July 12, 2007. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Taskforce settles in. By ERWIN CHLANDA and KIERAN FINNANE.

Influential indigenous Labor MLA Alison Anderson has described the Federal Government’s intervention in Aboriginal communities in the Territory as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.
The former ATSIC Commissioner particularly commended the government for talking to “the little people on the ground”.
Speaking to Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA  at the Show she said the intervention is “an opportunity we have to take with both hands now so that we can make the future safe for Aboriginal kids and our whole community, because the plan is talking about bettering our education, improving our health, more infrastructure and it’s talking about the protection of our children.
“I think that’s very, very important.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we must work with the Federal Government, but it has to be done with compassion and respect.
“And also it’s got to be long term and practical. 
“I really urge the Commonwealth to work with Indigenous people and talk to them and make sure it’s a journey we all travel down.
“And that it’s a long journey to improve things, the outcomes for Indigenous people.
“If we’re talking about health checks on kids then do it with the whole community, the parents and the grandparents. These people are willing to take their children to be examined.
“In my going around all of last week to my Indigenous communities people are really, really happy, you know, with the health checks, as long as they’re informed. 
“Education they’ve got no trouble with.
“They’d love to have more infrastructure and safer infrastructure.
“They want to protect their children, they want to make sure they talk about child abuse.
“They know that this kind of stuff happens with drugs and alcohol, they want to get rid of the drugs and alcohol as well.”
Ms Anderson says she had observed some of the government’s survey teams in action and gave them a big tick: “In general what they do is outline what the Commonwealth want, then they sit down in groups of ordinary people, the little people on the ground, and they say what is it that you want to see, what changes do you want in your life.”
This accords with what the Alice News observed at Amoonguna (see separate report starting this page).
Said Ms Anderson: “Going out and talking to the people on the ground is absolutely what we need, because they are getting down to the little people on the ground.
“It’s those little people that live and breathe the problems, who need to hear what the Federal Government is doing.
“I think what the Feds have done is absolutely wonderful.
“But they need more detail. It’s that detail that we are all waiting for.”
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough also spent time at the Show, talking to locals.
Challenged about the impact of the intervention on the Territory’s statehood aspirations, Mr Brough pointed to local government:  “Councils are a product of legislation by state governments and when they don’t get it right, the state government appoints an administrator and fixes it up.
“The Territory in my view has not got this right.”
He said he would not put “the niceties of the structures of who’s in government or not” ahead of “the value of a child”.
He said the public are going to demand that “the same sort of outcomes be achieved” in the states.  
The Alice News asked him for clarity on health checks of Indigenous children.
Said Mr Brough: “These are the same protocols that occur not just throughout the Territory, but throughout the nation.
“I asked the NPY women yesterday, I asked all of the community, all of the leaders in Mutitjulu, explained the whole thing, everyone supports it.
“I believe that overwhelmingly, and I mean virtually 100% of families, will want their child to be healthy and to have their checks.
“Therefore I don’t see compulsion being an issue. Where compulsion becomes an issue it’s the same as in any other part of the community, where a teacher, a health worker, anyone suspects sexual abuse, or any sort of abuse, then you have provision for the child protection services to be involved.
“Now there are no protection workers out permanently in these communities. That’s something that needs to be addressed.
“And if parents don’t do the right thing, then a protected child can be checked. That’s no different whether you are black, white or brindle, or whether you’re in Darwin or Alice Springs or Mutitjulu.”
The News also asked for clarity on the quarantining of Centrelink payments, whether that will apply only to people deemed to be doing the wrong thing by their children.
Said Mr Brough: “In this emergency time, it is across the board in the communities that have been designated.
“Over the 12 month period people can transition to the normal system that will be applying around Australia: non-attendance at school, money is quarantined; neglecting your children, money is quarantined.
“There are people doing the right thing, who are responsible with their money but are getting enormous pressure, and in fact get abused if they don’t hand the money over.
“To leave them in their community vulnerable to those sort of attacks would be the most irresponsible thing.
“That policy has come directly from comments of elder women to me.” 
Legislation on this question will come out “in the next few weeks,” said Mr Brough. 
He said Magistrate Sue Gordon, chairperson of the taskforce, and her group will advise on when a community can transition to the “normal system,” but in the first instance, “we are making this blanket, so that we can make a break and give breathing space to communities”.
Mr Brough said he specifically asked the community at Mutitjulu whether there was an issue with the quarantining proposal: “They pointed out to me that a lot of people already voluntarily do this, and the ones who aren’t voluntarily doing this, some of those are the very ones who need it the most.”
(According to Centrelink the Northern Territory has one of the highest take-up rates in Australia of Centrepay, a voluntary bill-paying service. Around 7000 Centrelink customers in Central Australia take advantage of the option.)
Mr Brough said the grog ban on communities will remain in place “until such time as the Territory Government not only legislates but can demonstrate that the laws are being upheld”.
“Laws are no good unless they are being enforced and that’s what the public are crying out for.”
On the future of the town camps in Alice Springs he is expecting the Territory Government “to act to address that problem urgently”.
(The NT Government last week announced that the town camps will be declared dry.)
“I’m trying to work here in partnership but I will not stand by, or the government will not stand by any longer, when we’ve been here for 18 months.
“The NPY women explained to me that two more of their women have been killed in those town camps in recent times, bashed to death.
“So when the hell are we going to put niceties aside and deal with the health and well-being of other Australians?”
Will Tangentyere Council continue to be funded and if so at what level?
Mr Brough said Tangentyere received about $18m from the Territory government and from numerous Federal bodies.
“So whether they are going to keep all of those funding options I couldn’t tell you, because they will  be [decided] on individual circumstances.
“I’m not really interested in who funds what, I’m interested in the health and well-being of children, not some nicety again of deciding which body should benefit from funding.”

Getting to know eachother. By KIERAN FINNANE.

There was no sign of the jackboot at Amoonguna when the Commonwealth survey team arrived last Thursday: residents took their time to meet with the team, the team waited patiently, and when the residents arrived with their own agenda, the team listened, while also making a start on explaining the government’s agenda.
The Alice News reported last week on Amoonguna Council’s anger with the Commonwealth Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) over losing the contract to manage the community’s CDEP (similar to work-for-the-dole).
On Thursday – with the team due to arrive, having had their visit on Monday postponed –  there were mutterings that DEWR reps would not be welcome, but in the end their presence was accepted and the opportunity taken to confront them.
Chairs had been set up in the open, outside the council office.
At first it looked like residents were indeed snubbing the meeting. A few were coming and going at the store, next to the council office, but none seemed interested in coming over to talk to the government reps.
Then the formidable Marie Elena Ellis arrived, with her sister Roseanne.
They climbed out of their vehicle with hand-painted posters in hand: “Give us back our CDEP”; “We want jobs”; “Employment for us mob”. 
“I told my sister we should have painted them yesterday, not today,” Marie Ellis laughed.
Then, pointedly, as they were taping the posters to the fence: “We’re not asking for much.”
Margaret Kemarre Turner had arrived with the survey team, as the interpreter. She has previously lived at Amoonguna and has strong family and personal ties there. A highly respected woman of great warmth, her presence broke the ice.
“This place has really improved a lot,” she commented as she introduced Marie Ellis to team leader, Richard Morris, manager of the Indigenous Coordination Centre in Alice.
Ms Ellis made no apologies about the slow start to the proceedings, explaining good humouredly: “We’re not on linear time, we’re on our own circular time.”
As residents started to arrive she was heard to comment:  “They can come out to support us – their sons’ and grandsons’ jobs are on the line.”
Mr Morris suggested that the CDEP discussion should start while they were waiting.
Several of the survey team members were Alice Springs-based public servants and some of them were already known locally, as various friendly greetings made clear. 
However the two DEWR reps, Karen Thorsen and Glenn Webber, were from Canberra and did not appear to have been fully briefed about what had happened to the Amoonguna CDEP.
Nobody had worked since the Friday before. Council staff had kept the central areas clean but rubbish had begun to accumulate in other areas, the Alice News was told. CDEP participants had received letters telling them their pay would be suspended.
MS THORSEN: We’re here to talk about CDEP.
MS ELLIS: We need that so we can create jobs for our community. A CDEP worker here has four to five kids. Without CDEP how can he put food on the table? We’ve had enough of broken promises. It’s just not fair.
MS THORSEN: What we’d like to talk about is how we can create opportunities for people to work. I understand Ingkerreke [Outstation Resource Services, who have been awarded a three month contract to manage Amoonguna’s CDEP] is keen to work with you. The only thing you wouldn’t have would be the management, you’d still have activities. One of the reasons we took CDEP management away from you is that you were finding it difficult to get the numbers.
Richard Lesiak, deputy CEO of Amoonguna Council, joined in, declaring that “DEWR has no credibility” in Amoonguna.
“We had to fight for six months to get our establishment money,” said Mr Lesiak, listing the people to whom the council had written letters of complaint, among them Minister Joe Hockey “who didn’t even reply”.
Ms Thorsen told him that she knew nothing about that.
Ms Ellis asked if she could guarantee that everyone in the community would have CDEP.
MS THORSEN: People can have CDEP jobs but it won’t be under your own control.
MR LESIAK: In the previous five to six years, when we were under other communities, nothing was achieved. In the 12 months since we’ve had it, look at what we’ve achieved.
MS THORSEN: We want to help your community get jobs.
MS ELLIS: We had a meeting with DEWR.
MS THORSEN: Who was at the meeting? ... I’m unaware of a meeting held to deal with the community’s CDEP.
MR LESIAK: I believe we could have had 70 to 100 [participants] if you had stuck to the agreement.
He was referring to the alleged failure by Centrelink to withhold benefit payments if people refused to work, a measure the community had specifically agreed to. 
(The Alice News asked DEWR about this: state manager Brenda Parkes said her advice was that “several participation failures” had been applied by Centrelink to residents of Amoonguna. She also said that not everybody who had had their remote area exemption lifted went to CDEP.
“A lot of people took reference to Job Network” and a range of other services, said Ms Parkes.)
The DEWR reps got out their mobiles then and, while they made their calls, more residents arrived. Scheduled for 9.30am, the meeting finally got underway at 10.40.
Mr Morris explained the purpose of the survey team’s visit, with Mrs Turner interpreting.
Sitting under the winter sun, in the tree dotted, well kept community, with basic good will on both sides (despite the frustration over CDEP), discussion about the nitty gritty of the Commonwealth’s intentions, and the reasons for the intervention, felt awkward. Team members were keen to avoid offence and confrontation. 
Mr Morris, acknowledging traditional owners past and present, did most of the talking on the government side: “We’re here to discuss the outcomes of this [Little Children Are Sacred] report commissioned by the Northern Territory Government. People are visiting lots of communities, talking about young kids.
“The report said child abuse is widespread and often not reported. The Prime Minister and Mr Brough [Indigenous Affairs Minister] read the report and asked government agencies and others to work together to respond to it.
“The government has asked us to talk to all communities about safety issues. The report says in lots of communities women and children feel unsafe because of violence, grog and child abuse.
“The government wants us first to see if the community feels secure.
“Our purpose is nothing to do with taking away children.
“We’ve come to talk about how to make families stronger, keeping families and kids together.”
Mrs Turner said in English, “I got frightened too, I didn’t want my kids taken away,” before translating. 
MR MORRIS: “That’s why we wanted to come to this community straight away, to reassure you that it’s not about that.
“The government has decided to do several things. One is to ban grog in the communities for six months. A lot of communities are dry but the government will pass laws that make it hard to buy grog and bring it into communities. We know grog is one of the reasons why there is violence on communities.”
At this point Ms Ellis spoke up: “We want that, but more than six months. That’s just enough for detox. We want at least another six months so people can get back on track.”
This was surprising, given her statements to the Alice News last week, that alcohol-related problems at the community came from outsiders. 
Local man Glen Dixon, however, didn’t agree with her: “People will move into town and make more issues there. Most people are all right here with grog.
“[With a ban] you’ll get drinking at the gate, more mess, fights, they’ll cut down trees to make fires and keep warm.
“I don’t think it’s right.
“This is a really good place. We’re only 11 kms from town. What’s the point? They’ll go in there to drink.
“We pay rent on our own houses – why can’t we drink there?
“The problems are mainly with people who abuse grog. We want to have a social drink at home, we don’t want to drink in the scrub there.”
Mr Morris thanked him for the feedback, before moving on to talk about income support: “We want to make sure it’s going to kids and families for food and school.
“For those people who aren’t giving kids what they should as parents, there’ll be a requirement that a certain portion is set aside.”
(This is not what Mr Brough is saying. He is quite specific that the quarantining of Centrelink payments will be “across the board” in prescribed communities during the emergency period – meaning all community families will be affected. After that quarantining will apply only to families where children are neglected, with the provision applying across Australia, irrespective of race. See our interview.)
Mr Dixon spoke up again: “Parents are responsible to look after their kids, to be role models.
“Most kids go to school here. We haven’t got a problem with child abuse here.”
MR MORRIS: “The report doesn’t identify any community. So we want to come to all communities to talk about the report.”
MS ELLIS: “You want feedback.”
Mr Dixon then raised the intended lease of the townships for five years.
“The government wants us to lease where we’re living for five years. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
MR MORRIS: “The government wants to fix up things and make sure they stay fixed. In this report it talks about some very over-crowded housing, run down, not repaired, not good living conditions for kids and families.
“The government will provide the money but they don’t want to spend it, and in two years’ time the communities say it’s run down again.
“So we want, if you like, to rent the township for five years – the community will still own it.”
MR DIXON: “Our rent goes up.”
MR MORRIS: “There will be compensation. The community still own the land. Government will fix up different things.”
Ms Ellis explained Amoonguna’s housing policies: “We’ve got our own Amoonguna Construction team, which has built seven to nine houses, employing our own young fellas.
“We’ve got a rent system, tenancy agreements – you pay a $50 deposit, sign a contract, pay rent.
“There’s money for R&M [repairs and maintenance].
“This community has been successful [with] housing.” 
MR MORRIS: “The community is doing well but the government will upgrade houses if necessary during the five years.
“Some communities have lots of houses that need work, some houses have 15 to 20 people living in them.”
Ms Ellis asked how much rent they would have to pay, but this wasn’t answered.
Mr Dixon tried to get the discussion back to what he saw as more relevant: “We’re doing all right at the moment. We want to talk about the issues that concern us.”
But Mr Morris soldiered on: “Kids attending school is the other part of what the government wants to do, so that kids get an education and can get jobs and have a future. For those parents whose kids don’t attend school there’ll be an impact.”
MR DIXON: “The kids here go to school.”
Ms Ellis told the team that the school is in partnership with Gillen School, that attendance and “outcomes” are good, but that the school needs more workers, for instance, to provide a breakfast program. CDEP could help, she said.
Mr Morris moved on: “We’ll have a person from government to work with the community, in most cases to live in the community, to make sure services meet your needs and are coordinated.
“The community will have someone from government all the time to talk to, about kids going to school, being safe and healthy.”
This had Ms Ellis worried: “A government administrator here? We’ll lose our CEO, he’ll be replaced by a government person to run the community?”
MR MORRIS: “No, no. The person will be responsible for responding to this report.”
He explained that under Territory Government reforms the host of small community councils will be abolished and shires introduced, with representation from each community.
MS ELLIS: “This is what Barry [Byerley, council CEO, absent from the meeting] has been doing for us, he’s been helping us.”
MR MORRIS: “The changes to local government were announced long before this report.”
MR DIXON: “The administrator is doing a good job here.”
MS ELLIS: “ We don’t want to work with a recycled CEO.” 
MR DIXON: “We’re happy the way we are. We want our administrator, housing, and [CDEP] coordinator to stay.
“We don’t want another group taking over. We’ve put in hard work and we’re doing really well.”
MRS TURNER: “It will be someone next to [working alongside] Barry.”
MR MORRIS: “We won’t replace Barry.”
MR DIXON: “He can work with Barry and see what we are doing.”
Close to an hour had gone by. The mostly white necks of the survey team, sitting with their backs to the sun, were starting to burn.
Mr Morris asked whether people wouldn’t like to move out of the sun.
There was a ripple of laughter among the residents, with one of them quipping that they were enjoying getting a tan.
Everyone stayed where they were.
The various agency representatives then introduced themselves.
The first was Craig Cross, regional manager of the Commonwealth’s Department of Health and Ageing in Alice Springs.
MR CROSS: “I’m here to speak about child health checks.”
MS ELLIS: “For what?”
MR CROSS: “Health checks like the ones Dave [Evans, manager of the Amoonguna clinic] has been conducting already.”
MS ELLIS: “What about them?”
MR CROSS: “Child health checks for children. Mr Brough’s proposal is to bring in doctors and nurses ...”
MS ELLIS: “Be more specific.”
MR CROSS: “Ears, eyes, general health and well-being and a few other things.”
That was as specific as Mr Ross was going to get, perhaps reluctant to go into detail in a mixed public meeting, with some young children present.
(Mr Brough says he expects little resistance the protocols for compulsory checks for sexual abuse will be the same as they are in the wider community: they will only happen if suspected abuse is reported. See our interview.)
Ms Ellis kindly changed the subject: “Thanks for the new clinic,” referring to the brand new $1.7m community clinic nearing completion.
It was the military’s turn next. There were two soldiers present, dressed in fatigues.
One, an Aboriginal man, was from Norforce, there to provide logistical support; the other was Steven Smith, a hearty chap from Sydney,  who has been working with the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (AACAP).
He told the meeting he was there to see what facilities they had available, and what they may need.
Ms Ellis took him by pleasant surprise when she asked whether he’d brought any application forms: “I want to sign my sons up!” 
Other members of the team were from Alice Springs’ Commonwealth agencies – Centrelink, the ICC, the Department of Education, Science and Training. The NT Police was represented by two officers.
Aboriginal Community Police Officer (ACPO), Albert Tilmouth, was well known to the residents, being their current police liaison officer. He told them that police are looking at have a full time presence in the community.
The meeting then broke up into small groups; some people drifted away, others stayed to talk to the survey team members.
On Monday as the News prepared to go to press, Mr Lesiak said Amoonguna Council had not heard anything further about CDEP. He said there had been no contact from Ingkerreke.
Mr Lesiak said the DEWR reps told him last Thursday, after visiting the community, they would recommend that management be returned to the council but they didn’t think that a change was likely.
They encouraged the community to think about mainstream work-for-the dole as an alternative.
Mr Lesiak said work-for-the-dole only does three month-long projects “so you can’t plan for anything.” 
He said on CDEP, if someone didn’t turn up, they wouldn’t get paid and that money would be used to top up the others. That way more work would get done – good for the community – and the individual would have a consequence for not turning up.
He said he thinks the CDEP is likely to be scrapped altogether soon.
DEWR’s Ms Parkes told the Alice News that the three month CDEP contracts had been issued to allow DEWR more flexibility “to respond to the national emergency”.
Ms Parkes said DEWR staff were to visit the community yesterday (after the News had gone to press)  to explain the changes and their impacts.
She said “comprehensive transition arrangements have been put in place to ensure that any impacts of the changes are minimised”.

STOP PRESS: The Federal Government will override the Territory Government in relation to its proposals to tackle the “rivers of grog” on remote communities. Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and the Prime Minister said NT Government proposals “are not satisfactory”. Blanket bans will go ahead. Mr Brough and Mr Howard say restrictions just near dry communities are not enough as drinkers will drive long distances.

Herrick stands for Greatorex. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Fire station chief Paul Herrick is contesting the by-election for the Assembly seat of Greatorex on July 28.
A local of 16 years’ standing he says as an independent he won’t have the burdens of an Opposition Member, nor those of a party member, and will be able to devote himself exclusively to the issues of the electorate and of Alice Springs.
“The town comes first,” he says.
The he issues are anti-social behaviour; the need to entice young people to stay at school longer; and measures to give local business more ready access to competent staff.
He says he hasn’t yet decided to whom he would allocate his preferences.
The CLP has announced Matt Conlan as its candidate.
Alderman Jane Clark may stand as an independent, and the ALP – at the last election represented by Mayor Fran Kilgariff – had not made an announcement by the deadline for this issue.
Mr Herrick (pictured) has a long involvement in community affairs: He’s been a member and president of the Alice Springs Yacht Club, which earned the town massive national and international tourism promotion by being a competitor in high profile ocean races, such as the Sydney to Hobart, and Fastnet and the Cows’ Week Regatta in England, whilst being based so far from the sea.
Mr Herrick is also involved in cycling, Masters Games, Rugby League as a referee and president of the Referees’ Association.
As the chairman of the Centralian Senior Secondary College he occupies one of the town’s most vital voluntary positions.
Mr Herrick is married with four children. The younger two grew up in Alice.
The family lives in Greatorex.
Greatorex became vacant when Richard Lim (CLP) retired.

Neglect more serious than sex abuse. COMMENT by NETTIE FLAHERTY.

Child sexual abuse is a serious issue.  The Little Children are Sacred report has highlighted that is also a significant issue in Indigenous communities, although the extent of the problem is not known. 
However, the most serious and significant issue facing Aboriginal children is not child sexual abuse, but child neglect.  Neglect is arguably the most damaging type of child maltreatment with regard to the long term consequences for the child’s cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural development and is particularly detrimental if it occurs early in life. 
In the Northern Territory it is the most prevalent form of substantiated maltreatment among Indigenous children, with 44% of substantiated cases being for neglect compared with 6% for sexual abuse (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2006).  
Whilst child sexual abuse is underreported, research elsewhere indicates that child neglect, even when reported, is minimised and frequently not taken as seriously as other forms of child maltreatment.
So the figures for child neglect are also an underestimate of the true incidence. 
The Little Children are Sacred report is replete with examples of child neglect, and many informants to the report cite inadequate supervision of children as a significant contributor to children’s vulnerability to child sexual abuse. 
In limiting the terms of reference to child sexual abuse, however serious, the Little Children are Sacred report has failed to engage with the more significant issue of child neglect. 
Not all parents living in poverty neglect their children.  Whilst all children living in ‘socially toxic environments’ face risks imposed by that environment, they do not do so equally.  Simply put, some parents do a better job than others. 
A prime factor in how children respond to stressful environments is the degree of support and care provided by their parents. Not all Aboriginal children are destined to be abused or neglected, to fail at school, to remain forever unemployable. 
An overly deterministic view of risk factors does not acknowledge this as a possibility. 
It cannot explain, since it does not acknowledge, that there are Aboriginal parents who are doing a good job of parenting, albeit often under extremely difficult circumstances.
Although many of the recommendations, which focus on family support services and other ‘upstream factors’ which contribute to poor child health and well-being outcomes, will have an impact on issues around child neglect, they will not of themselves assist children who are being neglected today.
The report acknowledges this. 
However, the report does not provide guidance to child protection workers responding to notifications of child neglect involving Aboriginal children. 
In fact, in the report’s focus on ‘upstream’ factors, the report appears to regard poverty and child neglect as synonymous, asking, but not answering, the question of how to assess child neglect in situations of socio-economic disadvantage.  This question is critical, even more so when it involves children from disadvantaged Aboriginal families.
In April 2006 the Minister for Indigenous Affairs suggested that some portion of welfare benefits received by parents who neglect their children should be involuntarily quarantined to ensure children’s basic needs were met. 
The Minister articulated his belief that identifying problematic families was straightforward in extreme situations, but acknowledged that ‘where you lay down the line’ is complicated, especially in the case of ‘attempting to lay down criteria for those that are borderline’. 
Drawing the line is the day to day work of child protection workers, and like the Minister, they struggle with a concept that is vague and ambiguous, and especially difficult in situations characterised by social disadvantage and cultural difference.
Previous reports have suggested that the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children is a consequence of cultural bias in the child protection system. The implication is that child protection workers apply standards that do not take account of differences in child rearing in ways that acknowledge that different does not equal ‘not good enough’. 
But what if there are traditional ways that place children at risk in modern circumstances? 
The report tentatively explores this issue in relation to the alleged greater degrees of autonomy granted Aboriginal children, suggesting that if such autonomy is not provided within a context of ‘consistent care’, the ‘children become highly autonomous and eventually rebel against later intervention’. 
The report recommends that dialogue needs to occur to determine the strengths and weaknesses of traditional child rearing practices, since many practices that evolved in response to a different time may no longer serve the purpose of teaching and protecting children today. 
Such dialogue is important.  But for a child protection worker responding to the needs of this child today, dialogue may not achieve the goal of protection quickly enough.
Child protection work is frequently maligned.  So too those who work within this field.  It is a highly stressful moral, ethical, professional and political activity. 
Responding holistically to identified family needs is only possible within the context of well resourced health and welfare services.  Trying to ‘patch up’ families to enable children to stay at home is fraught with risk.  This risk is most often born by the worker and the child. 
Today it appears everyone has a view about the best way to respond to the issues identified in the Little Children are Sacred report.  They have been galvanised by the issue of child sexual abuse, which, or so it appears, demands an immediate response. 
In the flurry of activity to provide this, let us not lose sight of what is probably a more important issue regarding the long term health, well-being and safety of Aboriginal children, that is, societal and parental neglect.  What are we prepared to provide as a nation as basic minimum services to all children? 
What is the level of care that parents provide which we consider good enough and not good enough?  Where cultural practices differ, what standard should we use? 
And what does the ‘best interests of the child’ really mean?
Nettie Flaherty is a social worker practising in the area of child protection, with 11 years’ experience in Central Australia.

$2.3m show cattle sale. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Numbers were up and prices not bad, say the two stock agents in Central Australia, Elders and Landmark, after their annual cattle sale last week held concurrently with the Alice Springs Show.
Elders’ average live weight price per kilo was $1.65. Landmark’s was $1.70.
Almost all the offerings went to feed lot operators in NSW and some for live export via Darwin.
Landmark topped the sale with $1.85 per kilogram live weight for 62 milk tooth steers (average weight 339.4 kg) from Mt Riddock, and 32 from Tieyon Station (280 kg).
Elders got their top price of $1.83 per kilo on three occasions, including two pens of Alcoota Santa Gertrudis steers (74 head, 454 kg, that’s $831 per head).
Elders’ Jock McPherson says his firm yarded 2159 cattle for 14 vendors.
“It was one of the biggest yardings for a long time, perhaps 10 years, and a large number of producers,” he says.
“Last year the numbers were down, and there was no sale the year before.”
Landmark’s Tim McKean, who was first to sell on the day (the two firms take it in turns), yarded 1820 head which sold at an average of $600 per head.
He says although the prices were down a little on last year, they were line ball with those achieved achieved “anywhere else in Australia”.
Buyers were “feedlotters” Rockdale and Jindalee (both NSW) and live exporter Ben Seidel.
Other Landmark vendors of milk teeth steers were Wallace Rockhole (38 head, 269.3 kg, $1.76), and Erldunda (49 head, 414 kg, $1.79).
Landmark also sold cattle from Victory Downs, Numery, Idracowra, Deep Well and Neutral Junction.
Mr McPherson says the high value of the Aussie dollar is dropping demand from Japan and the USA.
The prolonged drought in the eastern states means very few people were buying lighter cattle “to put on grass”.
The feedlot industry is very particular about weight ranges and age, and the sale was very well supported by feedlot operators, a good sign for the efficiency of local growers.
“If the season had been better we might have had a better result with younger and lighter cattle.”
All in all, Mr McPherson estimated the average this year was around 75% of the best results over the last 10 years.
“The interest is rekindled.
“There was a huge crowd of buyers, but the market was too dear.
“There were a lot of lookers, with around 25 of the major buyers present.”
Mr McPherson says the season started in drought conditions.
Good rains came in time for the sale, but mostly in the region north of The Alice.
Elders’ sellers came from Dneiper, Alcoota, Napperby, Yambah, Hamilton Downs, Garden, Bond Springs, Lucy Creek, Waite River (near Alcoota), Murray Downs, Epenarra, Lyndavale, Suplejack and Umbearra.
Jindalee and Rockdale “feedlotters” were buying, along with Charlton (Vic) and live exporters Wellard.
The gross turnover for Elders was $1,279,609, resulting in an average price per head of $592.68.
Landmark’s total gross was $1,093,073.
Meanwhile show judge Joshua Wiltshire was full of praise for Central Australian cattle.
“I was impressed with the quality of the cattle overall, especially the commercial ones,” he says.
“They are up to stud standard.
“They are as good as anywhere in Australia.”
He hails from Meadows, Adelaide, and has a cattle property in the South East of South Australia.
It was his first visit to Alice Springs.
“I was surprised how many Poll Hereford are up here,” he said.
“I was expecting many more Bos Indicus.”
(For the those whose Latin is getting a little rusty, these are “tropical type of cattle suitable for tropical regions,” says Mr Wiltshire, “such as Droughtmasters and Santa Gertrudis.”  By contrast “Bos Taurus is a cross of a Bos Indicus with a British Breed which include Poll Herefords and Angus”.)
Says Mr Wiltshire: “I wasn’t expecting the overall fattening of the cattle up here, and it was good to see.”
How would the Alice Show compare to a “southern” one?
Says Mr Wiltshire: “We don’t have pens of two, for example.
“We have larger pens of 60 or 70, or there would only be one steer or heifer in a pen.
“And of course the weather up here is quite different to the South East of SA.
“You don’t have the hair on the cattle up here as we do down there.
“Apart from that, it’s pretty much the same set-up as country shows in South Australia.
“I was very surprised with the quietness of commercial cattle at the Alice Show.
“They are a lot quieter that some of the cattle in the South East.”
Most the cattle from the South East, also grazing on pastures, go to feed lots, mainly in NSW and Queensland.
Mr Wiltshire says these cattle are weaned at eight or nine months, and sold straight to butchers and supermarkets as veal.
The age range for veal was previously six to seven months but has now been extended to up to 10 months, known as the weaner domestic trade.
The “feeder steers” sold by pastoralists in SA to the feed lots are between 12 and 18 months old.
In The Centre cattle are mostly turned off as two year olds.
The craze for organic food, already very strong in fruit and vegetables, hasn’t quite affected the meat trade yet: “In the meat industry it’s not a huge factor.”
But when the organic fad, domestically or internationally, hits the meat eaters, The Centre will have a big advantage, says Mr Wiltshire.
“Cattle here don’t see people for a while. The resistance to disease and its control is a lot better up here than down south.
“You don’t have the rainfall as we do all year.
“And you’ve got that space where you’re not close neighbors, next to one another all the time.”
This limits the opportunities for transmission of diseases, worms and ticks, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical treatment.
It’s a field of strong interest for Mr Wiltshire who has recently completed a study in Holistic Psychology which he says is based on the “mental, emotional, physical, and on belief systems.
“Food is a large portion in what affects mental capacity and physical ability. I lean towards organic beef quite a lot, but it’s very hard to get hold of down south. It’s easier to use chemicals.
“Organic beef isn’t a very important part of the market yet but hopefully it will be.
“There are a few dairy farmers producing organic milk, so their farming practices have changed.
“They are based on German practices. They won’t worm with drenches.”
The cattle managing without chemicals are used for breeding, “and that’s how they build up their strain of resistance in the cattle,” says Mr Wiltshire.
Territory cattle mostly don’t graze on pastures treated with chemical fertilizer.
Supreme Champion Bull: Chris Thompson, Yorketown, SA, Shorthorn.
Supreme Champion female: Department of Primary Industry NT, Droughtmaster.
Champion bulls:-
Shorthorn: Thompson.
Poll Hereford: Allandale.
Santa Gertrudis: Richard & Peter Fogden, SA.
Charolais: Murray Ferme, Chrystal Brook, SA.
Other Breeds: Auscan Stud, SA. 
Champion cow & calf: Mt Riddock Station.
Champion led steer: Natalie Mahomet, Alice Springs.
Junior handlers – under 12 years: Nikita Hayes. Undoolya.
13 to 18 year old: Toni Braitling. Mt Doreen.
Robobank’s 8 to 15 years encouragement award went to Nikita Hayes.

And now let’s cane the government for doing something. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

I’ve spent much of my 33 year work as a journalist in The Centre reporting on protests against government inaction on Aboriginal issues.
On Saturday I’ll be covering a protest against government action on Aboriginal issues.
That “Day of Action” will focus not on the heinous crimes against women and children put under the national spotlight by Pat Anderson and Rex Wild.
Instead, the subject will be an alleged land grab which the current Minister of Indigenous Affairs, the first in three decades of my observation to display resoluteness, has stressed will not be taking place.
In fact Mal Brough is taking over, to the extent necessary, for no more than five years, areas which the land councils and governments, for 30 years, have failed to protect from maladministration, precipitating the current sustained misery.
It will be interesting to see whether the protest on Saturday will give voice to those whom MacDonnell MLA Alison Anderson (ALP) calls the “little people on the ground”, including the grandmothers who are the last bastion against total disintegration of families in the grip of alcohol, drugs and savagery against the weak and vulnerable.
Or will the speakers at the protest be those whom Aboriginal writer Merrill Bray, in our edition last week, called “self appointed, self elected delegations of so called Aboriginal leaders, well dressed, well fed, well educated, cashed up, home-owning Aboriginals whose children and grandchildren are well protected and have a comfortable warm bed to lie in at night and food to fill their stomachs three times a day”?
The speakers named so far are Kenny Laughton (Lhere Artepe), Heather Laughton (Arrernte Council), Donna Ah Chee (Central Australian Aboriginal Congress) and Barbara Shaw (Tangentyere Council).
Furthermore, the people who think the permit system has nothing to do with the misery so long shielded from view are either kidding themselves or have something to hide.
If your council doesn’t fix your footpath you urge the local newspaper to do a story. You give them an interview. You get them to publish a picture. A key element of democracy is launched into action.
The incompetent official or elected member is shamed and the job gets done.
That is not a privilege enjoyed by people on Aboriginal land, enduring far greater troubles than a hole outside their front gate.
This is how it works for those citizens of Australia: A reporter needs a permit. It takes time to get it and it can be refused. There is no appeal.
Traditional owners can issue permits but – wait for it – they can be revoked by the land councils, no matter how senior that traditional owner may be.
And another thing has changed: the thrust of the Brough initiative is broadly supported by Labor in the NT and the nation.
So the current repetitive objections to the Federal task force may just be the last gasp of the “A-team” whose taxpayer funded empires are crumbling under the weight of tragic failures over an entire generation.
Hilary Tyler (her day job is hospital doctor), of Alice Action, is facilitating the rally on Saturday. She says there will be an open microphone. It would be good if people go and use it – though if the poorly attended NAIDOC rally in Alice is a guide, people may instead vote with their feet and not turn up. That would be a shame because free debate needs to return to the heart of our fair go country.

Yirara is "stabilising" college at The Rock. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Lutheran Church’s Yirara College will take over the management of the troubled Aboriginal secondary school, Nyangatjatjara College, for the next six months.
Nyangatjatjara has three campuses: at Mutitjulu, the community at the foot of The Rock; Imanpa, on the Lasseter Highway, about 150 kms east of The Rock; and at Docker River (Kaltukatjara) about 200 kms west of The Rock, close to the Western Australian border. 
Yirara College is a boarding school based in Alice Springs, with 220 students enrolled, and has a remote campus in Kintore, catering for 30 students.
Yirara’s involvement with Nyangatjatjara is an interim measure in an attempt to restore stability, says administrator of the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation (NAC), Eamonn Thackaberry.
He says the three communities have been consulted about the arrangements and support them as an interim measure.
Consultation was done in language by an “experienced and trusted” linguist, says Rev Mark Doecke, principal of Yirara since 1994.
Consultation over what communities want for the future of the college, together with both Federal and Territory education authorities, will continue over the next six months.
Nyangatjatjara’s boarding facility at Yulara –  built at a cost of $2.5m and opened to fanfare in late 2005 – remains closed, as it has been since Term Four last year.
Making the facility compliant with fire regulations will entail either repairs to the building or the installation of a sprinkler system.
Given the remote context, Mr Thackaberry says the length of time taken by this process, which involves two periods of comment-seeking, has not been excessive.
Whether the non-compliance with fire regulations is a design or construction fault is being investigated, says Mr Thackaberry.
It is not likely that the boarding facility will reopen this year.
Rev Doecke says if the boarding house being closed “was really an issue”, families of the children had options available to them, including enrolling their children at Yirara.
Yirara has indeed received increased enrolments from the three communities since last year, in particular from Docker River, where some 25 students have enrolled.
NAC continues to be the funded entity for the operation of the college. As NAC administrator Mr Thackaberry is contracting Yirara as a service provider.
A CEO has been appointed to NAC.  On day to day college matters he will work closely with Rev Doecke, and on other matters to do with NAC’s operations, he will work with Mr Thackaberry. 
The college will continue to operate on its three campuses.
This year Mutitjulu students have been bussed to classrooms at Yulara, but Rev Doecke says this is being reconsidered for Semester Two.
It may be better for the students and staff to remain in Mutitjulu, in order for the college to engage more closely with the community and build enrolments.
There will be one teacher at each campus, “with good support”.
All are very committed to the stabilisation of the school, says Rev Doecke.
Boarding facility staff, on contract positions, remain on the payroll. Rev Doecke says once initial work is accomplished getting all three campuses tidied up and running smoothly, the roles of the boarding facility staff will be reviewed, with input from the communities and depending on the future of the boarding house.
Current student enrolments are between 50 and 60. Last year they were as high as 85.
Rev Doecke says the decrease is not solely due to troubles at the college, but is in part influenced by families from the communities moving into Alice Springs.
The upper figure is as high as he would expect the college to get if it continues to draw its students only from the three communities.
Expanding the catchment is something NAC will consult with the communities about.
Rev Doecke says it would be “a pity” from Yirara’s point of view if they don’t continue to be involved beyond the end of this year, but “we went into it knowing that this was a possibility. Our motivation has been to assist in whatever way we can. Our involvement has been very demanding of Yirara’s resources”.
Nyangatjatjara has suffered from protracted instability of staff at all levels, including (and most controversially) the leadership positions. The problem predates the administration but has continued. The News understands that there have been four individuals in six different periods in the principal’s position since the administration began last May.
The News asked why Rev Doecke was confident about being able to stabilise staffing. 
Being a bigger operation and experienced in the field is one reason, he offered, and being a Christian organisation also influences the kind of commitment that people bring to the job.
Will religious instruction be part of the program while Yirara is at Nyangatjatjara?
Rev Doecke says this will  be up to each community to negotiate with the teacher in each school. 
“Our view is that if the community wants this to be done, it should be done by a local community church representative or pastor and done in the local language.”
The News asked whether the college’s model is a viable one.
Apart from Aboriginal community control, central to the model has been the boarding concept: girls and boys separately on rotation; when they weren’t boarding at Yulara, they were to attend school as day students in their home community.
From all that has emerged over the past few years about trouble at the college, governance has clearly been a problem, with a lack of clarity about who has really been in charge, NAC (and within NAC, the CEO or the board) or the various principals.
Rev Doecke says if Yirara remains involved, the college model in all its aspects will be looked at in consultation with the communities. It is possible aspirations in relation to the model have changed over the 12 years since the college was established, he says.
The News asked if the model is a very expensive way of delivering education to these students.
“All Indigenous education, in whatever setting, is expensive,” says Rev Doecke, but the cost per student at Nyangatjatjara College is similar to that of a student at  Yirara in Alice Springs. 
He understands it is also similar to what the Western Australian Government spends on the education of their remote Indigenous students.
With governments and service providers being willing to make the investment, he says parents must take responsibility to ensure attendance by their children every day. 
He says most students at Nyangatjatjara College, similar to most Indigenous students in the region, have missed out on a considerable amount of schooling. Literacy rates are very low and in the next six months that is what Yirara will concentrate on. He says the resources in place are adequate to that task.

Good timing for SBS series. REVIEW by KIERAN FINNANE.

Aaron Pedersen, Alice-born and raised acting talent and pin-up boy, leads the cast of a new television mini-series, The Circuit, tackling some complex issues in remote Indigenous communities in the Kimberley.
The current “national emergency” being played out in the Territory has probably contributed to an eager reception for this SBS production.
Hopefully the value of the story being told will sustain that interest.
I was having my doubts as the first episode spent too long on settling in its characters and their context, frequently resorting to a travelogue style compilation of scenes, with middle-of-the-road musical backing.
But the episode ended with a compelling scene on the court circuit that will have me watching again next week.
Till then the caseload being dealt with by Pedersen’s character, lawyer Drew Ellis, was treated with a few quick sketches, but in this scene a complex family drama unfolded.
Ellis is representing a young mother, Debbie, on a charge of having smuggled marijuana into prison for her husband.
She has a record for drug offences and assault and risks gaol if found guilty. We learn that she has dealt with her own drug habit and has been clean for a year.
The magistrate (Gary Sweet) has invited community elders to sit on the bench with him, a seemingly progressive move.
But one of them is Debbie’s father-in-law. Ellis makes a point of order about the appropriateness of his sitting on this case, which the magistrate rejects.
Ellis’s intuition is that Debbie has acted under duress from her husband’s family and won’t give evidence in the presence of her father-in-law.
Despite Ellis’s desperate urging, Debbie remains silent, head bowed, under the intimidating stare of her father-in-law (an outstanding cameo by this Indigenous actor).
She is sentenced to eight months’ gaol and is led away with her youngest child wailing and calling out to her. Her older daughter is mutely angry and no doubt we’ll find out more about what happens to her in a future episode.
Ellis, who is the son of a stolen generation man, in an angry outburst accuses the magistrate of perpetuating a cycle of removal of children from their parents.
The magistrate is furious and this will obviously have an impact on their necessarily on-going relationship.
Pedersen plays a man with emotional baggage, a more challenging role than the charmers that I’ve seen him play. I kept waiting for his trademark winning smile but it didn’t break through often.
The director, Catriona Mckenzie (who directed Remote Area Nurse), had him holding back, tense, frustrated.
Apart from my interest now in the story, I’m looking forward to seeing how Pedersen develops this role.

Back to front page of the the Alice Springs News.