ALICE HAS BIG SAY ON PARKS HANDOVER. Report by ERWIN CHLANDA and ELISABETH ATTWOOD . Report by ERWIN CHLANDA .
It was the "grand final of expression of opinion," in the words of Alderman Murray Stewart, when more than 200 people packed the Memorial Club hall on Tuesday to have their say about the NT Government's plans of handing national parks ownership to Aboriginal interests.
About two thirds had come to support the push by Ald Stewart, businessman Ian Builder and CLP Member for Greatorex Richard Lim to "save our parks".
The meeting was remarkable for the absence of government Ministers and Members, and so the unanswered questions - mainly why the handover was necessary - remained unanswered. There was not even an apology tendered.
Even Central Land Council staffers, who spoke passionately, stressed they were attending as private citizens.
The meeting followed an extraordinary level of interest shown during the Mall Market on Sunday when in just three hours, 500 signatures were collected by the organizers.
Dr Lim told the meeting Clare Martin's plans will come to nothing if Federal Affairs Minister Mal Brough doesn't "schedule" the parks as Aboriginal land.
One of the speakers, Dominic Miller, said plans to sell TIO were "a done deal until the public forced a change".
He said the experience at Ayers Rock, where "hangers on" are doing little more than waiting for gate money, would be repeated if the parks are handed over.
Several speakers supporting the handover spoke about the benefits of joint management with Aborigines.
Dr Lim said he and his supporters were all in favor of joint management, so long as the parks remained in public ownership which, of course, includes Aborigines.
Bob Durnan took Ald Stewart to task for claiming that only one Aborigine was employed at Ayers Rock. Mr Durnan said about 50 were employed by the Federal parks service or its contractors.
Mr Stewart countered that what he meant was that only one was a local traditional owner.
Chairman Ian Builder more or less enforced the two minute limit for speakers from the floor. Mac Moyses, the principal planning officer for the NT parks service, insisted to exceed that limit but added little to the government line plied for years - that legal advice (kept under wraps by the government) had suggested the parks were at risk of claims which were "inappropriate" - he didn't say why.
Mr Moyses claimed a pamphlet distributed in 2003 was proof that the process was transparent.
When Mr Builder asked Mr Moyses to stop talking there were shouts of disagreement from the floor.
When a speaker said "why give the parks away when they are owned by everybody" there was loud applause.
Senior CLC lawyer David Avery, speaking as a private person, said under the agreement with the Martin government, the parks estate had been enlarged by the addition of land contributed by Aborigines, citing the proposed Davenport Range national park.
Trevor Shiell owns a small tourist business taking art buyers to art centres around Central Australia.
He says handover of the parks may have significant financial impact on the tourist industry.
He's leaving town.
"The premium I will have to pay means I'll be out of business straight away.
"I take groups to Yuendumu and come back through the West Macs. [If the parks are handed over] I might have to pay an entry fee and probably get a permit every time I go through.
"I went down with a group of art buyers to Uluru. I was told I would have to pay a $400 concession fee plus $25 each to watch the sunset for half an hour.
"If that's the model for the parks handover, I'm right out of it."
He has no faith in an organisation like the Central Land Council to run the national parks efficiently.
"A very sad example is when three people from Austria wanted to go to Ikuntji [Haasts Bluff] arts centre. They had a limited length of time here. I applied for a permit through the CLC and they said it would take three weeks.
"That was April last year. I still have not received the permit.
"Those three people went to Sydney and spent around $20,000 in the galleries there.
"That money should have gone directly to the artists at Ikuntji." vHe also asked whether, if Owen Springs is handed back to traditional owners, it will affect the town's water supply from that area.
Betty Pearce, of Lhere Artepe, the native title body for Alice Springs, said she supported a joint initiative.
"It's really sad to hear what everyone's been saying here.
"Aboriginal people owned this land before you people ever came to this place.
"To keep claiming this is your country [is wrong].
"Why can't we be talking about this side by side. We need to work together and live together as real people."
The chairman of the meeting, Ian Builder, said: "We believe if we can work together as a community we can change things for the better."
Betty Pearce said: "Then don't do this fear campaigning, this meeting is fear campaigning."
Jayne Weepers of the Central Land Council made a passionate reply to the opening speeches of Richard Lim and Murray Stewart.
She refuted claims that the handover process wasn't being made clear to the public.
"There will be no fees, no permits. And constraints? They are there already, because it is a national park.
"We will continue to have a say, this information is publicly available to all of us.
"The legislation is available for everyone to see. I had a look at it again today.
"The new thing that we should be proud of is for the first time it will be a recognition of the Aboriginal ownership and Aboriginal heritage.
"Aboriginal people can participate in the management of those parks. "It's been a long time coming, wouldn't you say?"
Ms Weepers said that Aboriginal people were already being paid "real money for real work" through national parks.
"Why would any of us who live here be opposed to joint management?"
Richard Lim responded: "No one is saying there shouldn't be joint management.
"But all Territorians should own it, [not one group]."
Joy Jones has lived here since 1960. She said: "When I first came here there were no fees to get into Ayres Rock, that's what it was known as then. Then it was for everybody.
"Then [the charge was introduced and] it cost a dollar.
"Now it's made for overseas people and visitors. For ordinary people with a family, it costs the earth.
"It will go up and up the way it always has done."
MASSAGING PUBLIC ON MIDDLE SCHOOLS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Socom, the company that has conducted the community consultations on middle schooling in the Territory, is a public relations company, not an education consultant.
Their website boasts that "we create and implement communications solutions so you can influence your stakeholders and achieve your goals".
It says, "Once we have worked out the destination, Socom knows how to help you get there."
Under "media relations", it says: "We work with clients to develop their messages and ensure they are delivered in a format that will be used by journalists." In other words, they are spin doctors, not independent surveyors of public opinion.
The Alice News asked Education Minister Syd Stirling, who has personally driven the middle schooling issue, "Why have you used a public relations company, rather than an education specialist consultant?"
His media advisor says it's because Socom is the "best consultancy company in the country" and "other governments have used them".
"The Howard government has used them, the Kennett government." We asked, "Who has commissioned Socom's services, DEET or the Minister?" It's DEET, the Department of Education.
DEET says they were "undertaking a community consultation and therefore they needed to obtain a community consultation expert".
END-POINT We put to Mr Stirling that Socom's practice sounds very much like an end-point has been pre-determined and they are simply showing you the way to get there. This was not deemed relevant for the Minister. We should put it to Socom, said his media advisor.
But we were not asking about how Socom does business, we were asking about how the government does business.
We asked, "At this point, given the 'brick wall' [Mr Stirling's phrase] that has been encountered in Alice Springs, despite Socom's best efforts, how satisfied are you with their services?" Again this was not deemed relevant.