May 26, 2004.


Alderman Samih Habib says the town council should kill two birds with one stone with its proposed multi million dollar expenditure on the Civic Centre.
Only a small office "for the convenience of ratepayers" should be retained at the present site, while the bulk of the administrative offices should move to the historic old gaol (pictured), which has been negelected since being saved from the bulldozers in an emotional public campaign seven years ago. Ald. Habib, one of only three incumbent aldermen to stand for re-election, is breaking rank with the outgoing council and calling for a halt to the Civic Centre upgrade, for which tenders were called last Friday.
A successful businessman, he says the town cannot afford the upgrade: it's not a priority; council has to borrow too much (more than half); and any hike in interest rates over the 15-year life of the loan "will kill us", jeopardising other projects.
Council's first priority should be to get Alice Springs "back on the map", says Ald Habib.
He suggests council plough $1m to $2m into promoting the town over four years.
The transport industry has severely contracted, the building industry is almost finished, we can't afford to let tourism continue to slide, he argues.
Council should work with industry partners to decide on how to best target its promotion.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Civic Centre should be turned over to the needs of the community, in particular an expanded public library, information centre and community meeting rooms.
The old gaol, refurbished and in use, would itself become a tourist attraction.
Councils all over the world conserve and restore their old buildings as a matter of pride, says Ald Habib, citing his native Beirut and "every city in Europe".
What should happen with the rest of the Civic Centre site?
"Why not a beautiful park?" asks Ald Habib.
And on the Stott Tce side a tourism promotion office, featuring a theatrette with video promotions of the region and tour booking desks.
"I've seen something like this in Canada, it was fantastic," says Ald Habib.
Has he raised all these ideas before in council?
"I was brushed aside, no-one was interested," he says.
Ald Habib says the current council has not worked to a vision of the future: "A few ideas have been tossed around, but it's been minimal."
On this, Alderman David Koch, also standing for re-election, is in agreement.
Has council had a set of priorities?
"Not really, no," says Ald Koch, despite the existence of a strategic planning document.
Developing a set of objectives "would probably be a good project for the next council", he says.
However, unlike Ald Habib, he doesn't see a big role for council in tourist promotion.
CATIA is " a very successful operation, a particularly good industry body". And it's a "state responsibility to market", says Ald Koch.
Ald Habib counters: "If we'd had a good tourist season we wouldn't have to worry about it, but as things change and priorities shift you have to look forward.
"Katherine is promoting itself, Tennant Creek is promoting itself, where are we?
"We have started thinking about it too late."
Ald Habib says the current council hasn't lacked leadership altogether but it hasn't been "crash hot" and "okay is not good enough".
He says the whole system is "far too slow", "bogged down in consultation, studies and surveys".
"The council is elected to make decisions.
"The community should be asked what they want, but part of responding to the community is making decisions."
The Alice News asked prospective new aldermen for their views on leadership versus consultation.
Melanie Van Haaren, a nurse for 30 years and now "a leader in my profession", involved in establishing a maternal and child health unit, would seem to agree with Ald Habib: "Residents make their choice about who they want to be on council.
"Inherent in that is their trust in the aldermen to make decisions on a regular basis."
However, council should consult on "unusual or important issues".
Ms Van Haaren has put that into practice in her own campaign, assembling around her a reference group representing, she believes, a cross-section of views.
They led her to change her mind about a Civic Centre.
"I thought at the outset we didn't really need one, but they said we do and we're prepared to pay for it but we want it to be much more than council offices." (See Ms Van Haaren's letter to the editor in last week's News.)
Robyn Lambley points to the Civic Centre as an example where a decision by council is not going to please everyone, making council's leadership role " the most difficult and the most contentious".
Nonetheless, she says, final decisions have to be taken based on consideration of all views and factors pertaining to an issue.
On straightforward issues council needs to show decisive leadership, says Ms Van Haaren, pointing to the example shown by Manly council in Sydney, where, in order to deal with the littering of seven million cigarette butts a year, they have banned smoking on the beach.
The mayor's role is critical, believes Ms Van Haaren.
Her vote will be for a predictable, mature leader, "someone we can be proud of, rather than worried about".
A mayor who was, for example, openly racist would reflect poorly on the town.
"Some towns have had their reputations damaged by the regressive style of their mayors," she says.
"Setting goal posts" at the outset should help council become more decisive.
Council needs to be "very, very proactive" in doing things to encourage tourism, "one of our bread and butter industries", says Ms Van Haaren.
"The town itself needs to become a tourist attraction," she argues.
"It could potentially outdo the wonderful landmarks around it."
It needs attractive walkways; "You are here" boards so that tourists can more easily orient themselves; iconic street furniture; a council-led rejuvenation of community events.
All of this would engender a strong community spirit, the kind she encountered when she first came to town 10 years ago.
Council's other focus should be on making the town more liveable for everyone: measures should include improved public transport, especially catering for the needs of young families; more outreach in the delivery of council services.
Aldermen and the mayor need to know "when do I lead, when do I listen, when do I do both", says Miguel Ociones, a union organiser "for the Missos".
Mr Ociones arrived here direct from the Philippines, intending to stay for a couple of months. He's still here 14 years later.
"I love the place and the people.
"People have been really generous to me, they accept me as I am." The council needs to consider issues "up front", he says.
The facts need to be explained to people and if they don't understand, then there should be education.
Certain issues, like recycling and public toilets in the CBD, need decisive action now.
Social problems that affect the whole community need to be tackled. Council needs to work with other organisations to get people to understand that no one wants to come into a dirty, aggressive community.
"As leaders, you shouldn't fire it up in a negative way. "You should fire it in a positive way, providing the opportunity for everyone to accept their shared responsibility."
Likewise the whole community, not only CATIA, needs to get behind tourism, one of the Centre's "economic advantages".
And if council needs to get involved financially, says Mr Ociones, it should be done.
Ms Lambley says council and the tourism industry need to work together to lobby for more NT and Federal government funds for tourism, but "in terms of council providing funds for certain tourism projects É the competition for limited council funds is high and [the projects] may not get what they ask for".
Most candidates speak about council needing a blend of leadership and responsiveness.
Matthew Fowler says the council is elected to represent community and make final decisions but "respectful community consultation is essential".
"For example, we have Arrernte, Warlpiri, Anangu and other Australian Aboriginal people, over 50 Torres Strait Islanders and many others with English as a second language or from a non-English speaking background. How often are they consulted?" asks Mr Fowler.
Ms Lambley sees dangers in council aiming for consensus, as the out-going council always has, of "opportunities being wasted"; council being perceived as "spineless and impotent"; council becoming "inefficient and bogged down in their own process of faction fighting and pettiness".
"Council must follow a process in order to make well-researched and responsible decisions," says Ms Lambley.
"However, council is employed to make difficult decisions and must always wear the inevitable backlash from sectors of the community that may feel disenfranchised or simply unhappy with decisions that are made.
"It is impossible to please everyone."
Hal Duell says the critical thing about council decision-making is that "the deal always goes down behind closed doors".
"I like visibility and accountability," he says.
They're things Des Rogers also puts at the top of the agenda: open meetings and resolutions with dates and timelines clearly attached to them.
"With a job as large as council's, it needs to change the way it goes about its business, become more professional, basically treat the ratepayers as its shareholders," says Mr Rogers.
Mr Duell says the mayor needs to take direction from council and be able to represent council's views effectively.
"It's not a case of one person's the boss and everyone else falls into line, as Ernie Nicholls would have it," says Mr Duell.
Mr Nicholls stated in the Alice News of May 12, "I see the council as a team effort but ultimately someone has the last say, and in my situation it's always me."
That's a stance that Murray Stewart agrees with.
"Fran Kilgariff is a very nice person but she's a consensus politician.
"Four years ago she was the person Alice Springs needed, but now, in terms of what I've spelt out about addressing the town's social ills, it's Ernie Nicholls."
However, Mr Rogers thinks leadership styles like Ernie Nicholls' would make life difficult for the rest of the council: "At the end of the day you have to work with those around you.
"Everyone has to pull together, not throw stones at one another.
"That goes for council and CATIA.
"They need to work together for the benefit of the whole town, not point the finger at one another."
Mr Fowler, who is a tour operator, says council should work with other significant stakeholders, such as CATIA and the Tourist Commission on "promoting external and internal customer service skills".
Mr Duell sees council's chief role in tourism as making the town attractive and safe.
It could also contribute to a greater focus on the Todd River as a major natural asset, and with any tourism developments the long-term interests of residents should always be kept in mind.
Marguerite Baptiste-Rooke also sees town cleanliness as council's major contribution to make towards tourism.
But council also has a role to play in preserving the unique character of the town.
It should not, for example, allow multi-storey carparks, as mooted for its Hartley Street site.
She strongly supports consultation, council taking its cues from the community.
"I'm cautious about people who say I'm going to do this and that.
"In the end it's team work and the majority rules."
Joanna Jansen believes rule by majority is "the fairest way to go" and the mayor, a role she is also vying for, must represent the council and the community.
She thinks decisiveness comes from having adequate information about the matters at hand.
Phillip Walker believes that council should make its decisions after listening to the community.
On kerbside recycling, for instance, the council has listened and now must look at other options.
On tourism, Mr Stewart believes council has to "deal with the basics first".
"More tourists now mean more people going away with a bad impression of our town.
"Make it a Ôgood news' town by dealing with our social ills.
"That's the best kind of marketing."
Jane Mure says greater leadership is required on some issues.
For instance, the results of the recent survey on kerbside recycling cannot be interpreted as a vote against (see last week's issue, p.4).
"It's a mixed answer and if aldermen have been elected, then at times they have to make decisions."
The mayor needs to represent a consensus of views; she or he needs to be someone with "an air of dignity" who can negotiate with all members of council and who can diplomatically represent council's views even if they have voted against them.
Ms Mure believes the last council has not been inactive, but rather has paid a lot of attention to process.
"The next council can be more proactive thanks to the research the current council has undertaken."
There are effective things that council can do to support the tourism industry, such as acting as "an information broker", for example, by assisting operators to get themselves onto the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse, says Ms Mure.
Jane Ulrik believes council can avoid getting bogged down by better design of their consultative processes.
For instance, on the kerbside recycling survey she says people needed to be asked about more options, so that council would now have a clearer picture of community interest.
The mayor has an important task in being a conduit of information between council officers and the aldermen.
As "the face of Alice Springs" the council and its Civic Centre have a role to play in tourism.
"The Civic Centre should reflect what the town is, where it has come from, who lives here, how it's growing.
"It should be the kind of place tourists want to visit and take photos of."
Mr Rogers says such a Civic Centre could be the kind of symbol the community needs to unite around.


Interviewing town council candidate Wayne Wright - he's standing for Mayor and alderman - is pretty heavy going.
How long have you been in Alice Springs?
"That is a very difficult question."
How old are you?
"I usually get away with 10 or 15 years less than I actually am."
Do you have any children?
"I have a couple."
Does that mean two?
"No, I didn't say two, I said a couple."
Oh dear.
That exchange was the end of a half hour encounter which started with my request to take a photo of Mr Wright in his rather Spartan office from which he runs an accountancy practice.
He doesn't have a home, in the conventional sense.
The address quoted on the Electoral Commission's Declaration of Nominations is 5/8 Kennett Court, which is a block of garage-like self storage facilities.
I asked Mr Wright: "Where do you live?"
"I am an itinerant," he replied.
Are you a person with no fixed abode?
"Not specifically. You are getting close to it."
Mr Wright successfully applied to the Australian Electoral Commission to be a "silent elector" and not to have his address disclosed on the electoral roll.
He is enrolled in Alice Springs.
A spokesman for the NT Electoral Commission says to have this status granted normally requires proof that his life may be at risk if his domicile is made public.
To my request during the interview for a photo Mr Wright said no, because I had not advised him in advance that I wanted a picture to run with my story, hardly a proposition anyone else would have regarded as unusual.
He allowed me to use his campaign mug shot.
I was hoping to cut straight to the chase but Mr Wright wanted me to first look at three brief, printed statements.
I offered to read them later. When I did the messages turned out to be less than revealing. Sample: "As a resident of Central Australia, in the Northern Territory of Australia, I am looking forward to the opportunity to represent all of the people located in Alice Springs."
So I started by asking Mr Wright what should be the council's top five priorities.
(Later he tells me that by asking these questions I'm "getting off on the wrong foot". I explain to him that as a journalist it's my job to ask questions and his options are to either answer them or not answer them.)
Mr Wright nominates health as the highest priority.
I say given that health care is a state or federal responsibility, how can the council help? Mr Wright points across the Coles shopping centre car park at a large, ornamental rock.
Wright: "That is a toilet block."
News: "Are you saying that people are urinating and defecating in a public place?"
Wright: "I don't want to discuss toilets. You are picking out the issues that are suiting yourself."
Nevertheless we come back to the health issue several times during the interview, and this is - so far as I can make it out - the essence of what Mr Wright is calling for:-
• Council health inspectors should check public toilets.
• Streets should be kept much cleaner: there should not be "a speck of a germ. They're washing every part of the street, aren't they?"
• Shopping centres and other public buildings, notably the new Centrelink offices, should have public toilets.
Mr Wright appears to be critical about the state of cleanliness in the Aboriginal lease areas dotted around the town.
"Any organisation in any city in Australia should be held responsible to uphold the living conditions of citizens.
"I have not been privy to a close inspection [of the town lease areas] but from what you see from a distance, driving on the highway" is pretty bad.
"Council, as a combined local government authority, doesn't do the job."
And just as I think there is a coherent train of thought emerging, Mr Wright says: "I'm not saying they should."
He proclaims that there are other health issues for the council "but I don't want to go into the nitty gritty".
He picks up his written statement and intones: "As a resident of Central Australia ..."
Oh dear.
I ask him to get back to the subject.
"There are ways the council can help."
"Health is part of citizens' services which could be enhanced."
What are citizens' services?
"They can be very extensive. Other organisations are picking up that responsibility and doing that, voluntarily."
For example?
"I don't wish to discuss this."
Mr Wright's second priority is education - again principally a state or federal responsibility. So, how would the council contribute?
"There are training organisations that can be supported through council."
"I can't say exactly how. I can't say at all."
And: "I have a few ideas but I can't say at this stage."
We then talk about jobs and tourism.
If the council expanded its "citizen's services" - whatever they may be - the council may need more staff.
"In a city this big it amazes me that we actually have CDEP [work for the dole]."
Mr Wright says jobs should be rolled over into "full time, fully paid" positions.
Other parts of Mr Wright's platform:-
• A call for elections every year for a part of the council, avoiding the current situation where only four of the 11 sitting members are nominating for re-election, causing a loss of continuity.
"Many of the councils in Australia retire one third each year," says Mr Wright.
• He doubts Mayor Kilgariff's "commitment" - which she claims in her campaign - for not offering herself as alderman as well, should she fail in the mayoral poll.
• The Civic Centre work should go ahead "at an appropriate time" and the election "should have been part of the time frame of the tender".
Any tenders submitted need not be accepted and the Civic Centre issue can be revisited.
• Alice Springs should be declared a city and called Alice.


Council candidate Joanna Jansen should be calling for local government to support CATIA rather than dropping it, says the tourism lobby's boss, Craig Catchlove.
The council is far from giving the tourism association substantial funds, as Ms Jansen suggests.
As an ex-officio member on the CATIA executive the council has substantial decision making powers, but pays only $140 a year in subs.
On the other hand the council is charging CATIA more than $6000 annually in rates.
Meanwhile the Darwin City Council gives Tourism Top End $150,000 a year and has a separate budget for marketing the Top End city.
All CATIA got from the Alice council was a one-off grant of $5000 to extend the air time for the "Tourism is Everybody's Business" TV spots.
"The previous council had no tourism focus whatsoever," says Mr Catchlove.
Which is why the candidates were invited this week to CATIA's special meeting for a little heart to heart.
What can the council do? Plenty, says Mr Catchlove.
It is "paramount" that the town is attractive, well kept, clean and safe, he says.
"Just enough is not good enough."


The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Tangen-tyere Council is often cited as an achievement of the out-going Town Council.
But how has it changed the living conditions of people in the town camps, who should be its main beneficiaries?
The "peace, order and good government" which is the responsibility of the Town Council is as much their right as anyone else's in the town area, as acknowledged in the MOU's opening paragraph.
The Alice News would have liked to ask William Tilmouth, Tangentyere's executive director, for an assessment of the MOU's impact, some three and half years down the track. However, Mr Tilmouth has been unavailable to answer questions for the last fortnight.
The MOU has an appendix prioritising actions.
Top of the list is a "mobility study", looking at population movements and being carried out by Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre and the Centre for Remote Health together with Tangentyere, according to Mayor Fran Kilgariff. At the same time, the Regional Development Board which she chairs has commissioned similar research on the non-Indigenous population, so that by the end of the year there will be a "good baseline picture for the whole region", says Ms Kilgariff. The MOU gives second priority to Joint Ranger programs.
Ms Kilgariff says council is in the middle of forming an Indigenous animal control unit, which will work with people in the town camps.
Why is that, the second priority of the MOU, only being done now, at the end of the council's term?
Ms Kilgariff says council rangers, with Tangentyere's permission, have been going into the town camps, talking to people about giving up "hundreds of dogs". This is mainly for environmental health reasons, but at times has also been in response to attacks by dogs outside of the camps.
The point of forming the unit, she says, is to put animal management onto a routine footing.
The third priority is listed as improving the "structure, administration and documentation of the partnership workings".
Initially the MOU agreed to a yearly review of achievements and a complete review at the end of three years.
This has changed now to strategic planning meetings every three months, says Ms Kilgariff.
Next comes waste management and litter control.
On this Alderman David Koch claims council and Tangentyere have done a "particularly good job".
The ranger program, started by the previous council and continued, is "working particularly well".
"I think we've done a lot of positive things on litter control," says Ald Koch.
"I've been here 13 years now and I reckon the litter now is considerably less than what it was five or six years ago.
"It's been a slow improvement."
Mayor Kilgariff says the council is employing two Indigenous trainees in environmental health, with funds from the Beverage Industry Environment Council. It also employs an Indigenous Environmental Litter Officer and is embarking on a litter education campaign, with cooperation from Lhere Artepe, the native title holders corporate body.
Improved roads within the town camps are also a significant contribution to environmental health. Ms Kilgariff says all roads in the camps have been brought up to the same standard as roads outside, including kerbing Ð "a very big project", in which Indigenous employment has been a significant component.
As well, council is going to seal the road crossing Charles Creek that gives access to the Charles Creek town camp.
On youth development, employment and training, Ms Kilgariff points to the council's program on Indigenous access in the library Ð a "spectacular success" Ð and to its employment of a part-time officer working with young people using the skate park, to counteract bullying and maximise access.
She says the planned extension of the skate park will cost nearly $90,000, of which council already has $30,0000. They are hoping that grants funds will cover the rest.
agreement Apart from its traineeships in environmental health, council is also employing an Indigenous trainee receptionist; have engaged Arrernte Council in the construction of footpaths and the dual use pathways along the Todd River; have an agreement with Tangentyere's Job Shop to consider any Indigenous applicants who are qualified for council's various positions.
There is no target set but "we have a positive commitment to Indigenous employment", says Ms Kilgariff.
Last on the top priority list is the participation of Aboriginal people in the political process. Ms Kilgariff says she spoke to Des Rogers, encouraging him to stand and he is. She says over the last six months she and Alds Raelene Beale and Annette Smith have spoken to several other potential Indigenous candidates, but unfortunately none is standing this time round.
Council has only one Indigenous person on its advisory committees. That person holds a position on the waste management advisory committee.

LETTERS: $10m Civic Centre: 2020 hindsight?

Sir,Ð I refer to an article by Erwin Chlanda, (Alice News, May 12) entitled "Politically Incorrect".
The story provided a forum for the mostly incoherent, confused and predictably racist ramblings of current Town Council candidate, Ernie Nicholls.
It would appear to be a currently accepted subterfuge for those with racist and offensive tendencies to use the ploy of attacking political correctness, as an excuse.
While I do not totally disagree with some of what Mr Nicholls espouses I am unable to find any relevance in his blatantly racist attack on Aboriginal people.
Mr Nicholls claims that Aboriginal people do not bathe and are frightened of soap Ð I am disappointed that the Alice Springs News has seen fit to give prominence to these negative stereotypes.
Mr Nicholls and the Alice Springs News quite happily labels all Aboriginal people as dirty and states that they lay around town all day and all night.
Mr Nicholls doesn't stop there; he also labels all Aboriginal people as being the cause of most of Alice Springs problems.
The real topper is that he states that he doesn't want racism in the town council, this following the most racist bit of ranting I have heard for years.
He wants the council to appoint a person to supervise the parking bays outside his bar, wherein, I imagine, he formed many of his ideas and attitudes.
The council "Parking Inspectors" are actually rangers, Mr Nicholls and they have other duties apart from policing your parking area.
Eddie Taylor
Proud Aboriginal
Alice Springs
ED - By publishing the views of a man who has put himself forward as candidate for Mayor, the Alice News seeks to present to readers the knowledge they need to cast an informed vote. It does not seek to endorse the views of any candidate, but will at all times defend their right to put them forward.

$10m Civic Centre

Sir,- Last Friday, the Town Council in the very last week of its four year term, released for tender the first stage of largest local government infrastructure project in this town's history.
It is likely that the total cost of this project will be close to $10 million. It is also likely that the $5 million that the council will need to borrow from the bank to fund this project will not be paid off until 2020.
Given that this Saturday only four of our 11 aldermen are standing for re-election, I ask why such a display of uncivil haste?
The release of last week's call for tenders makes it appear likely that the construction of the new library will be delayed until the council's initial $5 million loan is paid off. By then an additional loan of up to $10 million may be needed in order to fund the construction of this building.
I, one of several people to lodge a written submission of my concerns about various aspects of this project, question the wisdom of this strategy both in terms of (1) the financial burden it will place upon the ratepayer, as well as (2) the current priorities of this staged works project.
I suspect that 2020 hindsight will be of little comfort. I call upon all candidates to place on public record their commitment to addressing retiring Alderman Annette Smith's 10 key points of concern before they lock this town into what could be 30 years of debt. These are:-
¥ Verify that the brief GHD Pty Ltd was awarded did not require an overall masterplan for the council site.
Currently neither the location/ floor area nor the total cost estimate of the proposed new library in Stage Two has been firmly established.
¥ Verify via an independent Occupational Health and Safety audit for both the current Civic Centre and the library that both buildings are "dilapidated'" and that "the present facilities have gone well past their used-by-date."
¥ Reveal the total cost estimate for the project. The current proposed cost, "does not include consultancy fees and furniture and fit-out".
This is at odds with last Friday's call for tenders, which identities that " the works include ... fitout and construction, associated services, and landscaping".
¥ Identify funding sources for additional projects connected with this tender: last month's Town Council newspaper did not identify the funding source for the "$404,000 for landscaping and public art and the $265,000 for car parking".
¥ Verify the blow-out in financial modelling: the total cost estimates of this project have almost doubled during a period of less nine months. A council media release on August 25, 2003 said, "Council will not be borrowing any money to finance the redevelopment of the Civic Centre".
Two weeks ago, we were told that the council wish to spend more than $3 million of existing reserve funds and borrow $5million for something the council now refers to as an "administrative upgrade." To date, however, the council has not revealed the total cost estimate for the project that was released last week with a call for tenders.
¥ Verify via an independent total cost estimate for Stage Two, the new community library, the likely cost and time of construction for this building given that "library visitation rates [are] increasing and national benchmarking standards indicated a need to double the current floor size".
¥ Verify via and independent financial risk management report that "meticulous planning has gone into creating" both stages of this Civic Centre Redevelopment Project. The report should specifically address the impact that both stages of this project will have on the council's capacity to undertake, for the next 30 years, any additional or unexpected major infrastructure projects.
¥ Verify that, upon completion of both stages of this project, the amount of car parking on the site will meet national benchmarking standards. ¥ Verify that in relation to this project the council has complied with all regulations as per the Northern Territory Local Government Act. Specifically, did the council receive confirmation that it could seek to borrow $5 million, from the bank, prior to releasing the current call for tenders?
¥ Verify the claim that "this consultation phase marks the end of an eight year process that was started by the previous council".
Specifically, does this project met the council's own adopted standard as identified in their own Community Consultation Manual?
Domenico Pecorari
Alice Springs


Juvenile Diversion, which aims to keep young offenders out of courts and prisons, is here to stay because it is "world's best practice that's happening everywhere" and the Northern Territory police are "world leaders" in the extent of their involvement with the scheme.
So says Sergeant Kym Davies who has headed up Alice Springs' Juvenile Diversion Unit (JDU) since the scheme began four years ago.
The Commonwealth, who originally funded the scheme to offset the negative effects of mandatory sentencing, has allocated funding only for a further 10 months, but Sgt Davies isn't worried: the program is working too well for it to be abandoned, he says.
This is despite the change to types of offences for which diversion can be offered.
In the last year the Territory Police Force has disallowed diversion for more serious offences, like unlawful entry of occupied premises, or with weapons.
Sgt Davies, refreshingly outspoken, says he does not agree with that move.
"My personal opinion and the opinion of everyone else in the unit is that the Ôworst' kids need the most help."
He also says that many of the young people he encounters don't understand the difference in degrees of seriousness, coming as they do from backgrounds where alcohol abuse, domestic violence and contact with the police and justice system are part of normal everyday life.
"In the lives of some young people we see, getting into trouble with the police or receiving a summons to court is almost negligible in relation to everything else going on for them."
He is referring here more especially to Indigenous youth, who make up 60 per cent of the young people he deals with.
This proportion has not changed since the scheme began.
He says victim-offender conferencing helps them develop an understanding of seriousness.
"When they see how affected the victim is, months after the offence, it comes as a shock to these kids." He says most of the young people who agree to diversion respond to it very well.
"We Ð JDU and the youth agencies Ð have been responsible for turning around some hard core people.
"We give them the thing that has been missing from their lives, basically, some TLC.
"They are just like any other kids. What makes them into ratbags at two and three in the morning is the care they're not getting, the safe home they haven't got. "All they have got is the company of other kids in trouble like themselves.
"The problem can be once the program ends, if they go back to their old life without opportunities or positive support."
The statistics on recidivism, while not as good as he would like, show the program to be making headway.
Of young people who go before the courts, 38 per cent reoffend, whereas of those who complete their diversion program, only 19 per cent reoffend.
"That's 19 per cent too high," says Sgt Davies, "but the stats don't tell the full story.
"For instance, when a young person first comes to us it might be for a whole series of offences, and later when they reoffend it might be for a single lesser offence, which sometimes is really a cry for help.
"As police officers we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. "Four years ago we couldn't.
"Now we are seeing changed practices in policing. We are getting majority support from our fellow officers on the street.
"They will write in their reports that a young person has too much unsupervised time on their hands, they have poor peer influences, they could benefit from educational programs.
"Three years ago it would have been, Ôdo something with this little shithead'."
A lot of people in the community want a tough "teach them a lesson" approach. How can Sgt Davies convince them that JDU's way is the right way?
"It's one of our biggest problems," he says. "We have so much work to do that we neglect to market ourselves. "But basically, what we are doing is what most parents do.
"As a parent you love your kids to death but you can say to them, ÔI don't like what you're doing'.
"We say to the young people we see, ÔWe value you as a person but your behaviour is unacceptable'.
"And we give them the chance to do something about it."
What about the young people's own parents? What about their responsibility?
"In many cases we are looking at three and four generations of young people not having the benefit of effective parenting.
"When we hear politicians talking about teaching people to be parents, that's music to our ears.
"And I'm not just talking about Indigenous people. We recently had a couple of young males in custody who were the sons of long-standing Caucasian families in town. They haven't had effective parenting.
"But understanding what is behind their offending does not excuse it.
"We're not about making excuses, we're about giving them a chance to change." Sgt Davies admits though that there are some young people who are completely resistant to change.
They're not necessarily the ones from the most difficult backgrounds and that's puzzling: "If the research is there to explain why we haven't come across it."
JDU has only got three months to work with each individual case.
"With some that's never going to be enough, but the good stories far outweigh the bad.
"Even with those who reoffend, there can be a relatively good story. They might have gone from offending every day to only offending once a month or once every three months, which is a totally different thing."


Sometimes diversion does more for a young person than even Sergeant Davies hopes for. This is a slightly edited story based on a JDU case study.
Let's call the 17 year old Frank.
One night he turns up at a party, already so drunk that the hosts won't let him come in.
Outside he sees a ute belonging to a neighbour, full of tools and other gear its owner uses for work.
Angry about being shut out from the party, Frank breaks into the ute and drives it out of town where he loses control and rolls it.
It's damaged but Frank manages to get it going again and drives on until the ute becomes bogged on a lonely side road. He leaves it there and heads back home on foot.
The next day he goes back and, with help from a passing army unit, the ute is pulled free. Frank drives it again until a flat tyre leads him to abandon it on vacant crown land just outside of town.
The owner finds it and reports over $4000 worth of damage and many stolen tools.
Although it's not the first time that Frank has come to the attention of the police, his willingness to admit the offence and to make reparation make him suitable for a diversionary conference.
The victim Ð let's call him Brian Ð is angry and upset. Who can blame him? The ute is off the road being repaired and he has had to pay for replacement tools. He wants Frank to pay him back for the inconvenience and expense. With some reservations, Brian agrees to meet Frank.
During his assessment by JDU Frank agrees that his drinking and smoking of cannabis has become a problem, one he needs to take control of.
He's worried about the conference, expecting Brian to be hostile and angry. He's glad his parents are there to support him, even though they're ashamed about what he's done.
Brian's anger softens after a while when Frank and his parents acknowledge his viewpoint.
In the end they all agree that Frank will pay back Brian in instalments for the value of the stolen tools and he'll do a community service program to make up for the hurt and harm he's caused.
The community service is carried out at a local charity where Frank, using the skills he is learning as an apprentice cabinet-maker, restores and renovates their shelving. His supervisor reports that he is very happy with Frank's attitude, commitment and energy.
Brian is surprised and please when Frank turns up each week to pay his instalments on the cost of the stolen tools.
Twelve months later and Frank has not been in trouble again.
JDU interview him and his family about their experience of diversion.
Frank tells them that he is glad that the process forced him to think about his drinking and smoking and about what he was doing, where his life was going more generally.
He feels that his life, including his social life, is back on track.
He's really happy that he was able to deal with his mistakes constructively, especially now as he occasionally has to work with Brian. They've developed a good working relationship.
His boss, the owner and manager of a local carpentry firm, knew about what had happened. Of course, he'd been disappointed with Frank, but when he saw him genuinely trying to make amends, he encouraged and supported him. Now he says he has more confidence and trust in Frank.
Frank's mother says she felt that Frank's actions put her and her husband in a bad light as parents, but the diversion process, acknowledging them as victims too, had helped them work through their worries and emotions. She says they admire Frank's courage in dealing with his mistakes and believe that the whole process has been much better for everyone than going to court would have been.
Brian agrees. He had wanted some accountability from Frank and feels that he got it. He's very pleased that Frank is now back on track.
Brian also appreciates the input he's been able to have and would like to see the diversion process working with other agencies for even bigger and better outcomes.

Soft fruit not for throwing at town council candidates. COLUMN by STEVE FISHER.

Discount plums.
This is what I search for when I struggle around town on a Saturday.
And when I find cheap plums, I can't tell the quality until I buy them and eat one.
When I'm not doing that, I'm making an umpteenth visit to have a sticky beak at the fitness equipment in Sports Power. I reckon I get fitter window-shopping for fitness bikes than I would if I actually used them.
Anyway, amidst all this excitement, last week I noticed that there was something different about the town.
I could see a few election posters here and there and some people hanging around those tables that you use to put paste on the back of wallpaper.
I stepped on a few funny-looking two-tone leaflets lying face down in Coles car park. People lose their lives and liberty in the struggle for democracy, which tells me that elections must be a good thing.
So it is ironic that those of us who have the right to vote often find that the political process leaves us cold.
At least in small remote towns there ought to be some local colour and the chance that some voters might actually know the candidates in person.
Trouble is that the list of prospective councillors usually includes someone who worries more about litter than health, education, poverty, the economy, Indigenous issues and every other subject of concern to ordinary folk.
This puzzles me.
After all, litter candidates never win.
It's a well-known fact.
I remember Margaret Thatcher launching a national "pick up litter" campaign in the UK to an enormous fanfare.
The massed ranks of voters with problems unrelated to Coke cans on the ground watched this on telly with amazement.
She tottered around some soggy park in high heels picking up cigarette packets like this was a life-changing experience. It was only a matter of time before she was dumped in the political waste skip that leaders go to when they have lost the plot.
Also guaranteed to make a strong appearance at election time is that multi-purpose animal, the taxpayer.
An election debate about the taxpayer is much less interesting than watching Loppy the Wabbit try to dig out of my backyard pen.
It's also much less useful.
The fictional taxpayer is supposed to be frugal and efficient.
Please spare me.
Doing what the taxpayer wants is supposed to get us all a tax cut, but it never works that way.
I think I'll watch the rabbit. Another theme in local elections is the need for firmness and strength. An iron fist is the answer to everything, so they say.
Forget the subtleties and complexities of local issues and the burden of history. Every topic has to be a battle in a long war and the only way to win is by punching the hardest (for some candidates, this happens after the litter has been picked up). I have lived through probably 20 elections, and there has always been someone running who wants firmness.
The very same person is walking through the woods and failing to see the light and the shade.
Ultimately, this is democracy and so the successful candidates ought to reflect the kind of people the voters are.
So who are we?
Seeing an elderly man walking his dog the other day, I realised what a rare sight this is in Alice Springs.
Retired people don't retire here.
On the other hand, we have a larger proportion of mid-life career-driven types pursuing a shortish contract, long-term Indigenous residents and stressed-out young families than most other towns of a similar size.
So these groups ought to call the shots at election time.
They probably do, but despite the leaflets and the adverts, the shopping centre stalls and the election meetings, political candidates are like discount plums.
You don't know what they're like until it's too late.


It's hard to work out who will miss Ann Cloke more, the people who agree with her or those who don't.
Both have been avid readers of the controversial columnist, on page two of the Alice Springs News every week for the past three and a half years.
Ann is living proof of the show business adage: "It doesn't matter what they say so long as they spell your name right."
Those who like her were identifying with her fearlessly expressed views about how to fix the things that she thinks are wrong with Alice Springs.
Her suggested remedies came under vehement attack from her opponents Ð and we printed their letters in reply.
Some found it shameless that Ann Ð after a life of hard work Ð enjoyed being well off in her semi-retirement.
Some mocked her for naming her friends, of whom she's obviously very fond ÉLaurie and Steve and Francoise and Ian and Karen and John and so on.
We received a few letters taking the Mickey out of her about this and, of course, published them too.
I was hugely chuffed when I finally made her column, being referred to as "editor extraordinaire".
As a journo for 30 years in this town, I had a very good idea of how Ann felt when she came under attack. (At least Ann was being sniped at from only one side of the political fence.)
Her friends and foes clearly agreed on at least one of Ann's qualities: her fervent love for Central Australia, and her mission, on many levels, to promote this fabulous region.
And then there were a few people who urged us to drop Ann's column: we informed them that freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and maybe they should try it some day.
Erwin Chlanda
Alice Springs News.


Pioneer pipped Federal by six points in a match made memorable by the weather on Saturday evening at Traeger Park.
Long time followers of sport in Central Australia were left scratching their heads wondering if they could remember such conditions.
In the last quarter of play the rain literally tumbled down and altered the complexion of the game, testing the skills of normally fair-weather ball-control experts.
For those huddled on the side-lines, such was the intensity of the match that very few left until the final siren.
Since taking over at Federal a year ago, coach Gilbert McAdam has worked incessantly on building the attitude of his players.
On Saturday night, despite the loss, the boys delivered.
They were playing top dogs, Pioneers, and from the first bounce until the final whistle they chased and contested, not allowing their rivals a chance to establish a winning break.
At game's end the Eagles took the premiership points kicking 9.16 (70) to 9.19 (64), but it was Feds who took home a lot more.
By the first break Pioneer had booted 4.5 to 2.2 with Matt Campbell, Martin Hagan, and Graeme Smith resuming on ground.
Feds' Liam Patrick and Chris Forbes to their credit nullified the centre bounce advantage which Clinton Pepperill may have been expected to establish and Darryl Lowe along with Darryl Ryder were able to shark enough possession to keep Federal in the game.
Pioneer extended their lead in the second quarter to rest at 7.8 to 3.6, in a term where Wayne McCormack booted two goals, and under the direction of Craig Turner, the Pioneer mosquito fleet were able to withstand the dogged determination of Federal.
In the third term, Federal actually turned the tables on their opposition.
Newcomer Jason Willshire unleashed glimpses of his ability when he shut down the Pioneer attack several times, and with Lowe and Ryder forcing the pace, Adrian McAdam drifted into the limelight with timely possessions and pin-point accuracy.
Another to rise a notch was Patrick Ah Kitt who entered the fray vigorously, setting up scoring opportunities.
As a result Federal scored 3.1 to 1.4 for the term and reduced Pioneer's lead to 17 points at three-quarter time.
Then the rain began.
Pioneer claimed the first surge in attack but were outgunned by a never-say-die opposition.
As with the third term Federal took control and ranged to within five points of the Eagles before Pepperill stemmed the tide and scored a major for the victors.
Not to be outdone and in abnormal conditions, Federal responded, closing the score to a six-point margin before time ran out.
In winning, praise must go to Turner and runners, Daniel and Wayne McCormack, and Campbell.
For Feds the road to the finals has now been established.
They proved that they can lift a level and compete.
However one swallow doesn't make a summer and they should now apply themselves and grow in the self belief that Gilbert McAdam has been calling for.
Earlier, Rovers also picked up their game, despite losing 22.16 (148) to 7.8 (50) to South.
In the last quarter the Blues were able to unleash a finishing burst to register 5.2, outscoring South by a goal.
Otherwise the play was predictable.
Rovers are rebuilding and should not expect to achieve any great wins in the short term.
South went about their win in an orderly way with Max Fejo bagging eight goals, Sherman Spencer four, and Kasmin Spencer three.
The western communities' connection is the Roos trump card and it was these players who again stole the show.
South's 9.2 in the second term and then 5.9 in the third set up the win.
Darren Talbot produced his usual high possession game; Ali Satour was stoic in defence; and Fejo, the Spencers , Edric Coulthard and Galvin Williams were major contributors.
The Blues were well served by Graham Swain, Kenny Morton (who kicked two last quarter goals), Peter King, Shane Frearson and Karl Hampton.


The rain almost cleared enough for the Red Centre Tennis Academy to complete its prestigious weekend of competition.
Approached by Tennis Australia, the local club were one of 16 nationally and a total of 25,000 players across the globe who participated in the opening round of the Kids Cup this weekend.
Running parallel to the competition was the Club Singles Championship which was set back after rain interrupted the final sets of the Mens' Singles final.
That aside, in the Womens' Singles, the honours went the way of Benita Bitner who, after a few years on the tennis circuit, is back in town to the benefit of all at the Red Centre Academy.
In the Mens' Singles final, 2003 Club Champion Luke Bosio was pitched in battle against 2001 victor Chris Hume, with one set all when rained stopped play.
The completion of the thriller is to be rescheduled. The drawcard of the weekend was the Kids Cup competition, in which the winners qualified for Sydney on June 18th for the National Masters.
In turn the winners of those events will fly to France for the World Masters.
From the Alice round in the 9-and-under division, Tom Zaleski and Cassandra Dunsar (Darwin) are packing their bags for Sydney.
The 10-and-under winners were Jasper Prowse and Ali Jackson.
In the 11-and-under contest, Matthew Delsar and Matilda Hurst were victorious, and Ethan Scobie along with Olivier Baxter were winners in the 12-and-under section. Roland AhChee will go to Sydney as the 14-and-under champion while Jamie Toyne and Nhu Ngyuen will compete as Alice under-15 champs. Luke Whitehead as 16-and-under champion will complete the team for the Masters.


In A-grade S&R Vikings enjoyed their first win of the season, defeating TDC 3-0 in an impressive display despite dreary weather on Sunday at Ross Park.
And when the final whistle was blown and congratulations extended all round everyone realised it was just another day, win or lose.
Both sides played an attacking game from the outset and it was nip and tuck until Damon Vandershuit opened the Vikings account with a great goal, the first of what became a hat trick.
TDC was kept scoreless solely due to the stoic defence of Vikings.
The undefeated Verdi team continued its dominance as they marched on to their third successive win with a 5-0 victory over Scorpions.
Paulo Morelli led the charge with a 15thminute goal and Nathan Goodwin sealed the match with an 85thminute strike, his second goal.
Between times Martin Yeaman and Robin Yak contributed with goals.
TDC were undermanned but Verdi won in such style that they should really test Federal Strikers next week.

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