June 24, 2010. This page contains all major
reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

The mining super tax and us. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

The Federal Government’s proposed 40 per cent resource super profits tax (RSPT) would hit the Territory hardest because mining makes up more than a quarter – 26.1% – of its economy, a far greater slice than in any other state.
So saays Scott Perkins, Executive Director of the Northern Territory Minerals Council.
And he challenges the notion that under the profit based royalties system, mining companies evade making a fair contribution to the community, even if they shift their profits overseas: payroll tax, stamp duty and other charges, construction of infrastructure, and charitable contributions must be taken into account.
In The Centre, the Newmont owned gold mines in the Tanami Desert, north-west of Alice Springs, are a major contributor to the NT economy and budget.
In 2009 they earned $362m from 287,000 ounces of gold, paid $20.3m in royalties and employed 921 people.
About 610 of them live in the NT, including 310 in Central Australia, says Newmont spokesman Brian Watt: “The value added to the Australian economy in 2009 for the Tanami operations was $243m. $171m was spent on goods and services, local and national, and the total payroll was about $41m.”
Of Newmont’s total workforce, 202 were employed by Newmont and 719 worked for its contractors.
Mr Perkins contests claims by an anonymous email circulating from that the “Swiss mining giant Xstrata ... paid NO royalties for 13 years at McArthur River Mine in the Northern Territory.
“Not one cent for all the lead, silver and zinc they exported ... that is what mining giants like Xstrata have done for Australia.
“Bled it dry of minerals and government funds – and contributed nothing.”
Mr Perkins says: “It’s obvious that there was controversy arising from the impact of profits based royalties on Xstrata’s MacArthur River base mine.
“However, the company has implemented a community benefits trust which makes multi million dollar contributions in the Borroloola region.”
NT Resources Minister Kon Vatskalis did not respond to two requests for comment on issues raised in this report, notwithstanding the fact that his Federal Labor colleagues are the ones planning to bring in the RSPT.
His government now charges mining companies royalties on the following formula: 20% of the gross realisation, less operating costs, less capital recognition deduction on eligible capital assets expenditure, less eligible exploration expenditure, less additional deduction “as approved by the Minister”.
In the 2010/11 NT Budget, “royalties, rents and dividends” are projected to make up 3.6% of the expected $5b revenue.
That is a small figure, but the taxation revenue (of which the mining and associated industries presumably pay a quarter) is also just 9.1%.
As is well known, the vast bulk of the Territory’s revenue, 77.4%, comes from Federal grants and subsidies.
As the Alice News reported on November 12, 2009, in a report about “Royalties for Regions” in Western Australia, the contribution from royalties to the Territory’s budget is much smaller than it is in WA, which raises about $2b in mining royalties each year, some 10% of the state’s budget.
WA has a production (“ad valorem”) tax, explained Rolf Gerritsen, research leader at CDU in Alice Springs.
That is a tax pegged on the value of the ore produced.
The main argument in favour of the Territory’s regime has been to encourage entry of mining ventures.
It has been important, said Prof Gerritsen, in some small mining projects where there are high risks, like the gold mines around Pine Creek.
“So arguably we have got more mining investment than we might otherwise have, though I doubt that state / territory tax measures are crucial for investors’ final decisions to proceed.”
The NT does receive the Commonwealth ad valorem royalties on ERA at Jabiru and Alcoa at Gove – a deal made at Self-Government, when they were exempted from NT Acts.
This financial year mining royalties from the NT’s “resource rental regime” will yield an estimated $160.5m, the largest slice (28.4%) of the Territory’s own-source revenue pie, said our report last year.
Mr Perkins argues that the RSPT will put the Territory even further behind the eightball than it already is because of its “remoteness, lack of infrastructure, lack of workforce”.
He says Minemakers Limited wants to develop its wholly owned Wonarah rock phosphate deposit straddling the Barkly Highway east of Tennant Creek.
The resource is estimated at 1,258 million tonnes which makes Wonarah Australia’s largest JORC compliant rock phosphate deposit. 
(The JORC code provides minimum standards for public reporting to ensure that investors and their advisers have all the information they would reasonably require for forming a reliable opinion on the results and estimates being reported.)
Mr Perkins says although the prospect is on a highway, the company is planning to build a $300m railway line to connect up with the north-south Ghan line.
“The new line would still be there a hundred years after all the phosphate is gone,” says Mr Perkins – it would be a community asset quite apart from royalties.
He says the 40% RSPT is proposed to cut in when the return on investment exceeds 6%: “It’s another complete tax over the top of [other taxes], another layer of cost, exactly at time when the shareholders make their money.
“It takes cream off the top.”
Mr Perkins says the public should take seriously the decision by Xstrata, “with immediate effect”, to suspend $586 million of expenditure to develop both the $6b Wandoan thermal coal project and a $600m project to extend the life of the Ernest Henry copper mine.
“Together these two projects in Queensland would have created 3,250 new jobs which are now at risk”, according to Xstrata.
Mr Perkins says because of the Territory’s inherent disadvantages, mining investors are hesitant to put their money into the place: you can find a “rich little deposit” elsewhere in Australia, near labour markets, transport links, and short distances to the end user, and the project will get the green light.
“In the Territory, under the current taxation regime, you have to have a huge mongrel size deposit to make money out of it.
“And with the RSPT it would need to be an enormous deposit.
“A board would say to a mining manager, show us how we can make a profit and we’ll go and get the money.”
Under the RSPT, says Mr Perkins, this is going to be a lot harder.
And Mr Watt says: “We are continuing to study the effect of the RSPT on our Australian operations and specific impacts on mines such as our operations in the Tanami.
“However, we are very concerned that application of the RSPT as it is currently presented will make Australia one of the highest taxed mining provinces in the world.
 “Our operations provide jobs and income for thousands of Australian families and support hundreds of local businesses across Australia.
“Such a high rate of tax strikes at the heart of our international competitiveness in an industry that operates locally but competes globally.”

Liquor litter charge gone

Town Council revenue for 2010-11 won’t include money raised by a liquor litter charge.
But expenditure on the charge may yet still include legal costs.
Council’s solicitor Chris Turner has informed lawyer acting for a number of licensees and property-owners affected by the charge, Peer Schroter, that council will “not be declaring” the charge in the coming financial year.
In his advice Mr Turner said the decision had been made “in light of the Northern Territory’s very recent announcement that it will introduce container deposit legislation”.
The decision is “wholly consistent with [council’s] public statements when introducing the charge that it would review the ongoing nature of the charge in the event of the enactment of such legislation”, said the advice.
Mr Schroter told the Alice News that his clients, through his office, “have requested the Town Council to advise whether it is prepared to rescind the existing liquor levy charge to dispose of the current Supreme Court proceedings”.
At the time of going to press he had not had a response.
Meanwhile, council has released its draft municipal plan, including budget. It aims to increase its rates-based revenue by 5.4%.
Rates in 2010-11 will contribute 63% of council’s revenue, up from last year’s proportion of 57%.
The lower figure in 2009-10 reflected major unexpended grants carried over from the preceding year.
Residential property owners are facing rate hikes, some as great as 20%, reflecting big increases in unimproved capital value (UCV), as assessed by the Valuer-General.
This assessment is undertaken every three years. Over the last three the average increase of UCV in Alice has been 46%.
The inclusion six months ago of town camps in the municipality’s rateable land – they make up .6% of the town area – is making a contribution to council’s revenue.
In the current year the minimum rate of $855 was applied to the 210 town camp residences; in 2010-11 the minimum rate goes up to $901. At present these rates are paid by the NT Government.
For land in the CBD, Commercial and Specific Use Zones average rates remain unchanged.

Young, confident and going for it. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Businesses close down, people leave and we worry about the future of the town, but there are also new arrivals and new businesses opening up. This is the second article by KIERAN FINNANE on entrepreneurs in new businesses. (See last week’s edition for her story about a new communications and events business, All the Perks, specialising in Indigenous events.)

It’s a smoko shop with, not surprisingly, an international flavour: between them Ron and Fatima Norris (pictured) bring a real Top End mix of cultural influences into the kitchen.
Fatima’s parentage is mixed Pakistani and East Timorese; Ron’s is Papua New Guinean.
At the start of the year the couple and their three school-aged children moved to Alice from Darwin to take over a then ailing business owned by Fatima’s father and step mother, Ray’s Snack Bar on Elder Street.
They could see its potential and believed they could get it back on its feet – what with Fatima’s friendly service and money-handling savvy front of house and Ron’s love of cooking at work out the back.
Also going for it are a good location, roominess inside, its outdoor seating area that locks up securely at night, and plenty of parking.
“It had become known as an Indian curry take-away, but not everyone wants to eat a curry,” says Fatima.
“It’s a smoko shop in an industrial area – so it has to have everything that you’d expect of a smoko shop and then you can add the extras.”
The first week they started trading they had hardly any stock, but set about making burgers, fresh-cut sandwiches, their own pies and main meals as well as making sure they had the usual smoko fare – fried foods.
Their takings were modest and they invested all the money back into stock, broadening the range.
Week by week they’ve built the business up. It’s still not where it has to be but last week they had their best ever day, taking nearly fourfold what they were in the early days.
In just four months their strategy seems to be working.
They had to learn how “to stay just one step ahead of the customers”, says Fatima.
“We thought we needed to have the bain-marie completely full. We were cooking so much and having to throw food away.
“Now we’re trying to cook as we go and introduce more choices as we get more customers.
“Our regulars tell us they’ve noticed the difference, each time they come in there’s something new.” 
Fatima worked for 10 years in Darwin’s casino, starting out as a trainee dealer and working her way up to become a supervisor and then pit manager. It was night work, of course, as was Ron’s job as a crowd control supervisor.
They couldn’t have done it without family support, especially from Fatima’s mum, helping to look after their children.
One reason they took on the snack bar was to change their working hours.
“This business suits us and our family – we can work together and we’ve got a routine, the same routine.”
They close the doors at three. One of them picks up the children from school. They all chip in to get the cleaning done before going home for dinner.
And for the first time in years they can enjoy weekends and long weekends as a family.
Fatima’s father, a welder by trade and in business just across the road, is helping them financially until the snack bar starts to pay its way. Fatima believes that won’t be too far off and she and Ron will then buy the business from her father.
There’s no real mystery to making it work.
“We’re young and we’re prepared to work hard. We’re confident.”
Fatima finds all of her past work experience – at the casino, in retail management and office administration – useful. She knows a lot about communicating with people, about serving them, about money, and while she’s had to learn a lot about meeting the health and safety requirements of a food handling business, much of it is also common sense, she says.
And Ron loves cooking.
He treats hamburgers as an artform.
He’s introduced “breakfast pies” – bacon and egg, bacon and cheese, bacon and tomato, all in a puff pastry case.
He also makes his own meat pies for lunch, but uses a pre-made shell.
“We’re surprised at how well they’re going because we know we’ve got competition around town.”
They still do curries three times a week, but they also have other specialities.
Mondays are for Asian food, such as Mongolian Beef and fried noodles; Tuesdays, Portuguese and Spanish dishes, such as Fijuada, a dish of pork and beans; Wednesdays are for fans of meatballs; Thursdays, Italian, with Lasagne always a big seller; Fridays they do a roast.
“We try not to have the same things from week to week. Someone might always buy lunch on Mondays and would soon get sick of it if we only did Mongolian beef, so the next week we’ll do an Asian chicken dish.”
At the moment they can cope themselves but they’re nearly at the point where they’ll  have to employ someone.
“The last four months have been a bit of a struggle but we know we’re making progress. We monitor everything, record all our sales and we can see the improvements.
“We know our prices have to be on a par with similar businesses or slightly cheaper as we’re still trying to bring customers back, but in the end we should be able to make good profits.”
As for Alice, they’re getting used to it.
Fatima had lived in the same house in Darwin all her life, so leaving home and family members was a wrench. But her dad and his second family are here, so it’s not as if everyone has been left behind.
The summer heat is different – “like an oven” – but of course that’s over now for quite a few months.
The children were missing their old friends but they’re making new ones and getting involved in sports.
In the long run what they’ll do depends on the snack bar making money.
If all goes to plan, Alice will become home.

in business

The Alice News could not find any register of new businesses but an interesting stat is the number of new business names registered in Alice Springs between June 1, 2009 and May 30, 2010: 236, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Business and Employment.
Registering a name doesn’t mean that a business has started trading or is still trading. The name may also be for a sole trader, that is non-employing. These make up 58% of all Alice Springs businesses, according to the 2008 Economic Profile.
Another item of interest is the greater small to medium business confidence in regional NT relative to Darwin, according to the recently released Sensis Business Index.
Confidence in Darwin was reported as 46%, while in the NT regions it was at 70%. The NT as a whole, along with the ACT, had the highest level of business confidence in the country.

‘Perfume Creek’ is flowing again.

This month there has been no local rain but nonetheless two discharges into St Mary’s Creek from the sewerage ponds that the Alice News noticed – the creek was flowing on June 1 and again on this Monday past, June 21.
Our photo shows the creek as it was last Monday just east of the railway, making its way to where it crosses under the Stuart Highway and flows past St Mary’s.
Unfortunately it can’t show the smell.
As the News understands it Power and Water’s discharge licence allows only a wet weather discharge regime.
According to information on its website, it  completed its last anticipated pulse discharge into the swamp – which flows into St Mary’s Creek – in September, 2007 (subject to any wet weather events).
We asked Power and Water to explain why there was an overflow, attaching our photo to the emailed request.
A spokesperson supplied the following: “Power and Water has undertaken a controlled discharge from its wastewater treatment facility at Ilparpa, in accordance with its wastewater discharge licence and with the appropriate permission from the Environment Protection Authority.
“The need to discharge resulted from high rainfall earlier this year.”

‘Safe and sober’ new grog front.

The majority of Aboriginal people do not drink grog.
This is an important idea to work with in helping Aboriginal people deal with their drinking problems, says Reverend Tracy Spencer, program manager and therapist with the Safe and Sober Support service, run by Congress Grog Mob.
If clients know that there are a whole lot of sober people out there who can support them, who can be an example to them, it makes a big difference, she says.
Safe and Sober is not an abstinence program.
It’s up to people to choose whether they will give up grog completely or not. Some know that not drinking at all is the only way to go, some can choose to drink safely.
“Either way it’s a major rethink, not only for Aboriginal people, but right across Australia,” says Rev Spencer.
Safe drinking is now defined at no more than two standard drinks per day and “standard drinks” are small compared to what many people consume as a single drink: three quarters of a can of heavy beer, 100 ml of wine.
Guidelines used to differentiate between men and women, four drinks for men, two for women, but these were revised last year by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
The council says: “At low-levels of alcohol consumption, there is little difference between the risk of alcohol-related harm for men and women, both over a lifetime and on a single drinking occasion.”
Rev Spencer adds that drinking should also be confined to five days a week, with two days grog-free, however this is not part of the official NHMRC guidelines.
There’s a cycle of behaviour change commonly experienced by people wanting to give up grog.
The first stage is where are others are worried about your drinking but you’re not.
In the next stage, you’re starting to think about it, motivated by perhaps your health, your kids or your partner, finacial worries or legal ones.
In the third stage, you are starting to make a move. This is not something done in isolation – there are plenty of people around you, including family who are wanting change.
This is when it’s particularly important for people to understand that the majority of Aboriginal people do not drink, says Rev Spencer. A client might fix their sights on this group or on the group who drink responsibly. 
From here there are the stages of doing it (changing your drinking, having a plan and supports), sticking to it, and for some, relapse and fresh learning about how to say no.
One of the tools Safe and Sober workers use is a storyboard that represents a community of Aboriginal people – groups of non-drinkers, a group of responsible drinkers, another of people who drink all the time, and in the middle, children who are possibly being exposed to alcohol and its consequences.
The AOD (Alcohol and Other Drugs) worker, all of them Aboriginal and trained in this technique, tells the story of each person in this “community” – the grandmother who has never had a drink, the young person who is starting to drink, the older man who has become a daily heavy drinker, the child who is looking on, while the client listens.
The stories reflect what is known about drinking amongst Aboriginal people in an average community, “with less than a quarter who drink problematically”.
“When the stories are all told it is clear that there are only two safe choices,” says Rev Spencer, “low-risk drinking or no drinking at all.
“It’s quite a meditative process.
“At the end the AOD worker asks if the client knows something about this story.
“People end up telling you their story, identifying themselves with one of the narratives – that was me then, that was my grandfather, my uncle, that’s me now.
“Our approach is that the client has their story and then there’s the story of grog in their lives, and it’s possible for these two stories to part ways.
“Is there anyone in their family who doesn’t drink, who can serve as an example? They might be able to draw on the strength of that person.
“With a sense of who they are and a purpose, people can develop tools to protect themselves from grog.
“There are a lot of internal and external protections that need to be built to work through the addiction and keep grog at bay.”
That’s why Grog Mob are a multi-disciplinary team, made up half and half of therapists, who between them have a range of approaches, and Aboriginal AOD workers.
At present there are 10 staff and another 10 are being recruited in time for relocation to larger premises at the rear of the old Imparja building, hopefully in August.
The Aboriginal staff are all strong well-recognised individuals, four out of five, locals.
They are responsible for ensuring that treatments are culturally appropriate and act as advocates for the clients’ social and cultural support, liaising with agencies such as Territory Housing, Centrelink and employment agencies.
Territory Housing is now referring people with alcohol-related tenancy problems directly to Grog Mob.
Sometimes it is visitors rather than the tenants themselves with the problem. In this case the Safe and Sober helps the tenant to think about how they can make clear to visitors that grog is not welcome at their place.
Centrelink can help in a number of ways, such as setting up Centrepay arrangements for clients to pay their various bills.
Grog Mob workers also accompany Centrelink on their “place-based service” for homeless people, going into the hils and creeks around town to offer assistance to the people they come across.
There are a lot of different things that can be done to help clients.
Bush trips for men and women, get them away from the grog and out into country. The AOD workers can host the group on country appropriate for them; and at times a client plays host on their country.
They talk around a campfire, cook up some ‘roo and work towards very explicit conversations about grog.
Sometimes regular clients bring along a person who is not necessarily on the books but whom they think might benefit from the program. The AOD worker then takes the opportunity to ask if they can catch up later and have a talk.
The person might be in the early stages of change.
“We can start working with them on their housing problem, for example,” says Rev Spencer, “and start asking them about what they might have tried before to get away from grog.
“We might refer them to another program, at DASA or CAAAPU, but we will work with them whether they are in a residential program or not.”
There are a number of alcohol rehab services in town, each with its own approach, but there is a coordination reference group meeting every six weeks, with 16 members, one from each service as well as representatives of the relevant agencies such as police and NTFC.
This “enhances” the whole system, says Rev Spencer, with effective referral between services.
Safe and Sober is doing a prisoner “inreach” service, working with prisoners sentenced to less than six months for grog-related offences. (People with longer sentences already have access to rehabilitation services, both education programs and an alcohol awareness course run by DASA.)
This is a first – until now these prisoners have not had access to any services.
The prison authorities identified 77 people and out of this group 30 put their hands up to go beyond the information session, whether it was to do group work or casework.
“It’s a good start. These are people whom we want to target, who’ve been caught drink driving or committed assaults while they’re drunk.”
All up Safe and Sober at present has 120 active clients.
Some have already made progress.
Rev Spencer tells of one man who decided to move his family from town to live at an outstation on his homelands in order to get away from the grog. Luckily the outstation is near a community where his children can go to school and he has started working for Parks and Wildlife.
He still has an occasional drink but seems to be managing it.
She tells of a couple whose children were taken by NT Families and Children (NTFC, formerly FACS).
This was the motivator for change, to get their children back.
Safe and Sober assigned a caseworker to each one.
The man has taken part in bush trips – he hadn’t been out bush for quite some time.
His awareness has grown to the point of participating in an on-camera interview that can be used in the program, talking about why it’s become important to him to stop drinking.
Recently he turned down a bush trip because he’d borrowed a friend’s lawn-mower and wanted to clean up his yard.
It was a good sign, says Rev Spencer – a sign of change in his life, of having a plan and setting it into action.
And he’s mostly not drinking.
“Hopefully it will get to the point where our workers can start advocating for reunification of the family,” she says.
She speaks of the progress being made by a group of women from one of the town camps who want to do something about their drinking. They’ve done a number of bush trips but have asked for other experiences around town. These have included a visit to the recent opening of the Desert People’s Centre.
They wanted to know how people were able to get involved “with a place like that”.
Senior AOD worker Debra Maidment has a background in employment and training and building on their interest, took them on to the Desert Park where a number of local Aboriginal people have jobs.
Now the women want to take her on a bush trip: show her their knowledge of bush medicine.
All this has a happened in a matter of six weeks, says Rev Spencer.
On the day that we spoke the service had been contacted by a young woman who also had had her chid removed. She was really anxious. An AOD worker went to visit her to talk about what could be done and she has decided to work with a therapist.
Grog Mob don’t wait for people to come through the door or to be referred. They’re trying all sorts of ways to “engage where the problem is the greatest”.
“There are a lot of entry points to the service,” says Rev Spencer.
Medical referral, from Congress, the hospital or a GP, is an obvious one but they have also started work with a group of vulnerable schoolchildren affected by other people’s drinking, helping them to express their feelings and develop ways of protecting themselves.
From this contact they are now also involved with those children’s parents and can think about undertaking a style of family therapy.
“Caring for kids is a great motivator,” says Rev Spencer.
“The adults can see the trouble that grog is causing and are unhappy about it.”
She says the service has seen a number of older men who had realised that grog was stopping them from fulfilling their expected roles as grandfathers.
“We can draw on the positive aspects of Aboriginal culture to motivate change.”
Each week the service also does what they call “brief interventions” (basically giving information about grog and what it can do to your life) at the sobering up shelter and the police watch-house.
“A lot of what we do is opportunistic
“It may look a bit chaotic when you come in here but a key characteristic of our service is flexibility – responding to where the need is.”

Drinking, by numbers

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2006 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey, around half of all Indigenous adults (49%) reported having consumed alcohol in the week prior to interview,  of whom one-third (16%) reported drinking at risky / high risk levels.
A higher proportion of Indigenous men than women had consumed alcohol at risky/high risk levels in the week before the survey, except among those aged 55 years and over where the rate was similar for males and females, at about 10%.
For all Australians the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) estimated that 82.9% of Australians aged over 14 years, had consumed alcohol in the previous 12 months, with only 10.1% having never consumed at least one standard drink of alcohol.
Indigenous Australians constitute 2.6% of Australia’s population. However, they experience health and social problems resulting from alcohol use at a rate disproportionate to non-Indigenous Australians.
See Wilson M, Stearne A, Gray D, Saggers S (2010): The harmful use of alcohol amongst Indigenous Australians.

Tourism puzzle: Bums in beds but who are they? By ERWIN CHLANDA.

It’s a puzzle: Visitor nights in Alice Springs are fairly steady – a slight drop in domestic callers and a rise of 20,000 from overseas.
Yet tour operators are complaining that business is poor and massive discounting is going on, even now at the supposed peak of the season.
So whose bums are in the beds of our accommodation houses? A frequent answer is public servants and business travellers tied up with the Federal Intervention.
Is there a flood of backpackers chasing easy jobs here?
As these low budget travellers and intervention staffers would hardly be coming here in response to advertising, why spend an enormous $50m a year on Tourism NT?
For the record, in 2009 the numbers of domestic visitors making overnight trips, (as opposed to visitor nights) were 220,000 in Alice Springs and 145,000 in Petermann (which includes the Ayers Rock Resort).
The numbers for international visitors were 166,183 and 183,116, respectively.
All figures were down on the averages of the four preceding years.

Disturbing questions about government appointed regulator. COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

As a dozen families stung by the Carey – Framptons housing scandal are making a complaint about the real estate agency to the Agents Licencing Board (ALB), the Alice News is able to cast light on that regulatory body's performance.
It's not a pretty picture.
Although we are dealing with the same board and complaining about the same company, the issues pursued by us and the unfortunate families are in no way connected.
We are publishing this account because there has been widespread concern with the performance of regulatory bodies, especially those concerned with land use, construction and housing.
The public interest in these issues is beyond doubt as land prices in Alice Springs in recent years have reached a debilitating level, creating hardship for many people, restricting economic growth, stifling business and even forcing people to leave town, or stopping them from settling here.
Our case with the ALB started last year when our Head of Sales, Jo-Anne Day, offered our advertising services to a land developer.
He invited her, by email, to contact Justin O'Brien, a real estate agent working for Framptons First National Real Estate.
Ms Day rang Mr O'Brien and a conversation took place which prompted me to make a formal complaint to the ALB.
I told the ALB that Mr O'Brien said, words to the effect: "I have spoken to my boss. While the Alice Springs News is telling people not to use real estate agents, Framptons will not be advertising with you."
Ms Day attempted to discuss the issues with Mr O'Brien, including our circulation, advertising rates and readership, but he cut her short.
Mr O'Brien's reference was to an initiative by the Alice Springs News to offer advertising space to people wishing to sell their homes privately.
As we do with all our clients, we promote the virtues of the News – high circulation, outstanding production values and being a locally owned enterprise.
We also point out to vendors that they are most likely to save money using this option.
This is a straight out commercial, legal, competitive scheme.
Mr O'Brien and Andrew Doyle, his "boss", may not like competition, and that is their privilege.
But the question arising is, were they obliged not to be motivated by prejudice when being entrusted by a client to sell his land?
Section 65(1)(da) of the Agents Licensing Act says: "A licensed agent who ... fails to exercise due skill, care or diligence when dealing with any person whomsoever in the course of conducting business as an agent ... is guilty of a breach of the rules of conduct for agents."
Real estate agents' conduct is not just prescribed by convention, but by law.
Although most people would consider the meaning of this section of the Act to be a no-brainer, the ALB dismissed our application for disciplinary action because "it was of an irrelevant nature".
No explanation was given in the letter signed by Carolyn Parsell, Deputy Registrar of Land, Business & Conveyancing Agents, dated March 8, 2010, some five months after we lodged the application.
We have since asked Ms Parsell to tell us what she understands the meaning of Section 65 to be.
But it's also what happened between the lodgment of our complaint on October 5, 2009 and the decision, that gives rise to serious concerns.
The decision was based on a report by Martin Clive-Smith, investigation officer, and Chris McIntyre, Deputy Director Licensing (South).
Attached to that report were written statements by Mr Doyle and Mr O'Brien; and a "file note" of a conversation between the land vendor and Mr McIntyre.
Neither the investigation report not the attachments were shown to me, nor was my comment sought, before the decision was made.
The documents were given to me, upon my request, after the decision had been made.
This unfortunate omission, which I understand is contrary to normal procedure, resulted in some critical mistakes.
The investigation report quotes from Mr O'Brien's letter: "My conversation with Jo-Anne Day is not accurately represented by Mr Chlanda in his email ..."
And then he says this: "I did also explain that while her paper was encouraging the public not to use real estate agents we would not be advertising in her paper."
This, of course, is almost exactly what I had said in my complaint, yet the investigation report quotes only the first part of Mr O'Brien's statement – the false allegation of inaccuracy – and not the second.
Mr O'Brien said: "I did not hang up on Ms Day."
I did not say he had. I said he had cut her short.
Mr O'Brien said: "She ended the conversation."
After telling her Framptons would not be dealing with the Alice Springs News, what did he expect Ms Day would be talking to him about? 
Mr Doyle and Mr O'Brien were in a situation clearly defined by Section 65: they were dealing with Ms Day, referred to them by their client, wishing to make a pitch for one of only two print advertising media in town. As they are acting as agents they were obliged to behave in a manner prescribed by the law.
Yet the ALB clearly found nothing wrong Mr Doyle's and Mr O'Brien's assertions that they were free to do as they pleased.
Mr Doyle said in his letter: "We choose which publication we intend to use, the same as we choose which sign writing business in town we use, it's our business, it's our money and we spend it with the businesses we want to."
Mr O'Brien: "I contacted our Vendor and discussed our current marketing, he indicated that he was very happy with proceedings ... we and our vendor were very happy with the response to our marketing campaign."
His client's being "happy" or otherwise is in no way relevant. The word happy doesn't appear in s65(1)(da) nor, so far as I know, anywhere else in the Act.
At that time of sustained shortage of land and huge demand, the legendary drover's dog could have sold land. Another developer, using the Alice Springs News as his preferred medium, received deposits for 20 blocks, with an offer of five more.
Mr O'Brien also states that he had explained to Ms Day "that what we were paying for our advertising was in fact cheaper than what her paper had to offer".
As he did not give her the opportunity of making an offer, how did he know what we had to offer? Mr O'Brien was displaying lack of "due skill, care or diligence" by making assumptions that may not be true.
Mr McIntyre and Mr Clive-Griffin say in their report they "cannot identify where a breach of the Act or Regulations has occurred".
This comes as no surprise given the sloppiness of the investigation.
Yet the Board minutes of the February 25 meeting state: "The Board agreed with the investigation report conclusion that there was no breach of the Act or the Agents Licensing Regulations."
No such conclusion was presented to the ALB.
Mr McIntyre attached to the report a "file note" of a conversation he said he had with Framptons' client.
Mr McIntyre misspells his name.
The note says in part that the client "met with Frampton's reps prior to the land release and discussed with them the marketing strategy that they were offering and he was happy with it.
"That marketing strategy included website promotion and advertising in the Centralian Advocate. It did not include advertising in the Alice Springs News."
Mr McIntyre is clearly talking about a strategy devised by Framptons and accepted by the client, no doubt in the expectation that the strategy was based on sound and professional research.
Yet in his report to the ALB Mr McIntyre says the client "confirmed that his marketing strategy did not include the Alice Springs News".
Now Mr McIntyre portrays the strategy as having been devised by the client, not by Framptons.
Mr Clive-Griffin, supported by Mr McIntyre, claims "this complaint has been thoroughly investigated". The opposite is true. They had spoken neither with Ms Day nor with me.
They attached to their report Mr Doyle's letter which is full of gratuitous insults and falsehoods, without giving us the right of reply.
That is a scandalous denial of natural justice.
The co-author of the investigation report, on which the Board relied, Mr McIntyre, gives an early display of his flawed understanding of  Section 65 in a letter to me of October 12, 2009.
He says: "On the surface I do not believe that Framptons have breached the sections of the Act in their conduct in this instance.
"In my opinion, you were not a client and in his dealings with you in this instance Mr O'Brien was not acting in the capacity as an agent therefore has not breached Section 65(1) of the Act."
Again, which part of "whomsoever" does Mr McIntyre not understand?
A claim in Mr Doyle's letter that his business had been "harassed" and had "continually placed pressure" on it by me is pure fabrication.
To the best of my recollection, my last meeting with Mr Doyle to discuss advertising was well over a year ago. I made an appointment and put my case. My conduct was at all times courteous and professional.
(Late last year Mr Doyle and his co-principal David Forrest asked me for a meeting about an editorial matter. I met with them, obtained information and published it. Advertising was not discussed, as it is proper to keep entirely separate the business and editorial operations of a newspaper.)
Mr Doyle takes issue with us seeking advertising for "financial gain". Of course we do. The Alice Springs News, like most privately owned media, derives its income from selling advertising.
Equally facile is Mr Doyle's assertion that his advertising campaign "was all funded by our [namely Framptons] company".
The commission charged by real estate agents in Alice Springs is around 4% or $12,000 for a $300,000 block of land.
Mr Doyle says his firm sold 27 allotments in just two days.
Framptons (and others in the real estate industry) are among the many beneficiaries of the presence of the Alice Springs News.
Now in our 17th year of weekly publication, we are the first ever sustained and credible opposition to the erstwhile print media monopoly by the overseas-owned Centralian Advocate.
The competition we introduced into the marketplace has enormously benefited local commerce, by keeping down advertising costs.
This is how Framptons and other agents, most of them intermittent clients of ours, can buy space in the Advocate for just a quarter of the Advocate's casual rate, according to credible industry sources.
The News offered the ALB and Framptons the right of reply.
Framptons responded, through its solicitor Peer Schroter: "It is extremely germane and pertinent that, notwithstanding the matters you agitate in your proposed article, the fact is and remains that the appeal you launched against the decision of the Agents Licensing Board to reject your complaint was voluntarily discontinued and withdrawn by yourself. This of course has the effect of not disturbing the original decision of the Agents Licensing Board to reject your complaint on the grounds that in its opinion your application was of an irrelevant nature. For the sake of balance and completeness, we request that these facts are clearly pointed out in your article."
The News withdrew the appeal because, as it was explained to us in the course of the process, the appeal would have been in the form of an administrative review that deals with procedure and not with facts.
We are confident that the ALB is wholly at liberty to overturn its decision without legal action, which – as was explained to us – is likely to be associated with considerable costs.

Gaol for art firm fraud.

A woman, mother of three children aged 13 months to five years, has been sentenced to five years imprisonment  for forgery and stealing from her employer, Desart, the advocacy body for Aboriginal art centres in Central Australia.
As the offences were committed during the operational period of a suspended sentence for stealing, that suspension has been revoked and she must now also serve the earlier term of imprisonment, some of it concurrent with the new term.
All up she is looking at seven years in gaol with a non-parole period of four years.
Justice Stephen Southwood said the woman’s prospects of rehabilitation were “not good”.
He recognised that the woman’s children would suffer hardship while she is in gaol, but said they were “at an age where they can be appropriately cared for either by the offender’s mother or some other responsible adult”.
The woman, Roseanne Rita Payne, has been convicted of 46 criminal offences, all of them offences of dishonesty. 
She also has a history of substance abuse and problem gambling.
She was 14 years old when she came from Queensland to Alice Springs with her mother. 
Justice Southwood noted that she was “subject to family violence as a young child”.
She left school at 16, going on to complete Certificates I and II in business studies at Centralian College and has since worked in a variety of positions.
She has received treatment and counselling for depression and addiction.
Justice Southwood accepted her depression and problem gambling as “mitigatory factors” but went on to say: “The offender’s thought processes were not so disordered that she did not appreciate either the nature of her conduct or the factors that predisposed her to engaging in such behaviour.
“She must have had some insight into her problems and condition. 
“She knew what she was doing was wrong; there is a significant element of self indulgence in the offender’s criminal conduct; the offences were premeditated and involved a degree of planning; the offending occurred over a significant period of time and was the antithesis of spur of the moment offending; the offender had received a significant amount of counselling and treatment and she was aware she could obtain further counselling and treatment; and the offender has some capacity to control her gambling as is demonstrated by the fact that she has not been gambling since she committed these crimes.” 
Her previous sentence, of which she served 14 months, was for stealing almost $350,000.
Employed at Desart as an administration officer, Ms Payne on multiple occasions used the internet banking passwords of Desart employees to take over $200,000 from Desart accounts. 
She also falsified invoices and forged signatures.
It was during her absence on maternity leave that an unusually large invoice was noticed and an audit conducted that revealed the misdeeds.
Her offending caused considerable stress to the staff of Desart as well as financial hardship.

New art gallery finds a home among tradies, contractors.

In amongst the industrial facades of Hele Crescent a second art gallery has opened its doors.
Its name, simply 8 Hele, as well as its refurbishment of the old Dona Plumbing building, speaks of owner Mike Gillam’s passion for the evolving character of the street he lives in.
8 Hele is just along from his creation Silver Bullet, a unique cafe and haven for artistic expression and Central Australian flora. Sadly its doors rarely open these days. 
The gallery shares many of the values that Gillam put into the Bullet.
While its neighbour, Raft Artspace, at the rear of the same building, is as elegant an exhibition space as any in the country, 8 Hele is full of interesting idiosyncracy.
Its old commercial / industrial signage is partially preserved on the front windows, underlining Gillam’s respect for the fine skills of tradesmen, whose creative expression he fostered first at the Bullet and now here. It also reflects his commitment to maintaining the urban environment as a place that speaks its history even while it changes.
Inside, remnant floor tiling, ceiling trusses and the gallery furniture reveal the same interests. No white plinths here. The exhibit supports are almost as interesting as the art presented on them – currently sculptural work using recycled materials.
Opening artists are an interstate favourite, Neil Rogers, as well as Faye Alexander, Rick Howarth, Simon Holding, Ian Ross, Dan Murphy and Rory McLeod.   
There’s also enough high clean white wall space to show in large format Gillam’s own masterful photographs – images that open your eyes to change and detail in the landscape and the urban environment, making you wonder if you walk around, eyes half closed.
The lighting system is described as “hybrid” – “solar lighting” falls plentifully through the shopfront windows. As for the electrics, Gillam can proudly boast that the two end galleries, which are windowless, use a total of 150 watts, boosted by ingenious passive energy means.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday.


Local performing arts have experienced a huge injection of energy and fresh ideas, with original performances over the last three weekends.
First we had Circosis, with their first full-length show, A Circus Affair, featuring the delightful Mister Kiko and Sarita (Andrew Cook and Sarah Mason) but also, as they promised, a range of other talents, including impressive films by Dave Nixon and a charming animation from Katelnd Griffin.
The next weekend many of these supporting acts popped up again in other guises in the Burlesque Funraiser, under the artistic direction of Melissa Kerl.
This show was raising money to stage a performance by Cat’s Meow Cabaret. I recently wrongly stated that the cabaret were headed for the Darwin Festival, confusing them with Dusty Feet who are the ones who’ve earned this northern gig.
I also said we can look forward to seeing Cat’s Meow in the Alice Desert Festival – wrong again. Their show is set for November this year. So many of the key players have other festival commitments that it was decided to move Cat’s Meow out of the festival program. But we can still look forward to them, in their fourth iteration!
The Burlesque show, where some of the above-mentioned were joined by a whole lot of others, was a madcap, titillating crowd-pleaser.
Highlights were the appearances of a trio of young men under the name Brolesque, and a bunch of young women dancers, showing plenty of humorous street attitude in a striking, rather dark piece choreographed by Sila Crosley and Kissilyn Labis. Three of this group, including Hayley Michener, broke out to do one of the best satirical pieces of the show, as three 'bogun' girls out for a night on the town. 
Michener also showed her talent again last weekend, in the live performance opening the Reeldance Film Festival, choreographing seven young dancers, including herself, from Duprada Dance Company in an entertaining, atmospheric piece called Violins at Play – very contemporary violins.  As well she performed with Dusty Feet, in their piece, Bloodwood. 
A group of young men, calling themselves Diverse Styles, brought something different to the stage with a robust hip hop performance. Their moves are so entertaining and acrobatically impressive they risk upstaging other acts, but the ‘violins’ had enough of their own sass to make their mark.
Behind both the Burlesque and the Reeldance weekend has been the drive of Melissa Kerl, who came to town two years ago to teach dance at OLSH.
She spoke last year to Araluen director Tim Rollason about what more could be done to foster a dance culture and audience in Alice Springs – Reeldance, a touring festival of art, dance and film, was one of the things they came up with, building into it an opportunity for live local performance.
Araluen then engaged Kerl to coordinate the event.
As she noted at the opening performance, dance culture is already rich in town: She, Michener, the indefatigable Lynne Hanton and plenty of other impressive, energetic talents continue to add to its depth.  
It’s hard to pinpoint where all this exuberant determination to perform has come from, but the Alice Desert Festival has surely had something to do with it, providing the context, the production support, and building on it from year to year.

Exhibitions on a bender. POP VULTURE with CAMERON BUCKLEY.

Exhibitions seem to be going on a bender in Alice Springs.
And why not, with seemingly abundant venues in which to showcase local expression, it has become increasingly easier for emerging artists to demonstrate their work to the public eye.
Oliver Eclipse’s Mojocar to Yuendumu was unleashed last two weeks ago – the red dirt covered floor Watch This Space gallery trampled over as swirling glasses of red wine were downed – fun to watch. 
But charging for drinks is the sure fire way to keep the ‘free thinking, free drinking’ floaters from taking refuge.
Oliver has a truly gifted perspective behind the lens, from the landscapes, both local and international, to the Absinthe-coated lens of art house photography. 
“Natural History” shows an image of the Natural History Museum in England. A gargoyle monkey statue overlooks an M.C. Escher like room complete with shifting staircases. This could be a metaphor for the creation Esher and H.R. Giger might conjure, if they spent a night out on it then suddenly awoke next to each other the next day.
Then a few staggers left and you are standing in front of a picture of poolside Bondi Beach.
Oliver’s exhibit finishes this Satuday, and the artist is at the gallery till then, happy to speak to the public about his eclectic and magnificent body of work.
Staying in the vein of the photogenic subject, The Red Vacuum opened at Olive Pink Botanic Garden last Friday evening.  A collaborative exhibit contributed by seven local artists – Fiona Rogers, Tina Po, Lucy Scott, Jeska Matteson, Scott Foyster, Vanessa Marijanovic and Oliver again – the show draws its muse from the notion that the red centre draws many people of a creative  bent to its core.
The Red Vacuum shows a balance of mediums, each artist has their own corner and walking around the wall gives the clean perspective between design and quirk, with photography and installation given the stronger presence.
Patience is definitely a virtue for the voyeur, with the number of pieces numbering very high in a room a little too constricted in size to separately showcase them all.
The garden now twice in as many weeks has played bush tuxedo wine waiter host to local exhibitors. Barefoot in Ethiopia by Rachael Glasby has just finished a two week run there. The artist’s recent trip to Africa pushed out this series of images through the birth canal of her own perception.
Each photograph centred around village life in Ethiopia. The pictures captured an essence and feeling reflecting the photographer having spent a substantial amount of time among the people.
The past month has definitely lined the art house bar with mouthful upon mouthful of shutter speed shot glasses.
Distilled and bottled 100% proof of the diversity of artistic points of view in Alice.
The past is always present when you’re full of bourbon and can’t sit still or full of bourbon and can’t stand up. Trying to remember the events of the previous night, today with the jungle inside your head.
A true art decomposes all thought. When you leave an exhibition with your own blank canvas in mind, it beats most nights spent with a blank mind at any bar table. Or maybe not.  
A special thanks given to Red House recordings for their well after midnight one man mutant jazz session last Friday morning.

NANCARROW ARROW: School is cool, holidays are better!

Yes folks, it’s that time of year again – the winter school holidays. Four weeks of R&R for the schoolies while parents tear out their hair trying to find people to look after them while they’re at work.
It wasn’t such an issue when I was a kid, some mums worked but a fair shake (mine included) were house wives, now rebranded domestic goddesses or some such thing. They stayed home while dad went to work and you and your mates had someone to keep an eye on you during the break.
You sussed out which friends were available and pretty much just revolved through the billets until it was time to return to the grind.
Now most parents work and trying to make everyone even remotely happy is nearly impossible.
It’s not so bad for my lot now. I’m a full time student and my son Leon is old enough to be more self-sufficient during the holidays. But it wasn’t so long ago that holidays were not so eagerly looked forward to.
I’d take the poor child to the ‘holiday program’ that we had managed to find space in, feeling guilty that he had to go somewhere he didn’t want to be and resentful that I felt guilty for being a ‘bad dad’. 
This is one of the drawbacks of being the modern man with feelings, a conscience that even Jiminy Cricket would find overly sensitive and tell it to man up. It wasn’t like the holiday program locked them in a cupboard all day, they did stuff … it just wasn’t much fun.
Which is a shame, because there is so much fun to be had in Alice at this time of year.
We have cracker night, which is supposedly to celebrate becoming a Territory but really is just an excuse to let off a stack of fire works and then go looking for the spooked dog in the morning.
This is closely followed by the Alice Springs Show with all the rides, dodgy prizes and hideously expensive show bags full of not a lot – found at all regional fairs –  mixed in with the giant local bulls, flying pigs (not this year alas) and clear blue skies that make our show so excellent.
Got any money left? Then it’s time to go to the Camel Cup and see the crazies risk life and limb racing, not just riding, one of the most ornery, funny and tasty beasties to live in the desert, the Camelus Dromedarius (or one humped camel). More on this subject soon.
But there is one event on this holiday that everyone should go and see, not just because of its practical use on the long, cold winter nights but because it is unique.
A festival for beanies – what a strange concept you might think. Not so, I say, it is one of the things that makes Alice great. People enter works from all over the world and blow you away with the ingenuity and imagination they show in executing their craft.
This is an opportunity to catch up with people you may not have seen for a while and, of course, purchase a new beanie.
Last year I didn’t need a new beanie but decided to get one as my old one lacked flair and pizzazz. It was functional but it lacked form, practical but not pretty. So I dove in with everyone else at the long table full of marvels and started the search. It took a while but that was OK, I had time and I knew the right beanie was waiting for me to find it.
I’m wearing it now, its bright blue and grey, with beads and a tassel … the tassel has a bell on the end. Perfect.

LETTERS: Child protection system ‘broken’.

Sir – The damning self-assessment contained in the Department of Health and Families submission to the Board of Inquiry into Child Protection makes a mockery of the Government’s assurances that the agency is being reformed.
The submission has been made public days after the Minister, Kon Vatskalis, fronted Estimates and spoke of change within the Department, during which he said:
“I would not say we are perfect, I would not say we are very, very good; I will say we are doing better than we were doing before.”
It turns out the Minister was talking nonsense – and he knew it.
In October, former Minister Malarndirri McCarthy also tried to hide the systemic problems when she told the ABC’s Stateline program:
“We’ve improved in terms of the statistics and being able to remove children.”
The former Minister added that the Government would initiate drastic change if it’s needed.
Eight months later there’s been no change, only talk.
The agency’s submission says the system isn’t just bad – it’s broken – and confirms the massive schism between government rhetoric and reality when it comes to child protection.
It highlights significant problems in funding, resourcing, staffing, training and the safety of child protection workers.
During Estimates, the Minister provided a confused summary of where the Government’s additional child protection budget would be spent.
It was unclear as to where the extra resources were being deployed or, indeed, how many actual child protection workers would be added to the system, and when.
This reflects the lack of structure and system that has plagued child protection in the Territory.
The Minister should stop talking and prevaricating and do what his Department recommends – and that is get on with the crucial business of fixing the Territory’s broken child protection system.”
Jodeen Carney
Shadow Child Protection Minister

DHF welcomes release of submission

Sir – The Department of Health and Families has welcomed the public release of the 200-page submission it lodged with the Inquiry into the Child Protection System in the Northern Territory in April 2010.
The inquiry into the NT’s child protection system has presented a valuable opportunity for our specialist staff in this field, as well as those in the Department at large, to provide input on how the care and protection system could look in the future.
DHF has cooperated fully with the Inquiry and is prepared to be questioned by the panel should this be deemed necessary.
The DHF submission examined all areas of the child protection system, such as workforce retention and development, intake, statutory intervention, out of home care, legislation, the role of the non-government sector, role of other government agencies, services in rural and remote locations and support for families, including services for Indigenous children and families.
Our detailed submission also analysed how the roles of health professionals and the non-government sector might be strengthened in their provision of primary universal prevention services to support families.
It is critical that any reforms to the NT’s care and protection system are implemented in a spirit of true consultation with local communities and in alignment with relevant national initiatives.
Approaches adopted at the local level need to be informed by evidence-based practice, a better coordinated approach across government services and adequately reflect local community need.
This public inquiry into the NT’s Child Protection System will provide further impetus to build on reform initiatives to the NT’s child protection system that have been occurring over the past seven years.
It represents an ongoing commitment to developing a quality care and protection system in the Territory.
Clare Gardiner-Barnes
Acting Executive Director of Families and Children

Signs and markers

Sir – Last week Charlie Carter queried the “authorization” of the Red Centre Way “gateway sign” recently erected at Flynn’s Grave (with another at Yulara, plus three other interpretive signs).
Tourism NT is the driving force behind the project, which was funded by the Federal Government at a cost of $500,000.
The grant for the signs was announced by Martin Ferguson, Minister for Tourism, at a launch for the Red Centre Way regional tourism project at the Alice Springs Desert Park on March 2, 2010.
They sure didn’t muck around – it’s only three months between Ferguson’s announcement and completion of construction of the signs. There are still boot-prints evident on the steel girder of the Flynn’s Grave sign, high above the ground!
This surely is an all-time record for a government-funded project to be completed from go to woe, isn’t it?
Charlie Carter raises valid concerns about the level of consultancy for this project. It’s half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money spent on these signs – was the project put out to tender?
It provides an interesting contrast to the way the distinctive Tropic of Capricorn marker was built beside the Stuart Highway 30 km north of town.
It started as a Bicentennial community project sponsored by the Centralian Advocate, Rotary Club of Stuart, and Murray Neck Retravision, commencing on November 21, 1986, as a competition for design sketches from the public.
It attracted 35 entries by the closing date, January 23, 1987, and most of these were displayed at the town pool on Australia Day for the public to inspect and vote on them.
The final decision was made by an expert panel of judges by April 3, 1987, who chose the design submitted by Chris Marcic, then (as now) a part-time announcer for ABC radio.
The design was modified, and construction commenced in mid-August 1988.
Materials, services, and funding were donated in part by local businesses involved in the construction and by the public.
The monument was officially “opened” on November 27, 1988, slightly over two years since the original announcement. And it cost about $10,000. What a contrast between then and now.
Incidentally, this week marks the winter solstice, with the sun at its furthest distance from us at the Tropic of Cancer in the northern hemisphere and now commencing its trek back to our marker on the north Stuart Highway!
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs

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