December 11, 2008. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

OK for $50m camps deal. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Town Camp housing associations are due to sign 40 year sub-leases on January 10, according to a briefing given to the Town Council on Monday.
The sub-leases will be held by the Office of Township Leasing, a federal government body set up for this purpose.
They will pave the way for a $50m investment in housing and infrastructure on the camps.
This is additional to $5.3m allocated for immediate repairs in July.
Tenancies of the upgraded housing will be managed by Territory Housing.
And there will be a rating system or similar to fund delivery of municipal services.
Council heard from Commonwealth public servant Caroline Edwards in their first update on the issue since July, despite them being recognised by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin as a “key stakeholder”, according to Ms Edwards. 
Mayor Damien Ryan told Ms Edwards council was “starved for information”.
The work on the camps, as on remote communities, will be carried out by major Australian companies under the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP).
Only one of the companies, Sitzler Brothers, is from Central Australia.
Employment and training programs for Indigenous people and “community engagement” are essential components of the SIHIP program, Ms Edwards said, attracting financial incentives, and, if not complied with,  financial penalties.
Alderman Samih Habib suggested $50m was not enough to do the job. Ms Edwards agreed and referred to the recent COAG announcement of $1.94b over 10 years for remote Indigenous housing, though she was not in a position to know how much of that might come to Alice Springs.
Ald John Rawnsley asked about “normalisation” of the camps, as promoted by former Minister Mal Brough.
Ms Edwards said the issue of individual home ownership is part of the ongoing negotiations, with a number of models being looked at. She said it is part of the long-term vision for the camps that they become “more a part of the town as a whole”.
This will happen “one step at a time”.
She said access issues are still being worked through.
The Australian Government’s view is “there has to be access”, at least of the type secured by the Town Council, which allows rangers entry at any time to carry out council business. 
To a question from Ald Murray Stewart Ms Edwards said power cables will be overhead, despite guidelines for new subdivisions requiring power lines to be laid underground.
This is because the upgrade is to an existing, not a new subdivision, said Ms Edwards, which is in keeping with NT Government policy.

Freight trains should by-pass town: council. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Town Council will push for a rail by-pass to carry freight around rather than through town, following support for a motion by Alderman Liz Martin on Monday night.
The by-pass should become a priority in 2030 planning and in any future submissions by the Territory Government to Infrastructure Australia, says the motion.
A motion by Ald Samih Habib, seconded by Ald Jane Clark, calling for rejection of plans to increase the rail transport through town of heavy minerals and hazardous waste, was defeated in favour of Ald Martin’s motion.
Ald Martin’s concern was with the time taken by long trains to pass through the town, cutting the western areas off from emergency services, such as hospital and ambulance.
She had timed a 100-car train which took nine minutes and 45 seconds to pass through the Larapinta Drive crossing. It took a further two minutes and 30 seconds for traffic congestion to clear.
This could mean the difference “between life and death”, said Ald Martin, warning that freight trains of the future are destined to become even longer.
She said The Ghan passenger should continue to come through the Centre of town.
Concern about the issues have been prompted by BHP Billiton’s announced plans to expand their Olympic Dam mine operations in South Australia, and to eventually transport the resulting copper concentrate, containing 1000-2000 ppm uranium, by daily train through Alice to Port Darwin.
The Alice News asked independent academic expert Dr D. C. “Bear” McPhail, of the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, to comment on the potential hazard such a rail cargo represents.
 “The exposure would be minimal from trains passing by,” says Dr McPhail, “and I suspect the radiation activity [from the copper concentrate] will not be high anyway, so I suspect the risk is very small, perhaps negligible.
“I’m sure BHP would protect against spills and any dust that might emanate during shipping. 
“One of the risks for uranium is if it gets into water or food supplies, as it can be a problem if in close contact with tissue (like if you drink or eat things that have uranium in them). 
“Even if there was any leakage from shipping, the uranium concentration is not that high.
“ I suspect in areas surrounding the train line(s), it would not reach dangerous levels unless there was long term leakage – eg, decades – and it accumulated in specific areas. 
“Assuming BHP follows the ARPANSA Code of Practice for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material [which they have said they do and will], I think the risk would be minimal or non-existent.”
Dr McPhail said he couldn’t comment, of course, on the likelihood of accidents, but “I can say that for any spills of the copper concentrate with 1000-2000 ppm uranium I don’t think there’s a high risk to health from increased radiation, unless the concentrate was ingested (in water or food) or breathed in (if the particles were fine enough to be in the air). 
“There might be a greater risk from copper and any other metals or compounds in the concentrate.”

Good-by disadvantage, hello opportunity. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.


Next year will be a good year for Alice Springs.
It had better be.
But, just for a moment, let’s leave to one side the tedious and still unresolved issues of disgusting behaviour in the streets, vandalism, petty crime and major crime, and so on.
Let’s look at a fundamentally new approach to the “Aboriginal problem” that could well make a difference.
Instead of focussing on mitigating Aboriginal disadvantage, let’s look at Aboriginal opportunity.
The spending of billions of taxpayers’ dollars notwithstanding – Ted Egan is his new book, Due Inheritance, puts the figure at $3.5b – the mitigation approach has been a complete failure for 30 years.
Many people are dead because of it. Many children won’t have a fair chance in life because of it. The litany of misery is endless.
It’s time to say goodbye to that approach, even if many people who’ve grown complacent in the process will have to look for another job.
Shifting the focus to opportunity is a notion that some people around town have started talking about.
Not that the ideas are new. Noel Pearson has been saying for years that passive welfare has to go.
Right here, Adam Giles made this, “no more sit down money”, the central plank of his campaign for Lingiari.
Black entrepreneur Paul Ah Chee is on the same wavelength and is focussing, through Arrernte Workforce Solutions, on getting people into jobs.
Desert Knowledge Australia chair Fred Chaney is tied up with the Polly Farmer foundation, whose focus is also to help Aboriginal people achieve their potential.
And a strand of the Desert Knowledge Symposium this year was called “Seizing the Desert Environment Opportunities”.
Mr Egan, after a lifetime of involvement with Indigenous people across the Territory,  speaks despairingly about the crisis in contemporary Aboriginal lives, but sees achieving economic independence through work and development of their assets as the key to a better future. 
In our April 17, 2008 edition the Alice News asked ANU professor Jon Altman, should Central Australia be privatised?  As the head of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research he is the nation’s oracle on Aboriginal economics.
We asked him, has there even been an audit of the commercial opportunities – an inventory of assets – such as the huge supply of labour (some 10,000 people, currently idle), vast amounts of arable land, ample water, minerals, bush tucker, cattle, camels, and – above all – our magnificent scenery and the world’s oldest living culture, “products” for which there’s an unquenchable thirst in one of the world’s last tourism frontiers?
The short answer is “no”. There has been no audit of commercial opportunities, we reported.
There are studies of disadvantage that would fill a very large room to the ceiling, but there is no inventory of assets.
There is no long answer either – it seems the question has never been asked, Professor Altman told us.
So let’s ask and get the answers. And let’s start tomorrow, region by region.
For example, there is a lot of water beneath Willowra, whose feuding families were in a mass brawl with weapons on the council lawns in the Alice Springs CBD a few days ago.
Around the community is a lot of land. 
Ian Dahlenburg – now retired – has shown that the area’s soil and climate are ideal for horticulture.
There are hundreds of unemployed people capable of work within an easy drive.
So let’s find somebody with the expertise and the cash for the necessary infrastructure to set up a horticulture venture on land leased from traditional owners (just a few square kilometres of the half a million they own in Central Australia).
Then we’ll inform the unemployed in the region that they now have a job and their dole has been discontinued. This is not advocating the end of the safety net, but rather the end of the hammock for people who do not need it, that is all the able-bodied. 
This will have some immediate beneficial consequences.  The most insidious trigger of anti-social behaviour, that people have nothing to do and all day to do it in, is greatly diminished, because the erstwhile unemployed are now in full time work.
The satisfaction of being a food producer for the nation, while this type of industry is now greatly impaired elsewhere, such as the Murray River region, will generate pride and self-confidence, so tragically absent from the sad faces of bush people drifting into town to get on the piss.
Similarly, this is not a government program for the chronically hopeless living on the margins.
No. These are jobs, jobs like any other Australian might do. If someone needs some more training the institutions to provide it are already there.  They’re called schools, TAFE and university.
If they want to progress from fruit picker to foreman and need to brush up on their literacy, they can take a night class.
As their kids see them doing it, they’ll stop wagging school. In a while they might like to progress from foreman to manager. They’ll take a course in basic accountancy, and with their local knowledge, vast personal connections throughout the region, knowledge of its ecology and their personal commitment to the area – well, there couldn’t get a better person for that position.
And then they might get themselves a weekend pad on Snob Hill, send their kids to the best universities, and every second year, go for a holiday in the Bahamas.
You’re laughing. You say, nice thought, but it will take generations for it to happen.
That’s yesterday’s language and it’s got to stop.
That’s the argument of the people who’ve absorbed the lion’s share of the welfare billions in the last three decades.
And they want to continue doing so.
Are you saying the strong young men, revving their cars up and down the streets of Alice Springs with their stereos at full blast, aren’t “work ready” for fruit picking? For digging trenches and installing irrigation systems?
The other beaut aspect of the Opportunity Model is that it’s run by mainstream systems – private and government.
Under the Opportunity Model, government money is spent by departments who answer to ministers who answer to the people, operating with uncompromising transparency.
They are not bloated family fiefdoms operating with budgets in the tens of millions, under performing with impunity, and relying on branding as racist any government stopping their “funding”.
For 30 years plus we’ve had “consultation” and notions like “people who are the problem need to be part of the solution” – they haven’t worked.
Let 2009 be the first year in the era of Opportunity.

Keep Kmart bricks: council. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Mayor Damien Ryan sought and was given “full council support” – with a unanimous vote – to do whatever necessary to “block” any sale of the sandstone bricks removed from the Kmart mural.
The bricks need to be in secure and safe storage until the mural is reinstated, aldermen agreed.
As the Alice News went to press demolition of the mural was all but complete, with the bricks being carted away on shrink-wrapped palettes.
Mr Ryan said he wants to hear from owners of the building, Centro Properties Group, about their intentions for the bricks.
“I want to get on the front foot with this before Christmas,” said Mr Ryan. He will pursue the issue, if necessary, all the way to the Minister, insisting that the original sandstone be used in the reinstatement of the mural.
One hundred signed comments from local residents on the subject of the mural were tabled at Monday’s council meeting award-winning designer Elliat Rich.
She had collected the comments in the course of one day, with people “leaping” at the opportunity to have their say.
They want the wall reinstated in its “original format” and were outraged by the possibility that this might not happen, said Ms Rich.
“In a town so unique in its setting and heritage it would bring a great sadness to many to lose yet another link to our past,” she said.

Law & order coalition soon. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

There will be greater coordination between law and order agencies, and CBD traders will be encouraged to “target harden” their premises with impact resistant mesh, making it harder to break windows, according to NT Police Commissioner Paul White.
He says the Mall needs to be “refreshed” and police will help the council carry out a “crime prevention through environmental design” audit, improving lighting and removing objects behind which offenders can hide, waiting for an opportunity to commit a crime.
For example, Lori Johnson (pictured above right), of the Outcrop Gallery at the southern end of the Mall, in 2004 and 2005 had three broken windows each, and two each in  2006 and 2007.
This year she had nine – all in the last 10 weeks.
Each window costs her $1000 to replace. She has no insurance because the excess is $1000.
Her total glazier’s bill since 1994 was $36,889.
Over Christmas the costs will go up even more, as glaziers are closed and there will be a call-out fee of $280 – or $480 if two men are required.
“It’s gone beyond a joke,” she says.
Mr White says his force has a near 100% clear-up rate. The property crime team alone recently made 40 arrests and laid 80 charges in seven days.
But asked what are the prospects for prevention of crime in the face of the indifference of offenders towards punishment, Mr White pointed to Alice Springs’ unusual situation: it is the service hub for 280 remote communities.
Most of the people come to town for “legitimate business”, but some of them become involved in alcohol abuse and crime.
The town is surrounded by town camps, some of which are dysfunctional.
“There is a total break-down in family structure as we know it, there is alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, kids aren’t being parented properly, they are not going to school.
“A lot of these kids are being introduced into a life of alcohol abuse and violence.
“And they are the next generation.”
Unless action is taken “they will go down a life of crime”.
Commissioner White says CCTV “is not a silver bullet.
“We need to work out how it can be best monitored”, as well as where to place cameras and hours of real time monitoring.
Law enforcement needs to be a “partnership” including neighborhood watch community patrols, police patrols, night patrols, council rangers.
Asked about nuisance behavior in the streets which doesn’t rate high on the scale of crimes yet is doing major harm to the tourism industry, Commissioner White says this year alone, police had issued 24,000 “cease loitering” orders, tipped out 20,000 liters of alcohol and taken nearly 5000 people into protective custody.

Experiment gone wrong. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

A drive through Larapinta with Braitling MLA Adam Giles (CL) is an excursion into the dark side of a hapless social engineering experiment, mixing public housing in with privately owned homes.
On too many occasions the mix doesn’t work.
The clash between lovingly tended gardens and well maintained homes, with – right next-door – trashed buildings and dusty, litter-strewn front yards graphically tell part of the story.
And the rookie Member of Parliament knows the stories behind the facades – wanton government incompetence, failure to look after assets owned by the people of the Territory.
For every rogue tenant there are dozens of victims, afraid for their safety, humbugged for money, kept awake at night with drunken brawls.
Mr Giles’ running commentary is a tale of woe.
“A lot of drinking goes on in this house.”
“Ten, 15 bush visitors in this place.
“I don’t blame the visitors, they come into town and there is nowhere to stay, so lack of housing leads to overcrowding and the social issues come from here.”
Mr Giles says most public housing tenants “are actually good law abiding tenants.
“The obligation to house family when there is nowhere to stay is what sends these good tenancies to bad tenancies.”
We drive past a house whose owner lost tens of thousands of dollars: looking at the state of the public house next-door, it’s not hard to imagine why.
In the front yard of another house, strewn with litter and a couple of wrecked cars, women are sitting on blankets, playing cards.
School age children are playing, during school hours.
“These kids should be at school.
“What future do they have if they aren’t going to school?” asks Mr Giles.
Garbage bags are piled up in the tiny front yard of a public housing flat.
Some bags are torn and the rubbish spills out. There are lots of flies and the smell hangs over the immediate neighbourhood.
It is clearly a health hazard to the tenants of the flat, and those closely grouped around it.
“They had a meeting of stakeholders about this the other day.
“Nothing was resolved,” says Mr Giles.
Nothing was resolved? The authorities can’t get rid of a few bags of garbage?
What hope is there for the rest of the problems faced by the public housing tenants being dealt with efficiently, asks Mr Giles.
One flat in the complex is home for an elderly couple.
They’ve been there for 10 years.
The man is almost blind.
He’s familiar with the lay-out of the tiny dwelling and doesn’t want to move.
But life is hell: a neighbor has frequent – daily – “visitors” who turn up for drinking bouts, noisy and sometimes violent.
The pensioner’s wife has made many complaints to Territory Housing.
Nothing useful is being done.
“There are simply insufficient houses to accomodate residents and visitors, both public and private,” says Mr Giles.
“Insufficient land releases over the last five years has led to a shortage in private sector accomodation and the sell-off of 10% of public housing by the Territory Government without re-investing sales revenue combined with funding from the Commonwealth State Housing Agreement [amounts to] sure fire neglect by government.
“Normal urban drift, the desire to seek alcohol in Alice Springs, the bright lights bringing people to town and the need for medical services is putting more and more pressure on our town.
“We need a regional development strategy to address economic development and service provision in larger Indigneous communities, more accomodation for renal patients and visiting family in our towns, additional public housing, a speedy approach to private sector development, investment in headworks infrastructure and more temporary accommodation.”

What it’ll be like for Alice in the hot seat. By KIERAN FINNANE.


If the more severe climate change predictions eventuate in Alice Springs, impacts on our lifestyle will come not in “a trickle, but in a rush”, says researcher Neil Collier, one of a team from Charles Darwin University’s School for Environmental Research, working on scenarios of what such a climate-changed future would look like.
The point of the exercise is not to predict the future but to produce useful models for policy-makers so that we don’t enter this new era entirely unprepared.
Projections about the future rely on vast amounts of good information from the past and present, a good understanding of how different socio-economic sectors inter-relate and also on a deal of imaginative thinking.
The latter was tapped in a workshop held in Alice in June (see Alice News, June 19) and from this a set of three narratives was developed.
One involves little adaptation to change, so that “the constraints on living in Alice Springs overwhelm the advantages and opportunities”. This leads to a declining town.
A second has a “steady as she goes” response, which sees only marginal growth in the town. 
A third builds on “desert knowledge” opportunities, leading to significant growth.
These scenarios were then put to the test in a model-building exercise held in November.
The researchers, using model-building software, had fed into it data for a whole complex of things – such as birth rates, death rates, migration patters, the availability and use of resources – that could influence the three future scenarios.
The software allowed a mixing and matching of factors that variously impacted on the projections.
But at this stage the most useful part of the exercise was to test the assumptions that had gone into both the narratives and the background data.
“Horticulture dreaming” was, for instance, challenged as a “driver for change” in the Centre by CDU Research Leader in Alice, Rolf Gerritsen.
The “desert knowldge” scenario included the expansion of local horticulture, at least to the point of supplying local needs.
According to the scenario, while water would be used frugally and gardens would reflect the arid climate, there would be “sufficient for production of local fruit and vegetables which become profitable owing to higher transport costs [for imported produce]”.
Professor Gerritsen dismissed this idea, saying that food comprises about 1% transport costs.
Even if that tripled, it wouldn’t overcome the cost advantage that economies of scale give to produce brought in from interstate, he said.
He said local horticulture, for instance on small plots in Ilparpa, would work only if people did not attach a cost to the time they took to cultivate the food.
And even with no labour cost, they couldn’t compete commercially – there would be very high handling costs to dealing with small amounts of produce.
He told the Alice News  the total potential area of Ilparpa would be less than what a single commercial grower, for example of carrots or tomatoes, would plant for one crop.
The horticultural growers at Ti Tree overcome access/transport disadvantage because they achieve economies of scale and market specialisation.
“Can’t see a melon grower on a quarter acre at Ilparpa putting them out of business!
“Horticulture in Alice would at best be a domestic exercise – as it is for backyard gardeners now,” said Prof Gerritsen.
Assumptions about water use to feed a local horticulture effort also came under challenge.
The researchers had based theirs in part on the Power and Water Corporation’s Water Reuse Scheme which recycles water out of the sewerage ponds into natural underground storage, with the ultimate intention of irrigating horticulture crops.
To date an end-user has not signed on for the scheme.
Creating a “secondary market” for the recycled water was described as “silly” by a workshop participant with expertise in water issues.
The water should be used instead as a substitute for water from the Roe Creek borefield, in order to extend its life, it was argued.
This would mean pumping the water into town and providing means for its  reticulation even if only to supplement the irrigation of parks, ovals and the golf course. At present these are irrigated with water from the Town Basin but demand is exceeding supply, the participant said.
Obviously, this would be expensive. The participant suggested that the only way of funding it would be substantially raising the price of Alice’s water.
The “desert knowledge” scenario had the population growing significantly, with rising consumption of resources even though the per capita consumption would be reduced, as a result of improved technology and building design.
In the scenario a good proportion of the population increase was coming from migration into town of skilled labour and professionals participating in the knowledge-based industries, such as solar power generation.
This picture also came under challenge as a “best case”, with the suggestion that the “steady as she goes” scenario, projecting only marginal growth, would be better.
Improved per capita consumption by a steady-sized population would then see the overall consumption of resources, particularly water, decreasing.
Would it be useful then to get a picture of how much recycling it would take to get consumption of water from the aquifer down, the researchers asked. This is the kind of thing the model-building can do.
It was suggested that an “aspirational model” would be worthwhile – outlining “the sorts of things we can do” to achieve certain goals.
It was agreed that the models at present have insufficient complexity to be fully functional and useful for policy makers.
Basically the quality of projections is only as good as the data and understandings on which they’re built.  For this, local perspectives, particularly from experts in their fields, are critical. 
But no sector can be considered in isolation; understanding the relationships between sectors is vital and “playing” with the modelling helps develop this understanding.
Ultimately the researchers hope to make the project available via the web, so that a broader range of people have the opportunity to use it and contribute to its improvement.

Recession stealing our Christmas joy? Never! By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

Alice residents seem not to be letting the global economic turmoil ruin this year’s Christmas celebrations.
For some, the festive season will be spent at home in the Territory. Others intend to visit family and friends interstate or overseas.
Either way, the financial crisis that has swept the world will not stop locals spending their hard earned cash and enjoying the holidays.
This time last year Christian Le was in Adelaide visiting loved ones. Christmas Day this year will see him here in Alice Springs, celebrating with friends.
The economic downturn has not deterred him from spending money. Having already bought a ticket, Christian is taking a month’s vacation in January: “I will go and see family and friends and enjoy the beauty of Australia.”
Cost is irrelevant: “When you love somebody, you want to go and see them, no matter what the cost.”
Liz Rolfs is certainly not concerned about her cash flow this festive season: “I have no mortgage, no debt. I’m on holidays indefinitely.” 
Despite no fixed career plans for the New Year, Liz is optimistic about her future.
“You have to spend it whilst you’ve got it,” says Nigel. He is flying over to New Zealand this Christmas for his father’s 80th birthday.
“Last year we went to the Pacific Islands. You have to do things while you can.”
Felix will be heading down south within the month.
“I am going Melbourne to spend the holidays with family and friends.”
Having enjoyed previous summers relaxing in the Alice, he has “no financial concerns” this year and “fancies a change”.
Money matters will not interfere with Jenny’s love of the season.
“My husband drives for The Ghan. We are going up to Darwin this Christmas. The wives go for free.”
In January Jenny and her husband will fly to Adelaide to spend time with family.
 “We budget our money well and have had to work around this credit crunch.” 
Jessie Ragget is heading up to Darwin at the end of the month.
“I am looking forward to seeing family and hanging out with old friends. I’ll defiantly be doing loads of water sports in Darwin this summer.”
Jessie is more financially secure than ever: “I earn double here to what I was paid in Darwin so I’m laughing. The credit crunch doesn’t worry me.”
This will be Ilse Hogendorf’s third Christmas in Alice Springs and it will be an emotional one as her close friend from the Netherlands is visiting.
Ilse will not let money matters spoil her festive fun either. With a carrier bag full of tinsel to decorate her Christmas tree at home, she glows with a festive spirit.
“I live for today, not tomorrow”.
Ilse works at one of the top local hotels in Alice Springs: “Most of our rooms are booked out by locals over the holidays. People are still spending money even if they are not leaving town.”
Davina is house sitting for a friend this summer. Christmas day will be spent with her “tribe of kids” swimming in the pool.
Having no concerns about money, she laughs: “We never have any money anyway. Between me and my partner we have 13 children. We make presents for each other. Christmas is about family, not money.” 
Santana has lived in Alice Springs on and off for the past 18 years. With a huge trolley full of presents she is preparing for a Territory Christmas this year.
“I’ve had no financial concerns. I always put money away for Christmas. I was in New Zealand last year and I spent four years in the UK before that. I want to be in Alice Springs this summer.”
This will be the first Christmas away from home for new girl to town, Alyssea Kemp, who plans to volunteer her services to those who really are strapped for cash: “I will help at the Salvation Army handing out lunches on Christmas Day.”
Lynn loves Christmas in Alice.
“I’m not going away this year. We went away last year with my father and I’m glad we did because he died this year, sadly. This year I want a relaxing time, some peace and quiet. You get that here in summer.”
Pam is “off to south east Queensland to be with family”.
Tom Jackson “loves summer nights in the Centre,” but is heading overseas to meet his girlfriend’s family in England.
“Money can’t be an issue. We have to go or her parents might come here then they might never leave,” he laughs.
Roy is heading to Tasmania “to celebrate the New Year at the Falls Festival”.
Hayleigh was going to fly to Scotland to see family and friends but decided to stick out the summer and “enjoy” her first Christmas as a fresh new local.
Leah is not discouraged by the credit crunch: “It’s great living in Alice Springs. If I headed back to Germany I’d lose half my money because the economy is so bad there at the moment.”
Sarah Marshall has “worked and saved extremely hard” and is flying to Ireland to visit her mother.
“I’m not letting the credit crunch stop me seeing my mum. It did cost me a small fortune but it’s worth it.” 
Amanda however, is saving her pennies this year: “I want to go overseas next summer. Maybe spend Christmas in Paris or London.
“I can’t see the credit crunch changing my plans. I have a fairly secure job so I can save. You have to be optimistic.”
Maybe it’s the Christmas carols playing over the loudspeakers in every shop keeping locals upbeat. It could be the recent sightings of Santa and his sleigh around town?
Whatever it is the locals I spoke to are certainly optimistic about the holiday season.
For this weekend at least, Scrooge was nowhere to be seen. The credit crunch that has taken the world by storm will not ruin Christmas in the Outback.

Ted wants rethink for First Australians. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Among the local people with a chance of getting the ear of government, I would have thought Ted Egan would be one.
Not so much for his former position as Administrator of the Northern Territory, but for his more than 50 year engagement with life in the NT at so many levels – as a hands on administrator, especially in remote comunities, as an Aboriginal affairs policy researcher, a member of the first National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, a historian, a singer-songwriter and story-teller of national stature, and perhaps above all, as a friend of many Aboriginal people – the First Australians, as he calls them.
So why, in seeking to make a contribution on Indigenous affairs now, after the dismal failures of the last three decades, did he not go straight to the top?
Why write a book, as he has done with Due Inheritance, launched in Alice Springs by historian Dick Kimber on Monday?
With his core ideas Mr Egan did indeed try to go straight to the top, at the time of the Centenary of Federation.
Met with resounding silence he went on to write the book, to put his thoughts “on the record”, to get them debated.  And if they’re rejected, he will ask his critics for their alternative proposals.
Because more of the same is intolerable.
Coming from someone with such close personal relations with many First Australians, the picture he paints of their present-day malaise is strikingly bleak.
Their culture is in “total jeopardy”, he says.
His view is very much influenced by his contact with Yolgnu people – “so vital 50 years ago”.
“Now, apart from football, nothing important happens in their lives.”
He accepts that art too can be added to the positives, although he’s concerned about the impact on livelihoods of the economic downturn.
And some First Australians have unique advantages, he says.
“The Warlpiri, for example, are the undisputed owners of Warlpiri land and they have the good will of the nation to help them develop it.”
So why, he asks, “are they all in Alice Springs” – drinking and with their children running amok?
Similarly, the traditional owners of the Daly River-Port Keats land trust should “all be millionaires”, argues Mr Egan – running a thriving cattle station with a herd of 80,000 head.
Instead, all their kids are in Darwin – “marauding the suburbs” – and their elders feel powerless as it is government who pays the money that allows their kids to do this.
He  proposes answers to these dilemmas that come down to two key points.
The first, he would argue, is the most important: maintenance and revival of language and culture.
A clip that he screened at the launch was very moving in this regard: it featured talented linguist, Ngaanyatjarra woman Lizzie Ellis, speaking in support of Mr Egan’s proposals.
Ms Ellis needs two hands to count the First Australian languages she speaks, is equally at ease in English and also speaks “a little bit of French”.
At the end of the clip she delightfully joins with Mr Egan and his wife Nerys Evans to sing the Australian national anthem ... in Luritja (in a translation by MLA Alison Anderson).
The second key point is around the end of passive welfare and the achievement of economic independence – not through interminable compensation payments, although Mr Egan does propose an initial one-off payment, to be known as the Inheritance.
This would not be paid to individuals but would operate as a kind of futures fund, controlled by an elected body of First Australians (with full accountability, of course).
Mr Egan builds a detailed strategy around these core principles.
His book is for those who want to think in practical, yet compassionate, terms about the way forward for the First Australians.

Weapon of mass persuasion. Pop Vulture with CAMERON BUCKLEY.

Pop Vulture with Cameron Buckley reviews the latest cinema anticipation, Australia, while sitting in the dead letter dept of “Straya Post”.
The first letter he comes across in this massive pile of hype is one marked: “To production from direction”.
Baz Lurhman, filmmaker, remains one of Australia’s most lucrative and elaborate exports. His resume goes to town on over the top productions.
His seeing eye prowess is the embodiment of modern filmmaking, living proof that miraculous cinematography can disguise the weakest of plots.
When a film is hyped beyond the realm of sub-conscious thought, it will always be greeted with a motley bag of reactions.
But most often it leaves such a sledgehammer indentation on popular culture that, regardless of the initial outcome, it will endure the test of time.
Baz Lurhman has at least one “weapon of mass persuasion” in his pocket every time he petitions a cinematic idea – the unyielding ability to direct. And this is on show here.
If this film is received either well or poorly by the audience,  there will remain one thing that is unquestionably triumphant, and that is the way this movie is shot and controlled.      
“To story-line from casting”
The collective all Australian flotsam and jetsam cast that inhabits this cinematic reel is a good indication of where a substantial amount of the film’s $150 million budget has gone. 
Putting aside the fact that Hugh Jackman seems to be on a mission to over-Australianise his accent,  like some drunk tour operator trying to pick up on a “gap year” international traveller, the cast delivers on its heavily decorated list.
“To verdict from audience”
Australia is a spectacular attack of the clichéd. It is like watching rubbish washing up on the beach as you walk down it.
The story has been told well, even if it has been told infinite times before. But from a tourism perspective it may well be the Crocodile Dundee of the new millennium.
Rating: 681/1000

LETTERS: Alice duped over Kmart wall.

Sir,– I sent a slightly longer version of the following letter to the Mayor of Alice Springs, Damien Ryan:
Firstly I’d like to congratulate you for your high degree of commitment to Alice Springs as demonstrated by your research effort and action to secure the future of the sandstone mosaic that once graced the western wall of K-Mart.
I wish I could extend the same praise to your aldermen who with a few notable exceptions have been so easily hood-winked by those who want to save the owners of the building the cost of restoring this valuable example of public art.
I’m not sure why the wall is not simply a matter for the insurers and, if the building is under-insured, I’m not sure why the owners lacked the initiative to seek a heritage listing that could provide access to restoration funding.
And if the owners have a phobia about such status I’m unclear why they did not seek direct public support.
Whatever the case, I’m convinced that a strong case did exist for heritage listing the sandstone mosaic, primarily on the grounds of social history. While this assertion can’t be tested given the removal of the mosaic, I’m prepared to elaborate if elected members want to contact me.
In the 1980s, developers who wanted to obliterate heritage buildings often used the presence of termites to justify their anti-social behaviour and greed.
And, yes, elected members back then frequently failed to seek independent advice and were often sucked in to the great detriment of the community they served.
Nowadays it seems that our elected members turn to water at the mere mention of public liability. Are our aldermen really that stupid?
Despite the report from a local building certifier, held up as an excuse for total demolition, the owners and builders evidently saw no need to move immediately to protect us from this dangerous wall.
Only after scaffolding and barrier fencing were erected and demolition work was well advanced was the public alerted to the “dangers” of the sandstone veneer!
In their failure to support your, the Mayor’s, reasonable stand, the majority of elected members meekly took the word of the demolition gang who failed to provide advice from heritage or restoration consultants.
They showed no courage, common sense or commitment to the future of this town when they concluded that a sandstone brink might leap off the wall, somehow levitate through the scaffolding and finally maim or kill a member of the public on the other side of the security fence! !
If the public risk was real then a wider safety perimeter would have been established on the street during the demolition process.
There was adequate time and numerous options to stop the work and seek additional advice on the restoration of the sandstone mural. 
The imminent risks appear to have been exaggerated so the demolition team could get its way and to hell with the community.
Would other tourist destinations roll over this easily and demolish something that does not satisfy current building codes or would they balance that advice with additional expertise?
Do the owners of the building intend to re-construct the sandstone mural according to the original planning conditions that allowed their featureless box to be constructed in the first place?
One article in the Centralian Advocate contained a brief interview with an employee of ProBuild, the company that is heading up the demolition.
I’m sure the worker was genuine in his belief, “... I think it is a fairly significant public art piece for Alice Springs, so we will work together to figure out what we can do...”. But this comment appears to have misled the community further and in a few weeks the wall has been reduced to palettes of sandstone bricks.
Soon it will be Christmas, that period of low public and media scrutiny favoured in the 1980s by developers who were trying to sneak through the planning and development process.
Even if the town can find its backbone and insist on the re-construction of the sandstone mural, the experience of the past few weeks highlights great deficiencies in process and the performance of paid officials. Reconstruction without the oversight of a ‘heritage’ architect falls far short of best practice and the majority of our elected members must lift their performance if they are to guide this community in the future.
Unless the K-Mart sandstone mural is reinstated, Alice Springs is most unlikely to see a major work of this style and scale in the future.
Moreover future artists of any consequence are unlikely to dedicate their vision and energy to a town that fails so miserably to protect, highlight and value art in public places.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this mosaic could have been restored if the hearts and minds of our elected leaders and the general community had been united. I cannot believe that our ambitions for this town have sunk so low that this prospect is somehow beyond the reach of our leadership.
Alice Springs has been duped!
Mike Gillam
Alice Springs

What are we doing, where are we going?

Sir,– Alison Anderson’s meeting for bureaucracy on Youth issues [which took place on December 9] once again raises the seemingly eternal questions: What are we doing, where are we going?
Meanwhile, the community struggles with nightly bashings, break-ins, sleepless nights and broken businesses. The rounds of discussion roll on and on, and unfortunately for our town, will continue to do so until such time as a genuine, goal-driven, outcome-orientated youth rehabilitation program is implemented.
So what is this seemingly insurmountable problem? Although not the only problem pertaining to youth in our town, the problem causing the most anxiety is the numbers, not huge numbers but numbers nonetheless, of either homeless or unsupervised youth on our streets, creating havoc which is both tragic for our town and tragic for the lives of these kids. Unless some intervention takes place they will fill our jails tomorrow.
So what are we presently doing to combat this problem?  There are at least a dozen different youth organisations dealing in an ad hoc uncoordinated fashion with various segments of the problem.
Police and night patrols deal first hand with the problem on the streets. Kids who get into trouble are picked and returned home if they have one that is deemed safe.
Others are kept overnight and fed, but unless arrested for serious criminal activity most return to the streets within hours.
Much of our police response simply involves moving groups of youths along, an action which is treated with the derision it deserves.
So what are we doing to combat the problem at present? The answer is, unfortunately, nothing!
So how do we achieve some sort of a solution that will save both our town and our kids?
We must first recognise that saving these kids requires a long term, planned response for each individual and requires a whole of community commitment to that outcome.
These are the various steps towards that goal.
•  Use of the existing children at risk legislation to pick up any child  found on the streets at night without a legitimate excuse.
• Transport to assessment centre, suggest Aranda house.
• Parents compelled to attend.
• Assessment made, return home, short term voluntary cycle break, long term compulsory rehabilitation, mandatory on third appearance.
•  Rehabilitation.
• Managed return to community.
The program requires firstly the setting up of a full time mandatory youth camp along the Graham Ross model.
It also requires the construction of a managed, three meals a day youth hostel for those older youths returned to community.
Younger kids will be returned to families or to boarding school style accommodation.
At the rehabilitation camp kids would be  involved in continuous activities such as horse and bike riding, hiking, rock-climbing, sporting activities, artistic skills development, ets, interspersed with clinics on such things as basic hygiene, personal appearance and dress standards, community standards and expectations along with basic English and maths classes.
All activities are carried out in a firmly disciplined but loving atmosphere.
More advanced inmates will constantly mentor newer arrivals as part of their own rehabilitation.
Community service groups, church groups, sporting organisations will be looked to for a constant interaction with the kids in order that they learn, they are a valued community member.
As kids get close to release they will either spend increasing amounts of time on work experience or days of more conventional schooling.
No child will ever be returned to the community without either employment or school enrolment.
Kids will be encouraged to continue their interaction with the camp even when no longer a full time participant treating the facility as extended family.
All participants would be constantly monitored until reaching adulthood.
Youth hostel accommodation is a very necessary part of giving, not only kids from the camp, but all our kids a start in the world away from home, by making available accommodation and three meals a day, at a rate they can afford, on modest income.
There is no point in rehabilitating a child then returning them to the streets to live!
This accommodation is an essential part of rehabilitation into the community and must not only accommodate kids from the program but from the wider community.
Indeed it is one of the essential requirements of the program across the board that there be no segregation along racial, cultural or religious grounds learning to live and get along with the whole community with complete equality is the bare essential or rehabilitation.
The program should be operated by a board made up of a mixture of interested community members coming from church groups, service groups, business and sporting organisations overseeing a professional management body.
Length of stay in the facility will be decided by the courts and by assessment of mentors and management.
Yes this organisation will require long term financial investment by government and initial start up cost will be high but these costs must be weighed up against the cost of doing nothing!
We don’t rescue these kids today, they will be filling our jails and hospitals tomorrow!
How much will they cost us then ?
What cost to our community well being, if they continue along the present path?
The biggest question isn’t however about financial cost.
The biggest question hanging over our collective community heads is the moral one!
Are we really going to leave these kids unloved and homeless on our streets or are we bloody well going to do something about it?
And if we don’t perhaps what we get is what we deserve.
Steve Brown
Alice Springs
Shires sacking locals?

Sir,– The advent of the new shires is an important reform in council’s services to me and my people in Hermannsburg, albeit by stealth, without consultation.
However one of the most important reforms for me and my people will be the movement of Aboriginal people from welfare into work. Real work with full time jobs and full time pay.
However the reform process that the MacDonnell Shire is undertaking in Hermannsburg is anti Aboriginal people. The continued retrenchment of workers such as myself, Leisha Katakarinja, Karen Wheeler and Denise Wheeler to reduce the workforce and replace workers with non-Indigenous imported workers from interstate goes against this wish of my people.  
If we are to have true self-determination and take control of our destiny we need employment opportunities so we can work for a better future for our community and show leadership to our children, so they too can follow a work ethic as they grow up.
The shire councils need to understand who elects them; it is us the people on the ground who put faith in them and the bureaucracy to govern for us, not to take our jobs away. Clearly the shires are failing in Hermannsburg on this point.
It has only been a couple of months since the shires come to power. Already they are failing local jobs for local people, further entrenching me and my people to another generation of welfare dependency. This must stop.
Majorie Wheeler
CEO Wayne Wright writes in reply: –
Thank you for the opportunity to reply to your recent correspondence from Ms Marjorie Wheeler.
A great deal of the specifics in [Ms Wheeler’s] letter are related to personal employment issues with individuals, so I will not make any public comment on those matters to protect the confidentiality and any embarrassment to Marjorie and all the other people she has identified.
However it should be noted that one of the principle aspirations of the MacDonnell Shire Council and its newly elected Councillors is to encourage local Aboriginal people who demonstrate commitment, dedication and diligence in gaining and retaining “real” employment opportunities in all of our Aboriginal towns is a reality.
The MacDonnell Shire Council currently has 418 Aboriginal employees in such positions as a Director, Shire Services Manager, Senior Customer Services Managers, Sport and Recreation Officers, Civil Works Managers, Civil Works Team Leaders/Assistants, Childcare Assistants, Team Leader of Trades, Assistants, CDEP Projects Officers, Night Patrol Co-ordinator, Night Patrol Field Officers, Night Patrol Team Leaders Workers and the list goes on.
The MacDonnell Shire Council will continue strive to increase long term employment opportunities for Aboriginal people in remote towns.
How about saying hello?

Sir,- I work at the Centralian Advocate here in Alice Springs.
I am an inserter, we put the paper together. I am not a resident of Australia. 
I do not like how I and several of my co-workers are treated by the Management and the office staff at the Centalian Advocate.
I have worked at the Advocate for five months.
I have never seen or even met my boss.
We are not allowed to talk to any of the front office staff.
If you walk by the office staff, they will not even make eye contact. 
Should you say hello, they won’t respond, you are completely ignored.
I thought that when I left the United States the treatment of employees here would be different.
It was much to my surprise when I found out the Advocate is owned by a United States citizen.
Australia should want to do it better than the United States.  
Dena Reichenbach
Alice Springs
ED – The Alice News offered the Centralian Advocate right of reply. They declined to comment.

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