June 12, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Wake up, town centre!
By KIERAN FINNANE at the Planning Forum.

The strongest consensus at last Thursday’s planning forum, attended by some 100 locals, was not around “bricks and mortar” type changes, but rather on how people want to live in the town.
Overwhelmingly, the small discussion groups supported the need for enlivening the CBD with people and activity, especially after business hours, as well as a new focus on Todd River – “the town’s great asset”.
The question of where possible future subdivisions would go did not attract quite the same enthusiasm (see separate story page ??).
This was perhaps not what Planning Minister Delia Lawrie had in mind: in her opening remarks she told the forum that its emphasis would be on “the physical”, on what the town would “look like”, its infrastructure, and not on the “raging” social debate.
But true to her word that she would listen (Alice News, May 22), Ms Lawrie stayed for almost all of the day long meeting, a once in 10 year opportunity for the public to have input into shaping the future of the town.
In order to reclaim the Todd, there was strong agreement around seeing the carparks along the river banks removed.
A suggestion for activity replacing this usage was “your al frescoes” facing the river.
Another proposal was to buy back the licence of the Todd Tavern and convert the historic hotel to other uses, possibly residential and an “upmarket restaurant”.
This was spoken to with conviction by real estate agent Dominic Miller, reporting back from the discussion group he’d taken part in.
Suggestions for activity in the CBD included: markets in the mall on a Friday night; effective lighting; keeping retail outlets open later on Fridays and Saturdays; upgrading pedestrian links; “no more didge shops” – make it a space for locals; a deckchair cinema; bringing events like the Beanie Festival into the mall.
The mall needs the necessary infrastructure to run such activities – better access to power and lighting.
A bigger impact idea was to reclaim the Hartley Street carpark (council-owned land) as a “town commonage”.
A variant was to “open up” the carpark – presumably changing the use of only part of it.
Carparking could be moved to the Western Precinct on the opposite side of the Stuart Highway, with regular mini-bus connections and shaded walkways into the CBD.
There were conflicting ideas about any change to building height restrictions. Restrictions were hard fought for in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties, but is there a case to revisit them?
Currently the height is restricted to 8.5 metres for a two storey building; 14 metres for three storeys. 
The Department of Planning and Infrastructure’s Peter Somerville said there were only three buildings in the CBD at the old height limit of 12 metres – Alice Plaza and the Aurora Hotel in Todd Mall, with the Greatorex Building coming close.
Some people argued for possibly going to five storeys, with a proviso that three of the levels be used as residences, in order to encourage “inner city living”. (There was wide support for having more people live in the CBD, seen as a strategy to solve  “social problems”. One suggestion was to offer concessions to this kind of development.)
Others thought that building heights should be treated on merit in proposals that addressed some environmental benefit such as carbon neutrality (zero greenhouse emissions). 
Yet others asked why have the debate, when there are few examples of even the current allowable heights being taken advantage of.
Landscaping and beautification got lots of mentions. This included management of trees, provision of shade and seating as well as cleaning up.
Other ideas:-
• open up the northern end of the mall to one-way traffic;
• other north-south streets in the CBD to become one-way to “pacify traffic”;
• extend the southern end as far as the council lawns to make them more accessible for lunchtime relaxation (which would mean not watering during the day);
• active shop frontages on the mall (many of the shops in the Alice Plaza are closed on the mall side);
• a non-commercial Indigenous art gallery “to whet appetites” for Indigenous cultural products (another perhaps unexpected suggestion spoken to by Dominic Miller, supported also by the local Chamber of Commerce chair, Terry Lillis);
• take a more active role to manage the currently neglected sacred sites – apart from their importance to the traditional owners, they help give the town its character;
• encourage youth into the CBD by having things there for them to do, including a skatepark (the latter, a suggestion by a 20-year-old participant, no doubt the youngest at the forum);
• turn resources being spent on monitoring CCTV (likely to yield no more than an extensive photo library “of youths in hooded jackets”) to more useful and creative purposes;
• create vibrant spaces with public art, well supported by policy;
• traffic management and carparking were generally concerns;
• create connecting walkways, walkable streets;
• link the CBD areas with the Todd, the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, Annie Meyer Hill, Billygoat Hill and Anzac Hill.
• have story-telling signage and interpretation of natural features;
• redevelop the Post Office building and the walkway at its side.
A summary of the ideas to emerge from the forum will be put to youth attending Mayor Damien Ryan’s Youth Forum at the Civic Centre next Tuesday.
Youth responses will be forwarded to Ms Lawrie. 

Living in the city

The forum gave strong support for more residents to live in the CBD. Art dealer Michael Hollow (pictured) together with wife Shirley and son Nicholas are some of the few who do, above their gallery at the southern end of Todd Mall for almost 20 years. It’s a lifestyle Mr Hollow describes as close to perfection: everything you need is within walking distance. Their presence is a deterrent to break-ins but there’s nothing you can do about the odd broken window, he says. And noise you get used to: “Just turn the telly up.”

Grey nomads keep on truckin’ on. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Brendan Heenan takes seriously the old adage that when you’re in the hospitality business, it’s a good idea to be hospitable.
Every Sunday morning for the past 10 years he’s been serving pancake breakfasts to the guests at his MacDonnell Range Holiday Park, “the Territory’s most award winning”, according to his pitch.
The guests are mostly grey nomads, tell Mr Heenan (pictured at right, centre) they love the pancakes, are surprised to be getting something for free, and many take his picture at the two square meter gas heated plate mounted on a trailer, steam rising as he pours another pancake on the barbie.
Mr Heenan’s making the stuff in serious quantities: he gets 110 pancakes to a bucket of mix.
Last Sunday, with Finke spectators and competitors in town, and the high tourism season getting under way, he and two helpers went through three and a half buckets.
It’s a get to know each other function for his customers at the outdoor covered eating area in the middle of the park.
When you get your pancake – second helpings seem to be no worries – you also get a sticker for your chest, with your Christian name and home town.
The park can take up to 1100 guests and is almost full.
And surprisingly, hardly anyone is using the “f” word – fuel.
“People are planning their trips a year in advance, and they won’t be put off by higher fuel costs,” says Brendan.
He says the peak season – June and July – is unfolding without any drop-off, with Victorians the biggest group.
Tourism Central Australia CEO Peter Grigg, fresh back from the Caravan and Camping Show, is corroborating Mr Heenan’s story.
Mr Grigg says he and three other representatives from Central Australia spoke to many of the 18,000 people visiting the show every day.
“Not one of them said the price of fuel is a deterrent to travel,” he says.
“They are looking at other ways to save money on the road.”
This could be cutting back on attractions, and patronizing free ones, such as the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park.
Mr Grigg says we need new strategies to keep the self drive market in the region.
The modern rigs – the dearest one at the show was priced at $1m – are “the Swiss Army Knife of motor travel.
“They’ve got everything that opens and shuts.”
These vehicles are the biggest single expenditure for retirees.
Being fully self contained enables caravanners to camp on the road, out of town, saving $25 to $30 a night.
Three or four nights of “bush camping” amounts to $100 – half a tank of fuel for a typical caravan or motor home.
And tourists from Europe who hire vans or motor homes here aren’t fazed: fuel where they come from is still more expensive.
Elsewhere in the tourist industry the picture is less rosy. 
According to the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC), “Qantas’ decision to slash international air services to Japan demonstrates the extent of the disaster confronting the Australian tourism industry in the next 12 months due to fuel price increases.”
ATEC is calling for a rescue package, including direct financial incentives for Australians to take a holiday within Australia, as occurred after September 11 and the collapse of Ansett.
“We have seen a deluge of tourism strategies from all sorts of governments, but we don’t need more process – we need immediate and direct financial aid,” says ATEC managing director Matthew Hingerty.
“Governments have been living off the fat of our endeavours through the GST we harvest, and other taxes and charges, and it is time they put something back.”
Mr Hingerty said $50 million over and above what was promised during the Federal election should immediately be injected into the Export Market Development Grants Scheme to help businesses to trade their way out of trouble.

Mayor to query ministers over ‘filth’ in town camps. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan says he will this week raise the unacceptable conditions in the town camps with the NT Ministers for Central Australia and for Health, Rob Knight and Chris Burns, and ask them what they are doing “to overcome this problem”.
Dr Burns has not responded to requests for comment from the Alice Springs News.
Mr Ryan was commenting on last week’s lead story in the News headed “Filth in town camps: Govt turns blind eye,” reporting that the NT Department of Health “did not take responsibility for preventing health hazards” in many of the 18 camps.
While government health inspectors are frequently alleged to be dealing with trifling issues, such as cracked tiles, they do not operate in the camps despite their parlous state.
The department said the responsibility for monitoring health hazards in the camps lies with Tangentyere Council, an Aboriginal organization funded mostly from Canberra to provide municipal style services to the camps.
“I agree with the headline,” says Mr Ryan.
“There is filth in town camps. 
“It saddens me to see people living in these conditions.
“I am sure my fellow aldermen are also aware of this problem.”
However, Mr Ryan says although the camps are inside the municipal boundaries, the council has no powers within the camps, unless invited or requested to enter them, as was the case in the preceding week when council rangers assisted to remove and destroy dogs after the mauling of a woman.
The camp residents vote in council elections but do not pay rates because the camps are regarded as charitable institutions.
A memorandum of understanding between the town council and Tangentyere has been under review since the election of 11th council in March.
David Koch, Deputy Mayor until the elections, says the council for some years contracted to the NT Government for the health inspection service until about four years ago. The council employed two inspectors, the same number the NT Government apparently now has in Alice.
The council rangers had an informal relationship with Tangentyere, urging them from time to time it to clean up the camps.
Mr Koch says this had worked reasonably well.
The council terminated the contract because, he says, it lost $85,000 a year on the contract.
He says the council did not comply with government suggestions to save money by scaling back inspections.
“They said we were over servicing,” says Mr Koch. “We did not agree.”

Design for people and streets - not buildings. By KIERAN FINNANE at the Planning Forum.

The atmosphere at the planning forum was more optimistic than expected, and the many practical suggestions coming from participants about how we could create better ways of living in our town underlined a strong local commitment to the place.
There were some standout contributions from speakers that contributed to this positive impression.
Lhere Artepe CEO Darryl Pearce’s acknowledgment of the “additional owners” was one.
This was more than a joke to pave the way for the clearest public discussion yet about the intention of the native title holder body to lodge further native title claims over unclaimed land within the Alice Springs municipality and, where native title has been extinguished since 1975, pursue compensation as is their right under the Native Title Act.
A successful claim doesn’t mean that land will be taken away from anybody; it simply means that government, not the Town Council, will have to pay just terms compensation, said Mr Pearce.
He went on to talk about the non-Arrernte people “sharing this space” and the need to “create an environment where everyone is welcome”.
Lhere Artepe’s vision is of an “integrated community” where traditional owners are recognised and there is respect for their “cultural landscape”.
But Mr Pearce also spoke of the cultural landscape engaging both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in this environment, particularly the river which he described as “as the backbone of Alice Springs”, lhere being an Arrernte word for river, and artepe, for backbone.
He called for the engagement of the town with Aboriginal people “to change significantly”.
He said: “Creating an environment of hostility won’t solve the problem.”
Traditional and “additional” owners need to work together, said Mr Pearce, recognising the long relationship between the Arrernte and the “historical” non-Aboriginal people of the town.
“We just don’t want you to turn into the hysterical people,” he said.
And indeed there was little sign of anything that could be described as “hysterical” or hostile in the subsequent discussions of the day. 
Mr Pearce’s comments lent specific content to Professor Paul Carter’s inspiring but somewhat elusive phrase “memory of hope” that also lingered through the later discussions.
Just as did Professor Rob Adams’ example of the flower-stall holder on a city corner in Melbourne.
Prof Adams has been involved with a vast revitalisation program in inner Melbourne – turning it into a 24-hour city but one that still looks like Melbourne.
The flower-stall holder was one small but effective step towards making one of the city’s public spaces safer.
Low rent for the concession was made conditional on the stall staying open late at night, to 10.30pm.
The stall-holder became “a passive policeman”, said Prof Adams.
His presence and that of his customers deterred behaviour that may have occurred if that street corner had been deserted.
The example was a particularly hopeful one because it is so within grasp.
A flower stall may not be quite the thing in Alice, but what about a coffee cart, or a pancake or noodle stall, or in summer, an icecream stand, or numbers of all of these, with some bushfoods touches thrown in – along the mall at night or along the reclaimed riverbanks?
New “place-making” with steps like the flower-stall does not need to cost mega-bucks, which in any case show no sign of materialising any time soon.
It does not need master-planning in the traditional sense, “underwritten by an immense weight of technical reports”, as Prof Carter emphasised.
Places are “made after their stories”, said Prof Carter, borrowing the phrase from the late Geoffrey Bardon.
Alice has become a place of “headworks” – where there’s intellectual and social capital, discourse and dialogue but not the necessary “heartworks”.
Story-telling heartworks are paradoxically more essential than ever in the age of globalisation, to spell out the distinct reasons for coming to and living in a place.
There are stories in our heritage, in the cultural landscape that surrounds us, but they’ve gone underground: if the connection with them is not made, if they’re not brought to the surface again through our place-making, the places will “fall silent”.
Prof Adams showed examples of cities around the world that have realised this and moved to let their places speak again.
An almost literal example was the revitalisation of the Temple Bar area in Dublin.
The area was earmarked for a make-over and as plans were developed, students were allowed to move in on short-term leases.
They brought with them the vitality and the creative culture that the unsuspecting planners were after; this was recognised and has been strengthened since by the establishment of 12 cultural institutions in the area, said Prof Adams.
Given the emphasis throughout the forum on the Todd River, Prof Adams’s example from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, was especially relevant: they restored a stream that had been lost beneath a massive freeway overpass, creating a breathing space for pedestrians in their busy city.
Prof Adams emphasised the importance of “working with what we’ve got”, saying that 80 to 90% of the infrastructure we’ve got now will still exist in 2020.
His virtual tour of cities around the globe, including Melbourne in Australia, revealed example after example of planners committing to “liveability” as the guiding principle to improving the urban environment. 
Sometimes the examples did involve taking new directions, with one having particular resonance for Alice as a “solar city”: the failed shipping city of Malmo in Sweden built a “zero carbon emissions piece of a city” accommodating 120 people per hectare, which has become a significant drawcard for visitors.
Melbourne’s City Square was revitalised (demonstrated by the return of people using it as public space) by selling half of it for the development of a hotel and using the proceeds to buy a theatre for landscaping and artworks.
The improvements to Melbourne’s central district went hand in hand with residents coming back to live in the city. Residential accommodation was virtually non-existent in the “CBD” (these days in Melbourne called a “central activities district” rather than a central business district) in the 1980s, while in 2004 there were close to 10,000 residential units there. And the number of bars, cafes and restaurants doubled between 1998 and 2004.
“Design a good street and you’ll design a good city” was his maxim for planning.
And the simplest way to do that is to “plant a tree”.
“Record the changes, start now,” he urged.
Specifically on Alice Springs He said governments could not solve the problem of low-income housing, contrasting examples of failed high-rise housing estates with the initiatives of people in squatter settlements in Zimbabwe to improve their own housing over time.
He said we were “missing an opportunity” on the town camps to get houses improved over time by camp inhabitants, by supporting them with initiatives like micro-loans.
“We’re looking for big solutions when the solutions are already here.”
Minimise roads, he urged.
There had been a demand from the floor for a planned dual carriageway along Larapinta Drive to become a reality.
It is still on the planning agenda, confirmed DPI’s Peter Somerville.
But Prof Adams said it’s not needed.
Spending a couple of minutes more in your car does not warrant spending millions of dollars on more asphalt, he said – there are greater priorities.
“Become the first city to become carbon neutral,” he challenged.
“You can do it more easily than a lot of other cities.
“Everyone will come to see you.”

Larapinta, Undoolya, Sadadeen not favoured for future housing. By KIERAN FINNANE at the Planning Forum.

The Town Council wants new subdivision activity: it’s essential to attract workers to the town, to protect industry, and to create additional rateable properties to help pay for the town’s services, Mayor Damien Ryan told last Thursday’s planning forum.
However, he said all in-fill development options north of the Gap should be exhausted – a cost effective use of existing infrastructure –  before a new residential subdivision is created south of the Gap in 20 to 30 years’ time.
Council’s target figure of 100 lots a year looked high compared with the uptake since 1990 of 20 to 30 lots per year that the forum was told about by Peter Somerville, from the Department of Planning and Infrastructure (DPI).
All heavy industry and fuel depots should be moved to Brewer Estate, said Mr Ryan, while a new industrial precinct should be created behind the Road Transport Hall of Fame or towards the old abattoirs (at the end of Smith Street).
There was no support from the discussion groups for further subdivision activity in Larapinta or Sadadeen Valley, nor for the Undoolya option (which the Town Council suggested would be a “high-end” option, including a retirement village).
There was general support for exhausting the in-fill potential, and varying levels of support for new subdivisions south of the Gap at the Arid Zone Research Institute (AZRI) site; at this site combined with a residential area on airport land; and, north of the Gap, at Stage Two of Mt Johns Valley.
The Territory Government had commissioned a study from engineers Opus Qantec McWilliam (Opus) on the land capability and sustainability of the range of options.
Opus’s Adrian White explained that Stage Two of Mt Johns Valley, expected to yield around 740 dwellings, could not be developed before the Sadadeen Connector had been upgraded.
Without this road, Stage Two would be cut off from the rest of the town when the river is in flood.
The road would be a “large ticket item” particularly as existing water and power infrastructure runs along the current planned road corridor.
Opus had come up with some alternative routes but these would require agreement from native title holders (with this considered to be of “moderate to high” difficulty).
Sewerage through the Gap would also need upgrading (though this was challenged by urban designer Professor Rob Adams, who suggested that decentralised sewerage works would provide a cheaper alternative).
Opus estimated the headworks cost at $25.5 million ($34,000 per dwelling).
The AZRI block already has an area allocated for a future residential subdivision – on the corner of the Stuart Highway and Colonel Rose Drive, allowing for some 1450 dwellings, as well as lots for community use, commercial development and parkland.
This is in addition to the land set aside for horticultural use.
The siting there of the water-reuse facility would be a plus, said Mr White, creating the potential for a dual water supply to households (separate pipes for recycled and potable water) – world’s best practice.
Headworks for the site were costed at $13 million ($23,500 per dwelling).
Services could be of use for other developments south of the Gap, said Mr White.
The AZRI site combined with the airport (ASAC) site on the opposite corner would allow for over 4000 dwellings.
Total headworks would come to some $56 million ($12,000 per dwelling).
However, at some point, suggested Mr White, a development of this magnitude would trigger an upgrade of the Stuart Highway through the Gap.
One option – illustrated by the most startling image of the forum – was a high level bridge through the Gap, with services hanging off the structure.
This would remove the existing road and return the river to its natural state, he said.
The $56 million includes the cost of the bridge.
The idea of the bridge got enthusiastic support from one group.
The low cost per dwelling to develop this AZRI / ASAC option drew support from the discussion groups, though not always as a first option.
Some groups preferred the Mt Johns Valley option “to limit urban sprawl”. 
One group challenged the need to go south of the Gap.
Lack of “visual beauty” was seen as a downside of the AZRI / ASAC sites.
It should be a “green street” and “multi-demographic” development, starting with low cost housing, said one group.
There were some interesting answers to a question around features for sustainable development.
One group emphasised the over-riding importance of more harmonious relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in town as the key to sustainability; another said racism issues need to be addressed.
The built infrastructure could assist by providing for a range of dwellings to avoid “ghettoes” – whether up- or down-market.
There’s a need for appropriate housing for “a changing demographic” – a much increased proportion of Indigenous residents – and appropriate housing for desert lifestyles, to take advantage, for example, of the beautiful night skies.
Development concessions should not be so freely given – “they dumb down and devalue the land”.
Subdivisions need to be planned as a “localised community”, with shops, cafes, perhaps a medical centre, a hairdresser and so on.
Social planners should be employed to contribute to the development of subdivisions.
Public transport needs to be reviewed – Alice has great big busses but perhaps needs smaller busses and more of them.
There need to be “climate appropriate leisure activities” for the hot four to six months of the year, so that people can expect to enjoy themselves during that time rather than simply enduring it and planning sooner or later to leave. 
Water efficiency and carbon neutrality got lots of ticks.
Targets for these should be set; incentives should be considered, for example higher rates for houses with large areas of lawn; a building rating scheme should be introduced.
A multi-purpose sporting facility got a couple of mentions.

LETTERS: Habib is under attack from fellow alderman, and why teachers are striking.

Sir,- Alderman Habib’s opinion (Alice News, June 5) defies logic for two reasons. 
First, he publicly criticises the rates rise and then argues for a significant lift in expenditure.  You can’t have it both ways. 
What does he expect, council to reduce its core services so that money can be allocated to “new initiatives”? 
And even if he did have alternative ideas why didn’t he put them through the rigorous process that formed the draft budget? 
There are a range of reasons for the rise but it was done through a process of close scrutiny. 
Second, Ald Habib argues that the increase put towards improving footpaths is insufficient but he is the longest serving alderman. 
The current council is required to address a backlog of footpath infrastructure because previous councils omitted to put funds aside for renewal and maintenance. 
This is the core reason for the increased focus. 
As the longest serving alderman if he has the audacity to publicly criticise this focus then perhaps he might want to ask himself the need for the increase in the first place.
That public criticism would come from the alderman who was least present at budget meetings and made the least contributions to its process is disheartening.
John Rawnsley

Sir,- On a recent trip to your lovely city the need for water conservation was obvious to us, given we come from South Australia where conservation has infiltrated everything we do.
I noticed amazingly few large rainwater tanks on buildings.
Public areas were being watered in the middle of the day (25 deg and windy).
I understand there are many swimming pools in Alice and surrounds yet there is no requirement for the recycling of backwash water.
I noted the water related articles in the May 22 edition of the Alice News and in my view the media ought to lead the way (since the government hasn’t).
They should push for rainwater tank subsidies, irrigation to be done at night and backwash recycling tanks should be made mandatory on swimming pools.
Mark Jones
South Australia

Sir,- What a stupendous success the NT Emergency Response is proving to be.
Less than a year after former Minister Mal Brough revealed utter depravation and dysfunction on 72 Aboriginal communities and brought in the Army to stabilise these places, sure SIGNS of progress.
As police throughout Australia are swooping to make mass arrests of childpornography aficionados, so far, not a single arrest in the Northern Territory!
“How come?”
You may well ask!
The answer is self evident!
It’s the “NO PORNOGRAPHY” signs!
What to do about this new social epidemic?
It’s easy.
Declare all places at which arrests are made or likely to be made to be “prescribed areas”, bring in the army to festoon them with “NO CHILD PORNOGRAPHY” signs.
That’ll fix it!
After a year, review the outcomes, and then get into phase two: “NO TEENAGE BINGE DRINKING”.
The possibilities for this proven tactic are mind boggling.
Frank Baarda

Sir,- I was reading your article about the Alice Prize and I think you made an error when you reported that Catriona Stanton was the co-ordinator for Balgo.
Erica Izett was coordinator and Tim Acker was her deputy.
Catriona Stanton was a volunteer and a personal friend to both.
Mark Bartholomeusz
Alice Springs

Sir,- I am a concerned parent who has recently begun working in a local primary school and have found the experience to be a real eye-opener.
While I resented the loss of learning time by teacher action, I now have a fuller understanding of what the teachers are saying to us.
 I find the working conditions for the children in our public schools, and their teachers, to be counter-productive.
The noise level and distraction due to behaviour is unacceptably high, creating a continual interruption to learning.
The teacher’s time is parceled out into such small pieces that there are children who spend the entire day with minimal adult interaction.
It’s inevitable with so many people in one space.
In the teaching world, an experienced, professional teacher spends equal time planning lessons as teaching them.
Where there are no textbooks, the planning process takes much longer.  
In today’s schools, where there is minimal clerical support for teachers, they must also do  the copying, cutting, layout of materials, searching for resources, scheduling excursions, organizing equipment, in preparation for lessons. 
The time required for this, possibly one or two hours per day,  is usually done after hours, often on weekends.
So a typical six hour classroom day represents approximately 12-15 hours of work.
Once the day begins, the teacher can look forward to a 10 minute coffee break in the morning and a 15 minute lunch break (after yard duty is complete).
What worker in Alice Springs would accept such a regimen? 
Is it any wonder the recruitment for teachers is so difficult?
The brain-drain out of the public schools is no surprise. Gradually our public schools are becoming more like special education centers, but with fewer and fewer resources.  
The curriculum has been watered down to focus on literacy and numeracy with other content areas left to the teachers choice.
No guarantee of content continuity from year to year or class to class. 
In special education classrooms elsewhere in the world, the class size is limited to 15 and there is a full time aide.
Where there are extreme behaviours, the class size is less. 
What is with the class sizes in Alice Springs? 
More and more special needs children are placed in the regular classroom and the teacher must prepare appropriate instruction for all even as the number of students in the room increases to 27 and more.
This means that for each lesson, the teacher must not only prepare for the class but also plan for indivualised accommodations for children working as much as four years below their grade level to two or three years above their grade level ... and all in between.  
The implementation of this plan can be compromised by three to four children with challenging behaviours and perhaps one or two with significant learning challenges like deafness, blindness, autism.
How much can we realistically expect our teachers to do for us without more support?
In this environment, I feel our teachers could serve each of those children well if the class size were reduced by five to 10 students. 
The issue of class size is critical when considering what a single person can reasonably and adequately do to teach each child, with increasingly more difficult children appearing in the classrooms.
In the end, few can learn in these crowded, disrupted, inadequately staffed classrooms. 
These conditions are working against the mission of education. As long as the parents continue to accept this situation, the children of Alice Springs will suffer and the private schools will prosper.
I believe it is time for the parents to hold the politicians accountable for the woeful conditions in our schools and to demand more personnel.
The schools may look good, but the conditions for learning are severely eroded. Education by politician is not working.
Parents need to listen to those who are professionally equipped to establish good sound educational  practice and support them financially and personally.
As a parent, I hate the fact that learning days are missed due to teacher work stoppage, but I recognise the teachers are struggling for better conditions for our children.
If they don’t stand up for what is best for the classroom, who will? 
I support and appreciate their efforts.
Sidni Monroe
Alice Springs

Beating Berrrimah Line at ballot box. COMMENT by ALEX NELSON.

Introducing multi-member electorates with proportional respresentation is a more effective way to beat the Berrimah Line than Deputy Mayor Murray Stewart’s controversial call to boycott Darwin for a day.
The weakness of the Territory’s current single-member electorate preferential voting system is that a very large number of electors in each seat are not represented in parliament.
For example, if a particular candidate wins office with 53% of the votes cast, that means 47% of electors in that electorate are unrepresented in office.
This is a common occurrence, with relatively small swings in voters’ preferences leading to disproportionately large wins or losses.
The current situation in the NT Legislative Assembly illustrates this effect perfectly – Labor has 19 seats out of 25 (76%), the CLP has four seats (16%), and there are two independents (8%).
But the percentages of the votes cast in 2005 tell a radically different story – Labor won 51.94%, the CLP 35.73%, independents 8.04%, the Greens 4.17%, and 0.12% of votes were cast for “other” (NT Electoral Commission data.)
The Two Party Preferred Count for 2005 shows the ALP won 59% of all votes cast after distribution of preferences, and the CLP won 41%.
Clearly the allocation of seats in the Legislative Assembly does not accurately reflect voter intentions. However, the ALP is only “getting its own back” as the CLP likewise dominated the results on four earlier occasions – in 1974, 1983, 1994, and most recently in 1998 when the CLP won 18 and Labor retained seven seats. None of these results accurately reflected voter intentions.
Another voting method in single-member electorates is First Past the Post, in which the candidate that wins the largest number of first-preference votes wins the seat, regardless of whether or not it is an absolute majority. There is no distribution of preferences. This system is regarded as the least democratic; however, if it had been used in the NT elections of 2005 there would have been only one change to the results – the CLP would have won Braitling.
I have suggested in previous articles that multi-member electorates using proportional representation would be a much more equitable system for representing voters’ intentions.
This system is quite common in Australia: for all the states and territories in the Australian Senate; and for all state upper houses except Tasmania (Queensland has only one house). In Tasmania this system is used for the lower House of Assembly, comprising five divisions each with five members. It is also the system used in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
With proportional representation each winning candidate must win sufficient votes to fill or exceed a quota. Quotas are dependent upon the number of members per electoral division; for example, the quota for a five member division is 20%, for a three member division it is 33.33%, and so on.
The more members in a division, the more accurately it reflects voter intentions; conversely it becomes more complex to work out the final results.
When the ACT Legislative Assembly was formed in 1989 it had just one division comprising all 17 members – this proved to be hopelessly complex so it was later split into three divisions; one of seven members and two of five.
If the NT Legislative Assembly had multi-member divisions and proportional representation, logically it would comprise five divisions each containing five members to make up the current number of 25 politicians.
The rules for drawing up electoral divisions are exactly the same as for single-member electorates; that is, “one vote – one value” and with communities of interest.
Using the electorates and election results from 2005 I will demonstrate the kind of result proportional representation would most likely yield in the NT.
Starting with Central Australia, the data is as follows:
• DIVISION ONE (Araluen, Braitling, Greatorex, Macdonnell, Stuart): Labor 6829 (42%); CLP 6974 (43%); Greens 1017 (6.3%); Independent 1346 (8.3%).
The total is 16,166, and the quota, 3234.
The likeliest result would be three CLP members and two Labor.
• DIVISION TWO (Arnhem, Barkly, Daly, Katherine, Nhulunbuy): Labor 9820 (61.9%); CLP 5018 (31.6%); Greens 444(2.8%); Independent 576 (3.6%).
The total is 15,858, and the quota, 3172. ALP would win three and CLP two.
• DIVISION THREE (Arafura, Blain, Brennan, Goyder, Nelson): ALP 6786 (37.8%); CLP 6741 (37.5%); Greens 911 (5.1%); Independent 3419 (19%); Other 104 (0.6%).
The total is 17,961, and quota, 3592.  ALP and CLP would each win two seats, with one Independent.
• DIVISION FOUR (Drysdale, Fannie Bay, Millner, Nightcliff, Port Darwin): ALP 9817 (54%); CLP 6192 (34.3%); Greens 864 (4.8%); Independent 1194 (6.6%).                    
The total is 18,067, and quota is 3613.  ALP would win three and CLP two.
• DIVISION FIVE (Casuarina, Johnston, Karama, Sanderson, Wanguri): ALP 11570 (63.4%); CLP 5902 (32.4%); Greens 358 (2%); Independent 406 (2.2%).
The total is 18,236, and quota, 3647. ALP wins three outright, the CLP would win two.
The total figures across the Territory are: ALP 44,822 (52%); CLP 30,827 (36%); Greens 3594 (4%);  Independent 6941 (8%).
On a Two Party Preferred Count, the ALP wins 58% and the CLP 42%, virtually identical to the official electoral commission figures.
Now let’s look at the composition of the Legislative Assembly based on proportional representation:
Labor: 13 seats; CLP: 11 seats; Independent: one seat.
Such a tight result is typical for proportional representation; indeed, Labor has done well to win an outright majority of seats in this scenario.
While acknowledging there are some risks in the methodology used, the result emphatically demonstrates the point of my argument – proportional representation is far more accurate in reflecting voters’ intentions and would avoid the pitfalls of one party being overwhelmingly dominant.

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