April 28, 2011. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

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Stop talking to Uncle Toms, says elder after Abbott meeting. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Shutting down several town camps in Alice Springs, diverting spending on housing to the bush, playing footy carnivals on communities and generally reducing the urban drift: that's the agenda presented to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott by the "powerful lawmen, the people who still speak the language," according to Ian Conway (pictured), a traditional owner of Alice Springs.
He was at the meeting between Mr Abbott and the leaders at a secret location north of Alice Springs yesterday (movie clip above courtesy ABC pool crew).
Mr Conway says they are "amazing people" who have responsibility for "large tracts of land in Central Australia".
They are tired of being by-passed and kept in the dark by Alice Springs based organizations and their staff, people who mostly have no tribal standing, nor speak a local language, yet are the preferred contacts for governments and bureaucrats: "They are not following traditional protocols. They are dealing with Uncle Toms, not the grassroots people," says Mr Conway.
The meeting brought together at short notice about 60 people who made many suggestions about what needs to be done to restore "peace and harmony, and good will between the races".
Mr Conway says the elders represented mostly Warlpiri, Kaytetye and the three Arrernte tribes.
He says they are feeling angry, frustrated and disenfranchised.
"They don't see themselves as towns people. They don't want to be forced into town.
"SIHIP has abandoned many communities, let alone small living areas."
Yet out in the bush, a lifestyle they prefer, people live in "abject poverty" while non-tribal Apparatchiks in the town are creaming off much of the government money set aside for Aboriginal people.
Mr Conway said the meeting was chaired by Lindsay Bookie, in his own right, not as the chairman of the Central Land Council.
Independent MLA for MacDonnell Alison Anderson, who speaks several languages, made a lively contribution to the meeting, switching between Warlpiri, Pintupi, Arrernte and English without losing thread.
Mr Conway says the meeting came down hard on the new shire system, failing to generate employment and "taking rights away from the grassroots people".
Some Federal pollies fared no better, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin being accused of "speaking with a forked tongue" and MHR Warren Snowdon "almost unanimously" accused of making false promises.
"I've never seen Aboriginal people so feisty in all my life," says Mr Conway.

Tony Abbott meets lawmen in bush, talks tough in Alice Springs, but Mayor dodges drinkers. By ERWIN CHLANDA.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott today called for a second Federal Intervention because "a chronic crisis" is continuing.
He spent the morning in a meeting with Aboriginal elders in a secret bush location. Following that he told national media who had flocked to Alice Springs that local Indigenous leaders are now speaking out on universal decencies. He said Alison Anderson and Bess Price were "quite heroic" and "gutsy for indigenous rights".
But Mr Abbott said measures need to be tougher for the lot of Aboriginal people to improve: "You can't have strong indigenous communities or strong indigenous people if the kids don't go to school, the adults don't go to work and if the law of the land is not respected and not adhered to."
He says to have that message articulated by "courageous indigenous leaders" was the big difference he had noticed since his visit in February last year.
These are people who can operate in their culture but also in the wider Australian community.
"I don't think we have to wait for consensus" about a second Intervention, Mr Abbott said, "because consensus is often reached after a policy decision is made."
He called for a bipartisan approach to the problems and says he hopes Prime Minister Julia Gillard will be with him when he returns to Alice in August.
Senator Nigel Scullion said enforcement of alcohol restrictions are still inadequate.
After the doorstop in the council chambers Mayor Damien Ryan took Mr Abbott for a stroll along the Todd River.
They were passing within a few metres of these two men breaking the law by drinking in public – part of the group seen in the left-hand side of the photo above.
But Mr Ryan steered the Opposition Leader in the opposite direction, missing a prime opportunity to show the gaggle of natinal media that takling the town's problems has some bite, not just a lot of bark.

Top cop says sorry.

The way police dealt with an incident in Gap Road in late February was "less than acceptable," according to Alice Springs' top cop, Superintendent Michael Murphy.
He apologized to a domestic violence victim, and to people who tried to report the crime to police, frantically trying to wave down police cars in their street but being ignored.
Resident Marni Southam wrote to the Alice Springs News on March 1: "I am seeking an answer from the Alice Springs Police as to why they chose to ignore my frantically waving arms from the front yard of my house on Tuesday night after two calls to the police to attend an assault on Gap Road.
"I had finally dozed off after hours of unrest due to noise on Gap Road when I was startled by deafening screams then wails coming from outside. An Aboriginal woman was on the ground being bashed on the footpath out the front by an Aboriginal male.
"The force of the blows was so much that I could hear him making contact with her head. My partner then awoke and we went outside to investigate (please note this is a regular occurrence).
"I phoned the police first at 11.52pm while watching the pair continue to scream and fight. Our neighbour by this time had joined us for our usual nightly ‘entertainment’.
"The pair proceeded across the road to a ‘problem’ house. A tiny crying baby and a couple of small children were then brought out by the occupents of the house to bear witness to the continued bashing of the woman.
"The male offender then without any warning ran into the path of a moving vehicle. The breath was knocked out of me. He was unharmed.
"In the roughly five minutes that followed a police patrol vehicle drove by, slowing but not stopping followed by a further two paddy wagons who in the same manner slowed as if in some kind of daze then continued on their way.
"It was then I phoned the police line again at 12.02am and asked what the hell was going on. I stated my address, that we were watching the offender who was walking down the street by this time and that three police vehicles had driven past all the while we were waving at them to stop.
"The operator said he would add it to his report, to which I responded 'how about you add that this is complete bullshit!’.
"In the minutes that followed this phone call another paddy wagon drove by, spotlights on and my efforts to wave them down were again ignored.
"We waited about another 20 minutes to see if the police would finally attend, at this point we all gave up.
"I was too tired and angry to stand around. Needless to say I did not get back to sleep … a mozzie was buzzing in my ear!
"Why did the police ignore us? Why is this man allowed to get away with bashing a woman in front of innocent children?
"Why, when a law abiding, tax-paying, hardworking and decent person has a well deserved birthday party on a Saturday night do the police race to issue them with a fine for a noise complaint from some sad angry person who has nothing better to do than complain, yet a crime can take place and the police it seems are completely disinterested.
"Are they scared? Does picking on decent people make for an easier night's work? And don’t give me some rubbish excuse about being too busy," Ms Southam wrote.
After an extensive enquiry Supt Murphy said yesterday: "On this occasion the service delivery provided to the members of the public and the victim of crime was less than acceptable.
"There was a breakdown in communication between the Alice Springs dispatch operator and the crews attending Gap Road.
"One of my priorities is the delivery of excellent policing services to the Alice Springs Community.
"My expectations of my team also extend to engaging with the public, which means officers approaching and speaking with the public who place the call for assistance at the incident location.
"A wealth of information can be sourced from the actual location.
"I have spoken with two community members involved in this incident and share their concerns. I have offered an apology on behalf the Northern Territory Police for the poor service delivery they experienced.
"The domestic violence offender involved was arrested by police after further investigations were carried out.
"I encourage your readers to contact me with any concerns around policing in Alice Springs.
"I, along with my team, remain committed to keeping people safe."

New suburb a chance for government heroism.  COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA.

There is an opportunity for an act of true heroism by the Northern Territory Government.
Here's twenty bucks to say they'll blow it.
There is no decision yet about how Kilgariff will be developed, Alice Springs' new suburb, up to 1200 blocks, on the AZRI land on the South Stuart Highway.
In a brave but thoroughly appropriate move, given the desperate shortage of housing, the NT Government could put the land on the market for the price it costs to develop it: that would be around $23,000 for headworks, bringing services to the land, and $70,000 for internal facilities. The lady on the front counter of the Department of Lands could take the deposits and at a price of less than $100,000, roughly one third of the going rate, half the blocks would be gone in a couple of hours.
The land belongs to the people. The government would recoup all its development costs. No problem. It's a model which Robyn Lambley, when she was campaigning for Araluen last September, declared to be worthy of serious consideration. 
But that would require the government to say this to people whose properties have increased in value beyond their widest dreams during the past three decades: "Regrettably there will be a dip in real estate prices but in the long run the town will benefit. We will again make it a place where people
want to go, or our kids want to stay, enjoying our magnificent environment, buying a house, raising a family and taking jobs that will crank up our economy. In the long run there will be a lot of gain for a little pain."
In other words, guts and leadership will be required. Let's see.
None of this would be re-inventing the wheel. In the 1970s, prior to self-government in the NT, the Commonwealth proceeded in exactly that fashion. The nation needed to boost the population in Central Australia. Cyclone Tracy had devastated Darwin. Pine Gap was under construction. Forward defence was a buzzword. The government – that's the Federal Government – needed to act and it did.
The relevant authority, colloquially known and the Department of Works and Jerks, had planners who planned, engineers who kept contractors on the level. Some public servants even had shovels or drove bulldozers. Suburbs were created at the stroke of a pen.
Morris Soak had just been completed when my family and I arrived in late 1974, on our way to Cairns. We never got there. We'd stumbled into the land of opportunity.
Jobs were plentiful although the construction of the hospital had just been completed and a lot of subbies were leaving town. Could we get a house, we asked the housing authority?
Here's the key, was
the answer: a brand new three-bedroom home on a quarter acre block in Lovegrove Drive.
Six weeks later they asked, do you want to buy the house? $36,000, $600 down and the balance at 4% for a period as long as you like. You bet, we said. We stayed. So did hundreds of others. The town was growing vigorously, quite the opposite to the daily exodus of families today.
There is even a very recent example of direct residential land sales by the government – this time it was the NT Government: 28 blocks were turned off in Tennant Creek, although the work had mostly been done in the early '80s and "just the pipes had to be connected".
An observer, from a very good vantage point, of the local real estate scene for several decades has his own views about Kilgariff.
The normal government process is to sell land to developers at market value. No matter what price they pay, they will sell at market value – currently out of the reach of many would-be buyers.
If developers were to get the land cheaply their profits would be massive while the housing shortage would prevail. If the government charges more for the land the profits would be less exorbitant but the problems would continue all the same. Besides, what is the point of funneling more money into the coffers of a government that is swimming in cash – around 400% more per head of population when compared to the rest of Australia?
There is clearly an argument for the government short-circuiting the process, selling developed land at cost and cutting out the middlemen. Our contact urges some reflection.
In the mid-70s the award wage was $84.20 a week, or around $4500 a year. That means a $36,000 house was the equivalent to eight years' wages. Today a builder's laborer makes $60,000 a year and a "fairly good house" costs $420,000 – seven times the annual wage.
Nevertheless, the reality is that in today's Alice Springs the cost of housing is a major factor for driving important, productive, valuable people out of town while the arrivals taking their place, following the urban drift from bush communities, make little contribution to the town's progress – rather the opposite.
Our observer has another tried and tested theory about land prices: they go up when the interest rates are low, and go down when they are high. All other factors are insignificant.
So where, as significant decisions about Kilgariff are imminent, stands Ms Lambley, now the Member for Araluen? Firmly on the side of the developers, it seems.
She issued a thundering media release about the Government's tardiness in revoking the heritage listing of the screen and the projection building – "derelict and of little heritage value" – on the drive-in site into which 74 hosing blocks of 400 square metres each are proposed to be crammed.
That Minister for Central Australia and for the Environment Karl Hampton two weeks ago struck out the heritage listing wasn't good enough for Ms Lambley: "A small, passionate section of the community [was allowed to] to stifle development.
"Lack of accommodation, affordable or otherwise ... is now strangling economic development in Alice Springs."
So what about Kilgariff, practically across the road from the drive-in, for which she had some unconventional proposals during her election campaign, and where blocks are of a conventional size? Would the lifestyle offered by the proposed drive-in development be desirable in comparison?
"It will be for some people," says Ms Lambley.
"It's an open market economy. Private investors bought the land well before Kilgariff was earmarked."
[Ms Lambley has got that wrong: In May 2009 the Arrernte Council had a purchase contract over the drive-in site but the project collapsed. The current owners came on the scene later.
Residential development on the AZRI block was well and truly on the agenda in 2008 when the Lands Minister at the time, Delia Lawrie, described it “as the most favoured proposition ... perhaps extending into the airport land”.] 
Says Ms Lambley: "More land on the market will create healthy competition."
Ms Lambley claims the previously protected heritage structures were "obviously marginal. The Government would not have been revoking the listing if they were not."
This is a novel approach to running an Opposition argument, essentially saying that if the Government does something, it is right because the Government has done it.
Ms Lambley claims the listing had been based on "sentimentality and not common sense".
So what should be heritage listing be based on?
"Age and uniqueness," says Ms Lambley.
The drive-in screen is surely unique in Alice Springs. And quite old, by standards of white settlement. But more importantly it holds the memory of a particular era in our town's development  it was an enterprising venue for entertainment where all members of the community could rub shoulders with one another, an increasingly distant reality.

MP condemns pokies increase. By KIERAN FINNANE. 

Independent MLA Alison Anderson has deplored the NT Government's approval of 100 new poker machines at Lasseter's Casino in Alice Springs as "really bad".
The approval was revealed when Lasseter's recently announced a $35m dollar expansion of the hotel-casino, including extensive additions to its gaming facilities.
Ms Anderson joins Mayor Damien Ryan and Alderman Jane Clark in her vocal criticism of the introduction of more pokies, with the existing 300 machines already heavily patronised by Aboriginal people.
The money Aboriginal gamblers spend on the machines should be going to feed their children, she says.
"I know they're not spending it on their children because many of them come around to my place the next day asking for money for food.
"I tell them, 'Go and ask the casino manager to give you a loan", to try and educate them, to make them understand that the casino does not care about their well-being, they just want their money.
"In the casino, you see Aboriginal people standing around another Aboriginal person on a machine. That's because they've run out of money and they're humbugging to get some more.
"The addiction gets really bad with some people. You hear on the news about people stealing from their employers, like Desart and the Department of Health. They'd do anything to get money – it's really sad.
"I know of organisations that have their meetings in town so that their board members can get their travel money and sitting fees and go to the casino.
"As a society we should be worried about where this money is going, it should be spent on children and families instead of them waiting for the 'next pot of gold'."
Lasseters did not accept an offer of right of reply from the Alice Springs News.

NANCARROW'S ARROWS: The mateship and the suffering.

I don’t usually get up early in the morning if I can help it, it’s just not my thing. Given a choice I will work late, like now – I just finished playing at the Rock Bar (great tour groups, guys, lots of fun) and rather than wake up at 7am to write this, I am happily doing it at 11.36 in the pm. This is for a number of reasons: it can be hard to wind down and go straight to bed after playing a gig, the ideas are rolling around now and may have vanished by morning and like I said, I’m not big on early morning in the cool Alice autumn.
So it has to be something special for me to wake up before the sun. I should have pointed out that I used to see a lot of sunrises – I just didn’t have to wake up first. Gigs would go on to all hours and you would seek company and beverages with like-minded others afterwards, before finding yourself (hopefully) in the back of a taxi (not a divvy van) cursing and wishing you remembered to pack sunglasses in the gig bag.
It was in the big hair era and there was nothing funnier than watching a couple of bouffant guys in spandex and cowboy boots staggering around amongst the early morning shoppers in Hindley Stre
et. The whole look was pretty out there at night time but in the (very) harsh light of morning it looked wrong, wrong, wrong.
Any hoo, we had an excellent reason to get up last Monday, the ANZAC Dawn service on the top of, funnily enough, ANZAC Hill. Number one son and I braved the cold and the dark and ventured forth, managing to blank out yet again that the ceremony actually starts with a hips, thighs and buttocks work out as we climb the steps opposite OLSH.
It wasn’t actually too cold this year, previously the Easterly wind had caused the whole crowd to squeeze in together like Emperor Penguins on a Sir David Attenborough doco. The air was still and the night bright, a beautiful place and time to remember the fallen.
I have just finished a most excellent book on the ANZACs and the cove and hills they named and died on, called Gallipoli – a short history by Michael McKernan. This book gives an excellent, intimate without too much super fine detail, account of the battles, the mindset of the population back home and unfortunately, the blunders, the stupid stubbornness and ignorance of the top brass that cost so many lives.
I couldn’t read it without getting bloody angry and vengeful, such a waste of young men – not just the dead, all troops serving there were all exposed to a theatre of war that was trying to adjust to a whole new world. One that had a terrible new weapon, the machine gun.
This was all swirling around in my head as the service started, as in years before, with feedback from the microphone. Can I make a suggestion please, to whomever sets the PA up – do a sound check first and get whoever is speaking to get close to the mic. I have a pavlovian response after several years of it, my hands fly up to protect my ears at the first squeal. Please, it ruins the solemn nature of the event and atmosphere naturally generated.
Then a little voice piped up, "wee wee mummy, wee wee". One of our youngest participants had obviously been given the code word to activate a rush for the potty – she was giving ma and pa the heads up. I cracked up and stopped being angry and started being thankful and grateful. And thoughtful. It's absolutely of the greatest importance that we as a nation don’t forget the truth about the ANZACs and just have a glorified parade and holiday. With the glory we must accept the suffering, the mateship, the pain – Lest We Forget.

MOZZIE BITES by RONJA MOSS: A fest for desert enthusiasts.

Roll up, roll up, it’s time to play. Cushioned in the embrace of the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges is the perfect playground for open hearts and minds. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for the Wide Open Space Festival again!
Three years on the music, arts and desert cultural gathering is pulling all kinds of local and interstate attention. The festival began with a group of Central Australian enthusiasts who wanted to celebrate desert living with the community and share its unique quality with outsiders. So far, this vision has been a total success. With a combination of resident artists and interlopers, the festival evenhandedly, though possibly unconsciously, promotes that Alice Springs isn’t
just a place of political and social turmoil – that it has got a lot of wonderful aspects to offer.
The occasion is held at Ross River Resort campground, 85 kms from town and runs from this Friday afternoon till Sunday evening ... or, if you're really pushing it, Monday morning!
The site has to be the most beautiful camping ground of Central Australia with mountains on either side, creating one of those rare natural amphitheaters, and a river wrapped around establishing an island-like feel. I was out on site this weekend to check out how the crew was getting on bumping in the equipment and was spellbound by not only the splendor of the place, but by its perfection for an event of this style.
The festival is set up with two spaces – main stage and the Right Side of Wrong lounge. In preceding years, however, theatrical endeavors of all kinds have taken place on every surface possible; from night punk circus acts to children becoming Zombies in the dust, housewives healing chakras with kazoos, acrobats in the air and oh… so much more! I’ve been promised this year will hold a host of interactive performance art as impressive as the last.
Like all festivals, the market area is one full of colour and animation. With food, stocking art, and clothing stalls, workshops, a kids' space and a healing area, there is something for everyone. To go with the fairground atmosphere, on Saturday there will also be a blanket bazaar, so if you are a crafty type, a musician, busker or service provider (a la "headjob" hair salon or masseuse) you can bring your goods and your entrepreneurial ways to the WOS Market Space and sell. No cost with festival entry – roll up and roll out your goodies.
Tickets are for sale online or at Café Gonzo (Cam’s coffee shop) for $90, or on the gate at $120 and include camping cost. It has to be one of the cheapest three-day festivals in Australia!
This year some of Australia's freshest acts will entertain, from live hip hop and dancehall to folk and roots acts, a 10-piece Aztec dub ensemble to a whole line-up of the hottest DJs from across the country and much, much more. I want to tell you whom to expect out there, but there is seriously too much to include and I wouldn’t want to miss anyone out, so go check out the website!
If all that isn’t enough to intrigue get involved with the rollicking karaoke land-ship, listen to talking hairdryers, or watch the late night cabaret. Regardless of which angle you decide to take this weekend, it’s Wide Open!

LETTERS: Screwing Alice into the dirt

Sir – Exactly two years ago (May 1, 2009) the Centralian Advocate published the story “Rate rise third in 3 years”, in which we were told: “Ratepayers in Alice Springs municipal area will be paying 8.5 per cent more in rates this year than in 2008.
“The increase followed one of more than 8 per cent last year and 10 per cent in 2007.
“Council blamed the latest rise on a lack of land release by the NT Government” and increases in Power and Water Corporation charges.
The Council’s three year Municipal Plan (2009-10 to 2012-13) estimated an “increase of $214,840 in the 2009-10 fiscal year, and a total increase of $570,350 over the next three years”.
Well, here we are, not quite halfway in 2011, and last week (April 29) the Centralian Advocate published another story “Rates set to rise”, in which we’re told “Alice Springs home owners could be facing an average rate rise of 5.8 per cent according to the Alice Springs Town Council 2011-2015 draft Municipal Plan released yesterday”.
Another rate rise – gosh, what a surprise; and a new “draft Municipal Plan” when we’re only halfway through the 2009-2013 Municipal Plan period.
By any measure this is a staggering level of increases in rates, vastly in excess (by way of comparison) to the national rate of inflation, currently 3.3 per cent and the highest it’s been since 2008.
All this, of course, is on top of an ever-increasing burden of taxes and charges imposed by the NT Government.
There’s no question that ordinary residents of Alice Springs are being remorselessly screwed into the dirt; and it’s not surprising to learn that empty removalist vans are currently required to travel to the Alice to cater for the demand of families leaving town.
Here’s a question for you – who is the Lord Mayor of Canberra, the capital city of Australia?
Answer – nobody; the ACT has no local government, despite having the nation’s fastest rate of increase of a population significantly larger than the NT’s.
The ACT has two tiers of government, not three as we do; and its Legislative Assembly has 17 members compared to the NT’s 25.
There’s an old saying that too many cooks spoil the broth – and there’s no question the NT is being systematically buggered up by too many politicians at all levels of government and their top-level bureaucratic fat cats living high off the hog at our expense.
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs

In support of Bess Nungarrayi Price

Sir – This is an open letter to those who think they know us better than we do
We are Warlpiri people from the communities of Yuendumu, Wirliyajarrayi,
Lajamanu and Nyirrpi as well as the town camps of Alice Springs. Bess Nungarrayi
Price is with us today to say goodbye to one of our lost children. We are sorry and in
mourning. Bess Nungarrayi is one of us. She was born here at Yuendumu and grew
up here. We are all family to her. It makes us sad and angry when we hear that white
people and town Aboriginal people in Sydney and in Alice Springs are insulting Bess
and telling lies about her. When you insult her you insult all of us, we are her family.
Nungarrayi lives in Alice Springs but she talks to us all the time. She listens to what
we tell her. Many of our people also live on the town camps in Alice Springs. Barbara
Shaw does not lead them, she doesn’t speak our language. Nungarrayi always does
her best to help any of us when we are in trouble. We support her in her struggle to
make life better for us.
We are hurt and angry now by the things that these people have been saying.
Aboriginal people should know better than to hurt people who are in sorry business.
No white person knows us better than Bess does. We don’t know who this Snowy
River woman who calls herself Nampijinpa. We don’t know Marlene Hodder. They
don’t speak our language like Nungarrayi does. They don’t know what is in our minds
and hearts like Nungarrayi does.
These people should apologise to her and to us, her family, for the things they have
been saying.
More than 120 signatures are in the possession of the Alice Springs News. They are available from

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