June 8, 2005.


Economic realities in Alice Springs are vastly different from claims made by Chief Minister Clare Martin in her election advertising on television.
Ms Martin says about the NT: "The value of building approvals has jumped 50 per cent ... the highest in the country.
"The Territory is really moving ahead."
While there has been a surge in Darwin, building approvals in Alice Springs have dropped sharply from a peak of $61m in 2001 to $37.8m last year.
The totals for 2002 and 2003 were $40.1m and $37.7m, respectively.
According to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), last year's value of buildings approved was $4.5m below the nine year average of $41.3m (not adjusted for inflation).
The situation in the greater Darwin area, including Palmerston and Litchfield, is far rosier.
Still well below the record building approvals of $437.9m in 1998, during 2004 the area achieved $324.9m.
That is $20m better than the nine year average (not adjusted for inflation).
Under the CLP, between 1996 and 2002, the average annual building approvals in Alice Springs were $42.7m.
Under Labor, between 2002 and 2004, the annual average was $38.5m – a decline of about $14m a year when adjusted for inflation.
Ms Martin also makes mileage with a claim that the Territory now has a population of more than 200,000.
But as with building approvals, the population trend in The Alice has been downwards.
From a peak of 26,520 in 2001, when Ms Martin's government was elected, ABS figures show the town's population has declined to 26,058 in 2004, a drop of 462.
This is despite anecdotal evidence of a significant "urban drift" – people moving from bush communities into the town.
This appears to support the claim by Opposition Leader Denis Burke that non-Aboriginal people are leaving town in significant numbers.
The population of Alice Springs is now barely ahead of the nine year average of 26,010.
Meanwhile Treasurer Syd Stirling announced on May 20 that "motor vehicle sales continue [a] strong … 10.9 per cent original growth in the year to April 2005 – the second highest in the nation and well above national growth of 3.8 per cent".
The reality in the region of Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, according to V-Facts, is that there were 1172 private and business cars (not including hire cars) sold in 2003 and 1201 in 2004 – an increase of 2.5 per cent.
The 2004 figure is just 26 cars or 2.2 per cent better than the six year average.
The highest sales total in the region during that six year period was 1257 in 1999.
The gap between spin and reality may also be highlighted by the way the Fiscal Integrity and Transparency Act is applied.
It was passed by the new government soon after it came to power in 2001.
The Act requires the government to have "a fiscal strategy based on principles of sound fiscal management" and it aims at "facilitating public scrutiny of fiscal policy and performance; and strengthening accountability for the economic and financial projections underlying fiscal reporting and decision-making".
Under the Act the Under Treasurer must, within 10 days of an election being called, provide an updated Budget.
Any candidate or political party may ask the Under Treasurer to make an assessment of whether or not promises made outside the Budget process can met.
For example, Ms Martin announced on the weekend $5.2m for stage two of the Leanyer Park in one of Darwin's northern suburbs.
That project wasn't in the Budget – in fact spending is scheduled to start not in 2005-06 but the year after.
The ALP has asked for the total cost of this and its other fresh promises, made after the Budget, to be assessed by the Under Treasurer, to see if they can be afforded.
Will the Under Treasurer be able to do so before the election, and in good time to inform the public?
Not necessarily.
Treasury will need wait until all promises are made, and then give a view if the sum of commitments can be accommodated in future Budgets.
Whether or not Treasury can make those assessments before the election, and in time for the voters to meaningfully consider them, will depend on when the information is made available.
In an atmosphere of each party making commitments blow-for-blow, this could be too close to the poll for Treasury to do its work.
And if its assessments aren't made public by mid next week, then the Fiscal Integrity and Transparency Act – great as it may sound – will be of little relevance to the current democratic process.


Happy holidays? The Territory Government spent $10m more on marketing Alice this year than ever before, and a total of $42m last year, but the tourist industry is not convinced that it's making a difference.
By several accounts the month just past, when business is usually building up, has been quiet. But increased Ghan services are getting the thumbs up.
Says Alan Major, general manager, YHA NT: "We're down about five per cent down from this time last year.
"From our figures, the length of stay is about the same and the amount that people are spending in town is about the same, but the numbers visiting is in decline.
"There has been a shift in people from countries which normally visit Alice Springs – we're noticing a drop in Japanese visitors.
"With the charter flights that came in, we would hope to see some affect in the next few years but it won't affect us immediately.
"The key markets for Central Australia like Switzerland, Scandinavia and the Netherlands have fallen off considerably which is great concern.
"People from those countries have working holiday visas and spend a lot time in Central Australia – the reason for this could be because New Zealand has an attractive working holiday visa now," says Mr Major.
"The entry cost in Alice Springs is as high as it has ever been – if you're an international visitor, the only option to come here is Qantas.
"And I don't really think that operators are making the best use of The Ghan.
"There are a lot of people who travel on The Ghan between Darwin and Adelaide and there is a greater chance to package up products and get people off the train for two or three days in Alice Springs."
Nev Cahill, acting manager of Lasseters says: "It is a little bit slow for us, and a little bit quieter for business visitors.
"But as soon as we get a convention on, our hotel fills up and we've got one coming up in the next few weeks.
"We don't run on the tourist season so we're used to being a bit quiet but there's been no great change in length of stay.
"The Japanese charter flight visitors didn't stay with us so unfortunately we missed out on that.
"It's a little bit hard to say whether the marketing campaign is working yet. I'd say it's a little bit early to tell."
Darren Lynch, manager, Alice Springs Plaza Hotel and Melanka backpackers, says: "May is soft and numbers slightly down from last year."
AWFUL"It's probably the worst May in donkey's years," says Angie Reidy, owner of Novotel, Desert Palms and Toddy's Backpackers.
"It's been awful. The backpackers is a bit more resilient but the Novotel and Desert Palms have been really quiet.
"There are at least 20 per cent fewer guests staying at the hotels.
"The length of stay is the same, an average of 1.5 nights, but because we haven't got the numbers, everybody's dropping their rates so maybe people aren't spending as much as usual.
"July and August bookings are picking up," says Ms Reidy.
Ron Thynne, general manager Aurora Alice Springs and Red Ochre Grill, says: "Lots of people are saying it's a quiet month but that's the same every year. This is the best year we've had for three years.
"We're running at 76 per cent occupancy rate, and we're already past the revenue we earned by last July – we've had well over 50,000 guests staying this year.
"We should stay at 76 per cent until the end of July. The Red Ochre Grill is way up as well.
"It's probably partly to do with the Red Centre Resort closing down after the Masters Games.
"And the introduction of more trains puts a lot more people into the hotel and has a knock on effect on the restaurant."
Dianne Smedley, manager, Whitegum Motel, says: "We only took over the business in October last year but looking at the records from this time last year, so far it looks pretty much the same, maybe a little bit better – we're nearly booked out for June, July is booking up really fast and we're booked at the end of September.
"Our visitors are about 60 per cent Australian, 40 from overseas.
"In January and February we have more overseas guests, at the moment we have more Australians.
"Overseas visitors say they can't believe how much there is to see in Alice Springs and they're disappointed that they've only got one day here – I don't think the message is getting through very well yet," says Mr Smedley.
"We're not busy at the moment, we're operating at 40 per cent," says Jeff MacPherson, manager Dysons / Cobb & Co.
"I've noticed there aren't as many charter groups as usual, it's mainly public touring and independent travellers.
"The Ghan is really helping us – if it wasn't for that, we'd be much quieter.
"It brings more people into town and puts people onto our tours.
"It's good news for us that there are more train services this year."
"I've noticed we're getting a different type of traveller," says Jonas Lesouef, business owner, Lightening Ridge Opal Mines.
"There are more Australians, which is no good for us.
"Domestic visitors spend less and our figures are down 20 to 30 per cent since the Americans have stopped coming here.
"It's been consistently soft.
"We've noticed a difference from the Japanese conferences that have been held here but not from the charter flights.
"I have another opal shop in Melbourne and numbers of tourists have increased, mainly from China and India, but they don't buy opals as much as Americans either.
"I read a lot from CATIA and the NTTC about how numbers are increasing but I haven't seen any of that."
"Business is like a yo yo at the moment," according to Kevin Boland, manager, In the Picture Photographics .
"Trade usually builds up after Easter but this year it's been up and down from week to week.
"We're getting the same types of tourists but not as many and overall they're spending less – although that's because the industry is changing as more people have digital cameras and aren't paying for film processing.
"I don't think we're seeing the fruits of the marketing campaign yet."
"There's definitely more people coming through this year compared with last year – although we've moved location, before we were in Todd Street," says Brigida Stewart, gallery worker, Papunya Tula Artists.
"I haven't seen as many Europeans, there have been more Australians.
"I've probably heard more negative than positive views about Share our Story.
"I think it would be nice if the campaign included more Aboriginal people."
Mick Dow, manager, of Happy Hawkers, says trade is "sporadic. Business looks like it's starting and then the next week it goes to nothing.
"I think visitors are being frugal, everybody's watching the pennies.
"International visitors tend to spend more than Australians but it's been mostly interstate people coming in.
"I didn't see any Japanese visitors when they came [on the special charters]."
Carolyn Lopez, manager of Gallery Gondwana says: "It's been a very quiet May but prior to that, it was quite a good year and definitely a better season than last year.
"January was very quiet but March and April were busy. Hopefully it will pick up soon."


Governments are made or broken in the vaunted northern suburbs of Darwin because there are more there, says Dr Bill Wilson, a lecturer in history and politics at the Charles Darwin University. He spoke with Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA about the June 18 elections.
NEWS: The 2001 election was won in the northern suburbs of Darwin. What's the mood there at the moment?
DR WILSON: The northern suburbs of Darwin are really no different to Alice Springs. The only reason that elections are won and lost there is because so many people live there, eight electorates, the single biggest block of seats.
NEWS: Not much changed in Alice Springs in 2001. What caused the change in Darwin?DR WILSON: The ‘it's time' factor. People were tired of the CLP and Denis Burke didn't inspire them as a leader. [A second major factor in 2001] was Labor Party advertising showing them to be good economic managers.
NEWS: Denis Burke is back as the CLP Leader. Is he more inspiring now?
DR WILSON: He's got a difficult road to hoe. He's got to show the people who were here last time and voted for him that he's changed his spots and is now a more caring person.
At the same time he's got to show the voters who were not here last time – and you're talking about something like a 10 per cent per annum change of population, up to 40 per cent new voters in the electorate, he's got to show them that he is a strong, capable leader. He's got to walk a very difficult line.
NEWS: Has Labor's claim that they are good economic managers been borne out in their first term?
DR WILSON: Generally, yes. They've brought the Budget back somewhat from its deficit although they have probably gone back into deficit, because of the [Darwin] waterfront development. I'm looking at it from an income and expenditure point of view.
NEWS: The CLP says because of the GST, Labor had about $600m more than they had.
DR WILSON: Of course. The GST made a huge difference to the landscape.
NEWS: I guess that was Labor's good luck.
DR WILSON: Every government runs on luck.
NEWS: While there are the waterfront development and other initiatives in Darwin, there's not much happening in Alice Springs. For example under Labor, building approvals have gone down even further from an already low base.
DR WILSON: That's not a government initiative.
NEWS: The government gets the blame because of delays in getting native title problems sorted out and they still have succeeded only partially.
DR WILSON: The counter argument is, when did the CLP sort them out? I don't think you can [blame] the ALP at all. In fact you can say they have sorted out [the native title issues].
(Justice Olney determined the native title rights and interests of the claimants in land in and around Alice Springs in a Federal Court decision on September 9, 1999 – two years before the CLP lost power.)
NEWS: Has Labor got a handle on law and order? What role will that play in the elections?
DR WILSON: In every election since self government [in 1976] law and order played a huge part. I'm quite critical of the Labor Party's stance on law and order [last week]. It appears to be a rushed policy that hasn't been thought through properly. The Labor Party has two things going for them on law and order:
They have increased the size of the police force, [and] they can claim credit, for the moment at least, for the change in crime statistics where a significant number of indicators have in fact dropped. The downside [is] where things like break and enters have dropped, people have had an opportunity of looking more at things like social disorder. That's the area that they have been the weakest in during the last four years.
NEWS: The CLP says protective custody apprehensions have increased from 11,000 to 19,000.
DR WILSON: The reason for that, clearly, is the increased number of police on the beat.
NEWS: The CLP is calling for zero tolerance policing.
DR WILSON: I don't agree with that.
NEWS: What would tackle the problem more efficiently?
DR WILSON: I haven't got a solution. I spent 27 years in the police force. I've racked my brains for 35 or 40 years on how to fix the problems in the Territory. They are not really a policing problem to solve. They are a whole of community problem, and there are a lot of complex issues. I've never been able to come up with any real suggestions of how to fix it.
NEWS: Labor came to power in part because the electorate perceived them as having better relationships with Aborigines and as a result, would have a better opportunity to fix the problems underlying racial tensions and antisocial behaviour.
DR WILSON: I wouldn't agree that was one of the reasons that brought them to power.NEWS: Do you think the Labor government has made progress with issues such as poverty, employment, commercial activities on Aboriginal land, education?
DR WILSON: I don't think many of those issues have been addressed. There has certainly been an attempt to address education and you have to give the ALP credit for that. But a lot of the other issues have not been fixed. Health hasn't been fully addressed yet, and employment certainly hasn't. The Labor Party has been in power for four years. These problems have existed long before self-government and you've got to have more than four years to fix the problems.
NEWS: What are the indicators that Labor is on the right track?
DR WILSON: Education, for a start. Education is the key to employment and an understanding of health needs. That's not to say they've done enough, far from it.
NEWS: We have some very well educated people in town who're not employed meaningfully. Why?
DR WILSON: You're pointing to one of the key questions, how do you provide employment? I have no simple solution to that and I don't think governments have, either.
NEWS: Is it all up to governments? Neither of them are doing well.
DR WILSON: The community as a whole has a role to play. What's business doing? Are they thinking entrepreneurially? I'm speaking hypothetically here, if someone is having something made, could parts of it be made in Aboriginal communities, for example.
NEWS: Do you think the Labor Party is beholden, to an unhealthy extent, to the Land Councils?
DR WILSON: No, I don't. In fact there have been some very interesting spats from time to time. I think they're taking more notice of them than the CLP but I wouldn't say to an unhealthy degree.
NEWS: How heavily would the impending handover to Aborigines of the national parks weigh on the voters' mind?
DR WILSON: Quite frankly I don't think a lot of people care. Providing a majority of voters can go to their recreational areas free of charge I don't think they will take a great deal of interest in it.
NEWS: So, what's your best guess?
DR WILSON: Oh no. Not yet. It's too early. I think the campaign will make the difference. The accepted wisdom is that 80 per cent are locked in behind one or the other party. We're talking about 20 per cent of voters, and that's standard across Western democracies, who will need to be swung one way or the other. Some would say it's even 30, 30 and 40.
NEWS: Are there likely to be any surprises?
DR WILSON: There is a possibility of an increased number of independents in the Assembly. And there is a chance of someone making a horrible slip yet.
NEWS: What's the profile of that 20 per cent of undecided voters?
DR WILSON: They are right across the range. [Some are] people who won't make up their mind till voting day. [Some] don't follow the campaign and make their mind up only when they have got to, right through to people who are political aficionados and who are looking for something to really grab their attention. I've got to tell you, I'm one of those 20 per cent.


A prominent feature of the 2001 NT elections was the large number of independent and minor party candidates who ran for office, including no less than six hopefuls in the local urban seats of Araluen, Braitling and Greatorex.
Despite the high media profile under the slogan "IndependeNTs day is coming", only Loraine Braham managed to come from behind, with the aid of preferences, to retain Braitling against the CLP's Peter Harvey.
Most voters in Alice Springs did not think the CLP would lose office and so opted to "stay with the strength".
However, there had been clear signs that change was pending, not least being the number of high profile CLP members who had resigned or retired from office by August 2001: Shane Stone, Barry Coulter, Daryl Manzie, Eric Poole, Steve Hatton and Terry McCarthy.
It was obvious the perceived arrogance of the CLP was increasingly obnoxious to many people, and indeed is the reason why so many alternative candidates chose to run in 2001.
Personally I had anticipated a "hung parliament" as the likeliest result (where neither the CLP nor ALP would have had a clear majority of members in the Legislative Assembly), and only Matthew Bonson's narrow victory in the Darwin seat of Millner ensured Labor's outright victory.
One aspect of the 2001 campaign remained unaltered – this was the poor showing of the independents and minor parties.
Over the years a number of minor parties have come and gone, including the Progress Party, Australian Democrats, NT Nationals, Territory Greens, Socialist Alliance, Territory Alliance Party, and One Nation.
Only the NT Nationals succeeded in gaining a presence in the Legislative Assembly, during the term of 1987-1990.
This record begs the question why anybody would bother to go to the effort, expense, heartache and disappointment of campaigning in elections other than as a candidate for either the CLP or ALP.
Some do so in the certainty of their ultimate failure but wish to convey a message or simply liven up proceedings – certainly their presence adds variety and interest to what otherwise is the usual fare of major party propaganda.
Others believe or hope the time has arrived when the major political parties disillusion sufficient numbers of people who will switch their support to a viable alternative.
In 1987, for example, the NT Nationals were so confident of winning government that some candidates visited CLP members' electorate offices to make arrangements for taking them over.
An interesting "class" of alternative candidates over the years consists of former CLP members who have either lost office or been disendorsed, and subsequently ran against their former colleagues – a feature that might facetiously be described as a tradition for that party.
David Pollock, Rod Oliver, Denis Collins, Ian Tuxworth and Loraine Braham have been mentioned in previous articles.
One prominent individual was Dr Goff Letts, the CLP's first parliamentary leader who lost his seat of Victoria River in 1977.
Letts ran as an independent candidate against the CLP's Member for Gillen, Jim Robertson, in 1983 but chose a most inauspicious occasion – it was the "Let's rock Canberra" campaign that resulted in the CLP's largest-ever victory, winning 19 out of 25 seats.
Two other notable CLP rebels were Col Firmin, the lacklustre Member for Ludmilla in the 1980s, and the mercurial Max Ortmann, Member for Brennan, who became infamous for his near-strangulation of an ABC journalist.
Firmin ran (and lost) as an independent against CLP candidate Ortmann for the seat of Brennan in 1990; Ortmann in turn ran (and lost) as an independent against Dennis Burke in 1994.
This particular grouping of independents is a reflection of the longevity of the CLP's unbroken reign of power from 1974 to 2001, during which time many people were desirous of winning office and competed fiercely for it.
A significant reason why some individuals run either as independents or for minor parties is to shore up support for candidates of either the CLP or ALP.
They do this by directing preferences towards the major party candidates, depending on how closely aligned they are in political or philosophical outlook.
For example, "the Progress Party fielded a candidate to help Dr Letts get in" for Victoria River in 1977 ("CLP just in front", Centralian Advocate, August 18, 1977) although on this occasion the tactic failed.
However, the tactic clearly worked in the seat of MacDonnell in 1997.
I was living 30km west of Alice Springs on the Iwupataka Land Trust when, just one week before the elections on August 30, Ken Lechleitner and his family came to visit, and it was only then I learnt he was running as an independent candidate for MacDonnell.
The next day I visited Mr Lechleitner at his home to offer my assistance in the final week of the campaign but, to my surprise, he refused it.
He was clearly embarrassed by my offer to help, but I accepted the situation.
During our conversation I inquired casually about the Aboriginal languages he could speak, and was told they were Eastern Arrernte, Anmatjerre, and he had just learnt Warlpiri.
I said nothing but realised instantly something was amiss, for these languages were dominant in Stuart.
I was not surprised to hear from the media during mobile polling the following week that CLP candidate John Elferink was providing transport for Ken Lechleitner's campaign material.
John Elferink's narrow victory, with the aid of Lechleitner's preferences, was icing on the cake for the CLP's second-largest win, of 18 seats.
Ken Lechleitner ran as the CLP candidate for Stuart in 2001 but was trounced by Labor's incumbent member, Dr Peter Toyne, a result which reflected the ALP's victory in winning office for the first time.
Only two independent candidates declared their intentions early to run for seats in Central Australia in this year's elections, and also one minor party candidate (Alan Tyley for the Greens in Araluen), whose nomination was publicised in late May.
David Chewings is tilting for MacDonnell but, judging from his letters published this year, is no friend of the CLP.
Loraine Braham is running for Braitling again, and in this effort will clearly be assisted by preferences directed from the ALP's Sue West, who in turn has maintained a remarkably low media profile since being announced as the Labor candidate in late March.
The Greens are also running candidates in two other local electorates; they are Andrew Longmire in MacDonnell and David Mortimer in Greatorex (who ran as an independent candidate in that electorate in 2001).
Another independent candidate – Vince Forrester – is also running in MacDonnell; he last ran as an independent in Stuart in 1987.
Interestingly, there are no independent or minor party candidates running in Stuart in 2005 (the only local seat held by Labor) so there is a clear implication that a concerted effort is being made to direct preferences away from the CLP in the other electorates.
This tactic might work but equally runs the risk of backfiring, as it may simply dilute the vote in favour of Labor without impacting on support for the CLP.
A complicating factor for Labor is that, following Monday's draw, their candidates' names will appear last on the ballot papers in four of the five local seats (Braitling being the exception, where the CLP's Michael Jones is at the bottom).
In situations where the result is close, candidates whose names appear last are at a disadvantage because the "donkey vote"(where disinterested voters simply order their choices from top to bottom of the ballot papers) discriminates against them.
This might prove critical, especially in the two electorates of greatest interest to the pundits (Greatorex and MacDonnell), upon which Labor are pinning such high hopes.


Alice Springs' only alcohol rehabilitation institution, set to play a major role if the Martin government is re-elected, is defunct – again.
Two reports leaked to the Alice Springs News, and information obtained from a former staff member, make a string of claims about the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Program Unit (CAAAPU).
It had been shut down for four years because of financial mismanagement, and re-opened three years ago.The organization currently receives about $3.3m a year in funding, in roughly equal shares from the Federal and NT Governments.
Chief Minister Clare Martin has announced plans for an Anti-Social Behavior Act under which people found guilty of committing an offence whilst drinking in a public place will be required to get treatment or face jail. This will also apply to people who get picked up by police for grog-related reasons six times in three months.
The leaked reports, by a former staff member, claim that 87 per cent of CAAAPU's clients are referred from Correctional Services to serve out the part of their sentence requiring them to undergo rehabilitation.
However, 67 per cent of them abscond from the residential facility before their term is over.
The reports have been sent by their author to Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott, and Territory Ministers Peter Toyne and Marion Scrymgour.
Neither CAAAPU nor Mr Abbott responded to a request for comment from the Alice News, but a spokesperson for Ms Scrymgour says that CAAAPU "receives Commonwealth funding [and] the NT Government provides supplementary funds.
"From my understanding the Commonwealth has been looking at this organisation's governance issues so you will certainly need to seek comment from the Federal Government."
The Alice News has also learned that:-
• The facility has about 20 staff but often as few as two or three clients, and rarely more than a dozen.
• There is an "enormous gap between best practice and real practice" according to the reports.
• The unit has currently no health professionals.
• The unit is run by its board which is dominated by some prominent local Aboriginal families, shutting out other families from board membership and staffing.
• There is only one staff member on duty at night. Clients are climbing over the fence and buying alcohol at a nearby bottle shop.
• There is practically no follow-up of clients' activities once they leave the unit, and there has been a "revolving door" problem with clients coming back time and again.
• The retention rate during the eight-week programs is poor. Attendance is poor, around three to four weeks, after recent improvements.
• Programs within the facility have been "chaotic" – the source was unsure what the present situation is.
• "Culture days" held outside are usually little more than a quick picnic at the Telegraph Station, and some shopping for the staff on the way there and back.
• The unit is handicapped by its total abstinence policy, prohibiting the employment of moderate drinkers. The policy is in contrast to the "harm minimisation" strategy preferred by many health professionals. "You could be a thief and work there but the moment you have a glass of beer you're out," says our source.
• CAAAPU has rejected a proposal – and the chance of significant additional funding – to care for petrol sniffers. The two reports could provide an important service to the community particularly now that there are tests, devised by the Menzies School of Health Research, that can monitor the "cognitive repair" of recovering sniffers – their improvement of brain function.
• A "Living Well" program has recently received $30,000 in NT Government funding but is now "completely banned" by the board.


Rural resident Mardijah Simpson has challenged the logic and process of the Power and Water Corporation's Water Reuse Project south of Alice Springs.
The project, on which at least $3m has already been spent, intends to store treated effluent from the sewage ponds and reuse it to irrigate horticulture. It was instigated as a way of eliminating dry weather overflows from the ponds, which, under the corporation's licence agreement, must be done by the end of this year.
In a detailed comment on the project's Public Environment Report (PER), Mrs Simpson suggests that the project is going to create a new demand for water and that the impact of drought or climate change have not been taken into account in its planning.
The News put this to Power and Water and asked whether in drought there would be adequate water supply for horticultural activity without creating a drain on water resources used for other needs?
Power and Water would not respond to this question or others about issues raised by Mrs Simpson, saying only that they, together with the Department of Business, Industry and Research Development, are waiting for the Office and Environment and Heritage to conduct their assessment and pass on their instructions regarding public submissions to the PER.
"Power and Water and DBIRD look forward to addressing the findings of the PER and continuing their work with the public," said a spokesperson.Mrs Simpson also asks why the water is not being used rather to displace demand on fresh water supplies, a point raised in the past by the Arid Lands Environment Centre.
The Alice Springs Rural Areas Association has "vigorously supported" Mrs Simpson's submission on the PER.
Chairman Rod Cramer says the association is not necessarily opposed to the project but has great concerns over its process or "lack of process".
"We are also concerned that the horticulture venture would want more waste water than is available especially in dry weather.
"That question has to be answered.
"And if the venture fails, what's Plan B?" asks Mr Cramer.
Many of Mrs Simpson's other comments concern the way in which the community was consulted over the project.
She says the PER was difficult to access: it could not be readily downloaded from the Net and a hard copy was not readily available in the Alice Springs CBD. She finally had to order a copy at a cost of $40.She says the 450 page document was difficult to study in particular due to lack of continuous page numbering and lack of any numbering at all in several appendices.
A former adult educator and community worker for 30 years, Mrs Simpson describes the consultation as "unprofessional and inadequate":• There were no records of numbers of people attending public meetings nor of issues discussed and questions asked.
• There were no records of distribution of community newsletters.• A newsletter to be mailed out every two months never eventuated.
• The Rural Areas Association address database, sent to Power and Water for mailing, was never used.• A letter drop occurred one day prior to a forum in November 2004.
• It was a windy day and many of the letters blew away.
Mrs Simpson also says the planned site of the horticultural activity has moved and now abuts the western fence lines of residents who live in the streets off Colonel Rose Drive and Heffernan Road.
She says only since purchasing the PER has she become aware of the scale of horticultural activity and its proximity to her western boundary.
She states concern over several points with "serious health and safety implications", including the use of chemicals in the project; the spray drift of those chemicals; the potential pollution of the watertable by chemicals; inadequate disposal arrangements of chemical containers; salinity; noise pollution including bird scaring gas guns; dust pollution; mosquitoes.
She states concern about the impact of the project on the habitat of red-tailed black cockatoos and bustards.
She raises questions about future monitoring and redress if mistakes are made, and damage occurs. She also calls for a full Environmental Impact Study of the project, to be undertaken by the Territory's proposed Environmental Protection Agency, which would be at arm's length from government.


Indigenous affairs is running smoothly under the post-ATSIC regime put in place by the Federal Government, Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson said in Alice Springs last week.
But he told the Alice News that any changes to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, governing the Territory's land councils, are still on hold: "That's one area where I wouldn't like to comment at this stage.
"With a light touch we might be able to improve the working of that Act."
The News asked Mr Anderson in September last year what he proposed to do about the lack of economic development on Aboriginal land.
We asked: "Why do people seeking to set up enterprises on Aboriginal land need to negotiate through the land councils?
"Why can't they negotiate with the communities direct?
"It's Coalition legislation and you haven't done anything in a quarter of a century to fix it."
Mr Anderson replied: "I would love to do something about it but you'd never get it through the Senate."
Now that the government's control of the Senate is imminent on July 1, Mr Anderson said when asked which aspects of the Land Rights Act would require improvement: "I think I prefer to wait there until the Government has had more time to consider how we might streamline it.
"I don't want to get hares running."
Mr Anderson says the "shared responsibility models are a very good idea.
"We're getting them up and running now.
"We're headed in the right direction and I'm not certain we have to do anything more in terms of seeking approval from the Senate."
Mr Anderson says "mainstreaming" of services through departments, "to the extent that we think that's desirable", is working well.
The new Indigenous Council, chaired by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone, has "tremendous representation" from Indigenous leaders: "I think we are witnessing a big turning point."
Will there be more stringent performance monitoring of publicly funded Indigenous organizations?
"The Indigenous Council is bringing to our attention areas where they think we need to tighten procedures up," says Mr Anderson, adding there is still "a long way to go".
PICTURED are Mr Anderson with (from left) Federal Roads Minister Jim Lloyd, candidate for Stuart Anna Machado, MLA for Greatorex Richard Lim, Braitling hopeful Michael Jones and MLA for Araluen, Jodeen Carney, in Alice Springs last week.


That Australian films suffer from poor scripts has become a commonplace, but it's not one that screenwriter Keith Thompson agrees with.
The recipient of several AWGIE awards, among others, and former head of Writing at the Australian Film and Television School, Thompson will conduct a screenwriting workshop in Alice on June 15.
He says there is too much pressure to put films into production before the scripts are ready."A script is like fine wine, it needs time."He thinks many Australian scripts are shot at second or third draft stage, when they should have been allowed to develop to their seventh or eight draft stage.
"Australian writers are by and large as good as writers from anywhere else," says English-born Thompson.
So why don't other film industries seem to suffer as much from this problem? Surely they also are under time pressure.
Thompson says critics need to bear in mind that we see only the best overseas productions.He says there are as many bad films made in the UK and USA but they finish in their country of origin, whereas Australian audiences are exposed to all Australian films, from the "dogs" to the very best.
Factors beyond a writer's control can also influence our perception of a script: casting and direction can fail to match the writer's vision, while the long time taken to put together finance for a film can cost a script its cutting edge.
This is very frustrating for the screenwriter whose work only has life in the film.
"You become steel-plated," says Thompson, especially if you work on feature films, rather than for television, where the road from writing to production is shorter and more sure.
Having other projects to go on with while finances are sought is essential, as is the ability to let go of your "children" once a producer is involved.
To what extent do writers need to be thinking about finance and other industry constraints or should they just focus on their story-telling?
Having an awareness of how much things cost and of what is achievable is "part of the screenwriter's craft", says Thompson.
"But you mustn't be so pragmatic as to stop dreaming.
"Budgets and dreams are at the opposite ends of the spectrum so you have to create a ballpark for yourself that is possible to operate in."
Thompson hasn't been in Alice for some 20 years but he's looking forward to an update, on the town and its film industry. Through the NT Writers' Centre he has been mentoring local screenwriters, Craig Mathewson and Trevor Shiell.
He says he will be encouraging writers in his workshop to embrace a strong sense of place in their work."To explain outback Australia to the world culture is a fascinating endeavour."
But the trick is to find the universal in the unique and particular, rather than to do another version of ‘the outback movie'.
The old familiar signs of place – like the Harbour Bridge for Sydney, or the lonely highway and roadhouse for the outback – are "limiting".
As well as a sense of place, there must be "a sense of cinema": "We look at films in a theatre, so there must always be spectacle, whether its is small or large, as well as emotional drama.
"That much is true for every movie."
For information on Thompson's visit contact Nicki at the Writers' Centre: 8952 3810 or email


Earning more money, getting a promotion and learning how to do things they never thought they could do – these are some of the benefits "mature age"students of Charles Darwin University say they've gained from doing part-time courses, from law to photography.
Maritana Richards is the course coordinator of the Bachelor of Business degree, which can be done part time over six years.
She's helped hundreds of local people gain the professional qualifications they need to start up their own business or improve their existing skills – in fact her teaching is so effective she often loses students as they get promoted to a larger company branches in Darwin and have to complete the rest of their studies there.
"It's a very flexible course – we say it takes six years to complete if you're studying part time but there's the option to take extra units over vacations, for example, so students can complete the course more quickly.
"The course has three majors – marketing, management and accounting. We work the tutorials on a practical focus.
"Nationally we have a shortage of professionally qualified accountants and this course opens the ability of students to go on to do a professional qualification and eventually work in the industry.
"We're lucky because it's not a big university campus and the classes I teach are fairly small. I know all the students in the class."I get a very positive response from students."
Allison Paull, 28, is due to finish her Bachelor of Business in November. She's been studying part time for five years while working as an administrative assistant at Power and Water and hopes her hard work will lead to promotion.
"I'm majoring in accounting – I was originally going to major in management but I changed halfway through. When I left school I didn't know what I really wanted to do so I went straight to work. A few years later, when I was 23, I started looking for a professional course.
"I study about 40 hours a week, two or three hours a day and then at the weekend. Public holidays are a bonus – I love Easter! Sometimes I'll have lectures during the day but I'm lucky that my work is really flexible and they know I'm trying to better myself as well as the organisation. I try to make the impact on my workplace as minimal as possible so they can see I'm not taking advantage of the system.
"I want to move to Darwin to work with Power and Water in the finance section – they do a graduate program there.
"The course has taught me about discipline – you have to be disciplined to sit at a desk all day and then go home and sit at another desk. But it's amazing how much you can fit into a day and it's helped me balance my life because I exercise quite regularly too.
"The course has benefited me in real-life ways – now when I listen to the news, read newspapers and financial magazines I actually know what they're talking about!
"Maritana Richards is a really good lecturer and experienced in the field in the practical sense.
"It's really good to have someone who is so interactive in their delivery of lectures and it's a much more personal way of teaching because there's only 12 students in a class.
"There's a lot on offer at Charles Darwin University – not just degrees but certificates and diplomas as well."
Thalia Cheung is an analyst in tax and accounting at Deloitte's and is about to graduate with her Bachelor of Business degree next month: "I probably wouldn't have the position at Deloitte's if I hadn't done the course. It has given me the foundation for my career.
"I was in professional jobs before – I was in senior management at ANZ and then moved to Povey Stirk where I was a conveyancer – but my intention always was to become an accountant.
"The course prepares you in a practical way for the workforce.
"But I learnt much more than just accounting on the course – we did management, law and marketing units. I don't have to be an accountant for the rest of my life, I could probably go into any other business-related capacity.
"It's opened so many opportunities.
"It was hard work but worth it. We have a number of people in the firm doing their degrees at CDU.
"The lecturers were very good.
"Maritana Richards was absolutely fantastic, an amazing woman. She would go beyond the textbook."


Every time I speak to my brother he urges me to return to civilisation. To the east coast of Australia. He sent me a card and a month later it still hasn't arrived. He blames the remoteness of Alice Springs, while I blame Australia Post.
What is there worth seeing or doing in Central Australia, he keeps asking me although he has spent a year of his life here. You've seen it all already, why don't you come over to where it's all happening?
I do sometimes wonder why, but not as often in winter as in summer. I'm noticing the immediate environment more in the cooler days and actually relish the feeling of being a little cold, of having hot meals, being able to sit in the sun and snuggling under a warm doona at night.My oldest daughter has just arrived back from a school camping trip to the West Macs. As she stepped inside the house she commented on how strange it felt to have a roof over her head.
Soon after returning, she stumbled on Michael Palin's ‘Full circle' and flicking through the pages, found an entry for Alice Springs. When she looks back on her childhood, she will be able to say that she grew up in an exotic place. A place mentioned in books about world travel and exploration, a place of geological, historical, anthropological, biological and geographical importance.
We seem to be preoccupied with litter, anti-social behaviour and sport. While tourism is everyone's business, do the tourists care about the things we think they care about or should care about?
Michael Palin talks about the heat, the flies, the light, the history found in the names of places and roads, the Henley-on-Todd, the Todd Tavern, Aboriginal culture and European indifference to culturally significant landmarks.
Do we ever properly value what we have got, what has become the familiar and every day? Do we appreciate the significance of place, both as our home and as a place in history which has been the backdrop of a lot of change, important historical events and many discoveries?
Are we looking after it and what does it mean? Will the tourists still come if we sanitise the outback?
As the elections loom, our hunger for order, tidiness and sports complexes promises to be fed by our visionary leaders. What will we be remembered for in years to come? Whose names will be immortalized in the street names of a future Alice Springs, and what will they tell us about our time in history?
The image we have at the moment, whether we like it or not, is that of a geographically remote, isolated and not very progressive Australian outback town with great scenery, interesting Indigenous culture and a past full of great explorers. All worth visiting for its museum value.
So maybe looking after the tourist dollar is looking after the museum and keeping on top of antisocial behaviour and littering should therefore be prioritised. Noise and litter are, after all, unacceptable in any self-respecting museum.
Why worry about what we do with all the other rubbish or commit ourselves to anything too onerous in reducing our use of scarce resources?
The faces on the campaign posters change but the promises stay the same.


At least twice a day, a different woman writes to me.
She describes her physical attributes and tells me a little about her character.
Then she invites me to pay her a visit, but she never provides a return address.
Instead, her message directs me to a website through which I can meet other women just like her.
To begin with, I was flattered. With the exception of Sean Connery, bald men in remote towns tend not to attract much attention. But soon I realized that the same message was being distributed to a million suckers just like me.
Yes, this is another tale of spam, the other name for unsolicited commercial emails, the major irritation of the computer-using classes.
At least the endless invitations to stop being lonely are an entertaining break from adverts for misspelled pharmaceuticals, fake lottery wins and bank scams from Nigeria.
But most of the time I receive so much rubbish from people with exotic names that it is hard to identify the sincere mailings from genuine friends.
Then, out of the blue, I came across a match-making advert from someone with a difference. Instead of regaling me with details of her hair colour, physical statistics and the useful insight that she might be shy but she's open-minded, the sender offered the following words, "Why you should get to know me: My life is an attempt at balancing literature, music, good movies and alcohol".
I had to read the message twice before it sunk in. Surely this is spam for the Old Eastside? If so, we have much in common, dear sender. My life is an attempt at balancing failed native gardening, watery smoothies, allergies to pollen and a desire to howl at the moon. For the purposes of research only, I couldn't wait to visit the website.
There I found lots of other people who should surely live in the Old Eastside too. One woman summed up her most attractive characteristic; "I have power tools under my bed and I love steak. I'm addicted to art in every sense of the word, but I'm not a snob". Come back Sami Lukas, I say. All is forgiven.
If this is match-making spam for the caring and creative community in Alice Springs, then there must be endless variations. How about "My life is a never-ending struggle to produce a sweet-smelling aroma from home-baked bread, manure and wood smoke"? Or "You should come around some time; I've found an organic remedy for couch-grass infestation"?
Finally, from the deepest enclaves of the Old Eastside (probably somewhere in my street), "Why you need me: I have a weird front fence, a greywater system made from a pair of old tights and I marinate tofu under my bed".
Sometimes I have a dream where I am pinned to a dartboard and people are splattering me with digital information. The digital age is supposed to offer huge potential for economic development for people in remote places, but all we do is sift through other people's information.
In retaliation, we could set up a match-making service based in Central Australia that uses the Internet to reach far corners of the globe. But I reckon we would remain unloved.
So I'm resigned to being one place at the end of the network where the last of the tired bytes of digital information fetch up, exhausted after their nanoseconds of trekking across the desert.
Every day I switch on my computer and still they come. I could always tighten the settings on my spam filter or I could reach for the garden shears and cut the blue cable. That would stop them. But I don't in case the woman with the power tools writes again.


Traeger Park stepped back in time over the weekend when the AFL Juniors took to the field in their Family Day Lightning Carnival.
Just like years ago, the park was packed with Centralians out to enjoy a day of sport and convivialty.
There was a place for everyone. Champions on field provided spectacles while at the same time the little battlers were able to live out their dreams, fully decked out and making a contribution to the game.
The underage competition culminated with championship trophies being spread across the teams, but more importantly it was a day when everyone went home a winner.
The support provided to the juniors was also a delight to witness. Every side had mums and dads on hand.
The band of officials was enormous, and as with the players, all on the sidelines were there to take in the joy of the moment.
If only this atmosphere can become a part and parcel of our senior competition in the years to come!
Mid afternoon the seniors took to the field.
Federal against Rovers was yet again a one sided encounter. Federal scored six goals to nil in the first term, and then extended their lead to 65 points by half time.
Rovers then experienced something of a surge in the third term outscoring their opposition with 3.1 to 2.4, but faded in the run home to be beaten 18.16 (124) to 6.2 (38) at full time.
Federal had the former Pioneer player Abdullah Kamara really come into his own, playing a key role.
Young Peter Rolfe again showed he has promise and should be now setting his sights on a more demanding competition to the south.
In the forward line Dave Atkinson dominated with five goals and Martin Patrick fired, being responsible for two majors and handing out opportunities. Once again the performance of young Sheldon Palmer was worth noting.
Rovers had Ricky Rose again putting in plenty and well supported by Geoffrey Miller junior who booted two goals. Ryan Secker and Nathan Flanagan were also in the Blues' best.
The drawcard game of the round was that between Pioneers and West.
Despite rumours to the contrary, Kevin Bruce took his place in the West lineup, again injecting potency into the half forward line and opening a direct route to the goal front. It was in this zone that the Bloods unleashed the talents of Francis Pepperill who registered six goals and played an inspirational forward's game.
From the first bounce West were first to the ball and capitalised on opportunities. They scored three goals to nil in the opening quarter, with the enigmatic Scott Turpin booting one and Pepperill the other two.
Pepperill, Turpin and Ben Hux were then responsible for putting a further five goals on the board, while Michael MacDonald opened the Eagles' account.
At half time the Bloods were holding a comfortable 8.8 to 1.2 lead.
The second half saw a revival by Pioneers in that they kicked 8.4 to 5.5. The experience of Graeme Smith assisted the lift in performance by the whole side with Joe Cole and Jaywyn Cole Manolis showing the way. MacDonald finished the game with four goals.
Otherwise Dave Kerrin, and Aaron Kopp contributed well.
In the West camp Andrew Wesley and Mick Hauser again engineered forward thrusts. Mark Bramley again produced a class act, and both Nathan McKay and Kevin Bruce were worth their weight in gold.
The score at the final siren was West 13.13 (91) to Pioneer 9.6 (60).
On another positive note for the day, Paul Ross and his Eagles team invited the victors West into their change rooms after the game for a wind down. The sight of players who give nothing but 100 per cent on the field socialising with their opposition was a real confidence builder for footy in Central Australia.
Hopefully the gesture could be taken up by all clubs: nothing but good could result.
This weekend football takes a rest to accommodate the Centralian interest in the Finke Desert Race.


Racing has hit a sombre moment in Alice Springs with the passing of life member Les Loy.
He contributed beyond the expected to a sport he loved and, while racing is known as the Sport of Kings, Les was certainly a king within the sport.
On Saturday at Pioneer Park there were five races run and the master of the game, Vivian Oldfield, again rose to the occasion.
Viv started his day with a new comer to the park, Sirraja, a three year old gelding from South Australia.
In the Undoolya Class B Handicap over 1400 metres Sirraja enjoyed the sit and stormed home in the straight to take the money from Going Stag by three and a half lengths, with Cheesecake a further two and a half lengths back in third place.
In the Maiden Plate over 1200 metres the Oldfield stable again revealed a class performer. Sandover sat third in the running behind Do What We Do and enjoyed the jog until the straight when the three year old gelding was let loose by Terry Huish to blitz the field with a ten and three quarter length win. North Skye came from mid field to take second place and Do What We Do held on for third.
The Henbury Class Two race was well-received and broke into two divisions. In the first Dick Leech was rewarded when Bel de Ferro saluted. Top Value piloted the field early but then hit a wall to allow Ben Cornell to take Bel de Ferro to the line a one and three quarter length winner over Conkers, who ran on well from midfield to claim second place. Regal Rose then filled the placings.
Here's Me Mate gave value punters a run for their money in the second leg of the Henbury when Lisa Lefoe was able to bring the five year old from back at the rear to claim victory over the last 50 metres. Funtegic led as expected, but was under pressure when the business section of the race started. Kevin Lamprecht's Desamo got to within a length of the winner while Pseudonaja took third money.
The 1100 metre Hamilton Downs Set Weights race completed the card, and as is usual Scotro piloted the field with Getting Lucky up there. Our Eden however lived up to the punters' predictions and took control in the run home stretching out to win by eight lengths. Swiftly came home well in second spot, and Scotro held on for third.

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