this system is working well at Gluepot, with volunteers signed up till the end of 2001."They're all sorts of people Ð some have just finished university, some are between jobs, there are some retirees and some travellers from overseas."It simply requires people to be resourceful and to get on well with visitors."Gluepot is just as primitive in its conditions but we may find there are additional difficulties here because of the distance from population centres."Before visitors arrive however, immediate tasks are to develop a fire management strategy, which may mean the setting up of a series of fire breaks, as well as to do a lot of mapping and sign-posting. Some of the existing tracks on the property will be closed. As soon as the station is de-stocked a series of monitoring sites will be set up, to collect data on communities of birds, reptiles, small mammals and plants."This will allow us to manage the reserve on a more informed basis, rather than intuitively," says Dr Fitzherbert."We already know, for instance, that the property is home to a number of fire sensitive plant communities that have luckily survived until now. We'll want to make sure they continue to do so."Feral animal control plans will also need to be developed.There is a significant camel population, the object of long- term research by German scientists Jurgen Huecke and Birgit Dorges."We're very supportive of their research which will go on for another three years, but after that we will want to remove the camels," says Dr Fitzherbert.There are also wild horses and donkeys, and smaller ferals like rabbits, foxes and cats, but their numbers are limited probably because of the presence of a lot of dingoes.There is a remarkable absence of weeds, apart from a couple of isolated patches of buffel and some couch around the bores. Birds Australia hopes to eradicate both very quickly.The current homestead will be retained for its historic interest and used as accommodation for visiting researchers and assistant rangers, but it is intended to build new living quarters for the volunteer rangers.Apart from the Federal Government's contribution of more than half the purchase price under its National Reserve System Program, funds to buy Newhaven were raised mostly from the 20,000 Birds Australia members around the country, from individual contributors here and overseas, and from environmental organisations.However, the need for funds is on-going.Gluepot requires $35,000 a year to keep going Ð "incredibly cheap, for what's being achieved," says Dr Fitzherbert.Volunteer rangers are given money for food and fuel and funds are also needed for track maintenance, repairs and depreciation of equipment.The costs for Newhaven will be greater, as it is nearly five times as big, as well as more remote.Many donors have already committed themselves to donations to a "Founders' Program" over the next five years. This has so far raised around $50,000.A community trust will be established to give long term financial security. Gluepot's trust is underway, with their goal being to have $1m in the trust after 20 years. At that point, the reserve would be managed from the interest raised on the trust moneys."We will hope to do the same for Newhaven," says Dr Fitzherbert.


Current owners of Newhaven Station, soon to be purchased by Birds Australia for a wilderness reserve, are Rose Coppock and her husband Alex.The Alice News asked Mrs Coppock, author of "Bush Tracks and Desert Horizons" and a meticulous journal-keeper, to recall the wildlife and landscape during her three decades on the property.Honeymooning in 1963 at gorges in the West MacDonnells, Alex and I were intrigued by finches of brown, red and black, spotted white. Other birds were outstanding for their bright scarlet or orange colouring. We had no idea what they were. That Christmas Santa brought us a book titled "What Bird is That?". Settled at Newhaven, working hard to establish a station, we could now identify Emblema Pictas, Crimson and Orange Chats and other birds that watered at our new garden. With the sprinkler on we saw spinifex pigeons lie totally relaxed with feathers ruffled and wings outstretched beneath the gentle spray. Drought raged in Central Australia then and waterholes of the West MacDonnells were low, causing birds to stray from their usual territory. After rain fell we did not see such large numbers of spinifex pigeons, chats or painted finches again.We had no idea then that Newhaven might one day be bought by Birds Australia as a Wilderness Reserve. Still, Cayley's book accompanied us as we picked bore sites and fence lines, stopping occasionally to stalk grass wrens through spinifex or watch mistletoe birds, sittellas, or rainbow bee-eaters Ð all new words in our vocabulary. In my 30 years on Newhaven I recorded 70 different bird species.Some were merely strangers passing through. These included a lone brolga, a lost seagull and two pelicans cruising on a salt lake. We rescued birds from tanks, dried and released them. A friend, unaware of their dietary requirements, bought seed for migratory bee-eaters apparently dying from lack of food one blistering summer.Newhaven's last known bilby was eaten by workers at Camel Bore in 1967. A surviving tuft of tail-hair enabled its identification years later. At Robs Bore Hill in 1967, Alex sought timber while I, with toddler on hip, was startled by a kangaroo-like animal that crashed into nearby bushes and disappeared. I caught a fleeting glimpse of honey coloured rump and white-spotted tail. Like most of Newhaven, the area was later swept by fire.Denuded by drought or bushfire, the land holds a remarkable capacity to regenerate as soon as sufficient rain falls. Heavy rain fell in 1974 and continued into the Ôeighties. We had never seen so much surface water on Newhaven. A dozen black swans raised chicks at a claypan. Sonny discovered an abandoned swan's egg which was installed in a glass-fronted cabinet until it broke, with a smell that nearly drove us from home. We identified straw-necked ibis, dotterel, stilts, sand-pipers and heron on salt lakes and claypans. A young storm-bird (Pallid Cuckoo) reared by a pair of trusting blue-jays (Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike) tried raucously to summon more rain. At night , after rain, newly hatched flying ants and moths flocked to our electric light. A certain orange-banded burrowing skink came for those that fell. The lizard soon became tame and grew to accept morsels of fat from an outstretched finger. It appeared regularly for handouts. One night I arrived home late and something ran over my foot as I reached for the light switch. Dropping my torch, I saw the orange lizard limp away. I had probably killed our trusting friend! Weeks went by without a skink in sight. Then suddenly, there he was, with a short new tail, waiting for handouts once more. I felt crazily overjoyed to see our lizard alive, well - and still unafraid.We reared a lost magpie chick and delighted in the antics of Maggie flapping and swinging in mad circles from a tea towel; determinedly probing for suspected treasure in someone's pocket; sneakily tweaking the tail of a sleeping cat or settling down on her side with top wing outstretched for a nap beside my pillow at siesta time. Providing Maggie with proper food found me catching moths on gauze-wire, while the men, returning from bore runs, provided an occasional grasshopper.Communing with Newhaven's wildlife wasn't my only occupation. But in spare moments it provided welcome relief from helping to fight bushfires, mend tanks, drag dead cows from troughs or tail-tag cattle in the dust of a strong westerly.I photographed pink cockatoos in flight, and the strange Upside- down Plant with its red flowers at the base and stick-like foliage above. A rock formation on the homestead range I named "Weeping Woman". The ever-changing patterns on a bare, red sand dune were " Footprints of the Wind". Swept clean each day, the morning sand held numerous tiny crisscrossed tracks that recorded the nocturnal life of countless unseen creatures. We studied the life that inhabited our claypans when they contained water, and the desiccated papery bodies of shield shrimps when it dried. Alex unearthed hibernating frogs in post holes and I accepted gifts of birds and hopping mice from a tamed feral cat.Zebra finches nested in eaves of verandas. Pardolotes tunnelled into walls of our rubbish pit. The frozen section of my fridge might have revealed a Mulgara hit by a grader or a drowned Red Flying Fox awaiting identification. "You live in an interesting part of the NT for animals," wrote (Dr) Ken Johnson of Parks and Wildlife in 1978, when he identified the flying fox.On clear winter mornings mirage raised a line of distant hills along the southern horizon. An "island in the sky" shimmered above the flat surface of a wide salt lake.Something sprang at me from shadows one evening and I found myself on top of the nearest table. Alex placed a jar over the revoltingly large, red-marked barking spider, and preserved it in metho for identification. Sonny had jars containing a scorpion, centipede and a small banded snake - probably not the kind of preservation that Birds Australia would endorse!I will be delighted if Newhaven becomes a reserve for endangered birds and threatened habitat. Never heavily grazed, situated at the edge of the desert surrounded by unstocked Aboriginal land, it is ideally suited to that purpose. Then others may enjoy the affinity with land that enriched my thirty years at Newhaven.


The NT Government, which is conducting a review into anti- competitive arrangements in the real estate industry, has shut down a business offering the home seller a choice without any demonstrated disadvantages to the consumer.The Registrar of Agents' Licensing, who is attached to the Department of Industries and Business, has just spent an estimated tens of thousands of dollars investigating and prosecuting Anreps and its principal, Peter Clements.The Registrar, Richard O'Sullivan, says he was acting "in the interest of consumers". But the defendant claims there has not been been a single complaint against his company from a client, nor from any other member of the public, and the only winner is the Territory real estate industry charging some of the highest fees in the country. The Magistrate's Court fined Mr Clements $6000, but did not award costs against him, for acting like a real estate agent without having a license.Meanwhile the review, overseen by a Parliamentary committee, is looking at potentially restrictive trade practices linked to costs of real estate agents' courses, long qualifying periods for entry into the industry, and whether a range of services Ð potentially similar to Anreps Ð should provide land sales services, with the consumer choosing between them.Mr Clements says he started the local franchise of the nation- wide organisation in 1997.He says he assisted private vendors in Alice Springs to sell around 20 homes: "Our clients had nothing but praise and admiration for what we were doing."He says under current NT laws he had no option but to plead guilty although interstate, operations similar to his are flourishing free from legal challenges.Mr Clements says: "We didn't do anything different than Anreps in other parts of Australia but the goal posts up here are different."He used to charge a flat fee of around $2500 per sale for advising owners how to sell their properties. Real estate agents are charging commissions of between $3500 and $4000 per $100,000 of the value of the property, a fee " that's pretty uniform across the Territory," according to the local spokesman of the Real Estate Institute (REI), Andrew Doyle.Asked whether any member of the public had become a victim of Anreps' operations, Mr O'Sullivan, said: "I don't know."Says Mr Doyle: "Well, weren't the [real estate] agents the victims?"Mr O'Sullivan says "real estate agents have been trained in all kinds of aspects of dealing with property sales, conveyance, contact law, consumer ethics and so on."A licensed real estate agent is covered through a fidelity fund."If anything goes wrong and the consumer suffers a loss, they have access to a claim against that fund which doesn't exist when the person is not licensed."There were cases where Anreps in Alice Springs were engaged in activities of a real estate agent. "That brings into question the whole purpose behind licensing and it comes back to those issues of consumer interest, and a general level playing field for those people who have licences."Mr Clements counters that in all cases where he had provided advice, the conveyancing (the legal transfer of titles) had been carried out by properly licensed solicitors or conveyancers.Asked about the higher fees charged by licensed agents, Mr O''Sullivan says: "That could be the case. I don't know. "The issue wasn't what Anreps was charging. The issue was Anreps engaging in activities that require a license. "The Real Estate Institute, of course, was supportive of the case, but the proper authority to take the case [to court] is the body responsible for administering the law."Asked about the cost of the action Mr O'Sullivan said: "Haven't got a bill yet" and would not give an estimate.The hearing, at the end of which Mr Clements pleaded guilty, followed an investigation of his activities by private detectives over several months, heard statements from witnesses flown in from interstate, involved a QC acting for the Government as well as a barrister, and lasted two days. Mr Clements says Anreps in Alice Springs pleaded guilty because of the "overwhelming evidence given in the New Zealand High Court which basically said that the private sale company which was similar to Anreps was an agent if it performed even one of the functions of a real estate agent, such as advertising on behalf of a vendor."The magistrate had little choice but to uphold the law based on this precedent and the fact that Anreps did some of the things that agents do. "The catch all phrase in the legislation is where a person being an agent deals Ôin respect of property' and Ôfor a reward'. "The NZ decision particularly hones in on the fact that the private sale company there received a reward based on the Ô success' of the sale, as agents do."Anreps in other states were challenged by the REI through consumer affairs legislation. "This is a more appropriate means of determining fairness of legislation, because it is the consumer who is being protected and not the real estate industry. "The REI did not succeed in SA against Anreps earlier in the 1990's because there was a public outcry supported by the media and in the end the Crown Solicitor could see no reason why Anreps should be prosecuted."Says Mr O'Sullivan: "The issue became a benchmark issue, whether we continue to enforce the Act or not. "And obviously if people could engage in activities of a real estate agent without a license, the precedent would have been set to anybody to engage in that sort of activity."Mr Doyle says he supports the actions of Mr O'Sullivan: "If Anreps is run the way it is set up to be run, assisting people to sell their home privately, no-one had a problem with that."It would appear that the person who was running Anreps was actually carrying on the duties of an agent, which is outside the parameters of what Anreps is supposed to be."If you want to sell your house privately you sell it privately," says Mr Doyle."If you engage a third party to assist in that, then that person needs to be licensed and operate under the law. That is where the problem occurred. "I've not looked deeply into Anreps in other states but my understanding of it is that it is an organisation for people who look to sell their home privately, helps them organize signs and gives them advice how best to present and market their property."It should not, and does not, as I understand it, get involved on a direct basis with the general public. "Anreps locally overstepped the mark. [Mr Clements], as I understand it from the [court] outcome, was undertaking the task that is normally undertaken by an agent."Mr Doyle says while people are entitled to sell their own homes, if a third party "gives opinions in regard to that property or other property, or conducts inspections on their behalf, then they are taking on the role of an agent."Mr Doyle says the government's court action "has been vindicated by the fact that [Mr Clements] has pleaded guilty to doing exactly what he's been investigated for".Mr Doyle says the law aims at "protecting people's biggest purchase in their life. "You are dealing with transactions of anything between $70,000 and $400,000. "If one of those transactions are not done correctly then the ramifications for a person can be fairly substantial. "Under the Act we must act in the best interests of the vendor. We are operating on their behalf."About real estate agents' fees and commissions Mr Doyle says: " There's deregulation, if someone wants to negotiate a deal, they can."He says licensed agencies have "people who are trained in the field of real estate, people with 15 or 20 years' experience in negotiating real estate sales. "They know the market, they can advise people as to the best price for their property, what low cost improvements can be done to their house to maximise the return. "[Agents] have access to a vast pool of buyers we build up over the years."Meanwhile the Centre for International Economics, which has been commissioned by the Department of Industries and Business to undertake an independent review of the Agents Licensing Act, says "no clear statement of the overarching objectives of the Agents Licensing Act 1979 can be found in the Act itself or in its Regulations". "However, implied objectives [are] to protect consumers of real estate, business and conveyancing services by legislating that agents be licensed, accountable, and meet certain standards of professional competence."The paper says government "intervention will only be justified if it is efficient, effective and the benefits of doing so outweigh any associated costs." The paper outlines substantial restrictions to the entry into the profession of real estate agent: training courses cost more than $5000.The paper says the Agents Licensing Board (ALB) imposes conditions which could be regarded as being anti-competitive. The ALB uses as a guideline a "requirement of four years relevant experience before an applicant is deemed to have the necessary experience to carry on business as a licensed real estate or business agent. "If the ALB steadfastly enforces its four years experience guideline otherwise suitable applicants could be refused an agent's license. "This would have the effect of restricting entry to the realty service provision market. "Conveyancing agents are ... not permitted to undertake [and/or] prepare mortgage leases or business sales. "This is not the situation in some other Australian jurisdictions. "For example, in New South Wales and South Australia, licensed conveyancing agents are able to undertake [and/or] prepare mortgage leases and business sales, while in Western Australia conveyancing agents can convey business sales but not prepare mortgage leases." The paper says the number of complaints from the public are an indication of the standard of the industry: in 1999, of 26 complaints, 10 were forwarded to the ALB for further inquiry. "In seven of the cases, the ALB found in favour of the complainant and brought disciplinary action (fines and/or reprimands) against agents. "Disciplinary action has largely resulted from breaches of the Rules of Conduct, for example, agents failing to operate with due care. "There are two ongoing inquiries. "Since its inception in 1979, there have been no claims made against the Fidelity Fund, and there have been no claims to date against an agent's professional indemnity insurance. "Disciplinary action cases ... did not escalate to insurance claims. The lack of claims suggests that the objective of consumer protection has largely been achieved. "Under this approach all regulation of agents would be removed, meaning that any person, irrespective of education, experience and character, could offer agency services. "The performance of agents would be determined by market forces, the effectiveness of industry bodies, consumer awareness campaigns and general consumer protection offered through the Crimes Act and Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading Act."


As more and more national and multi-national competitors enter the Alice Springs economy, what advantage is there in local ownership Ð for the business and the consumer?Chris Neck, a director with his siblings of the Murray Neck group of companies (father Murray, though semi-retired is still the managing director), says the biggest advantage is in being able to make decisions here.As there is no need to refer to an interstate head office, the local business can respond quickly and with a certain amount of flexibility."A national company may have more resources but tend to be tied into a national strategy, rather than attending to a particular market place," says Mr Neck."They offer a standard range of product while we offer a choice of product suited to this market."We will also, if at all possible, supply Ôone off' items, which a national chain would find very hard to do."Mr Neck was speaking to the Alice News after the announcement last week of a new "strategic partnership" between the Neck group's core business, Electricworld, and King's Furnishers, another locally owned retail business with a long history in town.A "super store" selling furniture and electrical goods with floorspace five times that of the present Electricworld will open in the Western Precinct in April next year, likely to be in head-on competition with a "national" newcomer to the town, Harvey Norman.King's was established as Alice Springs' first furniture store by Frank King in 1946, when "you couldn't buy a bed or a wardrobe in town" and people were becoming tired of "tea box" storage.The Neck family have been in business in Alice for 65 years.The idea to join forces came from Frank King's son, John, who had taken over the family business in 1973. Like Chris Neck, John King says knowledge of the particular market is the key to success of the locally-owned business.He attends the major annual furniture events in Sydney and Melbourne to keep up to date with trends but he says it takes a lot of thought to buy the right stock for customers in the Centre. "It's important to present a blend of the old and the new Ð a new style popular in the city won't necessarily be instantly popular here."We have to be careful of light colours, as there's no getting away from our dusty environment. "It's always my wish to use desert colours in my colour schemes."We have to have a sound knowledge of materials, both timbers and fabrics. "We have to think about how they will respond to our dry climate, with its extremes of temperature, and to our use of air-conditioners."For instance, a lot of furniture sourced out of Asia and very popular in Darwin would be a disaster in Alice Springs because the wood would dry out."After an initial approach by Mr King, the Necks did a study tour of other regional centres Ð Mildura, Bundaberg and Cairns Ð and found that there were similar successful independent businesses in all three."They were family-owned businesses like ours, doing really well against stiff competition, gaining market share," says Mr Neck."Seeing that was a catalyst for our decision."It also confirmed that furniture, floor coverings and electrical goods are a very good fit."Putting the two together will allow both our companies to expand, and when we open our doors there will be more than a century of retail heritage inside."The business, yet to be named, is described by Mr Neck as "bulk goods retail" Ð not a warehouse, but very large, with a " substantial choice of product", midway between a budget and a specialist store.Eleven years ago, when the Necks built Westpoint, where Electricworld is currently located, that was "a substantial retail complex".It added 600 square metres to their previous floorspace but now they find they are desperately short of room."Westpoint will look small compared to what we are going to put up," says Mr Neck.The partners have put a lot of thought into the design of the building, and the Necks brought back new store design ideas from their study tour."It won't be a windowless box. "We want something we can be proud of and that consumers will want to visit."Local architecture firm Zone A worked to a detailed brief. The building, housing also two specialty shops, will be 100 metres long and more than six metres high, with pre-cast concrete walls painted in colours "that will blend with the local environment". Its surrounds and 100 place carpark will be carefully landscaped.COMPETITIONMr Neck says the group welcomes competition."It's good for consumers and means that we have to really focus on our business to be able to compete." He does think, however, that it makes a difference to shoppers that the company is local. "We and our staff have a long history with the community, interacting with every aspect of community life Ð sport, education and the arts. "We respond to requests for assistance not because we think about the return we'll get on our investment, but because if you derive your income from the community, you should reinvest in that community." Is it difficult being one of the "small guys" when it comes to sourcing goods? Both the Neck group and King's are members of buying and marketing groups. "These groups give us quite a bit of competitive power and resource us really well about trends and issues in the market," says Mr Neck. "Unless your business relies on skills held by individuals who are making a particular product or offering a particular service, then you have to work this way. "You also have to reinvest in your business. For instance, you need to keep your fitouts up to date. That's not change for the sake of change, it's part of what makes shopping an enjoyable experience for the consumer. "If it's just a matter of taking their money then you won't get people back. "Training of staff in customer service and product knowledge is also essential." Mr King says the merger will open the possibility of offering complete furnishing packages, including electrics, to clients, especially those in the corporate sector. "Up until now I haven't had the time or the floorspace to develop this side of the business. "In a bigger business we will be able to train staff in specialist areas."

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