HIGH PRICES OF LAND PUT HOME GRANT IN DOUBT. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
A man who describes himself as the biggest landowner in Alice Springs is locking up his vacant blocks around town for the next 10 years because he is so angry with government authorities who he says have stymied his development plans.
At the same time the merit of new government subsidies for first home builders is being questioned because there is practically no cheap building land available.
Ron Sterry, who is leaving Alice for the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, spoke to the Alice Springs News following calls by Labor candidate for Greatorex, Peter Kavanagh and Real Estate Institute representative, Andrew Doyle for more residential land to be released in Alice Springs. Mr Kavanagh and Mr Doyle claim that there are no house blocks on the market under $60,000. They say that at that price a block of land and a house is beyond the reach of potential first home builders, who thus can't access grants recently made available by the Federal and Territory governments.
Mr Kavanagh says the Territory government has acted to free up land in Darwin, but by doing nothing in Alice, is discriminating against the town's taxpayers.
"The government grants are taxpayer funded, designed to stimulate the building industry.
"But if no one can take advantage of them down here, while people in Darwin can, that means our building industry isn't benefiting and our taxpayers are effectively subsidising Darwin," says Mr Kavanagh.
Mr Doyle says the majority of residential blocks in Alice are priced at around $80,000.
The most basic new house costs from $110,000 to $130,000, which makes the package too expensive for first home buyers.
"The government needs to work quickly towards the release of land to enable blocks to be priced at under $60,000," says Mr Doyle.
Their arguments have been backed by Independents, Member for Braitling Loraine Braham and candidate for Greatorex, David Mortimer.
Mrs Braham says release of land is being blocked by native title issues.
She understands that the Territory Government is willing to enter into constructive negotiations with native title holders; that the traditional owners she has spoken too are also willing; but that the Central Land Council acting for the traditional owners is the obstacle. She says the CLC is moving too slowly to set up the "prescribed body corporate" (PBC) which will act for the traditional owners in land use negotiations.
In response to enquiries by the News, CLC director David Ross said: "The PBC, which meets regularly, will be incorporated as soon as the appeal on the Alice Springs native title claim is determined.
"However, the government can compulsorily acquire land within the township of Alice Springs at any time.
"At present it has responsibly chosen not to do so."
Despite the town's slow population growth (under one per cent at present), Mrs Braham described the land shortage in Alice Springs as "drastic" and called particularly for house blocks in the last stage of Larapinta to be released at a budget price - $40,000 to $45,000.
However, she also raised the issue of tracts of land within the township being tied up by developers or being far too expensive.
Mr Sterry, who among other properties, owns the large vacant block on the corner of Head Street and the Stuart Highway, says he won't sell because he "doesn't need to".
He is bitter about the rejection by the former Planning Authority (now Development Consent Authority) of his "green street" plans for the block.
He says he was personally attacked over his proposals and is " totally disgusted" about the way he has been treated.
"When I'm not so angry anymore I might decide to come back and do something with it," says Mr Sterry.
He also suggested that the land at Larapinta, being hilly, will be expensive to service and the government "would be lucky to be able to put out blocks there at $60,000".
Meanwhile, in yet another twist to this story, the government grants to first home builders have created a boon for Paradise Developments, owned by Terry Lillis.
In the last fortnight, since the announcement of the increased incentives, now amounting to a package worth around $21,000, Paradise Developments have sold five building blocks on Kempeana Drive, behind Bowman Close.
These blocks are priced between $64,900 for 420 square metres, to $84,900 for 800 square metres.
There are three small blocks remaining, and seven larger blocks, as well as four blocks for unit development.
A spokesperson for the company says the government's sell off of public housing had flattened the first home buyer market over the last couple of years, and in that time the company had been selling only one block every three to four months.
So the growth over the last fortnight has been spectacular.
WHAT THE FEDS MAY DO ABOUT ALICE GROG AND DRUG PROBLEMS. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
Federal initiatives should play a major role in the fight against alcohol and drug abuse rife in Central Australia, says Nick Gill who was appointed last week as the first Territorian on the 15 person Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) which advises the Prime Minister.
Mr Gill, manager of the Alice based Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA), says there needs to be a switch of emphasis from cure to prevention.
Canberra should provide help to Aboriginal communities and review taxation of cheap wine.
Mr Gill, who is expressing his own views and not those of DASA nor the ANCD, says the Federal body is focused on illicit drugs but "it has a responsibility to consider licit drugs as well.
"Alcohol and tobacco are also on the ANCD agenda" including potentially the current moves on alcohol reform in The Center, although "liquor licensing is very much a state responsibility".
Mr Gill says the ANCD has already expressed an opinion on alcohol tax: "DASA has just written a letter to every Federal politician on this issue.
"We are aware that cask wine and full strength beer are the two alcohol beverages that are most associated with alcohol related harm, injuries, domestic violence, liver damage and so on.
"And yet cask wine, under present Federal taxation laws, is taxed far less than any form of alcohol, even beer.
"Virtually every drug and alcohol body in the country has called on the Federal Government to introduce an excise based on the amount of pure alcohol contained in the liquor.
"We believe this would have a significant effect on the overall consumption, as it did in the NT when it introduced the Living with Alcohol Program, funded by increased charges on alcohol beverages, including the wine cask levy. [This levy was later disallowed by the High Court.] "There was a significant and immediate effect [including] on road deaths."
Mr Gill says the current proposal to ban sales in containers greater than two liters is "important because simply the cost per standard drink in a five liter container is markedly less, hundreds of percent less, than the cost of any other form of liquor.
"The experience in Tennant Creek has shown that although there is some transfer [to fortified wines and spirits], there has been an overall 25 per cent reduction in the pure alcohol bought as a result of the restrictions.
"We know that if you drop the overall consumption you drop the level of harm."
Mr Gill says the Education Department is currently failing to implement its own drug and alcohol policies: "There is a wonderful program in some NT schools called the peer skills program which teaches young people how to resists peer pressure and how to become leaders within their peer group and model sensible attitudes.
"That program is minimally funded, and it should be within the reach of every school aged person in the Territory.
"These activities are absolutely vital.
"Drug and alcohol education is supposed to be a core component of the curriculum but the reality is that it's not happening.
"It is up to individual principals.
"Very little of that education is actually being done by teachers within the schools.
"Holyoake, DASA, the Aids Council, Alukura, all of these go into some schools." Mr Gill says there is a need for joint decision making between NT and Canberra, a process in which he will play a role: "My function is to make sure that the issues that are significant for the NT are continually in the national focus." The ANCD is responsible for deciding in a "broad sense" how funds allocated to the National Illicit Drug Strategy are spent.
Initially $20m a year had been allocated for prevention and treatment but more money and new initiatives are being considered.
Non government organizations in Central Australia have received $2m over four years.
A $1m grant over three years for petrol sniffing went mainly to the Top End, but Mr Gill says The Center should have been given a much bigger slice.
The "great majority" of communities where petrol sniffing a problem are in the wider Central Australian area.
"In some of these communities you will find, at times, up to 60 per cent of young people involved in sniffing," says Mr Gill.
"These are outbreaks.
"Normally there is a core of two to five per cent.
"We know that over the Christmas period when ceremonial business is on, when there is no school and a lot of whitefellas leave the communities, there are massive outbreaks of sniffing every time.
"There needs to be an overall strategy to deal with that period."
Mr Gill rates drugs on the basis of number of users in the following order: alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, amphetamines, inhalants (petrol, glue), morphine, and heroin (which currently seems to be overtaking morphine in this ranking), and least in use, designer drugs, such as ecstasy.
It's a ranking that may well change if the railway is built, says Mr Gill: "A railway from Darwin down to Adelaide is going to provide the most direct route for the importation of heroin to the eastern states.
"We know that stops along the way of direct routes for importation tend to get involved in the drug trade themselves.
"We're a little bit worried that when we get the railway going we'll see heroin use and possibly cocaine use in Alice Springs at a level we haven't seen before."
Mr Gill says the Territory has been a national leader in alcohol strategies but some are currently on hold. "The NT Government has in some ways a very, very good track record.
"The Living with Alcohol Program was a national leader and it was the case that the NT Government was spending more per head of population on drug and alcohol issues than any other state and territory government - at least double."
However, the funding for the program was decreased. "We are not winning because of a series of cultural factors which are fairly intractable.
"One is the historical factor of the way in which the Territory was settled, the image of the bloody good drinker'.
"Another is the impact of alcohol on Aboriginal communities.
"The alcohol problems in the Territory are not restricted to the Indigenous people although but they contribute more than their share.
"This is the one area where I think the Federal Government might be able to step in.
"This would not be simply directed at the Territory but to the Central Australian region including WA and the northern parts of SA.
"The impact of alcohol and other drugs on Aboriginal communities there is a world wide concern.
"Every country that has Aboriginal communities has problems. We as a nation have a responsibility to do something very serious about it. "The Commonwealth recognize this responsibility and that's why it makes funds particularly available, but I believe [they] may need to step in and increase funding, and take a more directive role in policy."
Solutions imposed on Aborigines from outside or "on top" don't work.
Mr Gill says Aboriginal communities have "continually" asked to help to implement their proposals.
DASA, using a grant of just $150,000 a year for the entire Central Australia, has assisted with the planning for Aboriginal initiatives such as the Mt Theo (near Yuendumu) and Intjartama (near Hermannsburg) residential facilities for sniffers; night patrols; recreational activities in school holidays; and a raft of others.
"All these ideas were generated by the communities themselves.
"Some of them worked, some didn't.
"Unfortunately, that program is currently in limbo.
"Territory Health Services is reassessing it. We don't know what''s going to happen with it.
"But it's quite clear that the will exists on Aboriginal communities to take responsibility for the problems, and the creativity within a traditional context to produce solutions.
"What needs to happen is that they need to be funded, and there needs to be the expertise to give those communities assistance, advice and training, when they ask for it."
Mr Gill says Canberra is in a position to both provide funds to the NT, and encourage its government to play a more constructive role.
"It's quite clear that the rece$1m allocated to petrol sniffing from the National Drug Diversionary money is a result of an agreement between the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister.
"It is clear there is a dialogue between heads of governments on this."
Does Mr Gill now have a good opportunity of putting a flea in the right ear?
"Absolutely yes," he says.
Mr Gill believes not enough is done to reduce the demand for drugs, starting with early interventions.
"Every time somebody presents to Congress [medical center] or to Alice Springs hospital with a broken arm or an enlarged liver there needs to be a drug and alcohol assessment carried out, and an intervention based on the relationship to drug and alcohol abuse.
"That is not happening because there is not sufficient concentration in the national drug strategy on primary prevention activities.
"We know that simply a 10 minute chat with a doctor or a significant medical person about alcohol related behavior has a very significant effect.
"The Division of Primary Health Care is well aware of this and they are at the moment trying to provide training on brief interventions for doctors, because we know from interstate and international experience that it works.
"There are difficulties for Aboriginal health workers. There are issues of shame.
"There are things that you do not properly say to your grandfather, your cousin, your aunty.
"We need to have ways around that. "Mass media education campaigns look glossy and are attractive but they are not as effective as one on one interventions."
P.A.W.A. SELLS LAND IN BID TO RECOVER DEBT. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
People getting a pink "final notice" slip and a threat of disconnection from the Power and Water Authority (PAWA) may ask why the authority appears to have been so extraordinarily lenient with a tenant owing some $60,000 in rent and power accrued over more than two years.
The NT Government owned authority may now get its money, but that won't be sure until tenders close today for the purchase of land that is PAWA's very own freehold property. The attempted sale follows the collapse of a company which has the same directors as the company that owes the rent (but is not in receivership), and some of those directors are working for the real estate agency which is attempting to sell the land.
According to an insider, one of these directors at one time sought preselection from the CLP for an Alice Springs Legislative Assembly seat. Confused? Join the club.
The land in question is in Kennett Court, in the industrial subdivision off Lovegrove Drive.
PAWA has an electricity substation in one corner, and spare land which it leases to Jayford Properties Pty Ltd.
That company built a large shed, offices and other buildings on the land, reportedly at a cost of $750,000.
In October 1999 PAWA called for expressions of interest for a long term lease of the portion of the land it didn't need, and two applications were received. A development lease was granted to Territory Tool & Gun.
Jayford Properties has members of the Forrest family as directors: Carrol, David and his father Max, who no longer lives in The Alice. They also ran Jayford Pty Ltd trading as Territory Tool and Gun Company, a hardware and building supply firm.
Jayford is now operating under a deed of arrangement administered by Michael Dwyer, of KPMG in Adelaide. On the face of it, because of the rent owed, PAWA clearly had a case to say, fine, the buildings are on our land, we'll now sell the land with the buildings on them, recover the rent owed to us, and give you the balance.
Or they could have rented out the buildings until the back rent was recovered. Or whatever. In fact the PAWA owned land, with the buildings erected on it by the solvent Jayford Properties, is now being offered for sale under instruction from Mr Dwyer who is administering the insolvent Jayford Pty Ltd. Mr Dwyer says PAWA is happy with that. He says he has power of attorney from the directors of Jayford Properties to deal with its assets - or are they really PAWA's assets? The head of the real estate firm, Framptons' Andrew Doyle, says the land, 6406 square meters, will be turned from leasehold to freehold and sold as freehold.
Mr Dwyer says he's obtained a valuation from the Australian Valuations Office.
Once the offers - if any - close at 4pm today, PAWA will be in a position to accept or decline them, says Mr Dwyer.
It will be interesting to observe how far the friendship goes. For example, will PAWA accept a low price to get the Forrests out of the thicket?
Will the taxpayer cop the losses?
According to one real estate agent a 2400 square meter block in Cameron Street was recently sold for $70 a square meter.
Bottom dollar would be $50 a meter, says another source.
FOOTNOTE NOVEMBER 3, 2005: The Alice Springs News, upon enquiry, has learned from Power and Water that it "got all the money that it was owed and the property was sold at its commercial value".
NATIONAL TRUST HAS WIN AGAINST TOP END CHIEFS!
The local branch of the National Trust has had a win in its drawn out battle with the Northern Territory Council of the National Trust of Australia.
Funding has been restored to finance the employment of a part- time office coordinator and running costs for the branch office at the Old Hartley Street School.
Plans to relocate the local library and archives to Darwin have been dropped and the branch has gained effective autonomy, able to run its Trust office without interference from the Darwin head office.
However, the arrangements, including funding, will be reviewed in February next year.
In the meantime, the Alice Springs membership will be working to "revitalise" the office, museum and shop after some five months of closure, says branch chairman Domenico Pecorari.
When the Trust council election is held in June, the branch hopes to increase its representation. At present Alice Springs, with about 40 per cent of the Territory's membership, has only three representatives on the 14 member council.
By next week the branch plans to have appointed a new office coordinator, and will reopen the office and the Old Stuart Town Gaol on April 2. Then it will be countdown to Heritage Week, starting on April 21.
This annual event, the biggest of its kind in the Territory, presents a seven day program related to the history of the town and the Territory. Due to the office closure, this year it has been coordinated voluntarily by long-time member Margaret Baker, assisted by other members and the branch committee.
Local businesses, CATIA and the town council have also helped with venues and financial assistance. The program will include a photographic exhibition about Territory policing, and screenings of historical films, including Movietone newsreels. A highlight will be a "Tell us a yarn" evening with Dick Kimber, Des Nelson, Peter Latz, Perry Morey and Morrie Johns, complemented by a bush balladeer and roast dinner.
Details in the weeks to come.
A BLAST ALICE CAN DO WITHOUT. COMMENT by SCOTT CAMPBELL-SMITH.
COMMENT by SCOTT CAMPBELL-SMITH
Although a very low risk at present, a nuclear bomb attack on Pine Gap is still a credible threat and it would be disastrous for Alice Springs. Last week I argued that heightened international tension over President Bush's planned National Missile Defence system has given new cause to be worried.
My inquiries with authorities around town revealed that Alice Springs has no specific disaster plans, other than mass evacuation, to deal with an eventual nuclear attack.
This week, I think it's timely to remind ourselves of the worst case scenario: just what would happen if the bomb was dropped on Pine Gap.
Initially, at the moment of detonation, a lot depends upon where you live and what you happen to be doing at the time, particularly whether you're inside or outside a strong building that, however, isn't going to fall down.
Citizens who live outside pretty much all the time or live in flimsy dwellings or where there happens to be a lot of sheets of tin lying around are certainly in more danger than those in substantial dwellings.
People living down Ilparpa Road are dead or in deep trouble.
Over the first few days a lot also depends on the current state of your health, wind direction, the availability of medical care, avoiding various contaminants and, a related matter, being able to access fresh water and clean food.
Within days, hopefully, full scale, rapid evacuations are happening. That might depend a lot on what's happening elsewhere around the country and around the world, remembering that the most likely scenario for an attack on Pine Gap is an all out attack on the US, presumably involving US counter attack and the world-wide disasters that would entail.
Facts and assumptions:-
From my reading, experts agree that if Pine Gap is to be attacked effectively it will be by a nuclear weapon.
It is likely to be of approximately one megaton if delivered by missile or aircraft and exploded at an altitude as close to one kilometer as possible.
Few nations have that capacity but China is among that select group. Formerly the main perceived threat was from the Soviet Union, currently it is seen to be China.
The base at Pine Gap is part of US missile and bomb delivery systems and its destruction would impair US capacity to accurately attack its targets.
A bomb attack against the base could conceivably be achieved through guerrilla means, perhaps by a suitcase or car bomb - a ground level explosion.
To be effective it would probably still need to be no less than half a megaton.
The base is involved in US missile and bomb attacks generally, most recently against Iraq and Serbia, but potentially anywhere. Iraq is currently the most likely source of guerrilla style attacks, along with some other less crippled sections of the Arab world.
A mid-air explosion (missile or aircraft) results in blast and flash deaths and injuries over a wider area than a ground level explosion, but relatively geographically limited, although intense, radiation poisoning.
A ground level explosion (guerrilla style) results in more radioactive dust spread over a wider area and potentially more death by radiation poisoning than by blast or burns.
There are four types of injury and damage: blast damage, thermal radiation, nuclear radiation (initial and residual) and electromagnetic pulse. These are perhaps most easily explained by describing the likely effects on Alice Springs.
At the moment of detonation an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) would pass through the area to an unknown distance and can last from minutes to hours. This would destroy the power grid and render many electronic machines inoperable and irreparable. This complicates disaster relief in that all the technologies we customarily depend on are unlikely to be available. There is no EMP from a ground level explosion. Before the shock waves or the sound is the flash. Don't look. This causes blindness and that will be very inconvenient later, if you do survive. A mid-air blast (one to two kilometres above ground level) will be visible over a wider area and will still cause blindness at distances up to 80 kilometers away. A ground level blast will be visible only over a short range. If you see the flash from a ground level explosion that may be the least, or last, of your worries.
Next comes the thermal radiation and the blast damage. Everything within a five kilometer radius will be vaporized. Everything at all flammable within a 10 kilometer radius will catch fire.
Fires will occur between 10 and 15 kilometres away and skin burns will be serious to mild depending on distance and degree of exposure, so this is a good moment to be inside and away from the windows, so long as the house isn't going to fall in on you. Between 15 and 20 kilometres away there will be some people burned and a few fires. These fires may also result in death and destruction and the fire brigade, if operational, will be impossibly busy.
At about the same time as the thermal radiation is the blast. Up to about seven kilometres away buildings are destroyed: simply flattened. Up to about 10 kilometres away buildings are fairly badly damaged and up to about 15 kilometres away windows are all smashed.
The blast is a massive shock wave, and at some distances not unlike a cyclone, and so injuries are caused by collapsing buildings, flying objects and people flying into objects.
As mentioned above, the effects of radiation vary dramatically depending upon whether the blast is mid-air or on-ground. A mid-air blast means that for about five kilometers around the epicenter there is heavy contamination.
Smaller levels of contamination are carried over a broad area and probably the following day sickness would be the result, as would contamination of resources. In the event of a ground level explosion everything depends upon wind direction and the resulting deposit of contaminated material.
FINKE BOSS: 'MY USE BY DATE IS NEAR'.
Jol Fleming says the sixth year as director of the Finke Desert Race will be his last.
"As a volunteer your use-by date comes up.
"Mine's printed on my forehead. It's June 13, 2001," says the passionate supporter of the race since 1980.
He says it's time for professionals to take over, similar to the Hidden Valley racing in Darwin of the Australian Safari, lavishly funded by the NT Government.
"Everything needs to be organized so that volunteers can come along and do their job as a volunteer, on the day, or in your spare time, or on weekends when you can nick out and give this thing a hand."
Jol says there are too few on the committee "which makes the workload astronomical for some. There's 10 people running this thing and some of them are competitors."
Some key people have partly or fully withdrawn from the organizing effort.
"It's too big for being a volunteer thing. It needs to be backed by the Department for Sport and Recreation, just for the argument's sake, like they do with the Honda Masters Games because it's on the same level as that."
Jol says the Major Events representative down here, Sharon Whellan, during and just before the event is "absolutely flat out, she's working 12 to 15 hour days" assisting media and organizing sponsorship.
Jol goes "up and down the track" for two days a week over about seven or eight weeks before the event.
"We need more sponsorship money or we'll have to reduce the prize money so we can pay someone to run it," he says.
The $240,000 budget suffered a small overrun last year.
From 137 bikes and 56 cars in 1996 - Jol's first as the director - the race has grow to 300 bikes last year (up massively from 200 the year before) and "without a huge amount of extra resources".
Say Jol: "It's the biggest desert race in the world.
"None other has more competitors.
"Find me a motor sport event anywhere that has 480 competitors over three days."
The "Finke" has a stand under the sails each Mall Market day, recruiting volunteers.
"I'm looking for an apprentice, " says Jol.
Meanwhile Finke spokesman Antony Yoffa says the event is "not in trouble".
"As committee people resign, new ones join and bring with them new experience.
"Sharon puts in 12 months a year at work and is very organized.
"She plans for the event during the 12 months and not just before it."
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