DARWIN BOOMS WHILE ALICE BUSTS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
The Darwin economy may be "turbo-charged" - as Business Minister Paul Henderson says of the Territory - but "you can't say that about Alice Springs", says Mayor Fran Kilgariff.
In Expo week, with eyes turned to the local economy, Ms Kilagriff describes it as "ticking along" but without a major impetus.
Businessman Terry Lillis, chairman of the southern branch of the Chamber of Commerce, takes a dimmer view, describing it as "taking a downturn", blaming this on lack of government spending.
And Craig Catchlove, general manager of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association (CATIA), says there's a brighter outlook for his industry in the second half of the year, but the all-important backpacker market "is not responding to any stimulus".
Ms Kilgariff, who formerly chaired the Alice Springs Regional Development Board, sees workforce issues tied in with social issues as the biggest impediments to the local economy.
"A town focussed on drunks and anti-social behaviour can't focus on economic development," says Ms Kilgariff.
She has written to Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, asking him to visit Alice Springs to discuss, among other issues, the reform of Centrelink payments. Ms Kilgariff says it is time to consider tying Centrelink payments to behaviour, as trialled in Halls Creek in WA.
There, parents not sending children to school have faced suspension of their Centrelink payments.
In Alice Springs Ms Kilgariff says such a measure should address habitual drunkenness and anti-social behaviour. "This may be seen as harsh but it is much harsher to continue to hand over money to people who neglect their health, neglect their families and end up in gaol and hospital."
Ms Kilgariff is concerned, on the other hand, about Centrelink's application of the activity test in remote communities, formerly exempt from such a test (see our report on page 5).
"This may be good for the individuals concerned but I am concerned that it may force people into town to look for work, which will further promote issues we are already facing here."
Mr Lillis says the influx of people from the bush without adequate infrastructure to support them and the rise in anti-social behaviour flowing from that are impacting on the Alice economy, but he doesn't rate these issues as highly as lack of government spending.
"People are leaving town in big numbers and there are a lot of closed businesses," says Mr Lillis. "At first glance, it would seem that the government is too focussed on Darwin and not enough on Alice Springs. "Darwin is experiencing record growth. "Maybe if they had some more senior bureaucrats in Alice looking at things on behalf of the government, as they did a few years ago, the problem would be taken on board.
"The government is centralised in Darwin and there are no visible senior politicians in the Alice Springs area. "They need to spend more money down here to help us along, because without capital works there's no work for contractors and the people they employ and they're the ones who are leaving.
"If you're looking for some positives, I think what is happening with Desert Knowledge is positive, but the government needs to be very committed financially to supporting Alice's Solar Cities bid [see last week's issue].
"A successful bid might be one of the things to get the town rolling again."
Mr Lillis is on the steering committee for the bid and says "the government has advised that the bid doesn't need as much help as we're asking for".
"I'd like to see an unequivocal promise for the government to back the bid to the hilt with assistance and finance to ensure we get over the line."
Anti-social behaviour in public places is the "number one issue" for the tourism industry, says CATIA's Mr Catchlove.
It was a hot topic at the association's recent general meeting.
"The industry believes it has increased, or at least the obvious nature of it has and we need short- and long-term action on it from the government, police, council, and Lhere Artepe, the native title holders.
"The 2km law should be sufficient to deal with public drinking, but the problem is there is no real penalty.
"All the police can do is pour out the alcohol.
"So we need some stiffeners to the legislation.
"We'd really like to see Lhere Artepe run a ranger/ambassador program, with traditional owners getting the message through about respect for people's land. They are the most relevant people to police inappropriate behaviour.
"A media campaign is good but it needs people on the ground to do the talking and we'd like them to have some sort of authority, like a police aide's or a council ranger's." For a number of tourist attractions and small operators, business has been down for the last three months, but larger operators, especially charters going in and out of The Rock, report doing "very good business", says Mr Catchlove.
The bright spot is "very strong forward bookings from July onwards".
However, the backpacker market to date "is not responding to any stimulus". "It's down generally across Australia and the NT is under-performing against even that. "It's a real concern because the backpacker trade is fundamental to the health of the Alice industry. It's not such a big part of trade at The Rock."
The problem may be cyclical - "we were the flavour of the month but at the moment we're not". Mr Catchlove says the NT Tourist Commission is "very active" in the area, working with backpacker organizations on the east coast and, together with their counterparts in WA and Sa, targeting people overseas.
ART DRIFT INTO ALICE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
The migration drift of Aboriginal people from remote communities into Alice Springs is causing rifts between art centre galleries, private dealers and artists.
Claims are that private dealers are taking advantage of well-known artists while they're in town to the detriment of the artists and the industry.
"I'm not prepared to enter into a slanging match between us and a particular dealer," says Paul Sweeney, the manager of Papunya Tula. "But a lot of the known artists are very old now and spending time in Alice Springs, and when they're in town they're being targeted by private operators.
"They're shopping around and going to other dealers. But the issue over which artist is painting for which gallery is incidental," says Mr Sweeney.
"The picture is so much bigger than that. It's gone beyond art, it's about people's lives and their quality of their life if they live in town for extended periods. Their physical health and appearance is degenerating before my eyes because of alcohol and a number of other issues like people being away from regular medications and living in overcrowded houses."
Papunya maintains its policy of encouraging artists back to their communities: a car drives out every Monday, and the gallery regularly buys plane tickets and cars for people as a last resort. And the gallery has committed itself to spend $1m on an art centre in Kintore. But Mr Sweeney concedes that the business has been forced to upgrade its studio in Elder Street to cope with the influx.
The workshop has space for eight to ten artists to work and their families to visit. At the moment lunch is organised for the artists but facilities are makeshift. A new studio has been bought with accommodation expected to be provided in about six weeks.
The new facilities won't be expanded, just upgraded and available to the artists free of charge.
"We're having to adapt in some way to people coming into Alice Springs but would be a mistake to give artists the impression that it's all happening in town," says Mr Sweeney.
"When an artist comes into town there are maybe up to 12 family members reliant on that person to support their visit. People are painting and living a hand to mouth existence and living really hard and not doing themselves any favours.
"We encourage people in every way we can to go back to their communities but if people are insisting on coming then we need to provide them a safe, clean environment to live in."
Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd is a community-based organisation which has assisted people in producing art in Papunya, Kintore and Kiwirrkurra for 35 years. It looks after approximately 150 artists, and is a privately owned company with 49 shareholders from the three communities.
The shareholders receive 100 per cent of the profits, and Papunya Tula Artists has also privately funded several projects including a remote dialysis facility and a swimming pool.
Chris Simon is the managing director of Yanda Aboriginal Art and has been in the industry for eight years. He has a number of well-known artists on his books including Kenny Williams, Ningura Napurrula, George Tjungurrayi, Nancy Ross and her sister Naata Nungurrayi.
Artists who work for Simon stay in regular contact with him and paint for him when they come into town. He believes Aboriginal artists should be allowed to follow the rules of free enterprise.
"Some co-ops imply these artists can't think for themselves by saying that they can only work for them. It smacks of colonialism. This wouldn't happen to non-Indigenous artists.
"Forcing artists to stay on the community to paint is a restriction of trade.
"People are entitled to make a living. There are any number of dealers these people can go to. But the artists are smart and good business people. They work for a co-op and also tend to have two or three dealers they work for regularly.
"I have some of the highly sought after artists that work for me, but that's after six or eight years of building up a working relationship.
"Not all Aboriginals want to stay permanently on these communities because of the lack of facilities. They're no different to you or I in that they want to go shopping, go to the pool or the pictures.
"People from the communities want to utilise the facilities available in Alice Springs.
People are more mobile now. When communities first started there might have been a vehicle come to town irregularly but now people have substantial income so they can come in their own cars and on planes."
Mr Simon says focusing on the problems which occur when Aboriginal people come into town "is a negative approach" although he does say the alcohol issue is "an extreme downside".
"People come to town for any number of reasons such as if a family member is in hospital."
Mr Simon says the nature of the Aboriginal art industry is changing and the demand for works phenomenal. He believes both the co-ops and the private dealers have their place in it.
The migration drift isn't affecting the work that is produced, he believes. "The quality of work does not drop off nor does it not have commercial value if it's not produced in a community. Well informed collectors pick the quality of the work rather than where it was painted." Mr Simon encourages collectors to visit Yanda's studio.
The studio is air conditioned with showers and food. He says he's conscious of providing nutritious meals (limiting sugary foods), and believes it's important that the artists bring medicines they require from the communities.
He arranges for the prescriptions to be faxed to him from the community and takes the artists to Congress to collect them.
Mr Simon says he's available for his artists 24 hours a day and gives his mobile telephone number to them. He provides accommodation for the artists when they're in town: either at a motel or a demountable house at his home. He has about 30 people (artists and their families) staying in town each week and says money for accommodation and food isn't taken out of wages but budgeted for in the running costs of the business. Mr Simon has applied for planning permission for a complex to be built, which will be able to look after greater numbers of artists and their families in a more traditional way. He hopes the project will be finished in about nine months. "This project is in place as many traditional Aboriginal people prefer to live and work outdoors," he says.
WE'ER UPSET SAY ARTISTS.
A group of around 10 artists and their families protested outside Papunya Tula Artists last week claiming that the business was making them feel unwelcome because they were working for another art gallery.
Mantua Nangala, with two other Kintore artists Nanyuma Napangati and Mrs Porter, a recognised artist from Kintore, claimed she was not supplied canvasses by Papunya Tula after she began working for Chris Simon, the owner of Yanda Gallery on Gregory Terrace:
"Long time, I had no canvas. They never give us, or only little canvas. I've been getting little money.
"That's why I'm upset."
Her husband, Russell Spurling said: "We live in town and she's being told her work won't be promoted if she works for Chris.
"We're sick of it.
"It's been going on since Christmas and it's come to a head now.
"We're grateful for Papunya Tula but we've put our son through Emmanuel College boarding school in Adelaide only through Chris Simon.
"It's not right that he's being discredited."
Paul Sweeney, the manager of Papunya, refutes the claims. "We would never ever turn our back on someone if they paint for someone else," he said.
TOUGHER RULES FOR DOLE. Report by ELISABETH ATTWOOD.
People on the communities of Ali Curung and Canteen Creek must work for the dole otherwise they won't receive it, says the federal government. It has removed the remote area exemption rule from seven communities across the NT.
last year (May 18) that remote areas (90 minutes from Alice Springs by car) are "temporarily exempt" from having to work or carry out training in exchange for CDEP.
The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations lifted the remote area exemption rule after agreeing with the communities that there were jobs or training available for residents there.
"These exemptions aren't lifted until employment opportunities have been identified," says Andrew Cox, a spokesperson for Dr Sharman Stone, the minister for workforce participation in Canberra.
"For it to work, there has to be an agreement in place between the community and DEWR that there are opportunities for employment available like landcare, infrastructure and mechanical equipment maintenance, art and cultural activities, administration, business development and training opportunities.
"There has to be community support and commitment," says Mr Cox. Exemptions for the seven communities were lifted in November last year, with another six communities including Amoonguna, Daly River and Murray Downs expected to go ahead in June.
Mutitjulu, the community at The Rock, is a stone's throw from the substantial labour market at Ayers Rock Resort, but isn't one of the communities taking part at the moment. Mr Cox says "negotiations are underway with the resort". A representative from the community was unable to be contacted about the issue.
Mr Cox was not able to provide numbers of people working or training as a result of the scheme: "The project is currently being undertaken utilising manual processes. Systems will be implemented in the future to ensure the availability of data."
Said Mr Cox: "The communities with exemptions lifted have been incredibly supportive of the project and they say they have noticed improvement in the self esteem and skills of the individuals involved.
"The purpose is to help people out of the cycle of welfare dependency."
Wally Litvensky is the new CEO of Santa Teresa. He says that the community attended a workshop in Alice Springs last year to discuss the removing the remote area exemption rule but has had no direct discussions with DEWR.
"The department says it is looking at every possible avenue to create employment in remote areas like Santa Teresa.
"Until we hear from DEWR we can't make a further comment but in principle it is a good idea and for the long term."
ANZAC UNLIKELY TO CLOSE.
Despite government suggestions that it will create middle schools in the Territory by next year for students aged 11 to 14, it's unlikely that Anzac Hill High School will close, says the president of the school council.
"None of us are panicking yet," says Stephanie Mackie-Schneider. "There is little to say that the school will close.
"We do think in this case the government has the best intentions and it has said it will liase with the school and the council on what is best." Ms Mackie-Schneider says Anzac Hill High has a strong case to remain open: "We have on our side the intimacy of the school and the intimacy that the teachers have with the students."
A review by Socom (an independent consultant) suggested restructuring the Territory's education policy for students in years seven, eight and nine by creating middle schools.
The education minister Syd Stirling says the models produced by Socom are designed to create "community discussion".
"The government has adopted a middle years approach because we believe this is the best way to improve student results," he said. "What we want to discuss now is the best way to implement middle years and achieve better results."
Ms Mackie-Schneider says: "We're not impressed. We're pleased that the government is looking at middle years education but creating middle schools is not a system suitable for Alice Springs. "We don't want to separate our year 10s or for the school to close down or combine with Alice Springs High. "The people of this town won't accept that and I don't think it will go that far. "The government would put itself on a limb if it did that."
PUBLIC SHOULD BE IN THE LOOP: ALDERMAN STEWART. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Alderman Murray Stewart wants to find ways to give ratepayers greater access to council information and to get them more involved with council debate and decision-making.
This month he intends presenting in council a series of motions to achieve this. His actions follows recent controversy over the new rating framework being debated behind closed doors (see Alice News, Feb 23/24 and March 2/3).
"The first time the public heard that their rates were going up was once it was done and dusted," says Ald Stewart. "That is plain wrong."
The most contentious of the motions will undoubtedly be one that seeks to allow members of the public to request that matters listed for the confidential section of the meeting be debated in open forum. Ald Stewart is proposing that any member of the public could make a presentation of one minute on such a matter and that elected members be allowed to debate and vote on any such requests.
He also wants: all reports related to all committee and Ordinary Council meetings (the decision-making ones) in open business, to be posted on the council website by no later than Friday evening prior to meetings.
and, a question and answer session between members of the press and public and all elected members for at least 35 minutes before each committee or Ordinary Council meeting .
Says Ald Stewart: "In Ordinary Council meetings all questions have to be directed through the Mayor. Often they get taken on notice and this doesn't stimulate discussion and exchange between the public and the individual aldermen. It's all so tightly scripted." His other motions propose that:
twice in a calendar year residents groups be able to host council meetings at a venue of their choosing;
that members of the public be not only allowed but welcomed to use a handheld recorder at any open business segment of both committee and Ordinary Council meetings;
and that the media be welcomed to record either in audio or visual format, any open business segment of any committee or Ordinary Council meetings.
"The motions are designed to make the public feel welcome, to ask questions, to understand that they are our bosses.
"The meetings should be an open exchange between us and our constituents in a democratically attractive environment," says Ald Stewart.
LETTER: NEVER MIND THE DANGER.
Sir, - I was having a look at your newspaper when I re-read the letter I sent to you [about my trip to Alice Springs] last year (Feb 23.24.
I want to tell you that I've got my plane tickets. I will leave France on April 21 and fly first to Cairns before going to Darwin. I plan to drive to Katherine through the Kakadu Park with a friend,and get on a coach to reach Alice Springs on April 30. I will stay there for 10 days, for, as I have written to you previously, my wish was to go back there.
I am a bit shocked by what I have just read about the dangers occuring there. A friend of mine, a reporter,was deprived of his material when staying at Aurora Resort last July. His room had been searched while he was having a drink downstairs.We will have to be cautious then.
I go to the Bojangles everyday on the web: it makes me feel like being already there. Never mind the danger, I still long to get to Alice.
Prayer can help
g to read Des Nelson's letter (Feb 23/24), suggesting we learn from Martin Luther King's work for his people, in regard to petrol sniffing problems. Certainly the power of prayer has been shown to be effective in this area.
I attended a Senate Committee Report on Volatile Substance Fumes in SA. in 1985. The most hopeful note I found there was in one of the papers given out. I quote: "One Arnhem Land town recently had a Christian revival. This followed the visit of an evangelist, and was then maintained by the faith and energy of the local religious community.
People often felt blessed by the grace and gift of the Holy Spirit. There was a sharp increase among the adults of religious activity of various kinds, and of morale generally.
During this period, petrol sniffing by the children fell dramatically in the families involved." (Brady, M., Petrol Sniffing: Part 2. Aboriginal Health Worker. Vol 4, No. 4, 1980).
Some local people saw this revival spread to Warburton and other communities.
I hope this will bring encouragement to Aboriginal people who are are grieving over the trap their sons and daughters have fallen into.
G.Gibbes Alice Springs
Calling their bluff
Sir,- Good on you, Alice Springs News, for calling the ridiculous bluff of the federal police by publishing our photo from inside Pine Gap (Dec 21, 2005). The Canberra Times also published the photo, but unfortunately the Murdoch press ,who were first to get the photos, ran to water.
As you pointed out, police threats had nothing to do with security, but were merely an attempt to squash the story and hide firstly, their embarrassment at our successful entry into the base, and secondly, the truth about Pine Gap's sinister role in the killing spree in Iraq that has claimed the lives of over 100,000 civilians since 2003.
Even those of us who took the photos were not charged with doing so.
But sadly the greatest threat to Australians finding out this information is still the head in the sand "don't know, don't want to know" attitude about Pine Gap.
The information is all there for any who wishes to find out. Hopefully we have sparked a desire for more people to do so.
Any open minded person will soon see that the role Pine Gap plays in supplying targeting information for bombing campaigns makes it just as much a terrorist base as any cave in Afghanistan where people may be planning a suicide bombing. We condemn both.
THANK That said, I would really like to thank the people of Alice Springs for the hospitality they showed us while we were here.
I would especially like to thank Arrernte elder Pat Hayes, traditional caretaker for the Pine Gap area, for the way he graciously gave us permission to walk on his sacred land and do what needed to be done.
Look forward to returning in April.
Christians Against ALL Terrorism
The path to nuke dump not smooth
Sir,- Community groups fighting a nuclear waste dump this week wrote to federal authorities, to oppose a new nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights. ANSTO, the nuclear science body seeking to build a nuclear dump in the NT, has applied for a license to operate their new OPAL reactor. Federal regulatory body ARPANSA have stated that the license can't be granted without "substantial and evident progress" towards a nuclear dump. Community groups from Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs have written to the regulator, insisting that the license should be refused. The process that identified three NT locations as potential sites for a dump for Commonwealth nuclear waste was deficient, made on the basis of political expediency, rather than fundamental technical and environmental criteria. In fact, such criteria have yet to be finalised.
The dump is already running behind schedule as simply identifying three potential targets does not constitute substantial progress. The fight against nuclear waste is far from over.
Many people thought last year's senate vote sealed the deal. In fact, there's a long and convoluted series of decisions and approvals that stand in the way of a nuclear dump. And we'll be there, every step of the way, reminding the federal government that Territorians are opposed to Commonwealth nuclear waste being dumped in the NT.
Sarah Hoyal, Alice Action
Davina Hornsby, Katherine Nuclear Dump Action Group
Justin Tutty, No Waste Alliance
Census jobs still available
Sir,- Opportunities still exist in some areas of the Northern Territory for Area Supervisors to work on the Census and the recruitment period has been extended to March 17.
Area Supervisors are still being sought in these Territory locations: Tennant Creek, Barkly and Victoria River areas, Borroloola/McArthur River area, Litchfield Shire area and the Litchfield Park/Finniss River Region. Area Supervisors are responsible for the recruitment, training and management of the Census Collectors in their area. In April they will recruit about 26,000 Collectors nation-wide.
The Collectors will deal directly with the public, moving from door to door and delivering and collecting Census forms. The Census will be held on 8 August. Area Supervisors will work from April 21 to October 6.
The majority of Area Supervisors in these areas will earn a total of between $1,500 and $2,500, depending on how much work is involved.
To apply go to www.abs.gov.au/recruitment or call 1300 236 787.
Regional Director NT office of the Australian Bureau of Statistics
School reunion at Mt Larcom
Sir,- On October 13, 2007, the Mt Larcom State School in Central Queensland will celebrate 125 years of educational service to the Mt Larcom community. Past residents of the communities of Mt Larcom, Machine Creek, Cedarvale, Bracewell, East End, Wilmot, Butlerville and Ambrose are invited to join us for this celebration.
If you have photographs that you would be willing to share, or would be able to write some of your memories of your time in Mt Larcom, we would be interested in hearing from you so that your recollections could be published in a Jubilee Book.
You can phone the school on 07 4975 1153 or by email at email@example.com
J.Grother Mt Larcom
ALICE IN 10 - PLANS SKIRT THE REAL ISSUES. COLUMN by VIKTORIA CORMACK.
With my own children I try to be more cautious as I know how disappointed they will be if we make big plans for something that doesn't happen. From experience we know that our plans don't always turn out the way we had hoped. Most plans are really just ideas and guidelines, a course we would like to go down, but lack substance.
I received the pamphlet "Alice in 10: 2005 to 2015" from the Territory Government in the mail this week. It is the kind of publication which aims to show us, the voters and taxpayers, how well our government is performing and at the same time tries to make us feel as though our ideas and opinions are sought after.
Of course our government is trying to do a good job. We would not expect anything less. They are there to make it all work and improve what needs improving and not just to enjoy the ride.
I have lived here for more than 10 years now and seem to remember a previous "Alice in 10" drive. I still have a fridge magnet from it.
The now fallen, and for many forgotten, Communist regimes used to have five year plans. Despite the high turnover of population five years would be too short a time for the big plans our government has got for Alice.
A lot of us wouldn't be around long enough to notice if it was all dream stuff as opposed to real goals that we were presented with. With 10 year plans we can be kept happy in the meantime and eventually we will move on, forget or even stop caring.
Under the heading "New and Ongoing Projects...." in the above-mentioned pamphlet, nearly half of the projects listed aim to improve Alice's image as a tourist destination and to attract more visitors. It is the flow on effect of the tourist dollar we are all supposed to appreciate and work towards. Under "the achievements so far" are listed the flagships like Desert Knowledge, that sounds great and will make "us" look even better. There's also the 'Convention and Destination Centre', as well as the setting up of an 'Events Calendar' and an 'Events website', and a strong working relationship with the mining industry.
Apparently "Alice in 10" has also managed to achieve "Quality of Life" by dealing with alcohol abuse, youth problems and Indigenous employment in the town. I hope the quality of life really has improved for the targeted groups, and that it was their lives the government was actually concerned with, and not those who have to put up with the hardships of seeing the drunks and the unemployed in our pretty town.
It worries me that the key focus of this Alice in 10 seems to be the same as the previous one, to make the government look good rather than to improve the quality of life for the people of Alice Springs.
We are invited to help develop a vision by ticking five boxes. It sounds like the government wants to remind us that it hasn't forgotten about us, but it shows how far removed it is from our reality. A lot of the plans, like that for fencing and signage, should be part of the bread and butter activities for the government and not a special offering. Even though many of the projects will benefit our town in some ways, there is no mention in this pamphlet of either the arts or the many sports and other volunteer organisations that make Alice a friendly community to be part of. Nor is there a plan for how we can begin to address the social, cultural and racial wall that we all skirt around but refuse to talk about. Our future is about so much more than our image and the tourist dollar! It is about the people who live here, about us, who call Alice home.
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