March 27, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Click here for results of the Alice News online survey, What Alice Wants.

The agony of running Alice accommodation. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

There are many reasons that have nothing to do with racism for accommodation houses to turn away certain visitors, according to Rob Watling, manager of the the Swagman’s Rest apartments on Gap Road, a veteran of 25 years in the industry in the NT, including 18 years in Alice Springs.
He is speaking after the town suffered a global public relations fiasco, and allegations of human rights breaches, triggered by a disagreement between the Haven backpacker hostel in Alice Springs, and a group of women from Yuendumu.
National and international media have condemned Alice Springs for the incident, described before any investigation by Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson as discrimination: speaking on ABC television on March 11 in response to their news reports Mr Henderson said: “It is absolutely appalling that these women and children were discriminated against.”
In a separate report on March 12 Tourism Minister Kon Vatskalis was quoted as expecting the controversy to cost the town millions in lost bookings.
But the Haven management claims the facts of the incident have been badly distorted (Letters to the Editor, Alice News, March 20).
Mr Watling says he frequently has to deny admission to people, but says it is never on racist grounds.
And Steve Smedley, who leases the Whitegums resort nearby in Gap Road, says he constantly has to be on guard against over-crowding of rooms booked for just a single person, or people leaving rooms in a state requiring extensive and expensive cleaning and repairs.
“It’s not a black and white issue,” says Mr Smedley. “It’s a hygiene issue.”
After 48 years in Alice Springs, where he arrived at age 10, and having run a string of businesses, Mr Smedley and his wife Dianne have bought a house “down south” and will soon be leaving town.
He says anti-social behavior “is getting worse and worse. “I’ve never seen it as bad as this.”
Mr Watling says his test for admitting guests is whether “you would invite the type of person into your home”.
“Someone who spits on your walls and floors and who also defecates on your bathroom floor or shower recess because someone else is using the toilet.
“Someone who spills or drops food on the carpet and then simply treads it in rather than picking it up and cleaning up the mess.
“Someone who won’t shower or wash, but insists on sitting on your lounge and sleeping in your bed and leaves the most foul pungent smell of stale urine, feces and body fat, all over your sheets and furniture.
“Someone who insists on smoking in your rooms despite the sign saying ‘NO SMOKING’.
“Someone, who although you have only allowed one person to stay, insists on inviting five, six, eight, up to 15 people into your accommodation without asking you, and then when you ask them to leave they start yelling and screaming at you in some language which they certainly didn’t use when they asked could you let them stay.
“Someone who allows their children to run naked, urinate in your pool, defecate on the poolside tiles and drop nasal mucus in the water and on tiles.”
Mr Watling says a woman and her grandchild were booked in by a local government agency and on first impressions, the woman appeared to be clean and quiet.
Strict instructions were given by both the agency representatives and Mr Watling that she was to have no visitors.
But by midnight a noisy grog-fueled party of some 15 people, who had “snuck in” was in progress, with the child crawling on the floor amidst broken glass, vomit and discarded food.
Mr Watling managed to evict several people before two drunken men “had a go at me,” he says.
“Fortunately police arrived and helped me in the removal not only of the unwanted guests, but also the grandmother and child.
“The government agency paid for the damage and lost revenue caused as several other guests cut their stay short.
“They said they were extremely intimidated by the fracas that night.”
Mr Watling says whilst “a large majority of decent people do not carry on like this, there appears to be a culture here in the Territory which makes certain people believe that they have a right to be given accommodation regardless of how they present themselves.
“Whilst the Anti-discrimination Act will cover definite racism, they do not have any set guidelines to cover the above problems.”
There is a sign on the reception door saying “no shoes no entry” and people with “dirty and smelly clothes” may be refused admission.
“This applies to everyone,” says Mr Watling.
He and his wife have managed resorts, hotels, motels and apartments throughout Australia and in New Guinea.
“I’m certainly not a racist,” he says. 
He says he has numerous regular indigenous guests, who stay at the Swagman’s Rest: “They are welcome, as they always present themselves in a decent and civil manner,” says Mr Watling.
“Some of these guests have commented that they were ashamed of the behavior, attitudes and appearance of their mob.”
Mr Watling let 17 rooms to Aboriginal people from the AP lands near Marla who were in town for last year’s Finke.
That group hired its own security guard to stop unwanted visitors and “rellies” from “gatecrashing and humbugging”.
Mr Watling was employed for two years as operations manager by the company contracted to the Aboriginal Gagadju Association, which owns hotels in Kakadu National Park, including the Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru.
He says: “They never had any of the problems and issues that are so obvious here in Alice Springs.”
Who may be coming through the resort’s front gate – fortified, topped with barbed wire and locked from 7pm, with guests supplied with electronic keys – is only one of the worries for Mr Watling.
The other is what comes over the back fence, separating the small resort from the town camp known as Abbott’s Camp: screaming of people in drunken fights in a place supposedly under an alcohol ban; the din of cars being smashed up;  rubbish blowing across from refuse that has been piling up in the south-western corner of the camp for weeks; the putrid odor of two dead dogs left for days; and smoke from illegal campfires that is sucked into the hotel’s evaporative air conditioning, rendering it inoperable.
He says he had to fit a “Stalag 13” style barbed wire fence around the property, at the back to keep out intruders from Abbott’s Camp, and at the front, youth gangs roaming the Gap Area.
“On Monday at 12.30am I woke to the sounds of screaming and yelling out near our front gate.
“I went out and found two guests from a day bus trip to Uluru, being accosted by a group of 20 or more drunken Indigenous males and females, demanding money.
“I managed to escort the elderly couple from interstate inside the property and call the police.
“Another guest told me that the group had been pulling out trees and kicking over rubbish bins for some 30 minutes before.
“Police attended some 15 minutes later but on arrival appeared to have been called to a more ‘serious’ problem and they did a U-turn and sped back towards the town centre.”
Mr Watling says: “It’s clear to me that the Indigenous football carnival is part of the reasons for these disturbances.
“For the first time in 18 years I now retain Talice Security to patrol our property at night and this cost is on top of the security gates and barbed wire.”
While all that goes on next door, with the authorities clearly turning a blind eye to the overt health risks, the NT Government’s environmental Health officer is demanding six lots of repair work to be carried out at the resort, including these:-
• Remove toilet paper from bathroom ceiling in [a] room: Mr Watling says a guest had flicked a wet piece of paper onto the ceiling, thought by the cleaners to have been a tiny crack in the paint.
• Seal cracked tile in kitchen of [one] room: note – one cracked tile, Mr Watling says it’s a “minute” crack.
• Repair damaged door [in another] room: it has a small hole at the base where it connects with the doorstop.
The other three complaints are equally minor, petty issues.
At the Whitegums resort Mr Smedley says it sometimes “costs us a fortune to get these rooms ready for new guests.
“We have to wash the curtains, bed spreads, get the carpets professionally cleaned.”
He says it’s not unusual to get a call from an Aboriginal community to book in one person, “then the missus and four kids are turning up and four or five people are in the room.”
Mr Smedley says he received a letter from the Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission, regarding potential clients he turned away.
He had received an internet booking for one person.
However, a man, his wife and three children from the Pitjantjatjara lands arrived.
None had the name of the single person for whom the booking was made.
He told the commission that the family was turned away because false information had been supplied, and the case was dropped.

LETTERS: Recycling becomes an issue.
Sir,- The amount of litter around the town after the Easter holiday break has prompted me to [lobby] the NT Government to introduce container deposit legislation, similar to that of South Australia or better, to support a move by Victoria and NSW for a comprehensive Federal CDL.
South Australia has recently increased the CDL refund to 10cent for every drink container sold and Victoria is considering following the same line.
I will be working to ensure this and kerb side recycling is on the first page of the agenda of the new council.
Our landfill is being clogged with recyclable glass, PET, and paper.
It is time for real accountability in finance, anti social behaviour and in waste management.
Every candidate should give the community an undertaking that they are committed to a full term and not just using the Alice Springs Town Council as a stepping stone to further their political ambition.
I have given the community that undertaking and, as Mayor, an undertaking that it is a full time job.
Alice Springs has a tremendous future with opportunities in the tourism, mining and pastoral industries that can really happen with a team commitment to serve out the full term and not put ratepayers to the added expense of a by-election.
Damien Ryan
Alice Springs

Sir,- Only the Greens, [that’s] myself, teacher Lisa Hall and Physiotherapist Lenny Aronsten, offer a commitment to improving the environment of Alice Springs in the long and short term. 
• Kerbside Recycling – Local government is the ideal body to implement changes which reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce waste through recycling. 
• Community Gardens – We are working with groups to implement two of them.  Each will have a community focus including seasonal celebrations, accessibilty for all and ongoing educational opportunities.
• I opposed the recent sell-off of a park in Gillen to provide carparking. If a carpark is needed, leasing rather than selling off would have been preferable. Selling means losing use of the land forever.
I have worked with community groups to assist with provision of shade in their parks, for example, Spicer Crescent, and I will push for further improvements.

Jane Clark
Alice Springs

Sir,- Last Thursday’s lead article “Sparks fly” clearly demonstrates that the “I’m alright Jack” approach is still alive and well in some corners of the establishment.
Mr Ryan quite clearly believes that a softly-softly “shut up and say nothing” approach will eventually lead a mellowed and condescending government into giving us what we want.
I firmly believe that the Alice has sat back and allowed itself to be directed at the whim of the Territory Government for far too long and, in so doing, has earned both their disrespect and eventual disregard.
After months of blatant denial leading to the protest at last year’s parliamentary sittings, our government finally admitted that police numbers had been allowed to dwindle to nearly half our actual requirement.  
That was only the first step, now we have to carry that attention forward. Not by appeasement, nor necessarily by confrontation, but by firmly pointing out the issues, and what we, the people of Alice, see as the solutions.   
To suggest that we should have said nothing shows a complete lack of moral judgement. The damage was done to our local industry by the bashings of tourists and locals, not by pointing out it was happening.
There have been some efforts towards seeking a resolution using the soft options, such as changes to the liquor act, but there has been no real effort at all to tackle the hard underlying causes. This has resulted in a whole host of new problems from litter to driving the drinkers into suburbia.
Saturday’s election must elect a council that is prepared to tackle these issues head on, using both its own powers where it can and demanding the assistance of government where that is needed.
Alice is at a turning point. We have to say “no” to those who believe that we as a town have neither the talent nor the integrity to run our own affairs.
Steve Brown
Alice Springs

Sir,- This is the first letter I have written to a newspaper, which shows how strongly I feel about the upcoming council elections.
Much has been said and written about the Greens candidate Jane Clark, and some about David Koch from the CLP.
But what about the Labor candidates – there is John Rawnsley who worked for Labor’s Alison Anderson; Miguel Occiones who has been handing out Labor how-to-vote cards for as many elections as I can remember; and Damien Ryan, who must be the only candidate to receive recognition and praise from the Chief Minister and his staff as well as, apparently, attending a Labor fundraiser recently!
I have voted Labor in the past but I don’t want Labor in Canberra; Labor in Darwin; and Labor in Alice.
I will be voting for Murray Stewart because I think he is truly independent and will stand up for the Alice, in stark contrast to the outgoing mayor.
Mrs M Patterson
Alice Springs

Sir,- I read the article “Council out in cold on masterplan” with great interest (Alice News, March 20). This is another example of the fundamental communication problems of our current council.
Alderman Robyn Lambley expressed “total confusion and dissatisfaction” while fellow Alderman Van Haaren said “how could it happen?” 
The now hapless CEO Rex Mooney would have us believe that the Town Council is in fact leading the whole process. If you find Mooney’s prognosis believable then you would most likely swallow Alderman Murray Stewart’s line – hook, line and sinker.
Mayoral aspirant Stewart asks us to accept that the Town Council has “piloted and promoted” the CBD revitalisation process from day one!
I agree with the Alice News that this is yet another example of the problems our council has with the NT Government but the problem goes deeper. It is a prime example of the conservative attitudes which hold back the progress of our town.
The new town council will be obliged, in acting in the town’s interest, to forget past grievances and to get governments onside.
If that can be quickly accomplished, and we can also clean up the embarrassing communication problems within our council, then the town will go forward.
I proudly challenge anyone going for council to have a better working relationship with indigenous people than that which our family has proudly built up over many years.
May I be so bold as to make a few predictions?
In a few days we have a chance to vote out the old council. In the wake of Rudd’s victory, we have a real opportunity for renewal where it really counts, that is in local government.  
The enduring bond between the CLP and town council has broken down. It will not be rebuilt – sad for some but the old Alice has gone.
In a matter of months our dry town legislation will be up for review. This will be preceded by Rudd’s promise of a review of Howard’s intervention. These two rethinks provide great opportunity for our town to get our wheels out of the sand.
David Chewings
Alice Springs

Sir,- This council election campaign is the most savage we have experienced in Alice Springs.
I am particularly amazed at the calls of some lobbyists and the promises of some of the candidates that are not in the realms of council responsibility, business, or capability. It’s a wonder some of them have not promised to make it rain!
Council could never do anything about “cheap affordable land” unless it was going to give away community parks.
I am far from happy with many of the decisions of the Development Consent Authority (DCA) but I respect the process for its high-level independence and transparency.
Just because councils elsewhere have control of town planning in no way justifies a change.
We have an independent chair of the DCA, and the fact that he does not live in Alice Springs makes him even more so.
There is already local input on the DCA from four locals, two who come from nominations in the wider community and two who are selected from nominated aldermen (who don’t represent the position, if any, of council).
The Planning Act allows most planning applications to be determined by the DCA in Alice Springs, usually the day of the hearing.
More significant applications, such as rezonings, are heard by the DCA locally on behalf of the minister. The final decision is that of the minister, who is not precluded or obliged to taking the issue to Cabinet first, but would be very brave to make momentous decisions independent of his or her colleagues.
There is a Territory-wide Planning Scheme with plenty of scope for local variance. When this scheme was initiated a well-advertised public meeting was held in May 2003. There were only three members of the public there.
When the public Hjearing for the NT Planning Scheme was held in mid-2006, again the public was noticeably apathetic.
Last year council officers prepared a report on the costs of taking on local planning [suggesting] some $1.5m per annum.
Finally our own council has a history of some “less than altruistic” aldermen. It is our responsibility as voters to weed them out before they get onto council again, because they will need more than a cold shower if they are elected.
When council still can’t competently deal with “rates, roads and rubbish” it’s a long way short of tackling the bigger picture.
Rod Cramer
Alice Springs

Sir,- Will our new council be led by a man of experience, or by a vision-impaired man of vision? Will the photographer or the union rep get up, or will it be the architect, the health mandarin or the most verbally articulate alderman of them all?
Will our new council be colour-coordinated?
Meanwhile the council’s CEO may move to a house on the hill while Aussie travelers are turned away from hostels in the centre of town. Alice’s town camps have been offered second-rate electricity connections by the NT government, and flower-beds in the northern end of Todd Mall are being filled with bitumen.
Sometimes dogs roam the streets in the hours before sunrise.
Most mornings around four am I ride a bicycle from the Gap to the Old Eastside. Often I pass homeless people looking for what they can find in the bins in the Mall.
When sober, they never seem threatening. They just seem tired and, well, homeless.
In all likelihood urban drift will continue to play a part in our future, and we are woefully short of temporary accommodation.
Truly the town’s unsung heroes are the council workers who each morning sweep up the night’s litter of broken glass and discarded food and drink containers.
They sweep up other things as well, and without their efforts Alice would not be as clean as it is at the start of each day’s business.
Alice is a captivating work in progress, and on Saturday we elect a new town council. We need to elect a good one.
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Sir,- As a constant reader of your paper and a long term resident of Alice Springs, I would be absolutely amazed if the residents of this town did not give their support to Murray Stewart for Mayor this Saturday. Letter after letter to your paper over the last four years has called for genuine change and strength in leadership.
This bloke Murray Stewart has been the shining light in this respect and never stops having his say which I believe to be for the betterment of our town, and he needs to be given the top job and a chance to forward our economic and social aspirations.
If he were to be elected, I for one will raise a glass in celebration. I believe Murray Stewart will lift the spirits of this town in an immeasurable way.
John Guy
Alice Springs

Sir,- One of the hottest issues in the Territory right now is the NT Government’s mismanagement of local government reform.
Mayors, whether they be the leaders of municipal councils or otherwise, should be signalling to their potential voters what they think about the Territory Government’s heavy handed approach to this issue.
Their mishandling of the issue has already caused one minister to resign in disgust and has caused ructions in the community.
It is still not clear what the effect of these changes will be on municipal councils and it would be interesting to hear what candidates think about the issue and whether or not candidates have even read the legislation that they will have to work with should they get elected.
The CLP’s position is that we support reform but only with the support of the communities affected by the reform process. We do not support the heavy handed approach of the NT Government.
Matt Conlan
Shadow Minister for Local Government

Tangentyere’s woman in council? By KIERAN FINNANE.

She’s a candidate for alderman like no other: she lives on a town camp, Mt Nancy; is an “active member” of Tangentyere Council, founded originally to deliver municipal-type services to town camps; and is a member of a politically powerful Aboriginal family which has particular sway over the affairs of Tangentyere. 
Barbara Shaw (pictured with daughter Danae, aged 3) has also made a name for herself in recent times as an outspoken opponent of the Federal Government Intervention, and in particular of the blanket quarantining of Centrelink incomes.
Now she’s having a tilt at council: “If the town wants to develop and grow it needs an Aboriginal voice on council.” 
She says a lot of racism has emerged in town in the post-Intervention political climate, but she believes Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people “can learn from each other” and should “cooperate to get the job done”.
She values her mainstream education – at Alice High and Catholic High –  and also her family’s historical involvement with the town camps – she’s a “fourth generation town camper”.
But a lot of of the issues on which her background should lend her candidacy interesting perspectives are quarantined from our conversation.
She is campaigning on the introduction of town-wide recycling and wants Alice to be recognised as a “Tidy Town”, but she won’t speak about rubbish collection on the town camps.
Town Council CEO Rex Mooney told the Alice News that negotiations with Tangentyere about the Town Council taking over responsibility for rubbish collection on the camps broke down last year.
This came in the wake of the collapse of negotiations between Tangentyere and then Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough over his $60m “normalisation” proposals.
Mr Brough’s proposals, in turning town camps into normal suburbs of Alice Springs, which had obvious implications for local government, were strongly supported by the Tenth Council – in their statements on the issue.
Would Ms Shaw like to see at least the local-level negotiations resume, and a more efficient rubbish collection service established?
“If I was elected onto council, it’s an area I would look into” is as specific as she will get.
One of the issues in those negotiations was around funding of the service, as town campers do not pay rates. 
Should they pay rates?
“Town campers don’t pay rates because they are low income earners,” says Ms Shaw.
That’s true for her – she’s on a quarantined Centrelink income – but some of her family members living at Mt Nancy are in full-time employment, aren’t they?
“Only two.”
The Alice News raises her statement to an anti-Intervention rally last year when she told the crowd: “We are as normal as we are going to get!”.
Is this still her message?
“This [gesturing around her] is how I’m going to live, how I’m always going to live,” she says assertively, though acknowledges that her children may choose “better lives”.
But she’ll make no further comment on “normalisation”: “I’m not the right person to talk to about that yet.
“I don’t have permission to talk about it.”
From whom would she have to get permission?
“From my executive.”
Of Tangentyere Council?
Ms Shaw apparently sees no problem in that for her Town Council candidacy.
Controversy in this election over the NT Greens endorsing candidates has quietened with it becoming clear that the potential Green mayor and aldermen would not be told by the party how to vote on issues – a “conscience vote” every time is a matter of national Greens policy, they say.
Ms Shaw would appear to be far more fettered by her allegiance with Tangentyere – feeling the need to seek permission to even discuss certain matters.
This severely compromises the appeal of her campaign slogan, “Local knowledge, local solutions”.
It also implies that she would feel obliged to act in council on behalf a specific interest group, rather than in the best interests of the whole town – which is the purported ideal of local government.
The News asks her whether she would push Tangentyere Council to become more transparent including in financial matters, pointing out that, in contrast to Tangentyere, the Town Council’s detailed budget is available for public scrutiny.
No, she would not.
For readers who have never been to Mt Nancy it’s worth noting that it is one of the better town camps – its residents are mostly family members which makes for easier harmony, its houses and yards are in a reasonable state, it is not rubbish strewn.
In Ms Shaw’s front yard there’s a shaded grassy area, watered and mowed, with swings, well patronised by her children and their friends as we talk over a cup of tea in a breezeway alongside her house, hung with pot plants.
The News puts to her the advantage of Mt Nancy in terms of population density: according to the Alice Springs Town Camps Taskforce Report of June 2006, Mt Nancy has 13 houses for a population of 32 residents, a ratio of 2.4 residents to a house.
This compares with five houses in Abbots’ Camp for a similar sized population (35). That’s a ratio of seven per house.
Warlpiri Camp, just up the road from Mt Nancy, with seven houses for 80 people, is the most crowded, according to the report’s figures, with 11.4 residents to a house.
Ms Shaw does not respond, deflecting the conversation to short-term accommodation for bush visitors, one of the planks of her platform.
This is essential to help deal with over-crowding in town camps and with anti-social behaviour, she says
She’ll work with “stakeholders” to find a solution but is adamant that there is no room for the provision of visitor accommodation on town camps themselves.
“We are over-crowded already.”
Some camps have more land than others – is there room for flexibility on this?
“Not at this current time.”
What she would like to see on camps are official safe houses for children, with training for carers.
Her own is an unofficial safe house, she says.
Apart from her two daughters, three and nine, she has the guardianship of two nieces, 11 and 15 years, and her door is open to many other children.
She will also welcome adult visitors to her home but not if they’re drinking: then she puts them “on the first bus available”.
She’s a non-drinker as the result of a health problem but she argues for a “living with alcohol” approach.
This is Tangentyere’s policy, she says.
She is against the ban on alcohol in town camps: “People who work full time should be entitled to have a drink in their yards.”
Only people who work full time?
She qualifies this to “responsible people”.
She is against dry town legislation but says the 2km law should be enforced.
People breaching the 2km law should be referred to rehabilitation, she says, not fined.
As “the average man works 9 to 5” she says bottleshops should only be open after “everyone’s knocked off”.
Should there be an alcohol free day? This is something the Tenth Council has been against, but that many, including mayoral candidates Meredith Campbell and Jane Clark as well as the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, are pushing.
She hesitates and then says no, because “if an alcoholic misses out on their drink, they get the horrors and that’s the worst thing to do to someone”.
“I’d rather support Aboriginal people to live with alcohol than turn the tap off on drinkers.”

Council’s lack of will on urban drift. COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE.

Incumbent aldermen seeking re-election this Saturday have a significant area of unfinished business hanging over their heads: this is to do with the readiness of the town to deal with “urban drift” and increased visitation from bush communities.
The Tenth Council’s record in this area, the current impact of which many voters as well as new candidates see as their greatest concern, could best be described as being continuously on the back foot.
“Urban drift” was featuring in the public discussion about the future of Alice Springs a decade ago.
In 1998 the Alice News was reporting on key figures nominating it as one of the issues the town had to grapple with.
John Baskerville, recently retired as Alice’s most senior public servant and then Regional Manager of the Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment, was reported on February 4, 1998 to be heading up a project, known as “The Face of Alice Springs in 10 years”, to develop a revised Structure Plan governing future development in the areas of, among others, “the urban drift of rural populations”. 
Bruce Walker, Director of the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT), on November 18 of that year was quoted in a lead article on a “grim and grimmer scenario” for Alice’s future as “a welfare and service provision town, with the cost of those services, especially in remote areas, having risen, leading to an urban drift throughout the region”.
“People being people, they will follow the services,” said Dr Walker at the time.
“It’s been a pattern worldwide.
“That scenario doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for a lot of people.
“For business people it presents a local market that is fairly depressed in its ability to spend.”
So a decade’s worth of inadequate action cannot be blamed on ignorance: if you didn’t know, you weren’t paying attention.
The issue however was really “in your face” from early 2006.
Council’s head ranger was outspoken on the “huge increase in itinerant people over the Christmas period, and it’s still increasing”, reporting that rangers were doing “five river runs a week, when possible”, moving on illegal campers from the Todd and Charles rivers.
Rangers were talking to “80 to 100 people in a two to three hour period”.
The head ranger also reported that he’d been told by a council officer to identify two areas in the town with the view of setting up camping areas for Aboriginal visitors (Alice News, Feb 23, 2006).
Had he been successful and had his searches been accompanied by some local networking on the issues, council would have been on the front foot when former Minister Mal Brough arrived with his gift of ex-Woomera dongas and promise of large amounts of money and immediate action on this issue.
Instead, council had prohibited its head ranger from speaking further on the issue and had complacently taken a back seat.
Former Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin was hitching a ride with Mr Brough on this one, and the Territory Government took over the role of finding suitable sites, farming out the job to engineering firm Qantec McWilliam.
The move was supposedly being overseen by the Town Camps Taskforce steering committee. Council had representatives on that committee, including out-going Mayor Fran Kilgariff, but they appeared to be perfectly happy with a rubber stamp role.
It was only when Northside residents were in uproar over the proposed location of one of the “donga camps” adjacent to their neighbourhood, that council reacted.
They wrote an objection letter to the Development Consent Authority, but only in relation to the Northside site, leaving residents affected by the proposals for the other end of town (on Len Kittle Drive, next to the dog pound) out in the cold.
On March 26, 2007 Mayor Kilgariff defended council to a  public gallery packed with Northsiders by saying: “We had no input into the decision.”
No kidding.
The Tenth Council also carried through its entire term a completely inadequate performance in  relation to rubbish in and around town camps – the most visible sign of the apartheid experience of what it’s like to live in this town.
The Alice News put the failure of the Town Council’s Memorandum of Understanding with Tangentyere Council in relation to rubbish collection on the agenda in the lead-up to the local government election of 2004.
We were repeatedly told everything was just fine.
Once again it took Mr Brough to kick start a move towards equitable delivery of municipal services.
But with him gone, negotiations have collapsed and it’s back to square one. 
There appears to be no local political will in these areas. To go forward will take more than sitting on committees, writing letters and occasional grandstanding.
Could any of the aspiring mayoral candidates who are incumbent supply the political will and strategy? They haven’t so far.
Except recently, as they tried to tie off loose ends from the term, they supported a motion to “call on Tangentyere Council, the NT Government and the Federal Government to urgently re-commence planning and negotiations for the normalisation of the town camps”.
Could the non-incumbents? None have a strong public record of engaging with issues in this area.
It would appear that the best the town can hope for is new blood among the elected aldermen who’ll pick up these balls and run with them.
Being at the table to deal with the short-term accommodation needs of bush visitors and planning across the board for increased urban migration, as well as delivering equitable municipal services for all residents could go a long way to reviving hope in a bright future for the town.

Town needs deeper debate on anti-social behavior, say council candidates from different backgrounds. By KIERAN FINNANE.

As an “older aldermanic candidate”, Marie Harrison says her broad life experience gives her a valuable contribution to make.
She has raised four daughters, including the youngest who suffered from multiple disabilities. She’s now a great grandmother.
The pull of grandchildren brought her to town as a “grey nomad” some 12 years ago.
Here she got involved in the National Road Transport Hall of Fame (she is one of Liz Martin’s candidacy nominators, and conversely Ms Martin is one of hers).
She “fell in love with the town” as well as “a wonderful man” and made a second marriage and new life here.
Originally from Tasmania, she ran a small country general store there and in Alice works with her husband Barry in his painting business.
She seems to have passion for volunteering, having given her time to the Scripture Union bookshop, the Red Cross shop, Living Waters school canteen, the Dog Club canteen and the Old Ghan as well as the Hall of Fame, where she is secretary.
She sees anti-social behaviour as a top issue for council: she’s got no silver bullet, says “eight [aldermanic] heads are better than one”, but believes “the bandaids have to be taken off”.
“We’ve got to look at the wounds underneath, what’s causing the behaviour we’re getting.” 
Parents have to become more responsible for their children; town campers should be given incentives to clean up and maintain their living areas.
A pet project is animal regulation which would see all dogs being kept on a leash in public areas: she says children and tourists, in particular,  should not be subject to frightening experiences with dogs.
She’d also like to see council keep residents better informed about decisions immediately affecting them. She gives tree-planting as an example.
She saw a resident in Gillen uprooting a newly planted verge tree and putting it in his bin: if the resident had been consulted by council about the tree’s placement or type, this could have been avoided, suggests Mrs Harrison.
Council could also give its attention to the accommodation needs of older residents, to keep retirees from leaving town, she says.
• Lenny Aronsten, who joins Jane Clark and Lisa Hall as an “endorsed” Greens candidate, is a physiotherapist.
He has worked in the Centre on and off, including in Tennant Creek and Ernabella (in SA), settling in Alice Springs with his midwife partner in late 2006.
He is now the allied health coordinator for Ngaanyatjarra Health, based in Alice, and travelling into the Pit Lands.
He joined the NT Greens last year, though was already an “environmental nut” 20 years ago. For instance he took part in the Wilderness Society’s campaign to stop the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania  back in 1982.
He says climate change has moved environmental issues from the fringes to centre stage and he is fascinated by the range of people with environmental concerns and “almost an overload of information” who talk with him and other Greens at their market stall.
Taking his cue from the old environmentalist slogan, “think globally, act locally”, he would use a position on council to push for Alice Springs to have sustainable urban planning.
He obviously welcomes Alice Solar City but says it will be “green wash” if there aren’t changes to the ways the town is planned and its buildings constructed.
While planning powers may be out of council hands, he wonders how hard council has pushed for input into sustainable planning decisions and building practices in town.
“I’m not an expert,” he says, though he has had experience in the building industry.
“But let’s have this discussion.” 
He appreciates the concerns people have about anti-social behaviour: “People have lots of reasons to be worried. I’ve been assaulted, knocked out cold by a gang of youths in Darwin.”
But he wants to put the debate onto a more positive footing: how to achieve “social cohesion”.
Talking about the “negative symptoms of social disruption” can make “the many law-abiding people on communities feel more marginalised”.
“I’d like to see a more dispassionate debate, with all the facts and figures.
“Is the situation really worse here than anywhere else, for example?”
The Alice News asked him about extension and enforcement of council by-laws.
He readily admits that he is not fully aware of council’s rights and responsibilities.
“As a health professional I move to treatment following diagnosis.
“I haven’t made a full diagnosis yet. I’d like to see a brains trust on this, including people who’ve lived here a long time.
“But it’s often harder to be objective in Alice Springs, I think. We all live, work and play together, it’s easy to hear the bush telegraph and go along with it.”
Like the other Greens, he points to the honesty of being open with voters about political affiliations.
And like them too, he values the freedom the party gives its members to “cross the floor”.
He has, for example, a far more flexible attitude towards the Intervention than the Greens Aboriginal Affairs spokesperson, Senator Rachel Siewert.
He deplored the manner in which the Intervention happened, but says it made a people realise the old ways weren’t working.

Exhaustive preferential poll: you should be afraid to ask. COMMENT by ALEX NELSON.

The procedure for counting ballots and determining which candidates win and lose is probably a mystery for many and especially so in the town council elections.
This is because candidates can nominate for both mayor and alderman, and it is first necessary to determine who wins the mayoral race. This is determined by the standard preferential method.
All valid ballots are counted for first preference votes. If one candidate wins more than 50% of the votes – an absolute majority – that person is declared the winner.
The last time this occurred was in 1996 when Andy McNeill easily secured a second term as mayor.
If no candidate achieves an absolute majority on the first count, the candidate with the least number of first preference votes is “excluded” and his or her second preference choices are allocated.
This will result either in a candidate now gaining an absolute majority, or a distribution of third preferences; a process that continues until a candidate wins over half the votes.
This is why preference deals between candidates play an important role in deciding the eventual winner.
The method of counting for aldermen is essentially the same, but the contest is now for eight positions. The method is aptly named “exhaustive preferential”.
All the ballots are allocated for their “number ones”. If a candidate wins more than half of them, that person will be declared an alderman.
In practice this won’t happen (and if it did the silly duffer should have run for mayor) because there is too much competition for first-preference votes.
Now here comes the first potential complication – has the person who won the race for mayor also run for alderman? In the current campaign there are six such candidates.
Let’s assume one such has been elected as mayor; his or her first preference votes are excluded and the second preference votes distributed to the other candidates.
Now we have a mix of first and second preference votes for some, or all, of the continuing aldermanic candidates.
Let’s assume there there is still no candidate with an absolute majority – the candidate holding the lowest total of votes will be excluded and preferences distributed.
Now this unlucky candidate scored a few second preferences from the candidate who became mayor. In turn the first losing candidate has his or her own second preference choices to be distributed plus the third preference choices from the alderman-come-mayor candidate.
If still no candidate gains an absolute majority then the next lowest-scoring candidate will suffer exclusion and the resultant spoils of third (and perhaps some fourth) preferences are distributed.
At last a candidate has gained more than half the total number of votes cast; this person is duly elected.
Now cop this – all the ballot papers are returned to their first preference choices, with the preferences of the winner distributed to the other candidates.
If there are insufficient votes for another winner, the count reverts to distributing the preferences of the lowest-scoring candidate as described before.
Alternatively, a second candidate wins an absolute majority from the preferences of the first winning candidate.
Either way, all the ballot papers return to the first preferences again, and commence the next round.
With the determination of each successive alderman, and taking into account that every alderman now elected is excluded from subsequent counts, the allocation of preferences becomes an increasingly complicated simultaneous mishmash of third, fourth, fifth and more preferences to be distributed.
If two candidates place equal last, whoever came lowest in the preceding round will be excluded; but if both shared the same number of votes the returning officer will write the names on slips of paper and select one at random. This provision has never happened to date.
The saving grace to this mind-numbing exercise is that the actual distribution of preferences is now done by computer.
There is method to the madness: exhaustive preferential voting is a surreptitious form of “block voting”.
There are always two or more candidates that poll particularly strongly in the initial counts and, once elected as aldermen, their preferences tend to flow to other candidates of like mind.
Again, this is why preference deals are important.
Conversely, the method works against more isolated or independent candidates.

Vandals rampage on footy weekend.

Car windows were smashed, businesses and homes broken into, and alcohol, cash and other goods stolen in a crime spree over the Easter weekend.
On Friday night and Saturday morning vehicle windows were smashed in the Bojangles car park, outside the Post Office, in Poeppel Gardens and in Todd Street opposite the Civic Centre.
Another three had windows smashed overnight on Saturday, in the hospital car park, outside the Post Office again, and in Nelson Terrace.
On Sunday night two more vehicles had windows smashed, one in Kilgariff Crescent and one in the ANZ car park, while a car in Mallam Crescent was spray painted.
Meanwhile, on Sunday morning a security guard apprehended two men after they allegedly broke into the Northside Supermarket and stole a quantity of alcohol.
A third man is yet to be apprehended.
On Friday night / Saturday morning there was an attempted break-in at Smart Mart on Gap Road, and a break-in and theft of alcohol at the Touch Football canteen on Flynn Drive Oval.
On Saturday night / Sunday morning the Todd Camera Store on the mall had two windows smashed and the canteen at Arunga Park Speedway was broken into.
The canteen was hit again the next night, with entry gained by smashing through the ceiling and this time alcohol was stolen.
A cafe on Todd Mall had windows smashed as did Adelaide House.
Alcohol was stolen from the outside fridges of two residences, on Forrest Crescent and Cheong Street.
There was more alcohol stolen the next night from Melanka’s Party Bar (a 22 year old was arrested) and from a house in Newland Street.
Cash and goods were stolen from a unit on Pedlar Avenue and personal posessions were stolen from a dormitory at Annie’s Place.
There was an unlawful entry to a unit on Gap road and windows smashed at the Good As New boutique on Gregory Terrace.

A government without minders. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

On Saturday you’ll be voting for the government closest to the people, the town council, while the other two governments, the ones in Darwin and Canberra, are getting further away from us by the minute.
We’ll have nine elected members who live here, work here, are committed to the town, love it.
The NT Government has two members here, Alison Anderson and Karl Hampton, who each represent a tiny sliver of Alice Springs, and whose main constituencies are in the bush.
And Canberra has one member here, Warren Snowdon, for whom The Alice is a small part of his electorate, and turned in a majority vote against him in the last election. Mr Snowdon has had a negligible local profile since that time.
We’ve had a taste of government by minders since Labor came to power in the NT in 2001.
And now after the Rudd landslide we have it in the Federal sphere as well.
For example, we asked the new Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson, and the new Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin for interviews about the planned transfer of ownership of our national parks to Aborigines.
From Mr Henderson we didn’t even get a reply, continuing the conduct of his predecessor, Clare Martin.
When a government stonewalls for years questions about the disposal of the public’s prime assets, its national parks, to a minority, then that regime doesn’t deserve a place in the line-up of democratic governments.
From Ms Macklin we got a reply on the parks issue, 11 days after our request.
The response, which came via a minder, refused an interview, and contained this statement: “The Australian Government will move to schedule thirteen parks and reserves as Aboriginal land. This was agreed to by the previous government.”
(Oh, does that mean the Rudd Government will do everything the Howard Government had agreed to?)
On March 6 the Alice News published a comment piece headed “National parks ownership a measure of Henderson’s commitment to Alice” (it’s on our website).
It was a 3600 word summary of the parks issue, detailing the massive local opposition to the loss of public ownership, and the disgracefully clandestine manner in which the Martin Government and the Central Land Council have been doing the deal behind our backs.
Eight of the nine town council candidates for Mayor want to keep the parks in public ownership – only the Green candidate doesn’t.
The Town Council wants to keep the parks in public hands, and so do 75.6% (254 people) of the people participating in our website survey. Just 16.1% (54 people) were in favor of the hand-over; 8.3% (28 respondents) were indifferent.
We asked Ms Macklin’s minder, would the Minister give an interview on the points raised by us?
No, but she would make a statement.
The following is not a printing error. This was Ms Macklin’s response: “The Australian Government will move to schedule thirteen parks and reserves as Aboriginal land. This was agreed to by the previous government.”
A parrot could have done as well.
Thank heavens aldermen don’t have minders.
Local government members are accessible.
You can shirtfront them pretty well any time.
All of the encouragingly huge number of candidates were happy to be interviewed. Many promised to remain accessible to the public.
But all that’s an advantage only if the council grabs the bull by the horns when it comes to be the principal advocate for the town.
There are mutterings that we need a Mayor who can get on with the government.
What exactly does that mean?
Clearly the relationship has to be civilized and professional, but “getting on” doesn’t come into it.
We’ve just had a Mayor who got on very well with the Territory Government. She even wanted to join it as the Member for Greatorex.
Meanwhile The Alice remained starved for residential land, crime and anti social behavior were rampant, hundreds of productive people left town while unemployable people from the bush joined the urban drift, and the town remains exposed to catastrophic flooding – just to name a few of the issues on which the government is letting down The Alice.
Would the government punish the town if its Mayor didn’t “get on” with it?
Can it get any worse? Maybe. Our tourist industry may collapse altogether as the ongoing mayhem in the streets frightens visitors away.
The Central Land Council, for one, isn’t going to lose sleep over it.
It’s director, David Ross, gave a glimpse of his vision for the town in February, 2003.
Poo-pooing a comparative analysis in this newspaper of Alice Springs and the French alpine town of Chamonix, Mr Ross opined: “The relevance of ... Chamonix to Alice Springs escapes me. The parallel is closer to the company town of Yulara ... Alice is a service centre for a range of industries and home to many not involved in tourism.”
Does Mr Henderson agree?
Saturday will show if the worm is turning.
And the voters will send a signal on whether the government must work for them, or they for the government.

Everything old is new. COMMENT by ALEX NELSON.

On Monday last week an anniversary of sorts, relevant to the current council election campaign, passed us by.
It was on March 17, 1977, that a headline in the Centralian Advocate declared “Council will be increased to 10 aldermen in May”, advising the burghers of Alice that we were to be blessed with the presence of two additional aldermen.
Alice Springs had a fast growing population of about 14,000 although town development had proceeded at such a rapid pace there was actually a glut of real estate on the market for a time.
Today we have a stable population about twice as numerous in a town largely stagnating yet with real estate at a premium for lack of available cheap land for residential development.
Meanwhile the Alice Town Council is reverting to its original number of eight aldermen.
In the current election and the one 31 years ago feature an incumbent mayor retiring from office, experienced aldermen campaigning for the mayoral race – and a prominent small businessman with no council experience also running for mayor.
In 1977 it was local jeweler George Smith who won the election – he became the Alice’s first long-serving mayor, holding office for six years.
He oversaw the construction of the Civic Centre at its current site, which was officially opened on March 14, 1980 – another little anniversary date that has just passed us by.
The current election sees Mayor Fran Kilgariff stepping down from office. Perhaps the most notable event of her career in this expiring term was her unsuccessful tilt for the seat of Greatorex in the Territory elections of June 2005.
Who was the mayor who retired from office in 1977? It was none other than Tony Greatorex, the person whose name is commemorated in the electorate sought by Fran Kilgariff.
However, it was not for his role as mayor that Greatorex is chiefly remembered (he held that position for only one year); rather he had been the sole successful candidate of Colonel Lionel Rose’s ill-fated North Australia Party in the Legislative Council elections of 1965. (Incidentally, George Smith was a co-founder of that party).
Greatorex succeeded the popular Harry Chan in 1969 as the president of the Legislative Council until it ended in 1974.
Chan was the first ethnic Chinese person in Australia to hold such an office, albeit of a legislature without effective power.
In 2005 Fran Kilgariff had sought to unseat the then Member for Greatorex, Richard Lim; and Lim was the first ethnic Chinese to be elected to a “lower house” seat of any parliament in Australia.
How the wheels of time and fortune turn … but why stop here?
There is another interesting link between the current town council election campaign and history – it lies with the date of the polls, March 29.
It was on March 29, 1901, that the brand new nation of Australia held its first national elections.
A minor party which had opposed federation held the balance of power in both houses of the federal parliament – it was called the Australian Labor Party.
In the Legislative Assembly general election of 1977 (the same year that George Smith was elected mayor of Alice Springs) the ALP campaigned heavily against self-government for the Northern Territory.
These days, of course, Labor holds power in Canberra and in Darwin and certainly isn’t opposed to Australian federation or NT self-government any more – why, the ALP even seems to want to win control of the town council, too.
Oh silly me, I forgot – party politics doesn’t enter into local government in Alice Springs.

ADAM CONNELLY: Silicon Valley is also in a desert!

Do you remember what we used to do without all the technology we have in 2008? Cast your mind back. What did teenage kids do with their time before SMS? How did we do business without email?
I remember going to the Sydney Cricket Ground to see a test match between Australia and South Africa. It was the summer of 1997-98 and a handful of cricket tragic mates and I were ready for a busy day of doing nothing but watching cricket, drinking beer out of plastic cups and queuing for overpriced hotdogs.
The day’s play was great to watch. Glenn McGrath hit a couple of boundaries, then we ripped through the South African top order and after a rain break Shane Warne got his 300th test wicket.
It was sporting Nirvana at the SCG  that day.
Strangely though, the most vivid memory of the day wasn’t from the pitch. My most vivid memory happened in the crowd. When there is a lull in the play at the SCG the Hill is the first area to get restless. The Yabba’s Hill is like the ADHD kid of Australian sporting venues.
I remember at a one day match between Australia and New Zealand in 1993 being showered in a storm of beer and hot chip cups during the Mexican wave on the hill.
At one point I looked at the tide of garbage heading in my direction and saw a small child had been thrown in the air as well. It was quite a sight to see a baby two metres above the crowd in a sea of trash.
Back to the test match. The natives were restless. Some of the crowd was attempting to get the fielders in the outer to wave at them, others were trying to get another Mexican wave up and running. 
Then it happened.
From a couple of rows in front of me, the sound of a telephone ringing. That’s right an actual telephone ring – none of those polyphonic, crazy frog ringtones in 1997! Someone’s mobile phone was ringing at the cricket. 
A momentary silence falls over the crowd. Then, a violent verbal explosion – “Wanker, wanker!” was the cry, with everyone pointing at the man with the phone to his ear. As if you’d bring a mobile phone to the cricket!
Twelve months later I and most everyone I knew owned a mobile phone.
I’ve always been a bit late on the uptake when it comes to technology. I don’t have a myspace page or a facebook profile. My mobile phone doesn’t even have a camera and speaking of cameras I only went digital last Christmas.
So I may not be the most qualified person on the planet to say this, but Alice Springs should embrace the technological revolution. A group of business people in New South Wales who want upgrades to the Pacific Highway has turned to Facebook to rally support.
The Facebook group called “I Support Fixing the Pacific Highway” was launched earlier this week and already has more than 450 members. 450 in a week! It’s the future. No more letterbox drops and petitions on the counter at the service station.
We complain so often that we are unheard when we want something done. Darwin and Canberra are as deaf as my great grandmother after a rock concert.
But if a camp teenage boy’s plea from under the covers of his bed to leave Britney Spears alone can be viewed by millions, surely we can come up with something that will make the world look at Alice in the right way.
That’s the challenge for you citizens of Alice Springs.
Just don’t ask me to help. I’m still working out iTunes.

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