June 23, 2011. This page contains all major reports and comment pieces in the current edition.

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Statehood debate a distraction from necessary reform. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Far from being on the road to becoming Australia's seventh state, the Northern Territory is likely to see its autonomy further eroded unless the government lifts its game in relation to the NT's most disadvantaged citizens.
So says Professor Rolf Gerritsen, research leader in Central Australia at Charles Darwin University.
"Commonwealth intervention is imminent unless we fix the system," says Prof Gerritsen (pictured).
What is broke, he argues, is the lack of transparency and accountability in the way the government spends money compared to the way that it 'earns' money. Its decision-making and spending are characterised by "a very severe local urban bias", with  a lot of the money 'earned' for Aboriginal disadvantage not being spent on Aboriginal disadvantage.
"The default decision-making position is that if something is popular in Darwin, the government will do it," says Prof Gerritsen.
 An example: as part of the pre-budget announcements this year the government revealed that 600 reinforced concrete culverts, donated to them by Energy Resources Australia, would be used to make an artificial reef for recreational fishing in Darwin Harbour, with the government spending an additional $1m on the project.
"This is a clear and dramatic illustration of the sort of development priorities that the NT Government has," says Prof Gerritsen. "Imagine instead that the culverts had been put to use in repairing bush roads after the NT's record wet season. That could have achieved benefits from a range of perspectives: if the roads were used by pastoralists the culverts would have contributed to increased productivity for them; if they were used by remote communities, living standards would have been improved.
"The money spent by the government needs to reflect the way in which it has been earned. As the majority of Aboriginal people live in the bush, a large proportion of general purpose grants should be spent there.
"The NT Government claims that they are, but the Grants Commission does not agree. For example, in the category of services to Indigenous communities, the NT Government spends only a bit over a half of what it would if the money it gets for that category were tied to spending on that purpose. 
"Consequently the Commonwealth is increasingly trying to exert an influence in the Territory by providing specific purpose project funding. SIHIP is an obvious example.
"If we don't reform the system, I'd say within five years the Commonwealth will make our general purpose grant into one giant specific purpose grant."
How can this be prevented?
Prof Gerritsen says first we need to institutionalise greater transparency and accountability in NT Government spending.
"People need to be able to work out where the money is going. At present you really need to be an expert to read the NT Budget. For example, it's generally impossible to separate out the administration cost from the amount actually being spent on a specific purpose. And the Budget papers do not tell us about the government's long-term liabilities which have increased dramatically since Labor came to power, with an increase of some 3000 public service positions. About half of those are useful – teachers, nurses, police – but many are in administration and chew up budgets. Our public service is larger than the ACT's although they've got almost twice the population."
He says the existing Grants Commission data contains the information required: "It is objective and long-term. They've been working on it for decades."
The Auditor-General could be resourced to mine that data and report on patterns of expenditure, an exercise which would influence a more equitable distribution of resources, away from Darwin.
Where to? Local government?
Certainly there should be "some kind of sub-regional structure" but  Prof Gerritsen does not believe that the current system of local government in the bush has the necessary legitimacy. In terms of elected representation, he thinks it would be better to revert to the small community councils, who could send their representatives to an area authority with specific powers, for instance to decide on local roads expenditure. The current system clearly under-spends on roads, with only 2% of the budget allocated to roads, compared to 5% in SA, a comparably-sized jurisdiction.
Prof Gerritsen sees the NT Government remaining in charge of the major portfolios like education, health, police. Thus the three tiers of government would be maintained, in contrast to the possible two-tiered system put forward by Fred Chaney in his recent contribution to the statehood debate (see our story archive).
Prof Gerritsen believes that a two-tiered system is unrealistic: "The states will never support their own extinction."
And in his view, the larger states will never support the granting of statehood to the NT, because in a referendum situation, where support from a majority of states as well as a majority of voters is required, this would give the balance of power to the smaller states.
"At present the whole statehood debate is focussed on discrimination. With respect to referenda, what we experience in the NT is no different to what the other territories experience. If we want to have our votes included in the states count, we could be included in the South Australian count.
"As for our 'constitutional fragility', any Act by the Commonwealth conferring statehood on the NT could be reversed by a future parliament. Once again, if the Commonwealth didn't like what the NT was doing, it could intervene.
"So our time would be better spent on reform that is within our power, before the Commonwealth does it for us."

Letter to the Editor

Sir – On its website,, Energy Resources of Australia Ltd (ERA) describes itself as one of the world’s largest uranium producers, providing around eight per cent of global primary uranium production.
Without wondering why a uranium miner would make a donation to the NT Government, in his interview with the Alice Springs News Professor Rolf Gerritsen mentioned that ERA recently donated 600 reinforced concrete culverts to the NTG.
In its wisdom the Henderson government then dumped these culverts into Darwin Harbour to start an artificial reef for recreational fishing. This happened after a wet season that has caused every rural road in the NT, from Kulgera to the Tiwi Islands, to need attention.
Were the culverts misappropriated, or does ERA count many fishermen among its employees? Either way, if an example were ever needed of why we in the Centre would be better off on our own, I suggest this episode would do.
I agree with Professor Gerritsen that a two-tiered system of government is unrealistic for most of Australia because the states never will support their own extinction. All those excess pollies and bureaucrats voting themselves out of a job? Not likely! Poor things, they’re stuck with what they have.
But we in the NT have yet to become a state, so perhaps it’s not too late for us to bail out of that process. We could instead opt for a two-tiered system of government, with the Centralian region separating from the Top End. 
With Alice Springs serving as a hub, we could break the unwieldy large MacDonnell Shire, most of Central Desert Shire and some of Barkley Shire into manageable blocks. Think of spokes on a wheel extending north to Willowra, Ali Curung and the Sandover River. The Stuart Highway and The Ghan would continue to connect us north and south, while the soon-to-be-built Outback Way would connect us east and west.
We could get our own tied and untied funding direct from Canberra.
And if in the future any company gave us hundreds of reinforced concrete culverts, we could use them to improve the roads in our region, a use I like to think was intended for the last lot before Hendo’s mob perhaps so selfishly misappropriated them.
Hal Duell
Alice Springs

Finke celebrates Alice
Springs as a can-do town. Video & story ERWIN CHLANDA.

It's among Australia's top off-road racing events but more than anything it's a celebration of Alice Springs as a can-do town – and a social event, outback style.
The machines costing several hundred thousand dollars usually do well in the 452 km race from Alice Springs to the tiny community of Finke and back. But the majority of the 430 bikes and some 100 four-wheeled entrants are designed, built, maintained and raced by locals working in their back yards.
And the complex event is run entirely by a local committee of volunteers, the heart and soul of the Tattersall's Finke Desert Race. It's the 36th annual race.
For the first time a monster truck, a 5.9 litre Ford F150 raced by Greg Gartner from South Australia won the race, in 3 hours 52 minutes, an average speed of around 115 kmh on the often narrow, sandy and rough bush track.
Local brothers Andrew Kittle and Matthew Kittle in a pro-buggie came second. Andrew has been a nagivator in the race previously but was driving in this Finke for the first time.
Is it a great weekend? Just ask the 10,000 locals who camp along the track for the long weekend,
this year braving  below-zero temperatures.
Video: Below-zero temperatures don't worry the Debrenni, Burns and Morelli families who're among the estimated 10,000 locals – more than one third of the town's population – camping along the track to watch the Finke Desert Race. After sleeping in the swag and a hearty breakfast they see the first monster truck to win the Finke coming home, followed by two local teams  Andrew and Matthew Kittle in second place, and Greg Hicks and Shane Braitling in third.

Pollies agree: cattle ban must go.

Both parties voted in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday to urge the Federal Government to quickly bring an end to the ban on live cattle export to Indonesia imposed after a report of cruel slaughtering methods shown on the ABC's Four Corners.
Chief Minister Paul Henderson (at left) said the issue is beyond politics "because we are talking about the livelihoods of Territorians".
He said four conditions would need to be met:-
• Adherence to auditable, acceptable welfare standards right through the supply chain to the point of slaughter.
• Full traceability.
• Full monitoring, auditing, and compliance.
• Agreements with Indonesian authorities.
The Northern Territory Cattle Association is represented on the task force to put in place the processes.
Mr Henderson said the NT has a 40% share of the total north Australian export trade and is estimated at $32m per annum.
Opposition Leader Terry Mills (at right) said he had visited an abattoir in Indonesia and heard of others that fulfil all the requirements of those four points.
"There is the Santori abattoir, west of Jakarta that I have visited where all cattle were stunned," Mr Mills said.
"They bore brands and tags that were placed on them here in Australia, in the Northern Territory,
in fact.
"They were all traceable; there were monitors there to trace the origin of these animals.
"As they got off the truck into the holding yard, they were scanned and weighed.
"They were then calmed after a couple of days and fed and were then rescanned and reweighed.
"Whilst I was there they were a number of them slaughtered after being stunned.
"Every single one of them was stunned and it was one single and swift cut."
Opposition Primary Industry spokeswoman, Kezia Purick, said in a media release the implications of the suspension are wide reaching.
"I am unconvinced there is any great care factor for the Territory in southern Australia," Ms Purick said.
"The most effective way to stamp out animal cruelty is to reward the abattoirs that use appropriate techniques and educate and deal with abattoirs that want to make the change to best practice.
"The prospect of 12,000 head of cattle [taken to ports but unable to be shipped] being returned to properties has significant animal welfare issues, will rapidly deplete pastures and lead to landscape degradation.
"The prospect of Indonesia sourcing cattle from less protected countries also creates bio-security hazards through the spread of diseases such as foot and mouth.
"About 300 families in 250 properties are directly affected by the ban. Thousands more depend on beef exports for their livelihood."


The support by Federal Labor’s Territory politicians for the blanket ban on live beef exports to Indonesia is an absolute disgrace. Territorians have a right to question what Warren Snowdon and Senator Trish Crossin have done to protect the people of Lingiari and the Northern Territory.
Every single one of the Territory’s cattle stations is located in Lingiari and Warren Snowdon has a duty to his electorate to campaign against the blanket ban. We haven’t heard a peep.
Senator Crossin should leave the cosy confines of Palmerston and represent all of the Northern Territory.
What we’ve seen is these two politicians take the easy way out and stick with Federal Labor instead of representing Northern Territory families. Nor have they found a solution that won’t rip the heart out of the Territory’s economy. Last week Senator Crossin voted against a Coalition motion in the Federal Parliament supporting the gradual return of live exports to accredited abattoirs.
The blanket ban will be devastating to Indigenous communities which rely on the stations for jobs, income and services. 54 Territory stations are owned by Indigenous corporations. The pastoral industry was built with the sweat of Aboriginal people and where there is a working adult in a family, kids live healthier lifestyles and have improved education outcomes.

Success no longer a 'shame job' at Centralian College. By KIERAN FINNANE.

A very capable Aboriginal student refuses to take on academic studies because it means being different from his friends – it's too much of a "shame job".

The year is 2006. Eddie Fabijan has just arrived at Centralian Senior Secondary College as assistant principal. Around 17% of the college's 300 or so students are Indigenous. Overcoming their under-achievement, breaking the 'shame job' syndrome, becomes his greatest challenge.
In 2007 the NT Government moves Year 10 students from the junior high schools, ASHS and ANZAC, across to Centralian College. This gives Mr Fabijan and the college their opportunity. Until now a lot of Aboriginal students have simply disappeared after finishing compulsory schooling at the junior highs. Moving to a new school to continue their education has been too daunting.
Mr Fabijan and his team take a reality check: academically a significant number of the students are a year or two below age level. So the college develops programs to respond to where the students are at and to take them forward, knowing that these Year 10 students will become the next Year 11s and 12s. Year 10 provides the foundation on which to build.

The NT's top Indigenous student is from Centralian. Because of things going on in her life outside of school, she has taken two years to complete Year 12, but she's done it, achieving an ATAR, the ranking to gain admission to university.

The year is 2009 and this top student is one of 31 Aboriginal students from the college completing Year 12, 10 of them achieving ATARs. In 2008 there were 25 completers, including half a dozen with ATARs.
Little by little the college has raised the achievement bar, taking the capable students beyond Community Studies (work and life skills) to academic courses. As students see peers succeed, more are willing to have a go.

An Aboriginal student arrives at the college with an ambition no greater than working at Macca's. He has the support of his family and the Clontarf Football Academy to aim higher. By halfway through Year 11 "something clicks". He goes on to get his Year 12 with an ATAR.  He takes a gap year to work at the mines and save money. Now he's at Flinders University studying creative writing and arts.

The year is 2011. Out of a total enrolment of more than 500 across years 10 to 12, 50% of students are Aboriginal and the college ultimately wants to see 50% of Year 12 completions coming from them.
There's still a way to go. With 85 students likely to complete Year 12 this year, 24 of them are Aboriginal, just over one third.
But, joining the cohorts of a similar size from the last few years, that makes over 100 role models out there for other young people, including ultimately the students' own children, where a few years ago there were a mere handful.
Steve Smith teaches in the college's Gateways program for students who need extra assistance. They are mostly Aboriginal. Some – he says around half – come from difficult backgrounds; some have "fantastic families" but are struggling for other reasons, as some students do anywhere.
Getting to Year 12 is not the only route to success, says Mr Smith. It's important to acknowledge completion of Year 11 and vocational courses as leading to "a viable future".
This week many of the Gateways students have been off campus, doing a two-week block of intensive vocational study. With five blocks across the year many students complete early trade certificates while they are still at school. 
With some free time on their hands, Mr Smith and colleague Gonzalo Gaces have been working on the detail of a Maths Applications course they've designed for Gateways students – one of the college's exercises in "raising the bar". The course gives the students the same level of academic attainment as mainstream "Maths Apps" throughout the NT and SA. The only difference is that the maths concepts are taught in the context of the student's choosing, for example, the ones required for studying engineering.
This year there are seven Aboriginal Year 12 students who could pass Maths Apps, having been introduced to the course through Gateways last year. With the role model effect kicking in, next year the numbers are likely to jump to around 20, drawn from the 40 Year 11s who have been introduced to the course this year.
A similar story can be told with the English Communications course. In 2008 no Gateways student passed the "Comms" course at Year 12 level. Throughout 2009 senior teacher Helena Monaghan lead her team in working with the Year 10 and 11 Gateways students to prepare them for Year 12 success. It came in 2010 with six students passing the course. This year the number is expected to be around 20. "And this is jumping through all the performance standard and moderation hoops," stresses Mr Fabijan.

A former Gateways student now works as an orderly at the Alice Springs Courthouse. Mr Smith is delighted to see her there, dressed in the smart black suit of the orderlies. As they chat she tells him that her boss is encouraging her to study law.

The key to working with the Gateways students, who have often come from 10 years of failure or negative experiences of school, is to form a "great relationship" with them.
"You have to know their heads inside out, be sympathetic, understanding and patient," says Mr Smith. "You have to understand that some days others things that are happening in their lives are going to be more important than school."
For some students that might mean the typical teenage things, but for about half the Gateway students the challenges are very significant. Some are living at refuges, some do not know where they are sleeping from one night to the next, some are sleeping rough and have even been found sleeping in the stairwells of the college.
Part of Mr Smith's daily routine is to check the magistrates court list to see if any students are in trouble with the law, and if they are, to work out what kind of support the college can give them.
What motivates these students to keep coming to school?
Mr Smith answers with a question: "Where else can they go to feel safe and be with friends?"
Mr Fabijan says the college wants to seize this "last opportunity" to work with these young people, including working on values, teaching them that it is not acceptable to be aggressive towards women, to swear in public, promoting respect and compassion.
He also says the college would dearly love to see boarding facilities become available in town for vulnerable students and is working with the department on the issue.

An Aboriginal student from Santa Teresa, a community 85 kilometres east of Alice, has been boarding at Yirara College and attending mainstream school since Year 8. Most of his peers have gone home before completing their studies. He will complete Year 12 in Gateways this year. Clontarf Football Academy are working to inspire him to look for further opportunities next year.

Important contributions to student retention and success have been made by the Clontarf Football Academy and the Centralian Girls Academy programs, at both Centralian Middle School and the college. The programs use incentive schemes including sports participation and reward trips tied to school attendance and achievement.
They have attractive 'home' areas at the college. (Indeed you're hard put to find an 'old school' classroom with rows of desks and a board out the front anywhere in the college, though some do exist. There's been a big effort to transform the somewhat unpromising building into a warm and welcoming space, from the moment you walk in the front door.)
While Clontarf and the Girls Academy were set up with Aboriginal students in mind, the college uses different buckets of money to keep them open for any interested student. The various targeted programs may give an impression of a segregated school, but there are quite a few opportunities for all students to come together, including the weekly "coaching" sessions – the pastoral care groups that are across year levels and programs. There are also concerts, presentations, assemblies and so on, as well as some joint activities with the Centralian Middle School and community schools.
All these are steps towards greater integration of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, the next challenge on the college's agenda.

Many ways to kill a mouse. Video & story ERWIN CHLANDA.

There's a mouse plague pretty well Australia wide after a season of record rains. But few places are better prepared than Alice Springs. In the region of Central Australia, population around 30,000, Swiss-born Beat Keller (video) has sold more than 5000 trapping and killing devices, plus hundreds of kilograms of poison.
He's one of the town's best-known chefs, but in a downturn of the restaurant industry, Beat has branched out into selling houshold and industrial products. His business really took off when mice began to proliferate in The Centre around Christmas time. Now he's battling to meet the demand for gadgets to beat them. This modern day Pied Piper is a man who has his heart in his job. He gave ERWIN CHLANDA a tour of his arsenal against the rodents' invasion.

Dead and dying trees now a traffic hazard. By KIERAN FINNANE.

As drivers head south through Heavitree Gap they are greeted by the sad sight of a row of dead or dying huge old red river gums by the roadside. If they've been observant they will have also noticed many eucalypts in similar condition along the railway corridor, running parallel to the Stuart Highway. Reader and occasional contributor Alex Nelson recently drew our attention to this phenomenon (see Letters).
The trees close to the road now represent a potential hazard for passing traffic. The Alice News contacted the Department of Construction and Infrastructure, responsible for the Stuart Highway road reserve, to ask what is understood about the trees' condition and what is going to be done about them.
Through a spokesperson, DCI Alice Springs Regional Director Henry Szczypiorski said:.
"DCI is aware of the state of the trees and is working with horticulturists from the appropriate authorities to identify what is causing their stress. Possible contributors are the high water table, compacted soil around the base of the trees from vehicle parking and pedestrian usage, or a fungal disease in the roots caused by ground saturation.
"Once investigations are complete, DCI will work take the appropriate remedial action."

MOZZIE BITES: Banjos or hubcaps: Finke or Folk?

We all have our own rituals. Some of us practice them daily, weekly, or whenever necessary. For Finke Desert Race and Folk Festival fanatics the opportunity to perform particular sacraments only comes about once a year. And so this weekend was packed with the annual campout, at Glen Helen and along the Finke Track, with ‘musos’ and ‘petrol heads’ alike pursuing their traditions.
I managed to squeeze in a visit at both events. On Sunday afternoon I joined a carload of giggling girls heading along the Western Macs to the festival. With Bruce Springsteen blasting and cigarettes dangling from rolled down, cloud and mountain framed windows I had that euphoric surge of rock n’ roll in the veins and thought to myself. “Hell yeah. We’re so cool.”
When we arrived, however, the lone standing performance marquee that was the ‘festival’ surprised us. Beside the homestead a few dozen tents, a communal fire pit and the stall with CDs next to the marquee comprised the whole event. It seemed so small, so insignificant and I thought of the possible thousands that would be zooming in the dust further down the same river. When we stepped inside though, the warmth of greeting and homestead hot tea made me trade in my mock-entertained tone for one of savor.
To be honest I wasn’t amongst the performances long enough to have a full perspective of the quality. I paid close attention to a melodious version of Richard Thompson's Bees Wing, but as I had to drive back into town to be ready for my Finke outing at 7am the next day, my concentration otherwise lacked.
What I really enjoyed was the community feel amongst the folks. As the sun set a small group of children offered me bad primary school jokes (many I remembered telling myself once) and marshmallows fresh from the fire. I liked the easy conversation, the serenity and, most of all, looking around at the faces that had obviously been attending this yearly occasion since the dawn of its existence 40 odd years ago. I left feeling satisfied and appreciative.
Very early, in fact too prematurely on Monday morning, I drove down the airport road bundled in a friend's ute and crossed my fingers as we hit the dirt track out to Finke. The dozens upon dozens of cars alongside us were crammed with swags, eskys and folding chairs, with many of them carrying trailers full of quads, peewees, buggies and dirt bikes.
Whenever I go out to Finke I’m always confused about who’s actually racing and who's just spectating. Everyone’s an expert, has a family member competing, or at least would do a much better job of it if it were they. And as there are people jumping, or skidding on their personal vehicles around every corner, it makes it all the more confusing. This year was no different!
We drove up 30 km to the ‘first jump’ where a mob of spectators were waiting with anticipation. It felt as though the crowd had been camped out there for years, not a few days, and although there was no sign of the competitors yet everyone had their cameras out poised.
I looked upon the gentle red sand hills and this, for lack of a better word,  ‘dreamtime’ country, but smelt the odor of sausage and oil on the wind. It wasn’t horrid, just strange. My friend Olly was interested to see that someone was drinking a beer at 8:30 in the morning: “I don’t think it was his first either,” he laughed.
I’m not sure about that. I was too busy rolling down sand dunes and trying to crack jokes with the other viewers.
Eventually the buggies came racing in and spun up the dust all around. I think people were cheering, but it was too loud for me to be able to tell. Again I wasn’t there long enough to have a real look into the World of Finke, but I liked the knowledge that there were thousands of other people all up and down gathering for the same purpose.  No matter how people were ‘carrying on’, they were at least carrying on the Desert Race tradition!
Though the crowds on either side of the Finke River conducted their events differently, the laid back and habitual mood was common to the two settings. How strange to see a resemblance between two such distinct scenes, but there you have it – whether you prefer banjos or hubcaps, this is the season to exercise your passions here in Central Australia.

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