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

Another icon going. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Alice Springs looks set to lose another part of its built heritage.
This is despite an assertive move by Mayor Damien Ryan and Town Council CEO Rex Mooney to try to save from demolition the sandstone mural on the west-facing wall of Kmart.
This is one of Alice’s few works of public art, certainly the biggest and one the best – mirroring the view along the ranges to the west, from the Gap to Mount Gillen.
With the wall already being dismantled, on Monday morning Mr Mooney issued a “cease work” order when it was discovered that the Planning Authority’s original Instrument of Determination to develop the building, dated May 24, 1984, included the condition that the sandstone wall “will at all times be maintained to the satisfaction of the Town Engineer”.
In contravention of that instrument, the council had not been informed of the fate of the wall.
It was the Alice Springs News who alerted Mr Ryan to it late last week.
After Monday night’s council meeting, during which several aldermen expressed alarm over repercussions for council should the wall or part of it collapse, a decision was made to lift the cease work order. Work was progressing on the demolition as the Alice News went to press.
The top metre of the wall was damaged during the fierce storm that struck the town on September 22.
The demolition was announced in a press release issued late Friday, November 14, initially escaping media attention.
The release, made by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure’s media officer, said in one of its two sentences: “The feature wall has been assessed by a building certifier as a significant hazard to public safety in its weakened state.”
On the same day chairman of the Development Consent Authority had written to the owners of the building, advising them that all construction works, including demolition, that are not accordance with the original instrument and plans, required consent under the NT Planning Scheme and in consultation with the Town Council.
Apparently a decision was then made by the department to not enforce the instrument due to safety considerations.
The Alice News asked the department whether an assessment of what it would take to repair, rather than demolish, the wall had been made.
We were referred to the Project Building Certifiers who undertook for assessment for owners, Centro Properties Group.
Building certifier Duncan Cook said the wall was built to “a 1967 standard that doesn’t comply with today’s standards”.
He said the wall had come loose from the Kmart building to which it was only “partly tied”.
He also said the mortar between the masonry units “seems not to have adhered”.
The units “come away quite easily”.
And he referred to “vertical cracks within the wall” especially near the part that represents The Gap.
He said repair of the wall as it exists is not an “economic option”.
Once it has been removed “to make the site safe”, an architect will be engaged to look at options for “reinstating it”.
“I believe they may look at a way of reinstating a similar mural if it can be done structurally.
“But it can’t be done the way it was done originally,” said Mr Cook.
In Monday night’s Town Council meeting the Acting Director of Technical Services, engineer Tony Cheng, spoke of the possibilities.
He said there would be “engineering solutions” for retaining the facade; the problem would be “cost”.
The alternative would be “to accept what is being offered” – that “only parts [of the wall] remain”.
He also referred to “a replica” using “some of the original sandstone”. 
Whatever the outcome, it will have to have the consent of the Town Council and the Development Consent Authority.
It will be up to the town to insist that they settle for nothing less than a complete reinstatement.
Past experience of the loss of our built heritage does not give rise to optimism.

Parental responsibility in NT: big stick too small. By KIERAN FINNANE.

There has been just one parental responsibility agreement and no orders (and thus no penalties) in five months since the Youth Justice Act came into force.
Under the Act Family Responsibility Centres are to be set up, one in Darwin, one in Alice Springs.
Neither are yet open although that does not prevent agreements and orders from being issued, says a spokesperson.
Alice’s centre, allocated $300,000, will hopefully open in March next year, says Youth Minister as well as Children and Families Minister, Malarndirri McCarthy.
Families referred by police and the courts as well as families who feel they need help will get it from the centre, says Ms McCarthy.
She says the system will go some way towards preventing some of the problems being experienced in Alice as a result of children not being adequately supervised and cared for.
It will take a “holistic approach” to supporting families and young people, she says.
She stresses the supportive role of such centres, although when they were first announced by her predecessor, the “stick” role was highlighted.
Families would have to take responsibility for their children and if they didn’t they would face penalties – “fines of up to $2200, the seizure of assets and community service”.
The system was supposed to start in Alice in October.
Why the delay?
A spokesperson says this is due to the introduction of two new Acts – the Care and Protection of Children Act, which replaces the previous  20 year old Act, and the Youth Justice Act – as well as a department re-structure.
Ms McCarthy says the centre will recognise that children may need support from outside the family, for instance, from youth groups and counsellors.
But for children whose families can’t help, what are the options – where can they go?
The Alice News is aware of a recent instance where children in the care of  NTFC (NT Families and Children, an acronym that replaces the familiar FACS), two brothers, were being accommodated in a hotel as there was nowhere else for them to go.
The News has since heard from a reliable source that this occurs frequently, with staff obviously paid to stay with the children.
We asked Ms McCarthy how often this has occurred over the last year and at what cost?
She says accommodation in hotels is normal when children and their carers from remote communities come into Alice Springs for health visits or for court.
She also confirms a recent “exceptional circumstance”, involving intervention by police and NTFC staff, where a young person was accommodated in a hotel, in the care of NTFC workers.
Does this happen only exceptionally?
“I am advised that [in] exceptional circumstances, where the police are involved with NTFC staff, that this does occur.”
How often? In her understanding, it does not happen often.
Normally, children in the care of the Minister are placed into foster care.
However foster carers are not in plentiful supply, so what other options are there?
This is decided on case by case.
“We have options available to deal with emergencies,” says Ms McCarthy.
The News asked for further specifics. We have heard of NTFC workers reluctant to intervene because they have nowhere to send children.
A spokesperson for Ms McCarthy says, “It is certainly not ‘reluctance’.” She says the focus of child protection is to keep the family together.
Ms McCarthy sees her work as Youth Minister as important in heading off emergencies and intends to meet with those running youth programs, such as Tangentyere Council and Congress, when she visits Alice in the near future. 
But she also wants to meet with other organisations or individuals “who want to help me with the youth situation in Alice Springs”.
“It’s got to be more than just a NTFC issue – I would like to see it more from a preventative point of view before it becomes a welfare issue.”
So, back to square one.

‘Dam fillers’ at Undoolya. By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

Rain has fallen just in the nick of time for cattle on Undoolya Station, which lies on the eastern boundary of Alice Springs and is one of the oldest working cattle stations in the Territory.
Many of the cattle had become weak and couldn’t be moved – the rain has given them a chance.
The bulls, of course, were removed a while ago –   if the cows had had calves in their weakened state, they couldn’t have supported them.
Now is a “very exciting” time for owners, Nicole and Ben Hayes (pictured above).
“We’re happy and want the rain to keep coming,” says Nicole. 
It’s been sad for all of them to see cows “so skinny” and depressing work for Ben “dragging dead cattle out of the bore”.
The dry times also saw their family having to make “a lot of cut backs”. 
Hopefully that’s behind them for a while.
The first rains were “dam fillers” and their pasture is growing – that should keep the station afloat through most of next year.
But Ben errs on the side of caution: “It doesn’t mean we’re out of the drought. We won’t know until April.”
For Ben and Nicole’s five children, the sixth generation to live out at Undoolya, there are added benefits: Saturday was spent jet-skiing at the dam, a rare opportunity.
They were also excited by the hailstones that fell mid-November – they’d never seen hail before.
However, things could have easily taken a turn for the worst.  Just a short distance from the nineteenth century homestead the weather had been more extreme.
The strong winds and large hail stones stripped many trees of their foliage.
Fortunately back at the homestead only one window was smashed, there were some dents in a car, and some fences needed fixing. 
The forecast of heavy rain on Tuesday afternoon last week had Nicole “racing into town to collect the children from school” so they could reach the homestead before the dirt road became flooded.
Shortly after, Ben was on the phone: “Don’t bother trying to get home – the creeks are full!”
Another rare occurrence.
“We had to stay in town for a good couple of hours until it settled,” says Nicole.
Just a few weeks ago things were looking grim. 
When pastures dry up station owners are often forced to move cattle further afield.
Freighting cattle in the Centre is a costly task.
Nicole estimates they’ve spent well over $200,000 to freight cattle to Queensland this year.
And there’ll be no return on those cattle until next year as they  are not mature enough to sell.
The Hayes have sold some cattle this year in South Australia but prices were down, while the cost of of feed and fuel has increased significantly.
Their cattle fetched $1.12 per kilo, compared to $1.17 per kilo 10 years ago.
Many pastoralists have turned to additional business ventures over the years. For some it has been the only way to keep the station running.
Six years ago Ben’s father, Jim Hayes, decided to start a table grape plantation, out by Rocky Hill, south-east of town on the road to Santa Teresa.
The cattle are still making the greatest return, but it’s reassuring to have another business to fall back on.
The grapes are harvested and sold from November through to January – convenient because that’s when the station is not marketing beef.
But the grape business is costly, says Nicole.
“We transport all the way to Victoria and there’s picking expenses.”
Ironically, the November rains have not been good for the grapes. 
A helicopter had to be flown in to blow away excess water, another unwanted expense.
“And being cooler too the grapes aren’t sweetening as well as they could. We’re a bit worried about that,” admits Nicole.
Yet the couple remain upbeat about the future. Ben says the produce is “getting bigger and better each year”.
North west of Alice Springs it is a very different story. Janet Chisholm of Napperby Station says they’ve had no more rain since speaking to the Alice News 10 days ago.
Their dams are still empty: “It’s still very dry. Most of our neighbours are dry.”
Napperby is one of the largest cattle stations in Central Australia and the Chisholm family have worked it since the late 1940s.
Prices have stayed roughly the same during the last 20 years, while the cost of production is at least five times higher, says Janet.  
For Napperby, there is little choice but to continue selling cattle whether there is rain or not: “We had to sell. You sell whether it’s good or bad.”
Like many others, they too have started an additional business. Back in 1991 they built Tilmouth Well, a roadhouse on the outskirts of the station, with a 10 year plan to develop the business.
It’s now a popular tourist destination. With accommodation, a swimming pool, a golf course and “much more” it has certainly helped Napperby get through the long drought.
Although still waiting for follow-up rains – and even then it will be another two to three years before the station recovers – Janet remains optimistic about the future.
“We’ve had some rain, it’s greener here. Our turn will come. But we’re not out of trouble yet.”

Carbon could make the Centre dirt rich. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Good news for us in the bush where land is plentifull and people are scarce: Carbon can be pulled out of the atmosphere into soils almost immediately, improving soil quality, retaining moisture and nutrients  – thus reducing the need for irrigation and fertilisers – and it can be traded.
The method is suitable for anywhere experiencing “significant variability in rainfall” – which sounds like Central Australia.
It’s being developed in Townsville where the local council is playing a facilitating role in this “environmental revolution” set to bring millions into the North Queensland economy while also leading towards more sustainable farming practices. But they think their methods have lessons and opportunities for other regions, especially those of arid Australia. 
The council’s economic development manager, Andrew McEwen, together with Ken Bellamy from Prime Carbon Pty Ltd (formerly the Townsville Carbon Exchange Pty Ltd), spoke at the recent Desert Knowledge Symposium.
Their method involves the spraying onto soils of “biological agents” which sequester carbon.
These agents are “photosynthetic bacteria and friends”, says Mr Bellamy, who has patented the innovation. 
They are designed to stimulate photosynthetic activity  – in other words, catch light from the sun and make carbon with it.
“The beauty is with these guys present in the soil, plants can do more photosynthesis, so you get more carbon being absorbed both above and below the surface,” says Mr Bellamy.
The agents already have a five year track record, showing returns of 55 tonnes of carbon per hectare over two years on a number of test farms and parkland sites.
Higher returns have been achieved on degraded lands because they absorb carbon at a greater rate.
Returns from tree planting are 1.5 tonnes of carbon per hectare per annum.
Soil carbon is measured before the application and throughout the process. In the trial phase the farms showed rises over the five years. Eventually however a plateau is reached – there is a natural absorption limit.
Carbon trading schemes mean that a dollar amount can be attached to sequestered carbon.
Traded at $20 per tonne treated land would return $550 a year per hectare.
The carbon sector internationally is growing at 20% a year, and had an estimated worth of $63b in 2007.
Australia is to have its own emissions trading scheme by 2010.
Mr McEwen says costs vary from location to location, because of price differences in the product provision, spraying and assessment, but he estimates the net return to the landowner of 1000 hectares as “conservatively” $1.5m over four years.
Two experiences are of special relevance to Central Australia.
The agents are being trialled on cattle stations in north-west NSW.
They are not only sequestering carbon, but also water from the air.
This achieves better pasture for the grazier, increased protection from dry spells, increased value of the property and the potential to trade in carbon cedits.
Townsville Council has also trialled the biological agents on its parkland.
Townsville is in the dry tropics – its rain falls all at one time in the year. The council’s current irrigation bill is $7m pa. In the treated area of the parkland soil moisture was boosted by 12-15%, which means a corresponding reduction in the need to irrigate.
This saves water, energy and money, and as well the sequestered carbon has a commercial value.
Another benefit is in improved soil fertility and structure, which is leading to safer playing fields.
“Our ovals had become harder and tougher and this was leading to more injuries for kids doing sport,” says Mr McEwen.

Black housing back to drawing board. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither, it seems, will be the $647m Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP).
The Aboriginal housing crisis and the slump in construction activity notwithstanding, and SIHIP’s inception soon after the election of the Rudd Government a year ago, the first sod still hasn’t been turned in The Centre.
SIHIP has been busy selecting 13 firms, mostly from interstate, as “alliance partners”, only one of which – Sitzler Brothers – is from Central Australia.
But the NT Department of Local Government and Housing says “there will be many other opportunities for Central Australian companies to become involved through sub-contracting with this program”.  The department does not state when this will be.
“There is still a lot to be understood about the way the whole process is structured,” says Graham Kemp, general manager of the Territory Construction Association.
“A lot needs to be explained. Small to medium enterprise builders have not been brought into the equation yet.”
Mr Kemp says the alliance is carrying out the role of the government agency Remote Area Housing, subcontracting 10 houses, for example, on behalf of the alliance partners.
According to Territory Housing this is the simplest and most cost-saving way of doing it: “It’s a new model we have never seen rolled out in NT before,” says Mr Kemp. “We’re looking forward to seeing how it works.”
The department is saying there will be refurbishments of homes in Wallace Rockhole, Nturiya, Wilora, Haasts Bluff, Canteen Creek, Imanpa, Engawala, Atitjere, Areyonga, Santa Teresa, Kalkarindji, Kintore, Ali Curung, Yuelamu, Finke, Titjikala, Wutunugura, Mutitjulu, Pmara Jutunta, Nyirripi, Willowra, Mount Liebig, Laramba, Amoonguna, Papunya, Alpurrurulam, Kaltukatjara and Ampilatwalja.

Gallery in the Mall opens with panache.

An ambitious new gallery in Todd Mall opened on the weekend.
Ambitious in the current economic climate and also in that not all of its eggs will go into the Indigenous art basket.
While it opened with an impressive show from Watiyawanu Artists, dominated by a massive and brilliant canvas from Wentja Napaltjarri, Peta Appleyard Gallery’s first show in the new year will be mostly of female nudes by non-Indigenous Melbourne-based artist, David Bromley.
He is one of “Australia’s bigger art exports”, says Ms Appleyard.
Her intention is to “invigorate” the local art market, “get people talking, interested”, encourage people in their “journey of collecting”, of not only Aboriginal art but all art.
The current show has work by 18 of the 25 artists painting at Mt Liebig, with emerging artists included in the judiciously hung spread.
On the rear wall is a dynamic canvas by the late Bill Whiskey Tjapaltjarri (who earnt his name for his facial hair – whiskers – not a drinking habit).
Ms Anderson spoke movingly about this “grandfather” who was an important influence in her life.
She congratulated Ms Appleyard, whom she remembers as a child growing up out bush, for “standing and showing that anything can be done” in this time of economic crisis and for “the love and inspiration” she has given to the artists.

The notorious MC Willshire:  colleague doubted his sanity.

Part 2 of an interview with historian DICK KIMBER about Mounted Constable Willshire, accused but acquitted of murder.
ERWIN CHLANDA asks Mr Kimber about the verdict that history delivers.

NEWS: What do Willshire’s records tell us about the alleged murder?  
KIMBER: Initially they tell us that he was in charge of a patrol to Tempe Downs during which two Native Police, according to his formal report, attempted to arrest two men called Donkey and Roger, but because they fiercely resisted, the trackers shot them in self-defence.  Willshire says that he was about 100 yards away when this occurred. 
Further to this, he states that Donkey was the man who had thrown the spear that had killed the father of his Native Constable Larry, while a few years earlier Roger had killed the father of Native Constable Joe.  They and others were also said to have been involved in cattle-killing. 
In the past such reports had been accepted, but the newly appointed Attorney-General had been more forensic than usual in his reading of various reports and had smelt a rat. 
NEWS: What did Gillen’s questioning reveal? 
KIMBER: A very large rat!  When questioned Willshire admitted that he had been in error about obtaining the search warrants from Charles Gall, which really meant that he had lied about this. 
All agree that he was about 100 yards away, and did not do the actual shooting. 
Something that is extremely difficult to believe is that the several white stockmen present said that they were all inside the station homestead, and that most of them did not hear gunshots, let alone witness anything.  
Much more significantly, though, approximately 15 Aboriginal witnesses made statements that directly implicated Willshire in the murders.  These included that he had ordered the shooting of Donkey and Roger by the Native Constables because he wanted their wives, one of whom had previously been living with him at Boggy Hole. 
(The missionaries had also reported this, having seen one of them at his personal camp, but in that they had not actually witnessed sexual acts, their evidence had been put aside by the Committee of Inquiry). 
Several reported him dancing, apparently in excited approval, as Donkey and Roger were shot.  One Aboriginal woman said that she had seen him take a knife and cut the wounded man, Roger’s, throat to finish him off. 
Then, although Willshire initially said that the Aborigines had taken the bodies and burnt them, the witnesses stated that Willshire had arranged for the burning of the bodies before sitting down to breakfast.  It was also stated that he had attempted to “coach” the Native Constables in their responses. 
The end-result of the questioning of the many witnesses was that Gillen described the evidence as “serious and revolting” and, with the approval of the Attorney-General, had Willshire arrested by Mounted Constable South, who put him in chains.  He was formally charged “[that] he did feloniously willfully and of his malice aforethought kill and murder two aboriginal natives Donkey and Roger”. 
NEWS: You can’t get a much more serious charge than that. 
KIMBER: No, and Mounted Constable South independently wrote in his report, with specific reference to the “unfortunate shootings”:
“[I] have doubts of M.C. Willshire’s sanity.  I have known him for nearly 14 years, & have always considered him eccentric, with an inordinate love of Notoriety.” 
He reiterates that he can think of no reason for the shootings “unless the result of insanity.” 
NEWS:  That is a telling comment in support of Gillen’s investigations, given that South and Willshire were fellow police officers on the frontier.  Do you know whether there was any enmity between them? 
KIMBER:  None whatsoever, as far as any records tell.  The comments are based on his knowledge of Willshire, but more importantly on what he had heard from the various witnesses, as well as an examination of the place where the bodies had been burnt.  He may even have been trying to give Willshire a last-resort way out, by later having a doctor declare him insane.  However that is pure speculation, and there is no other evidence to suggest that it was a potential “escape clause” from a likely hanging.
NEWS:  After his arrest I understand that he was escorted in chains down to Port Augusta for trial, along with some witnesses.  Why wasn’t he sent to Adelaide? 
KIMBER: Port Augusta was the centre for the Police for northern South Australia and the Northern Territory, and had a gaol and court-house.  It was entirely conventional that he be sent there.  One of the reported 15 witnesses was a white man who had helped Willshire to burn the bodies; the rest were Aborigines, including his Native Police. 
NEXT WEEK: What was the feeling in Port Augusta – was it neutral, a lynch mob mentality, or supportive of Willshire?

2008: a triumphant year for Papunya Tula artists.

It’s been an extraordinary year for Papunya Tula Artists.
The top national Indigenous art awards have gone to their artists. 
Seven of them entered the Telstra, four were accepted, and two were winners, with Makinti Napanangka taking the major prize and Doreen Reid Nakamarra, the painting prize.
Two entered the inaugural Western Australian Indigenous Art Awards, now the richest in the country.
Both entries were accepted for the small field of 16 finalists, and one, Patrick Tjungurrayi, took the $50,000 purse.
Within the Territory, Papunya Tula were prominent in, even if they didn’t win, the TogArt Contemporary Art Award, with seven out of seven entries accepted as finalists.
They took part, as they always do, in Desert Mob and staged 13 group exhibitions, the largest being the double-barreled show which opened in their gallery in Alice Springs on the weekend. The other shows went interstate.
Two artists had solo shows – Tjunkiya Napaltjarri and George Tjungurrayi  – and Makinti took part in a mixed show.
Behind the scenes their company is moving towards the final stage of an upgrade, entirely paid for out of company profits, which began with the Alice gallery moving into its current, far more prominent and appealing premises.
This was followed by the construction of a purpose built studio in Kintore, which opened last year, and new staff housing in both Kintore and Kiwirrkura.
Now they will build a studio in Kiwirrkura, the tiny community just across the border in WA which continues to spawn particularly women artists of exceptional vision and talent.
They include Yinarupa Nangala whose large untitled work in the Alice exhibition is an inspiring expression of life across a sweep of desert – country where there is just so much going on for the knowing eye, the multitudinous activities of people, animals, plants, and, doubtless, ancestor spirits. 
Yinarupa uses subtle painting, especially in her handling of a spare palette, multiple motifs and a large scale to express this vision.
Another standout work, by Florrie Watson Napangati, smaller, rigorously minimalist in its dense, rhythmic movement of all but obscured layers of colour, thin lines and fine dots, is also charged with a grasp of the intensity and complexity of life.
Both these artists have emerged relatively recently, with Florrie’s style changing dramatically within the last few years.
Their achievements underline the ongoing strength of Papunya Tula, in the context of an impressive overall show of 65 works by 27 artists, including of course the big names – like Makinti and Doreen Reid.
And this is just the front room, where the works go under the banner, Marrkangku yara palyantjaku ngurrangka, meaning “making strong paintings at home”.
This is the profound conviction of Papunya Tula – that it is artists’ deep connection with their homelands that underpins their great art.
In the back room, there are 22 works by nine artists (including one deceased) of the kinship subsection Tjungurrayi Tjapaltjarri – men from both Kintore and Kiwirrkura.
Included is a very large painting by Patrick Tjungurrayi, pulsating with rhythm, colour and warmth, in the vein of the group of paintings which won him the WA award. 
A map on the wall that schematises the tracts of country travelled by these artists in life and in their paintings again emphasises the source of their inspiration.
The curatorial effort that has gone into this show makes it all the more rewarding and a highlight of this year’s viewing.
On opening night 65% of work was sold, bringing in over $150,000. This included Yinarupa’s large work which sold for $60,000.
On Tuesday work was still selling, with many images being emailed out to collectors interstate.
Manager Paul Sweeney said sales were better than expected in the current climate and is confident the entire show will sell in time.

Uranium expert advises Alice News readers, writers.

An independent academic expert has - most generously - agreed to provide advice in the Alice Springs News on issues arising from planned uranium mining near Alice.He is Dr D. C. “Bear” McPhail,  a Reader (the equivalent of an Associate Professor) at the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences.
The Canberra based academic says he is “a geologist, more specifically a geochemist, with experience and interests in groundwater, environmental science, water quality and ore deposits, which he has been researching and teaching in Australia for more than 15 years”.
Dr McPhail has a Ph. D. in geochemistry (Princeton University, 1991), which followed Masters and Bachelor degrees in geology (University of British Columbia).
“I have done some research and teaching directly related to uranium, including studying the water chemistry of the Paralana Hot Springs near Arkaroola and distribution of uranium in the Albury-Wodonga area of NSW and Victoria,” says Dr McPhail, “and teaching aspects of uranium ore deposits, mining and environmental impacts.”
The Alice Springs News has been leading the coverage of the Angela Pamela mining proposal south of the town, which gained exploration approval from the NT Government early this year.
The News is also a major platform for debate.
Last week we announced we would look for an independent expert, who does not have any vested interest in the subject, and who would give us advice on issues raised by the groups with a stake in the project.
These are, broadly, the mining company Cameco and its partner, Paladin; the Territory Government; the forcefully articulate local opponents to uranium mining; and interests in the town keen on the economic benefits the new industry would bring.
The Alice News has announced previously that we welcome debate on the local aspects of the uranium mining, but that we have insufficient space for a discussion of the wider, global nuclear issues.
Local uranium mining issues, including suitable Letters to the Editor, will be one of the themes the Alice News will continue to cover in our online edition while our print edition is on its usual summer break.

LETTERS: Caldicott independent? Pull the other one ... and: Kids can’t be forced to go to school, says department

Sir,- Hal Duell recommends Helen Caldicott as an “independent expert” on uranium and nuclear power?
Crikey! And David Chewings is an unbiased commentator on our Town Council?  Clarrie O’Roie on William Willshire?
Helen Caldicott is many things, but the one thing she is not is an “independent expert” on nuclear issues. She is so partisan that she has no claim to be independent.  She also has no particular expertise on most nuclear issues. 
Helen has a long history in the nuclear debate but has little credibility as an objective contributor except with those people who start from the viewpoint that everything nuclear is bad, and who would oppose any nuclear proposal at all.
The rest of us need to keep a more open mind. 
It may be that nuclear power is the “shit sandwich” that we have to eat this century to ameliorate climate change, to stop the global temperatures rising more than two degrees Celsius. 
It may not be possible to prevent this without adding nuclear power to the policy mix.  The consequences of a global temperature rise of four degrees may outweigh the risks associated with nuclear power.
We need to keep an open mind.  We need to be aware that there are risks on all sides that we need to weigh up as accurately as we can, and then make informed decisions about managing those risks.  An understanding of opportunity cost needs to be part of this decision-making process.
As to whether the Angela-Pamela deposit should be mined, that is another issue.
We need to be able to distinguish between the general risks associated with the nuclear fuel cycle and the particular risks to our local environment of developing Angela-Pamela. 
Most of the people who have been writing in opposing Angela-Pamela are also vehemently opposed to nuclear power – they would oppose any uranium mining project.  We need to consider their particular objections to the local mine with that in mind.
Rather than going to Helen Caldicott for “independent expert” opinion,  we would be better to go to Wikipedia on nuclear power for a basic primer, then follow the links in all directions to our heart’s content. 
Go to Radio National’s Science Show website. Listen to the Science Show!  Watch Catalyst on ABC TV! 
We need more scientific literacy, we need to get a broad sense of the issues in the energy and climate change debate.  And then we can help our governments’ make informed decisions.
Ian Sharp
Alice Springs

Sir,– I work in Todd Mall and see the same school-age children aimlessly wandering around during school hours.
So, I rang the education department in Alice Springs to inform them of my concern.
In response, I learnt there was no truancy officer in Alice Springs and that it is not possible to “force” students to be at school.
Does this sound strange to you?
I feel sorry for these lonely, unsupervised children who are not getting an education. What hope do they have?
Christopher Raja
Alice Springs


Sir,– The Territory Opposition will introduce amendments to the Government’s Public Interest Disclosure Bill.
The Government’s Bill has a number of flaws. It fails to protect whistleblowers that go to the media or a Member of Parliament when their concerns aren’t being properly dealt with.
The Opposition’s amendments provide for response timelines and allow individuals to take their concerns to the media or a Member of Parliament if they reasonably believe the official response is inadequate or inappropriate.
The Opposition’s amendments require the whistleblower to receive a written days and subsequent status reports at the end of each following 90 day period.
After six months the whistleblower can go to the media or a member of parliament with the information if he or she believes the official response has been inadequate or inappropriate.
Further under the Government’s Bill projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer’s funds will not be covered by whistleblower protection.
For example should an employee of a building company contracted to deliver housing in the bush uncover the misuse of funds, that employee would not be covered.
The issue is whether public money is being misused, not whether the person who uncovers the misuse is a public servant.
Under our amendments these private employees receive the same protection as a public servant blowing the whistle in the same circumstances.
The Government’s Bill also makes ministerial staff disclose concerns about the conduct of a Minister to the Speaker of Parliament, who inturn is under no obligation to do anything with the information received.
The Speaker of Parliament and Government Ministers are almost always from the same political party.
That means  it would be a leap of faith for a staffer to take a complaint to the Speaker.
Our amendments enable ministerial staffers to take their concerns to the Commissioner.
Terry Mills
Opposition Leader

One in a million

Dear Alice,- What a welcome back you gave me on Saturday last – it astounded me that you would have my photo in the paper, but even more astounding was that you cried.
I know your people have been waiting for you to cry but to wait until I arrived was tremendous.
Naturally as you are a show pony, Alice, your tears were plentiful and the Todd flowed – what a sight and many memories of the times I stood in that river as part of my job.
But the better memory was that our swimming hole at Wigleys would be full.  Many an afternoon, sometimes even work afternoons, we skived off to Wigleys, in the name of work of course. 
And so, Alice, you smiled, and when you do the sky is blue and the sun near perfect.
I spent some time sitting in Sporties with two of your favourite friends, reminiscing about those who were here between ‘70 and ‘77 when I was ensconced at Todd House, Melanka, and an infamous house at 55 Bath Street.
You were so tiny in those days, we all knew everyone. 
Alice, it’s about 18 years since I last felt your embrace and just as I  and many of my friends have, you have grown too, quite large I might add.  And just like ourselves not all of that is good.
I like your mall, Alice, but not sure I like all the graffiti – we have a program where I live now, run by the council where you call up about graffiti and it’s removed within 12 hours. 
Five years ago the budget was $65K, today it’s $15K. 
The answer is to get it removed fast before they can boast to their mates.
Other changes, Alice, are the people. I went walking each morning and people do avoid saying hello.  I know I am not as good looking as 30 years ago, but Alice neither are you – we have all aged but I still love you. 
You hold close to you many good friends of mine, you support them and they return the support to you.
You are generous but please, Alice, give up on the growing, tidy yourself up, and whatever you do please do not turn the Melanka site into a park. We all know what will happen.
And so, Alice, in saying farewell again, look after yourself. You have many friends, just make sure those that are telling you what to do are doing it in your best interest.
Dillon (Brian) O’Sullivan
Hawera NZ

ADAM CONNELLY: I'm a nerd screaming to be set free

Bubbling away under the outer uber-coolness of Adam, a raging torrent of nerd has been screaming to be let free.
There’s a new branch of science. New branches of science don’t come around that often so when they do anyone with an inner nerd gets a bit jittery. These people either spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to suppress their inner geek or swiftly realise that the time and energy spent on suppression could be charted on a graph with energy on the x axis and time on the y.
There have been a couple of new branches of science discovered in my lifetime. The last one was nano-science, the study of incredibly small things. Nanotechnology may help us attain faster computers, may solve our global carbon problem and may cure cancer at the source.
But the new branch of science promises to change the way we associate with everything. The science of networks is making the pocket protector brigade foam at the mouth and grab for their asthma medication.
Smarter people than I have figured out that the every network from the internet to the cardio vascular system all behave in a certain manner, the understanding and manipulation of which can be amazingly beneficial to humanity. Understanding networks means we can potentially stop the spread of pandemics, eradicate diseases and better predict global financial slow downs.
When a new branch of science is discovered, it is not only very exciting but also very surprising. We as a global community walk around the planet with a certain cocksuredness, safe in the knowledge that although we don’t know everything about the universe, we are pretty close.
Well, a new branch of science reminds us that the sum total of human understanding is somewhat nano compared to the total of all there is to know.
That’s the beauty of science. Even when we think we know something for sure, we keep testing it to make sure we do.
Take evolution for example. The greatest scientific minds can’t agree on how or why living things change. Some say it takes a very long time, others say that due to catastrophic events, species evolve in quite a short time.
With the world bursting at the seams and climate change the new catch phrase of the millennium, maybe we are on the brink of a new evolution. But what would the new human look like?
With the world getting hotter, those of us with naturally pasty, pale blue skin might have to evolve something more suitable to the environment. We may need our hair to prematurely whiten in order to reflect some of the heat from the sun. Our hands and feet might change too. These ancient inventions are useless at high speed texting. Imagine how much faster we could communicate with two thumbs on each hand. Another finger or two for the computer keyboard might not be such a bad idea either.
With rising sea levels soon to make Broken Hill a coastal seaside retreat, our feet might have to evolve into some sort of foot-fin hybrid. Maybe not webbed but an Ian Thorpe size 17 type of arrangement.
Our vision will change too. The bright lights of the sun and the constant sitting in a darkened room looking at a bright computer screen means we will have to evolve eyes that can handle close up bright vision.
Can you picture human 2.0? If you see one you’ll know that you have become obsolete. That’s my scientific opinion anyway. But of course the beauty of science is that there’s a chance I could be wrong.
Before I go I’d like to thank a loyal Adam’s Apple reader, Norma, for her letter this week. I love getting proper hand-written letters. They too are sadly evolving into the soulless text message. A lovely letter and I’m glad you enjoy the column.

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