October 16, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

And now, the new state of Remote Australia? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Should the states be bypassed altogether in the allocation of Federal money to “very remote” Australia, 85% of the continent?
This is a question a high-powered convention in Alice Springs is likely to be considering next month. 
RemoteFOCUS, a project facilitated by Desert Knowledge Australia, is setting out to revolutionise governance that for decades has been marked by “labyrinthine government funding arrangements, duplication and red tape, cross-jurisdictional inefficiencies, and the confusing array of overlapping short-term niche programs,” according to the convention prospectus.
It says: “A reformed governance system must be underpinned by reform of fiscal federalism.
“This may involve the Commonwealth Grants Commission carving out a new jurisdiction for Remote Australia and the current comparative assessment process to be amended to take into account capital shortfalls in determining allocations.
“The present Australian Government proposal to reduce the number of special purpose grants to the states provides an opportunity for creative thinking about innovative funding arrangements.”
The situation in the Territory, of course, is that the governments – Labor and Country Liberal alike – are getting money recommended by the Grants Commission, which very well takes into account “disabilities”, but they then blithely spend the cash on other purposes.
To treat “the failed state of remote Australia” as a separate administrative entity would strike a chord in Central Australia, and all the other remote regions neglected by their governments based in the capital cities.
The groundwork for the remoteFOCUS symposium on November 3 to 6 was laid at a conference in Perth in April, attended by academics, current and former politicians as well as public servants from WA and NT, and NGOs with a focus on remote services.
The prospectus paints a stark but familiar picture of incompetence, and although it doesn’t spell it out, this enduring fiasco is caused mostly by governments, but also by corporations, NGOs and Aboriginal organisations.
The prospectus says the Outback is facing an “impending calamity ... as a combination of forces threaten to tear at Australia’s sense of itself as a nation, imperil its strategic position within the Asian and South Pacific Region and erode the nation’s capacity to sustain long term growth.”
The “white flight” will accelerate; Indigenous people, whose number are “growing at more than twice the rate of others” are facing “social implosion and large scale ... movement to towns and service centres” that will become “predominantly indigenous welfare-dependent settlements”.
The skilled people there will increasingly operate on a fly-in, fly-out basis.
But Desert Knowledge CEO John Huigen says the prospectus was “careful not to lay the blame on particular governments, [but] rather points out the systemic barriers to effective service delivery”.
He says the document shows up the “incapacity of centralised governments to effectively grapple with the particular challenges in remote Australia”.
And the prospectus’ focus was on the “‘governance of government’ and didn’t make comment particularly on other bodies,” says Mr Huigen.
The prospectus is a vociferous addition to the reports of failure in the Outback, which would by now fill a very large room, but offers little in terms of pointing to specific commercial and other activities that may bring relief (see also comment next page).
The prospectus says those may encompass “land management and security, climate change, eco-tourism, pastoralism and the effective management of wealth gained from resources development”.
At least some of these are clearly intended to be funded by governments.
The prospectus makes no mention of mutual obligation, self help and the effects of passive welfare, notions raised by black leader Noel Pearson and the Territory Intervention.
It says there is a need for “systemic consultation with communities of interest in regard to appraisal of needs, delivery of services and infrastructure and community development and leadership”.
The people who are embracing remoteFOCUS count among themselves quite a few who, over the past 30 years, have conducted endless consultations, and some who had the power and the money to make a difference, without achieving very much at all.
The prospectus says indigenous landholdings, about a million square kilometres or 20% of the continent, “can be expected to continue to increase in the next decade through native title determinations”.
Native title is seen as a trigger for agreements “which might encompass multiple [land] claims across a region ... providing a wider range of economically usable outcomes”.
The prospectus planners are likely to be looking at “a reformed governance system for Remote Australia based on the principle of networked governance and decentralisation ... delegating authority away from centres of power to local levels [reflecting] diffused decision making within a localised economic and social system”.
This, it could be expected, will entail a robust examination of what has been achieved with taxpayers’ billions spent over the last three decades by “localised economic systems” proposed to be calling the shots.

: Some thoughts on fixing "the failed state of remote Australia".

The remoteFOCUS organisers (see lead story) are asking for suggestions from the public. Here are some that have, over time, been put to the Alice Springs News by readers and contacts.
An inventory should be made of the region’s assets and commercial opportunities – something that, amazingly, does not yet exist (Alice News, April 20, 2008
• Assets and their value should be defined, including land and artesian water (for farming and grazing) and the beauty of the region (for art and tourism).
• Commercial opportunities in any part of the region should be available to any entrepreneur, local or not, under conditions ruling in the rest of the country.
• The provision of government funded housing should be tied to the provision, by the recipient community, of competent and reliable labour, skilled and unskilled, at normal rates of pay, to the extent that such manpower is available in the community.
• In areas where commercial opportunities are restricted, such as through entry permits, unemployment benefits should not be paid.
• Public money should go to NGOs only for projects which have clearly defined objectives, which are disclosed to the public. If these objectives are not achieved through incompetence and irresponsibility, the recipient organisation and its senior staff should be disqualified from getting further government funding. This would unburden the taxpayer from a myriad of failing “programs”. Of course, disqualified NGOs would still be free to seek financial support from non-government sources.

Trashing our lifestyle

I know a young man who is a skateboarder. His is a hard sport, requiring discipline and determination.
It can take hundreds of attempts to get a “trick” right, often causing sprained wrists or ankles or bark off various parts of the body.
The young man – he’s 17 – has built up strong friendships around skateboarding, which is as much a passion as a sport.
The town council six years ago built a skatepark at a cost of $106,000.
It’s a good skatepark, and not just for a small town, in the opinion of the young man, who’s skated in many other towns and cities in Australia and overseas.
But for a while now he and his friends have to take along a broom when they go skating.
Time and again, the half-pipes and jumps are strewn with rocks, thrown there by vandals – a sizable group of young Aboriginal children, observed in action more than once.
And night skating is off because the floodlights have been smashed, again and again.
This week the young man’s mobile phone was stolen while he was skating.
Clearly, the vandals get no benefit from any of this.
What is their message? 
It seems to be: “We’ll mess with your enjoyment of life in Alice Springs anytime we feel like it.
“We do it because we can.”
This troubles the young man, confronted with racism in Alice Springs every day.
“I am not a racist,” he says. “But I never see white kids chucking rocks into the skatepark or smashing the lights.”
Over to you, leaders of the town.
What will you do?
As the parents of these young vandals clearly won’t act, will the authorities?
Where are they? Where is the Families and Children’s Services?
The seven year old who triggered the latest bout of disastrous global “publicity” about Alice Springs, when he was caught on CCTV feeding zoo reptiles to a zoo crocodile, is in the care of FACS, according to a reliable source. The Minister, Malarndirri McCarthy, would not comment
Have we thrown in the towel?

Progress on subdivisions. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Town Council and the Department of Health (DoH) are taking a fresh look at two major residential subdivisions outside The Gap.
DoH has withdrawn its earlier demand for a reticulated sewage system for John McEwen’s 91 block Emily Valley development.
And the council is considering modifications to the storm water drains in Ron Sterry’s Coolibah Tree Estate in Ragonesi Road, which will eventually have 260 blocks.
But despite the apparent compromises the land development system is still plagued by red tape, bureaucratic arbitrariness and massive delays, despite the persistent shortage of land, pushing the price of housing blocks beyond most people’s reach.
And above all, there seems to be no “people’s representative” in the process, despite members of the public sitting on the Development Consent Authority (DCA).
Mr McEwen says the DoH requirement for the subdivision being connected to the town sewage would have increased the costs by at least $3.5m – possibly as much $8m, if much rock had been encountered in digging the deep trenches required.
DoH now says on-site “wastewater treatment technologies” (septic tanks and mini sewage systems, costing $8000 to $10,000 per block) can be used, provided they are suitable and meet published guidelines.
Each of Mr McEwen’s blocks will need to have entered on its title deed what kind of system is required, and which areas of the block are suitable for its placement.
The developer will also need to provide an estimate of the anticipated daily wastewater generation, and a report for each block about its soil’s ability to absorb treated effluent.
Meanwhile, Mayor Damien Ryan says the council has agreed to review its requirement on Mr Sterry’s land for storm water drainage capable of coping with a flood likely to occur once in 100 years, known as Q100.
Mr Sterry says the requirement is onerous and will add massively to the cost of blocks.
Mr Ryan says the council’s concern are mainly for the two residences already in Stegar Road at the base of Mr Sterry’s sloping block.
Mr Ryan says the construction of roads and roofs will increase run-off, both in terms of speed and volume, because less water will seep into the ground.
However, Mr Ryan did not know the magnitude of the increase (the popular wisdom is between 10% and 15%).
It was the council’s choice to err on the side of caution.
Of course, there is a flood even bigger than a Q100: Probable Maximum Flood (PMF). which is calculated as having a one in a million chance ( against which the drains the council currently wants Mr Sterry to put in are no protection.
Where do you draw the line?
The crux of the protracted land development fiasco seems to lie exactly with quantifying risks, striking a balance between public safety and an appropriate supply of housing land.
For the service providers – council, Power & Water Corporation and DoH – to simply play it safe and demand excessively high standards is meeting growing public opposition.
But there is no-one readily available in the application process to have a decisive say.
The DCA automatically accepts advice from the service providers. It has neither the power nor the money to test or challenge the requirements.
And the Minister usually accepts the advice from the DCA.
A prominent local development consultant, David Cantwell, says some developers resort to the following convoluted strategy when they suspect the service authorities will be unreasonable:-
They put up an application they know will be rejected.
The matter then goes to arbitration.
If that doesn’t succeed in achieving a consensus the matter goes before a magistrate for a ruling.
And it is at that point where top level, independent advice finally becomes available, obtained by the magistrate at his discretion, sometimes even from overseas, and at the cost of the Department of Justice.
The downside is, when development plans are approved in that way, they can’t be changed.
Meanwhile, Rolf Gerritsen, Research Leader at Charles Darwin University, says slow land release in the Territory keeps house prices higher than they should be, creating a “perverse incentive” for retiring Territorians to leave the Territory.
High prices here open up attractive options interstate, he says.
For example, $300,000 would enable a retiree to buy a house in Adelaide or Hobart without much further expense, while $600,000 puts the Sunshine Coast and Perth on the cards.
And high prices here obviously also make it harder for younger people to enter the housing market.

How will economy weather the storm? By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Alice Springs economy is “slightly more globally exposed” than towns of a comparable size and so could be expected to see a slowdown resulting from the international financial crisis, says Research Leader for Charles Darwin University in Central Australia, Rolf Gerritsen.
The tourism and mining industries are likely to show the earliest impacts which will then feed back to other sectors in the local economy, says Prof Gerritsen, who describes the international crisis as “market panic in the purest form” seen in his lifetime.
Local weathering of the international storm will depend on “whether the whole house of cards falls down completely”. 
“Australia is better off than other Western countries because our exports are tied to China, but China’s growth is susceptible to economic collapse in the USA and this would impact on us.
“USA imports from China, the country we export to, and as well, Australia imports a lot of capital from USA – China would like us to import capital from them, but we don’t for political reasons.”
Prof Gerritsen expects mining projects in Central Australia to slow down because of a “tightening of investment capital”. 
“Mining projects need to borrow a large amount of capital to get going, but banks are not lending so projects will be delayed. 
“This will feed back to the local economy – drilling contractors, surveyors will lose business, and in turn this will feed back to all the places where they spend money. 
“And if there’s a recession, the electricity market will shrink and this would have an impact, for instance on the demand for uranium. An international recession would also have a huge impact on tourism. This would very quickly have observable effects.”
In other respects the Alice economy is in a similar situation to those of towns elsewhere, depending on “the Federal Government and Australian banks holding their nerve”, says Prof Gerritsen. 
Home-owners have obviously benefitted from reduced interest rates, which will have decreased the default risk.
The economy is highly dependent on government spending. What impact will that have?
“Generally speaking that’s a good thing – government outlays are more stable than private outlays,” says Prof Gerritsen.
“And in the Territory economic growth is delivered by large projects.”
However, government has to know how to respond in a timely fashion to this impetus. Prof Gerritsen points by way of example to the ConocoPhillips LNG plant that “took the Territory economy out of recession”.
“Labor Government spending when the NT had already emerged from recession brought more people to the Territory, put a terrible squeeze on housing, which in turn has exacerbated our skills shortage because people don’t have anywhere to live.
“It has created a bottleneck – everything has become more expensive and less efficient.”
Prof Gerritsen also says the Territory Government’s ability to have an impact is hamstrung by the amount it must spend on servicing borrowing.
“The total budget is around $3.4b – 80% of it is immutable, committed to salaries and so on.
“So there’s 20% to play with and of that about 30% is tied up in servicing debt.
“Debt has reduced under Labor in absolute terms but relative to outlays it’s about the same, still tying up about 30% of discretionary expenditure.”
However, Prof Gerritsen qualifies the relevance of his comments because the crisis has been produced by panic, more than purely economic factors:
“It’s really about psychology and in this respect an economist’s viewpoint is worth no more than that of Mr and Mrs String Bags in the street. Avoiding the worst depends on the group psychology of banks across the world  – it’s a confidence thing.” 

Will international visitation drop? And will people lose their homes?

• A Qantas spokesperson says: “At this stage, there has been minimal across the board impact on the NT market.  
“However, it is very early to assess any long term effects of the current economic climate.”
• A Voyages spokesperson says: “We haven’t seen any cancellation of bookings as a result [of the credit crunch].
“It really is too soon to see any impact, but we think it’s going to be unlikely.
“We’ve had a strong year for Ayers Rock Resort domestically, and if anything we believe the weakening of the Aussie dollar may help attract international tourists.”
Will mining investment slow down?
The mining prospect of most immediate interest in Alice is the Angela Pamela uranium deposit, with Cameco-Paladin now licensed to explore it.
Jennifer Parks, Regional Director for Cameco Australia Pty Ltd, says electricity markets will be untouched. “Cameco’s large reliable customers require uranium [to supply baseload electricity] regardless of the financial situation and this means Cameco continues to generate strong cash flow and earnings.
“Credit markets affect everyone – it is prudent to review all expenditures (including exploration) and prioritise going forward.
“I can’t speak for Paladin in detail but I know Paladin are very positive about this project.”
Will the credit crunch slow down the scheduling of activities at Angela Pamela?
Says Ms Parks: “As the tenement has only just been granted, we don’t have a detailed schedule but we are currently moving ahead as we planned.
“Cameco maintained exploration in Australia during the last downturn – 1998 to 2002. Cameco takes the long term view.”
Has Cameco-Paladin already raised the capital it needs or is it out there looking in this volatile climate?
“Cameco exploration budgets for 2009 are still being finalised, but both Cameco and Paladin are committed to moving forward with the Angela project in 2009.”
Are Alice locals staying confident?
Richard Black of Territory Loans (a branch of LJ Hooker) prefaces his comments by saying he wouldn’t want to say anything negative as it “doesn’t help”.
He says the interest rate cut delivered a “lot of relief”.
In general the status of Alice Springs is “very strong”.
How is that measured?
“If you want to get ahead you can.
“It’s expensive to buy housing but the income is there to match.
“The fundamentals are good in my opinion.
“It’s a strong government and public service town and such an important centre for a large area.
“It has a strong tourism industry and Pine Gap.
“If there’s a problem, it’s not enough housing, which is driving prices and rents up.
“We’re not building houses, in fact we’re not building at all.
“If land is released it will provide relief, not for first home owners but for next home owners, who will then free up cheaper homes.
“But from where I sit there still are a lot of first home buyers.
“They are confident of committing themselves to a future in town and of taking out a long-term loan.”
Mr Black says Territory Loans had “its biggest month ever in lending” last month.
Are people losing their homes?
The Registrar-General has recorded two foreclosures in Alice Springs so far this year. 
There were five last year and two in the preceding year.
The term refers to  people who’ve failed to pay their mortgage and therefore have had their property “foreclosed” on by the lending institution.
These figures don’t reflect people who have felt compelled to sell their homes before getting to this point.

Intervention should continue with willing participation: review board. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), otherwise known as the Intervention, should continue, says the Australian Government’s Review Board, but essential to its progress is “for government to re-engage with the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory”.
“The situation in remote communities and town camps was—and remains—sufficiently acute to be described as a national emergency,” says the board in its findings released on Monday, but “the single most valuable resource” that the Intervention lacked from the start is “the positive, willing participation of the people it was intended to help.”
Despite this shortcoming the board observed “definite gains as a result of the Intervention”.
“It has heard widespread, if qualified, community support for many NTER measures.
“Aboriginal people welcome police stations in communities previously dependent on periodic patrols. They want to work cooperatively with police to build greater security and stability in their homes.
“Similarly, there is support for measures designed to reduce alcohol-related violence, to increase the quality and availability of housing, to improve the health and wellbeing of communities, to advance early learning and education leading to productive and satisfying employment—these matters are uncontentious.
“The benefits of income management are being increasingly experienced. Its compulsory, blanket imposition continues to be resisted, but the measure is capable of being reformed and improved.
“People who do not wish to participate should be free to leave the scheme. It should be available on a voluntary basis and imposed only as a precise part of child protection measures or where specified by statute, subject to independent review.
In both cases it should be supported by services to improve financial literacy.
“Income management is in many respects representative of other NTER measures. If it is modified and improved, then the resistance to its original imposition might be negated.”
A “more integrated approach” is needed in all areas, says the board.
For example: “The support for night patrols falls under the Law and Order measure.
Safe houses fall within a separate measure: Supporting Families.
This kind of artificial division reflects divided government agency responsibilities and funding sources. It is a chronic problem in establishing effective integrated services in Aboriginal communities.”
On the protection of children from abuse, the catalyst for the Intervention, the board recommends “a highly coordinated response through the development of community safety plans”.
These plans will link police, child protection officers, teachers, health staff, Government Business Managers and other key service providers with community night patrols, safe houses and women’s groups.
On an issue that has rated highly amongst opponents to the Intervention, the exclusion of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975  and the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act from the Intervention legislation, the board says: “Throughout the Board’s community visits and consultations with various organisations and representatives, it was made abundantly clear that people in Aboriginal communities felt humiliated and shamed by the imposition of measures that marked them out as less worthy of the legislative protections afforded other Australians.
“These concerns were most palpable in the context of comments and submissions relating to the compulsory acquisition of land and the exclusion of external merits review in the income management scheme applied in the Northern Territory.”
The board recommends that government actions affecting Aboriginal communities conform with the Racial Discrimination Act.

CCTV fails to record broken Mall window.

Despite well over half a million dollars spent not all of Todd Mall is covered by CCTV cameras.
Thus a window at Oscar’s restaurant was broken last week and there is no footage available of the act.
Town council CEO Rex Mooney said the window is not “within view of the cameras”.
However, police have been provided with a copy of footage “around the time of the incident as there were some people in the area at the time”.
The Alice News asked, “If no footage is available does this, in your view, raise questions about the efficacy of the system?”
Said Mr Mooney: “The areas covered by the cameras are linearly linked to the number of cameras; the coverage can be increased by increasing the number of cameras which in turn is related to funding.
“As far as outcomes related to resources (efficacy) is concerned,  Council believes the system is a helpful tool but increased police resources would of course be welcomed.”

LETTERS: No ease to housing and land shortage.

Sir,– The total value of residential building approvals in the Northern Territory have slumped by more than half over the past 12 months, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The significant decline in building approvals can be traced directly to inept Government policies.
In the June quarter last year, new residential building approvals totalled $106.4m, this year they’re only $45.6m.
This highlights the stark reality that is life for many young families or low income earners who are looking to build a new home under Paul Henderson’s Labor Government.
The government’s failure to release new residential land has made it virtually impossible for young people.
In addition, Paul Henderson sneered at the building sector when it claimed its new occupational Health and Safety regime had upped building costs, but the latest figures clearly indicate a slowdown.
To compound these problems, the Home North scheme is a sham, its ceiling is way below the current market value. The Government has revised the scheme in the last two budgets, and have failed resoundingly both times.
Overall, total building approvals for the June quarter were $145.5m,  down from $172.6m for the same time last year.
Is it any wonder more and more Territorians are struggling to find appropriate accommodation?”
John Elferink
Shadow Treasurer

Organise your own rally!

Sir,– In response to “Free Speech denied” (last week’s issue):  The rally held on September 30 took many weeks of work in planning, organising and coordination, including the line-up of speakers. 
It was indeed not “free” as there were transport costs  as well as the cost of faxes and phone calls, advertising of the event, provision of food etc. 
The many hours of work were carried out by volunteers including some visitors from interstate who paid their own way to get here and gave their time willingly.
Anyone wanting to voice their opinions, espouse the advantages of the Intervention or their own personal woes should get out their soapbox and organise their own rally.
M. Church
Alice Springs

Cycle tourism will protect Kurrajong area

Sir,– In response to K. Sherwood’s letter (October 2) I like would say that in the 19 years I’ve lived in the Alice I’ve grown very fond of the beautiful and natural surroundings that we are blessed with and I wholeheartedly agree with K. Sherwood that she should be able to walk her dog in a quiet and peaceful environment.
I am sure that Jack Oldfield has no intention of jeopardizing the tranquility of the Kurrajong area.
In fact I am sure the idea is to preserve this natural sanctuary as a showcase of all that the Alice Springs locals take pride in in the environment that surrounds this unique town.
Before you criticize the integrity of Jack Oldfeild’s proposal you need to take a look at the positives and the negatives of the proposal.
I am a local of the New Eastside area and also walk my dogs and ride my bike in the Kurrajong area, and for me the problem of illegal dumping, unregistered motor vehicles and deliberate littering are far greater problems than people peacefully enjoying themselves riding, hiking or jogging around.
In fact there will be even more peace and quiet when the boozers and motor vehicles have less access or no access to this area.
Further to this the problem of unnatural erosion caused by horses, 4WDs and other motor vehicles has taken its toll on the natural environment and it’s good to see someone with the good intention of proposing a solution to help protect this fragile environment.
The tourism industry and local businesses have and will further benefit from the proposal, with events like the Anaconda Enduro mountain bike race having the potential to inject hundreds of thousands of dollars into the town economy on an annual basis. I am sure that local business owners would be keen to support a better economy for the town.
Provided Jack factors in all users of the Kurrajong area this could provide a sustainable and secure future to the sanctuary of the Kurraong area and maybe help deter the expansion of real estate development out that way. 
The negative side to the proposal is that people like K. Sherwood will not have the whole place to herself. I believe the bigger picture of the Kurrajong area is that we have to make sure we have a plan to preserve this environment for future generations.
Congratulations, Jack, on your initiative and goods intentions – you have my support.
Chris Ravenhall 
Alice Springs

Time to go over NTG’s head

Sir,– It’s crunch time for those of us opposed to the development of the Angela Pamela prospects. 
An exploration licence has been granted, and for the next few years we will have uranium mining light.
When the time comes to apply for a formal mining licence, mining corporations have a habit of pulling one of many favorable Environmental Impact Statements out of their kit, and permission will be granted as surely as night follows day.
It’s time to go over the head of the NT Government. 
I ask Alderman Jane Clark, Derek Schild and other prominent members of the Alice Springs branch of the NT Greens to formally and publicly request Senator Bob Brown to table a private member’s bill to overturn the granting of Exploration Licence 25758.
And if anyone from the Alice Springs branch of the NT ALP reads this letter, I suggest it’s time to ask our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and his Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, to stand up and be counted.  If their claims to green credentials are to mean anything, and if Senator Brown finds his way to do this, please don’t oppose it.
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Government spin

Sir,– I wonder whether the NT Government either has a communication problem or is clumsily trying to emulate corporate style spin.
After hearing a statement from The NT Resources department’s Richard Sellers regarding opposition to the granting of the Angela Pamela uranium exploration licence that “The majority of the comments that came in were actually comments about uranium mining or the downstream use of uranium, they weren’t actually about the actual exploration process”, I point out the following: • A petition objecting to the uranium EXPLORATION license was signed by 950 people and sent to the Territory Government by the Arid Lands Environment Centre by the due date for public comment.
• A public meeting of 200 people in Alice Springs, held on May 7, unanimously passed this motion: 

i) That exploration of the Angela Pamela uranium deposit should not be allowed to proceed and; 

ii) That Federal Energy and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and NT Government Mining Minister Chris Natt organise and attend another public meeting where they can address the concerns of Alice Springs residents and answer queries directly.
• Alice Springs Town Council has an as-yet-unreplied-to letter from July 28, requesting a report from the Minister for Mining, Chris Natt, outlining: 

• a guarantee that a plan is in place to ensure the exploration shafts and mine will not be flooded and a guarantee that the air and underground water will not be contaminated by the substantial drilling involved in both exploration and full scale mining; 

• what measures or legislation are on hand for any rehabilitation work to stabilize the area that has been drilled for exploration if the mine does not go ahead and; 

• is there a financial security bond during exploration.
• Protests were held in Alice Springs on October 3 and 5 in direct opposition to granting of the Exploration License and 140 faxes were sent to the Minister on October 6, opposing the exploration license.
The comment from Mr Sellers almost sounds like he thinks the people of Alice Springs are too silly to bother with. 
It sounds like he is saying that we do not know the difference between exploration and mining so therefore there’s no case to answer.
Jane Clark
Greens Alderman
Alice Springs

Whose cruelty?

Sir,– I find it unfortunate the way PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, letters, last week’s issue) has confused the issues regarding the cruelty involved at the Reptile Centre.
Morally I believe the cruelty lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. The Reptile Centre is a lawful business staffed by people passionate about the reptiles they own and involved in educating the public.
In the US in 2007 PETA killed over 90% of the companion animals in its care. Consequently I believe them to be compromised on animal cruelty issues and the public need to think carefully and differentiate between animal welfare and animal rights (liberation) groups when called upon to donate their support.
John Costa
via email


Sir,– I was shocked to read in the Daily Mail (UK national newspaper) of the recent incident at the Reptile Centre.  
My family and I visited this fantastic place five years ago and were all very upset to read of what happened.  
We had enjoyed a wonderful visit and got to learn about and touch many types of lizards, etc that we would never had had the opportunity to experience anywhere else.  We were seriously impressed.
I hope that the Reptile Centre recovers and continues its fantastic work.  We hope to come again in the future.   I am so sorry for the residents of Alice Springs that such a negative story should emerge.
Christine and Roger Walsh
Dawlish, Devon, UK

Wrong woman sacked

Sir,– Education CEO Margaret Banks has been made a scapegoat for the failed education policies of the Labor Government.
The Education Minister should have been sacked, not Margaret Banks.
Education results in the Territory have actually gone backwards under Labor, despite ever larger education budgets.
Education in the bush is totally unacceptable with thousands of kids never learning to read or write.
The introduction of middle schooling was badly handled with many students left in limbo when deadlines weren’t met.
The cause of the failure has been the lack of genuine leadership by successive Labor Education Ministers, including the Chief Minister.
Most recently Marion Scrymgour’s totally inept handling of the teachers’ dispute has compounded the deep seated problems with education in the Territory.
Her high handed attitude is driving teachers from the Territory whilst simultaneously making recruitment that much more difficult.
The Minister needs to accept personal responsibility for the poor state of schooling in the Territory.
Meanwhile, the Territory Government has put resolving the intractable problems plaguing Outstations in the too hard basket and in the process delayed easing the crisis in remote education for at least another 12 months.
There’s no need for a policy discussion paper to recognise the Outstation movement has failed.
Outstations have become islands of welfare dependence with third world education standards.
Propping up tiny settlements isolated from the wider economy and without access basic services is bad policy.
The money currently being spent maintaining Outstations would be much better used improving education standards in the bush.
Terry Mills
Leader of the Opposition

Care and empathy at hospital

Sir,– Recently whilst on holiday in Australia with a school trip party from New Zealand, my daughter took ill whilst we were camping at Kings Canyon.
Upon arriving in Alice Springs on Thursday, September 25, I took my daughter to Alice Springs Hospital whereupon she was admitted and stayed until the following Tuesday, September 30.
I would like to express my most sincere thanks to the staff in the Accident and Emergency Department and the staff of the Paediatric Ward.
The care and the empathy shown by all of the staff was much appreciated during a difficult time.
We were able to rejoin our tour party in Darwin and although we missed nearly half of the trip, we still had an excellent time.
David Moore
New Zealand.

A speck of perspective on a broad horizon. By ALEX NELSON.

Shortly after the sun sets this evening an almost full moon – just starting to wane – will rise, dominating the sky of the eastern horizon.
It’s always an impressive sight, looming large and golden for a short while before brightening into its familiar silvery white disc as it tracks across the night sky.
The sun does the same each day, of course – always a deeper golden colour when it is low on the horizon, its reddish glow enhancing the colours of the landscape to create an artists’ delight.
I recall being taught in science class at the Alice Springs High School a long time ago the reason why bright objects in the sky take on a golden or reddish hue when close to the horizon. At such a low angle from our viewpoint the light rays have much further to travel through the Earth’s atmosphere and are refracted in the same way as light passing through a prism, being split into its constituent colours.
It’s the light from the low end of the visible spectrum – yellow to red – which is most bent towards us, which is why these colours dominate the dawn and sunset.
To my eyes the sun and moon always appear larger at the horizon than they do when higher in the sky. I’m sure most people perceive this effect – it’s no accident that the rising or setting sun features prominently in so many movies and documentaries.
Who hasn’t seen a western or an Indiana Jones movie with the heroes riding into the huge orb of the setting sun? Or a howling canine on a prominent rocky ledge silhouetted against an enormous rising moon?
Similar visions are conjured up in poetry and song, such as the evocative lyrics of the Little River Band’s “Cool Change” where one is “out on the sea alone, staring at the full moon like a lover”.
I had long thought this effect was also attributable to the Earth’s atmosphere, that at such a low angle on the horizon the air acts as a magnifying lens to create the illusion of a bigger sun or moon. No mystery, really.
Which is why I was as incredulous as the program host on ABC radio one afternoon in 2005 when a local astronomer was asked about this effect, only to reply that there is no difference in the apparent size of the sun or moon at any angle in the sky.
Seeing is believing, and I set out to check this claim myself – easier said than done.
This was the time when I was mucking around with short cardboard tubes for use as biodegradable planter tubes (leading to my five minutes of fame on The New Inventors that year); anyway, I immediately discovered by peering through short cardboard tubes at the moon what a remarkably small area it occupies in the night sky. The tubes were useless for this purpose.
However, I had a long cardboard tube for gift wrap paper (75cm) so I peered through that at the moon. To my surprise the full moon still occupied a tiny fraction of the sky that could be seen through the tube – I still couldn’t measure it.
(Alright, this all seems like lunacy but at least I wasn’t howling).
Undaunted, I proceeded to create a mesh of cotton thread on one end of the tube, the gap between each line of thread being exactly five millimetres. I had to wait for the next evening to try this piece of high tech wizardry, and when I did it proved barely adequate.
I found it difficult to focus simultaneously on the cotton thread cross-hatching and the moon; and the moon barely filled the gap between just two lines of thread.
However, my device was sufficient to give an idea of any measurable changes when observing the moon just after rising and then later when it was almost directly overhead.
Sure enough, the astronomer was correct – there was no discernable change in the width of the moon at any angle of view in the sky.
The appearance of a large moon or sun low on the horizon is not an optical illusion; rather it comes from within our minds.
Are we conditioned in some way to perceive this illusion? I suspect not; I’m inclined to think our brains are hard-wired to enhance the size of distant objects on the horizon, a legacy of our ancestors as they spread out across the globe.
An enhanced ability to mentally magnify tree-lines along rivers, distant hills, or shorelines and islands in the sea – any place likely to provide shelter and sustenance – would surely have been a great aid for survival.
The illusion doesn’t work if we turn our gaze skywards, because it confers no advantage for survival. Our ancestors couldn’t fly. Consequently the sun and moon seem smaller in the sky above us.
If our minds are hard-wired to perceive the horizon more broadly than it is in reality, then we are unlikely to be aware of it.
The only apparent manifestation of this illusion comes from the rising or setting sun and moon that seem to change size in relation to their distance from the horizon. Our eyes are not lying to us; it’s what we think we see that is making the difference.
It’s somewhat salutary to realize that something as basic as a rising or setting sun and moon may not be as simple and straightforward as we always imagined.
In light of this – quite literally – it emphasises that really nothing can be taken for granted, that all assumptions based on first impressions are questionable, and that everything we are taught, regardless of the authority claimed for it, “ain’t necessarily so”.
Who would have thought that a sunset could be so subversive?
Yet, as you watch the moon rise majestically over the eastern horizon this evening, the evidence for this is right in front of your eyes.

In your face. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Humanature by Craig Walsh, which showed in Todd Mall during the recent art at the heart conference, is a captivating, beautifully simple homage to the human face and a reminder of the deep nourishment to the spirit that comes from connection with the natural world. 
Walsh chose a great face to work with  – somewhat androgynous, of uncertain age, mobile and expressive.
He filmed it looking around, blinking, closing eyes, smiling, and then projected the video onto a tree – the sort with a full round canopy, tapering into the trunk, echoing the shape of the human face.
I’d seen video of this work previously (it was originally made for the Woodford Folk Festival in 2004)  but experiencing it in the flesh was incomparably more satisfying, nothing short of uplifting.
Unfortunately, storm damage to the Todd Tavern meant that this inspiring artwork had to be relocated, thus probably missing much of its audience.
It was originally intended to be projected near the Todd Tavern, which was to be the location of the conference’s nightclub.
Storm damage meant the nightclub was transferred to the Convention Centre and Walsh’s work had to find a new location.
Sadly, the best alternative tree was at the back of the recess alongside Adelaide House, not a place into which passers-by would normally look. And having the StoryWall program going on at the same time detracted further from Walsh’s work being able to capture attention (other than that of the StoryWall audience).
Hopefully Walsh will return in the not too distant future, with this or other work. He is embarking on a two year residency, taking a truck loaded with filming and projection equipment across Australia, seeking to “engage with the Australian landscape and communities”.
Called Digital Roaming, the project will be produced by Experimenta, a Melbourne-based arts organisation dedicated to commissioning, exhibiting and promoting media art.
Executive director Liz Hughes, speaking at the conference, is looking for communities to show their interest and support upfront.
Hughes, Walsh and artist Van Sowerwine presented what was for me the most artistically stimulating, rewarding session of the conference, loaded with examples of wildly imaginative, wonderfully conceived and executed media art.
Hughes said Experimenta gives preference to work that captures people’s imagination and empowers them – all of the work was interactive, playful, intriguing, sometimes unsettling.
A couch that responded affectionately to your  touch; a “shy picture” whose characters run away when you approach; a projection of your shadow that then grows monster bits; slow motion footage of the excruciating anticipation of people who can see that a bucket of paint is about to be thrown at them.
And these are descriptions of only the most straightforward works.
Getting some of this work to be exhibited in Alice, perhaps in conjunction with Walsh’s visit, and combining it with skills workshops for local artists (bound to be inspired) would be a real win for the town. It is work for the age and will reach well beyond the usual arts audiences.

Hopeful dawn between first and newcomer Australians. By KIERAN FINNANE.

From the opening images and sounds I am captivated: a family dancing, silhouetted against a flaming evening sky; poignant music that conjures time passing – the time of individual lives, of human and natural history; a broad flat land seeming to rise out of the sea; a voice speaking of the dreamtime, of the lives of the giant ancestor beings, part human, part animal, who would shape that land. In there too Aboriginal chant seeming to echo down through the eons, feet rhythmically stamping the earth, dreamtime beings painted onto the walls of caves, and linking it all, the land, sequence after sequence of vast and beautiful landscapes – this is a big story that is going to be told.
Having introduced, with eloquent simplicity, the great sweep of the subject, First Australians, the first episode of which went to air on SBS last Sunday, takes us to that fateful time and place – January 25, 1788, when the First Fleet sailed into harbour at Warang, as it was known to its inhabitants, Sydney as it would come to be called.
I am already hopeful that I am not going to be lectured, the immediate dour presence of Indigenous historian Professor Marcia Langton (Jiman Nation) notwithstanding. 
I come to appreciate her implacable pronouncements as they take place alongside other voices, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, of historians, professional and amateur,  and of descendants, again Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
With the help of well-judged filmed sequences (showing locations where events took place, evoking atmospheres but without awkward recreations) and of the fascinating pictorial record unearthed from the archives, they weave a story and they interpret it variously and leave us moved, intrigued and with much to think about.
Producers Rachel Perkins and Darren Dale made an early decision to tell this history through individual experience.
The first episode focusses especially on Bennelong – transforming the caricature of popular conception with its portrait of a fun-loving, deeply curious, exceptionally clever and courageous man who met the profound changes of his world head-on, risking everything in his personal exploration before finally turning his back, returning to his traditional way of life.
In tracing the course of Bennelong’s relationship with Governor Arthur Phillip, the program gives insight into an unique moment in human history, a moment historian Inga Clendinnen  describes as “heartbreaking” in that it lasted for just three short years. People of curiosity and goodwill – exemplified by Bennelong and Philip, but not only them – try to comprehend each other in all their difference.
“It looked like something was possible that hadn’t happened anywhere else,” says Clendinnen.
But then “that dawn closed catastrophically”.
Other stories in the first episode, that of the fearsome “clever man” Pemulwuy and also of the Wiradjuri warrior Windradyne, relate some of this unfolding catastrophe.
But Windradyne’s story, especially where it touches that of the settler family, the Suttors, and the story of the tender relationship between William Dawes and the young woman Patyegerang contain those same elements of curiosity and goodwill that Clendinnen refers to.
I feel mostly hopeful, optimistic as the first episode closes that Australians today can recapture something of this “dawn” despite all the suffering that has come since.
I don’t know to what degree this hope will be sustained by the further six episodes of the series – but it is worth hanging on to.
In the NT the series is showing at 8pm on Tuesdays and Sundays. It can also be viewed online.
Of particular interest to Central Australians will be episode four, going to air next Tuesday, which deals with the activities of Constable Willshire, chronicled in this paper by historian Dick Kimber in 2003-04.

ADAM CONNELLY: Alice will quieten down soon enough.

For those new to Alice Springs let me assure you it’s going to be OK. The social trap of going to 27 different dos in one weekend will pass. Summer will come and Alice Springs will quieten down. 
In fact it’s not that long until the town resembles scenes out of I am Legend. 
From the week before Christmas until just before Australia Day Alice Springs looks like one of those towns from the gold boom in the 1800s. A desolate shell of its former glory. Tumbleweeds rolling down the main street, a broken windmill with its rusted staccato revolutions. Only in Alice it’s generally trash rolling down the Todd Mall and a stolen bicycle with its rusted staccato revolutions.
From the middle of December most of the citizens of Alice, like the albatross of the Pacific, begin their migration south for the summer. The irony of the mass exodus is that many leave for the metropoles of our fair country in order to relax and unwind.
That’s how hectic Alice Springs can be in the lead up to Christmas. In order to find some peace and tranquility we are forced to book a flight to a busy city.
We all head off for the purgatory that is the Christmas dinner with family. The obligatory fight with Uncle Ken, granddad having one too many ports, the one-up-manship of the family stories. While we all roll our eyes at that aspect of Christmas, it’s a tonic we all need.
With the last days of the Masters Games and balls and functions coming at us left right and centre before the Christmas party season, we need, to use modern speak, to find positive solutions to our body’s recuperatory needs.
The first thing I might suggest is to learn how to say yes without committing to an event. It is an essential skill for surviving the next six to eight weeks.
The trick is to use the manic nature of the season to your advantage. Never say “I’d love to come.” Or even “That’s sounds great.” These are absolute comments and they will hold you to attending.
Instead say “Look, I’m pretty sure I’m free.” That way you don’t have to commit until you are absolutely sure that is the event you wish to attend.
If you really want to go to more than one event during an evening, a little preparation is in order.
Might I be so bold as to suggest a little invention of mine? A busy little beverage I like to call the Powerocca. 
I believe it to be the Frankenstein’s Monster of morning after tonics. Simply drop a couple of Berocca tablets into a bottle of Powerade. The combination of the two can give you the edge you need to face the grueling schedule of the Alice Springs social scene. It’s pure genius I know.
The ability to sleep wherever you can is also a massive advantage.  I don’t mean the gutter, the men’s room floor or in a stranger’s bed, but if you’ve had too much to drink you might need to crash on the party host's lounge.
If you’re particularly exhausted you may need to have a couple of winks in the passenger seat of the car on the way to the shops.
If you’ve done the Friday, Saturday, Sunday night treble you may need to find a quiet spot at work to rest your eyes.
What I find works well is to place an important document under your nose on the desk then rest your head in one hand with the elbow on the desk. Not only does this act as a support for the napping head but also looks like you’re deep in work mode, engrossed in the document. In reality of course you’re catching up on a little sleep. 
All of these hints will help you survive the next 10 or so weeks. If you don’t take this warning you may find yourself looking in the bathroom mirror one morning with someone quite a bit older staring back. And that’s something no one needs to have happen … again.

Take it or leave it?

Pop Vulture with CAMERON BUCKLEY reviews the latest from Tex Perkins and his Ladyboys, No 1s and No 2s.
“Jumping over fences, stealing clothes, sliding down drainpipes, following my nose”: No 1s and No 2s from Tex Perkins and his Ladyboys is fittingly reviewed in the form of a house break as a thief fumbles around, deciding what to fleece and what to leave.
I’m in the house through a “jimmied” window.  Should I steal the production?
The work that has gone into the making the latest volume in the Tex Perkins library is a fine example of what the body of musicians involved (Tex Perkins, Suzie Demarchi, Nic Cester and Jimmy Barnes) can produce collectively. 
After stuffing the production into a bag, I steal on.
Noticing a safe, I open it – there is little to no originality here. All the songs on this album are covers. This is always a lazily bold move.  It is essential that a different spin be placed on each track and this is only half achieved here.
Tex has shifted his voice, from drugged baritone of earlier years to a gravel-throated semi-drawl that sounds like it was wiped off the bar at closing time.
This puts his already varied styles at a new high. The  downside is the lack of tempo changes, making all the tracks instantly recognisable.
I steal off, out the window, with the spoils of great production in my bag but knowing that an album of covers is really like an old grandfather clock. The looks are there, but how many people have already heard it chime.
Rating: 546/1000  

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