April 3, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Numbers of police "fudged". KIERAN FINNANE reports.

An inside source says the real increase in police numbers in Alice Springs is in the single digits, that is fewer than 10.
The source says an apparent increase of some 30 was achieved by restructuring of local commands in 2004. Contrary to NT Government propaganda this did not yield more police officers for the town.
Officers already here were simply added to the “establishment” numbers, previously well below the target.
Several aldermen campaigned extensively in the run-up to Saturday’s election on what they said was a boost to the police force in response to their lobbying.
Retiring Deputy Mayor David Koch says he did not know the 30 officers supposedly increasing numbers had been in town all along.
He said this week “I would have felt quite offended” had he known.
“We were under the impression these were new police delivered to the area.
“We could not understand why significant law and order issues continued.
“There did not appear to be any more police on the beat.
“It was clearly political fudging.”
Police Minister Paul Henderson declined to answer questions on the issue.
The Territory force is structured in three commands – Human Resources, Crime Command and Operations Command.
Formerly officers in Crime Command, mostly detectives, living and working in Alice Springs, were not counted as part of Alice Springs “establishment” numbers as they answered to Darwin-based commanders.
They numbered some 30.
In restructuring, says the source, they were reallocated to the locally-based Operations Command, mostly uniformed police, which gave Alice an “on paper” increase, while Crime Command had an on paper decrease.
This is not denied by Commander Bert Hofer of the Alice Springs Police.
“The net effect of the restructure was zero,” he says.
However, Cdr Hofer says there has been a real increase of about 25 to his command.
The inside source says new allocations, such as an increase of nine traffic police, do not necessarily mean that there are nine more officers out and about in the town.  Four of the nine, while they live in Alice, are on regional highway and area patrol. 
Cdr Hofer acknowledges this. He also adds that four of the 25 are allocated to duties in Kintore, Warakurna and Yulara.
One is seconded to the Australian Crime Commission; two to the dog unit; two to the substance abuse intelligence desk.
“But the bulk of them are in Alice Springs.”
This being said, CDR Hofer says he has also been allowed by the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner to keep five positions “above establishment”.
Establishment is at present 192, with “pretty close” to all positions filled.
“I always carry some vacancies,” says CDR Hofer. “That’s true for anywhere in the Territory.”
At the same time the Alice command has had to allocate six officers to the new Intervention police stations, but has not been able to replace those positions in town (Katherine and Darwin commands also allocated six officers to the Intervention).
The source says NSW Police publish monthly updates of establishment numbers and filled positions on their website, and asks why the Territory force cannot be similarly transparent.
Vince Kelly, president of the NT Police Association, says there is no doubt that there are more police in the NT and in Alice Springs as the association’s membership has grown by more than 100 over the last few years.
But, says Mr Kelly, establishment does not grow in pace with the new demands put on the force, such as the allocation of 18 officers to the “Intervention stations”.
“There are not 18 new officers to do this.
“Where are staff coming from? They are coming from front line general duties.
“Police numbers needs to be examined by an independent authority.
“The association has been caling for the development and implemenation of a scientific resource allocation model.
“At the moment resource allocation is subject to political pressure.”
Mr Kelly also says the NT Police Force is too small a force for the number of specialised units that have been created, such as the domestic violence personal protection unit, dog units, mounted police units.
“This kind of structure is based on that of much larger forces,” he says. 
Cdr Hofer declined to respond of Mr Kelly’s comments, nor to the source’s cal for greater transparency about resource allocation: “These are matters for the Commissioner and the Minister.”
The Alice News asked for a comment on the restructure from the Police Minister, Paul Henderson.
This was declined as it’s an “operational matter”, said Mr Henderson’s spokesperson.

Diversion for juvenile offenders flops. By KIERAN FINNANE

A business owner, victim of one of a series of break-ins in the CBD in May last year, says five out of the six offenders involved have failed their juvenile diversion process – designed to keep young offenders out of court by getting them to making amends for their behaviour.
What happened to the six in the course of their diversion was followed by the Alice News in a series of articles last year – on May 10, June 7, August 9 and October 11.
The business owner, who declined to be named, was told in a letter received last Friday that the five will now be appearing before the Court.
She says the five failures out of six “prove that juvenile diversion doesn’t work”.
She says she and other victims agreed that the young people be placed on nightly curfew, 7pm to 7am; be required to attend school; and to do 100 hours of community service.
She personally saw some of them breaking curfew and not attending school on a number of occasions, which she reported to the juvenile diversion unit (JDU), run by the Alice Springs police.
“It’s not the police’s fault,” she says of the failures.
“But the kids know that in Court they’ll get a slap on the wrist and get sent home again.
“They need to be made accountable, their parents need to be made accountable. 
“Parents of 13 and 14 year olds should know where their children are at five in the morning.
“More needs to be done to solve this problem than what’s being done now.
“I don’t think the community service the offenders do is hard enough, we need something tougher, like a boot camp.”
Acting Sergeant Paul Dixon of the JDU says diversion offers victims a number of opportunities that the courts don’t: opportunities to meet the offender; to hear the offender explain what happened and why it happened; to explain to the offender how their behaviour has impacted on them; and to have the offender do something to repair the harm the behaviour has caused. 
“I think victims get something out of diversion – it is not a waste of time,” he says.
“Some victims, who may want offenders staked to ant hills and covered in honey, will never be satisfied with diversion or with Court, as neither can or will provide these types of punitive outcomes.
“Restorative justice [the model for juvenile diversion] is not about punishment; it’s about effecting positive behavioural change.”
Offenders, after assessment for suitability,  participate voluntarily and can pull out at any time. Pulling out will mostly result in the matter being referred to Court, as will failure to complete the diversion requirements.
Says Sgt Dixon of this specific case: “Diversion did not fail in this case; the youth failed diversion.
“This is a very important distinction to make. 
“Youth diversion is an open and transparent process that involves offenders, offenders’ families, and victims working together with community organisations, government and non-government agencies, and any other person or persons that have been identified as being able to assist in developing positive behavioural change with our young offenders.”
Meanwhile, the business owner says she has had no trouble at her premises since the break-in last May.
She took out trespass notices against all involved. 
“I don’t have the problems I used to, maybe because I stood up to them and I don’t let groups in.” 
She is leaving town after more than three decades.
This is not the only reason to leave but it is “just one more reason”.

Ryan looks safe for Mayor. By KIERAN FINNANE and ALEX NELSON.

It looks like voters in Alice Springs have given new boy on the block Damien Ryan the town’s top job.
Mr Ryan had 39.7% of the primary vote for mayor, only 8.7% behind the combined vote of his three nearest rivals.
They were Murray Stewart (19.5%), Jane Clark (15%), and David Koch (13.9%).
All three were sitting aldermen on the last council. Voters were not frightened off by Ald Clark’s Greens endorsement – this is a far healthier proportion of the vote than the Greens’ prior electoral performances here (more than twice the proportion they got in Lingiari in the Federal Election).
There also looks likely to be plenty of fresh aldermanic blood on the new council of eight, as opposed to the former 10, plus the mayor.
Alds Stewart and Clark benefited from the exposure of their mayoral campaigns, gaining 15.7% and 12.1 % of the primary aldermanic vote. Ald Koch did not run for alderman.
They were followed into the first eight by, in order, Brendan Heenan, Barbara Shaw, Steve Brown, John Rawnsley, Samih Habib (incumbent) and Sandy Taylor.
Incumbent Melanie van Haaren, who was also in the mayoral race, polled poorly to come in at in 10th place in the aldermanic contest (seventh in the mayoral).
History shows that the exhaustive preferential system can knock out a candidate who has a strong primary vote.
An example that may not augur well for Barbara Shaw – who gained 5.9% of the vote, putting her in fourth place in the aldermanic count – is her father’s contest in the 1996 council election.
Geoff Shaw, president of Tangentyere Council and formerly its general manager, ran for both mayor and alderman.
Ms Shaw’s candidacy was also strongly associated with Tangentyere (see last week’s issue).
In 1996 Andy McNeill easily won as mayor but Mr Shaw polled strongly in the aldermanic count, coming in third behind Geoff Miers and Fran Erlich (Kilgariff) with first preference votes.
The final count of distribution of preferences saw, with each distribution, Mr Shaw’s position drop by one – by the time the tenth aldermanic position was determined Mr Shaw had dropped to 11th.

Queries on town council pre-polling in Alice Springs.

It is “best practice” and a “better look” for voters to be able to put their ballots into the ballot box themselves, says Returning Officer for the NT Electoral Commission, Bill Shepheard.
The Alice News had asked Mr Shepheard why ballot boxes used during pre-polling at the Alice office of NTEC were behind the counter, in full view but not within reach of voters.
Voters were handing their folded ballot papers to staff who were then placing them in the boxes.
Mr Shepheard said staff had been concerned about security of the ballot boxes given the “cramped premises” and high number of people casting their ballots before Saturday – twice as many as usual, he said.
He said once the issue had been brought to the NTEC’s attention, staff moved the ballot boxes to where voters could deposit their votes directly.

Minister Burns will not comment on racism fiasco. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Is Health Minister Chris Burns responsible for a department where inspectors turn a blind eye to the filth in the town camps, while nitpicking over minor problems in local businesses?
The Alice News asked the question but didn’t get an answer.
Hiding behind minders is the NT Government’s preferred way of doing business, and Dr Burns (pictured) has elevated it to an art form.
He and his minders do their best to conceal uncomfortable truths, remaining complacent in the face of multiple health hazards in putrid town camps in the middle of Alice Springs, while the department, via its environmental health officers, pursue a hard working small businessman next door over pathetic issues such as a single cracked tile in a motel room.
The Minister and his staff have become experts in obfuscation.
It’s practiced by tying up journalists’ time with futile emails, raising expectations of granting a requested interview, not granting it, and in the end, refusing to provide the answers in a manner that’s reasonable and in accordance with information practices in democracies.
For years now the Alice News (and other journalists) have been explaining to the NT Government that in line with proper journalistic standards we insist on talking to the organ grinder, not the monkey.
It’s not acceptable to base reports on hearsay, on second-hand information.
We need to get it from the horse’s mouth.
We have explained dozens of times that any answer is likely to beg another question, and that we have neither the time nor the obligation to engage in a drawn-out email exchange to gather information that it would take only minutes to obtain in a conversation.
All to no avail.
The following chronology shows how the current Territory Government runs its media policy:-
We sought comment, before going to press, on our lead story last week, “The agony of running Alice accommodation”, and more than that, we emailed Dr Burns a draft of the report, a privilege very few journalists would afford their political contacts.
The report contained serious matters falling in Dr Burns’ portfolios which include health and alcohol policy: matters of hygiene and proper conduct which, on the one hand, could lead to a commercial accommodation operator refusing entry to potential guests, and on the other, should surely attract some official attention in the interest of public health and well-being.
We had interviewed the manager of the Swagman’s Rest apartments in Gap Road, Rob Watling, and also the lessee of the Whitegums apartments nearby, Steve Smedley, who both say that they sometimes have to refuse entry to potential clients because of hygiene and conduct issues, but it’s never on the basis of race.
Mr Watling also pointed to the absurdity of his being required by environmental health officers to repair things like a cracked tile, while mounds of rubbish pile up in the town camp next door, the ban on drinking grog is constantly flouted, illegal campfires are lit, and there was even an instance of  two dead dogs being left in the open for days.
Our draft was sent to Dr Burns at 11.21 am on Tuesday last week.
Tuesday 2.37 pm, Andrea Adlam, the Minister’s minder, replied:- Hi Erwin, Just trying to get a handle on whether the Minister is  going to be able to provide a comprehensive answer re the health queries or whether someone from Environmental Health may be more across the day-to-day operating issues ... do you have an idea what you want / where you’re going?
Tuesday 3.12 pm, News to Adlam: Hi Andrea, Yes, I do. I want to talk to the Minister about the health issues raised in the story.
Tuesday 3.27 pm, Adlam to News: Hi Erwin, I’m not trying to be obstructionist ... I want to ensure you get a good interview and no-one’s time gets wasted ... it’s no use talking to the Minister if you want to ask operational questions such as what is the Department doing / can do in terms of the issues raised. Similarly, it’s no use talking to a departmental person if you want to ask about government’s attitude to the issues. If you can give me some direction on this, it will be beneficial to everyone.
Tuesday 5.11 pm, News to Adlam: Hi Andrea, No worries: Firstly, on one side of the fence the Minister’s staff is nitpicking about minor flaws. On its other side they are ignoring rampant, major health hazards. Secondly, are there rules about the hygiene and behavior of guests of accommodation establishments, rules which, if broken, entitles the establishment to refuse access to would-be guests? And if there are no such rules, why not? To me both of these issues require an answer from the Minister, as they relate to policy. If they are operational matters (in other words, policy is not followed), one can only conclude that the staff isn’t doing its job which makes it a Ministerial responsibility as well. Hope this helps. Of course the response is now too late for the current edition but we’ll follow it up next week.
Wednesday 8:37 am, Adlam to News: Thanks Erwin.
Thursday 7.44 am, News to Adlam: Hi Andrea ... please advise me by noon today when the Minister is available for the interview. Cheers, Erwin.
Thursday 2.10 pm, Adlam to News: Hi Erwin, Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’m in SA at a Ministerial Conference and have only just managed to log on. I’m told the Minister has spoken to you and told you that he is happy to answer any written questions you may have, and similarly to answer any follow-ups questions. So if you want to shoot the questions across, I’ll pass them on.
Thursday 3.21 pm, News to Adlam: The Minister has not spoken to me. My request for an interview stands.
Thursday, after the email above, although time stamp shows 2.50 pm, Adlam to News: I’m told the Minister spoke to you personally some time ago. If you want to send the written questions across, he’ll be happy to send you a written reply.
Does anyone get the impression that the Minister actually wants to communicate with the public on this one? I doubt it.
He has not spoken to me personally in these terms, and they are not terms that I accept: the Alice News endeavours to supply meaningful, relevant information to its readers, not the massaged “lines” rendered all but meaningless by political minders.
My request for an interview stands: his lips to my ear or I have to conclude that the Minister is unwilling to answer the question.

Call for conduct rules for both accommodation houses and guests. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

A charter of responsibilities for accommodation operators as well as for guests is being drawn up by Tourism Central Australia (TCA), the former CATIA.
This comes in the wake of international condemnation of the local Haven backpackers’ resort over alleged racist treatment of Aboriginal guests, and the dramatic disclosures by Swagman’s Rest manager Rob Watling about the abuse, vandalism and misconduct by some Indigenous guests (Alice News, March 27).
TCA chairman Steve Rattray (pictured) says: “It is a regrettable situation when an incident [such as the one involving Haven] has had such far reaching detrimental effect on the tourist industry.
“TCA is currently working with Tourism NT on an agreement addressing the various options for recognition of tourist operators, including membership of a regional tourist organisation.
“It will also clearly identify responsibilities of tourist operators as well as the responsibilities of guests and passengers.
“Media reports of recent events unfortunately may not have addressed all of the true facts, and as the establishment in question was not a member of TCA it was difficult for the association to take any positive action,” says Mr Rattray.
“TCA is committed to developing Indigenous tourism experiential options to enhance the attraction of Central Australia to all visitors and does not in any way endorse discrimination of any person by colour, race or religion.
“The association is aware of the problems accommodation houses face in regard to the behaviour of guests being booked into rooms.
“The damage caused and the unlawful occupation by additional guests is being addressed in our discussions with Tourism NT.
“TCA is currently looking at the requirements of NT Legislation covered in the Public Health Boarding House, Hostels and Hotels regulations and the Accommodation Providers Act and where we believe there should be amendments, recommendations will be made to the NT Government.”

Welcome to Abbott's Camp. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

A pile of rubbish next to a partly burned kids’ playground, a dead car: Welcome to Abbott’s Camp on South Terrace which shares a back fence with the Swagman’s Rest resort in Gap Road. The hundreds of empty VB cans are making a mockery of the camp’s “dry” status.
The drinkers are “mainly visitors” says Kevin Wirri, a tireless campaigner for banning alcohol from his camp.
He succeeded some years ago. Now, of course, all camps have been declared dry as part of the intervention, a ruling recklessly ignored by the temporary and permanent residents.
Mr Wirri, president of the camp’s association until earlier this year, is visibly embarrasses about the filth – paper, nappies, garbage bags, food scraps, dog feces – but he doesn’t know what do to. “Sometime we’re short of plastic bags,” he says.
But can’t he can buy a packet of them for $5?
There’s a CDEP worker in charge of cleaning.
“We need to have more meetings, talk about it,” says Mr Wirri.
Have Department of Health inspectors been to the camp? “No. No-one came.”

Heritage concerns oveer Adelaide House. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Adelaide House, closed over summer and subject to several incidents of vandalism, will be reopened but with substantially changed functions.
The heritage-listed stone building, Central Australia’s first hospital opened in 1926, was designed by the Rev John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).
Its own history and its holdings tell the compelling story of the development of Flynn’s “mantle of safety” in the Centre, which had profound implications for both the black and white populations.
The building is the property of the Uniting Church and the church council last week decided that the parish office, formerly in the building now occupied by Aboriginal Employment Strategy, will be relocated to Adelaide House, while the three rooms at the front will be leased out to community groups.
A coalition of mother and baby health and wellbeing services are the preferred lessees, in keeping with the original role of Adelaide House, says Rev Tracy Spencer, who job-shares the local Uniting Church ministry and has coordinated the development of a “business plan” for Adelaide House.
Visitors will have access to, free of charge,  the back verandah, an audio-visual room as well as the stairwell and Traeger hut.
These arrangements will remain in place for at least two years, while further work is done to explore the feasibility of the future development of the whole site as a museum.
A draft masterplan for this, developed by Phillip Drake of the Brisbane-based Atomiq Design Group, already exists, donated by Great Southern Rail to the church.
There will be new interpretive materials to tell the story of Adelaide House: these include a new series of films by local film-maker David Nixon about John Flynn; a talking book by local historian Megg Kelham about the first two nurses at Adelaide House; a replica pedal radio, created by local businessman Dallas Spiers, that can communicate with its counterpart at the RFDS visitor centre; and Arrernte oral histories of Adelaide House researched with traditional owner Elaine Peckham and others. 
Rev Spencer says the church will be implementing recommendations by local architect Stephen Lumb for restoring the original air cooling system, recognised as an astute innovation of the building in response to the rigours of the desert climate. 
A working bee will be conducted this weekend and Adelaide House will reopen as soon as a part-time worker is engaged to oversee the changes and then continue in a management and administrative capacity, says Rev Spencer.
The Alice News had contacted Rev Spencer about the future of Adelaide House after a number of readers expressed concern over the deterioration and prolonged closure of the building.
They included local resident with a passion for heritage, Russell Guy, and heritage campaigner, architect and president of the Heritage Alice Springs, Domenico Pecorari.
Mr Guy raised concerns late last year about the use of the building.
He reported that there were two broken windows at the front of the building (five more were broken over the Easter weekend just past).
He also said Aboriginal artists had been using the northern verandah for the past few weeks to paint (this has continued).
He said the verandah was covered in acrylic paint stains, mixed with sticky drink spills and the smell of urine (this continues to be the case). 
While the artists have permission from the Uniting Church to paint there, which Mr Guy supports in principle, he believed the negative impacts of this use arose from the dismantling of the seniors volunteer roster “which over many years kept a vigil that maintained a level of respect for the building as well as a presence”.
Mr Pecorari was aware of people late last year getting onto the roof of the building and trying to break in through the screens on the upper level.
And he said it will be difficult to clean paint from the masonry.
He said the building had become “shabby” since it lost “the volunteer base” who were looking after it.   
The plans announced by Rev Spencer should answer some of these concerns.
For a period last year there was a low key cafe operation, with a coffee stand and tables on the front verandah.
A self-serve tea and coffee tea hospitality area at the back had been formerly run by a volunteer group of seniors.
They also collected the $4.50 charge that gave entry to the building and its collection of memorabilia and archival material, although visitation was very low – fewer than 5000 a year. This compares poorly with the average 80,000 each year to the RFDS visitor centre, with a high of 101,000 in 1999-2000.
Rev Spencer says the church still has a 20-strong volunteer base, with eight new people having joined since last year. They run the op shop and  “will be invited to continue to exercise hospitality in the back verandah space, but opening hours will not be restricted to having a volunteer roster”.
She says “the recent petty vandalism” reflects the closure over summer, but the church needed time to come up with “such a terrific multi-purpose community facility concept”.
She says a seven year old boy was recently caught “by other regular lawn and verandah users after he broke windows on a dare”.
The police have spoken with his family.
“Other break-ins have resulted in cake and biscuits being taken and eaten, but no other equipment for the museum or for StoryWall has been touched.” 
She says the removal of Oleander trees along the StoryWall was in response to complaints about people using the site as a toilet.
“On investigation, we discovered that the new public toilet had been ‘closing’ at 6pm, hence leaving some people no other option in the centre of town when caught short.
“Since then its hours have extended to 11pm, but it was also recently out of order for over a week.
“We certainly need more public toilets, available 24 hours, or else more of the businesses in the mall prepared to let all sectors of the community use their toilets.”
Rev Spencer says the church council has also decided to apply to come under the Dry Areas legislation as a private landowner, in response to community perception of drinking on the Adelaide House site.
The church council is also talking to Peppered Black security, the Aboriginal Employment Strategy’s Cultural Ambassador program, and the police “to develop strategies to promote the site as a family-friendly and safe ‘sanctuary’ in the heart of town for all people”.
She says the police will “park” their police horses beside Adelaide House – the Town Council is constructing a post and rail fence for the purpose right now – and continue to patrol the site.
And the Town Council will also improve lighting at the rear of the site.
However, Mr Guy, who has a Masters Degree in Cross Cultural Psychology, says the new uses amount to a loss of Adelaide House as a museum.
He says many questions remain.
How will Adelaide House’s integrity as a heritage site – for example, “the patina of the stairwell, the floorboards, the former nurses accommodation upstairs” – be preserved?
How are its holdings going to be curated and presented to the public?
These include letters and many personal effects that detail how John Flynn went about getting the medical, radio and aviation mantle off the ground – “a legacy still at work” – as well as mementos that are continuously being donated.
There is also the diesel generator shed (which Mr Guy says served as a morgue) behind the main building where radio engineer Alf Traeger and Flynn experimented with the pedal wireless sets which were then donated to outlying homesteads.
He believes an original wooden aerial, in front of the “Radio Shack”, was involved in the first message from Hermannsburg to Adelaide House received in the early 1920s.
And he says the Radio Shack is full of exhibits not yet fully interpreted: “The church doesn’t know know what they’ve got or its history – I can vouch for that from my own research.”
He asks, where will the holdings that at present occupy the front three rooms be stored?
Says Mr Guy: “The Flynn Centre in Cloncurry would give their eye teeth for the contents of Adelaide House.  There’s an old desk from the Beltana Manse where Flynn wrote many of his letters to get the Australian Inland Mission into a position where the Flying Doctor took off from Cloncurry. 
“Do the contents have to go to Cloncurry for safekeeping?
“Adelaide House is the place to tell the priceless core story about the RFDS, with the RFDS visitor centre offering an additional interpretative space.”
Rev Spencer says the church does not have the Beltana desk. She says some of the current holdings are not relevant to the story of Adelaide House and will go into storage. These include the a collection of artifacts from an Australian Inland Mission hostel in Menindi in NSW. 
She says key elements of the John Flynn display – including his cloak, sewing kit and camera – will be presented in the room off the back verandah, together with the new audio-visual material.
She says the church is seeking the advice of curators on how to best present the material: “We want to present the storyline better than we were doing before.”
Mr Pecorari says he doesn’t believe that visitor “experience” can be replicated on high tech audio-visual interpretive display equipment.  
He says tourism authorities “tell us all the time that visitors want direct experience”. 
The limited access will be a “very different experience to what it was before, being able to go into every room, to see the old beds, to be in that environment”.
“It seems to be yet another step in this town’s seemingly inevitable march towards mediocrity.
“With so few of our heritage places open to the visiting public these days, our ‘stories’ will be all that we will be able to share with visitors to our town before too long.  
“With so little to offer, we still wonder why tourist numbers continue to fall.
“Numerous studies point to the financial benefits which the ‘character’ of a place, most visible through its heritage, can bring to a town or city.  We have destroyed so much of our town’s character, in the pursuit of short-term corporate profits, that I feel we may have sown the seeds for a very bleak future indeed!”
Mr Pecorari says the NT Government and the Alice Springs Town Council share part of the blame for “providing so little support to owners of heritage places and the volunteer-based groups that keep them open for the public’s appreciation”.
However, Rev Spencer says significant government funds are going into the preservation and future development of Adelaide House – an allocation from Museums and Art Galleries of the NT, and history and heritage grants.
Mr Guy dreads the “traffic” that will be created by the new uses and that “will continue to expand into every nook and cranny”.
He says any use should remain in sympathy with the building and its original functions and not become part of “a garish and noisy trend towards interpretative virtual reality”. 
“They’ll turn Adelaide House into an office slum. It’ll lose its patina and soul.
“This is dereliction of duty by default.
“It’s a barrow load of apples delivered to our doorstep that we didn’t ask for.”
But Adelaide House is Uniting Church private property, isn’t it?
Mr Guy says its heritage status, including the fact that it was built from funds raised by public subscription, gives it a public character and that the public should be consulted over the proposed changes.
He says senior citizens of Alice Springs, long-time residents of the town, are the “custodians of the history of the building” and in particular deserve to be consulted.
“This Uniting Church plan is insensitive and ill-informed, executed in secret and palmed off as a fait accompli. Rev Spencer is so vociferous about community use, yet she has rejected community feeling and enquiry for 12 months until she was ready to drop this bomb.”
He is calling for a public meeting over the future of Adelaide House: “It’s central to this town and in some respects, to our national character,” he says.
Rev Spencer says there has been significant consulation, starting from halfway through 2006, with people from the heritage sector, tourism industry, the church community and others, such as the volunteers. Nonetheless she would welcome a public meeting.

Alice Palace? Bring it on. By DARCY DAVIS.

Does this town need an Alice Palace – an ideal music venue? Where would it be? What might it look like?
I asked people from the Alice Springs music and art scenes what they think of current (or in the case of Melanka’s, recent) venues and possible alternatives.
“I generally try to steer clear of Bojangles and Melanka’s,” said Jack Talbot, drummer for The Moxie.
“Todd Tavern has had some good all age events, but it’s not the best environment for a gig, with the drunks and pokie machines sounding loudly next door.”
Singer Jacinta Castle said the performance space at Melanka’s in the Beer Garden wasn’t ideal “because you’ve got your back to the noise of the street and there are people wandering in and out, as well as having to compete with the ‘doof doof’ music inside”.
She performed at The Rock Bar recently and enjoyed it “although at times I felt squashed and a bit claustrophobic.
“The advantage of the Rock Bar is that if people want to listen to music on the stereo inside they can, and it doesn’t interfere with the live music out the back,” she said.
Jamil Stone, who works in the art industry, agreed, saying “we need a venue where music isn’t just about getting drunk and having a big party but something cultural and appealing to a cross-section of the community”.
Scott Large has been the organizer of the Bush Bands Bash for the past two Alice Desert Festivals.
While he thought Melanka’s didn’t cater well for local talent and their audiences, The Lane, which does, is limited by its size: “It can fit 100 people in OK, but any more than that, it gets extremely difficult and uncomfortable.”
He’ll be interested to see how The Rock Bar turns out but “it’s pretty limited with size, capacity and flexibility, and would only be suitable for particular types of bands and events”.
So, what are their dreams of an ideal venue?
“It’d be great to have somewhere outdoors, because it’s a very outdoorsy type of town,” said Jacinta.
Maybe the amphitheatre at the Desert Park will fit the bill? The Alice News broke the story last month but the government has stayed tight-lipped.
“From a performer’s point of view it’s good to have an intimate feel in the venue, but it needs a big enough stage to cater for larger bands as well.
“It would also need a good PA. A quality PA would be one of the most important aspects of a good venue, as it can determine the success of a gig – the performer can be in good shape but if the sound is crap it lets down the whole performance.”
Lucas Castle, a regular performer at The Rock Bar, imagines a venue “with a good stage and PA, with people’s artwork up on the walls and food for sale. A place that would attract the alternative and artistic community and could operate as a music and art cooperative”. 
To avoid noise complaints, Scott says the ideal venue “would need to be in an industrial area or be soundproof – it would need the ability to be fully locked and cater for a wide range of events and age groups.
“There would have to be experienced managers who understand the need for a variety of community events and fund raiser gigs.”
Jack sees the solution in a Promised Land-type venue.
The Promised Land was an old house on Stuart Terrace, converted into a music venue. You could watch performances inside where there was room for dancing and seating, but you could also go out to the large back yard with a fire and plenty of comfortable seating from where you could still hear the music.
It had a BYO licence and charged an entry fee of $5 to $10 dollars, depending on how many bands were playing. Most of the money went to the artists.
The atmosphere was relaxed and not too daunting for young bands playing their first gigs.
Unfortunately, after the venue was rented out as a party space one night, things got out of hand and police were forced to intervene, revealing the flaws of the management and liquor licensing problems, forcing the venue to shut down indefinitely.
“The Moxie’s very first gig was at the Promised Land and this was our main venue for the first year and a half.
“We were more than appreciative of having it as a place to play.
“Since Promised Land has shut down we’ve played a lot less.
“Something similar to that is really what Alice needs again – but better organized and managed.
“It would need a nice big stage, and a bar would be good with an outdoor area, plenty of seating, and a good dance floor in front of the stage.”
Catering for both young and old was seen as important:
“a place where not only over age could go but where the doors could always be open for kids as well”, suggested Jack. 
“Those over 30 generally don’t like going to noisy bars and places where everyone is getting smashed. This would attract a cross section of people from the community,” added Jamil.
Would the ideal venue necessarily be licensed?
Most wanted flexibility with licensing.
“I struggle to see how a venue that isn’t licensed, unless it was government funded, would be able to survive,” said Scott.
“What I’d like to see is flexibility within the venue to adapt their licensing according to different gigs and charge a fee on the door so there wouldn’t need to be as much dependence on revenue from the bar.
“Having underage gigs would then be sustainable.”
“Certainly being a licensed venue would be part of the whole atmosphere and is how the venue would make their revenue,” said Jacinta.
“If we had somewhere like Happy Yess [in Darwin] that would just be awesome,” said Jack.
“Happy Yess is a licensed venue but they also do underage gigs and charge $5 on the door.”
Lucas wanted the ideal venue to cater for everyone and have a licence which allowed for “young and old to come and appreciate the town’s music”.
A cover charge was seen as necessary for a successful music venue.
“This town doesn’t provide heaps of entertainment so if it was at a reasonable price and I knew that I was going to get my money’s worth, a small fee wouldn’t matter much,” said Jacinta.
“I’d much rather pay to see a band than pay to go into Melanka’s or line up at Bo’s for 50 minutes,” said Jack.
“I think that if it was a reasonable price, $10 dollars or less,  the majority of people would pay to go to a venue that was well run.”
“If you charge something small, between $5 and $10, I don’t see that many people would have a problem with it,” said Jamil.
While details differed, everyone agreed: we need a venue.
“We would have a jungle of awesome musicians, if only we had a venue support where they could perform,” said Jack.
“The more options there are, the better it is.”

LETTERS: System of counting our votes is abhorrent.

Sir,- I write this letter prior to the opening of the Council polls on March 29, to eliminate any accusations of “sour grapes”.
My opinion will not be changed by whatever the outcome of the election.
Thanks to Alex Nelson for an excellent explanation of the “exhaustive preferential poll”.
The current system of counting our votes is abhorrent. I have no argument with preferential voting but I detest the current system of preferential counting.
Any system that can completely remove anyone’s first preference from the process under any circumstance, and can then give equal value to their near least preference with someone else’s first preference (or vice versa) does not reflect the intent of the voter, is not democratic, and is in fact obscene.
The preferential system of counting we are subjected to is a statistical exercise in mediocrity.
Allow me to use an exaggerated hypothetical election of mayor as a simple example to illustrate the point. 
There are three candidates – A, B and C – one position and 3000 electors. “A” gets 1001 first preference votes, “B” gets 1000, and “C” gets 999.  Under the current system of counting, “C” would be eliminated, and his or her second preferences distributed as “votes” to elect either “A” or “B”.  But what if all, or nearly all, of A and B’s second preferences were for “C”?  How does the result reflect the intentions of voters? Who should be mayor?
The situation is a bit more complicated for aldermanic elections, but the same principle applies. (Alex, I believe Ald. Bob Kennedy was elected on the first count – in 1988, I think – and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen Bill Shepheard draw a name out of a hat).
In the 1988 Alice Springs Council elections, where 24 candidates stood for ten positions I observed electors’ 20th, 21st and 22nd preferences being used to elect aldermen! 
To add insult to injury, the aldermen were said to have received the required number of “votes”. My second preference, let alone my second last, could never be considered as equal to my first. 
How would you feel to see a near last preference on your ballot paper being used as a “vote” (which it is not) to elect an alderman? 
It will happen to many of us in every election!
A similar situation will occur on March 29, with 18 (or 17) candidates for eight positions.
A far better way to reflect the views of voters to elect aldermen from a field would be to mark your ballot paper with eight crosses, ticks or whatever, plus a supplementary to cater for the event of an aldermanic candidate being elected as mayor.
I find very few people have a reasonable comprehension of the current counting system.
Furthermore, on having the system explained to them, no-one in my experience has found it in any way how they perceived it to be, nor acceptable; they have generally been horrified.
Given that it is well known that the current system is best placed to preserve the status quo, particularly where party politics is involved, it will be very interesting to see who has the courage to make the change. 
But we should not put up with the current system.
Rod Cramer
Alice Springs
Alex Nelson responds: The method of counting votes that Rod Cramer recommends is a variation of ‘first past the post’, which was the system in use for town council elections for aldermen during the 1970s.
Voters were only required to number candidates equal to the number of positions on council, plus choose one more in the event a candidate for alderman had also been elected as mayor; there was no distribution of preferences. (There were 30 candidates vying for eight aldermanic positions in the first town council elections in 1971 – and only 3500 enrolled voters).
A related system is known as “optional preferential” whereby a voter chooses to vote only for those candidates he or she wishes to support (and preferences can only be distributed amongst these) – the rest of the names on the voting slip are left blank.
This method is used for both state and council elections in Queensland, and for the lower house of the New South Wales parliament.
A review of this system, conducted by the Queensland Electoral Commission in 2001, found widespread public acceptance of it.
Former Queensland Labor Premier Peter Beattie noted approvingly the next year: “The report says that voters are increasingly endorsing the reason why optional preferential voting was introduced – that voters should not be forced into voting for candidates they do not support”.

Sir,- The Camp Quality Ride a Mile for a Smile fundraising event raises money to help children living with cancer in Central Australia.
Children with cancer get it tough right from the moment of being diagnosed, throughout treatment interstate and back home.
It is a long stressful illness that may take over two years of treatment and a further five years of tests – during this time children and their families spend time away from each other, their friends and their homes.
Camp Quality has a holistic approach as we support all the children in the family. They all need help as each child is living with cancer and the ramifications of the illness.
They need a lot of support and something bright in their future and that is why Camp Quality is passionate about bringing fun and happiness into their lives.
We have an annual eight day Main Camp, and the last Ride a Mile for a Smile fundraising event in 2006 assisted with sending children and their companions from Alice Springs to the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
We had eight days of excitement and thrills, pride in other Australians, and had lots of fun.
We also fly our local children and their companions to Darwin for weekend camps each year to spend time with their peer group living with cancer. Parents need support as well, and families are flown to Darwin for a yearly family camp to share experiences with others.
This year the Ride a Mile for a Smile fundraising bike ride will be from Uluru to Alice Springs on Saturday, May 10. The major trophy will be for the team that raises the most money.
The teams are from the Alice Springs Fire Service, Correctional Services, NT Police, Australian Federal Police, Pine Gap, NT Emergency Services, and St Johns. You can support your team by making a tax deductable donation to Camp Quality or assisting with a fundraiser.
If you would like more information or need assistance please contact me on 8985 4433; mobile 0414 258 424; or email on
Heather Helms
Alice Springs

Sir,- In the past you have managed to spread the word about the AUSWRITE contest among your readers. It would be wonderful if you could do the same again.
We have extended the closing date for entries to 18 ApriI 2008.
Entry forms can be obtained by email to or by applying to AUSTWRITE Entry Form, PO Box 327, Mascot NSW 1460. AUSWRITE hopes to encourage writers and writing by the use of this contest.
David Knight
Mascot NSW

ADAM CONNELLY: Four years of sheer hell for Mayor.

By the time you read this, the biggest publicity exercise of 2008 will have been run and won.
The council elections were one of the most hotly contested races for the third tier of government I have witnessed. Eight contenders for Mayor and 18 people wanting the less glamorous gig as Alderman.
Why in the name of all that is holy would any sane person want to become Mayor? It would have to be the most thankless job in town.
The money isn’t that flash plus no matter what you do half the people in town will think you’re doing a bad job. Regardless of the rhetoric most of the decision-making will be done in Darwin and Canberra and you’ll spend most of your day listening to elderly people complaining about “kids these days”. 
It’s like putting your hand up for the job of being Derryn Hinch. And who’d want to be him?
But council candidates are made of different stuff. They seek the inevitable spotlight on their ability to do the job promised. They shirk not the criticism. They genuinely want the job in order to shape the community.
Australians are by their nature a cynical lot and Centralians are more Australian than most. We look at altruism and want to know what they’re hiding. What hidden agenda can’t I see yet?
Surely you wouldn’t put yourself through all the criticism, all the personal attacks and all the gossip without some sort of kick back. I know I wouldn’t.
I voted early on Saturday. As the doors opened in fact. And like you I had to run the gauntlet of people with their hands outstretched clutching how to vote papers.
I have a policy of not taking how to vote papers. I like to make up my own mind. It’s my democratic right, no less.
There is a strategy one must employ in order to make one’s way quickly through the gauntlet. It’s the same technique used for not filling out surveys in shopping centres or getting down the Todd Mall unharassed. 
Head down, no eye contact and a brisk, determined pace.
Do this and you’ll get to the end of the line unscathed. Stop and chat, smile or in any way engage with these pedlars of political paper and you’ll be swimming in a sea of Vote 1’s before you can blink.
Once in, I had my name marked off the electoral roll. Technically once the lady had placed a small black mark against my name, my democratic duty was fulfilled.
The electoral commission and indeed the law says that voting is compulsory. Not exactly true. Turning up and getting your name marked off the roll and being handed a ballot is compulsory. Actually marking a vote isn’t.
There has been the occasional election in times past when I have been tempted through lack of choice to leave the ballot blank.
I wonder if anyone else voted backwards in this election? I’m sure there are a small but significant percentage of citizens who voted the way I did. On the aldermanic ballot I was less sure about who I wanted to be an alderman than I was about who I didn’t.
So instead of putting a 1 first I put an 18 first and worked my way back to 1. It makes voting a little bit more fun, I think.
Using this system you sometimes surprise yourself as to who you don’t like least. A little bit like Australian Idol. Though mercifully Damien Ryan didn’t sing “the Steve Winwood classic Valerie”. 
This election I had my name marked off and the keeper of the roll asked me if I had voted previously today. It was one minute past eight in the morning. Technically impossible for me to have made it from another polling place in a minute.
I thought about explaining this to her but then I though that she’ll be marking off names for the next 10 hours. She’ll get enough grief.
Politics is a strange beast and when it’s local government it can be particularly peculiar. I entered a cardboard voting booth as another voter was leaving.
He had not been as successful in getting through the paper line. He’d left his how to vote papers in the booth, and as I unfurled my ballot I noticed something.
Two of the candidates promised, if elected, to carry out basically the same policies. Recycling, litter, and dry town positions reflecting each other. Yet one had preferenced the other in the bottom half of the pool and vise versa. You’d think they’d be allies. 
So congratulations to Mayor Ryan and those alderman that made the grade and commiserations to those who missed the cut. But look on the bright side, at least you won’t have people whinging and complaining at you every waking moment.
And that’s got to be some consolation.  

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