February 28, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Alice uranium town: in search of the facts. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Hundreds of workers building and operating a uranium mine and mill 25 kms south of Alice Springs would live in the town, according to Rick Crabb, chairman of Paladin Resources.
The NT Government last week gave approval to Paladin and its partner, Cameco, to apply for an exploration license.
Up to 50 people would be engaged in the proving up of the deposit, known as Angela and Pamela.
If that work results in a mining approval, some 500 to 800 people, half of them potentially local contractors, would be engaged in the construction work.
Mr Crabb expects this would take a year and a half.
And some 200 people would be employed to run the mine and mill, expected to have a life of 10 years on presently known deposits.
These are worth $2.5b, and there is a strong possibility of further discoveries.
The deposit was discovered some years ago, before the meteoric rise of yellowcake price.
Mr Crabb says the mill may also be used by other uranium producers likely to mine in Central Australia: “There are a number of other players who have got quite good prospects.
“It could be the start of a whole new Alice Springs based uranium industry.”
Chief Minister Paul Henderson described the project as “a huge stride toward potentially billions of dollars worth of economic opportunity and jobs for the Territory” at a time when “in the face of climate change, the world is seeking clean energy solutions”.
Paladin is a Perth based company, has two uranium mines in Africa, 40,000 shareholders and a market capitalization of $3.7b.
Cameco is the world’s largest uranium producer, accounting for 20% of world production from its mines in Canada and the US.
“Our leading position is backed by 500 million pounds of proven and probable reserves and extensive resources,” says the company.
“In the past five years, Cameco generated more than $1.4 billion in cash flow.”
The Angela and Pamela project has come under fire from local environment groups.
Natalie Wasley, of the Beyond Nuclear Initiative, says the deposits “are within our water catchment, less than 10 km from the proposed new drinking water borefield.
“In-situ leach mining, possibly to be used, involves pumping acid into groundwater to dissolve the ore.” 
“The ISL mine at Beverly, SA, disposes of contaminated waste water directly back into the aquifer.”
The mining company strongly refutes these assertions.
Says Paladin’s Brendan O’Hara, who is in charge of special projects: “There is no basis for this statement.
“On the information we have we are of the view that In Situ Recovery is not appropriate for the extraction of uranium from the Angela and Pamela deposits.”
Wasley: A shallow open pit mine risks surface water contamination from tailings and release of radioactive radon gas.
O’Hara: This issue will be carefully managed (including the use of hydrogeological studies) so that there will be no contamination of the current or future drinking water of Alice Springs.
Mr Crabb says Paladin has an “immense amount of experience” in environmental issues.
Its mine in Namibia is in a very dry environment, similar to Central Australia.
“There is a barrier to that aquifer and the mining will not breach this barrier.
“We are going to mine an existing ore body and will not be going beyond it.”
Mr Crabb says if the ore body were connected to Alice Springs’ water supply, then radioactivity would show up now in the water.
“We’re talking about a radioactive ore body.
“It’s existing material which we are going to mine.
“If anything we’re going to remove the problem.” 
These concerns are “a complete red herring”.
Ms Wasley also claims that “mining the small uranium deposits at Angela-Pamela would be short term, with minimal infrastructure and job opportunities”.
But Mr O’Hara says the development could bring a number of significant economic benefits, including opportunities for Indigenous business, support for existing local businesses and employment.
He says: “It would typically take at least $200 million to develop a mine for this type of operation and half that much in annual operating costs.
“It is important to us that we consult and work with the Alice Springs community as we go along to ensure that the community derives the full benefits from our operations.”
Mr Crabb says the company is “very conscious” of the need to build workforce skills.
Malawi, where Paladin has a mine, “is a very poor country.
“We balance imported skills with local training, using our mine as a nursery of skills.
“We can take the same approach with the Pamela and Angela project.”
Mr Crabb says there is a “misconception” that the product, U3O8 is highly radioactive.
“Radioactivity of the yellowcake, which is in sealed drums and stored in containers, increases when it is processed further, which is done overseas, in a handful facilities in the USA and Europe.”
A pound of U3O8 yellowcake was worth $8 in 2001, rose to $140 in 2007 and is now worth $75.
Paladin says there are 439 reactors producing 16% of the world’s electricity requiring 173 million pounds of yellowcake.
There are 33 reactors under construction in 13 countries.
There are plans to build 316 further reactors by 2030 with a generating capacity almost a great as the total capacity today.
The proposed mine near Alice Springs would be initially open cut but soon move into an underground phase.
The size of the open cut “is yet to be determined,” says Mr Crabb.

Parks will be handed over to Aborigines. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

The new Federal Government will transfer ownership of Territory national parks – most of those in Central Australia including the West MacDonnells – to Aboriginal ownership.
They will schedule 13 parks and reserves under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act NT, “as agreed to by the previous government,” Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin (pictured) told the Alice Springs News this week.
She gave no timeframe for the action.
The request to transfer ownership came from former Chief Minister Clare Martin. None of the several Coalition Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs preceding Ms Macklin complied with the request.
Ms Martin had claimed the parks were under threat of land claims and that it would be better to surrender the parks, and get a 99-year lease back, rather than contest land claims in court.
The Martin Government stonewalled the Alice News enquiries on the issue for years.
The move was the subject of a strongly attended public meeting in April 2006, with a majority opposing the move, and six Alice Springs aldermen called for a moratorium on the process pending meaningful consultation, which never happened.
Responding to other enquiries from the News Ms Macklin said
• “local people will take increased responsibility” in response to improved services delivered as a result of the NT Intervention;
• public housing tenants will be “required to pay regular rents and look after their homes” as announced programs of upgrade, repair and construction continue under the $793 million MoU signed with the NT government in September 2007;
• income management is still being rolled out, community by community, now applying to over 6000 people in 25 communities and three groups of town camps;
• improved services for Aborigines are being funded by $587 million in supplementary funding to Australian Government agencies in the current financial year, as allocated by the previous government, as well as a further $740 million funding for longer-term measures as announced by the previous government;
• “we are working with the NT Government to link school attendance to welfare payments”.

Strategy to stop flouting of new Dry Town laws. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Police Commander Bert Hofer has outlined several ideas which he says may help tackle public disorder and flouting of dry town laws.
He proposes inviting a number of responsible Aboriginal women to a forum, “where their insight may produce a change to the existing way the problem is dealt with,” he says.
He has had “informal discussions” with Tangentyere Council and asked them to consider an expansion to the existing “return to country” program.
He is proposing having Tangentyere attend regularly at the Alice Springs Watch House.
As people are being released, Tangentyere will be asked to take care of the repatriation of people from remote communities, who for one reason or another are unable to return home under their own steam.
Cdr Hofer says provisions for dealing with recidivist offenders need to be reviewed.
“There are people who have been issued with infringement notices, who are repeatedly taken into protective custody, some several times a week.
“Existing structures to have those persons placed before the courts to impose prohibition or rehabilitation orders are quite difficult,” says Cdr Hofer.
The existing “return to country”service is part of Tangentyere’s  Indigenous Case Management Service, which started in October last year and is funded by the Department of Justice for three years, for around $1m.
To date in Alice it has consisted mainly of booking clients on commercial transport like Greyhound and Bush Bus.
Greyhound journeys up and down the Stuart Highway, while Bush Bus has routes to the west – Kintore, Docker River, Pipylatjara, Yuendumu – as well as north to Tennant Creek, picking up passengers and dropping off freight at places along the way.
The clients repay the “return to country” fare in full using Centrepay deductions (from their Centrelink payments).
In November and December 46 people were helped return home using this system.
The Alice service has also bought a troopy to take people to communities not serviced by commercial transport. It was ordered in October, but is yet to arrive and be fitted out, as there’s apparently a troopy shortage in Australia.
The troopy service will also be user-pays, says Catriona Elek, social services manager for Tangentyere.
Numbers of people catered for are expected to rise once the troopy is operational.
It’s not known how many have been turned away while waiting for the troopy.
Ms Elek says the service also works with people to identify other needs or supports they may have, including in their community when they return, and to see if they can get any other support to help them return home or pay their fare.
She says the service is also working with the Department of Corrections on a partnership service for prisoner repatriation.

Town Council fuming over NT Govt largesse to Darwin. By KIERAN FINNANE.

“Unfair and discriminatory” towards Central Australia is how the Town Council labeled the Territory Government’s recent largesse with an anti-social behaviour package in Darwin.
They compared the government’s minimal commitments to Alice Springs’ CCTV for the mall (a $150,000 grant and half the monitoring cost for the first year) with their generous allocation in Darwin: $3.125m over three years.
In all the government announced over $10m worth of anti-social behaviour initiatives for Darwin.
The matter was raised at Monday night’s council meeting by CEO Rex Mooney.
The normally mild-mannered Mr Mooney was particularly galled by the government’s announcement of a “dedicated anti-social behaviour reporting line” for Darwin and their CCTV funding compared with the paltry allocation for Alice. The issue was taken up with some heat by aldermen.
Ald Melanie van Haaren asked whether there are two police forces in the Northern Territory.
She vehemently objected to what she saw as Alice police Commander Bert Hofer’s view that monitoring anti-social behaviour in Alice was not core business for police.
(This is not an accurate representation of Cdr Hofer’s views. He told aldermen that police accompanying council rangers on their river patrol was not core business. However he also told them that there is a local unit of 29 officers whose sole business is to police anti-social behaviour.  See Alice News, February 14.)
Ald Robyn Lambley was the first to suggest discrimination against Central Australia.
Alice had been “begging for years”, she said, while Darwin had “hardly put the matter on the table “ and $10m had been “dished out”.
Aldermen resolved that council would write to the Chief Minister asking for an “equal focus” on anti-social behaviour in Alice Springs, “believing the current proposed distribution [of resources] unfair and discriminatory to Central Australia”.
They will be asking particularly for increased funding for Alice’s CCTV and a police hotline for reporting anti-social behaviour.
The aldermen’s defiant mood also saw them vote down their earlier recommendation to relinquish council powers over closure of laneways in Alice Springs.
This had been born out of their extreme frustration with the NT Government, following the government’s rejection of their recommendation that the Laver Court laneway be closed.
Ald van Haaren described the recommendation as a “protest” over council’s “disempowerment”.
Ald Murray Stewart said aldermen should not allow their frustration to convert to “putting up the white flag”.
Ald David Koch also did not want to see council relinquish any further control over “our town”.
Ald Samih Habib said government ministers need to know they are “not gods”.
Ald Jane Clark said nonetheless council needed to deal with the issues of laneway closure more diligently.
Ald Lambley called for the Territory Government to resource the council for this: there are currently 15 applications waiting to be dealt with, at an estimated cost of $15,000 each.
The aldermen’s sense of injury was a further theme to debate over the appointment of a non-Central Australian as Minister for Central Australia, when there were suitable Central Australian candidates (a vote of confidence in the bush MLAs Karl Hampton and Alison Anderson).
A letter will also go the Chief Minister on this one.
Discrimination also came up elsewhere in the meeting when Ald Clark declared her interest in a recommendation that council condemn “as a matter of policy” the introduction of party politics into local government.
This recommendation had been formulated during Ald Clark’s absence (due to her child’s hospitalisation) at the last committee meeting and was in response to her contesting the mayoral election as an endorsed Greens candidate.  
On Monday Ald Clark read with controlled anger a prepared statement, reporting on advice received that the council’s motion would be in breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act (NT) section 19(1) which states that “a person shall not discriminate …..on the grounds of ….political …affiliation”.
Her advice was also that the motion would probably be unconstitutional, as it sought to “restrict our inherent democratic rights to freedom of association”.
She called on the mover and seconder to withdraw the recommendation, absenting herself from the chamber for the ensuing debate.
The aldermen, with a bit of huffing and puffing in particular from Ald Lambley, stood on their digs, passing an amended motion with the words “as a matter of policy” removed.
The aldermen, led by Ald Stewart, also got decisive about the presence in front of the council chamber of a “certain vehicle”.
Ald Stewart said the vehicle bore “derogatory slogans” about the council, sending a negative message to staff and tourists .
The owner (who was not named in the debate) had a right to free speech but he should exercise that right in newspapers and on the radio, said Ald Stewart.
Mr Mooney revealed that the owner had been issued with multiple parking infringement notices – two a day, for some time.
Mr Mooney had also spoken with the police who would be taking action “in line with the legal avenues they have available”.
Presumably action was taken the next day as there was no sign of the offending vehicle as this paper went to press.

Murray the man. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Two distinct camps are forming as the campaign for mayor gathers pace.
One camp thinks the council should confine itself to roads, rates and rubbish, while the more challenging issues are left to our masters north of the Berrimah Line.
Murray Stewart is most distinctly in the other group, wanting to expand the council’s role and influence, in which he’s broadly joined by Melanie van Haaren, David Koch and (maybe) Meredith Campbell.
Ald Stewart thinks the council, firstly, needs to lift its own game.
And secondly, if it is “in the best interest of the town,” as Ald Stewart puts it, council needs to firmly kick governmental backsides on a range of issues beyond the council’s power.
Ald Stewart made it clear at his presidential style campaign launch on Sunday, with some 70 people as his guests, most of them running well-established small businesses, that he’s going to be relentless in his promoting of the town if he gets the top job.
The only problem is, Ald Stewart may have to live to 110 to achieve all the goals he’s setting himself.
MC Dominic Miller set the tone for the drinks and nibbles gathering with a well-aimed swipe at rival candidate Damien Ryan: “There’s much more [to being mayor] than fixing footpaths.”
And besides, there’s no such thing as a “birthright to represent you,” said Mr Miller, clearly alluding to Mr Ryan’s born and bred pedigree, as opposed to Ald Stewart’s relatively recent arrival. 
“I am not shackled by connections although I share the values of the old timers here,” Ald Stewart told the Alice News.
Two warm-up speakers, champion runner Eli Melky and martial arts instructor Grant Oaklands, paid tribute to the unflinching commitment to sport and fitness of their candidate and mate, blind since birth.
Mr Miller said it was a mark of Ald Stewart’s commitment to his mayoral ambitions that he dropped out of the Bejing Paralympics.
He holds several national and world records for disabled people in running.
Sharon Everett, who’d worked as a manager with Ald Stewart in Melbourne, praised his business skills as the owner of a health and fitness club, and a therapeutic health centre, with a combined staff of more than 40.
In Alice since 2001, Ald Stewart owns a therapeutic goods company here.
His speech was testament to his boundless confidence in his own ability, occasionally a source of irritation for fellow aldermen, but Ald Stewart said he had “no regrets” about anything he’d ever said.
Law and order was at the top of the long list of issues he’d be pushing.
• Community patrols, such as the ones undertaken by Neighborhood Watch, must continue.
• He would give “in kind” assistance to the police.
• Rather than escalating alcohol supply restrictions, which don’t work as a long term solution, we should “remove chronic alcoholics from the bottle” and commit them to obligatory rehabilitation.
• Ongoing safety audits should prompt action on all issues, even the smallest.
• Police shouldn’t be hindered by political correctness. If the force is short of resources Ald Stewart would lobby for boosting them.
• He would start a youth council and give young people an opportunity of being involved in the town’s development.
• The Youth Centre looks shabby and tired and needs to be upgraded.
• The town needs a music and sport centre for “black and white”.
• Alice should become the sports tourism capital of the world, with events including cycling such as the Bull Rider, an adventure cycling event.
• “We should never accept kids being in the streets at night. They should be safe in bed.” Ald Stewart doesn’t accept the excuse that a curfew cannot be enforced. “We are not a large town. We can police that.”
• He will lead a fun run every year.
• Alice should capitalize on our “hard fought for” status as a solar city.
• The council should marshall federal resources to introduce recycling.
• The town needs a potholes hotline.
• Town planning should be transferred to the town council. There should be an NT Government grant for that. “It wouldn’t cost you one cent.”
• New mining projects will require housing or else the companies will just set up fly-in, fly-out operations.
• The relationship to the arts community needs to be strengthened.
• A Yellow Brick Road should guide visitors to “reputable galleries”.
• He will stay on the committee of Tourism Central Australia (the former CATIA).
• We need “thousands” of tourism ambassadors.
• The Todd River should be returned to its “iconic status”.
• He will invite Italian operatic pop tenor Andrea Bocelli, also blind, to stage one of his concerts here, celebrating international icons.
• Too much land cannot be rated. Rate exempted benevolent institutions – the exemptions for some of which are “very questionable” (and which include the town camps) – should be asked to make voluntary rate payments.
• We need a Fred Hollows eye hospital.
• Let’s invite the entrepreneurs of the world to invest in our town.
• Aldermen should get paid only for the meetings they attend.
• Ald Stewart said he would do “something” about high fuel prices.
Again having a shot at Mr Ryan, the only mayoral candidate so far who is not a sitting alderman, Ald Stewart said: “We don’t need someone on a learner’s permit. 
“The town needs a mayor with council experience. 
“You have given me my apprenticeship.
“Let’s not press the pause button now!”
Mr Ryan did not respond to the Alice News’ invitation to comment.

Pine Gap show and tell? By KIERAN FINNANE.

The top secret American spy base at Pine Gap will have to make a full and frank disclosure about what it is doing, on the doorstep of Alice Springs, next time a government wants to prosecute trespassers on Pine Gap land under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952.
This could be a consequence of the acquittal of the Pine Gap Four, in a unanimous decision by the NT Supreme Court last Friday.
The four pacifists – Donna Mulhearn, Bryan Law, Adele Goldie and Jim Dowling of Christians Against All Terrorism –  had been convicted under the never-before-used Act of charges related to “entering a prohibited area” and using a camera in a prohibited area. 
The charges carried a maximum penalty of seven years in gaol, though Justice Sally Thomas imposed only a money fine on the four, which the Crown appealed as being too lenient.
The four have since served time in Darwin’s Berrimah Prison in place of paying the fines. 
They always admitted to carrying out a “Citizen’s Inspection” at Pine Gap in December 2005 – involving cutting a fence to enter the base, climbing on the roof of a building, unfurling banners and taking photos.
However, they contested the validity of their charges under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act, challenging in pre-trial legal argument  the declaration of Pine Gap as a prohibited area.
For the declaration to be valid, the Act required that the declaration needed to be proven necessary for the purpose of the defence of the Commonwealth, ran the argument.
Justice Thomas accepted the contrary argument of the Crown that words could be read into the Act allowing the declaration on the basis of the Defence Minister’s satisfaction that there was a security threat to Australia. (See the Alice News web archive, October 5 and 19, 2006.)
Had Justice Thomas accepted the defence argument, presumably witnesses could have been called to try to establish doubt over the security threat – historic and current – and Pine Gap’s role in relation to it.
In other words, there would have been evidence in court about what Pine Gap is and does.
Reasons for the the acquittal judgment have yet to be published, so it is not known what Justices Martin, Angel and Riley have to say about all of this, for instance, whether under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act the Crown would have to prove that the declaration was necessary in the first place and still necessary at the time of the conduct subject to charges.
Of course, there would undoubtedly be other legal recourse open to the Crown to prevent detail about Pine Gap’s activities becoming public knowledge.
But it is unlikely, given the embarrassing result this time, that the draconian Defence (Special Undertakings) Act would be used in non-violent civil disobedience cases again.
Justices Martin, Angel and Riley unanimously agreed last Friday that Justice Thomas’ earlier decision had resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
A statement released on behalf of the Pine Gap Four quotes Ron Merkel QC, who headed their legal team, as saying, “They were precluded from raising the very issue which, if successful, would have resulted in their acquittal”. 
Mr Merkel is also quoted as saying, “No reason was given at any time for singling out [these people] for indictable charges”.
Mr Law has vowed to continue working to expose Pine Gap, and was quoted in the Weekend Australian on plans for another incursion into the base on Anzac Day.
Ms Mulhearn described the appeal decision as “a slap in the face for those who seek to use draconian legislation to respond to non-violent civil disobedience”.
Ms Goldie said that the decison set “a precedent for future acts of civil disobedience”.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporteurs sans frontieres, RSF), the international press freedom organisation, has welcomed the appeal decision.
RSF says the Pine Gap Four sent photos they took inside the base to media, including 18 Australian newspapers.
Several of the newspapers and their editors were threatened by police with consequences under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act to dissuade them from publishing the activists’ photos. 
The Alice Springs News received such a call but went on to  to publish the photos as did the Canberra Times, the only two to do so.
Says RSF: “The dismissal of the convictions makes further prosecution of the activists and – eventually – the media under the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act of 1952 highly unlikely. 
“Even the mainstream ABC News has now shown an incriminated photo in Darwin, two years after initially receiving it.
“Several editors told RSF that they regretted having been initially intimidated from using these pictures.
“The present decision of the NT Supreme Court removes this long-standing ‘chilling effect’.”   

The Alice Palace. By DARCY DAVIS.

What a wonderful citadel of gig heaven The Alice Palace is! On Saturday night, I spent my time enjoying everything this venue had on the menu.
I, like many others, had come to see The Bush Pistols who had just returned from their world tour – The Bush Pistols, our very own born and bred Central Australian super group, back home from another global trot – showing the world their own brand of magic, mulga funk.
A lot of the punters milled about in the foyer. The thing I like about The Alice Palace foyer is that its simple acoustic accoutrements make it easy to have a conversation; no shiny surfaces like tiled floors or huge panels of reflective glass or hard ceilings to ricochet your verbage randomly about the place so that chatting produces a general sense of disquiet or a look of strained concentration on the face of the listener.
Oh no, The Palace foyer is easy on the ear and easy on the eye; we stood and watched the magnificent holograph projected into mid air at the centre of the room – an amazing sequence of images of traditional dance from somewhere in the desert.
Of course, The Bush Pistols were sensational; their creative talent and originality has been honed and polished over and again from their international experiences.
Their final number, “Olga in the Mulga”, induced the entire crowd to perform the belly dancing sequence made famous by their controversial film clip – the part where Olga gets vulgar.
Let’s be fair though; the calibre of music being performed by Swat, Terracottage and Arid Bone was enough to make your heart sing even before The Pistols came on stage.
As I headed back out through the foyer and down the street to check out the music scene at the Spin Effects Club and The Work Party Room I reflected on the bad old days. Do you remember those times? I remember the violence, the decadence, the social breakdown, how unsafe everything became.
Then the Government got it right, finally; they didn’t mean The Intervention to last so long – I suspect they didn’t mean The Intervention to evolve into The Right Intention the way it did, but that’s what happened.
Once they got The Right Intention underway it was like doors opening to let out bad air. They poured taxpayers’ money into high quality services and resources; they brought in high quality people, they established great facilities, they built The Alice Palace; the Berrimah Line got rubbed out. The Right Intention got the right result.
Remember that?
Mmmm …
Actually, cruising down the main Alice drag on a warm February night in 2008 can be a mildly depressing experience. The Melanka is pretty empty, a few drinkers loll about the outside tables, bored security staff hover at the entrance, disco doof-doof emanates from loud speakers inside.
In the shadows of the 24Hour across the road a gang of youths stand about; a cigarette is glowing. Two youths are leaning on the wall, defiantly looking as though they don’t care whether they’re leaning on the wall defiantly. I’m glad I’m in my car.
Further down Todd Street Bojangles is jangling. The crowd control fellas seem to be doing their job, showing their very big muscles as a deterrent to any wayward behaviour; the crowd inside is stacked along the walls pouring alcohol down their throats at a rate of knots.
The joint is jangling very loudly; I can see Ben Slip in there, guitar on hip leaning into the mike, singing – well his mouth is moving but I can’t hear above the jangle.
Next door The Rock Bar is, well, I wouldn’t say it was rocking; it’s very busy serving people alcohol to swill, the bar staff are flat out, the cash register is ringing; maybe it should be called The Ring Bar.
Is that it? Is there somewhere in town to sit, kick back and listen to some good, live, music? Somewhere … anywhere? Well, certainly nothing that I could locate on a warm Saturday night in February.
If you want flowers to grow, you need a garden bed. 

ADAM CONNELLY: Let The Tribe speak.

For the town of Alice Springs, last Friday was for all intents and purposes just another Friday.
Sure there was a bit of dusty gusty wind and it was a bit hotter than usual but that can happen any day.
Last Friday was filled with Friday type things and when they went to bed that evening all the people of Alice Springs thought about  was that tomorrow would be Saturday.
However an event that will have massive implications for the town had passed by without anyone really noticing. Quietly this event slipped through the fabric of the day without pomp, without fanfare.
If not for the press release I wouldn’t have even known that enrollments had closed for the local council elections.
Doesn’t sound like much but that simple, quiet event has set into motion the basis of what is about to become the crazy carnival of the mayoral election.
It will be crazy. Let’s not think for a moment that the next few weeks will be measured and controlled and formal.
There are six upstanding members of the community fighting to replace Fran Kilgariff as the head cheese in council. Six men and women who have a deep sense of public service. Six men and women who for the next few weeks won’t be afraid to dress up in a gorilla suit if that’s what it takes to get your vote.
Why on earth would you want to become the mayor? That has got to be the most thankless job in Alice Springs. Everyone has their two bobs’ worth of advice and they aren’t afraid to share it with you. On the other hand no one says thanks when the footpath doesn’t have a crack in it, do they?
Nonetheless every time you turn around there goes another paragon of society raising their hand to run for council. What is the attraction?
It can’t be the money. There isn’t much of that. It can’t be the orange robes which to be honest don’t scream “Alice Springs Mayor” as much as they do “Soweto revivalist preacher”.
The only positive I can see in running for the council is that you get the good seats at the Camel Cup. 
With the electoral rolls now closed and voting compulsory it is incumbent upon those on the rolls to choose one of those six to be mayor.
This may seem daunting. Out of the six who will best achieve that which you want achieved?
But if the choice becomes a bit too much, think on the fact that at least our six probably won’t charge you for ladies’ undies and Star Wars merchandise (yet another example of high humidity affecting the minds of people in power).
In fact with the federal government showing a massive interest in Central Australia, and the Territory government doing their darndest to reform local government, maybe the mayor of Alice Springs will only be able to focus on rubbish and footpaths. 
That said I think that if the next few weeks are going to be the circus I think they might be, why not go the whole hog? In 2008 with the popularity of SMS and Australian Idol, why not have a Survivor-style mayoral election?
Think about it! “Tonight on Survivor Civic Centre … Murray Stewart and Meredith Campbell go head to head in a dry town battle. Who will win immunity?”
What a great show. Drama, intrigue and ritual humiliation of public people. All things we love.
The only problem being that Channel 10 would probably buy it and then we won’t get to see it. 

Too many pollies. PART TWO of a COMMENT by ALEX NELSON.

Territorians are seriously over-governed.
To make the point it’s worth comparing the governance of the ACT with the NT’s.  The ACT’s population is 340,000 while ours is 215,000 – a difference of 125,000.
The ACT has three multi-member divisions comprising a total of 17 seats, which equates to 14,050 enrolled voters per member. The average enrolment for NT electorates is currently 4744.
Its Legislative Assembly has two less seats than the original 19 of the NT Legislative Assembly between 1974 and 1983, when our population was considerably smaller than it is now.
Now, of course, we have 25 members to the ACT’s 17, despite the latter being far more populous.
Looking at it another way, the Northern Territory has more politicians per capita than any other region in Australia; and – taking into account the elected members of municipal councils, community government, land councils, and federal politicians – it is a fair bet the NT has the greatest concentration of politicians per head of population of any region on Earth.
To top it off, the NT Statehood campaign committee demands we should have 12 senators, like all the other states!
The Northern Territory is truly unique – it is the only jurisdiction in Australia in which each local member can know, or at least meet, with every constituent of his or her electorate. This creates a very distinctive “dynamic”, as Territory politicians are far more accessible to the “ordinary, everyday” person. It is a backbenchers’ paradise, where parochialism is at its greatest.
It is also a ministerial misery because the duties and responsibilities that come with portfolios are in addition, and often in conflict, to the undiminished duties of being a local member.
This is where being a politician in Darwin becomes an advantage as one can literally hop on a bike between the local electorate office and the ministerial office in the heart of the city.
Equally Darwin constituents have far greater access to their local members who are ministers than do those living outside of Darwin, whose local member as a minister is obliged to spend most of his or her time absent from the electorate.
Modern communications only partially redresses the balance; however, human evolution has a head start of several million years over technology, and nothing beats face-to-face consultation.
Consequently, the farther a member is from Darwin (or the more remote is the electorate) the harder it is to be a minister or political leader. It seems counter-intuitive but it is clear that the more accessible politicians are in a democracy, the more difficult it is to govern effectively.
The situation is worsening because there is a steady decline in the provision and standard of services to regional centers and remote areas (for example, it is no longer possible to fly to Tennant Creek, one of the Territory’s major towns).
Simultaneously Darwin and nearby vicinities are booming, which leads to ever-increasing allocations of money and resources, population growth, and – inevitably – an increasing concentration of electorates, all at the expense of the rest of the NT.
It is our system of governance that is leading to a vicious downward spiral, although – from the perspective of a Darwinite – this is a very difficult notion to comprehend. It’s all going extremely well up there!
It is no accident the Commonwealth, using emergency powers, stepped in with the Federal Intervention last year, while the NT Government dithered in response.
There is a great and pressing requirement to change policy priorities to address needs wherever they are greatest, not to pander to the self-interest of lacklustre politicians representing comfy over-serviced suburbs in Darwin.
The first priority – and probably the most difficult – is reform of our political system to create multi-member electorates. In a future piece I’ll explain in greater detail why this would make a difference.
When, and if, this can be satisfactorily achieved, there will at last be no reason why a political leader in the Northern Territory cannot come from somewhere out of Darwin.
And that would be a very good thing.

LETTERS: Sad loss of volunteer group.

Sir,- It’s with great disappointment that I read your article last week on the winding up of the Kurrajong Area Residents Association (KARA).
It was formed, based on the successful Eastside Residents Association, through a lot of work and encouragement from myself during the early years of my role as the Member for Greatorex.
I conducted a survey of the area back in 1997, following which KARA was formed almost a year later.
We had a very dedicated group of residents in the Kurrajong area who were keen to adopt their park and contribute volunteer labour to beautify the area.
Through my office, we got the group incorporated, and then sought funding from the Northern Territory Government for funding to improve the park.
As Minister for Local Government, I personally negotiated with the Alice Town Council to ensure that facilities were created in the park with further funding from the NT Government.
The park became a joint project between the town council and the residents of the Kurrajong area. A Special Purpose Grant was provided to the Alice town council for projects to be carried out at several council-owned parks, the Kurrajong park being one of them.
We now find that the council has abandoned the efforts of the ratepayers who have strived so hard and for so long to keep their park beautiful and in a usable condition. Before KARA was involved the park was full of bindiis, no play furniture, and no clean grass areas where children can play without fear of rubbish, glass and prickles.
When will the town council wake up to encourage the goodwill of ratepayers?
I blame senior council officers who seem to have an agenda of their own. Knowing several aldermen, I note their keenness to be responsive to ratepayers but continually fail to push council to follow through.
With the coming council elections on the horizon, it is again time Alice Springs ratepayers seek strong commitment from EVERY aldermanic aspirant as to what and how they intend to make the town council more responsive, and how they will keep senior council officers accountable for their inaction.
Any contract between the town council and a senior council officer has to include a clause for termination of services if that officer fails to perform to his or her duty statement and key objectives.
It is important for council to not only provide what objectives it wants from senior council officers, but also what OUTCOMES they must achieve.
Richard Lim
Alice Springs

Sir,- I read Meredith Campbell’s paid advertisement on the front page of the Alice News (Feb 7) and feel compelled to reply. By proposing to not offer alcohol at council-sponsored functions, Alderman Campbell is acknowledging that there is a community-wide problem but this is hardly tackling it effectively.
Offering alcohol at a town council event may show people that it can be consumed in moderation and not branded “demon drink” by a wowser firebrand claret socialist mayor-to-be.
Angus McIvor
Alice Springs

Sir,- I would like to add to Mike Gillam’s comments regarding other possible uses for the civic centre.
A few months ago I visited Mt Isa and took the opportunity to visit their new visitor centre, which happened to be constructed around the same time as our civic centre and for around the same price. I couldn’t help thinking about the difference in attitude between the two towns.
Mt Isa’s new centre portrays a fantastic sense of welcome to its visitors, especially when told that a huge amount of the work, including a complete underground mine, was wholly constructed by volunteers! The difference in attitude shows in the numbers of happy smiling visitors on their streets.
Alice has had a large tourist sector for some 50 years yet we still don’t have a visitor or transit centre; instead, we have a large civic centre occupying the town’s prime tourist location - a building for bureaucrats. It does not even have something as useful as a town hall - in fact, most of the building is mothballed for future use.
What kind of message are we sending to our visitors? At best we portray an unwelcoming air of indifference.
For minimal funds, I believe we could convert the civic centre into a pretty darn good visitor and transit centre.
Cut a bus lane from Todd Street past the southern end of the Andy McNeil Room through to the car parks and Leichhardt Tce, build a veranda down this side of the building and rent space to the various tour agencies and bus companies, and put in a 24-hour café and taxi rank.
The council could maintain its existing shop front and the use of office space on the building’s north side, and the library stays where it is. The Andy McNeil Room converts to a visitor centre.
The region between the bus lane and Stott Tce is large enough to construct a traditional greeting area, including a large hall for possible use as a youth centre.
When you put this whole concept together with the surrounding nightclubs and restaurants and the fantastic new Melankas development, we will have created a living exciting hub for our town that will always be full of people and activities 24 hours a day. It would generate an exciting and warm welcome for our visitors at a facility offering all the services at one location for the first time ever in Alice Springs.
That’s got to put smiles back on a few faces.
This proposal also calls for the complete reopening of Todd Street to traffic. The past years of designing nice leafy, “car free” places in our town centre has also made it unapproachable, especially after dark. Towns are about people, not empty spaces. The noise and movement of traffic; of kids walking and riding, doing “Toddly’s” as they did in days gone by; all add to a special atmosphere of place. Malls have failed all across the world, and ours has, too.
Presently the town centre feels like a place going nowhere and where no one really cares. No wonder a recent survey has backpackers describing the Alice as a dull uninviting destination.
Let’s get rid of the bureaucrats from the town’s centre, and fill the the empty spaces with people, sidewalk cafes and buskers, all together on the sidewalks; and fill the streets with cars, bikes, horses and other modes of transport.                        
Bring our town centre back to life!
Steve Brown
Alice Springs
ED: Mr Brown’s concept for a bus transit facility at the civic centre is very similar to the one proposed by local businessman and current alderman Samih Habib, and supported by then-Alderman Daryl Gray, as reported in the lead article “Private coach stop mooted” (Alice News, May 3, 1995). The main difference now is that Mr Brown suggests to use part of the new civic centre as part of the transit centre.
Mr Habib’s proposal was endorsed as council policy until 2001 when it was dropped in favour of plans for the new civic centre.
The town council opted to support a plan by Sitzler Brothers to build a bus transit centre – including offices for coach companies, tourist information and booking centre, coffee lounge, internet café and snack bar, hire car and taxi ranks, and additional parking – in conjunction with the Ghan railway service in the western precinct. This proposal likewise has never proceeded.

Sir,- I write to correct a loose interpretation of the truth put by Jane Clark in last week’s comment piece “Dry Town was set to fail”.
She refers to the council’s trip to Port Augusta in the summer of 2006 to investigate the effect of their dry town regime, which had been introduced as a 12 month trial by the SA Government.
She stated that she was the only mayoral candidate to do the trip and gather the info. This is incorrect as I was there too. I travelled in a different car with Alderman Samih Habib and Mark Blackburn, a former council director, whose report formed the basis of the council’s decision to use NT Government legislation to obtain dry town status.
This is not the first time that Alderman Clark has incorrectly badged me as part of a group of elected members who say a lot and do nothing. I wasn’t even on council to be one of the alleged “knockers” whom she described in a recent letter to the Alice News.
But don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Ald Meredith Campbell
Alice Springs

Sir,- I was disappointed, having seen the photo of Jaime Jesus and Marcia Percival (the salsa performers I brought to Alice Springs for the 2006 festival) to promote the Red Hot Hearts event, to see no mention of the salsa part of the evening in Darcy’s review in last week’s Alice News.
It was truly a hit and I had many compliments from friends, strangers and the organisers about making everyone feel comfortable and setting a fun tone for the night.
It’s nice to have the Alice News back for 2008!
Kirsty Nancarrow
Alice Springs

Sir,- I was a little shocked, though not surprised, to find this year’s rental for my small mailbox at the post office has gone up again to $75 for the full fee, or a “bonus” fee of $70 if paid by 31 March.
Box renewal invoices show that in 2003 the fee was $52, in 2005 it was $56, and in 2006 it was $60. Last year it jumped to $70 (or $65 if paid by 31 March).
This is an increase of more than 44% since 2003 if paying the full amounts, or 34.6% if taking advantage of the “Pay on Time” bonus offers.
What justifies a percentage increase in costs of this magnitude in a time of record low inflation rates – I think it’s roughly 10% over the equivalent period?
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs

Sir,- I thought I would drop you a little note just to say how much I enjoy your newspaper website. Keep up the great stories. You have a very talented staff.
Philippe Masseron
Beloit, Wis, USA

Back to front page of the the Alice Springs News.