December 3, 2009. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Quote of the week

We in Alice Springs can go forward together, hand in hand. We are not divided by race, we are united by place.
Alison Anderson, Member for MacDonnell,
Adjournment debate, November 26, 2009.

Liquor litter levy hits snag. By  ERWIN CHLANDA.

Town Council plans for a hefty “liquor litter” levy on landlords of alcohol take-away shops hit a major snag in July, but this did not come to light until Mayor Damien Ryan made a presentation to the Council of Territory Co-operation last week.
He told the council that a change of the law was needed to make the charge work, as the Alice Springs News reported last week.
Mr Ryan said this had been raised with Local Government Minister Rob Knight on June 4, but there’s been no action yet.
In fact Mr Knight wrote to Mr Ryan on July 14, ruling out a change of legislation because he was “unable to agree” that what Mr Ryan wanted “would be appropriate or assist in addressing the issues”.
The sticking point all along, and vocally put forward by Ald Samih Habib (an owner of take-away premises) from the very beginning, was that the council was relying on a law that didn’t apply to the circumstances.
This is how Mr Knight explained it: “The intention [of the Local Government Act] is that the land which is the subject of the charge must also be the land which is to benefit from the work or the services.
“The reason for this is that those who pay the charge must get the benefit.”
What the Town Council wants to do is charge owners of buildings accommodating bottle shops for cleaning up litter in public places – roughly half of it grog cans and bottles.
This would mean money the property owners are charged would not be spent on their land, but elsewhere.
The town council wants a new subsection in the Act allowing that.
The liquor merchants and their landlords, facing new charges of up to $60,000 each, hit the roof and initiated legal action.
Mr Ryan says because the matter is before the courts he can’t comment further.
Lawyer for the merchants, Peer Schroter, says “proceedings have been issued and served”.
He says during a directions hearing before the court registrar there were indications that the Town Council had engaged Bret Walker SC, one of Australia’s leading barristers.
Town Council CEO Rex Mooney would not comment on that.
Mr Schroter said: “The NT Government has rejected the council’s request to amend legislation to put beyond doubt the council’s power to impose the charge.”
But as that in itself did not end the council’s decision to impose the levy, the court action has to continue “and the ratepayers of Alice Springs are going to bear the costs of these proceedings”.
He says if the matter goes to trial the costs would be “in the ballpark” of $50,000 to $80,000 plus the Town Council’s own costs.
The Council of Territory Co-operation sat in Alice Springs as part of the Parliament sittings here last week.
The creation of the council was demanded by Independent Gerry Wood in his deal with Chief Minister Paul Henderson to keep Labor in power.

Govt. Outback Stores compete "unfairly" with station shop. By KIERAN FINNANE.

When Lynne Leigh and husband Sean bought Epenarra Station three and half years ago, they bought a profitable cattle station and store, little knowing that the ground rules for the store business were about to change.
The station is situated some 500 kms north-east of Alice.
The store’s customer-base is found mainly in the Aboriginal community of Wutunugurra (Epenarra), three kilometres away, where 244 people live (according to estimates by the 2006 Census).
In the wake of the Federal Intervention, as is well known, there were moves to, one, ensure that at least half of Centrelink payments were spent on essentials, like food and rent; and, two, to clean up the operation of community stores and to provide outlets for buying food locally wherever previously there were none.
Despite the fact that Epenarra locals were able to buy food at the store on Epenarra Station, and had been doing so for 50 years, it got swept up in the reforms.
Stores where income managed funds could be spent had to be licensed and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) initially would not license the station store as it was not located on a “prescribed area”.
Outback Stores, a wholly owned subsidiary of Indigenous Business Australia, was sent to set up a store on the community so that income management could be rolled out there. Outback Stores now operates 27 of the 86 community stores licensed and participating in income management in the NT. Of the 86, 15% are not Indigenous-owned.
Lynne Leigh is an experienced store operator, having run a store on Murray Downs Station for 21 years. This store also turns a profit despite its customer base at the tiny Murray Downs community (Imangara) being much smaller – some 100 people, estimates Mrs Leigh, fewer according to other sources.
That fact has protected the Murray Downs business. It is likely to be too small for an Outback Stores operation (though not all Outback Stores are viable) and Mrs Leigh has been licensed by FaHCSIA to continue to operate there, as she has since also been at Epenarra where she is competing with Outback Stores.
Mrs Leigh does not object to competition. On the contrary, as a business person she believes in it and also in consumer choice.
She also welcomes aspects of the FaHCSIA reforms such as the ban on “bookup”: “Now we all know where each other stands without the yoke of debt around our necks,” she says.
What she does object to is competition that is not on a level playing field.
The FaHCSIA website reveals that Outback Stores is the recipient of very substantial funding for “delivering food security in remote communities”: $16.5 million in fact, from the department’s “flexible funding pool”, received on June 18, 2009.
Mrs Leigh understands that the grant to the Outback Stores operation in Epenarra for the last 12 months is in the order of $240,000. This figure has not been contested by either Outback Stores or FaHCSIA.
In situations where there previously existed no shopping options such subsidies may be justified.
But what justifies substantial public funds being spent on performing the same service as is being competently offered by a private enterprise and furthermore to do that in such a way as to threaten the viability of that private enterprise? 
Ironically, one of the key requirements for FaHCSIA licencing is that the store be trading profitably.
FaHCSIA declined to answer the question, with a spokesperson providing “lines” to the effect that the community decided to establish its own store “which would comply with income management requirements”. (The now FaHCSIA-licensed station store complies with income management requirements – the question is, why is a government-subsidised operation competing with it.)
CEO of Outback Stores, Alastair King, was more forthcoming.
He says the situation has arisen because of the “volatile policy environment” under the Intervention.
When Outback Stores was asked to set up in Wutunugurra community the station store was not licensed and at that time could not be under the FaHCSIA licensing rules, he says.
“We did not make that determination,” he says.
He says there was “very poor nutrition data” from the area and Outback Stores was given funding to assist with “food security needs” by providing a licensed store where there was a plentiful supply of fresh food and where people could spend their income managed funds.
He also says the community wanted their own store, especially to service people without vehicles.
The situation changed when in May 2008 Centrelink provided the station store with a temporary licence so that income managed funds could be spent there.
Mrs Leigh also applied for and was granted a licence by FaHCSIA, initially for three months and now for a further 12 months. 
“A good supply of fresh food has never been a problem at Epenarra,” she says. 
Mr King says Outback Stores is now “the meat in the sandwich” (no pun intended).
Normally where there is not a food security issue “we won’t go”, he says, but today Outback Stores, which assesses its presence in communities annually, has to take into account its “significant investment” at Wutunugurra and that the community wants it to be there.
“They don’t want to rely entirely on the station store,” says Mr King.
“We run a community store. They determine the trading hours, they work with us.”
Meanwhile, in order to renew her licence, Mrs Leigh has to open her books to FaHCSIA inspection annually.
Outback Stores has a corporate licence and its individual operations are not subject to such requirements. 
Mrs Leigh is not alone in identifying this as another burden for the small business operator.
House of Representatives Committee on Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Community Stores, which published its report, “Everybody’s Business”, last month, was told by Mark Hutchings, manager of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation operating the Barlmarrk Supermarket in Maningrida, that store assessment “burdened the single operator disproportionately and asked for a ‘level playing field’ for store operators”.
Mr King does not demur, describing licensing requirements for stand-alone stores as “onerous”.
In its report the House of Representatives Committee also questions “the degree of prescription” in FaHCSIA licensing of stores, with a licensee possibly having more than 30 conditions attached to their licence.
The committee “cautions against making the process unduly onerous for the store” and recommends that “licensing should be subject to a review to ensure it is not providing unfair advantages to corporately managed stores over individual and community stores”.
Meanwhile Mrs Leigh, determined that her business survive, has invested considerable effort in making her store more attractive to customers.
“I had to think outside the box,” she says.
The store has been enlarged in order to carry expanded grocery lines as well as clothing and electrical goods.
She has introduced a take-away business whose offerings include home-cooked meals, salads, and fresh cut sandwiches.
The store has its own packaging equipment so that fresh food can be bought in bulk.
“We paid for all these improvements ourselves,” she says.
She says her prices are comparable to those offered by Outback Stores.
“The take-away helps us keep our fresh food low-priced because we can also use it as a cooked product.” 
Mrs Leigh does not believe that in the long run two stores can survive from such a small customer base.
“I can’t afford to become a casualty of all this,” she says.
“I have commercial loan repayments that I must meet.”
The committee asked her to provide additional information on the success of her business model.
It is an eloquent submission:
“Our models [station stores] work because we are seen as part of the social fabric of these communities,” she writes.
“Respect and understanding of our customers’ social and cultural identity is an important part of operations ...
“People feel comfortable dealing with us, and relationships are formed. We are here for the long term, not on contract, it is our home and our business, and we cannot afford to get it wrong.”
She closes with this statement: “Each community is different.
“Encourage models that are working. Judge on merit.
“You do not need to be a huge machine like Outback Stores to have a social conscience.
“We are proud of our small business that we operate with integrity and due respect to our customers.”
These arguments appear to be reflected in the committee’s report:
“One of the strongest messages to this inquiry was that whatever regulatory arrangements are imposed, they must be flexible enough to allow for a diversity of store models to not only survive but to thrive.”
In Recommendation 33 of its report it says that “rather than support particular service providers, the Australian Government [should] work proactively with individual communities to develop and support a diversity of good store operations or delivery models that recognise the unique needs and situations of those communities and ensure food security to all remote communities”.

Should tribal law become part of Australian law? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Tribal law, including employing as its sanctions serious physical injury that can be fatal, should be part of the Australian legal system, or part of a “dual legal system”.
Danielle Loy, a lawyer and prominent figure in Alice Springs’ performing arts, puts the proposition as an assertion, not as a question, in her half hour film launched last week. As such “Bush Law” is not an open minded examination of tribal law in the contemporary context, but a promotion for it.
There is nothing wrong with that: in a democracy you make your point as strongly as you like, and Ms Loy did so on behalf of elders in the Warlpiri town of Lajamanu, devoting much of her time over three years to the project, and – except for a $10,000 grant from the NT Government – footing much of the bill.
But it is a worry that Ms Loy’s “expert” panel, discussing the film after the screening, was so unbalanced.
To a person the eight panel members agreed with the film’s proposition.
And on top of that, so did virtually all of the opening night audience,and the convinced preaching to the converted fell well short of being enlightening.
The only apparent dissenter was cut short brusquely by Rosalie Kunoth Monks, the only female panel member.
The middle aged man in the audience confessed to being nervous, addressing a large group.
He said he is a linguist and the issues being discussed were largely about languages: “I put it to you that there is not one person on this stage (the panel members) who has a comprehension of the English language that I have, and they don’t have the ability to blend two laws together.”
That was altogether too much for Ms Kunoth Monks, who said, cutting him short: “We are not looking for blending.
“We want our law recognised.
“We have never ceded our language, our country. We are not talking about blending and melding.
“We are one of the most abused peoples through the world.”
And that was the end of the linguist’s contribution to the debate, and the evening’s one moment of dissent.The roving microphone was taken off him and he sat down. Amazingly, moderator Ken Lechleitner did not intervene.
Towards the end of the forum Ms Kunoth-Monks suggested there are similarities between the Australian government’s treatment of Aborigines, and what Nazi Germany did to Jews. No-one in the room voiced an objection.
To be sure, many fundamental issues surfaced in the film and the panel session, but they were not discussed from more than one point of view.
Is murder a part of the system? In the film elder Martin Japanangka Johnson rules it out: “We are not going to kill that man,” he says.
But Ms Kunoth-Monks, from the stage, felt compelled to refer, in a reverential and approving manner, to ceremonial killings during her lifetime: “If a really bad transgression took place, and there had to be a death, that had nothing to do with all of us, it was the feather boot, or feather foot, that was out there.
“Unknown to us, it was the senior of seniors who did that, and carried out that action.”
When contacted this week Ms Kunoth-Monks said: “That action took place in the bygone years
“The Aboriginal people have gone more than half way to comply with the so-called dominant culture.
“They do it in such a way that the great majoritiy of people are happy those days of ceremomial killings are over.
“We agree that life should not be taken.”
Main points raised included these:-
• Payback is done in the open, usually on the football oval, with family members of the aggrieved and the guilty present. The person to be speared is accompanied by an elder. The film contained an unsettling animation of a spearing.
• The courts have now stopped granting bail for the administering of payback – for violent offences usually a spear in the leg.
• Payback (stand by for a change of name, the term is now regarded as “vulgar”), as conducted by the “old men”, was described by panel members as cleansing, absolving, a ceremony of forgiveness, clearing the slate, soothing, preventing a festering sore, bringing that peace, settling the community down, assuaging the aggrieved. It is a speedy and simple resolution of conflict.
• White law, by contrast, is slow and complicated.
• History is full of examples of state and church – faith – ruling together (would the same people argue the case for sharia law?).
• Aboriginal law does not change. This was seen as a good thing by the film, the panel and the audience, about 150 people.
• They apparently saw it as a bad thing that white law is changing constantly, even though this is often a quest for a better system.
The Aboriginal imprisonment rate is catastrophic: according to panel member Glen Dooley, principal lawyer of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, the prison population in the NT is 80% Aboriginal male – hovers between 75% and 80%.
Between March 2008 and March 2009 the NT prison population lept by 20%.
The national average increase was 2%.
“Our per capita rate of imprisonment is over three times the national rate and nearly twice our nearest competitor – WA.
“On my calculations about one in every 20 adult Aboriginal males in the NT is in gaol at any given moment,” says Mr Dooley.
But to portray a brutal although ancient law as a solution to the problem is a brave leap of faith: neither the film, the panel nor the audience raised the corrosive effects of passive welfare – the payment of sitdown money to fit and able people for generations while demand for labour in Central Australia is greater than almost anywhere else – and the pervasive voluntary self-destruction through alcohol and drugs.
Nor was the involvement of the health system discussed: who picks up the pieces after punishment has been administered and who pays for that to happen?
The film powerfully portrayed the fondness the old men have for their traditions, language, country and law: to them the four are clearly inseparable.
Some of the men were on the panel.
Jerry Jungala Patrick told the audience he was born in Willowra, then went bush and now lives in Lajamanu where he is also a Baptist preacher.
By his side was Stephen Jampitjimpa Patrick, like his father believing in the Christian God as much as in the old Warlpiri ancestral beings.
How they reconcile differences in the teachings of these two belief systems was not discussed.
Is there a code of penalties for different offences, asked a woman in the audience.
Panel member Billy Bunter, one for the men in the movie, explained that the family leaders, the elders, decide on the form of payback.
“That’s our parliament.”
He says not just Warlpiri, but other tribes as well have their system of justice.
“To do that we want the government to legalise our law.”
In the film Mr Bunter says:” The Warlpiri system is very important to us. We are still teaching our children.
“But how can we teach our children [when] the government won’t let us do these things any more.
“When we start breaking their law they are also breaking our law, too.
“But we get punished by their law. They don’t get punished by our law.
“So what is the difference there?”
Will someone please tell him?
Noel Hayes, vice-chairman of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS), spoke of a “young fellow” on a manslaughter charge “a few years ago”.
“We’re talking about Aboriginal law and language, and how they can blend in with the whitefeller’s law in the court.
“We want to work with the court, and they want to work with us, so we can take our people out bush.
“A lawyer came to me in confidence and said I’ve got this young fellow in gaol.
“He’s up for manslaughter and he wants to go straight back to customary law, get speared and all this, to clear himself and clear his family.
“Because that’s the law.”
He then referred to a young woman in the film who was beaten with nulla nullas, suffered head injuries and a broken finger, because the actual guilty party, her sister, was in gaol and could not be paid back.
Mr Hayes rejected notions that their law turned Aboriginal people into “savages”.
Mr Dooley said in the 1980s Supreme Court judges would give bail for payback to take place “and to start that whole process of healing amongst the people.
“But they don’t do that any more. There is now a judgement that this is not to happen.
“To show how hard the white law is, we have 18 new police stations [built and staffed] around the NT at a cost of $10m per station.
“Police will be going out there under-trained ... six weeks of training, two hours for Aboriginal culture ... and they will be blundering into more ceremonies and causing more disharmony.”
This is an allusion to a segment in “Bush Law” dealing with the intrusion of a police woman into a men’s initiation ceremony, an act for which the police later apologised.
The government intention, said Mr Dooley, is “let’s not have any of this black law, we want to exterminate it.
“I have a strong belief that that’s what’s happening.
“We’re building a $350m gaol in Darwin that houses 1000 people.
“That’s the real housing for Aboriginal people.”
Panel member Michael Ward is in his 40th year as a magistrate in various parts of Australia, including Darwin.
Between 2002 and 2005 he was the NT Deputy Chief Magistrate and was based in Alice Springs.
He used to give bail for payback to be carried out.
Asked by a woman in the audience what would need to be changed for Aboriginal law to get recognition, he said the two laws exist side by side anyway and “we honour and respect them”.
Payback can be “tricky” because there are 16 language groups in Central Australia, all with laws that differ, at least in part.
He would require legal counsel to tell the court the defendant’s language group; to what extent the Aboriginal law played a part in the commission of the crime; whether or not the defendant is a traditional person and practises Aboriginal law or whether “he has lost his way”.
“Where we got into difficulty was with what is called payback, which involved physical punishment by Aboriginal people.
“I think people in this country are far too precious about payback.
“We should take it into account.”
During his time in The Centre, “on every occasion when I was asked to release on bail a person charged with homicide, so they can face the victim’s group, I granted that bail.
“The defendant was always very glad to return to custody afterwards.”
Mr Ward says on every occasion “it settled the community down, it would assuage the anger of the victim’s relatives, and it enabled the community to function again.
“It certainly took the burden off the shoulders of the accused.”
Mr Ward and others suggested sanitation of the language: “What is wrong with simply saying to the court – they’re not silly, they know what’s going to happen – that the presence of the accused person is required back in the community for a short time to undergo ceremony.
“I can’t see what’s wrong with that.”
CAALAS liaison officer Dave Dolman said “payback is really a vulgar translation”. 
He recounted one occasion when “business had been administered”:
“We said to the magistrate we’ve got business to do, if we don’t do that business now it will carry on.
“I know from my experience, from working in prisons, that if business is not resolved it continues on.
“It makes what’s already a difficult scenario in prison, a constant drain on a diverse group of people living tightly together.
“The last thing they need is a big burden of unfinished business over the death of a young person.”
He said Mr Ward had released a young person into his custody for payback: “It was not about taking his life, it was about healing.”
“Bush Law” is well shot and edited, with local film stalwart Dave Nixon doing a fine job.
There are some beautiful close-ups of faces of healthy Lajamanu children, as a symbol no doubt of all being well in a community that practices tribal law and customs, shown in some spectacular corroborree sequences.
But much of the movie was talking heads, giving just the one message.
The final word came from Rex Granites in the audience, member of a prominent Yuendumu family, teacher and student, whose rousing speech was about land, language and culture.
He said governments are not doing a good job spending a lot of money.
“There is too much money being spent. Give it to us. We can do a lot with that.”
Thunderous applause.

Says the maker of the film ...

Since the introduction of the mainstream criminal justice system, Indigenous crime rates have skyrocketed.
I went looking for some answers as to “why” from indigenous people.
The stories belong to the people telling them in the film.
Their intent was to explain Aboriginal law and offer ideas for reducing crime.
Perhaps the reason why there was little dissent was not because the audience was pre –“converted”, but rather because the film and discussion made people think.
The dissenter that the writer refers to in his article was asked to sit down by various audience members, after being given substantial airtime, because they perceived he was going off the point.
 The film was not presented as a comprehensive answer, but as a seed for further discussion.
I referred to the panel as an “expert panel” because they were an expert panel
The fact that these people all supported the notion of Aboriginal law playing a role in finding solutions to growing crime does not disqualify their expertise.
How and if the two laws can work together requires much more discussion and exploration. Friday night laid the foundation for that further bi-cultural discussion to ensue. Isn’t it worth a try given the current situation?
            – DANIELLE LOY

No flood mitigation dam for The Alice. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Environment Minister Karl Hampton has ruled out a flood mitigation wall in the Todd River upstream from Telegraph Station on environmental grounds, although such a wall has been identified in a government report as the only certain measure to prevent major loss of life and catastrophic damage in Alice Springs in a one in 100 years flood (Q100).
Mr Hampton refused to be interviewed but a staffer said: “The Territory Government is opposed to building a dam in Alice Springs because of the huge environmental implications,” as the Alice News reported last week in its online edition.
“A dam in Alice Springs would result in changes to groundwater levels and biodiversity that cannot be accurately predicted.”
No explanation of this claim was given.
The statement re-iterated claims by Mr Hampton last week which were contested by an expert contacted by the Alice Springs News.
Mr Hampton claimed: “Effective flood mitigation measures are already in place.
“This includes the use of modern technology by flood forecasters to better predict the height of flowing water in the Todd River within Alice Springs.”
The Alice News outlined a number of ways in wich the technology in place is prone to failure.  The government report says the nature of the catchment area and the river cause “large flash floods to occur with only one hour of accurate warning.
“If the floods happen late at night, it is almost impossible to alert residents of the danger in the short time available.”
Since the writing of the report in 1990 – it is still the most recent authoritative study of the issues – global warming has made the danger even more extreme as storms have become more sudden and vehement.
The NT Government clearly regards the issue as a hot potato. It first told the Alice News that it would get answers on the flood mitigation issues from Essential Services Minister Rob Knight.
Then Infrastructure Minister Delia Lawrie was nominated, who hand-balled the issue to Mr Hampton, who was not available to answer questions.
All this took place while Parliament was sitting in Alice Springs, an exercise much touted by the Government as giving the town an opportunity of being informed first-hand.
The proposal in the 1990 report is for a wall with gates which would regulate the flow of the river to keep it within its banks.
Holding back the flow would flood an area upstream of the wall for a limited period – possibly a few hours.
That area floods in any case during a major flow.
The proposal does not include a permanent lake to which sacred site custodians have objected. This led to a 20 year moratorium on the project, running until 2012, imposed by the Federal Government.
The Territory Government, through its Power and Water authority, commissioned the “Alice Springs Flood Mitigation Dam Environmental Impact Statement” from Guttridge Haskins & Davey and the document is dated October 1990.
It says in part:- “The Junction Waterhole dam site, some 9 km upstream of the town, has now been investigated in detail, and has proved to be as effective as the previously proposed Telegraph Station dam in the mitigation of flooding for the town.
“There appear to be no other dam sites on the Todd River as cost effective as these for flood mitigation.
“The proposed Junction Waterhole Dam clearly meets the objective of protecting the town from floods of 1% (100 year) magnitude and also mitigates the peaks of all floods, including the probable maximum flood (PMF), the largest flood considered possible.
“The proposed dam more than doubles flood warning times to the bank full level, provides greatly increased safety to people camping in the river bed, and virtually halves flood peaks.
“The central area of Alice Springs is flood prone. Approximately one quarter of the town, including the central business district, is on land below the 1% (100 year) probability flood level.
“Loss of lives and substantial property damage have occurred from floods in recent years. The potential for much larger floods exists.
“Basically, it is the 400 square kilometer catchment of the river above the town, comprising mostly steep rugged rocky terrain with sparse cover, which causes the large flash floods to occur with only one hour of accurate warning.
“If the floods happen late at night, it is almost impossible to alert residents of the danger in the short time available.
“A purpose-designed flood mitigation dam has proved to be the most effective flood reduction measure because it acts to hold back flood peaks behind the dam wall, and then releases the flow at a controlled lower rate. The flood peak is not only reduced, but the time for the river to rise to the top of its banks and overflow is delayed substantially.”

Court clears way for $100m camp housing. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The application by town camp resident Barbara Shaw and others, challenging the “procedural fairness” of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs in giving notice to compulsorily acquire the town camp leases, has been dismissed.
As the Alice News reported in its online edition last week, Justice Mansfield of the Federal Court handed down his judgment last Thursday morning by video conference.
The judgment also goes to the ability of the town camp housing associations and Aboriginal corporations to enter into subleases with the Commonwealth.
Justice Mansfield has found that they can, so there is nothing now to stand in the way of the planned $100m improvement to town camp infrastructure and housing.
The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, issued a joint media release with Lingiari MHR Warren Snowdon, Chief Minister Paul Henderson and Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton, expressing pleasure over the decision.
The media release said the injunctions preventing the so-called Alice Springs Transformation Plan from proceeding will be lifted from 10am today (December 3).
The plan provides for construction of 85 new houses, essential infrastructure and significant rebuilds and refurbishments of existing houses in poor condition.
According to the release, work is also proceeding on the $50 million commitment to establish new and expanded services and other accommodation facilities, including managed accommodation in Alice Springs.
Ms Shaw issued a brief statement following the court’s decision.
It included the apparently conciliatory thought, “We now have to clear the road to make way to move forward together”, but also reiterated Ms Shaw’s demand for the government “to work with our people and not dictate to us”.
“What we’ve been trying to fight for all along is the opportunity for people to take part in decision-making so our situation can get better. Australia can not keep making discriminatory policies just for Aboriginal people of this country.
“The government’s whole approach makes us Aboriginal people feel disempowered and that our views don’t count. 
“For the government’s ‘Close the Gap’ policies to be effective, a community-based approach must be adopted to make sure that Aboriginal people are supported and empowered to improve their lives and living conditions.”
Justice Mansfield, in considering whether the Minister had given procedural fairness to the residents of town camps, concluded that “it is difficult to see what more the Minister might have done”.
In his view, “upon the whole of the evidence”, the residents including Ms Shaw have been given the opportunity of knowing about the proposed decision;  have been told about the consequences of the proposed decision; and have been given the opportunity to make submissions about the proposed decision and how it might affect them and why, if it was their view, it ought not be made.”

Appeal of Kmart mural decision. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The owners of the Kmart building, Centro Properties Group, have appealed the Development Consent Authority’s ruling that would have them restore the sandstone mural on Railway Terrace to its original state.
An appeal was lodged with the Lands Planning and Mining Tribunal last week within the time allowed.  
Chairman of the DCA, Peter McQueen, advises that a date will now be set by the Registrar of the Tribunal for a compulsory conference between the Appellant (Centro) and himself or a delegate of the DCA “to determine the matters in dispute and discuss reasons for the appeal and where possible to resolve matters in dispute”.

Council by-laws pass final vote. By KIERAN FINNANE.

The Town Council formally voted in support of the public places by-laws on Monday night.
The package before the aldermen had been modified in some of its more controversial aspects, notably in relation to begging, camping and the impounding and disposal of abandoned items.
Begging is now proposed to be an offence only if it causes “a nuisance”; camping is to be banned only between 9pm and 9am (instead of 24/7); there are to be written guidelines for the disposing of abandoned items.
Permission to protest now more reasonably is to be sought only be leaders or organisers, not by all demonstrators (for more detail see
The vote was seven to two, with Aldermen Jane Clark and Samih Habib the dissenters, as expected.
Next step is for the by-laws to be gazetted by the Northern Territory Parliament in order to come into force.
Mayor Damien Ryan said “there is no question in my mind” that the parliament will do this.
Council will then undertake an education process to make the community aware of the new requirements for conduct in public places.

They’re back for good. By KIERAN FINNANE.

They came first for a sense of adventure.
They came back for a sense of community.
Kate Fraser and Stuart Traynor left Alice Springs in the late 90s after two decades here, and returned in June last year with no intention of leaving again.
“I made Kate promise me that the next move we make will be to Old Timers,” says Stuart.
But they’re not ready for that yet.
Kate has returned as minister to the Uniting Church congregation.
Her training for that role was the reason they left Alice.
Both come from a Catholic background but had moved away from the church during their younger years.
When Kate felt the need to try a church experience again she chose the John Flynn Uniting Church. The need was triggered by the experience of their infant daughter Ellie almost dying after swallowing poison.
The response of then minister John Lamont, who knocked on her door two days after she turned up at church in dirty gardening clothes, answered the need.
“He’s been a mentor to me for 26 years now.”
She joined a Bible study group and then got involved with children’s ministry.
But it was not until her daughters were in their mid-teens and she “was going through what you go through as a woman at 40 – befriending your own strengths”, that she felt the call to train as a “minister of the Word”.
It was a decision that Stuart backed but it meant leaving Alice for Brisbane where Kate would undertake full-time theological studies at Trinity College for the next three years.
Kate recalls the feeling of “our hearts wrenched out of our chests as we went through Heavitree Gap on the train” but she was also ready to follow a new path, as well as to take a break from “the pressure of living in this place”.
Stuart though, despite going willingly, could not shed the grief he felt for his life in the Territory.
“The move was good for our daughters and of course for Kate and I had some good experiences teaching on Stradbroke Island, but I grieved that the part of my life in the Centre appeared to be over.
“At that stage I didn’t know if we would ever come back.”
Back in 1975, as a single man, just out of university, he had responded to an advertisement by the Commonwealth Teaching Service – “Come and teach me”, it said, showing a picture of Territory kids, black and white.
He applied and within an hour he had a job at Alice Springs High School, teaching science. He spent four years at ASHS, then was posted to Darwin to work in curriculum development.
From there he was recruited by charismatic principal David Odling-Smee to teach at Yirara College where he stayed for three years.
In those days Yirara was run by the Department of Education as a “transitional college for the cream of Aboriginal kids in the Centre” and Stuart recalls it as “a wonderful place to work”.
“There was an entry exam to get in – from memory around 300 would apply, 200 would be accepted.
“Its educational standards were very high, there were no discipline problems but at the same time there was a very relaxed relationship between staff and students.”
But even before his Yirara stint, Stuart was sold on Alice.
“From the moment I arrived I was hooked.
“It was the sense of community that I experienced.
“I had a job to come to but I knew no-one. Yet within a fortnight I felt at home.
“It was such an open, welcoming community.
“I got involved with Rugby League straightaway and there were lots of barbecues and parties. Plenty of beer was consumed but the town didn’t seem so ‘awash with grog’ as it does today..
“People in town mixed a lot, black and white.
“I soon met a lot of Aboriginal families through sport and with another teacher, Tony Casey, I ran pictures of a Friday night at the St Vinnies Gap Store – we got to know the Gap kids and their families.”
Some of this sociability has been lost, Stuart feels, with the changes over 35 years but he still feels that life is richer in the Territory.
“Despite all the difficulties that people in Alice may face, I would describe it as a very rich community in its daily life compared to other places with easier climates and less obvious social problems.
“Perhaps you have to go away to appreciate that life is very good here.
“You walk down the street and see familiar faces, you feel a part of the community.
“I love the history of the town. Even though I was not born here, I identify strongly with the town and where it has come from.
“It’s no longer the romanticised little ‘Town Like Alice’. It was already changing in ‘75 and in many ways is unrecognisable from the town I knew then.
“It’s a bit easier to live in. I enjoy the much better facilities – good quality bookshops, a choice of places where you can get good food, a great library.
“But on the other hand, it was quite a quaint place 35 years ago, a bit rough around the edges, lots of of interesting, odd buildings.
“And there was more outdoor living – sport, barbecues, if you wanted to see a film it was either the walk-in theatre or the drive-in. It meant that you were mixing with people all the time. There’s no longer a place like that.
“The mixing doesn’t happen as much now.
“People’s lives have become compartmentalised – that’s influenced a lot by TV. They don’t interact socially in the way they used to.”
Kate also missed familiar faces in Brisbane although, by extraordinary coincidence, a dear friend whom she had worked with 20 years earlier at Daly River, turned out to be living over the back fence.
“She was our saving grace.”
She also became close friends with two middle-aged women who like herself were from Catholic backgrounds and were studying at Trinity College.
The three graduated together in 2000.
Kate’s first ministry was in Brisbane, but in 2003 she was “called” to the Nightcliff congregation in Darwin.
“The Uniting Church do their placements through a mutual conversation with the congregation,” she explains, “the congregation issues a call and you answer.”
One of the things she loved about being back in the Territory was living again with long-term memories of place.
“It was the fourth time that I’d lived in Darwin.
“I realised that in Brisbane I’d lived for six years in a place without any long-term memories for me – and I hadn’t realised how grounding it is to have memories of place as part of your daily life.”
Kate started at Nightcliff in October, at the end of the dry: “It was hot, isolated, dusty, harsh and I loved it – why?
“Those qualities strip life back to its essentials.
“I love the freedom and honesty of the Territory way of life.
“The harshness means that you don’t have time for the ways of life that can take over in a city – the layers of respectability, appropriateness, a lot of the image stuff.
“We were surrounded by these sorts of pressures in Brisbane.
“It was a shock to the system after 20 years in Alice, experiencing this sense that who was worth talking to was related to the house they lived in.
“Territory living, especially the multi-cultural aspect of it, diffuses that stuff before it gets a hold.”
At Nightcliff, Kate had a wonderful experience of the community of faith “reinventing itself, finding its way to be a thriving church”.
It had been a congregation in decline, but during the time that Kate was there young families with children were drawn to join the congregation.
This no doubt had something to do with the way Kate conceives of what “being a church” is.
At the John Flynn AGM this year her report consisted of two pictures.
One was a triangle, often the way people have understood church, with authority and decision-making vested in ministers and elders and flowing from the top down.
The other was a circle, her understanding of church, where responsibility and authority and pastoral care go around the circle and everyone participates.
The minister’s role is to care for the health of the circle, to be a resource and support person rather than a figurehead, making sure there are entry points in the circle for newcomers.
“There are already signs that this model will thrive in Alice,” says Kate.
“I’m feeling quite hopeful and that’s part of the joy in coming back.”
The other part is what she describes as a sense of the “breadth” and “immediacy” of life here.
“We’ve got lots of friends from when we played sport in our twenties, and from when we were raising kids in our thirties.
“They share our love of this environment.
“It’s easy to pop in and see people, easy to connect with so many of the creative and thoughtful things that happen.
“And you only have to drive 15 minutes to find a gum tree to sit under.
“There’s a wonderful sense of a wide and deep life here.
“A friend moved to Alice 12 months ago, and has been blown away by the generosity and welcome, the kindness of people as she settled in.
“She’s helped me see those qualities
“We’re used here to making space for newcomers.
“In Brisbane people are not used to it, but here if you don’t, you end up with not many friends because so many people leave.”
Kate does feel the need to take a break from time to time, to put down the “heavy load” that comes from a knowledge that “non-Indigenous people have come into this extraordinary land and have had an enormous effect on people who had lived in harmony with the land for so many thousands of years”.
“There are no quick answers, and sometimes there’s a need to simply step out of the space,” she says.
From Yirara Stuart was seconded in 1984 to the Conservation Commission to set up a Territory-wide community education program to foster school use of national parks for environmental education.
He’s happy to “hang his hat” on two achievements in particular (acknowledging the support and involvement of others): the creation of the Territory’s junior ranger program and the annual “Alice On the Line” held at the Old Telegraph Station – a participatory program introducing the history of Alice Springs to local primary school children.
Later, as the Senior Interpretation Officer for Parks and Wildlife, he redeveloped the display at at the Old Telegraph Station, to take into account the Bungalow story, working with four stolen generation families.
“I was backed by the regional director, Andrew Bridges, to do that.”
After a stint in Darwin as the manager of the Territory Wildlife Park, Stuart was ready to retire when he and Kate came back to Alice.
Superannuation takes care of the bills and he has thrown himself into numerous community activities.
His main project is researching the history of the Old Telegraph Station: “You can’t do that history without looking at the whole changing fabric of the town – the ‘stolen generation’ story is as much a part of the place as the pioneering families.”
He’s also gathering historical information about the Memo Club, the Hartley Street School and the two high schools, as well as developing a data base for the old Conservation Commission historic photograph collection, now in the NT Archives.
And he’s part of the organising committee for the celebration next year of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of John McDouall Stuart in Alice Springs.
Despite his enthusiastic embrace of community life, Stuart also feels concern about the Alice of today.
“I’ve had 35 years of positive relationships with Aboriginal people but I worry a lot now about high levels of alcohol abuse and unemployment amongst them.
“So many have nothing to do, nothing to hope for.”
He’s started working as a volunteer on the St Vinnies food van in the river as one way of engaging with some of these people.
“If we’re going to create a positive future we’ve got to engage with each other.”
He also believes, crediting former mayor Fran Kilgariff with articulating this thought, that people with a long-term experience of the town need to be here and be part of solving the town’s problems – “walking away is no way to create a positive future”.

LETTERS: Buying desert plants that will really grow.

Sir,– One of the biggest challenges to successful gardening in Alice Springs is our local retailers, the ones offering to help us establish beautiful native gardens.
The wake up call for all of us should have been the widespread sales of the Wollemi Pine, a very rare rainforest species from an isolated pocket of the Blue Mountains.
That a tree from a mountainous micro-climate preferring acidic, fertile soils would ever survive in the Alice was, in hindsight, far fetched but here were some of our nurseries urging us to spend hundreds of dollars to save this rare species by growing it in our gardens. This is like trying to save polar bears by moving them to the desert.  
This is a glaring example but not at all unusual – selling us plants that will not survive in our town is common practice.
We blame our poor gardening when we buy a healthy looking plant and it dies but it may already have been close to death.
For example, the Sturt Desert Pea is very often treated with an anti-rot treatment to keep it alive in the nursery. It looks fine but is actually on life support.
When we buy it and it wilts the nurserymen will be sympathetic and suggest Fongarid treatment which is far more expensive than the plant.
This is a bonus for the nursery since they sell us the healthy looking, dying plant and then the chemical to keep it alive. With double the profit it is the perfect plant. Another trap is plants that are kept almost constantly wet with overhead sprinklers and look healthy even if the roots are destroyed. These plants quickly die once planted. Pull the plant out of the pot and check the roots before you buy it.
Root bound plants with yellow leaves sold to us at plant  sales are another example of doomed plants and are actually not bargains at all. Nor are plants at one of our nurseries that have literally been there for years.
If you don’t see a plant already growing in the Alice it probably won’t. The Olive Pink Botanical Gardens is the place to look for it.
Do not believe any retailer who says “there’s one of those growing down the Gap” or “(well known Alice identity) grows them”.
Specifically ask where it is in the Olive Pink garden and then go and see if it is really there.  If it is in the bird attracting garden in the Olive Pink keep in mind that is a sand bed.
Do some research, look plants up online and if it doesn’t come from an area with hot summers, frosts and (generally) high ph soils it won’t do well here.
Don’t bother with plants that grow in soil types we don’t have. All those beautiful desert grevilleas, honey grevilleas, desert oaks and many eremophilas  sold to us have no chance of living because they naturally grow in soils we don’t have in town, such as deep red sand.
If you really want to grow these species then you need to do what the Desert Park has done and import the soils they need.
Don’t believe the story that a plant is frost sensitive and will die off but then ‘come back in summer’. Frost sensitive plants will certainly die unless they are well established. 
Our nurserymen are very reluctant to tell the truth that many of their plants will not survive so if they suggest that a plant is ‘difficult’ or ‘can be tricky’ take it for granted that it will certainly die.   
Don’t believe that you can ‘plant all year round’, that’s just spin to get us to buy all year round. Very few plants will survive the extremes of our climate unless they are planted well before the very hot or cold times. There is actually a very small window of opportunity to safely plant in the Alice.
The arrival of supermarket plants in some of our nurseries is a worry, these plants are raised in controlled circumstances and quickly die if planted out because they have zero tolerance to stress.
Kangaroo Paws in full flower are one recent example of supermarket plants on sale locally. They look fantastic but do not live long in our gardens.
Beware of plants that dwarf their containers. They are root bound and will either die or take a long time to establish.
Buy wholesale, like our nurseries do. They buy from the wholesale-oriented side of the business and replant seedlings in a bigger pot. A $3 plant (a discounted $2 to them) becomes $13 in a matter of seconds.
Finally, help make our nurseries accountable. If they offer a plant for sale it should grow right here, not on a sand dune at Yulara or in a fertile valley in the Blue Mountains. 
If it doesn’t thrive then demand a refund, starting with all those dead or dying Wollemi Pines.
Lena Milich
Alice Springs

ED – The Alice News offered Nursery & Garden Industry NT the right of reply:
The transient nature of people in regional centres such as Alice Springs provides challenges for garden centres where the demand for a wide range of plants is the same as elsewhere in the country; however the climatic conditions make it more difficult for plants to be grown.
Containerised growing has provided more options for the discerning gardener to grow a wider variety of plants.  
Micro-climates can be achieved in many backyards and through determination and trial and error, a wider range of plants can be successfully grown.  
The keen gardener likes nothing better than the challenge of growing a plant that perhaps no-one else has or has had success with.
Appropriate regions and conditions for optimum plant growth are promoted both on the labeling and by the commercial grower and in many cases by the media when promoting a new plant release.
However it has been proven time and time again that if a customer wants a plant, they want the plant, and they will determine whether or not it might grow.  This issue has been discussed within The Nursery & Garden Industry for many years.
Many non-specialist retail stores that sell a limited range of plants often do not have the expertise within their staff to provide appropriate information about plant selection and care.  
Quite often the plants they stock are ranged by a buyer in Sydney or Melbourne. This is particularly the case with catalogue promotions during spring, the result being a range of plants unsuitable for the region and sold from inappropriate indoor, artificially lit conditions.
The Nursery & Garden Industry would encourage people to ask questions and accept the advice of industry specialists when selecting and investing in plants.  
It is also important that people know their own limitations when it comes to gardening.
Jane Dellow
Industry, Business & Marketing Development

Go Bush Law!

Sir,- Thank you to the Alice Springs News for advertising the launch of the film “Bush Law,” which was screened at the Araluen Arts Centre last Friday evening.
Our family lived in Lajamanu for five years, and we had first-hand opportunities to see the elders there apply Warlpiri law to solve problems that were compounded and frustrated by mainstream law.
Over the five years, we changed from East Coast skeptics, to humbled observers of the wisdom applied by the Lajamanu Warlpiri elders.
Well done to Danielle Loy for giving the Warlpiri people an opportunity to present their case.
I am sure that everyone who attended the launch was challenged to reconsider the part that traditional law has, along side contemporary mainstream law and judicial processes, in stemming the tide of Indigenous incarceration, recidivism and the costs associated with coping with the projected escalation of these problems.
Lance A Box
Alice Springs

More grog restrictions

Sir,– It is ever so clear that the NT has a serious problem with alcohol. It’s not just that we consume 1.5 times the national average, but also the damage done to individuals and to our society.
At a recent conference in Perth, Acting Police Commissioner Wernham said that the Territory “struggles” with alcohol and that half of all police work involves alcohol.
The fact that in a population of 220,000 we had 35,000 people taken into protective custody in the last financial year should be ringing alarm bells in our heads.
We neeed to take decisive and immediate action to strengthen the Alice Springs Alcohol Management Plan so as to reduce the level of alcohol sold and consumed.
It’s true that we also need to take a long term approach by providing help to problem drinkers through rehabilitation programs.
But we must act now to reduce the terible harm caused by alcohol misuse.
I call upon all our elected government members to work cooperatively by acting now to reduce the number of takeaway outlets, further reduce the hours of trading each day, provide one or two days each week which are free from takeaway sales, set the opening time for bar sales at midday, and maintain bans on the sale of four and five litre casks of wine and cheap port.
Allen Steel
Alice Springs

Ankara, not Istanbul

Sir,– Your columnist Adam Connelly might want to consult Wikipedia’s entry on Ankara.
This is in relation to his assertion that Istanbul is the capital of Turkey. 
It’s not.
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

ADAM'S APPLE: Do we need celebrities to make us famous?

I wonder what date marked the first celebrity endorsement. It seems like it has always been the way that for a product to really reach its maximum market it needs a well known ‘famous’ person to be seen with it.
From multi-award-winning Dustin Hoffman talking up the coverage of Telstra to Tiger Woods selling, well, pretty much everything from watches to zero shaped cereals, celebrities the world over putting their names to products is seen as the done thing.
But who started it? “Hi, I’m Moses. When I’m wandering in the wilderness I need the sun protection only Oil of Olay can provide.”
Maybe it was more like “Alexander the Great, conqueror of the known world, when he needs a break, he needs a KitKat”. Maybe it was earlier that all that.
“This is Mupo. He’s a Homo Sapien. Have you ever wanted to come down from the trees and use complex tools? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, I’m a Neanderthal, I won’t evolve those skills for another 12,000 years. Well, you’re wrong…”
Celebrity has a strange effect on us. It is a powerful intoxicant which provides an almost stupefying effect on people that defies logic. A chocolate bar can be absolute rubbish, but if George Clooney, a man I’ve never met, says it’s nice, then I want it!
I was once told by a rather chipper sales assistant that the perfume she had just sprayed onto my face uninvited was given as a gift to Paris Hilton. All that was needed to link a cheap perfume to a cheap celebrity was for someone in the mail room to put a bottle of the stuff in a box and address it to Ms. P. Hilton. 
For as long as celebrity has existed historians have debated who the first celebrity was. Some say it was Rudolf Valentino. Others broaden their definition to include ancient greats like Cleopatra.
Regardless of who is correct, one thing is almost certain. Someone less famous did something because a celebrity did it first.
Why do we feel the need to use the same shampoo as Claudia Schiffer, or the same credit card as Robert DeNiro? What real qualifications does Ricky Ponting have to expertly endorse multi-vitamins?
But on the back of a well known smile next to a well known product we do see extra appeal in having those products as our own.
The Territory has had its own sniff of celebrity this week. Pop music icon Robbie Williams is an avid UFO buff. He loves them. According to the glossy magazines, Robbie Williams spends much of his spare time in the Arizona desert looking skyward hoping to see signs of extra-terrestrial life.
Apparently a friend close to Robbie Williams was at Wycliffe Well not that long ago and may have mentioned that the pop star is keen on moving to the Australian Outback. Well put two and two together and the story is that Robbie Williams, international pop music superstar, is keen on buying the Wycliffe Well tourist park.  Since then, Lew Farkas’ phone has been ringing off the hook.
The strange thing about celebrity is that you don’t have to actually endorse a product. The rumour just boils down not to Robbie actually being interested in the purchase of the property, not even to Robbie expressing interest in coming to Wycliffe Well, but it boils down to Robbie Williams having a friend.  So in that spirit, I propose to suggest the following celebrity endorsements.
I can’t be sure, but I might have overheard that a relative of pop diva Mariah Carey once expressed interest in staying at Voyages at Uluru. I also saw a guy wearing a U2 t-shirt at the road house near Mount Connor.
Maybe Bono might be keen on an investment?  Did you hear multi-award-winning actor Johnny Depp once said that he’d like to ride a camel? Perhaps he was suggesting he’d like to throw a couple of dollars at the camel tour market?  Maybe that’s what Central Australian tourism needs, a little third hand celebrity.

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