April 2, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Uranium buck passing. By KIERAN FINNANE and BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

Resources Minister Kon Vatskalis constantly passed the buck to the Department of Environment at last Friday’s public meeting about uranium exploration, although under Territory legislation it is the Resources Minister who has the final say.
And it is the Resources Minister who will sign off on Cameco’s Mining Management Plan – currently with Mr Vatskalis’s department.
Environmental issues and the Environment Minister raising them were famously side-lined by the Territory Labor Government when they amended legislation allowing Xstrata to expand to an open-cut operation at Macarthur River, requiring diversion of the river from its natural bed.
The Environmental Defender’s Office, whose principal solicitor had initiated legal action in the Supreme Court on the matter, said about this piece of legislative enabling: “The mine’s operation is now protected from legal scrutiny.”
The then Environment Minister, Marion Scrymgour, was absent from the NT Parliament during the passage of the Bill.
However three Indigenous Labor MLAs crossed the floor to oppose it. One of them was Alison Anderson, who is now Environment Minister.
She was not in attendance last Friday to answer to the public on behalf of her department  – surprisingly, given that environmental issues are the major causes of concern.
With exploration drilling soon to get underway 25 kilometres south of Alice Springs, the basic message from Mr Vatskalis was, trust us, we’re the government.
When the crowd – around 100 packed into the Andy McNeill Room, with temperatures and emotions rising – persisted in challenging him, Mr Vatskalis resorted to expletives: “Nobody gets a bloody license” unless they do it safely.
“I’ll never put my signature to it,” he said.
However he also said that any potential uranium mine deserves “the highest level” of scrutiny, though it will be up to the Commonwealth to determine this.
This was welcomed on Monday by the Alice Springs Angela Pamela (ASAP) Collective as Mr Vatskalis agreeing to support a Public Inquiry into uranium mine proposals.
A Public Inquiry is the “highest level” under the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The meeting crowd was overwhelmingly against exploration, let alone mining. If there were people who supported either, they did not make themselves heard.
The local business community was notably absent – not surprising given the middle of a working day scheduling of the meeting.
Tourism Central Australia (TCA), representing over 300 members, were made aware of the meeting but could not attend. General manager Peter Grigg says the membership’s views are diverse and in consequence the body has not taken an official stand on the issues.
He says TCA acknowledges that there may be a detrimental effect on tourism if a mine goes ahead, but notes that this has not been the case in the northern part of the Territory.
Local head of the Chamber of Commerce, Julie Ross, says she was not invited to the meeting.
She surveyed local members on the issues last November – 20% replied and of those, 93% were “quite happy” for the mine to go ahead and would have no problem offering goods and services to Cameco. 
She conveyed these results to Cameco.
She says she has not been approached by the government on the matter.
Environmental groups were well represented at the public meeting. The ASAP Collective said it was held in response to “repeated requests from public forums through 2008”.
There were also a notable number of older residents.  
Mr Vatskalis was asked whether the assessment of ground water risks would be completed and publicly released before exploration drilling commences. 
That would be up to the Department of Environment. Water quality assessment comes under the environment portfolio.
(According to Cameco, exploration drilling will start once the company’s Mining Management Plan has been accepted and a certificate from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority has been received.)
In the case of the Macarthur River mine, requests from the Northern Land Council, traditional owners and environmental groups to view the Mining Management Plan were refused, according to the NLC.
Water quality was one of the risks Ms Scrymgour had raised regarding the Macarthur River mine. It was unclear whether they were resolved in the mine management plan ultimately approved by the then Territory Mines Minister, because the plan was not made public.
The Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett, at the end of a separate legal process, has now required McArthur River Mining “to prepare a comprehensive monitoring plan for marine sediment, mine site sediment, depositional dust, seawater, natural surface water and groundwater”.)
Mr Vatskalis was asked, in relation to concern over dust storms and air quality, whether his government would commit to an assessment of seasonal patterns for one whole year, establishing baseline data before drilling even begins.
He said collection of baseline data has already begun.
He would get back to people on how long the data would be collected.
He was asked if the government has looked into and undertaken to analyse the impact of the project on the long term development of town, for example through modeling of water usage?
Where and how that will be done is a decision of the Minister of Environment, said Mr Vatskalis.
 He’s right: in the Territory the Environment Minister gets to decide what level of assessment will be undertaken, what will be considered in the assessment and whether or not the assessment is made available to the public in full.
The Resources Minister is not specifically bound under Territory law to take into account the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The relevant Commonwealth Act (the Commonwealth retained ownership of uranium after self-government) has a trigger for an Environmental Impact Assessment where “nuclear action” is concerned. But in a bilateral agreement with the Territory, the Commonwealth considers the results of the EIA carried out by the Territory; it does not initiate an independent assessment.
Mr Vatskalis did undertake at the meeting to take on board Alice Springs residents’ high level of public engagement, but he said the issue is also a Federal and Territory matter – not only local.
There will be a “high level of assessment”, he said. He is “not prepared to cut corners”. 
He sought to reassure the meeting about the transportation of dangerous and hazardous materials in the NT – our police, fire and emergency services are strong. 
It was put to him that Alice Springs population is a transient one. How would he ensure that people who are highly trained and skilled remain here? Would he commit to having a fully competent workforce able to deal with radioactive situations?
Mr Vatskalis reiterated his confidence in police, fire and emergency services.
It was put to him that the mine will change the community, will have a social impact. How would that assessment be undertaken?
Cameco, the company with the exploration license, is preparing that assessment, he said.
He was asked why there would be no independent assessment. 
He expressed his confidence in Cameco. Once the report is completed, it would be scrutinised by the government who would get back to Cameco on any issues not satisfactorily dealt with.
Isabelle Kirkbride had her two young children by her side when she spoke as a concerned mother and on behalf of Families for a Nuclear Free Future. She wanted the Minister to ask Cameco to leave town: “We need you to stop the process now!”
Alf Lang, a perhaps surprising bedfellow given his past One Nation sympathies, voiced concerns for his children and grandchildren.
Voice trembling, he told the Minister he doesn’t want the world’s uranium dump in NT.
As the NT’s new Health Minister, was Mr Vatskalis not concerned, he asked, close to tears. 
Derek Schild of the NT Greens provided some drama involving a glass of water and a borrocca tablet, representing one fifth of the world’s uranium, that fizzed a “radioactive” yellow. Mr Schild asked if the NT government were aware of Cameco’s alleged involvement in the contamination of a lake in Canada six weeks prior to government accepting the company’s application for an exploration license in the NT.
This was the query that drew a frustrated response from the Minister: Cameco would have to satisfy the government as to safety, they wouldn’t get “a bloody license” otherwise.
He said the government is requiring a $180 million security bond from Cameco and would be prepared to demand an even higher amount against possible environmental damage.
Vigorous promoter of Indigenous perspectives on matters radiocative, Mitch, accused the government of a lack of concern about Aboriginal land and environmental factors such as flooding, dust-bearing wind and storms, limited water supplies.
Upping the ante, she expressed fears for her health: “Before I am riddled with cancer and a burden on your services, please can you shoot me now?”
Margie Lynch, an Arrernte woman who lives out by Harts Range, was also obviously distressed as she claimed all research says radioactive material should not be dug up and was angry abut the government’s failure to address human rights in relation to the issues.
See for an overview of the current Territory laws and processes for assessing the environmental impact of a mining project.

Council booze levy anger. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Licensees have hit back at the Town Council over the proposed liquor levy.
Council intends to raise $350,000 from charges to those ratepayers owning property leased by takeaway liquor licensees.
Council justifies the move by the fact that half of the tonnage of litter picked up in public areas around the town consists of liquor containers, with green VB cans the major culprit.
Litter and the cleanliness of public places accounted for six of the top seven areas of concern in council’s 2004 community survey. 
Council spends some $630,000 a year on removing litter from public places.
Ray and Diane Loechel, managing directors of the Gapview Hotel, attended Monday night’s council meeting.
An angry Mrs Loechel asserted that the levy would be a way for council to cover budget shortfalls for rubbish collection in the CBD and for the introduction of a container deposit scheme in Alice Springs.
She asked why council had decided it would be up to just 10 people to fix a whole-of-town problem.
She suggested that big liquor companies may not have to pay the levy due to agreements with property owners, which would put smaller traders at a disadvantage. Where is the equity in that, she asked.
She said some businesses may be driven out of shopping centres, creating hardship – “and that’s not the role of any council”. 
She didn’t believe council had done enough work on their proposals to have arrangements in place for the next financial year.
She asked for details on the container deposit scheme, including cost to establish and how it will be financed if it costs more than the $350,000 raised from the proposed levy.
Has council undertaken feasibility studies, she asked.
And why did council believe it could make a deposit scheme work when as far as she knew no other council had been able to.

Rawnsley new Deputy Mayor. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Council’s youngest alderman, John Rawnsley, was elected unopposed as Deputy Mayor on Monday.
It was a vote of confidence from his peers, all of them older by more than a decade, in his competent and thoughtful first 12 months as alderman.
Ald Rawnsley (pictured) is just 28. No one was unmoved when he spoke, in a modest acceptance, of this year as an especially significant one in his life.
He recalled his childhood at Uluru and Kakadu where his father worked as a ranger and his Aboriginal mother was a teacher. His father was killed in an accident when he was 28.
Now at the same age Ald Rawnsley holds public office and has had a leadership role conferred upon him.
Speaking to media following his election, Ald Rawnsley stressed the responsibility and hard work entailed for the third tier of government, the one closest to the people.
He referred, by way of example, to the importance of responding to the pleas and accusations that council had heard from a member of the public at the start of the meeting.
In an anguished fury, longtime resident Margaret Opie told aldermen that her husband had been assaulted in their driveway when he refused cigarettes to a drunken Aboriginal man wielding a thick branch. She said her husband was knocked out; inside her terrified sons, young adults, armed themselves with hammers, fearing the man would smash the door down.
This was but the latest and most serious in a long list of incidents – petrol stolen, windows and fences broken, clothing stolen, children no longer feeling safe.
She has lived in town since 1962, seen it grow, now finds it “disgusting”.
She said it was clear that alcohol restrictions were not working. The council is not pushing the government hard enough to deal with the situation, she said.
Out-going Deputy Mayor Murray Stewart told Mrs Opie aldermen spend more time on this issue than on any other, but there is little they can do other than lobby on residents’ behalf which they do.
Ald Rawnsley has in the past proposed by-laws to create stronger rules and consequences for anti-social behaviour, still a work in progress. But council can’t act alone, he says. Welfare and family payments are among the levers that the Emergency Response can use to contribute to solutions.

Alice tipping point. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

Remember the Good Old Days when the political left was the standard bearer for democracy, freedom of speech, transparency, open government?
Now we have Kevin Oh Seven’s apology to Aboriginal people rendered cynical and meaningless by the conduct of his Minster for Aboriginal Affairs, Jenny Macklin. She just will not answer questions on issues she doesn’t like. 
The Rudd “Sorry” fanfare is far from being matched by Ms Macklin whose operating system is Brough Lite.  She’s taken over some of the initiatives of the first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs who had a vision plus the gumption to make it reality.
But Ms Macklin has been diminishing them by whittling away at key components of the intervention, which came as a response to her Territory colleagues having lost the plot on Indigenous affairs years ago. In reinstating the CDEP work for the dole scheme Ms Macklin no doubt took advice from Warren Snowdon, one of the founders of the scheme which over more than a generation has been used on an epic scale to defraud the taxpayer, and which relegated thousands of people to the pathetic margins of a wealthy country.
In a year and a half Ms Macklin shows no sign of creative and effective management of Central Australia’s most critical issues: her housing scheme is progressing at snail’s pace and hardly touches The Centre. Urban drift, alcoholism, neglect of children and idleness remain rampant or are getting worse.
Here are the figures for people taken into protective custody – in short, the public drunks who make our life a misery:– Calendar year 2005 – 7732; 2006 – 7384; 2007– 7806. And in 2008 (are you sitting down?), a number the government is still keeping under wraps: 13,269, approaching twice the 2007 figure. How much more can this beautiful town of ours bear?
All the while Ms Macklin sidesteps and stonewalls enquiries about the Central Land Council (CLC), intermittent employer of Mr Snowdon, a statutory body for which she has responsibility, and about Centrecorp, of which the CLC is the majority shareholder.
Centrecorp has been investigated since 1998 by the Alice Springs News, encouraged principally by Aboriginal people who had an interest in the company and were tired of its clandestine conduct.
Our coverage of the Federal Office of Evaluation and Audit (OEA) report released two weeks ago, commssioned by the Howard Government, when Mal Brough was Indigenous Affairs minister, has sparked an avalanche of comment in Central Australia, from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike.  Not that Ms Macklin gives two hoots about the right to know of people in The Centre. She has persistently refused to be interviewed on the subject. We sent an email to her on Friday last week, saying in essence: The OEA report has vindicated every enquiry we’ve made, over the years, into the affairs of Centrecorp, and provided many of the answers you and your predecessors have withheld from us.
We request an interview about several issues, including the following:  The OEA has found that Centrecorp is, or has been, beneficially holding shares in four companies.  This, it would seem, puts the CLC in conflict with provisions in the Land Rights Act that “Land Councils can not incur financial liability or receive financial benefit in assisting Aboriginal people with commercial activities”.
CLC director David Ross has told the Senate the CLC has no beneficial interest in the companies it controls via Centrecorp.  In other words, Minister Macklin, has your employee misled Parliament?
And is it proper for Mr Ross to collect more than $63,000 a year in directors’ fees, on top of his salary as the head of a Commonwealth statutory body?
No answer, except a note from the Minister’s minder: “I’m seeking a response to your questions.”  Not arranging the interview, as requested but, no doubt,  “lines” of the meaningless variety. As Alice Springs identity and acute social observer Mike Gillam so often comments on politicians and policies: “We’re living in a cartoon.”
If the public can’t get responses from the people it elects (and that’s the Minister, not a minder), on issues that profoundly affect their lives, then our future isn’t bleak. We won’t have one.

Plenty more mining in Central Australia. By BEVERLEY JOHNSON.

The Harts Range Area in Central Australia could well be the next area hit by large-scale mining exploration, with research undertaken by Northern Territory Geological Survey revealing new greenfield sites east of Alice Springs containing rare earth elements, base metals (lead and zinc), copper gold and nickel-copper mineralization.
“There is a potential here for mineral exploration that hasn’t been recognized in the past,” says Dr Ian Scrimgeour, Director of the Northern Territory Geological Survey and senior executive for the Department of Regional Development Primary Industry, Fisheries and Resources.
New data reveals that there are some major geological structures containing deep faults that lead through the earth’s crust.
These major structures are thought to have been a conduit for fluids that contain minerals leading to significant mineralization events.
Rocks have been aged from 300 million to 1.8 billion years old. 
Dr Scrimgeour says the geology in the Arunta region is extremely complex and putting research results into some kind of framework that explorers can understand has been a difficult process.
Exploration is still at a very early stage. Even if a significant discovery was found in the next year, it would be at least five to 10 years before mining is likely to go ahead, says Dr Scrimgeour.
More research will have to be conducted before it can be determined whether any of these mineralization styles could provide economically viable mining sites. Following the NT 2009 Annual Geoscience Exploration Seminar that took place last week, Dr Scrimgeour says, “There is a real excitement about the re-vitalization of the Tennant Creek area as a lot of new exploration is taking place.” Another topic discussed concerned the large areas of prospectivity for phosphate that has been discovered throughout Central Australia.
Phosphate is a component used in fertilizers. World phosphate prices have significantly increased in the last year or so, says Dr Scrimgeour. 
“The Wonarah deposit east of Tennant Creek is now approaching development and should begin mining next year. There is a lot of exploration for phosphate. This could provide a major new industry for Central Australia.”
In the Territory mines like GBS and Compass have had to close due to financial difficulties. Dr Scrimgeour says we should not be too concerned about these closures as there are still projects approaching development and further exploration funding being sourced through international investment.
“Projects such as Nolans in Central Australia should be profitable and we believe mines that have had to close will be restarted by other companies in the future.” Dr Scrimgeour says people need to take a long-term view even during a time when commodity prices are low for minerals such as nickel.
Areas containing these minerals are still worth exploring as price values can change. 
“Mining contributes 25% to the GDP of the Territory and we need to keep finding new deposits that will be developed in 10 years’ time or 20 years’ time to keep the economy ticking over.”

Outback Way: NT dragging chain.

The three state and territory governments relevant to the development of The Outback Way have yet to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to make a joint submission to the Federal Government for funding of the project.
But the seed has been sown, writes Liz Martin OAM, road transport lobbyist, founder and current CEO of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, alderman on the Alice Springs Town Council and member of the Outback Highway Development Council.

The Outback Way is a unique initiative in that it’s a major infrastructure project of national significance being driven at local government level. The Outback Highway Development Council (OHDC) now has seven council and shire members, following the recent joining of MacDonnell Shire and Central Desert Shire.
The constituents of both these shires will gain major benefits as the Way reaches full potential.
The Outback Way is also unusual in that the project involves three state and territory jurisdictions  – Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. This is also something of a problem because we don’t fit the norm when it comes to meeting the criteria of funding bodies.
We also tend to come in under the radar, as the $50 million we are asking for is almost small change when it comes to the mega billion dollar projects that are funded by Infrastructure Australia.
It is really important for OHDC to hold meetings like the one we had last week with Ministers Gerry McCarthy (Transport) and Karl Hampton (Regional Development and Central Australia). We’ve recently had some fairly significant changes in Ministries in the NT Government and we need to make sure that key people are kept updated on the status of the Outback Way and are fully aware of the diversity of the financial and social benefits it will bring to local, state and national economies.
 We’ve also recently had changes in Ministers in WA and Queensland, so the OHDC has been putting its case at state and territory level and as well recently took a trip to Canberra where we presented our case to Minister Anthony Albanese and other relevant Ministers.
What we want primarily is to get the three state and territory governments working together in the same spirit as do the local governments across the full length of the Outback Way. There is amazing dedication to this project from Winton in Queensland, through Alice Springs to Laverton in WA, and that same level of commitment needs to go upline to state level.
Queensland and WA have been forthright in offering their support and we need to get that same level of commitment from the NT Government.
While we’ve had varying degrees of interest and support of the various governments over the past 10 years, the approach has been somewhat disjointed with each of the states prioritizing  the Outback Way at different levels (if at all) and of course prioritizing different sections of the road based on individual state or territory needs.
This sort of approach has been confusing to Federal Government funding bodies as they get mixed messages.  Our approach as a committee has been to prioritise the worse sections of the road irrespective of which jurisdiction they are in.
What last week’s meeting was fundamentally about was getting the NT Government on board with the two state governments to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to become, not only more consultative with each other, but to make a joint submission to the Federal Government for funding.
Whether this comes under Infrastructure Australia or Roads to Recovery, beef roads initiatives, the Stimulus package or another source doesn’t matter to us.  We did not get a commitment from the meeting for that to happen but the seed has been planted and hopefully it will grow from there.  
There are enormous benefits for the national economy and there’s just no doubt about it – Central Australia will be a clear winner with the development of the Outback Way in so many ways.

Indigenous employment in Canada, Central Australia: A shocking comparison.


One of the world’s largest producers of uranium, Cameco, may have lessons for the Territory in breaking welfare dependency and providing employment and business opportunities for Aboriginal people.
Over 50% of the company’s 2000 employees across three mining sites in Canada are Aboriginal.
Cameco has been given $33m by the Canadian Government to train 1500 Aboriginal people, giving them certified skills that are portable across provinces.
The four year program includes upgrading levels of education to grade 12, concentrating on mathematics and science as requested by Aboriginal communities themselves.
The students go on to learn trades in order to take up jobs within the mining industry as miners, electricians, in administration, HR, communications, and as supervisors and managers.
Cameco also supports to the tune of $2m a virtual high school.
Gary Merasty is Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility at Cameco.
An Aboriginal man himself, Mr Merasty says Cameco is the “employer of choice” for Aboriginal people in Canada.
Not only does the company ensure its employees get education and training, the fly-in, fly-out working rhythm of the industry fits in with traditional Aboriginal lifestyles.
At a business level, Mr Merasty says, Cameco has for a number of years strongly encouraged existing suppliers of services, such as security, catering, construction and engineering, to partner with Aboriginal companies.
In 2004 the company aimed to have 35% of services supplied by Aboriginal-owned or part-owned businesses. By 2007 the proportion, at 72%, way exceeded expectation. 
Since then “the percentage never dipped below 70%”, says Mr Merasty.
Now Cameco Canada has some suppliers that are 100% Aboriginal-owned companies.
Mr Merasty believes that these businesses are “not a facade” and they “work hard at maximizing Aboriginal community benefits”.
However, driving a new Aboriginal workforce in the Centre will “not happen overnight”.
Cameco has already employed a small indigenous workforce from some of the surrounding communities to assist with on-site labour in preparation for eventual work on the ground, and traditional owners are advising the company about land. 
With the region’s Aboriginal population expected to increase, Mr Merasty says dependency on welfare needs to be broken.
“We have to keep picking away, otherwise we are going to lose the next generation to welfare and poverty.”   
Mr Merasty was born in the semi-isolated community of Pelican Narrows, in the north of Saskatchewan province in Canada.
Pelican Narrows was then much like Aboriginal communities in the Territory, but with a larger population.
Mr Merasty is a First Nation Aboriginal, one of three reconized Aboriginal groups in Canada. The other two are Meti and Inuit.  
One of the first to graduate from high school in his community, he began working at a neighboring community mine, before furthering his education and becoming a teacher and eventually a Vice Principal. 
Switching to politics, he became chief of staff at the First Nation political organization FSIN.
From 1999 to 2005 he was Grand Chief at the Grand Tribal Council, a political organization that provides social services across northern Saskatchewan to 30,000 Aboriginal people.
They make up roughly 75% of the population in northern Saskatchewan, with issues similar to those in the Northern Territory, such as high levels of unemployment, increasing welfare dependency, extreme poverty and alcohol abuse.
One of the functions of the Grand Tribal Council was business and economic development.
Twelve Aboriginal communities put up $35,000 Canadian dollars to form the Prince Albert Development Corporation.
Their first investment was in a hotel. From there they went on to invest in restaurants, more hotels, and one of Canada’s largest airlines.
When Mr Merasty moved on, PADC’s gross profit had grown from $5m Canadian dollars to approximately $40m.
“The key to its success was cooperation from the communities and that the communities were willing to work together,” says Mr Merasty.  
In 2006 Mr Merasty was elected as a member of the Canadian national parliament, specializing in Aboriginal issues. However, he tired of working for the opposition and felt that change was coming too slowly.
He again changed his career path, joining Cameco.


Ever heard the saying “they couldn’t organise a pissup in a brewery?”
You be the judge if that applies to the Federal Government’s efforts to combat unemployment in the Central Australian bush, taking the situation at King’s Canyon as a representative example.
Canberra ploughed $4.8m of public money into Centrecorp – until recent sensational disclosures a very secretive Aboriginal investment company – to buy a 33% share in the King’s Canyon Resort, 325 km south-west of Alice Springs.
Most of that money has now been repaid, but it was no doubt handy at the time.
This is how the Federal Office of Evaluation and Audit – Indigenous Programs (OEA) described the reason for the loan made with taxpayers’ money: “One of the original motivating factors for Centrecorp’s involvement in the initiative was the prospect of generating significant employment opportunities for residents of local Indigenous communities.
“There are two communities (Lila and Luypinyali) located within reasonable proximity to the Resort.
“These communities have no other significant employment opportunities and as a result exhibit high levels of unemployment.”
At this point it is useful to remember that when someone on the dole is offered a job, the dole is stopped. That’s the L-A-W law.
The job creation effort at King’s Canyon didn’t end with building the resort: local Aborigines, in a campaign of nearly two decades, were persistently invited – nay, urged – to throw off the shackles of unemployment.
Says the OEA: “Discussions with Centrecorp’s General Manager and the Resort’s Manager revealed that the Kings Canyon Resort investment has been a challenge for Centrecorp over recent years both in terms of its overall profitability and the Resort’s success in employing local Indigenous people.
“There are currently no Indigenous employees among the resort’s 72 employees.
“A range of employment initiatives have been trialled over the 17 years since the Resort was created.
These initiatives have included the facilitation of guided nature tours of the local area by Indigenous guides, Lila rock art tours, employment of Indigenous staff in a range of gardening, laundry and site maintenance activities and assistance in the establishment of a local transport business (which has since ceased trading).
“Unfortunately, none of these initiatives have, so far, been successful in enabling the long-term employment of local Indigenous people.”
So, have all of the people who rejected the opportunities to earn a living gone back to receiving the dole?
If that’s the case, then we have one arm of the federal government providing tax dollars to create jobs, while another – Centrelink – pays people not to take them.
To get details about the job scene around King’s Canyon is a bit of a mission.
We have it on good authority that Centrelink has a sophisticated database that, in an instant, throws up benefit recipients in any community and matches them to any benefit, including Newstart (the dole, in common parlance) and CDEP.
But a Centrelink spokesperson tells us: “The information you seek about individual communities is not that readily accessible, and is held by DEEWR [that’s the Department of Education, Employment and Welfare], not Centrelink.
“Checking data on each small community would be time consuming – and costly.”
There are in fact three communities in the King’s Canyon region, and there are further barriers – size and privacy laws – to finding out how public money is being spent there.
Centrelink tells us “there are no customers recorded as residing at Lila and receiving Newstart Allowance.
“The population of Ulpanyali is transient and not permanent.
“Ukaka is more than 100 kms from the King’s Canyon Resort.
“There are a very small number of Centrelink customers registered at Ulpanyali and Ukaka as receiving Newstart or CDEP.”
How many?
“I can’t help you with your requests,” says the spokesperson.
“Social Security legislation precludes us from releasing any customer figure that is less than 20, in order to protect customer privacy.
“’Less than 20’ is the best figure I can give you.”
And why is nothing being done about those?
“It is the responsibility of Job Network Providers to advise Centrelink of Newstart customers who are not meeting their participation obligations.”
So off we go and check with the providers in Alice Springs. There are four. 
One doesn’t answer the phone. 
One says they don’t cover the King’s Canyon region.
One thinks they don’t service the King’s Canyon area but she can’t be sure as the boss is away.
The fourth says they do but “I have spoken to my CEO and unfortunately we are unable to comment at this point in time”.
Meanwhile the reasons for not doing anything constructive don’t stop there.
“There is no public transport and extremely limited transport options at Ukaka itself,” says the Centrelink spokesperson.
Enter yet another Federal instrumentality, a Commonwealth statutory body, the Central Land Council (CLC), controversially the majority shareholder of Centrecorp.
The CLC is also the owner of a huge fleet of Toyota “Troopies” – famously deployed to take delegates to CLC annual general meetings in some of the most remote locations of The Centre where they can be shielded from the public and media gaze.
Could not one of these Troopies be used to ferry Aboriginal workers to the resort in which they have a one-third share, held by the CLC’s Centrecorp?
And where are the resort’s 72 staff accommodated? They are no doubt people from all over the world, and having travelled much further than 100 kms. 
In staff quarters at the resort, of course.
Is that off limits for Aboriginal workers? Surely not.
What could be a clearer example of the necessity of a “whole-of-government” approach? Yet it is nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile it’s nice to see that imagination has no bounds in creating new forms of sit-down money.
There’s a quaint little earner – quite exclusive – for Aboriginal people at King’s Canyon who can’t be bothered taking a job running their own property.
“Kings Canyon Resort currently makes payment of $25,000 per annum to local communities for aircraft ‘fly-over’ rights,” reports the OEA.
Should people under the thunderous Kingsford Smith flight paths in Sydney apply?
And what answer would they get?
One service provider dropped a cryptic remark about Kevin Rudd having just created a “social inclusion” principle in dealing with remote unemployed.
What does it mean?
“Everyone should have the same right to employment,” they explain.
And the same obligations?
Meanwhile Federal Member Warren Snowdon has announced the 34 “employment brokers” will “finish” on June 30. The Job Netwok is under review.

RedHOT merges with Alice Festival.

A new regional arts body called Red Hot Arts Central Australia (RHACA) has been formed following the merger last week of RedHOT Arts Marketing and the Alice Springs Festival.
The meeting was attended by 30 people who passed a new constitution and voted on 17 nominations for the 11 places on the Board of Management.
RHACA will present the Alice Desert Festival and undertake a range of arts development services including managing the RedHOT Arts Space.   
The new board will have a number of sub committees including the Alice Desert Festival and Wearable Arts as well as potentially Bush Foods and Public Art.
These sub-committees will be chaired by a member of the RHACA board and be open to wider community membership.
The new board is made up of a mix of artists, arts workers, business people and community representatives, with a range of ages and art interests.  
They are: Damien Armstrong, musician, visual artist, cultural guide; Peter Clarke, production manager at Imparja; Ruth Elvin, president, Alice Springs Art Foundation, and manager, Technical Resource Group, Centre for Appropriate Technology; Jan Ferguson, managing director, Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre; Karlee Foster, artist, curator and coordinator, Watch This Space; Kelly-lee Hickey, writer, cultural practitioner, co-producer 2008 Darwin Fringe Festival; Alex Kelly, creative producer, Ngapartji Ngapartji; Matt Mulga, owner, Annie’s Place backpackers; Dan Murphy, artist, artistic director and chair, Watch This Space; Adrian Scholtes, policy, research and projects with Tangentyere Council; Karlikamurti Suich, writer, Beyond Breathing Space; and a representative of the Town Council.

Pop Vulture: Close encounter of the cool kind.

Friday evening DJs Mustaphaa, Rod Stroker and Roclishus gave the gathering townsfolk a teaspoon of rhythmic flavour as a sample of the varied feast that awaits them in May.
The line up has landed, complete and solidified. On May 1, 2 and 3, a new rose will bloom in Central Australia, in the form of the Wide Open Spaces music, arts and desert cultural gathering.
Amidst the barrage of local talent to grace the stage will be interstate live acts including Mista Savona, Spoonbill, Combat Wombat, and the Herds’ Urthboy.
These are certain to draw festival moths to the glowing bass and treble clef candle flames.
Alongside this musical overload of awesomeness, comes the contingent of DJs travelling from all corners of the continent, bearing gifts of musical therapy.
These aficionados of aural doctorates include Paul Abad, GhettaFunkt, TD Shagga, Dr Zaius, Electrode, Billy Dread, Dpvvd, Dakini.
Our minds and bodies are vessels that are set to be filled.
The setting that has been chosen to host this gathering is the picturesque Ross River resort, an oasis of rolling lawns framed by the  collage of reds radiated from the surrounding East MacDonnell Ranges.
This is an opportunity for locals and visitors to not only witness, but also be part of history. So prepare for the “pack probe” musical injection and a close encounter of the cool kind, as it is now approximately a month until the mothership lands.

LETTERS: Educators get your act together!

Sir,– While our local tertiary and TAFE providers have received many millions of tax dollars, the Indigenous people in our region remain overwhelmingly unskilled and unemployed.
To see why the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD), Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education (BIITE) and Charles Darwin University (CDU) have performed so badly one needs to look no further than the various crises these providers are currently in.
The only certainty about IAD is that the fight between competing groups for control will not stop until the institution is put into administration.
Meanwhile, IAD is totally distracted from its core business of skilling Indigenous people.
Batchelor reports that they urgently need more money despite being funded for years at the highest rate in the country. Tragically, they have put students through courses that have not led to employment. There are literally hundreds of Batchelor graduates out in communities, including many qualified for positions where there are job shortages, who are unemployed.
They will remain unemployed because they do not really have the skills to do the job. Communities are well aware of the lack of value of Batchelor qualifications and have lost interest.
The Batchelor crisis has now reached the point where the institution signs up students but struggles to get them to attend classes. ‘No shows’ are now the norm at Batchelor and this massively adds to the cost of course delivery.
So now they ask for yet more funding on the grounds that their mode of delivery is expensive. Indeed it is!
Over at CDU, the executive made a brilliant decision some years ago to stop paying anything like nationally competitive salaries to their teaching staff. They have not only achieved that goal but many others such as the highest student dissatisfaction rate, the worst research outcomes, a low staff morale described by the National Tertiary Education Union as ‘rock bottom’, poor teaching, high staff turnover etc etc.
Our CDU is literally the worst scoring university in the country by just about every measure.
The only thing that keeps CDU going is the cost of interstate alternatives and overseas students who use its extremely low entry standards to get a toehold in Australia’s tertiary education system.
To achieve that toehold some overseas students will even endure CDU. Anyone else with an alternative option will not.
That none of the above features in the media speaks for the tolerance of Indigenous people who have long expected to get second best.
We are more likely to read about the protests of mainly non-Indigenous students who find that their CDU law degree is useless for employment.
So when these providers scream for more money, as they regularly do, they must be asked what THEY will do to get their houses in order. Promises to improve in the future are no longer good enough.
Lena Milich
Alice Springs

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