June 20, 2001.


Alice Springs Air Charter, grounded by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) on June 8 after 23 years of accident free operation, is confident it will raise a $1m fighting fund from aviation interests here and around Australia to fight for its right to fly. Directors Brian Griggs and David Frederiksen say there is nation wide outrage over the CASA decision: "We're getting calls from all over Australia," they say. "People are kicking in money." They say support comes from other general aviation companies, politicians – especially the Democrats – as well as aviation support industries and the tourism industry. Meanwhile CASA spokesman Peter Gibson said last week the regulator is standing by its decision, taken for reasons of safety, to ground the airline. He says: "We've given the company a number of opportunities to address the problems. "They failed to do so. They did not come back to us with evidence to show we are wrong. "They did not come back to us with an acceptable response." However, when asked by the Alice News which problems remained unresolved after a complete revamp of the company early this year, of which CASA was informed in a letter dated May 14, Mr Gibson terminated the conversation. Mr Frederiksen, a former Connair pilot and member of the Alice Springs Aero Club, which owns the charter company, says CASA has:–
• failed to take into account a thorough upgrading of the company's procedures;
• acted on minor problems rectified long ago;
• relied on unsubstantiated allegations apparently from a disgruntled former staff member;
• and blamed the company for flaws – mostly minor – in paper work by two local maintenance organisations for which the company has no responsibility.
The company had 10 aircraft, mostly twin-engined, all fully paid off. It has now been forced to sell most of these planes although some will be used for aero club hire and training. The company was a major player in the local tourism industry, with a large operation at Ayers Rock, and a key link to bush communities, flying some 6000 hours a year and turning over $2m. Mr Frederiksen says in more than two decades of operation Alice Springs Air Charter has not had a single accident, and never failed to reach a destination. "Not once did any of our twin engined planes come back on one motor." Mr Frederiksen says the company, in response to a safety audit by CASA in February, appointed a "new team" including a new manager, Mr Griggs, the chief flying instructor for the club for eight years, and a new chief pilot. The company thoroughly revised and computerized its aircraft maintenance program, staff flying schedules and other required record keeping. This evidence was placed by Mr Griggs and three senior pilots before seven CASA officials, including Area Manager Bill Riceman, on March 30. CASA's action got into top gear on April 12 with a notice to " show cause" that the Air Operator's Certificate should not be canceled. Mr Griggs says in effect that was declaring the company to be guilty unless it can prove its innocence, the reverse of normal processes of justice. Mr Gibson denies that, saying the "show cause" process is an opportunity for the operator to put its side of the story. He says the process is "used for all airlines, big and small": "We believe there are problems, here is your opportunity to prove us wrong." The company says CASA's 21 page document cites a string of minor mechanical defects which had been fixed but criticizes the company for not having entered the details, prior to the repairs, into the planes' "maintenance releases". The document refers to a series of events up to four years ago despite CASA having been given evidence that the problems had already been rectified, and that a new control and management team was now in place. Mr Riceman set down the "voluntary" conference under the "show cause" process for May 22 in Adelaide although it later became clear that he and a team of CASA officials were due in Alice Springs the following day. Mr Frederiksen says the company booked non refundable air tickets for five representative at a cost of $4000 to attend the meeting. However, on May 18 Mr Riceman rang the company, alleging "a serious safety matter" had been brought to his notice. This emerged to have been no more than a rumor that the chief pilot had flown an overloaded aircraft at Ayers Rock. Mr Riceman also said he had been informed that the safety manager had resigned. He demanded a phone conference the following day, a Saturday, and canceled the "show cause" meeting set down for the following Tuesday. During the phone call lasting for more than an hour Mr Griggs says he proved to Mr Riceman that the aircraft in question had not been overloaded, and had in fact been 53 kilograms under its permitted maximum takeoff weight. Furthermore, the report about the safety manager's resignation had also been false. Mr Frederiksen says although Mr Riceman had to concede that he had been misled, he failed to reinstate the conference. Mr Frederiksen and Mr Griggs – in consultation with the company''s third director, Brian Eather – say at that point they concluded that the company was fighting a losing battle. They told Mr Riceman on the phone that they clearly had no option but to close down. A brief meeting took place in Alice Springs on the following Thursday at which the company's lawyer told CASA there would be no application for a renewal of the Air Operator's Certificate in August. However, the company wanted time to wind down and fulfill its existing obligations to staff and customers. But the next communication, on June 8, was the notice to cease operations altogether, issued by the Transport Minister's delegate. Mr Griggs says: "It was a long weekend, and making alternative arrangements for the passengers was exceedingly difficult, including some 50 Aboriginal students from the Batchelor Institute who were returning to their bush communities. "We just had to shut down our scenic flights at Ayers Rock." Mr Gibson says the company was free to put its case to CASA at the May 24 meeting. "They could have kept that meeting going all day," says Mr Gibson. "We made ourselves available. "They could have asked for more meetings."
Mr Frederiksen contests reasons for the grounding given in a CASA media release, also issued on June 8:–
• There was no evidence that at ćthat time the company failed "to ensure aircraft defects and permissible unservicea-bilities are managed properly";
• contrary to CASA's claims log books were being maintained properly;
• proper operational documents were issued to all flight crews – in fact a completely revised set had just been produced; • pilot flight and duty times are being accurately recorded and managed in accordance with regulations;
• and the pilots as well as the chief pilot were being adequately controlled and supervised.
Mr Frederiksen says the media release lists as defects "a stall warning that did appear to work" – as, of course, it should – and "significant play" in an elevator tab – an issue for an engineer, not a pilot. The release wrongly states that there was "heavy oil contamination of an engine". The release claims CASA has found "evidence that the pilots had come to the view, over time, that nothingˇ would be done about matters such as these, that the recording of defects of this nature was not encouraged by the company, and that the poor condition of the aircraft was simply something that they would have to put up with in order to retain their jobs." Mr Frederiksen and Mr Griggs say there is no supporting evidence that any of the pilots had expressed such views. They say allegations in the media release are without foundation, and a slur on the company's pilots as well as the company itself. They say CASA has placed itself in the absurd position to have renewed each year the Air Operator's Certificate for the company at times they allege shortcomings to have occurred, while the regulator is now shutting down the company when – as a result of the revamp of the operation – no flaws can be demonstrated. Meanwhile Tony Byrnes, of Aircraft Engineering NT, which operates at the Alice Springs airport, says the closure of the company had deprived him of nearly half his business. He has seven staff, some of whose jobs are now in doubt.


Their mates now call them Ace Ventura and the Pet Detective, but Tim and Dean Nelson (pictured at left) have declined a $10,000 reward offered by a couple for a moggie lost more than two months ago. Its owners live in the Rangeview Estate area. The boys, who live on a rural block in Heenan Road, noticed a ruckus in their chook pen over a few nights. They set a trap and last Saturday morning they held captive a rather skinny feline. Their dad, butcher Peter Nelson, gave it a big breakfast. A friend suggested it may be "Soessi" on whose capture the couple had put a huge reward. It was. The money will now go to a charity because the boys didn't want to benefit from someone's misfortune.


Labor MLA Peter Toyne says an offer to build a multi million dollar Arrernte cultural centre could break the deadlock over native title in Alice Springs, while the CLP's John Elferink says it would be reasonable for negotiators to be cautious lest they set a precedent for financial settlements elsewhere. A Federal Court decision on May 23 last year, granting a range of native title rights in "Myra Hayes and Others versus the Northern Territory of Australia and Others", is currently under appeal from both parties. Says Mr Toyne: "We've always said a negotiated outcome would be more efficient and more beneficial than court action. "We need to balance the ability of town to expand against the benefits visited on Arrernte people." Mr Toyne says there should not be passive payments such as royalties, but "an underwriting of Arrernte involvement in the economy of the town. "The centerpiece could be a cultural centre for performing and visual arts, a fantastic addition to our tourist attractions." He says a similar cultural centre had been the key bargaining chip with the Maoris in New Zealand. An agreement with them gave the New Zealand Government rights over the entire South Island, and bought Maori people shares in new or existing businesses including carving, fish processing and retail. Mr Elferink, who says native title rights are "a just decision", says he's not surprised that the Alice Springs claim has ended in court. "This is the fight that was always going to happen." He says the main problem is putting a money value on native title: "How much is it going to cost? Will other native title claimants want the same? "Nobody's prepared to put a figure on it. "At the end of the day native title means, open your cheque book. "Courts will finally be asked to apply a value, either on a case by case basis, or through common law a schedule of fees will be developed," says Mr Elferink. Mr Elferink says we're now dealing with mistakes made more than 200 years ago when white conquerors of Australia failed to reach settlements with the continent's Aboriginal owners. He says Manhattan Island was bought from the Indians for just 27 Guilders, "but it was a voluntary agreement between two parties". "No one walked away from it and said ‘I was dudded'. "What we're trying to do is correct 200 years of non-recognition of one of the players." The area within the Alice Springs municipality under native title claim is far greater than the currently built up parts of the town (see map). It is clear that a deal with the Aboriginal title holders is the best hope for lower land prices, still amongst the nation's highest, and consequently crucial to the future of the town. While "the government and the Central Land Council are still engaged in positive and ongoing dialogue," according to the CLC's David Ross, neither party is generous with information about what's going on. Much of the land under native title claim is inaccessible or too expensive to develop, but the claimed area includes Mt Johns Valley [1 on the map], the end of Undoolya Road [2], Larapinta Road [3] and Bradshaw Drive [4], where services – water, power and sewage – are either close or in place. Mr Elferink expressed his disappointment that the current Land Use Objectives did not allow residential development south of The Gap. That includes land owned by Ron Sterry in Ragonesi Road. "There was substantial land – hundreds of blocks – in that area that could have been developed and it is not affected by native title. "The development of that land would have taken the pressure off residential land prices. "The developer originally estimated turning off blocks at $40,000 instead of $80,000 charged for vacant land now."Yet a speedy resolution of native title would put considerable pressures on the NT Government. The town's network of sewage pipes is old, leaking, and suspected to even be contributing to our high water table problems. The net is hardly capable of significant new loads resulting from new suburbs. The sewage plant itself is stretched to its capacity, hopelessly outdated but – according to government sources – will soon be replaced by a state of the art system that doesn't waste billions of litres of water each year. The power station and electricity reticulation system – judging by the frequent blackouts recently – badly need a make-over. It seems the utilities in place now just couldn't cope with new residential developments. Another consideration is the impact of releases of cheap blocks on land owners who've paid through the nose for their – ever shrinking – properties. The political fallout of a sudden drop in land values, as a consequence of more affordable blocks coming on stream, would be enormous with the established citizenry. On the other hand, with new home buyers it would be a major vote catcher. Who will have the ear of the government? New arrivals and young battlers – or the "landed gentry"? Another major factor could be land owned by Pine Gap or by people working for it. There's no suggestion that the "golf balls" outside town will be disappearing any time soon, but if they did, the impact on real estate values would be enormous. The "base" community – workers and dependents – numbers 2500 people – that's 10 per cent of the town's population. The Americans – 49 per cent of the 850-strong Pine Gap staff – occupy most of the 550 dwellings owned by the base, mainly stand-alone buildings, but including also flats (around 40 on Stephens Road) and a few town houses. The Australian employees mostly own their homes here – a further several hundred residences. If the base shut its doors tomorrow close to 1000 dwellings would come on the market, and the bottom would drop out of real estate values over night. But a closure of the base is hugely unlikely: over the past three years Pine Gap has expanded, adding 90 dwellings to its stock.


Every time the local alcohol debate reaches a stalemate, proposals to set up licensed clubs, or wet canteens, on Aboriginal communities are trotted out. The NT Government has just announced yet another review into the issue – with an election around the corner.The argument goes that "dry" area provisions of the NT Liquor Act just move Aboriginal drinking from the bush to town, and wet canteens would put it back where it belongs. Yet, according to Peter d'Abbs, then of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, reviews of the dry area provisions have already been commissioned by the NT Government on three occasions, in 1982, 1987 and 1993, and each review concluded that, on balance, the benefits of dry areas outweighed the costs. Chief among the benefits would appear to be more Aboriginal people drinking significantly less and less often. In 1998 Mr d'Abbs took a look at the impacts eight licensed clubs, selling full-strength and light beer, were having on their Aboriginal communities, all in the Top End. Using information on purchases supplied by the Licensing Commission and population data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Mr d'Abbs found that amongst male drinkers, per capita consumption of absolute alcohol in 1994-95 was estimated to be 42.5 litres! That was 76 per cent higher than the corresponding figure for the NT as a whole, which in turn was 42 per cent above the national level. He found similar differences for female drinkers. Mr d'Abbs reported two previous studies suggesting that licensed clubs in communities tend to be associated with chronic, high level consumption, rather than the sporadic " binge" pattern associated with much Aboriginal drinking in towns. In a study of alcohol and other drug use in 55 Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, conducted in 1986 and 1987, Watson, Fleming and Alexander found that in communities with clubs, 83.6 per cent of males aged 15 and over consumed alcohol – an even higher proportion than that found in communities with no restrictions on alcohol availability. The proportion of females aged 15 and over who drank was similar to that found in other settings: 18.5 per cent. In communities with clubs, 63.6 per cent of drinkers reported consuming alcohol on four to seven days per week, compared with 30.9 per cent in communities with no restrictions, and only 1.7 per cent in those where drinking was subject to a permit system. A later health-screening study in an NT community in which legal consumption of alcohol was restricted to a licensed club found that 24.7 per cent of females and 84.8 per cent of males were current drinkers. More than 90 per cent of the drinkers drank six nights a week, with 62 per cent of male drinkers and 36 per cent of female drinkers consuming 10 or more drinks each night, while the money lasted. Mr d'Abbs's 1998 calculations indicated high consumption levels in all but one of the seven communities. The mean consumption levels were equivalent to four cans of full strength beer per day, every day of the year, for female drinkers, and 6.3 cans per day for male drinkers. In standard drink terms, the corresponding equivalents are 5.8 standard drinks per day for female drinkers, 9.3 for male drinkers. The National Health and Medical Research Council's guidelines on safe drinking levels specify three levels of risk: responsible drinking (up to two standard drinks per day for women; four for men); hazardous drinking (three to four standard drinks for women; five to six for men) and harmful drinking (more than four for women; more than six for men). In Mr d'Abbs's study the overall mean consumption levels were approximately 50 per cent above the level designated as harmful by the NH&MRC. In one community, mean consumption for both female and male drinkers lay within the "responsible" range, and in one other, within the "hazardous" range. In all others, both male and female means were well above the "harmful" level. Mr d'Abbs pointed out that almost all of the public concern expressed about Aboriginal alcohol misuse focussed on problems associated with intoxication, while the longer-term consequences (in particular on health) of chronic consumption received much less attention. "Such consequences are not as obviously associated with drinking as are the injuries, fatalities and property damage attendant upon intoxication. "Nonetheless, an awareness of them is a precondition for making an informed judgement about whether or not to establish or maintain a licensed club, and how best to do so," argued Mr d'Abbs.
Source: d'Abbs, P 1998 Out of sight, out of mind? Australian and NZ Journal of Public Health, 22 (6)


A male assistant teacher working with secondary age young men, allowing the female teacher to work exclusively with girls, boosted enrollment of the girls four fold and of young men by 25 per cent at Ntaria (Hermannsburg).Some of the young men, aged 16 and 17, had not attended school for years.Both the girls and young men had an attendance rate of around 82 per cent. Separating them acknowledged cultural issues impacting on Indigenous students in this age group. The school was funded to employ the male assistant in the second semester of last year by the Principal Directed Pilots (PDPs) program, a key part of the Department of Education's strategy to improve Indigenous education. The male assistant has continued to be employed this year and if enrollment and attendance patterns are maintained, Ntaria will be entitled to an extra teaching position next year. This is a classic example of a principal finding a local solution to a local problem, says the department's Deputy CEO, Katherine Henderson, and all such efforts will be supported with resources.It also seems to be a good example of how schools and the department can intervene and have an impact on attendance. There is now something of a Territory Government mantra on the subject of attendance: "Get the parents to send their kids to school." Treasurer Mike Reed, speaking on the recent Territory Budget, told the Alice News: "If all the kids that are out there who could go to school, went to school, every day, then we would be spending more. "That would cost us more but we'd be delighted to do it because the kids would be educated. "I don't take much truck with this business about ‘it's the Government's fault that people aren't being educated'. "Before we can educate they've got to have parents putting them in front of a teacher." Education Minister Chris Lugg has given a new spin to this approach with his suggestion that welfare payments be tied to children's attendance. A teacher working in a remote school has told the News that a lot of children at her school don't have parents: they are either dead or sick or drunk. The children are being cared for by a wide and fluctuating range of people in the community. The News put this to Ms Henderson. She recognises the problems but says that it's essential for the department to work in partnership, whether it's with parents, relatives or a community as a whole. Critics claim that remote schools have actually lost teacher positions since the Collins review of Indigenous education. Peter Toyne, Opposition spokesman on education, and a former school principal at Yuendumu, says 30 teaching positions have been lost in that time.Robert Laird, of the Australian Education Union's NT branch, says that this year's budget projects 51 less teaching positions in remote schools than last year.Asks Mr Toyne: "How do you reconcile that with implementing the Collins report?"One of the key recommendations is that we need more staff out there to pick up the students who are not being catered for by any programs, which Collins identified as 12,000 students!"Ms Henderson says the department is committed to rigorous application of staffing entitlements: "I can say without hesitation that schools are not under-resourced and are at no risk of being under-resourced."She says she is not convinced that having a whole lot of extra teachers out there would make a difference to the "profound issue" of attendance. However, schools are getting some additional resources to do work to get children to come to school. It is hard to reconcile the picture painted by Ms Henderson of a new and energetic commitment to improved outcomes for Indigenous students with that painted by Mr Toyne. Says Mr Toyne: "I visit probably 20 schools a month in my travels, a lot of them bush schools, and there is nothing happening in response to the Collins recommendations."The teachers don't think there is anything happening, the schools don't show any sign there is anything happening out of the ordinary inevitable things that would have happened anyway because there are some exceptional teachers out there showing a lot of initiative to help their kids." Nonetheless, Ms Henderson says the department is geared up to see big changes for Indigenous students in the next two to three years.She says all schools are being asked to identify their students' "baseline" and commit to improving on it.The baseline is information about how many students are attending how often and where they are at in terms of literacy and numeracy. By how much they will have to improve on the baseline is a matter for negotiation. "We want to be demanding but not unrealistic," says Ms Henderson. "If a school is starting at the bottom, it's going to be a hard slog."We don't expect huge improvements in six months, but in two to three years' time we should see significant movement."She says information about what has worked and what has not in the 94 PDPs to date throughout the Territory will be circulated to all schools. "There are several buckets of money we can draw on to fund projects aimed at improving attendance, literacy and numeracy," says Ms Henderson. She declines to put a figure on the new money being injected into Indigenous education, but says while the area was once left largely to Commonwealth funding, the department is now meeting a significant range of costs from its own budget, in line with making Indigenous education part of its core business. "The department set up the new Indigenous Education Branch; its commitment to LATIS [Learning And Technology In Schools] is new and huge; and the PDPs are being funded by redirected money. "This is money that was being spent in backroom functions around things like curriculum development, and has now been redirected into classrooms with a much better focus." She says much of the department's system-wide work is in line with the recommendations of the Collins review. For example, there is a strong system-wide emphasis on data collection (particularly important for tracking often highly mobile Indigenous students), and measuring and reporting outcomes: "These things are there as supports, not as a threats, they're essential to being able to show that we are improving."Every principal of every school in the Territory must address five performance outcomes, and one of them is improvements in outcomes for Indigenous children.This was a central focus of a recent Territory-wide principals' forum. Were small remote schools represented at this forum?Remote schools are now grouped under a principal and were represented by that person, but head teachers were also invited."They are junior in the system, but we recognise that they have a range of responsibilities for their school similar to that of principals of bigger schools and we need to hear from them," says Ms Henderson. She says a new professional development branch has been established with a strong emphasis on training leaders. For example, principals and assistant principals can now enroll in a tailored leadership development program with Indigenous education as a key focus.Similarly, teachers can elect Indigenous education as one of three areas for their professional development projects. A new, soon-to-be-finalised curriculum framework has built in a focus on students peaking English as a second language.And LATIS, with a current budget allocation of $7.8 million, will see a major roll-out of hardware across the 185 NT schools (including non-government and remote area schools). Every bush school in the Territory will be equipped with a satellite providing greatly improved Internet access, which should make a huge difference to remote learning."Students will have a much broader learning context, being able to interact with other teachers and learners outside their communities, and will have greatly improved access to learning materials."Ms Henderson says there is a nation-wide move to providing learning materials in an electronic form, which is "fantastic for schools".Mr Toyne, however, says that even after the LATIS roll-out the Territory will still have a long way to catch up."We were told by the Treasurer that the roll-out will achieve a one in 10 computer to pupil ratio, but Victoria is now close to one in three, and NSW and Queensland have one in five," says Mr Toyne. Ms Henderson says the department's intranet, being developed now, will also make a significant difference to teachers' access to student information – particularly useful for tracking mobile students.The departments' CEO is also working with his counterpart in Territory Health Services to develop projects linking health and education. For example, improved hearing and nutrition could both have a big impact on learning, and projects focussing on these areas will be supported, says Ms Henderson."If the initiative comes from the community that's great, but we're not sitting on our hands waiting for the communities to have a bright idea," she says. "We wouldn't leave a school isolated and depressed."

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