June 7, 2007. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Old Ghan back on the rails. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Old Ghan Preservation Society will be dissolved and the operation of the historic train will be put on a business footing by the Road Transport Historical Society (RTHS).
The RTHS will take over the debts and liabilities as well as the assets associated with the Old Ghan.
Chief executive officer of the RTHS Liz Martin says the decision has caused “conflict in the ranks”, and four Old Ghan committee members have resigned as a result. They include two former drivers of the train.
However, five qualified train drivers are still available in Alice Springs, including two who drive the new Ghan and have offered to drive the old train in their spare time.
Train rides, discontinued four to five weeks ago, will resume when the track is repaired and the RTHS board has put in place “a train operation procedure which is required under the Rail Safety Act”, says Ms Martin.
Long time Old Ghan enthusiast Charlie Poole will stay on as locomotive engineer in charge of maintenance.
He has done a “fantastic job” on the steam train, says Ms Martin.
She says RTHS has spent $30,000 so far bringing the rolling stock up to standard, but they will be seeking government assistance to restore the track, damaged in recent rains.
“This track is heritage listed so we can’t just take a bulldozer down there and do it ourselves,” says Ms Martin.
She says quotes for the track restoration work range between $850,000 and $1m.
Otherwise, the Old Ghan will stand on its own two feet, she says, once the commercial operation gets up and running.
RTHS have researched what other historical train operations do around Australia and are adapting elements of these for the Old Ghan.
There will still be scope for volunteers to be involved but they will have to comply with the occupational health and safety requirements under the Act.
For drivers these include fire warden training, first aid certificates and medical tests.
This training will be overseen by Rail Safety Manager Jeffrey Mitchell, long term volunteer with the RTHS who spends several months of every year in Alice.
Ms Martin says accommodation on site is being upgraded so that drivers can be on site for six weeks at a time.
She says that is how the Hall of Fame operates, “six week stints from volunteers around the country, on constant rollover”.
When a major function is underway she will fly a whole train crew into Alice from one of the operations interstate and pass the cost on to the function participants.
The Old Ghan will be run by the RTHS board, now in the process of becoming a national body.
The RTHS has over 3000 members, overwhelmingly from interstate.
However, its constitution obliges the key office bearers to be based in Alice, to look after the day to day affairs of the operation which in 2005-06 turned over $1.3m.
Ms Martin says turnover will be greater this year, as they have experienced a 10% increase in souvenir sales and a 20% increase in membership.
The board has formed a Friends of the Old Ghan to raise money for the train. Called the Old Ghan 100 Club, membership is available for $1000.
They have nine members so far, including locals Ms Martin, Mr Poole and Chris Vaughan.
Train enthusiast and former deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer is expected to become the club patron.
At present the Old Ghan Preservation Society holds a Crown lease over the railway corridor all the way to the siding at Ewaninga.
The RTHS are in the process of having this lease made over to them.
Ms Martin understands that the Angela uranium mining lease crosses a corner of the Ewaninga site and trusts the RTHS will be compensated for any losses.
She says mining companies have contributed significantly to the historic Pitchi Ritchi railway in Quorn, SA : “That will be the model we’ll be looking at.” 
The RTHS is hoping to significantly develop the Ewaninga site as a tourist detination.
ED – See also letters page on this subject.

Food for thought! By FIONA CROFT.

Food for thought: OLSH College students, from left, Anna Neck, Emma Hurley, Nathan Koehler, Joshua Martinez and, in front, Rainer Doecke, volunteering on a very chilly Friday evening at The Alice Community Kitchen (TACK).
TACK aims to bring together people, from the homeless to restaurant owners, around food in exchange for a donation.
Teacher Jacinta Boniwell says 25 OLSH students have become involved with TACK, raising money to purchase outdoor heaters and plates.
It has taught the students “not to be fearful of homeless people” and  empowered them “to be active members of society”.
The students also organise the rosters and enjoy preparing (in the Salvation Army’s registered kitchen) and serving the food. They roll up their sleeves to wash-up and chat to the regulars and tourists.
Emma says, “It opens up your eyes to how lucky you are.’’
Rainer sees “a big gap between the average middle class and the under-privileged”.
Anna feels “a sense of worthiness that you can help out and achieve and feel worthy about yourself”.
Nathan also observes that “we have a very privileged life” and
Josh says, “I’ve learnt the joys of helping out.”

A bad time for villains. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alice Springs will get the next crop of 14 graduating police officers to bring the town up to its “establishment” number, and in addition, for some time, a further five.
That may not seem much in the massive force of 180 officers, about four times the number per head of population when compared to other forces around Australia.
But it’s a sure sign that the town’s complaints, culminating in the protest rally of small business people booing the Chief Minister when Parliament sat here in April, are being heard in Darwin, loud and clear.
What’s more, Police Commissioner Paul White came to Alice last week, picking locals’ brains in one-on-one meetings.
On Thursday evening he and the town’s new Superintendent, Sean Parnell, hit the streets together with 13 patrols operating during the shift, including “several general duties response vans, traffic units, the property crime reduction unit, foot patrols and public order patrol members as well as members conducting a special operation into the recent reports of graffiti around the suburbs”, according to Alice Springs Commander Mark Coffey.
Mr Parnell had already re-jigged rosters to have more cops on the beat at the times when they are needed most, showing their presence in hot spots.
There’s a change of tack on specialised policing: while the domestic violence and the property crime reduction squads remain, their members are available to don uniforms and go on the beat, if required.
A heightened focus on intelligence driven policing is also paying off.
Over a number of weeks some nasty street crimes, including a vicious stabbing, have been cleared up, along with some of the wanton vandalism that’s driving the town to distraction.
Says Commissioner White: “Six per cent of offenders are committing 33% of the crime.”
That’s a clear call to target repeat offenders.
They are now often nabbed before they can do the next crime: for example, they are being monitored for compliance with bail conditions.
If they have a court order to stay at home, police will call and ensure they are at home. Officers get five or six A4 pages with notes about people they need to keep an eye on, complete with colour photographs.
Mr Coffey estimates there are 20 villains doing “breaks”, 20 committing domestic violence and there are – as a rule of thumb – 10 troublesome drunks in each town camp, that means 200 people.
Commissioner White says police are keeping their fingers crossed that the “normalisation” of the camps will happen, the current dim prospects for this notwithstanding.
He says the causes of much of the local crime are poor socio-economic conditions, dysfunctional families, bad health and unemployment.
The force is employing three specialists to streamline recruiting and placements, especially closing the gaps between resignations and finding replacements.
Recruiting shouldn’t be too hard: the starting salary for a constable fresh out of Police Academy, after 26 weeks of training, is $45,482 a year, plus 20% consolidated allowance (applying in Alice Springs as well, which makes the salary $54,000), plus overtime, housing allowance and super.
There are seven weeks’ recreation leave.
“We’d like to see more Alice Springs people join,” says Mr White.
To the government the cost of a police officer is $140,000 a year.
While attending the academy they are paid at the rate of $40,000 a year.
Commander Coffey says Operation City Safe for the period April 13 to June 4 carried out 161 protective custody apprehensions; 1081 people were moved on; 11 cautions issued; 153 litres of alcohol tipped out; six summary infringement notices, six summonses and 23 loitering notices issued; eight arrests were made and three arrests of juveniles referred for diversion.

Reconciliation, dongas and all that: Time to get it right. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

For the nation, that orgy of self pity and self flagellation commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum is mercifully over.
For Alice the blame game is continuing over the $60m town camps housing offer from Canberra. This is is a vivid demonstration that we have learned nothing useful in the  last four decades.
The referendum-reminiscing brought out all the usual suspects, regurgitating for the millionth time that litany of misery from dispossession to colonization to exploitation to marginalization.
That would have had credibility had it been balanced by an acknowledgment of 40 years of focussed and deliberate support for Aboriginal people, by the Australian community, on an unprecedented scale.
Where were the media commentators and reporters eliciting from that old guard some information about the billions spent?
Few and far between.
The fact is that Australia has said sorry, even if John Howard has not.
What emphasis did the media, in this free for all for aging activists, give to an exploration of how much self-help has been applied by the Aboriginal people themselves? Not a lot.
And the media circus blissfully ignored that the vote in 1967 was colloquially known as the drinking rights referendum. Would the self inflicted grog carnage have been worth a passing mention
Apparently not.
In our town the evidence of failure is in our face, every day.
Here the commemoration coincided with Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough’s genocidal proposition to spend $60m of public money on getting people living in unimaginable filth into decent housing. This outrageous move is currently on hold: the town’s poorest may well miss out on an injection of much needed money, and so may the town’s construction industry.
The Brough initiative was turned into brand new evidence around the nation, of Australia’s continuing despicably callous attitude towards its Indigenous people.
In the week prior to the anniversary I visited a town camp house, quite recently built.
On the front veranda were some 10 mattresses. On them were a dozen or so people, some asleep, some just waking up, some awake. Among them were young men and women. Other Alice Springs people in their age group were at work, just a stone’s throw away, in local businesses chronically short of labour.
It was 10am on a Friday.
The front yard doubled as the garbage dump. That morning it was also covered in brand new green cans, all empty.
That night I went to the launch of an art exhibition. A well known artist delivered the opening address, holding forth about the fight of town campers for their land (pitted against their supposed foe, Mr Brough). The art crowd nodded knowingly, nibbles in one hand and a nice red in the other.
It has now emerged, after weeks of chest thumping, blaming and denigrating, that the positions of Mr Brough and the town campers are not as far apart as they are made out to be.
Tangentyere released a letter from its lawyers, Gilbert and Tobin, that seems eminently reasonable.
It says the offers from the NT and Federal governments “contain promises or obligations ... which are uncertain and unenforceable”.
Camp lessees, under the deal required to give sub-leases to the NT Government for those portions of their land where publicly funded housing exists, or is planned, “are effectively being asked to take Government on trust.
“This is insufficient having regard to the very significant rights that they are being asked to trade away.”
Of course, these rights were given to the campers by the public – they didn’t buy the camps – so that they could have decent housing in Alice Springs.
It was a government initiative to get people out of illegally erected humpies on the periphery of a growing town, and put them into homes. The resulting mess and mayhem is something for which the campers and Tangentyere must take a good slice of responsibility.
The points Tangetyere’s lawyers are making are a sober assessment of the state of play in sensitive negotiations.
But they are a long shot from from the assertions of our free drinks art launch orator, and from the polemic of the well paid and well housed functionaries of Tangentyere, whose pronouncements are fed to the public by media with blushing adulation.
Private companies doing deals with governments must number in their thousands. Do they climb onto the barricades when there are loose ends?
No. Their lawyers sit down and hammer out agreements.
And, yes, there are checks and balances in the proposed camps housing deal.
It’s a concept little used here, called democracy.
The camp dwellers would indeed have a say over housing that may be provided to them by the taxpayer, via Territory Housing, like it is provided to hundreds of other disadvantaged people in the town.
If something goes pear shaped, they can see their Member of Parliament.
He or she would first ring the bureaucrat in charge, and more often than not, sort out the problem on the spot.
If not he’d see the Minister.
And if that didn’t work the Member would raise hell in Parliament.
He’s got access to the most detailed financial information: it is on the public record. And he can grill bureaucrats during Budget hearings.
Now that’s a lot more, for example, than Tangetyere will disclose about the millions of public dollars it is spending, its income from the Milner Road supermarket and grog shop, its architectural firm and construction company, its job shop, and last not least, its one-fifth share in Centrecorp, apparently now one of the Top 100 companies, whose wealth is founded on philanthropic gifts and money from the public purse, or from royalties paid pursuant to Federal legislation.
In that town camp yard the other day there was a little boy, maybe three years old. He was navigating his rickety tricycle amidst the putrid garbage.
He was smiling.
Not one of the dozen idle people around him had bothered to wipe off the dried snot which covered much of his face.
I don’t know his name.
But I am dedicating this column to him. Will he still be smiling in five years’ time?

Council budget: Where will all the money go? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

You know what you’ll be paying in Town Council rates in 2007-08, an average of 10% more than this year.
Now have a look at what you’ll be paying for.
Staff costs are the towering item, but Bob Mildred, Director of Finance, says that’s 25% of the Budget while the national average for local government is $38%.
Not shown in the graph at left is $6m for the proposed Aquatic Centre.
This is part of the $8m from the NT Government; $2m has been held in reserve for expenditure in 2008-09.
Aldermen have described the amount as insufficient to build the kind of heated indoor pool envisaged by the planners.
The council has a deficit of $4.7m, equivalent to depreciation of all fixed assets, according to Mr Mildred.
The council is making only a tiny provision ($100,000) in its budget for replacing fixed assets.
Therse are assets that will last for more than one year.
These items are purchased, and debt is incurred, as required.
This way of accounting by many councils is a concern around Australia, says one local government source.
Says Mr Mildred: “The biggest worries in the Budget are not funding the replacement of assets, and finding a new site for the landfill and rehabilitation of the old site.”
He says a new landfill will be needed in 15 to 20 years.
It’s hoped that garbage management will advance in that time: in some states garbage is sorted prior to dumping, and partly recycled, so that the volume that goes into the landfill is smaller.
FiscalStar Services Pty Ltd has given the Alice Council a four star rating but the outlook has not yet been assessed.
The service says the council was “assigned a four-star financial sustainability rating on account of the capacity it has to address its operating deficit without putting any more than slight upward pressure on its rates and charges over the medium term.
“We estimate it has an underlying operating deficit of around 7% of annual revenues from rates and charges.
“The Council does not appear to be facing any infrastructure backlog problem, its debt levels are modest and it exhibits below-average underlying growth in spending on services.
“These latter features of the Council’s financial performance and position mean that it is well placed to address any financial imbalances over time.
“Its recent track record of moderate rates and charges increases indicate its finances are in a comfortable position.
“Provided existing policies continue, our assessment is that the Council is quite capable of remaining a four-star Council while it works to achieve a slight operating surplus over time.”

Parks & Gardens maintenance    $1,623,000.00
Ovals    $2,353,000.00
Roads maintenance & construction    $1,459,000.00
Civic Centre repayments (principal & interest)    $531,000.00
Waste Management    $1,022,000.00
Wheelie bins collection    $669,000.00
Adminstration    $3,983,000.00
Engineering staff wages    $1,100,000.00
Outside workforce (exc parks & ovals)    $1,628,000.00
Elected members    $155,000.00
Bylaws (litter, camping, parking, etc)    $669,000.00
Community services, grants, town promotion    $886,000.00
Aquatic Centre (ex government grant)    $6,000,000.00
Sporting events & facilities, pool    $617,000.00
Environment (sweeping, roads)    $665,000.00
Library    $1,099,000.00
Capital reserve for replacement of assets    $102,000.00
Waste management reserve (new landfill)    $100,000.00
Town safety (pavers, CCD, safty audit)    $470,000.00
Footpaths and cycle tracks    $185,000.00
Building maintenance    $319,000.00
Operational plant & vehicles (other than parks & ovals)    $280,000.00
TOTAL    $25,9150,00.00

Nuclear Bonanza. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Uranium is the flavour of the year in the Territory’s mining industry, with even long shots getting frenzied support.
These snippets are from recent announcements:
April 4: Junior explorer Territory Uranium (TUC) is on track to list on the ASX in April with strong interest being shown in the Company’s upcoming IPO to raise $4million.
The Company is focused on uranium and base metal exploration in the Northern Territory and has secured a very prospective package of exploration tenements which it intends to explore aggressively over the next few years.
TUC has 20 granted exploration licences with another 20 in the pipeline awaiting approval, covering over 28,500 square kilometres.  The company has planned an intensive exploration programme to rapidly develop drill ready targets.
19 April: Investors have snapped up shares in uranium and base metal exploration newcomer Territory Uranium, which had to close its IPO after being heavily oversubscribed.
On April 26 Yahoo 7 reported: “Shares in TUC Ltd ... nearly tripled its initial public offering (IPO) price of A$0.20 on its trading debut on Thursday.
“Territory Uranium, a gold, nickel and uranium explorer, opened at A$0.58 before hitting a high of A$0.59.
June 1: The prospect of new gold and uranium discoveries in the Northern Territory is behind a A$7.5 million Initial Public Offer (IPO) and planned ASX listing announced today by Western Desert Resources.
Adelaide-based Western Desert is offering 37.5 million ordinary shares at 20 cents each to raise the $7.5 million target, with a minimum subscription of $4 million.
The Company’s 5,000 square kilometres suite of assets – all located in the NT – includes:
• Significant grass roots and partially explored uranium exploration prospects, mainly north of Alice Springs.
• A “massive” base metal target at Burt Plain just north of Alice Springs.
“Early efforts will focus on the pursuit of uranium prospects which have potential for early profitable development,” the company said.
“Of the top 16 uranium deposits in the world grading above 0.1% uranium oxide, at least half of those are in the Northern Territory.
“This is a very strong indication of its untapped uranium exploration potential.”
The five kilometre long Burt Plain project north of Alice Springs boasts the highest magnetic intensity reading anywhere in the Northern Territory and has never been drilled.
Other nearby projects include Limbla (in an established uranium province); Blueys (uranium, base metals, silver), Winnecke (gold, copper, uranium); and the Mueller Creek, Hayes Dam and Cloughs Dam exploration licence applications – all of which feature uranium nickel, PGE and base metals mineralisation.
Meanwhile, Crossland Uranium Mines Limited outlined exploration plans for uranium prospects at Charley Creek, north west of Alice Springs, and the Chilling project in the uranium rich Pine Creek Orogen, both in the Northern Territory.
Crossland says an airborne geophysical survey at Charley Creek is starting, involving almost 14,000 line kilometres of detailed survey.
The survey of the Chilling project over 25,000 line km will start later into the dry season.
The company has interests in Canada and senior staff were involved in the Ranger and Jabiluka mines.
On May 18 the chairman of Crossland, Mr Bob Cleary, addressed shareholders, singing from a now familiar song sheet: “Global warming concerns have caused a significant re-think about uranium’s role in the world’s energy mix.
“Most developed or developing countries realise that in order to meet greenhouse commitments without significantly reducing their people’s standard of living, nuclear will make up some portion of their energy needs.
“This re-focus on nuclear, coming after a long period of uranium exploration inactivity and falling international production, has current operators of power plant reactors concerned about securing reactor fuel loads for their immediate needs – and they are paying to do so.
“The additional reactors under construction or committed for construction in the coming decade and beyond will only add to this pressure, so it is vital that additional discoveries of uranium are made and brought to production.
“However, the lag between initial discovery and product out the gate can be seven years or more.”

Will remote Australia be world’s uranium dump? By KIERAN FINNANE.

Liberal Party support for storing international nuclear waste “in the geotechnically stable and remote areas that Australia has to offer” has been condemned by Lingiari MHR Warren Snowdon and The Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC).
Mr Snowdon said Territorians might well ask the Government members in the Territory when they were going to come clean and admit that this has been the agenda behind forcing a waste dump on the NT all along.
“It was always on, as soon as they started talking about the commercial potential of getting involved in the nuclear fuel cycle,’ he said.
“None of the States will accept a waste dump and a quarter of John Howard’s own members are against it.
“So he imposed it on the Territory against the wishes of the people and their elected government, aided and abetted by the CLP’s Senator, who swore it would never happen on his watch.”
Senator Nigel Scullion (CLP) said, through a spokesperson, that Mr Snowdon is playing politics as he knows the facility is planned only for low level and intermediate level Australian waste.

There are no plans for the facility to be for high level waste: a high level waste dump would have to be specifically designed and a site specifically selected, said the spokesperson.
But Natalie Wasley, Beyond Nuclear Initiative campaigner at ALEC, is unconvinced.
She is also concerned that the proposed Federal dump in the NT could be upgraded to accept international waste.
“Despite assurances now that the NT dump would only ever accept domestic waste, the Federal Government does not have a record conducive to being trusted on promises regarding nuclear developments. Howard’s shameless promotion of an expanded nuclear industry in Australia provides little assurance that the proposed NT dump is not the thin edge of the wedge for an international facility.
“The process of assessing Northern Territory sites for a Federal radioactive dump has been procedurally bereft and outrageously undemocratic.
“Given the appalling process being used for the Federal dump plan, there is little faith that establishing an international dump would be done with more community consultation or regard for dissent.
“Nuclear companies will never commit to managing radioactive materials for the length of time they are hazardous, meaning it would be remote communities, already economically disadvantaged, who would have to deal with the long term consequences of living near a nuclear dump.
“Encouraging countries to send their waste to Australia is encouraging production of toxic materials world wide.
There is no way to safely manage this waste for the length of time for which it is dangerous. Australia should be encouraging investment from industries without such long term and environmentally threatening management issues.”
The Liberal policy resolution, carried by the party’s Federal Council, June 1-3, says:
“That Federal Council believes that Australia should expand its current nuclear industry to incorporate the entire uranium fuel cycle, the expansion of uranium mining to be combined with nuclear power generation and worldwide nuclear waste storage in the geotechnically stable and remote areas that Australia has to offer.”

Activists struggle to get same old message heard. COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE.

Once upon a time Helen Caldicott and her message were big news.
In 1982 the famed Australian peace activist and paediatrician addressed one million people in Central Park, New York, at a rally on nuclear disarmament, then the largest demonstration to have taken place in the world.
A quarter of a century later, the vigorous 69 year old is still campaigning on the issue but by her own admission finds it hard to attract the same level of attention.
At a meeting in Alice Springs last Thursday night she said she can’t get on national television any more. 
As this is “the age of televison”, she urged the small crowd of mostly fellow activists to do what they could to get themselves and their message on TV.
“Be clever and imaginative,” she said.
There was no television camera at the Flynn Church Hall, only two print journalists (the Alice News and the National Indigenous Times).
It felt like a trip back in time. The old cream-painted hall with the urn going on a cold night, the hand-made posters, the anti-fashion of the audience.
There was a DVD projection, but, as so often before, the account of the issues started with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
There was a call to join the demonstration planned for Saturday at the gates of Pine Gap.
As so often before, an attempt was made to enter the facility, duly foiled by the forces of law and order, with the two culprits released without charge.
It ran on television, at least in the Territory, making a minor contribution to what must now be a large archive of footage of protests at Pine Gap.
The issues could scarcely be more serious: there is no doubt that Pine Gap is involved in the waging of war in Iraq, a war now widely accepted as unnecessary, unlikely to achieve its goals, and as disastrously costly for the people of Iraq.
There are growing majorities in the USA, UK and Australia wanting their countries to withdraw from Iraq, no doubt influenced by the scenes of bloodshed and chaos they see daily on their television screens.
News reportage is doing activists’ work for them.
Car bombs and suicide bombers and so-called smart bombs are the spectres that haunt the present day world, overshadowing – justifiably or not – the threat from nuclear weapons. 
Dr Caldicott’s eloquent account of the devastation that could be wrought by a nuclear war – “it would be all over bilaterally in an hour” – seemed to come from another era, despite the link she made to Prime Minister John Howard’s current push for an Australian nuclear energy industry.
She was asked by a member of the audience what could trigger a mass popular response to the issues?
She mentioned French nuclear testing from the late ‘sixties as an important historical trigger, but said the momentum in the early ‘eighties, that saw the huge rally in New York, was brought about by education, by Physicians for Social Responsibility’s 23,000 doctors among others.
“It was an amazing response – no catastrophe, only education,” said Dr Caldicott.
She urged an appeal to morality.
“Australians do understand morality.”
The churches have to get involved: “How dare they not be talking about this? It reminds me of Germany,” she said, quoting Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”
But the message of the “good men” present in the Flynn Church hall last week is tired from being endlessly repeated.
Dr Caldicott hailed the Pine Gap Four, whose trial under never-used-before defence legislation is underway in Alice Springs at the moment.  The four Christian pacifists, Adele Goldie, Bryan Law, Jim Dowling and Donna Mulhearn, face a maximum penalty of seven years in gaol if convicted of charges arising from a “Citizens’ Inspection” of Pine Gap in December 2005.
“They walk in the shoes of the Fisherman,” said Dr Caldicott.
“If these four go to gaol, then the whole country should rise up.”
Perhaps the sacrifice of the four, if it comes to that, will trigger a more interested, broader response.
But more immediately and significantly, television news will keep eroding what was once popular support for the “Coalition of the Willing”.

LETTERS: Call for electric car subsidies.

Sir,- Most people will know that on a per capita basis Australia is one of the worst carbon emitters in the world.
What we in the NT probably don’t want to know is that at 64.3 tonnes of CO2 each per year, and growing, we Territorians are by a long shot the worst offenders in Australia.
Per person, we contribute about one and a half times what each Queenslander contributes, twice as much as West Australians, about three times as much as Vic, NSW and Tas and almost five times as much as each South Australian.
This is the government’s own data. You can view it on the Australian Greenhouse Office site.
Unlike some other states, the NT offers no alternative energy incentives such as solar hot water system installation rebates.
[The Power and Water Corporation subsidises the replacement of water heaters using only electricity with solar electric models - ED.]
There are federal subsidies and federally funded programs in progress in the NT such as the Solar Cities project and the Power and Water program to partially supply some remote communities with solar generated electricity.
These are good projects but all are federally funded.
So what could the Territory Government really do? Well, here is just one idea.
My educated guess is that at least 95% of Alice Springs cars travel less than 150 km per day.
This means that 95% of Alice cars could be battery powered electric vehicles and charged overnight.
Electric cars are not new technology.
They are highly efficient, much cheaper to run and maintain than petrol cars; powerful, reliable, safe, some have a range of well over 150 km, and at last they are becoming available.
Many homes in Alice have two cars, so if your household still wants a car to travel out bush or drive down south, use the fossil fuelled car.
So where does the NT government come in?
When it’s time for government agencies to trade in vehicles, they could replace some of their gas guzzlers with these environmentally friendly cars.
This wouldn’t cost anything – in fact it would save money. Use the money saved to offer us subsidies in the form of lower registration costs for electric vehicles.
The Federal government could help by offering businesses tax offsets for going over to electric cars, and as a 10% incentive.
Why not remove the GST on new electric cars?
The electricity generated through the Alice Springs Solar Cities project could, at least to begin with, offset the electricity used by the first 100 or so electric cars on Alice roads.
Michael Harries
Alice Springs

Old Ghan needs town’s help

Sir,– My family and I have been founding members of the Old Ghan Preservation Society since its inception in 1980 by the late Roger Vale and several other rail enthusiasts.
I am heart broken to see what has happened to the Old Ghan. Something needs to be done to bring her back to what she once was. It is shame to see such a great historical icon going to waste.
This is not what the late Roger Vale envisioned for the Old Ghan.
He saw it as a fully functioning historical railway from McDonnell Siding to Ewaninga, a rail siding approximately 30 kms from town.
The Old Ghan has been part of our family for 37 years and up until two years ago my whole family had been working out there doing one thing or another, including my daughter co-managing the museum in 1998-1999.
Watching it go down like this has been like watching one of our own family members give up on life.
Please, Alice Springs, we urge you to help out and preserve our history.
Tom Lothian
Alice Springs

Crime prevention loses funds

Sir,– It was with sadness that I learnt of the conclusion of the Deadly Treadlies project, with the cutting off of funding by the Government.
This project not only had a proven track record of preventing crime, it also touched the lives of hundreds of young Centralians.
This program won many accolades across Australia. It’s disappointing the NT government does not recognize the value and worth of early intervention programs such as Deadly Treadlies that prevent crime in the short term, but also provide opportunity for the young disadvantaged in the long term.
 With crime issues in Alice Springs now receiving national attention, and with the Deadly Treadlies program receiving corporate sponsorship and support, it beggars belief that the government would not be more pro-active in supporting these few, rare success stories.
I urge the Chief Minister and the Attorney-General to look long and hard at the decision to end funding. It is time to place early prevention in its rightful position as a priority in the law and order debate.
Susan O’Leary
Former manager, ASYASS

Stewart not standing for mayor

Sir,– This newspaper asked me some seven months ago whether I intended to run for mayor. 
For me it was a question asked far too early in the piece.  However as politicking is not my way, I replied as honestly as I could. 
I stated that if the election was held tomorrow I would probably stand.  Since then a lot has changed in my life.  My wonderful family continues to grow – in fact my wife is currently carrying our third child. 
Business-wise we are in the process of acquiring a new and exciting venture and athletically, I have begun to run myself into the history books.
Therefore it has become obvious to me that dedicating time in leading this town would be problematical. 
This town is a tourism icon. It needs to explode forward as a trademark. Our next mayor must either be a dynamic thinker or a person who is flexible in their approach thus allowing dynamic thinkers and their ideas to reign supreme.
Our next leader also must progress the lives of Indigenous people by allowing their many talents to be unleashed.  This will require a savvy and strong approach and it will involve a ‘people first’ agenda. 
This may mean the revamping or dissolving of some of the more negative organisations whose agendas belong in the past.
As for me, I will lend myself to the community as an option to continue in the position of alderman.  I also intend becoming the best businessman, athlete and most importantly, family man I can be.
In closing, in my attempts to reform the Indigenous agenda, many have suggested to me that I would never succeed because there are jobs reliant on a preserving the status quo. 
I beg to differ. 
I truly believe a new tomorrow with a positive outlook would create for this town a plethora of new, exciting and positive industries thus creating many more jobs for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Murray Stewart
Alderman, Alice Springs Town Council

Tennant not safe for nuke dump

Sir,– The recent magnitude 2.3 earthquake southeast of Tennant Creek (25 May 2007) highlights the significant hazard that seismic activity would pose to a possible nuclear waste repository in the Northern Territory. 
In 1988, a series of three magnitude 6+ earthquakes near Tennant Creek broke the ground surface for 35 km and damaged an underground natural gas pipeline. As a consequence, the planned construction of a hazardous waste facility in the area was deferred.
As a seismologist who investigated hazardous earthquakes for the US Geological Survey for 22 years, I note that earthquakes are dangerous not only because of the strong ground shaking they produce but also because the associated ground faulting can fracture both the containment structures of nuclear waste repositories and the near-surface rock structure -- potentially allowing radioactive wastes to leak into freshwater aquifers.
A nuclear waste repository must be leak-proof not just for tens of years but for the thousands of years that nuclear wastes remain radioactive.
For three decades, the United States has been trying to develop a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada where it was thought to be seismically stable. However, in 1992, a magnitude 5.2 earthquake occurred within about 20 km of the site, the largest earthquake in the history of the area, and the nuclear waste repository is yet to be completed and licensed.
Edward Cranswick
Adelaide, SA

International dump?

Sir,– This is an open letter to the Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon.
Dear Warren,
Two possibly connected items have recently been brought to my attention.
In the first, Helen Caldicott stated on the Todd Mall lawns last Sunday that the rail line running through the heart of the NT has recently been sold to a British company with business dealings in the transport of nuclear waste.
In the second, following the recent Liberal Party conference in Sydney, the national press has raised the possibility that John Howard’s government may be contemplating a contract to store international nuclear waste in Australia.
If these stories are true, and if the ALP is returned to government after the next federal election, will any contract to store international nuclear waste in Australia be honored by the new government?
If the answer is yes, do you have any knowledge on where this waste will be stored?
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Pine Gap’s role in Iraq

Sir,– I wish to draw attention to the trial of four people which started in Alice Springs on May 29.
They are on trial for an action they believed would alert the Australian public to Australia’s part in a war that many believed should never have taken place. A war where 250,000 Iraqi civilians have already been killed and daily we hear of many more being added to that number.
The four people on trial entered the Pine Gap Facility in the Central  Australian desert in the hope that other Australians will become aware of its significance in continuing this war.
Dr Michael McKinley, strategic analyst at ANC Canberra, has stated “that the Pine Gap contribution to the Iraq war is much more significant than any sending of Australian soldiers”.
We hope that these seemingly insignificant actions of this small group will encourage other Australians to do what they can to end this senseless protracted war in Iraq.
Fr Terry Fitzpatrick
St Mary’s, South Brisbane

Thanks for ‘yes’ vote

Sir,– I want to publicly say “thank you”.   I want to thank Betty, who shared with us her humiliation when asked to renounce her Aboriginal heritage so that she could be treated like a human being, and Sylvia, who relived the pride she felt voting “yes” on her wedding day.  Thank you to Tony who invited us onto his land to join him for damper and billy tea. 
I want to thank Geoff who fought for Australia, the same country that had not yet recognised him as a citizen, and Dick, who described the rare instances of good will during a time of segregation and demoralisation. 
I want to thank Tracey who supported and helped organise the occasion that brought both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Alice together. 
I want to thank the Australian population of 1967 – 90% of whom voted for the most fundamental of human rights to be given to the Aboriginal people … to be counted as people.
I would also like to thank the mere 150 other people who shared Sunday evening with me at StoryWall.
It strikes me as somewhat sad, however, that such a small percentage of Alice Springs were present to commemorate this event.  I read about the marches, football games and commemoration ceremonies held around the country. 
But here, in Alice Springs, where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people share the same reality of climate, harsh desert environment and remote living; where we read articles and letters every day about steps Indigenous and non-Indigenous people should take together to reform and reconstruct our society; where we see the evidence of what suppression and humiliation can do to people … a quiet gathering of 150 people.
Where were the 90% who voted “yes”…I would have liked to be able to thank them too.
Karen Winter
Alice Springs

Preserve history of camps

Sir,– As we strive towards town camp normalisation, we are on the brink of knocking down a ghetto and an eyesore in preference to new ‘urban boxes’ and clinical streetscapes.
How many of us remember the bull dozing of many old buildings in the town only to realise a few years later that we have destroyed a part of our history and culture?
I could kick myself for never photographing my grandparents’ dilapidated house on Hartley St before it was removed in the 1980s.
As we move into a new era of ‘normalisation’ I urge people to be strident in preserving the history, stories and uniqueness of the town camps. Look past the darkness and realise that future generations can learn more if they are able to walk through, touch and feel these places.
Some of the great artists of the 21st century lived their lives out in these camps.  Not all camps should be bulldozed, maybe none of them should be, God knows there’s enough land out here.
Even if the old entrance signs, fences, colourful houses and painted rocks are an eyesore to us now, removing them completely would be a mistake.
Let’s draw inspiration from the site’s past and balance it with our vision of the future.
Let’s inject much needed colour and life back into Alice Springs.
There needs to be a human element in order to create vivacity and life.
Let’s split the project into stages. The first involving shooting history as still photos’ of the sites, talking to the residents with respect, then enlisting 3D modelling of future landscape and buildings.
Let’s use this as an opportunity to put the ‘beat’ back into our community. Let’s understand life in the camps, what we are saying goodbye to and how to artistically enhance our lives, culture and town.
Ald. Jane Clark
Alice Springs

Uni keeps growing.

Charles Darwin University has been awarded $3.5 million dollars from the Commonwealth Government’s Capital Development Fund towards construction of a new allied health complex.
Further funding will be necessary to get the facility built.
The complex will be located in Darwin but “it’s a significant addition to specialist training in the Northern Territory which will benefit Alice Springs people as well,” says CDU’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Don Zoellner.
Mr Zoellner says the Alice-base Centre for Remote Health (CRH), owned by CDU and Flinders University, will not be involved in the complex, whose role will be training in “high end” clinical skills often involving advanced equipment and techniques.
He says the CRH’s focus is on primary health care delivered in remote settings. 
Meanwhile, nursing degree students have been moved onto campus in Alice, in the new higher education building, “an $8m investment  by the university in Alice Springs”, says Mr Zoellner.
The university have also just advertised for a research leader to be based in Alice Springs, to coordinate  the various research efforts the university is involved in.
This person will work in conjunction with other groups in town, such as the Desert Knowledge CRC and the CRH.


One-two one-two: an owl cries out from the hidden branches of a ghost gum. One of the women jumps up, strides towards the tree and starts to shout. The other women sitting in the dust in a cluster rise more cautiously, but they raise both the volume and pitch of their chatter. I don’t know their language, but I understand by the woman’s tone that the owl is being warned.
I check my phone for the time. We should have left hours ago. I look over my shoulder, peer into the grubby window, but I can’t make out the Minister inside. 
The women have all gone quiet now, their upturned faces fixed on the branches. As I watch, a young woman turns and meets my eye. She has a naked baby immobilised against her shirt. She walks toward my chair and I stand.
“That bird,” she says, “she’s telling him to leave us alone. That bird, kuur-kuur, he’s the man who comes through our fence in the night.” 
“What man?” I ask, looking around. There is no fence in sight. The woman smiles at me with pity, and I realise she is still in her teens.
“You can’t see him, kungka,” she smiles. “Spirit man.” 
“Oh,” I nod, losing interest. I move back to my chair but she grabs my wrist. Her skin is rough, her grip like a vine. 
“Kangaroo bone,” she says, and holds a fist to her throat. Her eyes are black with a glint of daring, though it could be reflected light. She lets go of my hand.
I smile faintly and step back toward the chair. My phone rests on top of it, a folder of paperwork leans against its unsteady legs. The night has cooled without warning, despite the stifling day, and I wish I had brought a coat. 
It has been a productive day, I remind myself. A good meeting. In meetings I am useful. I keep the Minister informed, hand him the appropriate paperwork.
I don’t participate in the discussion but it’s my job that will go if this falls through. There’s a lot at stake.
Today we are brokering a billion-dollar deal between these people and an absent company. The Minister is in the house of an elder, promising royalties. Even out here the real deals are made after the official meeting. The woman puts a hand on my arm. “He’s gone,” she says. It’s true. The sound seems to have stopped.
I nod and smile, trying not to show my disapproval. I am a rational person. I hate superstition. It’s only a bloody owl. She shifts the motionless baby with one hand and drifts back into her group.
After an age, the Minister steps out of the house and loosens his tie. He smiles, unlessened by the lack of context. I nod tersely. I want to get out of here. It’s been a long day and I crave nothing more than the comforting wax-coloured walls of my office, its ordered piles of paper, its calm wooden furniture. I even miss the heavy portraits in the halls.
“Let’s go,” he says.
I dislike driving after dark, but we have an early flight. I have no choice but to spend the next two years obeying orders. It’s a probationary sentence, I think, then remember where I found the phrase: the man who left the community today in the back of the police car, a battered four-wheel drive which looked as worn as any of the upturned vehicles we saw on the way here.
I get in the car and wait for the Minister to fasten his seatbelt before I start the engine. As we pull out, the women watch us. Some laugh, a few wave, and the rest stand silent. The teenager with the baby stares beyond us into the trees, waiting for her moment. Our dust will not settle before we become her story.

Only a hundred or so kilometres of the road ahead is dirt, then it will be an easy run to town if we avoid the roos that will no doubt hurl themselves in front of our four-wheel drive. The car is hired. I miss the little flag on the bonnet.
“Did you reach an agreement?” I ask the Minister. 
“They’ll be reasonable,” he says. “We’ve done what we came to do – present them with their options.” He snorts. “Didn’t have to stand over them. They know we could cut them off in a second. Besides, those kids need shoes.” 
I’m not sure this last is true, but I nod. “I’ll start on the report tonight.” 
I hit a sandy patch and keep both hands on the wheel. To my right the moon has risen over the rocks, yellow and weak as though its batteries are running low. I concentrate on the road.
“You’ll probably be tired from driving,” he says. “Still, no harm making a start I suppose.” 
I smile inwardly at the method of his pressure. Corrugations in the track keep us silent for a while.

He was in that last, unscheduled meeting for an hour at least. I sat on the old chair on the porch, going through my pile of papers from the day and checking my phone every ten minutes. There was no reception, but time still passed by the clock.
I half-listened to the women tell stories. With their babies asleep in their laps they were free to scare each other with ghost stories, like teenage girls at a sleepover. Some of the words were English ones. It’s less jarring to hear them when I’m listening to Japanese or French, languages I pride myself on having and which are of little use in my own country. 
I read over the draft agreements in my folder and checked the time. The sun had gone down an hour or so before he went inside. I would have objected to leaving so late, but it’s a habit not to object to anything, and if I did it would be being left outside with the women during the real business.

I arrived here by following a trail of work I found myself good at. It was always obvious to me that I would get an internship and go on to Canberra. I have no real sense of lust, either for good or power. I am simply moving ahead in the most logical way. My father was a military bureaucrat, my mother his wife. I know there are paths carved out for us if we can hold to reason.
An erratic bat dashes in front of the windscreen and vanishes. Instinctively I press on the brakes, then remind myself about defensive driving techniques. The last thing we need is to be bogged out here. I shift in the seat.
“You have the stats I emailed you for tomorrow?” I ask, so that the Minister will not offer to drive, not that he ever has.
“What? Oh, yes,” he says. His tone is distracted. When I look at him he turns away from me and faces straight ahead as if he has been caught lying.
“I can re-send them if you need me to.” He yawns. “Shame that airline went bankrupt. We could have chartered a flight.” 
I don’t remind him it was his idea to drive, to “get to know the land up there” as he put it. I am too busy concentrating on the road. The dirt is turning half to gravel, so we must be near the tarmac. I slow for a wallaby that shoots in front of us and away into the darkness, safe.

After the owl, the women were quieter. They sat still and talked little, perhaps listening out for its reply. They got something else instead.
Without warning, a song crawled out of the night. From between the trees came a man’s voice, atonal and pining. The women looked at each other and whispered, shook their heads. The tuneless song was like the drone of an insect. It crept into my body as if by stealth. My stomach tensed, then lurched dangerously. 
There is an elevator in my office which does this. I sometimes stop the lift halfway down to prevent the sensation. The body, unused to sudden movement, tricks itself into thinking there is no gravity.
 As spontaneously as it had begun, the singing stopped. The women immediately resumed their stories, as though the sound had been a brief, dull visitor. An encyclopaedia salesman, perhaps, or one of the charity collectors the Minister refers to as “can-shakers”.  
I looked over at the group. The young woman with the baby against her shirt stood up and stepped over to me. She glanced back at her family before she spoke, reminding me of the careful, slow release of information common to politicians. Out of habit, I anticipated something I could use. 
She tossed her head lightly at the darkness behind her. “That man was singing out for somebody,” is all she said.

When we finally reach the paved road, I am so relieved that I let my foot relax on the accelerator. I open the window to let some real air in. The air conditioning has made my throat dry, but the dust is no less irritating. I close the window and stare into the dark beyond the headlights.
I see something. I squint and focus. There is a vague shape on the road ahead. As we approach, it grows into a man. He is not waving, simply standing in the dirt, one hand covering his chest. Must be an accident, I think, a breakdown. You can roll a vehicle out here as soon as blink. I scan the ditches either side for overturned cars. Nothing. When I look ahead again he seems to be the same distance away, just on the edge of visibility. I slow down.
“What is it?” the Minister asks. He leans forward to look for an animal or interesting feature of the landscape.
“There’s a man up ahead,” I say, “I hope he’s not in trouble.”
“Where?” I refrain from mentioning his missed optometrists’ appointments, because I am his assistant, not his wife. Instead I raise a finger, but am forced to withdraw it. The road ahead is empty.
“He’s gone. Must have walked off into the bush.”The Minister stares at me. “There’s nothing out here.”
“Must be an outstation or something,” I reassure him. “The asphalt.” Then again, maybe asphalt does not mean houses here.
“I’ll call the office first thing in case any of those figures have changed,” I say. “Accuracy is essential with these industry people.” I am speaking automatically, not really concentrating, because I am wondering how anyone could have gone so far ahead of us on foot. 
Spirit man, the woman said. Just a teenager giving herself nightmares for kicks. But the imaginary bone in the fist at her throat. The pity in her voice: You can’t see him.

As I come to a rare corner, the moon appears to grow brighter and dim again, a trick of the changing light. Town appears as an orange glow between the sudden hills. Canberra glows like that when you drive towards it in the night, and it means you’re under half an hour away. Alice Springs is so small, we must be close.
I slow the car again, and this time the Minister does not remark on it. He must think I want to admire the view of the ranges. They look dull and featureless to me, just dark lumps like the piles left by an earthmover on a kerb. I wonder what would possess someone to live out here. 
My reverie is broken by a flash of movement, black and white and red like a bad joke. I feel something hit the bull bar and press the brakes so fast that the Minister grabs the glovebox with both hands. I do not have time to think, only to pray we will not flip over. The tarmac is kind, though, and the car the safest available. It is only after we squeal to a stop that I realise I have remembered not to swerve. We sit in the awful silence for ten, twenty seconds, clicked out by the hazard lights.
“I think I hit something,” I admit.
“I’ll make sure it’s dead,” he says, suddenly brightening. He wipes his hands on his knees. I imagine this is what he meant by getting to know the country: taking a story home to impress the gang with his outback know-how. It is all depressingly schoolboy, and he has forgotten the tire iron. I unfasten my seatbelt and climb out of the car.

“Nothing,” says the Minister, adjusting his tie. He bends to look under the car.
I walk back along the highway, checking both sides of the road. The moonlight is bright enough to see by. I follow the sound of flies and find the corpse of a big roo, but it’s been dead for a long time. 
When I give up and turn toward the car I see him again. He is standing in the middle of the road, beyond the Minister. He is clasping something to his chest. His hand half-covers a red patch on his shirt. He looks solid enough. I slowly raise my hand to him in a greeting I realise must look a lot like surrender. 
The Minister is leaning on the car, bored now that he has nothing to club. He is staring at his shoes, probably thinking about getting them cleaned. I’m glad he’s distracted. I might have time to assess the situation, deal with the injury, cover my tracks. 
The man raises a hand to me from beyond the car. It is clenched. A sharp white shape grows out of his fist. A bone. The red shape is revealed on his chest. My heart races. I must have hit him hard. I think of broken ribs, and whether or not you are supposed to bandage them.
I think of damage control, try to remember the name of the journo I met from the local paper.
I am a good problem solver. I breathe. I walk slowly, without taking my eyes off him, until I can focus. 
It’s not blood. It’s a shiny pattern on the shirt. I recognise the logo of a Melbourne football team. It is just some man out on the road for his own reasons. Maybe he’s looking for something he dropped. There’s a reason. There’s a reason he’s gone by the time I reach the car. He went somewhere.
“Mustn’t have hit it hard enough,” the Minister says when I get back into the driver’s seat. “Bounded off into the bush I’ll bet.”
I start the engine. “He went somewhere.” The problem seems to have solved itself. I drive carefully back to town, both hands on the wheel.

In my room at the hotel I open my laptop and my folder of papers. I stare at the notes from today’s meeting until they swim. In one corner I have written the word PRACTICAL in small capitals and underlined it twice.
I step outside to breathe some non-conditioned air and blink the words from my eyes. Beyond the hotel’s artificial oasis I can see the ranges, lit up by the moon. I stare at them for want of a horizon. They still look ugly to me, spoiled somehow, but there are arcs in the rock: patterns formed and broken over geological ages.
My hands are cold. I can hear drunks laughing in the river bed. A bird lands in a tree nearby and rattles the branches. My desire to be outside evaporates without reason.

Back to front page of the the Alice Springs News.