April 10, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Cops mum on numbers. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Police will neither confirm nor deny that its “establishment figure” for Alice Springs, the number of officers considered to be required, dates back to 2001.
This has been suggested to the Alice Springs News by a source who asked not to be named.
The News last week revealed that the figures had been “fudged” when some 30 officers, working in the Alice Springs region but under Darwin-based command, were added to the establishment without providing any new manpower to the region.
The source says since 2001 the need for police has increased substantially because urban drift – movement into the town of people from bush communities – has accelerated, and along with it, anti-social behavior and crime.
The News made two enquiries this week about the establishment, but did not receive a response.
Meanwhile police say a “three-day operation to counter anti-social behaviour in the town” had been “extremely resource intensive” – a possible hint that more police are needed.
A media release from the police says the operation which began on Thursday night last week “involved members of the Social Order Task Force, Property Crime Reduction Unit and general duties police.
“Over the course of the three days police took 190 people into protective custody for being drunk.
“Two were juveniles.
“They also tipped out 137 litres of alcohol and moved on 332 people.
“Twenty six juveniles were also conveyed home and one was referred to Family and Children’s Services.
“Identified hot spots were targeted including Hoppy’s town camp and the Northside Shopping Centre area where the vast majority of drunks were apprehended,” the release says.
“The Flynn Drive area was also heavily patrolled with large numbers of juveniles spoken to and moved on.
“The CBD area was also heavily patrolled by police, resulting in no incidents of criminal damage being reported in the area over the weekend.”
The release quotes Superintendent Sean Parnell as saying despite the heavy demand on manpower, “we will continue with similar operations at the identified peak times and will continue with extensive patrols of the identified hot spots.
“The large number of people apprehended for being drunk is of concern, as is the large number of young children roaming the streets at night.
“It begs the question, where are the parents?”
Commander Bert Hofer commented that if the targeted operations “should offend the sensibilities of some, then that is unfortunate”.
He was responding to a media release in which Vince Forrester, claiming to be “a Mutitjulu elder who has travelled to Sydney as an ambassador from Uluru and Kata Tjuta to speak out about the Northern Territory Intervention”, described the police action as flowing from “legislation and government action [that] is a form of terrorism used specifically against our people”.
Mr Forrester says: “Over 100 people were arrested in a military style raid in Alice Springs last week in a ‘special operation’ targeting alcohol consumption.
“Police have been given increased powers under the NT intervention.
“Reports indicate the raids were focused around town camps ‘prescribed’ under the intervention.
“The police in the Territory, especially in the remote communities, are acting like cowboys.
“I have had a shotgun pointed at me by police as part of a clear strategy of intimidation,” said Mr Forrester.
“Alice Springs now is full of many people who, because of ‘welfare quarantines’, cannot afford to get back to the bush.”

Red Centre triumph. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Red Centre will be among the top seven National Landscapes to be announced later this year in a joint move by Parks Australia and Tourism Australia to re-educate the global “experience seeker” market about what to do in the “land down under”.
In town for an industry forum on Wednesday, Parks Australia’s Bruce Leaver said promotion of Australia in the past had basically been about “refrocking the Opera House”.
Given that 68% of international visitors want an experience of nature, the National Landscapes partnership wants to identify Australia’s top 15, maybe 20, iconic landscapes, kicking off with this year’s seven.
The Red Centre gets a guernsey because it’s in the “drop dead gorgeous” class – up there with the Kimberley, the Barrier Reef, the Tasmanian World Heritage Area – and it’s got a well-integrated, engaged tourism industry.
“We won’t go ahead if there’s not local drive,” said Mr Leaver.
Tourism Australia’s Wendy Hills says it also responds to three out seven of the things that the “experience seeker” is looking for: Outback character, Indigenous culture, and nature.
Ms Hills says the test will be getting that Parisian who has seen the “great images and websites” to book his or her ticket.

Mayor Damien rules supreme - for a week. By KIERAN FINNANE.

For a few days this week Mayor Damien Ryan had the pleasures of civic power all to himself: the Tenth Council had been dissolved but there was no Eleventh Council.
Mr Ryan took the mantle on Monday morning, with his wife and children, a few still prospective aldermen and council staff watching on.
Murray Stewart, who ran second to Mr Ryan in both the mayoral and aldermanic primary votes, acknowledged the “tremendous effort” of Mr Ryan’s campaign.
Mr Stewart said the “determination” Mr Ryan had shown would be “good for the town” and he should be given “a go”. 
Mr Stewart had also shown plenty of determination but the final mayoral count moved the Greens-endorsed Jane Clark into second position, giving her a strong argument to become Deputy Mayor.
Briefly on the weekend those watching the NT Electoral Commission’s website thought they had a council ... or two, with the bottom placed Melanie van Haaren and Sandy Taylor changing places with Steve Brown and Lisa Hall in the aldermanic line-up.
In both line-ups Murray Stewart, Brendan Heenan, Jane Clark, Samih Habib, John Rawnsley and Liz Martin had spots.
But these early postings “have no status at all”, says Returning Officer Bill Shepheard. Until the declaration of polls, results are provisional and it was back to zero once he’d ordered a recount, due to begin yesterday and with results expected by tomorrow.
Mr Shepheard said an incorrect “data set” had already been identified when he was contacted with concerns about the distribution of preferences.
He advised those contacting him that there was no need to formalise their requests as he would be ordering a recount himself: “I have to be satisfied that the results are kosher and I can’t be.” 
There’d been at least one input error and “possibly another”, he said. 
He declined to comment further on the detail of what had gone wrong, saying that it would only add to the confusion.
Melanie van Haaren, who after a term on council was reconciling herself to defeat on Monday, was calling for a recount that would “match names on the rolls with ballot papers” – as there appeared to be “missing votes”.
The Alice News understands that candidates Lenny Aronsten, Marie Harrison, Heenan, Martin, Rawnsley, Barbara Shaw and Taylor had all had, on the NTEC website, their primary votes at the Yirara booth discounted (shown as zero). And Mr Ryan’s had gone from 100 to 55.  Some 200 votes were involved.
As well, the numbers posted for informal votes across the town had gone from an average level to a significantly higher level.
These are the discrepancies that set the alarm bells going amongst observers.
On Monday Ms van Haaren was also raising concerns about the eligibility of certain candidates, without specifying the nature of the concern.
Mr Shepheard said legal opinion had been sought at the time of nomination on the eligibility of one candidate: the opinion was that he was eligible. 
The News put to Mr Shepheard the subjects of other rumours flying on Monday: that drunk people had been allowed to vote; that food had been offered as an inducement to vote; that some people were being transported by service vehicles to polling places.
Mr Shepheard says there is nothing in election regulations that covers intoxication.
“If you’re eligible to vote and you report to a polling booth, you can vote.”
He also asks, if such a regulation were in place, how it would be policed?
With respect to the offer of food, he said there are offences under the heading of bribery, but what constitutes bribery as opposed to hospitality, being sociable?
“You would have to build a case.”
He dismissed concerns about assistance with transport: “We have a secret ballot. In the end people go into a polling booth, behind a screen and vote for whoever they like.”

Intervention: wins & hurdles. By KIERAN FINNANE.

As the 12 month mark for the Federal Intervention, announced last June, draws closer focus turns to what has been achieved.
The main milestones are being found in:
• greater policing coverage in remote communities with 53 new police employed;
• child health checks – 8274 in 66 communities as of March 26 and next week the follow-up “surgery blitzes” will start; and
• the introduction of income management – “quarantining” of half of people’s welfare entitlements for expenditure on essential items like food, clothing, rent.
Centrelink still intends to have income management “turned on” in all 72 communities “prescribed “ under the Federal Intervention  – generally those with 100 or more residents – by the end of June.
Introducing it in time is a big ask as it is not yet at halfway point: only 29 communities had been “turned on” as of April 2.
“We might struggle towards the end,” admits Mark Wellington, Centrelink’s national manager for Intervention operations.
The Federal Government’s review of Intervention measures is expected to start in July.
Will Centrelink be asked for its views on whether there’s a better way of doing business with income management?
Would the measure be worth pursuing and possibly extending?
Says Mr Wellington: “Centrelink is a service delivery agency with knowledge and experience of programs being delivered on the ground. When new policy is being put in place generally there’s discussion with us about how the process will be delivered.”
In some communities income management will be barely a month old when the review of the policy starts.
Indigenous MLA Alison Anderson has called for the measure to be allowed to run for at least three years: what other program gets reviewed when it is not even 12 months old, she has asked.
Mr Wellington says the anecdotal feedback is “that people generally like it, there are some people who don’t”, with Centrelink hearing that community stores are supplying more and better food, more money is being spent on it, kids are going to school, and school nutrition programs are in place.
“At least part of people’s money is not being spent on prohibited substances and practices – alcohol, tobacco, gambling, pornography,” says Mr Wellington.
How confident can we be of money going in the right direction, especially towards feeding children?
That’s FaHCSIA’s business.
The Intervention, or Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) as it is formally called, is being coordinated by the Federal Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).
The Alice News asked FaHCSIA about progress on a few of the fronts.
We had heard that a loaf of bread was costing $6.50 at Wallace Rockhole, where the former store had folded and Outback Stores, a commercial business unit of Indigenous Business Australia, had taken over.
It turned out that the cost was $6 – in Alice you pay around $3.70.
It was, of course, a mistake, caused by a “product scanning problem”. This occurred “over two months ago”, lasted for “a short period” and was “corrected as soon as it was noticed by the store manager”.
A spokesperson for Major-General Dave Chalmers, who heads up the NTER taskforce, says the price of bread in Wallace Rockhole is “normally around the same price as bread sold in the larger nearby community of Hermannsburg where there is price competition between two stores”.
The News asked who was monitoring the performance of Outback Stores?
We didn’t really get an answer to this question: “The organisation aims to keep the cost of food as low as possible,” said the Major-General’s spokesperson.
The News asked about the roll-out of school-based nutrition programs, where healthy meals are provided at the school and paid for by parents. Participating in the program is not mandatory.
The News had heard that only a few hundred families have signed up and that this is presenting problems at the schools – rather than turn some children away they are feeding all children, whether parents have paid or not.
No real answer to this: there were 20 school nutrition program contracts in place as of April 4, we were told.
These are servicing 21 communities, with a further eight communities under offer of contract. 
“Where issues are raised regarding the implementation of the program, we are working closely with those communities to resolve the issues,” according to the Major-General’s spokesperson.
Has income management been delayed in Yuendumu?
Answer: It is “proceeding”. 
“The Yuendumu Store, which is run by the Yuendumu Social Club Inc, is currently participating in a licensing assessment.
“Further engagement meetings with the community will be scheduled when the results of that assessment become clear.”
Has income management also been delayed at Tara, Willora, Laramba and Ti Tree because of lack of suitable food shopping options?
Answer: “Income management will be introduced in Tara and Wilora shortly with a Bush Orders service providing the principal food security for those communities.
“Income management will be introduced in Ti Tree and Laramba when issues around suitable shopping options are resolved. It is expected that income management will commence in Ti Tree in late May. A revised date has not yet been confirmed for Laramba.”
Comments Maj-Gen Chalmers: “In some communities, preparations are more difficult and take more time than planned to achieve, often due to pre-existing challenges people face in procuring healthy food at reasonable prices. However, my aim is to roll out income management to all prescribed communities as quickly as possible, to ensure that money intended for children’s food and essentials is being protected.”
Are there problems also in Tennant Creek?
The Tennant Creek Food Barn has not been licensed by FaHCSIA “as it is not in an area prescribed under the NTER legislation and there is also likely to be a change in ownership in the near future. 
“The Food Barn will, however, participate in income management through a centralised purchase order system.
“The purchase order system has been established through Papalu Aparr Kari in Tennant Creek to allow for normal shopping for all IM customers at the Tennant Creek living areas and surrounding communities who have nominated the Foodbarn for grocery purchases.”
Can station stores apply for licenses?
“Under the existing legislation there is nothing to prevent a station store applying to participate in income management through a Centrelink third party agreement. 
“Store licenses are principally relevant to stores on prescribed land, although the Minister can prescribe a property in order to licence the store, if necessary. 
“The Minister may take such action where a store is critical to providing access to healthy food for income management participants living in a prescribed area.”
In town, income managed customers have access to their quarantined benefits through “store value cards” allowing them to shop at Woolworths, Kmart and Coles.
The cards are only supposed to be used for essential items and those issued by Woolworths are marked as not available for the purchase of alcohol and tobacco.
Those issued by the Coles Group, of which Kmart is a part, are not thus marked.
The News asked Centrelink’s Mr Wellington about reports of the cards being used to buy tobacco products at Kmart in Alice.
“We have heard about that and are investigating that and hopeful we can resolve that isue,” he says.
One problem is that the cards are used by the general population – they are not specific to recipients of Centrelink benefits (Centrelink buys the cards it issues from the Coles Group). So restricting them from the purchase of tobacco products, for instance, would affect everybody.
Mr Wellington says the Coles Group understands the issue and “is trying to work with us to get a fix in place”.
Kmart had not responded to the News’s enquiries at the time of going to press.
The speed with which Centrelink had to “roll income management out” was one of the main hurdles in the implementation of the policy, says Mr Wellington. 
The speed dictated building on existing automated processes – Centrelink’s own pre-existing Centrepay system and the commercially pre-existing store cards.
This meant that Centrelink was ready to start rolling out income management in September, just three months after the announcement of the policy.
Another major hurdle was getting staff on the ground quickly, together with accommodation, transport and other support.
The organisation has put 137 additional people into the field in the Territory. Initially most were in Central Australia, and there are still 74 here as teams continue to visit the “turned on” communities fortnightly to make sure the process is working.
The cost of the colossal effort has been criticised, for instance by the Greens spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs, Senator Rachel Siewert, who, in a piece published by op-ed website New Matilda, put the cost at $72m, comparing it to $7m spent “on family-based programs and $14.9 million on child health”. 
The figure for income management is wrong, according to a spokesperson for FaHCSIA: “A total of $40.625m for 2007-08 has been budgeted for income management under the NT Emergency Response – Employment and Welfare Reform measure.”
Mr Wellington describes the allocation as “enough for this finacial year”. 
Sen Siewert also said that “those quarantined are apparently being offered no financial support, advice or counselling”.
This doesn’t appear to be right either.
Mr Wellington admits that aspects of the policy haven’t been easy to explain and the change takes some getting used to.
But he says that every affected individual is interviewed individually by Centrelink customer service advisors (CSAs) and there has also been a team of social workers in the field: up to 10 in the past, and currently four in Central Australia. Prior to the Intervention there were two.
The CSA interviews about income management followed earlier interviews that were intended to make sure that people were receiving the right entitlements.
Mr Wellington is unable to give numbers but said the process had led to people being “picked up” who had “fallen out of the system”.
These included people receiving no benefits and people receiving inadequate benefits, for instance if they were caring for relatives.
And of course in some instances, people who had been receiving benefits inappropriately lost them; for example, allowances paid for children who were not in their care.
He says Centrelink is currently undertaking analysis of the extent of all these movements, additionally “complicated by people moving off CDEP”.
On Centrelink’s use of store value cards Sen Siewert said “people travelling in from remote communities to attend the Centrelink office in Alice Springs, Darwin or Katherine have been forced to queue all day”.
A Centrelink spokesperson says the average waiting time is five to seven minutes minutes – “very reasonable and well within our aim for delivering an efficient service”.
However, the system has certainly added a workload to Centrelink’s local service, which for some time has been opening on Saturday, 9am-1pm, specifically for the issue of store cards, and will continue to do so for “ the foreseeable future”.
Has Centrelink had to do anything like income management under the NTER before?
“This one has been a big one,” says Mr Wellington.
“Ordinarily there is more lead-up time. But Centrelink has capacity to act very quickly.”
In fact its effort in the Territory has not required as great a deployment of staff as their intervention after Cyclone Larry in the Far North Queensland where they put 400 people into the field, for the first two to three months.
Centrelink is assisted in this capacity for emergency action by having a permanent national footprint – “with knowledge of people in communities and good assets”.
On this, will they be making an effort to exapnd their Indigenous workforce in the Territory?
Mr Wellington says Centrelink is committed to seeing “local Indigenous people as Centrelink employeees on the ground”.
Recruitment and training trials will run in the near future and will be assessed in September.

Goodbye to ‘the good mayor’. By KIERAN FINNANE.

It was not the occasion for a close look at the record: in an hour of speeches at a public reception to farewell outgoing Mayor Fran Kilgariff, only “the good mayor” was remembered.
CEO Rex Mooney and personal assistant Cheryl King honoured a great colleague and team member.
Tourism Central Australia’s Steve Rattray paid tribute to her community service, particularly to the YMCA, as well as to her services to tourism and recalled some fun times as a personal friend.
She’d left Alice Springs “a better place for having been its mayor”, said Mr Rattray.
Daughters Monica and Marion were touchingly proud of their mum.
Sister Helen praised her unflagging commitment to the job – something another sister, Ann, could testify to, by often being mistaken for “the good mayor” by people in the street wanting to talk about their dogs and footpaths.
Deputy to the Administrator Pat Miller, who’d known Ms Kilgariff since childhood when the town had but some 1500 residents, commended her common sense and calm approach.
Former alderman Meredith Campbell reached high, quoting former American president Woodrow Wilson, before reciting a rhyming tribute.
Only the Minister for Central Australia Rob Knight – a new face to many in the local crowd – went to some detail on Ms Kilgariff’s record.
Her role in helping win the Solar City bid, the upgrade to Traeger Park, the development of the Aquatic Centre all had their mention.
He described a “strong” and “constructive working relationship” between his government and the council during Ms Kilgariff’s tenure (not something that quite a few aldermen of the last council would agree with).
And he referred to her hard work on the less tangible matter of “changing the discourse on Indigenous issues”.
This last is an area that has contributed to a prestigious new appointment for Ms Kilgariff: as a board member of the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre.
Among her qualifications for the job the DK CRC’s media release cited her role in negotiating “the Memorandum of Understanding with Tangentyere Council and the partnership agreement with Lhere Artepe”.
The Alice News asked managing director of the CRC Jan Ferguson why these were cited as strengths in Ms Kilgariff’s record.
They are “good examples of Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people working together”, said Ms Ferguson.
But how effective had they been?
Ms Ferguson said their effectiveness was difficult to assess because of the way the Federal Government Intervention had changed things.
The Alice News pointed out that the MOU with Tangentyere predated the Intervention by a good many years: it was signed in 2000. 
Ms Ferguson said she was unaware of any evaluation of the MOU, that the CRC is a scientific organisation and she would not comment “when the science is not there”.
Now this may not be “science” but it is accurate information: the original MOU had an appendix prioritising actions.
The fourth priority was waste management and litter control.
This is as basic as municipal service delivery gets.
And it doesn’t take a scientist to see that there is failure on a massive scale in this area.
The Alice News reported extensively on the issue in the lead-up to the election of the Tenth Council in 2004 and over the following year (see our web story archive, especially May 26, 2004 and September 28, 2005).
The only significant action taken in the area by the council that Ms Kilgariff lead was after former Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough stormed into town: negotiations commenced for council to take over rubbish collection on camps and they collapsed when he left.
The day after her farewell the Alice News asked Ms Kilgariff about the success of the MOU.
She said it was the first formal agreement in Alice Springs bewteen an Indigenous organisation and a non-Indigneous organisation and thought it was also a first for local government in the NT.
It went “really well for a number of years” but had “its ups and downs”, according to the fate of funding agreements for Tangentyere and council’s ability to supply employment programs, such as the recycling of green waste.
It has “obviously been dormant since the Intervention”. 
Why could council not have remained on the case in this particular area?
Ms Kilgariff said there was so much happening, such as alcohol bans and income management, there was not room for attention to this one aspect.
What advice would she give to the incoming mayor who wanted to get this right?
“That he or she goes across to Tangentyere, to make a personal visit, start things that way”.
However, she said the situation will remain “very difficult” while Indigenous disadvantage continues in such areas as education and employment and “council cannot do anything about those issues”.
The News commented in the week before the local government poll that the Tenth Council had been constantly on the back foot with respect to the provision of short term accommodation of bush visitors and the delivery of muncipal services to town camps.
In the light of her new appointment, the News asked Ms Kilgariff if she wanted to respond to that.
She said: “I don’t think so.”
Of course, Ms Kilgariff does not bear responsibility for the Tenth Council’s record. As Steve Brown has said: “You don’t need to be mayor – it’s a good council that makes the decisions.” (Alice News, March 13.)
Over now to the Eleventh Council.

Sofa responds to bums on seat.

A sofa that “blossoms in the company of others” is the latest creation of Alice designer Elliat Rich.
The elegant piece is upholstered with fabric printed in sections with thermochromatic (heat sensitive) ink.
The design motif is the Yala, or bush potato, a plant that grows throughout the central deserts of Australia and whose harvest, by digging with crowbars, is the occasion for social gatherings.
In the desert the Yala flowers after rains; on Rich’s sofa it “flowers” when someone is seated there – with the imprint of their presence remaining for some time after they leave.
“Launched” on the web a fortnight ago, Yala Sofa is now in star position in Rich’s portfolio, tucked under her arm as she networks at the Salone del mobile (International Furniture Fair) in Milan, Italy.
In this highly competitive environment she hopes to find a company with the resources to put into commercialising Yala Sofa.
As the original involved meticulous hand-printing of eight metres of fabric – accomplished in Alice Springs with collaborator Steve Anderson (pictured above with Rich) – as well as one-off construction and upholstery, it cost Rich “an arm and a leg” and puts production “beyond the reach of anyone’s budget”.
Rich pays tribute to her collaborators, many of them locals – from Peter Latz who gave her initial botanical advice on the Yala to Anderson and photographer Steve Strike, as well as others.            – Kieran Finnane

Not another essay! Kids stand on digs. By DARCY DAVIS.

The first school holidays of the year have come for most students this week coinciding with National Youth Week.
The slogan for the week is “Shout. Share. Live. Unite.” After seeing various advertisements for the Desert Park’s exhibition of youth photo essays on the “Nature of the Desert”, I thought I’d cover the “share” aspect and see some of the competitive works by youth 12 to 25 years of age.
After some enquiries I was getting answers like a poorly written essay – they didn’t make sense. “We may have some late entrants,” I was told hopefully when I asked to see some of the essays. I didn’t understand, I would have been happy to see an essay that was handed in on time.
After leaving messages with various people and being referred through park rangers and nocturnal houses, I finally got a spokesperson not from the Desert Park but from the Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts.
“There hasn’t been any entrants into the National Youth Week Photo Essay Exhibition,” dropped those toe curling words.
Hearing those words spoken out loud made me realize why there had been no entrants. It was an exhibition, not a competition – there were no prizes.
No prizes, no incentive – naturally no entrants.
Perhaps the Desert Park thought that by including the words “camera”, “essay” and “exhibition” together it might sound like “competition.” But nobody fell for this crafty essay tactic. Nobody wants to do a “photo essay” in the holidays!
They want a Radical Photo Discovery Challenge or a Mad Sweet Fun Photo Party Adventure.
It was a big ask of the kids to undertake such a task and they sent the Office of Youth Affairs a clear message “no essays for fun without prizes” – I guess that’s the way the world works.
A more promising Youth Week event is the Small Day In at the Youth Centre on Wills Tce on Saturday. In the line up this year are Sweet Surrender, The Moxie plus newcomers who sound young with tears – Numb With Fear. The night kicks off at 6pm.
It would be good to see places like the Youth Centre putting on several Small Day In events throughout the year and assist in the process of developing local youth bands – giving them a regular chance to rock out in front of a real audience.
Rural regions will also share in the Youth Week activities. The InCite Mount Theo Hip Hop Music Program will take place from  April 7 to 11, developing the gift of the gab while learning the lie of the land.
Young people in the Kintore region will also have three days of dreaming and designing, involving games and challenges to build self confidence on the same dates.
There was a sausage sizzle in Yuendemu on Wednesday to inform young people about how to take advantage of Centrelink’s services (and learning the art of getting many free sausages from Centrelink for years to come).
So this youth week:
take a picture,
bust a rhyme,
dream a design,
eat a sausage
and practice rocking mosh pits
if you don’t have any problems then
you might end up like Amy Robinson.

LETTERS: The Territory’s education fiasco.

Sir,- The Northern Territory Government has known for the past ten years that education for most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is failing.
The causes of failure —inequitable schools facilities, inappropriate curriculums and inadequate teaching — in Aboriginal schools are also known.
Some 10,000 Indigenous young people are unemployable, unable to speak English, and are illiterate and non-numerate.
Parents are constantly blamed for poor educational outcomes, but the principal causes of Indigenous children not attending school are ineffective curriculums and poor teaching that leave them sitting in class year after year without learning.
Most Indigenous primary school leavers, particularly in remote areas, are at year one level and their schooling has, in effect, not been extended to secondary education.
The Northern Territory’s Aboriginal schools, known as Learning Centres and Community Education Centres, frequently include secondary classes, yet most have not been equipped to the standard of mainstream primary schools.
They frequently lack ablution blocks and electricity connections. Some have inadequate classroom space and many do not have the teaching equipment and materials — such as books, paper, and writing and drawing materials — essential for primary schools.
The Homeland Learning Centres do not follow mainstream curriculums and children are initially taught in a vernacular language.
Elementary addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division drills are not taught in maths classes. Children are not being taught history, geography or science.
Aboriginal schools rely heavily on Teachers’ Aides, many of whom are not articulate or literate in English. They are supported by qualified teachers who drive in or fly in to communities.
Separate curriculum for Aboriginal children smacks of apartheid. Educators who believe that Aboriginal children are so different from other children that they cannot absorb basic language or mathematical learning unless it is formulated to be “culturally appropriate” are perpetuating indigenous deprivation.
The Commonwealth and NT governments should:
• Standardise all primary schooling with fully equipped schools and full time teachers or provide boarding;
• Provide mainstream curriculums;
• Build houses for  teachers;
• Provide Preschools for more than the 4,000 Indigenous three to five-year-olds;
• Twin mainstream schools with remote schools to provide student and teacher exchanges.
Prof. Helen Hughes
Centre for Independent Studies

Sir,- I read with interest Rod Cramer’s comments about our exhaustive preferential voting and why he was not in favour of it.
The council election of 1984, in which I was involved, was on a first past the post system. I won that year’s aldermanic election as the first candidate “past the post” with, in fact, a majority of the votes cast. In the 1988 election an exhaustive preferential system was introduced, and all successful candidates had to go to preferences before they were elected.
Using his example of 3000 votes for Candidates A, B and C, what Rod failed to recognise is that the majority, that is 2001 out of 3000 voters, did not want Candidate C (who received 999 votes). Likewise, 2000 voters did not want Candidate B (who received 1000 votes) and 1999 voters did not want Candidate A (who received 1001 votes).
A voter may think, “I don’t mind Candidate A but I prefer Candidate B to win and I hate Candidate C; so I will give my first preference to Candidate B, second preference to Candidate A and third preference to Candidate C. If my first preference does not win, then at least my second preferred Candidate A will get a chance. I definitely don’t want Candidate C to win”.
In Rod’s example, most voted for Candidate A, Candidate B came second and Candidate C last. At the end of the first preference count, Candidate C drops out as she or he has the least number of votes. The voter’s wish that she or he does not want Candidate C to win is fulfilled. If the majority of voters don’t want Candidate C to win, then that candidate deserves to drop out of the race, even if Candidates A’s and B’s second preferences may go to Candidate C. I repeat, the majority of voters did not want Candidate C to win.
On distributing Candidate C’s 999 second preference to Candidates A and B, it would be very unusual for say, 499 to go to Candidate A and 500 to Candidate B and thus cause a tie, from which a name may have to be drawn from a hat.
Usually a more uneven distribution of second preferences occurs, say 600 to Candidate B and 399 to Candidate A. That means Candidate B, with 1600 votes, has more than half of the total votes (of 3000) and wins the election, even though she or he came second in the primary votes.
Rod would understand that in the exhaustive preferential voting system, an allowance is made that if Rod’s first preference is not successful, then at least his second preferred candidate has a better chance of winning.
An exhaustive preferential system is therefore the fairest.
Richard Lim
Alice Springs

Sir,- Visitors from the rest of Australia and other lands of the world come to Alice Springs to see and experience their stay here.
Among other things they want to see the Todd River (Lhere mparntwe) and walk along the flood-bed, which for most of the year is dry and covered by sand and fine gravel.
And what do the visitors see in the river? They see a lot of empty beer cans thrown there, and other refuse. That is not a pretty sight in the middle of the river!
The refuse is strewn there by both Aboriginal and white people, and left there. I have objected to this and have said, “When you leave the place, the last thing you shall do is clean up so that the river looks like when you came or better. It takes only a moment to clean it up again”.
Then the next visitor will see the river unspoiled and from the beautiful nature, as it ever was.
I and others have cleaned the riverbed up from the Telegraph Station at the north and to Heavitree Gap in the south, and what do I see?
The Todd River, as beautiful as it ever was, is in places again strewn with junk which visiting people have not removed when they left the place.
You just bend down and pick up the rubbish and bring it to the refuse bin where it belongs.
E J Henriksen
Alice Springs

ADAM CONNELLY: For the love of my sport.

As we all know, Alice Springs is sporting mad. Not just in the same way discount store owners are mad with their crazy, crazy bargains but clinically, mentally imbalanced.
Not only do more people play sport per capita than any other place I know but also sporting people are so passionate about playing sport. Just ask a sporting administrator, or better yet an umpire or referee. They will tell you in no uncertain terms both the level of passion and mental instability needed to play sport in Alice Springs.
Even big blokes like myself, relegated to 10 pin bowling and darts in most places, believe they can strap on a boot or two and take on a real and energetic sport.
For the past season I have been playing Rugby Union for the Federal Devils. That’s right. We are so literally mad about sport in Alice Springs we play one of the most physical of sports in summer. In an Alice Springs summer!
There isn’t a competition in New South Wales or Queensland that does that, even with less intense summers.
Regardless of what it says about my mental wellbeing, I have had a ball playing Rugby and being part of the mighty Devils team. I have not only become markedly fitter but have made life long mates.
One of the only drawbacks of playing sport in Alice Springs is that the tyranny of distance dictates that by and large we play sport in Alice Springs. Elsewhere town teams would play teams from other towns each week, leading to the infamous road trip.
There isn’t an opportunity for too many of these when you live in the Alice.
But when it comes to representative sport, we just don’t have a choice. Just as little as we look forward to driving to other towns to play sport, other towns don’t like the idea of a massive bus trip either. Sometimes, someone’s got to give in.
Well last weekend it was Alice’s turn. The Northern Territory Country Rugby team drove to Jabiru to play against Northern Territory City. Now as a kid from the city I knew that Jabiru was a long way from Alice Springs. I did, I might be from the city but I’m not completely useless.
But Jesus, Mary and Joseph! How far away is Jabiru from Alice Springs? I have done things that have taken a long time before. I’ve waited in a waiting room at a hospital, I’ve taken day long exams, I’ve even driven from Sydney to Brisbane on more than one occasion. But never have I done something like sitting in a coaster bus to Jabiru.
My backside has taken the shape of a car seat and I can’t imagine it morphing back any time soon. And with all the bumps and corrugations along the way I feel like I’ve had 40 hours of shiatsu massage.
We elite athletes are obviously concerned about our dietary intakes on a road trip. Can’t remember eating a vegetable on the four day trip. In fact I don’t know if I ate something that hadn’t spent some time in a bain-marie.
I now have profound respect for long haul truck drivers. These people move things around the country that otherwise we wouldn’t have and as I now understand they do it under arduous circumstances.
Having said all of that, I had a ball.
The reason we play sport in this town is because Alice Springs is nothing more or less than what you make it.
It’s a social community that thrives on the same elements as a good sporting team. Mateship, having a go and teamwork.

Back to our home page.