May 23, 2001.


Views are divided about whether alcohol restrictions and negative publicity associated with them contributed to a downturn in tourism in Katherine and Tennant Creek. Fuel prices, Sydney's Olympic Games, a heavy wet season, the closure of other industries all of these would have played a greater role, according to locals in the two centres spoken to by the Alice Springs News. CATIA (Central Australian Tourism Industry Association) is standing by its assertion that the publicity around restrictions had a "detrimental effect" on tourism in the centres. CATIA General manager Craig Catchlove says "people within areas of the Northern Territory Government" gave CATIA " figures" suggesting that tourism in the centres is in decline. He says the link between the downturn and the negative publicity around restrictions is supported by "people from the towns" whom he has spoken to. Mr Catchlove admits that the "causality" cannot be demonstrated " 100 per cent", but challenges: "How do you interview the tourist who didn't come?" Asked why CATIA made their very public stance (two full page advertisements in last week's Alice Springs News and Centralian Advocate) against the current proposed restrictions so late in the community consultation process, Mr Catchlove said CATIA has made clear its opposition to restrictions in every forum it has attended since the release of the Hauritz report. The decision to take out the advertisements followed their latest meeting with the Liquor Commissioner on May 9. "We felt the pro-restrictions case was being given an unfettered run, and there was a need for the other side to voice their beliefs," says Mr Catchlove. The Alice News asked the NT Tourist Commission to supply figures for visitor nights in Tennant Creek and Katherine showing trends before and after the introduction of restrictions. In both cases the figures supplied date from 1995-96. Katherine that year had 810,000 visitor nights. By 1997-98 this had dipped to 620,000, with a rise the following year to 742,000, and a decline the year after, 1999-00 to 648,000. The catastrophic Katherine flood occurred on Australia Day in 1998. Restrictions on takeaway alcohol trading hours were introduced at the start of 2000 for a six month trial, followed by a second six month trial from July, barring trade in fortified wine and wine in casks greater than two litres on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. The town has now seen the return of 10 o'clock opening of bars and hotels, but only light beer and no takeaway can be sold before noon. There are no restrictions on wine cask sizes. The News asked Katherine's mayor, James Forscutt whether he thought the alcohol trials had played a role in a tourism downturn. He says fuel prices and the Olympic Games were greater factors. That has been confirmed, he says, by the experience of towns like Kununurra in WA where there were no restrictions but also a significant downturn in tourism (20 per cent in Kununurra, and around 12 to 15 per cent in Katherine, says Mr Forscutt). He suggests Alice Springs was sheltered from those effects by having direct air links with major cities. Meanwhile, "alcohol-related anti-social behaviour is an issue that is still with us," says Mr Forscutt, "and more will need to be done". Chairman of the Katherine Regional Tourism Association, Richard Sallis, who has been in the liquor industry all his working life, also down-plays the effect of restrictions. He says the town has had too much negative exposure in relation to alcohol, but "we're on our way back up". The Olympic Games, more than the negative publicity, made last year difficult for Katherine, as did "the horrific wet two metres of rain", says Mr Sallis. Fuel prices might have been a factor but people appear to be getting used to them: "They are driving again. This year's looking exceptionally good. The caravan parks are full, averaging two and a half nights per van that's a good average." Tennant Creek in 1995-96 had 246,000 visitor nights. This also dipped in 1997-98 to 228,000 but picked up somewhat in 1999-2000 to 235,000. Tennant's trial restrictions on alcohol were introduced in 1994 and became long-term in 1996. Tennant's mayor Paul Ruger thinks any economic downturn in the town is more a result of people leaving than a decline in tourism in particular. He too thinks tourists are more affected by fuel prices than restrictions on alcohol. (Mr Ruger operates a service station as one of his businesses.) "If you're booked into a motel, you can still get a drink," he says. "But not a lot of tourists stay here anyway. "They fill up and move on." Gavin Carpenter, proprietor of the Tennant Creek Newsagency and who will stand as an independent in the next Territory elections, says the town's economy has been more affected by locals, in particular "the mob from Ali Curung", going elsewhere for their supplies, than by a decline in tourism. "That's 30 people with a cheque every fortnight that puts a hole in the economy." Mr Carpenter is also of the view that the average tourist " passes through" Tennant Creek. Proprietor of the Tennant Creek Hotel, however, says that it "certainly creates ill feeling" when he has to turn visitors away from his bottleshop on "Thirsty Thursday". "I turn away about 20 to 25 each week," says Greg Targett. Having bought the hotel in October 1997, he couldn't comment on whether the business overall had suffered since the introduction of restrictions. He did suggest though that the departure of some 600 people following closure of the mines in the area would have had a " more substantial effect". But that too will change, says Mr Carpenter, when Giants Reef takes over Normandy's mining leases: "Tennant Creek will be like it was in [the gold rush of] 1932 we'll be turning the corner, getting out on the straight and galloping!"


What the Alice to Darwin railway will actually be transporting remains a secret although taxpayers, no doubt, would have liked to be told that before one single cent of their money had been committed. Maybe nobody knows but the buzzword is "commercial in confidence".But during a long lunch with some of the nation's top railway managers at the Steakhouse last Friday I had a pleasant occasion (nice Scotch fillet, great red) to chat about the $1.2b scheme with some key players. Sitting opposite me was Jane Munday, the NT Government's untiring railway public relations officer, gently chastising me for doubting that the project will be the answer to every Territorian's prayer. My reservations had been reinforced over pre lunch drinks with the head of a freight company turning over more than $50m a year, and not a member of the railway consortium. He explained the line would probably be very nice for Adelaide and Darwin but shared the view expressed (Alice News, May 9) by Alice historian Dick Kimber (predictably not invited to the lunch) that it's highly unlikely for freight to be funneling into the line from around the country. The freight company managing director said there's a bottom line to all this: the most economical form of surface transport is ship, followed by rail and road. Most urgent freight goes by air. The railway will be useful only if a ship stops in Darwin anyway, for whatever reason. But it's doubtful that a vessel traveling between overseas ports and Australia's eastern seaboard would make a landfall in Darwin just to use the railway, be it for in- or outbound freight, and even less likely if it operates out of Perth. I was a guest of the Australasian Railway Association and sat next to Bill Killinger, general manager of Barclay Mowlem, a member of the consortium and one of the four giant companies building the line. That morning I'd spoken to Des Smith, now retired in Adelaide, one of the nation's foremost railway engineers who enjoys an international reputation. Des built the 831 km Tarcoola to Alice standard gauge line, replacing the old narrow gauge Ghan, between 1975 and 1980 for $145m. Extrapolating that price tag to the 1410 km of the line to Darwin it should cost $246m.Applying to that the increase in the CPI (about 40 then, 130 now) would put the present day equivalent cost for the Alice to Darwin line at $800m. That's two thirds of the announced $1.2b price tag. It's not a great deal more than the $559m which the three governments Federal, South Australia and NT are putting up, including the $191.5m from the Territory, more than $1000 per man, woman and child. In fact the public isn't only contributing well over half a billion in cash and guarantees, but also the Tarcoola to Alice line, free of charge, which Des estimates is now worth $500m. That means the public is coughing up $1.06b for a job costing $200m less taking Des' Ghan line as a yardstick. Des, who Jane says will be invited when John Howard turns the first sod in Alice Springs quite soon, was commissioned by successive NT Governments to cost the Alice to Darwin line. He says his most recent effort was in 1988, under Chief Minister Steve Hatton, when Des estimated the cost at $708m. With the CPI increase that puts the cost in the ball park of the present $1.2b. Nevertheless, it will be worth keeping an eye on this question: is the railway consortium, which will own the line right across the continent for 50 years, getting a rather a good deal, especially considering they will be using up the government money first? Bear in mind all those "commercial in confidence" clauses in the contract which Jane says is a pile of papers roughly a meter and a half high. Our musings were put on hold after the entree (crocodile vol au vent, kangaroo, camel with plum sauce and emu). A Territory government person, a true believer (Billy Graham, move over), from the very bottom of his heart gave us chapter and verse about the significance of the railway, how long it's been in the coming, how much it will do for the nation and this part of the globe in general, and so on. Just as several people's eyes began to glaze over "Kraftie" came to the rescue by having the main course served, during which Bill resumed his defence of the project. There are some crucial differences between the Tarcoola and the Darwin routes: the new project has more bridges (about 120 compared to 52), and there's more hilly country, especially north of Katherine. However, the new line will follow the long abandoned railway track between Katherine and Adelaide River, saving considerable sums in earth works through the more difficult terrain in the north. While Des said it makes sense that work should start at more than one point, he expressed surprise that the Alice to Tennant section wasn't being started in Alice Springs.The way he built the new Ghan was with one main construction train, resupplied by rail from the south over the freshly laid track.The work train had a rail laying machine at the head, and progressed along the track as it was being laid. I wondered aloud if deciding on several initially unconnected sections emanating from Katherine and Tennant Creek had something to do with the election this year, with Katherine being in Deputy Chief Minister Mike Reed's seat, and Tennant being in a Labor held electorate the CLP fancies it can win. A suggestion along these lines earned me a reprieve from Jane who by then had an advantage over me, steadfastly ignoring the red and sticking to her cordial. Bill wouldn't have a bar of my suspicions, either: the construction people, including him, had been calling the shots about where to locate sleeper factories (Tennant and Katherine), and what to tackle when. Dragging all the materials up the incline north of Alice Springs would necessitate shorter work trains and more locos. This is surprising because the 1.6km long freight trains will have to cope with that slope. With more than one site on the go at all times, says Bill, resources can be pulled out of the Top End during the wet season and deployed elsewhere. And there will be a huge bonus for the trucking industry in The Alice which will be playing a big role shifting the 300,000 tonnes of material to the construction sites. Des, to whom I spoke again after the lunch, says it makes sense to do earth works and build bridges anywhere along the track at any convenient time. But he would have thought the track laying to Tennant would have started from the south, and he would have expected to have a sleeper factory in The Alice as well. Otherwise, says Des, whole construction trains, including the engines, would need to be road freighted to Tennant Creek. One third of the 145,000 tonnes of rails to be used on the line would also need to be road freighted to Tennant Creek, and then back-track south.Says Des: "I have the greatest regard for Barclay Mowlem as a track laying contractor. "In fact I arranged for them to advise the NT Government on the track laying costs for the project back in 1986. "But I am puzzled by apparently laying tracks southwards from Tennant Creek." Away from Jane's stern glance my doubts about political skullduggery are sneaking back. Bill, pouring me another red, clarified another key point for me: under the contracts, the huge national and multi national companies making up the consortium are putting on the line their assets as collateral for the completion of the job. What's more, if one consortium member falls over and HIH shows it can happen in the best of families then the other members must pick up the commitments because all consortium members are "jointly and severally" liable. Meanwhile the propaganda drums are rolling. "Alice firm wins major railway contract" trumpets an ADrail media release. It's about Territory Transportables, in tandem with a South Australian company, winning a contract for 200 dongas for use in construction camps. In the whole $1.2b scheme the value of that contract (not released because you've guessed it it is "commercial in confidence") is hardly "major", but there's an election coming ... sorry, Jane. The media release says the Alice firm will increase its work force from 15 to 50 to manufacture the transportable buildings. And contrary to earlier information from ADrail, an Alice company also received a contract in the first round of tender letting (Alice News, May 9): Gorey & Cole is drilling and checking water bores along the route. And so, what will the Darwin railway carry? Just before apple pie Jane made a great lunch perfect by divulging that in a couple of weeks' time, the "commercial in confidence" veil will be lifted (she didn't say how high!) on the question of freight contracts: FreightLink will be talking about its business strategy, and a summary of their presentation will be made public. This would have deserved a toast!

... AND A SALVO FROM JANE. Response by JANE MUNDAY, NT Government's Manager of Marketing and Communications for the Railway.

I don't agree with anything in your article really. You seem determined to prove that the railway isn't viable and that everyone is being secretive for some reason. It's just not true. The profitability is a matter for the consortium. They are carrying the risk. The taxpayers' investment was quantified as the economic benefits over and above the commercial viability. The Governments were satisfied before this project was taken to the market that it was commercially and economically viable. Then the consortium had to convince its bankers and investors. This wasn't done with a puff of imagination, but with detailed freight studies. We remain confident as to the important role and viability of the line. Dick Kimber might be an expert in history, but he is not an expert on freight modeling and transport policy. The railway is designed to capture both domestic and international "landbridge" freight. It will lead to a competitive mode of transport between Adelaide and Darwin. The viability of the project was established on the basis of capturing sufficient domestic freight, with imports and exports being the icing on the cake. The logic of the landbridge freight is Darwin's strategic location, which makes the new transport corridor ideal for time sensitive freight movements. The consortium's expertise lies in logistics solutions. The future of freight is multi-modal. The railway-port connection will provide an ideal alternative for time-sensitive, high value freight, with a one-invoice system instead of distribution through a myriad of providers.Your comparisons [with the Tarcoola line] are just not valid. The terrain is different but, just as importantly, the funding basis is different. In the 1980s, infrastructure development was funded by Governments and many costs would not be included in the figures you have, for example (as Bill Killinger pointed out) day labour costs, Government support, and associated costs such as superannuation, design and administration. [Ed: Des Smith flatly denies that any of the costs were hidden away in other budgets.] This is a private sector project, where funding has been raised in the market and all costs have been quantified. EXPERTISEThis includes factors such as interest rates, legal and administrative costs, and hedging arrangements, which were not necessary for earlier construction.The construction timetable and design and construction details have been established by the consortium's partners, who have considerable expertise in similar projects. The cost of the financing of this project is very time dependent and sensitive to delays. The siting of the sleeper factories is to allow maximum flexibility with timetables, such as working around the Wet season in the Top End. Having two construction depots allows for work to proceed north and south of each location, with work trains never having to travel more than 300 kilometres from the depot.The same [work train] method will be used, but with two trains.I think you're altogether too cynical. The consortium awards the contracts, not the Government. I explained that the cost of [the Territory Transportable] contract couldn't be quantified as Tony Smith [the owner] told me that he is still working that out himself. It depends on costs of sub-contractors, etc. However it is a major contract. I don't understand how you could say that a contract that means 35 jobs isn't "major".In relation to the overall cost most of the construction contracts are yet to be awarded. Al Volpe [ADrail's project director] has said previously that most of the early contracts were for major long lead-time items that the Territory doesn't have the capacity to supply (for example, OneSteel) but that the Territory should pick up more contracts as the project moves into construction phase.The benefits to Alice Springs include the flow on effect of becoming the major supply and logistics centre for the project.


Imagine driving into Alice Springs in a few years' time: as you come up the south highway, a colourful sign says "Welcome to Alice Springs The World's Premier Solar City". Opposite the old drive-in, you are amazed to see an array of 100 large reflective dishes concentrating sunlight onto photovoltaic (solar electricity) panels, generating enough power so that new gas-powered turbines are not needed for several years. Driving through the Gap, you notice all street lights are powered by individual solar panels. Most houses have solar hot water systems on their roofs, and many also have eight or nine photovoltaic panels feeding electricity into Alice Springs' grid, the result of government subsidies encouraging their installation. Araluen is advertising the upcoming Solar Festival, drawing tourists and residents to a week of sun-related festivities and exhibitions which coincide with the World Solar Car Race from Darwin to Adelaide. Along Elder Street, various businesses have shifted focus to support the burgeoning solar industry in Central Australia, providing design, installation and maintenance services to Alice Springs and remote communities. Numerous rammed earth houses are under construction, incorporating passive solar features into their design. New government buildings proudly state at their entries "A Solar City building designed for the arid zone". The Convention Centre is advertising the upcoming "World Solar Congress" convention. Playgrounds in the suburbs are all covered with shade structures. In the Mall, a solar powered sign shows Alice Springs has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent in three years, and proudly declares them "the biggest reductions of any town in Australia". On TV, the new Solar City Technology Park is advertising its attractions for tourists and locals, located adjacent to the solar dishes and showcasing various arid zone buildings, energy systems, gardens and a Building and Energy Advisory Service. Your friends' houses and businesses have energy efficient lighting and appliances, the result of a major PAWA energy efficiency program the year before which subsidised the purchase of goods, and deferred PAWA's need to invest in an expensive new generator. The Alice Springs News is running a front-page story that PAWA has just secured a contract to deliver a similar program in a town in Arizona, USA, because they are now recognised as a world leader in arid zone energy efficiency programs. You go to bed that night and think "This town has been transformed!". The above scenario is achievable in Alice Springs, one of the sunniest towns in the world. ALEC, in conjunction with CATIA and Brendan Meney Architects, has just presented a Solar City vision paper to the Desert Knowledge Project (which is seeking to develop Alice Springs as a centre for arid zone excellence), encouraging them to adopt Solar City as a major project for Alice Springs. We have highlighted many of the above opportunities which benefit tourism, business, government and the whole community, and which can transform Alice Springs into a global leader showcasing and developing arid zone energy systems, buildings and lifestyles. GREEN ENERGY The initial reaction of the Desert Knowledge group has been positive, and they are considering the establishment of a "green energy" sub-group to further explore some of the opportunities. Many of the examples given above are close to reality. For example, a Victorian company called Solar Systems is about to install 10 solar dishes at Umuwa in the Pitjantjatjara Lands, and wants to install more in other Aboriginal communities. It also wants to install a demonstration dish in Alice Springs, and is examining the feasibility of a 100 dish farm in the town. Photovoltaic panels on rooftops already attract a $7500 rebate from the Australian Greenhouse Office. PAWA is soon to offer a rebate for solar hot water systems, as part of their obligation to source two per cent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010 (solar hot water doesn't produce power, but it saves substantial amounts). PAWA has to chose soon between installing another gas turbine to meet growing electricity demand in Alice Springs, or undertaking a demand reduction program via energy efficient appliances and behaviours in houses and businesses. A new Urban Design Manual is currently being compiled by the NT government, and could possibly include greater requirements for arid zone building designs (but only if we lobby hard). All in all, ALEC sees Solar City as an exciting vision for Alice Springs, and we encourage all members of the public to contribute their ideas on other Solar City opportunities, and to talk about it around town to stimulate interest in the concept.You'll hear more about it in coming months.

LETTERS: Grog moves: whose interests defended?

Sir,- Well, it didn't take long for CATIA to weigh in on the issue of alcohol restrictions did it? It is very disappointing that they should hold tourists up as an argument against the restrictions. Why do I suspect, however, that the interests they are representing are those of licensees and not of bona fide travelers? Let us consider the average traveler. The backpackers go to pubs where they can talk to locals and party. Caravanners don't have much space and are more likely to buy a two litre flagon than a five litre one. And those at the upper end of the market are hardly likely to go and buy a flagon of Coolibah! As for negative publicity about the Northern Territory, it's too late. There have been dozens of articles written about the Territory which highlight again and again our serious alcohol problems and our unwillingness to do anything more than talk. Alice Springs is my home and has been for a very long time now. The longer we live here the more concerned about alcohol I become. I support the proposed restrictions which are actually pretty minimal. I am weary of the waste of lives. I am weary of my children being traumatised by the level of general violence and drunkenness. I am weary of my sober Aboriginal friends telling me of yet another death. I am weary of funerals. I am weary of a hospital full of the victims of alcohol abuse. I am weary of greedy licensees who sell not only to broken, intoxicated Aboriginal people but also to a huge number of underage drinkers. I am weary of talk, talk and more talk. I want some action, not some vague talk about "education". (By the way can anyone tell me how this education works. Are we going to show educational videos in the river??)Every week in the course of my work, I speak with tourists and our conversations are remarkably similar. They go like this: "We have had a great trip. The locals are very friendly. The countryside is spectacular. The tourist facilities are over priced. Everyone is out to make a quick buck. Alice Springs doesn't have much character." (Plenty of room for improvement in your own camp there, CATIA!!) This is followed by an awkward pause and then they say, "We have been absolutely shocked by what we have seen here of Aboriginal people and their troubles, especially with alcohol. Why do they live like this?... Why doesn't your government do something about it?... Doesn't anyone care?" It is their last question which whispers in my heart long after every conversation. "Doesn't anyone care?"
Kerry Davies
Alice Springs

Sir,- And so we are dealt the latest offering of CLP "Berrimah Line" based decision-making. I refer of course to the outrageous decision by Health Minister Dunham to turn the CLP government's back on the homeless men of Alice Springs. For the sake of $180,000 both the Anglicare Lodge and The Red Shield Hostel could remain open and provide the essential service they have been doing quietly and effectively for many years. The Darwin based CLP Minister has not been able to answer the very real question for the men concerned. "Where will they sleep on the night of July 1st?" There is no doubt that the people of Alice Springs are behind the Salvos and Anglicare in fighting this outrageous decision. I applaud the Independent Member for Braitling for initiating the petition going around Alice Springs at the moment and urge people to sign it prior to the next sittings of the Northern Territory Parliament. The silent local CLP members and/or candidates must yet again endure the political embarrassment of another "Berrimah Line" decision that they have clearly not had any input into, or if they did they were not listened to, again!! Less taxpayers' money spent on government advertising and polling and more on the community is what's needed. It's time for a government more responsive to the real needs of the people of Alice Springs.
Peter Brooke
ALP candidate for Braitling
Alice Springs

Sir,- As Independent member for Araluen, I would support the introduction of Freedom of Information legislation in the Territory.Attempts by Territory Labor in 1993 and 1998 to pass FOI legislation in the Legislative Assembly failed on the numbers.On both occasions, the CLP Government failed to support the Opposition's Bill.FOI has been on the Commonwealth Government's books since 1982. Every state and territory jurisdiction has FOI legislation.Territorians have had an expectation that their Government would introduce FOI since 1990, when the CLP Government set up an interdepartmental committee to investigate freedom of information. After they won the election that year, the CLP put a lid on the plan and has shelved it entirely. The Government knocked off Territory Labor's proposed Bill in August, 1998.It's time the Government faced the expectation of Territorians to have open, accountable government.What has the government got to hide by denying Territorians access to personal and public information held in Government files and records? FOI legislation is almost 20 years old, and has not proved an administrative nightmare for other governments around Australia. The CLP has indicated in the past that it would be too much time and trouble forGovernment departments to actually action any legitimate requests for information, and that there are always trouble makers who bother the departments and ministers with trivial requests for information.There are ways to assess genuine attempts to obtain information, and to follow through with these requests in an environment of mutual obligation and trust.The CLP Government doesn't trust Territorians to handle the responsibility of FOI. It's about time the CLP Government accorded its people the same trust and responsibilities as all other parts of Australia.An alliance of Independents would certainly assist FOI get over the line in a future Territory government.
Meredith Campbell
Independent candidate for Araluen
Alice Springs

Sir,- Alice Springs, do not under any circumstances let anyone take away your four or five litre casks!! Experience says the best rubbish to have around is 12 per cent wine bladders, not broken glass from 18 percent plonk bottles. Experience says your grog sales by volume will decrease. It will because it is not possible to drink the volume of 18 percent plonk as it is 12 percent wine. Experience says "Thirsty Thursday" and the attached rules and regulations in Tennant Creek have been and are useless. Experience says drunks are drunks and will be drunks as long as any sort of booze is available. Experience says some people are slow learners and will never learn from experience.
Gavin Carpenter
Tennant Creek

Sir,- I am a PhD student at the Whyalla Campus of the University of South Australia currently undertaking research into the difficulties faced by young males who try to disclose that they have been the victim of sexual abuse. As part of my research I am interested in talking with any young men who have had the experience of trying to tell someone that they had been sexually abused. While the primary focus is on males age 13 to 24 in rural areas, I would welcome input from any young males up to age 24 from any location in Australia. The expert knowledge gained from these people will ultimately assist professionals in the field to better understand and meet the needs of young male abuse victims. I appreciate that this is a sensitive issue and can assure those who are interested in taking part that they will not have to discuss the abuse itself, will be interviewed over the phone (at no cost to themselves), at a time that suits them and will not be identified by the research. The type of information I hope to gain includes:
What were the barriers faced in disclosing?
What made it, or, could have made it easier?
What made them finally decide to tell?
Who did they choose to tell?
This research has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of South Australia. Any person interested in taking part or finding out more is invited to visit the research web site at
Phone the researcher direct on (08) 8647 6048, or email her on
Cate Hudson
PhD Candidate
University of SA

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