April 8, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

Bushfires: we’re better prepared. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Just because buffel grass is almost waist high in some areas around Alice Springs, does not mean we’re in for a shocker of a fire season.
Historical data shows that at least two summers of above average rainfall are what produce landscape-scale fires, says Grant Allan, Scientific Officer for Bushfires NT.
At this point the Centre has only had one, 2009-10, and it followed a dry summer in 2008-09 and before that a very dry summer in 2007-08. And there is no guarantee that a second summer of above average rainfall will follow.
This means that whatever grass is growing now – and it’s pretty well at its peak – has started from a low base.
Also, this summer’s wet was shorter and not as wet as the summer of 1999-2000, the first of three consecutive above average seasons a decade ago, so the present stimulus to growth has been more limited.
Everyone who was in the Centre 10 years ago remembers the massive fires that even in 2000, following that first wet summer, burnt out 80,000 square kilometres of the Tanami alone.
Large fires went on to occur in the next three years, with an estimated half of all the land in the Centre being burnt.
The different conditions now though do not mean that we should be complacent: the rainfall and growth that we’ve experienced should rather be a “trigger” to action, says Rod Cantlay, Senior Fire Control Officer (South) for Bushfires NT.
There will be fires in the fire season – August to November – and now is the time for landholders to start assessing the risk and then to look further ahead, to the risk that will build if we get above average rainfall again next summer.
Fuel reduction should start this winter, bearing in mind the further work that can be done next year if necessary.
Animals will be doing their bit, by trampling and grazing.
Although cattle numbers are relatively low following the recent dry period, some properties are increasing cattle numbers. 
The grasshopper “plague” that is devastating suburban gardens is also having an impact at a larger scale, says Mr Allan, consuming herbage and / or suppressing plant growth when they consume the active growing tips. 
Camels will also contribute, but their greatest impact will be in areas outside the pastoral lands. 
The widespread rains have also moved the camels into the desert areas away from communities and waterholes.
Territory legislation requires every landholder to manage fire risk on their land – from the suburban house block to vacant Crown land, from national parks to pastoral leases and Aboriginal lands.
A critical difference to the risk of devastating fires, compared to a decade ago, is the greater preparedness of Aboriginal land managers, says Mr Allan.
The Central Land Council’s recruitment of a fire management officer and expansion of their land management unit, as well as the development of a 200-strong Aboriginal ranger force, has “dramatically increased their capacity to manage fire on Aboriginal lands”, he says.
As well, the CLC now has its own incendiary device, which means that they can  operate in very remote country and use helicopters to do prescribed burning.
Last year they undertook three such exercises – in hundreds of patch burns, burning some 50,000 hectares of the Tanami –  and this year have another four planned.
“Ten years ago fires on Aboriginal lands were largely not responded to,” says Mr Allan.
“Now there are trained people with equipment to manage the landscape.”
At a recent meeting with the CLC in Tennant Creek Mr Allan showed the land managers satellite imagery that indicated the areas of greatest fire danger later this year (at present there is too much moisture around for a fire to carry).
They’ll be particularly looking at establishing fire breaks along the boundaries of Aboriginal land and pastoral land, as well as around communities and mining camps.
The largest of the high risk areas is an arc between Mount Doreen and Tennant Creek which has not been subject to fire since 2001, so the mass of fuel present is considerable.
At a landscape level – in the Tanami, around Uluru, in the Simpson desert – the most important fuel to control is spinifex, says Mr Allan.
Spinifex country to the north of Alice that has not been burnt in the last decade and has received above average rainfall needs action to reduce the fuel load.
Current weather conditions, combined with a variety of fuel moisture provide a good opportunity for prescribed burning now in this area to reduce future wildfire risk, he says.
After meeting recently the Alice Springs Regional Bushfires Committee strongly advocated that all land managers undertake bushfire mitigation as the opportunity presents itself.
They noted that in the Tennant Creek area work had already begun because their fuel had dried out earlier than that further to the south.
The country south of Alice has received much less rainfall, both recently and since 2002, so its bushfire potential is lower. 
Closer in to Alice over the years buffel grass has replaced a lot of spinifex.
The introduced grass is densest around Alice, “the buffel hot spot”, followed by Harts Range.
Throughout the rest of the Centre, it presents problems mainly along roadsides, the responsibility of government authorities,  and drainage lines.
Bushfires NT are not “overly concerned” about buffel grass on a big scale.
“It’s not quite the bete noire that many suppose”, says Mr Cantlay.
“Our catch cry is, ‘Manage the landscape, manage the fire’.”
All fuels, which include pasture grasses with buffel as one of them, can and must be managed: “If we lose that thought in the NT, then we’ve lost the plot,” he says.
But what about action?
There is as yet not much sign of preventive action taking place around Alice to reduce the fuel load – trips into the East and West MacDonnells over the last few weeks and around the rural areas have not revealed any slashing, burning or grading to make fire breaks taking place.
In town the council is directing its resources at the open drainage network – slashing and spraying of  property lines backing onto open drains.
Correctional Services Community Support teams are currently assisting council with weed control and this Friday will start hand slashing operations along the property lines of the businesses bordering the Charles River (behind Beaurepairs, heading North to Hoppys camp).
Fire-fighting in the Territory is based on a bottom-up model of decision-making and action, says Mr Cantlay.
Firstly, there is the legislated obligation on the landholder to manage their land for fire; then there are volunteer fire brigades; then regional committees (made up of landholders with a good understanding of fire management); and finally the Territory-wide Bushfires Council, a statutory authority.
This structure in the southern region has been importantly strengthened by the participation of the Central Land Council and Aboriginal land owners.
Bushfires NT, situated within NRETAS (the Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport) and for which Mr Cantlay and Mr Allan work, are there to provide expert advice, training and some manpower (boosted by trained volunteers) but it is the Bushfires Council which directly advises the government on policy and strategy.
This is a structure unique in Australia, says Mr Cantlay: “Some states have forgotten the importance of involving landowners and have put their resources into high tech.
“Our structure works because it is driven from the bottom by people who are responsible for fire management on their own land.”
Parks and Wildlife have or are preparing fire management plans for each of the parks and have submitted their annual plans to Bushfires NT for feedback and advice.
These plans, as with all fire management plans, address in order of importance the protection of life, assets and environment.
On Aboriginal land, assets include cultural assets.
Every management plan has to include an approach to monitoring seasonal change.
Has enough prescribed burning been carried out over the last decade?
Enough to mostly break up the continuity of fuel types, says Mr Allan, even though more could have been done.
The critical point though, he says, is that the two coming winters are the “windows of opportunity” to catch up and get ahead.
But no matter how much the fuel load is reduced, there is still always the risk of fires taking off in the high fire danger season after being lit either inadvertently or deliberately.
Mr Cantlay says every fire service in the world knows that the four main causes of fire are “men, women, children and lightning strikes, in that order”.
He has to hope, however, that “continuing education of the urban and to a lesser extent the rural community, will ensure that if there is a fire season of some magnitude in the foreseeable future that landholders will be far better prepared to manage the situation”.

Victory for cheap and nasty. By KIERAN FINNANE.

“The nastiest news the town could have had” at the start of the Easter weekend is how Mayor Damien Ryan has responded to the news that a “compromise agreement” has been reached about the reinstatement of the sandstone mural on the Kmart Wall.
The mural was damaged during the destructive storm of September 22, 2008, and was subsequently dismantled.
The Town Council – to whose satisfaction the mural is supposed to be maintained, according to the original development permit – has always called for the complete reinstatement of the mural to its original condition, using the original sandstone and freshly quarried stone where necessary.
The owners of the property, Centro Properties Group, will now be allowed to use “block work in a mix of colours” for the upper levels of the mural, contrary to the express wish of the council and an earlier ruling by the Development Consent Authority (DCA) (see
Centro appealed the DCA ruling and following mediation the Lands Planning and Mining Tribunal “recently approved and endorsed a compromise agreement”, according to DCA chair, Peter McQueen.
“A development permit has subsequently issued,” said Mr McQueen in response to an enquiry from the Alice Springs News.
Salvaged sandstone will be used for the lower portion of the wall and block work for the remainder, with the mix of colours “selected to resemble as closely as possible, the original colours and design”.
In a letter to Centro’s Mario Boscaini, Mr McQueen wrote: “Reinstatement of the mural solely with the original sandstone is not considered essential to maintain the amenity of the streetscape.”
To the Alice News Mr McQueen said: “Discussions which take place at a mediation are confidential,” says Mr McQueen.
“I can say however as the delegate of the Alice Springs Division of the Development Consent Authority present at the mediation that I consider the compromise as reflected in the development permit is consistent with the provisions of Clause 8.2 of the NT Planning Scheme [promoting “site-responsive designs” which are “attractive and pleasant and contribute to a safe environment”].
“In addition the mix of materials to be used as required by the permit will achieve an enhancement to the blank wall in character with the original mural and when completed, the wall will continue to reflect Alice Springs architectural style.”
Mr Ryan expressed his “total disappointment”.
“There has been no consultation whatsoever,” he said.
And no information either, as once again he learnt about a decision concerning the wall via the Alice Springs News (see our earlier report at He says he will take the issue to every relevant Minister.
“There’s a lot of talk in the Territory about being conciliatory but it seems to stop at certain levels.”
He says the Town Council CEO will be lodging an objection at the earliest possible moment.
“It seems there is not much the council can do legally, but I have written to the DCA amd Minister McCarthy,” says Mr Ryan.
“I’ll keep going on this.”

Can NT govt. wash its hands of Carey fiasco? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Two of the 23 home buyers who are victims of the collapsed Carey Builders and Framptons Real Estate new homes scheme met with NT Construction Minister Gerald McCarthy last week.
Ald Murray Stewart says he and John Stafford told Mr McCarthy about the financial loss and heartache caused by the fiasco, and the failure of NT Government officials and agencies to prevent the losses, despite troubling signs as long as a year ago.
It was known that the builder was an undischarged bankrupt and had problems with registration and licensing.
Ald Stewart says the group is asking for financial assistance from the government.
This seems to have little chance, as the government, its bureaucrats and agencies are protected by law from such claims – see below.
The group is also urging the introduction of government insurance covering the non-completion of buildings, already in existence in all other states.
Mr Stewart says he and Mr Stafford were not “pressuring” Mr McCarthy for answers at last week’s meeting, but have asked him to attend a meeting with the entire group on Saturday, to which he has agreed.
Meanwhile, this scandal, and one surrounding building work in Danielle Eisenblatter’s home are revealing a morass of largely meaningless building regulations presided over by Mr McCarthy.
They leave the public devoid of any reasonable protection, notwithstanding the fact that a house is, for many people, the biggest investment of their lives.
Can anyone be a builder?  Yes. If he or she doesn’t have a licence he or she must be “supervised by a prescribed building contractor in accordance with the Regulations” (NT Building Act, Section 43A(b). 
And what do the Regulations require?
“The prescribed building contractor must supervise the person by the level of personal oversight the contractor considers appropriate, having regard to the person’s skills and experience.” (Building Regulations, Section 41D).
Could that supervision mean, say, a phone call once a year, such as this: “Is everything OK, mate?”
“It’s all good, mate.”
Would this be adequate if the supervising contractor considers it “appropriate”? Apparently so. 
Nothing in the Act says that the supervisor is liable for the work.
A spokesman for Mr McCarthy says the supervising contractor is responsible for the supervised builder’s work.
Territory Building Certifiers in Alice Springs says Mr Carey’s supervisor was Darwin bulder Damien Golding.
Mr Golding says: “I am not responsible nor liable for Mr Carey whatsoever.”
These apparently utterly dysfunctional arrangements were allowed to unfold without any authority intervening, such as the Building Advisory Committee or the Building Practitioners Board.
In any case, these bodies, if the Carey / Frampton / Eisenblatter cases are any indication, don’t consider it necessary to monitor such matters as a builder operating without a licence or being an undischarged bankrupt.
And they can fail to do so with complete immunity.
Says the Act: “No matter or thing done, or omitted to be done, by the Director [of Building Control]; the Advisory Committee or a member of the Advisory Committee; the Practitioners Board or a member of the Practitioners Board; the Appeals Board or a member of the Appeals Board; or a person acting under the direction of the Director, the Practitioners Board or the Appeals Board, subjects [them] to any action, liability, claim or demand, if the matter or thing was done or omitted to be done in good faith for the purpose of performing a function or executing a power under this or any other Act, or the performance or exercise, or intended performance or exercise, of the functions or powers of the member, Director, Board, Committee or person.” [s153(1)(a) to (e)].
OK, but surely you can at least sue the certifier, usually a private company, if he approves shoddy work?
Nope – not unless he’s committing fraud or another crime: “No matter or thing done or omitted to be done by a building certifier; the Director; or a person performing a function or exercising a power of a building certifier in relation to a public authority, under this Act in good faith or relying on a certificate under section 40 shall subject the building certifier, Director or person, or the Territory, to any action, liability, claim or demand.” [s153(2)(a)(aa)(b)].
And: “No matter or thing done by a building certifier under this Act shall subject the Director or the Territory to any action, liability, claim or demand.” [s153(3)].
And again: “No action or other proceedings may be brought against the Director, the Territory or an employee, as defined in the Public Sector Employment and Management Act with respect to information included in or omitted from a register maintained under this Act.” [s153(4)].
This does not augur well for the group’s hopes for compensation from the government.

Who was an April fool?

Yep, most of you got it right: Our “interview” with Warren Snowdon (pictured) last week was an April Fool’s Day spoof.
Well, yes and no.
The questions were authentic, based on actual events and facts, but Warren’s answers were all our own work.
We’d put some of these questions to his staff, with requests for an interview, and would have asked further questions had we been granted the interview.
But after being fobbed off several times we thought we’d give him a bit of a hand, and April 1 provided the opportunity.
What was remarkable was that, of the several dozen people contacting us, while most of them smelled a rat, their uncertainty was strong enough to check with us: Did he really say that?
Clearly, they thought he just might have.
We’ll take a bow for this, and look forward now to the real interview.

Camels: resource or rubbish? By Dr CHARLIE CARTER.

Is there money in camels?
An estimated million of them are roaming The Centre, spread over about 3.3 million square kilometres.
To put this into context, that is roughly one camel per thousand acres. Keep that in mind when talking about harvesting them.
Are they a substantial commercial asset?
Reports commissioned by the Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre, whose funding was stopped last year, give information about the fledgling camel industry, including local operators Ross Morton and Gary Dann, and input from Peter Seidel formerly of the Camel Industry Association, as well as research from various universities around Australia. Visit
I have rounded-off and averaged some of the figures for the sake of clarity and brevity.
Many of the figures given are a couple of years old, as is usual for published reports.
The camel population growth rate is calculated to be 7-8% per annum. The reports document considerable enviromental and economic damage. Population growth appears not to be naturally limited yet, except possibly by water.
To just stop the population increasing would require 70-80,000 camels harvested every year!
In 2007 it was estimated that the Australian camel industry harvested around 5000–6000 camels: about 4000 for pet meat, fewer than 400 for live export, and 1000 for mainly domestic human consumption.
The estimated gross sales value was about $2 million including $300,000 for live exports, $1 million for meat production for human consumption, and $800,000 for pet food. The total export value is around $500,000 or 24% of the total sales value.
It is not clear if the live exports were for meat, or for the zoo/camel farm/tourism market.
The mustering costs for ferals are on average about $75 per camel in a high camel density area such as Docker River.
Transport from where the camels are trapped is a major cost for the feral camel industry. Camels need to be transported on a single level trailer because they are so much taller than cattle. Additionally, camels are more safely transported over long distances while seated.
This means they can take up to 40% more space than cattle. It would cost about $135 per camel from Docker River to Alice Springs, a distance of approximately 700 kms.
So, over $200 per camel to get a live one to Alice.
Probably the same again to Darwin.
Then there would be handling and feeding costs. The animals would have to be ’tamed’ and accustomed to the shipboard fodder. Price is the major factor that determines Australia’s capacity to penetrate overseas markets.
The current Free On Board (FOB) value of camels in Darwin is between $750-$1000 per camel.
Recent research in Pakistan has found that at the Mangrota Camel Fair camels were traded at an average price of about $1000.
The transport space requirements for trucking would apply to shipping, but unfortunately no figures are given for shipping costs, but they would be substantial, and would seem to make live shipping uneconomic.
However, I personally would argue that any attempt to base a camel harvesting industry on live shipping export would be doomed to failure.
Apart from the huge costs, the concept of large, wild, desert animals cooped up on ships for weeks would infuriate the animal welfare lobby, and I think rightly so.
I suggest the largely beat-up furore about culling would be minor compared with the national and international reaction to large-scale long-distance live shipping of wild camels.
There is a large international trade in camels, but almost all of it is to and from North African and Middle Eastern countries. Somalia has seven million camels, and Sudan three million.
Gary Dann optimistically suggests that there would be markets for “boxed,” that is butchered and frozen, meat if an export licence was obtained.
However, market research has been done, and this is not the case. They like fresh meat in the Middle East, and Asia cannot afford the high cost.
It has been suggested that the growing “middle classes” in the Middle East and Asia will be able to afford and cope with frozen meat in the future, but I suggest, that like us, they will prefer beef and lamb to feral camel.
The UK is identified as a “possible” market, but given the lack of penetration in the domestic market this seems unlikely.
Dann tallies the cost of mustering, transport, handling, and processing to $550 per camel (2007 prices) to produce about 200kg of meat, worth about $2.75 / kilogram.
He needs to wholesale that at $5.50 per kg to make ends meet. He is being offered $3.50 per kg by potential domestic buyers.
If there is demand for camel meat, at a reasonable price, there are a few stations in central Australia that currently run a camel herd, including Dann’s station Aileron.
So there is a ready supply to meet current demand. However, the herd owners would obviously need to turn a profit, and when acquisition, pasturing, mustering and transport costs are factored in the cost to the abattoirs would probably be similar to the “harvested” camels.
Which leaves the petfood industry, currently the biggest user of camel meat.
Small-scale pet meat operations are very economically sensitive to market price, camel weight, and transportation costs.
A pre-harvesting arrangement with pet meat processors for carcass price and demand capacity is regarded as critical.
A case study is reported. This was a very basic chase, shoot, hack off the big chunks, and carry to the chiller operation, and the viability was marginal.
The prices (at gate) proposed by different pet food processors were about $0.70 per kg for bone-in meat and $1.00 per kg for bone-out meat.
The market price for kangaroo meat (as pet meat) was suggested by some pet food companies as a benchmark price for camel meat.
From personal knowledge I  know that much of the ‘roo meat is harvested in western NSW, only 400-500kms or so on bitumen road from the major abattoirs at Peterborough. ‘Roo density is about 50 animals per 1000 acres, the area is well supplied with roads and station tracks, and ‘roos are much easier to harvest. This would suggest that the pet food industry is always going to have strong competition, and that it will be at best a marginal industry.
I do not have the resources to do a cost / benefit study on a mobile abattoir for human consumption. However, unless a viable, economic market for “boxed” camel meat is established from the present suppliers, it would be unlikely to be viable. Dann estimates $7-$8 million to establish an export licenced abattoir in the Alice.
A basic mobile “boning and boxing” facility may make pet meat operations more viable, but they would still be small operations with little return to Aborigines, and small effects on camel numbers.
I sum up with some excerpts from the reports’ conclusions:-
“Feral camels have potential commercial uses. A camel industry has been emerging in Australia over the last 20 years, but it is still very small.”
“The industry has struggled to gain momentum because it has been based on the ad-hoc harvest of a feral animal herd that is located in very remote parts of the country and a long distance from domestic markets, let alone international markets.”
“The farming of camels could support a sustainable alternative pastoral industry but would not contribute to the management of feral camels.”
“Commercial utilisation could potentially remove enough animals to have a significant localised impact …However, a flourishing camel industry alone can not bring down the camel population in the short term…”
“The contribution (to feral animal control) from commercial activities will depend on the development of secure markets that are prepared to pay the real costs of harvesting and transport.”
“There is clearly a market failure in play at present that has allowed camel numbers to increase in an uncontrolled manner.”

Animal liberationists may target aerial camel culling. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Animal liberationists may buy into the controversial issue of shooting from helicopters feral camels in Central Australia. 
Recent court cases in other jurisdictions suggest campaigners are unlikely to get leave to prosecute cases in court themselves.
But if they have strong evidence of cruelty to animals, they would be able to force the hand of the Attorney-General, or the police, to proceed against their own government’s instrumentalities involved in this form of cull.
Mark Pearson, from Animal Liberation Limited (ALL), points to court cases the group has fought in NSW to stop the shooting of feral goats from choppers. In 2003 ALL took action against the Director General of National Parks and Wildlife Service, and was granted an injunction for several weeks, blocking the culling of feral goats in the Woomargama National Park.
(Mr Pearson says ALL withdrew because no shooters who had shot from helicopters would give evidence in court and the NPWS called off the cull because of the cost of the delay caused by the interlocutory injunction.)
But a later case, in 2006, against the Director General, Department of Environment and Conservation, seeking to stop the aerial shooting of goats and pigs in Nattai Reserve and Wollondilly River Nature Reserve, failed for two reasons.
Said Justice Hamilton, who presided over both cases: “The first [reason for failure] is in the quality of the evidence showing the potentiality or likelihood of cruelty to the animals in previous operations.”
And unlike in the earlier case, the defendant now successfully objected “to the standing of the plaintiff to seek an injunction” –  in other words, they were deemed not to have a legitimate interest in the matters, so far as the court is concerned.
Said Justice Hamilton: “The case sought to be made out by the plaintiff [in 2003] is that shooting goats from a helicopter is likely to cause cruelty to the animals, contrary to the statute on that subject matter.
“The way the cruelty may be caused is that if animals are shot and only wounded, they may be left to suffer for some perhaps protracted period before dying and that the chance of discovering that animals are wounded only and administering a coup de grace are less if the shooting is from a helicopter.”
In 2003, unlike in 2006, said Justice Hamilton, “there was objective and expert evidence that showed that goats shot in a previous shoot on Lord Howe Island had moved considerable distances after having been shot and had died lingering deaths”.
The government wildlife service’s successful argument that the group did not have “standing” meant, in a nutshell, that the right of government officials to carry out their duties in relation to feral animal control, as determined by government policy, cannot easily be challenged.
In the 2006 case Justice Hamilton cited a decision given by Justice Gibbs in Australian Conservation Foundation v The Commonwealth (1980): “It is quite clear that an ordinary member of the public, who has no interest other than that which any member of the public has in upholding the law, has no standing to sue to prevent the violation of a public right or to enforce the performance of a public duty.
“The assertion of public rights and the prevention of public wrongs by means of those remedies is the responsibility of the Attorney-General, who may proceed either ex officio or on the relation of a private individual.
“A private citizen who has no special interest is incapable of bringing proceedings for that purpose, unless, of course, he is permitted by statute to do so.” 
The judge asked “counsel for the plaintiff, to state the special interest which the plaintiff claimed [to] have in order to permit it to make this application.
“He replied as follows: ‘The interest of the community that animals who do not have a voice of their own should be able to be protected through the actions of concerned citizens.’

“This is obviously a worthy sentiment. However, to succeed in an application for injunctive relief, a plaintiff must demonstrate standing in the fashion required by the law.”
All this seems to suggest that a private person or group would find it difficult to succeed in court against a government instrumentality bumping off feral camels from choppers, although Mr Pearson suggests the Attorney-General can grant standing.
On the other hand, it seems if evidence is produced that not every shot leads to instant death, and laws preventing cruelty to animals are breached, then the Attorney-General, or the police, would be under obligation to prosecute the shooter, the helicopter pilot and the people from whom they take their orders.
The secrecy surrounding the cull near Docker River last year seems to indicate the authorities are well aware of this.

One-on-one rehab for booze addicts. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A new individual-intensive alcohol treatment service is entering the field in Alice Springs. Safe and Sober Support Services, run out of Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, will combine individual rehabilitation plans with medical treatment and social support.
Its $5.4m worth of funding has come out of the Alice Springs Transformation Plan.
Eight casework teams will consist of an Aboriginal AOD (alcohol and other drugs) worker and an AOD therapist.
Clients will be identified either at Congress, by Drug and Alcohol Services Association Outreach Workers, or through an alcohol related admission to Alice Springs Hospital.
According to a media release from the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI) at Curtin University of Technology, the clients will be offered a brief intervention followed by a full assessment leading to the development of individual rehabilitation plans that involve three streams of care:
• medical, including pharmacotherapies;
• psychosocial, providing focused psychological strategies; and
• social and cultural support, including assistance with employment, housing and accommodation.
Prison inmates will be among the clients, according to a media statement by Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.
To provide “culturally appropriate” support, earlier this year the program was looking for one senior AOD therapist (at $96,842 p.a.), two other AOD therapists (maximum salary, $95,248 p.a.), an administrative assistant, a senior Aboriginal AOD worker (maximum salary, $75,290) and two other Aboriginal AOD workers  (maximum salary, $75,290).
At a workshop in Canberra last week the program was one of five involved in putting forward recommendations to government on how health services can improve alcohol treatment for Indigenous Australians.
All five had grown out of federally funded ($1.9m) research over the last two and half years, led by NDRI’s Professor Dennis Gray.
Prof Gray says international research supports the effectiveness of individual rehabilitation plans for alcohol dependence, especially for people with other health conditions, including mental health problems.
He says people with complex problems can “slip through the cracks without case management”.
He says alcohol dependence can’t be managed as “an acute disease”, but needs to be managed more like other chronic health issues, such as diabetes.
Relapses for the person who is alcohol dependent is the norm, he says.
Very few such people go into treatment only once.
Once they are stabilised, they require follow-up and without it, the initial effort is wasted.
He says international research shows that even a follow-up phone call just once a month will make a significant difference to relapse rates.
He says there is little on-going care available for alcohol dependence in Australia, and  programs adapted specifically to Aboriginal people are particularly lacking.
“We invest millions of dollars in residential programs, lasting 10 to 12 weeks.
“Then the clients are released back into the community with no follow-up and we’re surprised when they get back on the grog.
“That means we’re failing to protect our big investment in the initial programs by not providing after care.
“Case management is a significant part of after care because we need to go beyond the health institutions and link people to other services dealing with employment and social issues,” says Prof Gray.

Creatures come to life with metal magic. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Just six months after setting up their workshop, the Creative Metal Group are having their first exhibition at Watch This Space (opening Saturday, 6pm).
In this time they have taken two groups through a training course and a third is underway at present.
The exhibition will formally launch the group and gives the students an opportunity to show their work.
A small grant from the Regional Arts Fund helped the group offer the initial courses but they hope in future to be self-funding.
The workshop is well-equipped with a forge, welders, a couple of plasma cutters, cold-bending tools and “every 15 amp plug we need”, says one of the group’s founding members, Sheriden Appel.
A scroll-bender is the next item on the shopping list and eventually they hope to get a furnace, to do their own casting.
Meanwhile, some members of the group are extending their interests to bone-carving and jewelry-making – the latter “the same concept but on a smaller scale”, says Sheriden.
She is pictured holding a clock she made using the forge and with a horse made by student Linx McPherson. The horse has been designed for Riding for the Disabled – to get children used to sitting up high and in a saddle before getting on the real thing – and will be donated to them after the show. Sheriden’s wine rack is in the front and the collection of dogs is by Mark Gooley and one of his school students.
Also pictured are sandstone and reo rod tables by Mark Gooley , topped with a dragonfly and a mosquito fashioned by Pat Organ. Mark and Pat are the student instructors.
Some work at the show will be for sale.

Return of the inland sea. NATURALLY with ALEX NELSON.

Exactly 150 years ago this week John McDouall Stuart and two companions were the first Europeans to explore Central Australia.
Stuart, like other explorers, searched for verdant wilderness interspersed with rivers, lakes, even an inland sea, ripe for settlement and exploitation by civilized European society.
Stuart had cut his teeth with Charles Sturt’s exploration party of 1844/45 seeking an inland sea, even carting a boat overland as they struck out from western NSW to Central Australia before nearly coming to grief on the eastern margin of the Simpson Desert.
There are two ironies associated with these endeavours – the first is that the explorers were about 22,000 years too late to find the fabled waters of the inland.
It was a different scene that greeted the earliest ancestors of Aboriginal people as they spread across Australia at least 43,000 years ago – the Simpson Desert was a lake, one of many natural bodies of water scattered across the eastern half of the continent that greatly aided human occupation.
Generations of Aboriginal people lived for thousands of years during relatively benign conditions but which steadily diminished as aridity took a final permanent hold as the glacial maximum of the Ice Age dominated the Earth.
The Simpson Desert is at the upper region of a crustal depression that descends to the Lake Eyre system to the south. With the lowest land surface in Australia, about 15 meters below sea-level, Lake Eyre is the sump of a vast internal drainage system covering 1.3 million square kilometers; it also has the lowest average rainfall, and the highest evaporation rate, about 3.6 meters annually.
In 1860 Stuart’s party were the first Europeans to see and traverse the MacDonnell Ranges, which forms the northwest watershed of the Lake Eyre Basin (all rivers, north and south, drain into the Simpson Desert).
East of the MacDonnells is the Georgina River system, where the rivers draining the region around Mt Isa flow south; and further east are the Diamantina River and Cooper’s Creek systems – all ultimately, but rarely, drain into Lake Eyre.
This sets the scene for what I suspect is the second irony for 19th Century explorers – they were probably 200 years too soon to witness the return of the inland sea.
In Australia most attention is focused on rising sea-levels and worsening aridity across southern and eastern seaboards as climate change grips the world. Northern Australia, by contrast, faces the prospect of extreme rainfall events.
Locally we focus on the flood risk for Alice Springs but the implications are much vaster than what is in store for our little town – much of the arid inland may be affected by frequent and possibly permanent inundation.
Generally it is expected that cyclones and tropical rain depressions will become more frequent and/or severe, and extend further southwards. These systems generate deluges of rain, as much as several hundreds of millimeters of precipitation.
Climate change increases the likelihood of these events over the major northern catchments (including the MacDonnells) of the Lake Eyre Basin; and also the adjacent Darling Basin to the east which feeds into the Murray River (in 1990 some 220,000 square kilometers of land was flooded between these two basins).
The saving grace for Central Australia is its relatively high elevation, enabling rapid discharge of floodwater.
This isn’t the case for the rest of the Lake Eyre and Darling basins; or for the arid regions of WA, which now receive 50% more rainfall than the long-term average. These regions have very flat topography and low elevation compared to sea-level (which is rising) so floodwaters spread out over immense areas and drain slowly.
There is a pattern of major flood events about once per decade but my concern is that unabated global warming will exacerbate these events and increase the risk of such storms during the intervening periods.
This may be enough to counter the high evaporation rates of inland Australia, leading to long term accumulation of water over the landscape. This is especially pertinent to the Lake Eyre Basin which has no outlet to the sea. This scenario has enormous environmental, economic, social and strategic implications.

ADAM'S APPLE: Fixing the small stuff helps the big.

We’ve all had “one of those days”. A day that begins like any other but soon turns a familiar shade of brown.
A day full of promise and potential soured by other people’s idiocy.
Recently I experienced what I have come to call an “inexplicable one of those days”.
It started out as all days do in a fairly positive manner but by the end of the day I was so frustrated, so annoyed, so cantankerous that I found it difficult to sleep.
If someone was to have asked me why I was so grumpy I would have bitten their head clean off. After re-attaching their head to their body, a process that would have no doubt annoyed me, I would have been flummoxed as to the cause of my frustrations.
Simmering close to the boil in my bed that night I tried to figure out why I felt like storming the Bastille. Why I felt like the entire planet needed a good kick in the pants.
The answer to that question was as illusive as slumber. I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why I felt like that. Which was really frustrating!
A couple of things didn’t go as well as I had hoped at work that morning. But that’s nothing to get riled about. A couple of people at work were a bit annoying. But this was not to a degree more than any other day.
I got stuck behind a really slow driver when I desperately wanted to go home for a wee.
My afternoon nano nap was interrupted by a call from my girlfriend who wanted to have a talk about how poorly her day at work had turned out. Something I’m more than happy to do.
I went back to work to find that a co-worker occupied the machine I needed to use. This is a fairly regular occurrence.
After finishing work I went to the Coles complex to buy some dinner. I do that most evenings. I walked through the sea of wandering, arguing folk.
I made my way through the mindlessly dawdling shoppers, I queued at the checkout and engaged in inane pleasantries with the operator.
When I arrived home, there was nothing on television.
Richard Carlson wrote a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. It was a bestseller for two years and became one of the best selling books of all time.
In the book Dr Carlson suggests small issues we face in our day to day lives are only small issues and that we shouldn’t get bogged down in this minutiae.
I had sweated the small stuff. All the little annoyances throughout the day had manifest themselves in an overarching sense of utter frustration.
But maybe it is the small stuff that is the problem. Maybe, just like lead poisoning, problems in our lives, the frustrations and angsts we feel are all products of being stuck behind a slow driver once too often.
If that is true then it follows that solutions to all the big issues we have could be made simpler by fixing all the little things in our lives.
Maybe we don’t need more police in Alice Springs. Maybe all we need to do to stop the kid who spray painted the obscenities on my wall is to get his mates to tell him that they think he’s a dickhead for doing it. Maybe.
This sort of philosophy is gaining some international clout. A member of the Israeli Knesset, Carmel Shama, has taken “fix the simple stuff” to a new level. You might think that the members of the Israeli parliament might be concerning themselves with questions of settlements in Gaza or conflicts in the West Bank. But Mr Shama is not.
This week he announced that he would introduce a bill into the Knesset to limit the price of movie popcorn.
We all know the price of movie popcorn is more exorbitant than petrol. But without rules and price caps we are held over a barrel. You can’t go to the movies without it so you fork out the $27 or whatever number has been arbitrarily assigned.
While the Israeli parliament might be wasting their time on matters as trivial as popcorn, consider for a moment the broader implications.
Cheaper popcorn would allow movie goers to enjoy themselves more while at the movies.
This in turn takes one of the little annoyances out of their day that means that at the end of it they are a little happier. Maybe then over time people will be happier overall.
And maybe happier people are more likely to be accepting of the concessions needed to make peace in their world.
Maybe this is the start of a movement. It might be a movement that improves the world one popcorn kernel at a time.

LETTERS: Parks should be grazed by shepherded herds.

Sir – Buffel is a grass. If you were to play with biological control you could threaten all our grasses including the local ones.
You would threaten our entire nation’s agricultural industry, not just the Territory, which basically does not yet have an industry worth a mention, in the grand scheme of things.
Buffel is FOOD not FUEL! It burns hotter than local species because it contains – produces –  more energy than our local species off the same given area, off the same given rainfall, which makes it, if exploited properly, vastly more productive, adding to our GNP and feeding the starving millions around the world.
Buffel is not a threat to our parks, local grasses or anything else, if it is managed properly. For instance, our parks should be grazed, shepherded herds on licensed areas.
Very simple, already done elsewhere in the world and will intertwine fantastically with the tourist industry, with visitors able to see cattle, horses and so on at work in the most spectacular surrounds, giving them an unequalled experience. 
Even better than that, the parks will have a income stream that will help with their management, maybe even paying their own way – that would be a first for the Territory!
On a wider front the effect of buffel on the country is more than what you see on the surface. The ability of buffel to hold the soil, break up the soil allowing more moisture penetration – less run off – leads to an escalating fertility in the soil which after a few seasons also leads to an increase in growth of many of the local species.
In this last lot of rain we have seen better growth in the local grass known as button grass than ever experienced in our 65 year management of White Gums.
The overall effect is a massive increase in the land’s productivity from a given rainfall.
As buffel further colonises the Centre the old scale of measure that allowed a beast to the square mile disappears and a much more intense level of grazing and management becomes necessary. In order to deal with this, we should simply allow our surrounding pastoral properties to sub-divide into more manageably sized properties, giving opportunities to many who would like to make their living from the land.
This will also of course apply to the huge areas of Aboriginal freehold land allowing families to generate a good living from smaller individual areas.
The danger is if we sit back and procrastinate. Then we will see much damage done to our countryside by rampaging wildfire.
As with most opportunities in life there is an upside and a downside. But one thing is for certain: the rest of the country, which actually does generate an income and keeps us going with their taxes, is not going to sit back and let us threaten that income simply because we either are too lazy or so dull-witted that we are not capable of taking up the fantastic opportunity that has been provided by the hard work and ingenuity of those who preceded us.
Parks are luxuries afforded by wealthy nations who pay for their operation with their taxes. If you remove the basis of a nation’s wealth then the parks are the first to go.
So if we start to formulate policy on the basis of how it affects our parks rather than how it affects our productive lands then we are in imminent danger of catastrophic collapse.
Think about it, let’s not let the tail wag the dog.
Steve Brown
Alice Springs

Camel case study

Sir – I respond to your call for some definite information on camel harvesting and culling. I am disappointed that you found room to publish the rehashed rubbish from Mr McHugh (Alice News, April 1), but not my submitted letter which at least contained some of the facts and figures that you are asking for.
I reproduce the gist of it here.
I quote from an article by Paul Toohey in the Daily Telegraph, March 3: “Last year the young men of the Ukaka community (near King’s Canyon) got together with neighbouring pastoralist Ian Conway to catch wild camels, spending several months to muster 250 camels they sold for $50,000.
“After employing a helicopter pilot, buying a car and outlays for fuel and food there was no money left for the workers.”
Mr Conway is an experienced local operator. This is a “best case” example of a harvesting operation, several unpaid men, several months, business experience and expertise and ... 250 camels.
This newspaper report, from a reputable journalist constitutes a brief “case study” and does have some numbers.
I will provide more (see Dr Carter’s report in this edition), most of it from research reports produced by the Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre.
Dr Charlie Carter
Alice Springs

Rec & fun

Sir – There have been pockets of recent community discussion about the current Town Council’s rate-payer funded priorities.
It seems to have been elicited by initiatives such as The Gathering Garden (an artistic council lawn meeting place half funded by the NT Government ), the Christmas Tree, and the riverside barbeques.
Personally, as an elected member, I welcome such debate.  After all, we are talking about the rate-payers’ hard earned money. 
In reflecting on such debates, and in examining my own belief systems, I believe a  good councillor needs to strike a balance.  I’m not really a ‘bare-earth’ and ‘caged-in’ sort of bloke.
Surely our town and its families deserve some recreational and playthings for their buck. 
Should we be concerned about these nice outdoor facilities being trashed?  Of course! 
But that is why, currently before the NT Government we have by-laws, that, if governed, should give us our best shot at protecting these community assets. 
Alice Springs is already the jewel of the desert.  However, we must continue to be progressive and inventive.  Most of all, our families must have facilities they can enjoy.
Murray Stewart
Alice Springs
Electricity old style

Sir – Last week’s announcement by the Territory Government of the purchase of two new turbine generators for Channel Island power station flies in the face of the Labor’s commitment to a 20% renewable energy target by 2020.
The government should explain how it can justify spending $120million on non-renewable energy generation just two months after the release of its climate change policy.
Infrastructure planning for the energy network is a long term commitment.
Unfortunately the government has chosen to take a short term approach to the Territory’s energy needs rather than look to a greener, more sustainable future.
The Territory needs 100MW of renewable energy on the grid within the next decade to meet national obligations.
Last year the Utilities Commissioner, Andrew Reeves, identified the need for additional generation capacity in the Territory up to 2018.
For the government to rush into this commitment and purchase two generators – one of which is significantly ahead of time – means the forward planning of this government is a shambles and its environmental credentials are in tatters.
A renewable energy source the equivalent of the new generators would have cost upwards of $200million – an easily achievable target if the government had shown foresight and an ability to plan.
What we are left with is a bolt-on expansion instead of a step change in thinking. This decision by government pushes renewable energy in the Territory back 10 years.
Peter Chandler
Shadow Minister for the Environment

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