Letter to the Editor: Leaders in government's pocket?

Sir – The comments by Julia Ross on the Action for Alice advertisements leave me flabbergasted. As we report that Rome is burning, does Ms Ross attack the messenger, or the person who lit the match?
Does she pander to the bloke with the match in case he lights you up again, and go all out for the messenger instead? No mistake, there is only one way out for Alice: to deal with the issues. Any attempt to pretend they don’t exist is blatantly immoral.
Ms Ross’ claim that Action for Alice is responsible for the downturn in our economy because of our enormously successful advertising campaign to win the ear of government is simply stunning!
Action for Alice only swung into action after the streets of Alice had descended into complete mayhem, over the 2010 Christmas period.
This occurred because, as the police put it, they had taken their eye off the ball.
Just how good is Ms Ross’ contact with her supposed constituency? Out of the 350 businesses signed up to and putting money into Action for Alice ads, a good many were members of the chamber. She might do well to spend a little more of her time talking to her members than worrying about her own perceived role of whispering in the odd pollie’s ear.
The traumas portrayed in the Action for Alice adverts have been occurring at an escalating rate over a good number of years, plenty of time for the pollie whisperers to swing into action
The chardonnay-swilling set, as Ald Stewart describes them, sold us out a long time ago, when they took government funding for their various roles, forthwith never being brave enough to raise an objection in case it was detrimental to their funding.
This current government has demonstrated its preparedness to use that leverage more than any other I remember, the result being that these organisations, rather than representing our town’s woes, have themselves become part of the burgeoning bureaucratic schemozzle that has become the norm in the Territory.
It’s an approach that has led us to the very edge of chaos. Ms Ross is right about one thing: this town needs a shot in the arm, a new and fresh approach.
I think the beginnings of that should be a flurry of resignations from those who have filled these representative rolls in our community, to little or no effect, making way for some fresh, independent thinking, backed up by some good old-fashioned intestinal fortitude, so clearly missing in the current batch. Meanwhile Ms Ross, Rome really is burning!
Steve Brown
Alice Springs

Smug leaders are letting down their town: alderman

Alice Springs’ leaders are a cosy club, a snobbish hierarchy, drinking the same cocktails and dumping on people daring to highlight their incompetence in fixing the town’s escalating problems, says Alderman Murray Stewart.
Despite the number of houses for sale and businesses closing at an unprecedented level, the Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Central Australia are not coming up with the tough responses needed, he says.
Ald Stewart was responding to statements by the chamber’s chair, Julie Ross, claiming that the advertising campaign by Action for Alice had backfired, spreading the word about the town’s lawlessness to potential visitors in Australia and abroad, rather than making the point to the politicians who can make a difference.
Ald Stewart says he is a supporter of Action for Alice but had nothing to do with the decision to launch the campaign.
But he is scathing about the leaders “club” which will “scorn” people outside their “clique” trying to creating the kind of solutions the leaders are incapable of.
“There is no place in Alice Springs for their ridiculous social lifestyle, their boring smugness.
“They should acknowledge they are a failure,” says Ald Stewart.
He says the town saw a boost in policing “for five minutes” while the Legislative Assembly was sitting here, but now assaults and other crimes are out of control again.
“When Parliament finished so did the police presence,” he says.
Ald Stewart says the long mooted youth curfew needs to be brought in.
Young people at night not obviously engaged in an occupational pursuit “should be frisked for any offensive weapons and smartly sent home or to a facility where they are supervised”.
Offenders should be committed to compulsory rehabilitation.
“Let’s do it and flash those pictures around the world,” says Ald Stewart.
He says the leaders had failed to stop the hike in alcohol costs, done nothing about the high fuel prices, and it had taken 8HA talk show host Adrian Renzie to have Qantas include Alice Springs in their assistance to stranded Tiger passengers.
Meanwhile police are calling for witnesses to an assault in Alice Springs last week. A 29-year-old man was returning from a pizza shop at about 8:30 pm on Wednesday when he was set upon by three youths near the Stott Terrace / South Terrace roundabout. The victim was punched to the head before falling to the ground and then kicked several times to the body. The offenders are described to be of Aboriginal appearance, aged between 13 and 19. The victim’s wallet was stolen in the attack and the offenders returned a short time later to also take the victim’s pizza. The offenders left the scene in a red Ford Falcon station wagon. Witnesses who may have seen the youths pictured in the surveillance images above were asked to contact 131 444 or call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Police media release 17:26 CST Monday, July 11, 2001:
The attention to detail by a closed-circuit TV operator in Darwin has led to the arrest of a 14-year-old boy in Alice Springs yesterday. CCTV was monitoring in the vicinity of Gap Road on Saturday night when the operator noticed a person matching the description of a youth who was wanted for the assault and robbery of a tourist last week.
The operator alerted members in Alice Springs who immediately attended the area. When police arrived in the area and approached the youth he ran from police but was caught a short time later.
Superintendent Michael Murphy said this is another great example of CCTV monitoring and just how effective it can be across the Northern Territory.”

Local business needs shot in the arm

The government urgently needs to get behind Central Petroleum’s project to produce “ultra clean” diesel from massive coal deposits in the Simpson Desert. That’s the view of Julie Ross (pictured), chair of the Alice Springs Chamber of Commerce.
She says there is little else the local economy can look forward to: the construction of accommodation on Aboriginal town camps, funded by Canberra, is drawing to a close. Apart from tenders soon to be called for a gas pipeline to Pine Gap, expected to cost $5m to $6m, and headworks for the Kilgariff suburb at the AZRI site, there are no major infrastructure projects.
“The only growth industries are pest control, security and removalists,” says Ms Ross, “dealing with the mouse plague, the crime wave and people leaving town.”
She says labour shortages are already beginning to bite: one company has lost a refrigeration mechanic and it now takes three to four weeks to respond to service calls.
“We are at a critical stage. Skilled people are leaving town and new employees aren’t coming to town because of the negative publicity.”
Ms Ross says the tourism industry is on its knees, not helped by the unfortunate publicity generated by Action for Alice. Instead of taking up the issues of crime and public disorder with the politicians, Ms Ross says the group’s advertising suggesting rampant anti-social behaviour by young people has been going to all the wrong places. The Murdoch owned London Times last month did a two-page spread calling Alice Springs an “Aboriginal community crippled by crime and violence … where even security guards live in fear”.
Ms Ross says the coal to diesel proposal should not be subjected to the treatment suffered by the Angela Pamela uranium project on which the NT Government pulled the pin during a by-election. She says the site’s distance from town, some 200 kms, environmentally friendly product and huge benefits to the local economy should put into perspective any opposition.
The government has already missed the boat with the rare earths project at Nolan’s Bore near Aileron: all processing will be done at Whyalla because “the NT Government was too slow off the mark, not offering land in Darwin,” says Ms Ross. The processing requires huge amounts of water and therefore needs to be near the sea.

"As long as adults drink, younger people will"

June 23, 2011
At the recent forum about young people’s dreams for Alice Springs, a schoolgirl asked what could be done about underage drinking. She said that she knew of students leaving classes to go home for a few beers, describing it as “ridiculous”. She later agreed to speak to the Alice Springs News in more detail about drinking among her peers.
Her name is Mikaela Simpson (pictured above). She is 17 years old, a confident, motivated Year 12 student at Centralian College and boarding at St Philip’s as her mother works out bush.
She says almost every time she goes out, which she does with her mother’s permission, she witnesses a fight and it’s not only the guys – girls are getting involved as well.
“Ninety-eight percent of the time they’re extremely intoxicated,” she says. “Their egos get so big and you only have to look at someone the wrong way and it’s on.”
She camped overnight by the racetrack on the recent Finke weekend. In the morning as she was putting her swag into a car to go home, a fight erupted between a carload of girls and a carload of guys. Most had been drinking the night before and one guy in particular was still really drunk. As insults flew between the two groups, he began hitting the girls’ car, screaming and swearing. One of the girls was egging him on and eventually spilled some of her Coke on him. This sent him off the deep end and he ended up smashing the windscreen of the girl’s car.
The Finke weekend wasn’t exceptional. On any ordinary weekend a lot of people will say they are going out to get drunk, says Mikaela. If they’re underage, usually an older friend buys the grog for them (there’s a lot of socialising between different age groups). She also says some parents are open to the idea of teenagers drinking: “They understand that some are responsible and know how to do the right thing.”
Are her peers paying for their alcohol themselves?
“The majority of the time, yes. They work to earn their money or sometimes friends buy it for other friends or even parents pay for it.”
What’s the drink of preference?
“Anything and everything. Everyone’s different when it comes to drinking, but the majority are drinking spirits like vodka, Bundy, or Jack Daniels etc.”
She says at parties, it’s a regular sight to see people throwing up, falling over, starting “unwanted business”.
Does she mean sex?
No, she means fighting and “making a mess of themselves”. This is the worst consequence of drinking, she feels: girls getting hit by guys, guys passing out either because they’re so drunk or have been hit, girls or guys having car accidents because they’re drunk.
She’s never seen her friends in a situation of having unwanted sex.
Is that because the girls are strong about what they want?
“It goes both ways. If a girl doesn’t want it, she knows to speak up, and a lot of guys know that ‘no’ means ‘no’.”
Although she’s concerned about underage drinking, Mikaela also does it. She says she had her first drink in Year Nine but it was not until about halfway through Year 10 that she began regularly having a drink at parties. She says she sometimes gets drunk, though only if there’s a friend who’s going to take care of her (and definitely not if she’s going back to the boarding house).
Drinking amongst young people is simply a “fact of life”, she says. She doesn’t think it can be stopped, but “there are probably steps that can be taken to minimise it”.
She’s not thinking about restrictions, but rather about other forms of fun. As is frequently heard from young locals, she’d like there to be a lot more underage gigs. She doesn’t only mean big bands from interstate. She says there are quite a few local bands and young people enjoy watching their friends play. It would be a good alternative to sitting around in a house, getting drunk, which “gets boring after a while”.
As long as adults drink, younger people will, says Mikaela.
“You see older people doing something and you think that’s what I’m going to do. And if you took alcohol off the shelf then people would find some other substance.”
She thinks maturity is the best cure. Even amongst her peers, she can see the dawning of a realisation that there are better things to do with their time.
Note: The Alice News has published this report with the consent of Mikaela’s mother.

Coles takes lead against ultra-cheap wine

June 23, 2011
The fight against the availability of ultra-cheap wine in Alice Springs has had a win, with Coles Liquor announcing that its Alice store from July 1 will set a minimum price of $7.99 for bottled wine, including cleanskins, and will no longer sell two litre casks of wine.
The move will make the minimum price of their standard drink of wine $1.14. The store will continue to sell one litre casks of wine, targeted at the tourist market, for $15 ($2 per standard drink). Coles Liquor national promotions, including discounting wine by 25-30%, will no longer be available in Alice Springs.
The changes will be reviewed for possible introduction in other stores across Australia “where there are sensitive community issues to manage,” said Managing Director of Coles Liquor Ian McLeod
in a letter to the Chief Minister on June 20.
The Alice move comes in the wake of a flurry of national publicity around the local campaign for setting a floor price for alcoholic drinks, with $1.20 – currently the price of the cheapest full-strength beer –  proposed as the minimum price for a standard drink.
This would eliminate the ultra-cheap wines – cleanskins which have been selling for as little as $2 a bottle. Campaigners – chiefly the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition through their spokesperson Dr John Boffa – have argued that these wines have undermined the effectiveness of the current restrictions regime in Alice. Before they came onto the market during 2009, the existing regime was credited with an 18% drop in pure alcohol consumption, brought about by a 70% switch to beer and an 85% switch away from cheap wine.
Campaigners say that a floor price could help reinstate the preference for beer over wine. NT Minister for Alcohol Policy, Delia Lawrie, has dismissed the possibility of her government’s action on a floor price, sticking to the line that the problem lies with a minority. They will be targeted through the government’s Banned Drinkers Register, while “it is drinks as usual for the rest of us”, according to Ms Lawrie’s throwaway line.
Meanwhile, our cashed-up youth appear to be unaffected by price: with hard liquor their preference they enter the drinking culture with abandon, according to our young interviewee.
See also a backgrounder on alcohol and alcohol policy by Kieran Finnane published June 22 in the online journal  Inside Story.

LETTERS: New challenge for online shopping for grog

Sir – Labor’s banned drinkers’ register, which penalises all Territorians not just problem drunks, is quickly turning into a farce.
From tomorrow (Friday, July 1), anyone buying take away alcohol must show photo ID, which is checked and scanned, before the sale can go through. Labor says personal details won’t be kept and the scanning process will only take seven seconds, but that’s far from the truth.
A constituent has handed me a letter they received from one of the major grocery chains. It says if they wish to shop online and include alcohol in their shopping then they will have to fax copies of their personal details to the shop and those copies will be kept on file for future reference.
The email states that orders from 1 July 2011 will require a:
• NT or other Australian drivers licence; or
• NT or other Australian evidence of age card; or
• Passport; or
• NT Ochre Card.
The email ends with an invitation to “fax a copy of your ID through… upon receipt of this letter.”
This means people living in the bush or on cattle properties or who simply live too far from a bottle shop, or even pensioners will be forced to hand over their personal details if they want to buy alcohol online.
With identity theft becoming an ever increasing issue and cost to our community, people are being forced to hand over personal details with no control over how the information may be used.
Labor’s alcohol policy is an invasion of privacy, and once again ordinary law abiding Territorians are being punished, because Labor can’t keep drunks off our streets and out of our parks.
Peter Styles
Shadow Minister for Alcohol Policy
Minister responds, sort of
Sir – The CLP’s latest flimsy and misleading attack on the Banned Drinker’s Register proves they are soft on crime.
The party that said that “the link between crime and alcohol is negligible” are now complaining that people who want their alcohol home delivered will have to provide their home address.
The Member for Sanderson’s latest clanger confirms his party’s shaky grasp of reality, with a misleading tirade against the Banned Drinkers Register that effectively accuses online retailers of potential identity theft.
Mr Styles falsely claims that people buying alcohol online will have their details recorded on the Banned Drinker’s Register. As consistently stated, the ID scanner system being rolled out across the Territory does not record any personal information.
The simple scan of your ID checks your name against the Banned Drinkers Register – if you are not banned, you are free to purchase alcohol with no information recorded – the whole process takes about seven seconds.
To regulate alcohol sales made away from the checkout, online retailers are requiring licence details for online purchasers from the Territory to ensure they are not selling to banned drinkers.
The personal details Mr Styles refers to are necessary for the completion of an online order whether it includes alcohol or not.
Is it official CLP policy for online orders not to include an address? It would be interesting to see how these orders would be delivered.
The reality is that the CLP want people who commit grog-fuelled violence to continue to have access to alcohol.
We know 60% of all crime in the Territory is alcohol related.  The CLP are soft on alcohol abuse and soft on crime.
Much like their embarrassing claim that there is no link between alcohol and crime, Terry Mills and the CLP have proven themselves out of ideas and out of touch with Territorians.
Delia Lawrie
Alcohol Policy Minister
Responsible drinkers pay for failures of government
While it is commendable that a number of Alice Springs licensees have moved to take action against problem drinking in the town, it’s unfortunate responsible drinkers are being made to pay for the failure of the Labor Government’s alcohol policies.
It’s unfortunate it’s being left to the liquor industry to find a solution itself because of the ineffectiveness of Government policy.
A floor price on alcohol will have the effect of increasing the cost of living in the Northern Territory and will hit ordinary Alice Springs residents who enjoy a bottle of wine with their evening meal.
It’s already expensive to live in the Northern Territory without taking away the competitive nature of business and the benefits that come from that.
The Henderson Government’s position on a floor price is all over the shop, with Treasurer Delia Lawrie last week dismissing a concept her Government had fostered for months and the Chief Minister this week applauding the move.
What is certain is residents of Alice Springs will pay more for a bottle of wine than elsewhere in the Territory.
Instead of punishing all Territorians with drinking licenses, the Government should target problem drinkers.
Labor talks about cracking down on problem drinkers and mandatory rehabilitation, but the reality is much different.
The Government’s much publicised Banning Alcohol and Treatment (BAT notices) are a damp squib.
While the Government promised problem drinkers issued with BAT notices would face mandatory rehabilitation, the reality is somewhat different.
Instead of mandatory rehabilitation, problem drunks will be referred to an approved provider which could be a nurse or Aboriginal health worker for discretionary rehabilitation.
This could be as little as a health counseling session before the term of the BAT Notice is reduced at the discretion of the approved provider.
This hardly constitutes mandatory treatment.
Under the Country Liberals, drinkers placed in protective custody three times in six months will face mandatory rehabilitation. No ifs, no buts.”
Peter Styles MLA
Shadow Alcohol Policy Minister
Lhere Artepe Enterprises Supermarkets continue their alcohol strategy
The Northside, Eastside and Flynn Drive Cellarbrations stores have for a long time taken a responsible position on the service of Alcohol.
We are continuing our 18 months ban on “clean skin” wines and will maintain our floor price on wine, port and spirits based on a price per standard drink.
Most people probably haven’t noticed we have been using a floor price at Northside Cellarbrations for over two months.
This strategy has given us a significant drop in the amount of behavioural issues presenting at the Northside store.
Importantly our approach has not affected the vast majority of our customers, who are responsible drinkers. They have been getting the same great products at the same great prices.
We welcome announcements by Coles and Woolworths that they are also adopting a responsible approach to the ranging and pricing of products that contribute to anti-social behaviour.
A floor price is the best way to address alcohol related issues, it reduces problem drinking, it stops problem products entering the market, and because it only affects the bottom 2% of products, responsible drinkers will never notice the difference!
Reagan Garner
General Manager
Lhere Artepe Enterprises Supermarkets

Bring back the cheap booze: town council

June 27, 2011
The Alice Springs Town Council will be writing to Coles, Woolworths and local IGA stores (now Lhere Artepe Enterprises Supermarkets)  asking them to reverse their recently announced decision to set a minimum price for cheap bottled wine in their local outlets and to withdraw cask wine from sale.
The vote was five in favour, three against. The three included Mayor Damien Ryan who asked aldermen to allow the letter to go out under the CEO’s signature, rather than his. On protest from Alderman Samih Habib Bitar he accepted that he would sign the letter.
The motion was put by Ald Murray Stewart, seconded Ald Eli Melky. Alds Brendan Heenan, Liz Martin and Habib Bitar voted in favour. The Mayor was joined by Alds Jane Clark and John Rawnsley in voting against.
Ald Stewart described the move by the big retailers as “most unjust” for Alice Springs and as discriminatory, especially towards seniors and tourists, including grey nomads, traveling on a budget. He also raised the potential danger for Indigenous women of drunks armed with a bottle rather than a cask.
This concern was echoed by Ald Habib Bitar, who said the retailers will have “blood on their hands”.
Ald Stewart was dismayed that the move had come on the eve of the rollout of the NT Government’s latest alcohol reforms. He also accused “the corporates” of profiteering, with the increased profit on the sale of cheap wines going into their pockets and not towards community benefit, such as rehabilitation services for alcoholics.
Ald Clark said she could not support “the aspersions” cast on the motives of the corporates. She said they had been lobbied by organisations arguing for the public health benefit of a floor price and this could have been their motivation.
She noted that cask wines will still be available through some outlets, and said she would like to see how the reduced volume of sales, through the actions of the supermarket retailers, “pans out”.
Ald Rawnsley said it was “courageous” to put the motion up as it’s a “sensitive debate” but he disagreed with it. He said while the move could be seen as discriminatory, on the balance it might be constructive, just as Basics Card is seen to be by many. He sympathised however with the “angst” of pensioners.
Mayor Ryan said he couldn’t recall aldermen voicing concern over discrimination in relation to Basics Card. In his view the retailers were looking at the “triple bottom line” and taking responsibility for the impact of their products on the community.

Coles says it will lose revenue, not profiteer

Tuesday June 28

Coles expects to lose revenue as a result of foregoing the sale of cask wine in Alice Springs, says General Manager of Corporate Affairs Robert Hadler, rejecting any suggestion of a profiteering motive for their actions.
He said cleanskin wines were only ever sold at ultra-low prices in short-term promotions and he did not expect much of an impact on revenue from the decision to set a minimum unit price for these wines.
Mr Hadler spoke to the Alice News after he had made contact with Mayor Damien Ryan this morning to discuss last night’s vote in council (see report below). A majority of aldermen supported a motion to ask Coles and other retailers to reverse their decision on the sale of cheap wines in the local market. Mr Hadler says Coles will respond formally once they have received council’s letter.
He says he understands from Mayor Ryan that there are different views held by councillors. He says his company’s “strong view” remains that the initiatives they have taken meet “the needs of their customers” and the company’s “broader responsibility to the community”.
The company took the action because “it was the right thing to do,” after listening to the concerns of community leaders including the Reverend Basil Schild, Dr John Boffa and CAYLUS (the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service, strong lobbyists for substance abuse strategies including the rollout of Opal fuel).
Despite the likely loss of revenue, Mr Hadler says Coles will be comfortable with the outcome “if it helps reduce alcohol harms and abuse in Alice Springs”.
What evidence of this will they look for?
Mr Hadler says Coles expects to visit Alice Springs in the near future to assess the success of the move and whether additional steps need to be taken. He says they will be pleased to meet with the Town Council at this time.
The News asked him about concerns regarding bottles being used as a weapon. He said he could not see that the existing risk would be enhanced by Coles’ actions but the company is prepared to review the decision, in consultation with community leaders and the NT Government, if there are “any unintended outcomes”.
On the impact of their decision on pensioners, Mr Hadler says the company remains committed to providing value for money to all its customers, particularly for low income and fixed income customers and tourists. He believes that bottled wines at $7.99 and one litre casks at $14.99 will meet this demand.
Regarding the suggestion of broader discrimination towards Alice Springs, he says the company complies with a range of regulatory restrictions in other Indigenous areas in the NT and other states. As an example, he pointed to the Casuarina Business Precinct Liquor Accord of which Coles is a signatory. Concluded in April 2011, it commits licensees to “use their best endeavours” to ensure that sale of wine and fortified wine in two litre containers is restricted to one container per customer per trading day and to withdraw from sale “ready to drink products” in units greater than 500 ml.

Alice at the table of Canberra grog summit

Posted July 5.
Photo: Alcoholic drinks decanted into soft drink bottles in Alice Springs.
With a floor price for alcohol and no take-away sales on Centrelink payday, the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) would achieve its aims. Not much more harm minimisation could be expected through supply reduction, says the group’s spokesperson John Boffa, who in his day job is a doctor at Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.
“At that point we would turn our attention more fully to other strategies,” says Dr Boffa, “because we know that restrictions on alcohol are not a magic bullet.
“Even with optimum restrictions in place, there’ll still be a lot of excessive drinking in Alice and the NT as a whole and a lot of violence flowing from that.”
With the cooperation of retailers a partial floor price – a minimum price per unit of alcohol – in Alice Springs has been achieved. Perhaps more importantly, the publicity around it has given momentum to a national push for the introduction of a floor price around the country. On Wednesday (July 6) Dr Boffa joins like-minded lobbyists in Canberra for meetings with some 60 politicians. PAAC was accepted as a member of the National Alcohol Action Alliance around two months ago and must be one of the group’s most useful recruits, given the focus on the issues that it has been able to generate.
Dr Boffa says the national alliance’s main platform is about getting price mechanisms to play a role in consumption reduction. He says it’s good policy for government, as it’s proven to work on a population-wide basis and costs virtually nothing.
What about the popular outcry that is bound to ensue?
Dr Boffa urges people to stop and think: do they really consider that a minimum price for a standard alcoholic drink that is no more than the price of a can of Coke and often cheaper than bottled water is too much for people to reasonably pay?
“As Coles have said, there is still a very large volume of affordable alcohol available. All that has been eliminated is the ridiculously cheap alcohol.”
The price mechanisms being lobbied for by the national alliance are a floor price and a volumetric tax. The latter applies the same rate of tax per litre of alcohol across all beverages.
The alliance wants both, but Dr Boffa’s personal view is that a floor price is more achievable and fairer. Both work to eliminate from the market ultra-cheap wine, the big baddy from a public health point of view. However a volumetric tax would also increase the price of wine in the bracket that many responsible drinkers choose from, the current $10 to $14 range, while significantly decreasing the price of very expensive wines. Meanwhile, the price of beer would also rise by about 5%. So the tax, unless it was formulated to overcome these consequences, would advantage wealthy drinkers, while disadvantaging the not so wealthy.
A floor price is a relatively new concept and at present has been applied nowhere in the world. Dr Boffa’s confidence in its impact is based on research into the way other price mechanisms, making the cheapest wine dearer, have worked.
In Alice Springs the removal from sale of four-litre cask wines from September 2006 and the restricted availability of two-litre casks and fortified wines led to a 19.6% drop in population consumption, a 70% switch to beer (less harmful than wine), an 85% move away from cheap wine, and a corresponding 21% reduction in serious harms.
Consumption started to rise from mid-2009 when ultra-cheap bottled wine began to be promoted. Currently population consumption is 14% below pre-restrictions levels. Dr Boffa is confident that it would return to around 20% if an effective floor price could be achieved. This would require the remaining two local bottleshops (at Todd Tavern and Gapview Hotel) to cease selling two litre casks.
Tennant Creek’s Thirsty Thursday and ban on liquor in containers larger than two litres, introduced back in 1995, also achieved a 20% drop in consumption and a big switch to beer.
More recently restrictions were introduced in the WA town of Halls Creek. From mid-2009  you could not buy take-away full-strength beer there and you could not start drinking at the town’s pub before midday unless it was with a meal. A review of the restrictions after 12 months showed a “significant” drop in alcohol-related incidents requiring police response and “significantly fewer” alcohol-related injuries and presentations at the hospital. However, there had also been “some” displacement of drinking to other towns, with Kununurra experiencing an increase in general violence and alcohol-related harm. (The displacement of problems from one town to another demonstrates the value of a national approach.)
This evidence all relates to Australian examples. Dr Boffa also points to international research, including a study of 18 pricing policies for alcohol in England. The results, published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, last year, showed that price increases were effective for “reduction of consumption, health-care costs, and health-related quality of life losses in all population sub-groups”.
The World Health Organisation, in a 2008 paper on strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol, also says price is “an important determinant of consumption”, and that a “particular concern emerges when alcoholic drinks are cheaper than nonalcoholic alternatives such as bottled water”.
Dr Boffa said this is the kind of evidence that PAAC have previously presented to Coles and that he would take them through again when and if they visit Alice, as suggested by their General Manager of Corporate Affairs Robert Hadler (see report below). He says action on Alice’s alcohol issues requires leadership based on evidence, not on popular opinion. In any case, he argues, the current views of the majority are unknown as there has been no proper survey of residents’ attitudes since 2000. At that time 96% of respondents rated alcohol as a serious to very serious problem for Alice Springs, while 36% supported some kind of restrictions on availability of alcohol as a solution.
He says the NT alcohol problems are not confined to Aboriginal drinkers. Statistics published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2010, by a team of researchers including Dr Steven Skov, Public Health Physician for the NT Department of Health and Families, show that non-Aboriginal consumption in the NT is about 1.43 times the national average, while Aboriginal consumption is 1.97 times. Deaths attributed to alcohol occur in the NT at 3.5 times the national rate; for the non-Aboriginal population the rate is double the national rate – bad enough – while for the Aboriginal population, it is 9-10 times higher, a profoundly tragic state of affairs. Hospitalisations related to alcohol in the NT occur at twice the national rate.
Dr Boffa says that the Central Australian statistics for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations are likely to be worse than the NT-wide statistics.

Stopping the next generation of alcoholics before they start

We can do something to prevent the next generation of alcoholics from developing and it involves intervening in the earliest years of life: little children need their parents or other care-givers to be interacting and talking with them daily, reading to them, putting them to bed at regular times; they need to be physically active and to have a good playgroup of children of similar age. International research, conducted over many years, has shown that children benefitting from this kind of care in their first years will grow up to be far more resilient to addictions.
While to date the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition has focussed almost exclusively on curbing existing heavy drinking, it is starting to turn its attention to prevention. Spokesperson Dr John Boffa says the first three years of life are critical. For many disadvantaged children, by the time they enter school it is too late for the cognitive and emotional development that will help them succeed in education and resist addiction in later life. Without the brain capacity to do well at school, they will most likely drop out at the earliest opportunity, and their impulsivity, poor concentration, lack of self-discipline and self-control will predispose them to develop addictions in adolescence.
Dr Boffa recognises that the vast majority of adolescents will experiment with alcohol and drugs, but says the most disadvantaged young people are more likely to indulge in persistent very heavy drinking. In adolescence this causes permanent brain damage which in turn leads to further diminished self-control, spiralling down into full-blown addiction. Dr Boffa says this is what is going on for many Aboriginal heavy drinkers; it is not a genetic predisposition to alcoholism but the result of physiological deterioration that commenced with excessive abuse of alcohol when they were teenagers.
In his day job Dr Boffa works for Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. That organisation has published a policy paper on rebuilding family life in Alice Springs and Central Australia. In it they are pushing for a three-pronged approach to turn around the early years of the most disadvantaged children in our community and so divert them from a likely future of under-achievement, unemployment, addiction to alcohol and other drugs and possible criminality.
Two parts of the approach are in place: nurse-led home visitation to mothers, both before and after the birth of their babies, and a pre-school preparedness program.
Home visitation has been happening in Alice Springs for the last 18 months and has already led to a significant improvement in birthweight of the children born in that time (a critical developmental factor). Congress wants to see the program extended throughout Central Australia.
A team working on preparing children to enter pre-school started work in February this year, and so far 30 children who otherwise would not have attended pre-school have been enrolled and continue to attend.
The remaining part of the approach, not yet the subject of a funding application but that Congress is advocating for, covers the years in between, during which there is important and rapid cognitive and emotional growth that underpins a child’s future development.
“If we wait until age three or four to enroll the most vulnerable children in education, they will enter far behind,” says Congress CEO Stephanie Bell.
British researcher Michael Marmot, studying the fates of 17,200 UK babies born in the same week in April 1970, found that the things that made a critical difference to brain development and subsequent life chances, including good health, included: daily one on one interactions and talking with young children, daily reading, going to bed at regular times, being physically active and having a good playgroup of children of similar age.
Both the nurse-led home visitation and getting children into pre-school can help to varying degrees achieve these things. The establishment of educational daycare centres could fill in further gaps. The model that Congress is promoting is the “Abecedarian approach” of Professor Joseph Sparling, developed in Carolina, USA.
It involves:-
• “learning games”, where teachers engage daily with one or two children at a time in short interactive sessions;
• “conversational reading” to each child, every day;
• “language prority”, surrounding spontaneous events with adult language; and
• “enriched care-giving” in which teachers encourage children to practice skills like cooperating, counting and colour recognition, during care routines.
The day care centres would operate for six hours a day, four days a week, with one teacher for every four children. The teachers do not need to be tertiary-trained. People in the community committed to working with children and who have an acceptable level of literacy could be trained on the job. Congress says 250 children in Alice Springs could benefit from such a program and it would also create local employment.
The long term benefits for the children in Prof Sparling’s program have been remarkable:
• fewer risky behaviors at age 18;
• fewer symptoms of depression at age 21;
• healthier life styles. The odds of reporting an active lifestyle in young adulthood were 3.92 times greater for children in the Abecedarian program compared to the control group (children from identical disadvantaged backgrounds who had not had the benefit of the program).
“If there was a medicine that produced this odds ratio every child would be on it!” says Ms Bell.

Rod Moss wins Prime Minister's literary award

The Hard Light of Day by Alice Springs author Rod Moss today won the Prime Minister’s non-fiction award worth $80,000 and the huge prestige attached to it.
The book chronicles the lives of Aboriginal people at the White Gate community, a squat on the eastern edge of town.
Mr Moss (pictured above at White Gate) was at the National Gallery in Canberra to receive the award from Ms Gillard.
He spoke to the Alice Springs News minutes later.
“I’m just a bit bewildered,” he said. “I’m in esteemed company. I’m one of them now, apparently.
“I don’t think I’m suffering any chemical imbalance but if feels unreal.
“I’m a stranger, an outsider here, surrounded by other writers with their own coteries of literary people.”
Did he shake the Prime Minister’s hand?
“Yes, she has a warm little mitt. She has a capacity for mingling. Her speech felt very genuine.”
Mr Moss said neither Ms Gillard nor Arts Minister Simon Crean referred in their speeches to the contents of the books winning awards or short-listed.
Mr Moss is a teacher, noted painter and long-time resident of Alice Springs.
He says “part two is happening already,” a continuation of the subject from where the book left off in 1998 “to last week”.
This was prompted by the response to the book, previously culminating in the Chief Minister’s NT Book of the Year award earlier this year.
But the sequel may “not see the hard light of day,” he quipped.
Judges Brian Johns AO, Colin Steele and Dr Faye Sutherland say in their comments the book “draws a picture of Aboriginal Australians living in The Centre that we have rarely experienced on such a moving level.
“Rod Moss, with unflinching, knowing vision, reveals the harsh realities of the day to day lives of Aboriginals with devastating force and insight.
“Nothing is spared – the pain of chronic ill health, the alcoholism, the mutual violence, the aimlessness of the dislocated and the impoverished.”
They say the book is enriched by Moss’ paintings and photographs.
The author’s friendship with tribal elder Arranye “is the spiritual backbone of the book, starkly realistic, yet both enriching and encouraging, transcending the often desperate circumstances.
“There is humor and there is hope,” the judges say.
25 years of love and anguish: Review of the book by KIERAN FINNANE
White Gate residents: We will not go, it’s home. By KIERAN FINNANE.

Alice airport could close in major flood

4.5% downturn expected this year but investment continues
The Alice Springs Airport could not be guaranteed to remain open in the case of a major flood cutting access to the town through Heavitree Gap.
Mayor Damien Ryan put the question to the airport’s general manager Katie Cooper when she made a presentation to council on Monday night about the airport’s contribution to the Alice economy.
If Heavitree Gap were cut off by major floodwaters, road and rail links from the south would be severed. It seems also that air links could be restricted or could cease because of the difficulty of getting airport staff from their homes in town to their workplace.
Ms Cooper told councillors that the intention would be to maintain staffing levels and operations, but she could not give a “100%” guarantee. For example, if the flood occurred in the middle of the night, getting people to the airport “might be a challenge,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ms Cooper said the Alice airport contributes 0.4% to the NT GSP (gross state product). Slow steady growth of annual passenger movements is forecast: from 630,000 in 2009, projected to grow to 940,000 by 2029. A decline of around 4.5% on previous years is expected this year, however. The 20 year old facility was built to cater for up to two million passenger movements a year, so there is room for much more rapid growth, which Ms Cooper said NT Airports is bent on chasing.
She said bringing in scheduled international services is unlikely on the basis of current usage, but NT Airports “actively seeks partnerships with airlines,” with representatives attending the global route conferences each year. Charter flights from overseas have gone into abeyance.
Again Ms Cooper said NT Airports is keen to make use of the facilities to receive them. Currently the aircraft tug and other facilities are in storage, costing the airport money.
Ms Cooper said one of things “against us” is the high Aussie dollar, although that’s a country-wide problem. She said more positive stories about Alice as a destination “would be useful,” mentioning as “not very helpful” the recent London Times article, describing Alice as “cursed by alcohol” and as a town “where even the security guards live in fear”.
Slow growth aside, investment in the airport is continuing and commercial opportunities for its assets are being sought. The Alice airport now has its own iPhone app, the second airport in Australia to have one, following Darwin (also owned by the NT Airports). $8m is about to be spent on apron overlay, following the $10m runway overlay in 2009.
She also mentioned the Remote Towers trial (of the air traffic control centre operating from Adelaide) as representing a “significant investment” by Air Services Australia. This is expected to start at Alice Springs in late 2012.
On the boneyard, announced to fanfare in May this year, she said Asia Pacific Aircraft Storage is out looking for clients. She is hoping that work will start on building the facility later this year, with the airport apron overlay possibly offering an advantage of asphalting “synergies” for the boneyard project.
She said it is not clear how the tourist potential of the facility could be managed, given that it will have direct access to the airport runway, but she said some of the USA boneyards have “quite a big tourist market”. She did not know how may jobs would be involved in the boneyard operations.
The airport is continuing to work with the NT Government on the extension of the Kilgariff subdivision into airport land. An MOU exists and a further agreement is being worked on. Ms Cooper described this as a “long-term project”.

Fly-in, fly-out desert knowledge

A branch of the desert knowledge movement, that supposedly quintessential Central Australian drive to transform the governance and economy of the vast desert regions, seems to have turned into a fly-in, fly-out operation.
Jan Ferguson, the CEO of the Remote Economic Participation CRC / Ninti One, which was spawned by the earlier Desert Knowledge CRC, now reportedly lives and works in Adelaide, and so does the Communications Manager, Linda Cooper.
Neither returned phone calls and emails from the Alice Springs News in the past few days.
Board member Harold Furber, one for the founders of the desert knowledge movement, asked about the apparent new arrangements, says: “I find it very hard to comment.”
Mr Furber, together with others, has worked tirelessly to bring the movement to fruition: “It was a Central Australian idea,” he says.
Two other branches, Desert Knowledge Australia and the Desert People’s Centre, are still firmly rooted in the Alice Springs.
The Remote Economic Participation CRC’s Donna Anthes (General Manager Operations) and Tammie Boehm (Executive Officer) are still based here.
We put to Mr Furber that a true headquarters of an organisation would be where the CEO works.
He repeated his earlier statement: “I find it very hard to comment.”
Ninti One notably has a massive Federal Government contract to cull feral camels, mostly by shooting them from helicopters.

PM will be asked to help Alice's flagging tourism industry

The Town Council is writing to the Prime Minister to ask for financial assistance for the tourism industry in the Centre. While councillors voted to take this action back in May, it has now become more urgent with the grounding of Tiger flights.
Alderman Samih Habib Bitar at Monday’s meeting appealed to councillors to use what lobbying power council may have to help get Tiger back in the air on the Melbourne-Alice route.
Ald John Rawnsley went further, asking whether council should not send a delegation to government to ask for a financial assistance package, given the “particularly rough time” the town has had from the impact of the high Australian dollar and the negative national and international publicity around high levels of crime and anti-social behavior. (Clarifying later for the Alice News, he said the delegation would be to the Territory Parliament, with a package to be funded by both the Australian and Territory governments.)
Councillors were reminded by Director of Corporate and Community Services Craig Catchlove that they had already resolved to send a letter to the Prime Minister, asking for special assistance. In fact, he said a letter had gone out, although an enquiry by the Alice Springs News revealed that it is still in draft form. It will be sent this week, almost two months after council’s resolution.
At Monday’s meeting Ald Habib Bitar suggested council should approach Virgin Blue to see whether they could reinstate flights to Alice.
However, Ald Jane Clark argued loyalty to Tiger is warranted if they get back up and running. What must be avoided, she argued, was a return to Alice being serviced by only one airline. She criticised Qantas for originally excluding Alice from its special deals for stranded Tiger passengers.
She had had two children caught in Melbourne by the Tiger grounding and had been facing having to pay two $900 one-way airfares to get them home. She said there were definitely no special deals for passengers to Alice “until enough people kicked up a fuss”.
A one airline situation would represent a “real danger for the tourism market”, said Ald Clark. She said council should establish a “lobbying position over the next couple of months” to ensure that other airlines service Alice Springs.
Deputy Mayor Ald Liz Martin took up the theme of the damage being done by negative publicity about Alice Springs.
She said media were responding to “negative people in the community”; that this was endangering investment in the town; and that the impact was going beyond the town, being felt all along the gateway routes into the region.
Mayor Damien Ryan requested the CEO to have a report prepared, drawing on “knowledgeable people in town”, to provide direction for councillors on the issue. CEO Rex Mooney said that the report would be ready for the end of month meeting.
Speaking later to the News, Ald Martin said “good news messages” need to get out about all the wonderful natural and man-made attractions of the town and the region. If the government funds became available, they could be used to “subsidise” publicity in niche publications not normally targeted by tourism marketing campaigns. These would be the monthly subscription publications relating to fields where there are attractions of special interest in the Centre, such as art, sport, road, rail and air heritage, said Ald Martin.
Ald Murray Stewart is on annual leave and was absent from Monday night’s meeting. However, he was the initator of the original motion to write to the Prime Minister. He told the News that in his view Alice Springs and its tourism industry in particular had experienced a calamity as a result of deteriorating activity on the streets and the publicity around it. Just as the Australian Government had stepped in to offer assistance to Queensland to help its tourism industry get over a difficult period, so they could do for Alice Springs, he said. He said the town’s troubles are not of the same magnitude or tragic nature as Queensland’s but there is certainly an economic downturn.
He favoured using any government assistance to “drive new tourism events”, and also used that word “niche”. For example, there could be “a celebration of great Australian voices”, not only in song, but also spoken word, like the wonderful recitation of iconic Australian poems by actor Jack Thompson.
“We should zero in on two or three unique events and time them for the shoulder periods of our tourism season when the weather is still  OK,” said Ald Stewart.

To climb or not to climb?

Whenever you mention that you’re going for a trip to The Rock the conversation always seems to head in one direction – are you going to climb it? Have you climbed it before? It’s as though this meager act reflects upon your personality, yet alone moral self.
This past weekend I drove down to Uluru to fly from the airport that is controversial for industries dependent on tourism in Alice Springs, to Sydney.
On the way my friend and I managed to sight a running emu, two side by side dancing eagles, almost step on a whip snake and break down on the side of the road for several hours – all classic, camping in the bush stuff. Nearly every car that passed us as we tampered with the axles, knobs and bolts, was a deluxe, state of the art campervan, four-wheel drive, or tour bus. I marveled at their chic steel beauty and wondered, with an unintended absence of political correctness, where the beat-up camp cars from the Indigenous community were.
When we finally got the engine sorted and moving again it wasn’t long until the out-of-proportion inland island that is Uluru greeted our eyes.
We arrived at the campsite next to the resort and were shocked to find the grounds almost empty. I thought it was tourist season! However, as we headed into the park the long line of climbers – to quote Lindqvist, more like dots on an Aboriginal painting than conquerors – showed us where the action was.
Growing up in Alice, where land rights issues are at the forefront, I was aware even when I was in primary school that Uluru was holy ground for the Aboriginal people of that area, the Anangu. I’d only been there once until hitting adulthood and in all frankness the only image I remember is the Coca Cola icy-pole dangled before my nose, then clasped between teeth that couldn’t believe their luck. I wasn’t allowed sugar as a kid, so to have something so sweetly devilish in my clutch was far more impressive than what looked like a huge anthill. Still, I remember swearing loudly and quite ignorantly to a fellow playmate that I’d never ever climb it and very forcefully telling her that her dad was a “big meanie” for even attempting the trip.
Now that I’m an adult, however, I find many of my good friends and family have tackled Ayers Rock, trailing the track to the top. I also hear some around town proclaim
that many of the traditional owners don’t mind if white people hike up its surface. Information at the park’s very own Culture Center claims that it was customary for the men to put a sacred stick at a certain place at the very top to instigate ceremonies. It could then be argued that no one knows the answer, that the information has perhaps crossed lines.
I remember reading once that Uluru was restored to its original owners in 1985 on the condition that they immediately leased back the whole area and made it accessible to tourists. The only Aboriginal people I saw in my two days there were a beautiful young woman walking around the art gallery with her baby. I felt too self-conscious of my tourist appearance to ask her how she felt about the expanse of resort and shopping center having no reflection of, what I presume is, her culture, merely tacky furniture and outdated carpets.
Walking around the base of ominous landmark on Saturday and looking in at the keyholes and cavities covered in ocher paintings, I painted my own image of the Anangu singing and dancing beneath the shadows of their sacred home. I had to wonder what benefit a title is when you can’t inhabit what you own. It was lucky I was wearing sunglasses because I actually cried.
In reality what you hear is a mishmash of languages and accents from around the world. All genuinely excited voices of warmth, but alien in feel to the landscape. I was trying to dampen the pompous ‘know it all’ in me and come to some kind of closure whilst still there, so I asked a rather puffed man at the trail’s edge how he felt about hitting the ground. “Are you going to ask me how long it took me?” he smiled. “45 years. I’m serious!” He went on to tell me how he had started when he was only five on a trip around Australia with his parents and had made it back with his girlfriend to complete the ascent now that he was old enough. The pride and joy in his face was lovely and I couldn’t help but smile back.
Now I’m confused. I don’t know what’s ‘right’. I still haven’t climbed it and won’t until I know where I stand in this ethical debate. Maybe I’ll never know. I guess this is what life asks of us all the time – to come to our subjective decisions and face the reactions to the choices we make. Photo by OLIVER ECLIPSE.