June 6, 2001.


The Licensing Commission turned its back on community involvement amounting to thousands of manhours, and on expert opinions that have cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars, when it rejected a proposal for trial liquor restrictions last week. Chairman Peter Allen said the commission was relying exclusively on about 2500 pieces of correspondence from the public, submitted in response to a recent invitation to comment, effectively ignoring a process of public consultation and lobbying that has gone on for some six years. "The proposed trial of restrictions remains as a work in progress, ready and available for implementation when suitable accompanying initiatives have been developed," said Mr Allen. "It is the commission's firm view, indeed our powerful conviction, that the process must not be allowed to lose momentum." Mr Allen said the responses were roughly equally divided about whether or not restrictions should be introduced for a 12 months trial period, mainly a 10 hour a week reduction of takeaway sales and prohibition of wine in casks bigger than two litres. However, Mr Allen declared the letters, faxes and emails received by the commission off limits to public scrutiny, exposing the process to suspicion of stacking and manipulation by vested interests. Former alderman Meredith Campbell, who oversaw the production of the Hauritz Report costing more than $100,000, says these consultants had already carried out community surveys, but unlike Mr Allen's process, they were based on statistical samples. Ms Campbell said Mr Allen's process "was a Clayton's consultation, completely cheap and nasty". Mayor Fran Erlich, who was visibly shaken after listening to Mr Allen's decision, told the Alice News: "I think that we're back at square one. "There is no more momentum now. "I think the town will be sitting back on its heels. "I just hope all those people who objected on the grounds that something else should be done give me a ring and give me some ideas." The People's Alcohol Action Coalition's Donna Ah Chee said she is "disappointed with this delay. "PAAC is now determined to place back on the table the extensive measures we announced months ago. "Let's see some of the people who opposed the trials, saying that there were other ways of dealing with the problem, get off their high horses and actually start working with us, as the commissioner has recommended." Mr Allen was not available for further comment. The two Alice Springs members of the commission, Mary Ridsdale and Brian Rees, first agreed to an interview with the Alice News but soon after cancelled. Mr Allen read his finding to a small group community leaders, liquor traders and media in the hearings room of the commission in Alice Springs. He said: "At the outset of the meeting the commission decided that it would limit its deliberations to the responses received from the community in reply to the newspaper notices, letter-box drop and mail out that commenced ... on April 20. "The commission has studied the Hauritz Report, The Brady Martin Report, the recommendations of the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee (AARC), the recommendations of the Alice Springs Town Council, the recommendations of the Alice In Ten: Quality of Life sub-committee and has extensive files of correspondence from the Tangentyere Council, DASA and the People's Alice Alcohol Coalition. "Although there is value in these reports and recommendations the commission resolved that it would consider only the material recently received from the membership of the broader Alice Springs community. "It would in our view, have been less than honest with the community to go outside of the 2500 replies in order to finalise our own position. "Had we done so, we could have been accused of following some hidden agenda." Mr Allen said the opinions received from the community "were articulately and powerfully expressed and fell readily into two divergent groups, those for and those against the restrictions, poles apart with very little common ground. "The yes vote for shorter hours was marginally larger than the yes vote in favour of eliminating four and five litre wine casks. "Common ground of the otherwise divergent views were the many respondents who claimed that restrictions alone will not work! "The Commission finds itself perched uncomfortably on the horns of dilemma. "If we take the path so often followed in 50/50 situations and choose to maintain the status quo we will have done nothing to assist in improving the demonstrably unsatisfactory situation that prevails across Alice Springs. "If the commission elects to impose the trial restrictions, we would be doing so in defiance of the clearly expressed opposition of at least half the respondents, the documented opinions of many of its citizens that restrictions alone will not work and the Commission's own findings to this effect." Informed sources claim the views expressed were 70 per cent in favour close to the end of the survey. Was there then a spurt of "no" messages right at the end of the period, including an extension of the deadline granted by Mr Allen, and following the last minute publication of CATIA's concerns about impacts on tourism? It's a question we would have liked to put to Mr Allen. On Thursday he said: "The Commission will leave the proposed trial on the table and ... will work with an appropriate group or groups from the community to develop suitable initiatives to be implemented or trialled in tandem with the proposed restrictions. "The commission intends, at least for the moment, to remain silent as to what mechanisms or initiatives might be operated in tandem with restrictions on the sale of liquor. "We do however have an extensive database of comments and suggestions drawn from the detailed correspondence from members of the Alice Springs community and will make this information available on an anonymous basis to whatever competent forum emerges from the community to tackle this challenge." Ms Campbell says the commission already has all it needs to make a decision. The Hauritz Report had cost $100,000 including money from the town council and Tangentyere Council "plus countless hours from the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee, volunteers and salaried officers of the NT Government and members of community organisations, plus officers and one alderman – that is myself – of the Alice Springs Town Council". She says the process started in June, 1999 and the final report was presented to Mr Allen on July 12, 2000. "When he received it he made an undertaking to consider it very seriously and return it to us – I think I recall – within a month, with some definitive opinion, if not an action plan." Ms Campbell says the Hauritz report – the product of a string of public meetings and interviews with a representative sample of the community – has already called for a whole package of alcohol reform. Says Ms Campbell: "To my mind a month's consultation by way of a letter box drop and receiving submissions in any form, on any basis, without public analysis, was a Clayton's consultation, completely cheap and nasty. "On the basis of it Mr Allen and his commissioners have come to the conclusion that we have to return to square one, and act as a community. "Acting as a community, and a comprehensive plan, is already there, in the report that cost the government and the taxpayer $100,000 and became available to the commission and the government nearly a year ago. "So, what's the excuse?"Ms Campbell says the 2500 communications which formed the basis for the commission's decision "should be made public for anybody who wants to read them and I would certainly welcome the input of someone with expertise in analyzing them. "We should ask who was [expressing an opinion], and what was the contribution of moneyed vested interest groups, for example, the tourism and liquor industries."

COMMENT: Booze 'facts'?

Now that the six year old booze debate is totally off the rails it's worth looking at some of the opinions, declared as facts, doing the rounds.
• "Restrictions in Katherine and Tennant Creek aren't working so why should we have them here." Aren't working for whom? Tennant Creek's restrictions at least have been subject to a number of scientific evaluations, showing a sustained decrease of around 20 per cent in consumption, measured in pure alcohol, as well as significant drops in police work, hospital admissions and domestic violence. Furthermore, a clear majority of residents surveyed in Tennant support retaining or strengthening all of the restrictive measures. Serious debaters of the grog issues are urged to get the full facts from the latest evaluation, available through the Central Australian Division of Primary Health Care (contact Vicki Taylor on 8952 3486 or email ).
• "We're a free country. People who want to drink themselves to death should have the right to do so." Exactly. And they, as well as their suppliers, should be paying the additional hundreds of millions of dollars the taxpayer has to cough up each year for police, prisons, health services and courts to deal with the consequences of alcohol abuse. And make the traders and drinkers also compensate the locals sick to death of having their enjoyment of their town diminished.
• "Let's not have new control measures because the naughty media will tell the world we're having a problem and tourism will suffer." Brilliant. Let's hide the problem. Let's lure people to The Alice to be confronted with disgusting behaviour in the streets and creek beds, often with tragic consequences, and then go back and tell all their friends about it. Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to tell the story about our passionate resolve to fix the problem?
• "We should target the 200 to 300 problem alcoholics." Perhaps like this: let's make a list of their names, circulate it to all the bottle shops, and fine the outlets $100,000 every time they serve a listed person. And let's include these fines in the mandatory sentencing regime which, after all, most people think is such a great idea.
• "Tourists won't come because their opportunity to get take-away alcohol will be curtailed." Baloney. Tourists come primarily for other reasons, but in any case our liquor laws are infinitely flexible. There's nothing to stop Peter Allen and his commissioners from permitting the sale of takeaway liquor 24 hours a day to anyone who has a valid air ticket, or a driver's licence proving they live outside a 1000 km radius from Alice Springs.
• "We first need to create jobs for Aboriginal people to stop them from abusing grog." Very noble. Only it's never worked. Remember the breakfast at The Vista Hotel in September 1997, attended by the Aboriginal Affairs Minister at the time, John Herron, by 180 of the town's business and political movers and shakers and senior bureaucrats? "We'll create 50 jobs," was the war cry. It felt great! Today – some three years down the track – just two jobs have been created under that banner, and these, I'm told, went to people who would have had no trouble getting employment in normal circumstances. There were some 40 placements through the CES but when it closed the monitoring ceased. A funding application to the Commonwealth in March 1999 to revive "Employ Alice" was rejected. The Chamber of Commerce does not know what happened to the people placed. "It's a slow process, a tiny step forward and a few steps back," says the chamber's Beth Mildred.
• "We need rehabilitation before we bring in restrictions." Oh yeah? Does it have a significant impact? When I asked the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Program Unit on Ross River Highway last week how many residential clients they have I didn't get an answer. I understand it's fewer that 10. Neither did CAAAPU respond to the following questions: How long do the clients stay? What are the results of the "rehab"? How many are first time and how many repeat clients? What form does counseling take? How many people attend? What are the results?
• "We only get one chance at implementing measures and if we don't get it right the first time we're all doomed." Why? There's no reason why measures can't be eased and tightened according to what the community sees as necessary at any particular time, indeed the history of licensing in Australia presents just such a picture. The seminal word on this was spoken by Associate Professor Dennis Gray, of the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology, whom the Alice News quoted on August 9, 2000.
The frequent visitor to The Alice, who's spent years researching the alcohol mayhem here, said this: "In all states and territories, liquor licensing laws restrict who, where, and at what times alcohol cane consumed. "It is the prerogative of all communities, not simply market forces, to make decisions regarding the level of availability that they regard as appropriate and the amount of harm they are willing to tolerate. "It has been argued that restrictions on availability fly in the face of normal business objectives to improve and expand. "However, this argument is flawed. Alcohol is not just another product like baked beans or cuddly toys. "Despite the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, it is a dangerous drug and excessive consumption causes considerable health and social problems." And in The Alice people have had enough – in more ways than one. The throttle of a car needs to be pushed down or eased off depending on the terrain. We've been going flat out through a very rough patch for a very long time, and the old bus is badly shaken. If we don't start driving responsibly right now it will fall to pieces altogether. - ERWIN CHLANDA


Local real estate agency Framptons may have made land auction history last Friday by accepting a bid for land of $150,000 – "in the negative".The bid came from developer Ron Sterry. It took four bids – alternating between Mr Sterry and builder Brian Marlor of Centrebuild – to bring the bidding value to zero. The land, a vacant block in Head Street expected to require major stormwater works, was finally passed in at $140,000 – "in the positive". The unimproved capital value of the land – four blocks – is $792,000, according to information in Framptons' property report. (Significantly, under the preceding valuation in 1997 the total value was more than $1m.)Mr Marlor's bid was the last one. The land was put up for sale by the NT Government, amidst much publicity, to relieve the shortage of residential land.It was intended to create about 15 blocks, including seven for first home buyers to be sold back to the government for $48,000 each including GST. Treasurer Mike Reed said last week the highest bidder will now talk to the Department of Lands to see if a sale can be negotiated, and if that fails "then we'll have to look at what the potential is". "We prefer the private sector to do it. "If we can't sell it the government will have to do the subdivision." Builder Michael Sitzler, who attended the auction only as an observer, said there were drainage costs leaving "no margin". The failed auction has rekindled the debate about Aboriginal native title, blamed by some for the high cost of land in the town, assertions rejected by the Central Land Council (CLC). Says Jodeen Carney, CLP candidate for Araluen: "I am aware that the government well understands the need for affordable land in Alice Springs, and that's why the sale of the Head Street land was brought forward. "The demolition of Cawood Court, and its subsequent sale, will provide a further opportunity for people to purchase affordable land, which I wholeheartedly support. "This land is in an existing residential area, and has great potential. "Importantly, it will be affordable. "The government has had discussions with the CLC, but that those discussions did not produce an agreement. "Government now awaits the outcome of the appeal to the Native Title Tribunal. "Government is committed to providing affordable land, and will continue in its efforts," says Ms Carney.However, CLC director David Ross says: "Discussions have not fallen apart, as Jodeen Carney suggests. "The government and the CLC are still engaged in positive and ongoing dialogue. "If Ms Carney wants to be a politician then I suggest she sticks to the facts and not engage herself in innuendo." Mr Ross said about the Alice Springs native title claim in September 1999 that "the claimants have sought to settle the application through negotiations with the NT government but the government slammed to door in their face. "Now some three and a half years since the government turned its back on negotiations, and after great personal and monetary cost, we have a decision which vindicates the making of the claim." In the meantime, although the native title holders had won the majority of their claim in 1999, they appealed aspects of the decision, and the NT Government counter-appealed. Potential residential land affected by the issues before the tribunal includes Mt Johns Valley, east of the Vista Hotel, and White Gate, at the end of Undoolya Road.


Greater and more frequent flooding in Alice Springs is likely to be one of the consequences of climate change brought about by global "greenhouse" emissions, principally carbon dioxide. In last week's Alice News research program leader at Alice's CSIRO laboratory, Mark Stafford Smith, outlined the latest projections for climate change in Australia (published by CSIRO last month) and what they will mean in the Centre. Average temperatures one to two degrees higher by 2070 – with plenty more days at the hot end – is the very least we can expect. If nothing is done about greenhouse, the warming will be up to six degrees greater. A slight increase in average rainfall is also predicted, and it is likely to come "in bigger gulps". Planning to deal with these changes is becoming more urgent, as is an effort to contribute to a reduction in greenhouse emissions, says Dr Stafford Smith. Greater and more frequent flooding in Alice is "an issue that has to be seriously taken account of", he says. "The risk is 30 years away, but some of the infrastructure we are putting in the town now will still be there in 30 years. "Planning regulations in flood-prone areas are important and are going to become more important."Having standing water for longer, and warmer winters will also mean more opportunity for mosquitoes to be active over longer periods."Mosquito borne diseases will become an increasing rather than a decreasing issue. "Quite a few of our weeds come from the tropical north and they''ll probably be favoured."For example, the buffel grass issue certainly won't go away." Minimum temperatures will increase more than the maximums, so in winter we'll have many fewer frosts. In summer, nighttime temperatures are likely to stay higher, and this has implications for, among other things, the way we design our buildings. Says Dr Stafford Smith: "One of the reasons why summer is not too uncomfortable here is that while our buildings warm up a lot during the day, they generally get a chance to cool down at night. "So warming is going to put stress on those sorts of architectural tures that depend on the mass of buildings not warming up. "At the same time we're going to be challenged to use less energy because that's where the carbon dioxide emissions are coming from. "People will want to stay cooler but they'll have to try to do it without pumping so much fossil fuel into the air. "We'll be looking for architectures that are more and more able to handle temperature extremes, but instead of 20 to 40, it will be more like 25 to 41." Realistically, how much can a small population like ours, living in an extreme climate, be expected to contribute to the reduction of emissions? Dr Stafford Smith: "There's a philosophical question in that. "Australians, and it's probably even more the case for people living in Alice Springs, are among the highest per capita cdonsumers of energy in the world. "I think we have a clear obligation in that sense to reduce our consumption. "But there are some real opportunities to find ways of doing that which are also going to be more economical for us. "For example, plants around a house and in breezeways can be used to a certain extent to create a cooler atmosphere and therefore substitute for air-conditioning. "If everyone did this, it would make a difference and be a lot cheaper, but it requires us to design buildings correctly to start with. "That's the kind of challenge which might be taken up by the Desert Knowledge project. "If Alice Springs closed down tomorrow it wouldn't change the scale of climate change, but on the other hand if all communities like Alice Springs reduced their energy use by 25 per cent, that would have a significant impact." On a broader scale, araid zones generally (not being very productive) don't store very much carbon per hectare but they have a lot of hectares. So managing these vast areas well actually can contribute significantly to a reduction in Australia's carbon emissions. "Landscapes in good condition certainly store more carbon than ones which are damaged. "There are ways we could think about capturing more carbon in our landscapes through possibly having more trees in some places, but doing it sensitively so that it doesn't impact negatively on our biodiversity." Taking up the challenge of combating greenhouse is becoming " pretty urgent", says Dr Stafford Smith. "We are locked into a degree or two of warming as things stand. The longer we leave ‘business as usual' the more certain we'll be of not turning the whole thing around, and six degrees' warming is a hell of a lot!"


"Abstract' is too dry a word to describe the paintings of Wayne Eager, showing at Araluen until June 24.These are works about the pleasure of mark-making, art about doing art – that peculiarly human activity. They don't make a statement or describe life in a figurative sense, but they are life-filled, from the most vigorous, such as "First Fleet", to the most delicate, like "Salt Lake". Such is the intricacy and vitality of the mark-making, that I imagine Eager working with several brushes at once, but more often it's with one at a time, building up layer upon layer over a long period, following where the painting leads. "First Fleet", for example, was for many months a blue and yellow painting. The red that now defines it came just before the exhibition was hung. It also led Eager to his title, suggested by the Union Jack- like markings that emerged. It's rare that Eager starts with a concept (and never with a title). The fine pencil lines apparent in some of the gouaches are misleading: they didn't sketch in ideas for the composition, but were added after. Eager works best when he's able to be in the studio day after day. "There are no short cuts," he says.The body of work in this show has come out of the last year, which began with a two month break from his job as a field officer with Papunya Tula Artists.That grew into 12 months, and while now he has to think again about earning a living, he would like to keep painting in preparation for a Melbourne show in March next year. Melbourne-born and trained at the Victorian College of the Arts, Eager first travelled to the Territory in 1990, and has lived in Central Australia since 1992.One might have expected that his involvement with Aboriginal artists and his experience of the bush would have had a more obvious impact on his work. But after a detour into landscape painting following a visit to Kakadu and later while living at Haasts Bluff, Eager has returned to his original investigations, enduringly influenced by Modernist greats, and in particular Ian Fairweather (frankly acknowledged in his " Homage to I.F."). He is more in love with colour, though, than Fairweather. " Summer" is as hot as an oven; "Shimmer" glows like the embers of a campfire; tiny jewels of colour sparkle on the white surface of "Salt Lake". He is also more playful, drawing on a range of childlike (and Klee-like) symbols for paintings such as "History" and "Having Fun". These are attractive works, but personally I prefer the intensity and mystery of the less readable works (including those, like "Red Dog", maddeningly suggestive of writing).

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