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Sensible infrastructure for the NT?

With the fire sale of TIO having proceeded, local CLP supporters are agitating for Adam Giles’ government to invest in what they call “sensible infrastructure”.
They appear to mean projects like gas pipelines and irrigation for food-bowls, high tech hospital services, entrepreneurial education facilities, as well as flood mitigation works.
The CLP should be asked to give us a detailed list of the long term benefits accruing to the NT population from the allegedly “sensible infrastructure” project investments made by CLP governments in the past (as opposed to the actual overall losses and opportunity costs associated with these projects).
I have in mind the massive amounts of public funds (many billions in today’s dollar value) misspent by the CLP, in the ’80s and ’90s, in the name of “creating activity” and “turning to private development projects to help maintain and stimulate activity”.
All the CLP lads – Porky and Ian and Steve and Marshall and Shane and Dennis – touted these short-term fixes that were really long term liabilities, claiming they “will benefit people of the Territory for decades to come”.
Those irresponsible CLP governments repeatedly sank Canberra’s generous capital and recurrent grants, which the NT received from the Commonwealth in the name of “fiscal equalisation”, into sinkholes and revenue-losers like the over-ambitious casinos, resorts, luxury hotels, convention centres and other ego trips and fantasies entertained by Chief Ministers past using taxpayers’ dollars in the first 23 years of NT self-government. They could not resist pandering to the big end of the business community.
The projects were generally nice little earners for certain CLP Silver Circle members and their cronies, who participated in their construction and subsidised management and operations; but the taxpayers ultimately lost out in a big way when the grand plans proved to be more based on wishful thinking than sound business planning, and were predictably sold off at hugely discounted rates to other Silver Circle members and their interstate and overseas mates.
Most of those highly generous Commonwealth grants had been calculated to cover the extra costs of providing adequate all-weather outback roads and airstrips, and decent housing and health and education and child welfare and policing and job creation projects and training for remote communities.
As a result of this CLP misspending, we are now left still with a much bigger challenge with outback infrastructure and housing, and a growing social disaster, in the remote communities than would have been the case if the money had been invested properly in their development then.
Excuse my cynicism, but the Territory air smells strongly of another bout of this same CLP disease, this time focused on imagined booms in fracking, mining, high-rolling foreign students and cancer patients, and delusional “food bowls for Asia”, all requiring government subsidies to private entities, whose principals will happen to be members or mates of the CLP.
And soon we will no doubt hear that the NT too, like WA and SA, has to “close” services for a host of remote communities because they are allegedly too costly for the poor NTG to maintain.
Instead of wild goose chases in very risky food bowls and other such fantasies, let’s put what funds are available into collaborative partnerships and basic long-term investments that will benefit our citizens who are in real need, such as good government services, solid roads and other badly needed social and physical infrastructure.
Let the big end of town, the frackers and developers, fend for themselves in the big world of business, and let the NT government get on with the basic business of assisting its most vulnerable citizens to look after themselves and the wellbeing of their children.


  1. As a former active member of the CLP but never a beneficiary of the “silver circle”, I agree with much of Bob Durnan’s assessment of the track record of mismanagement of the NT under self-government. But the blame is not all to be laid exclusively at the feet of the CLP.
    I well recall the fierce criticism leveled by the ALP against the CLP, its “silver circle” mates and cronies, and so on in the late 1980s and early ’90s. For example, in November 1989 the Member for the Northern Territory, Warren Snowdon (in his first term in politics), made exactly these kinds of allegations in the Federal Parliament, including generalized claims of corruption. Chief Minister Marshall Perron challenged Snowdon to use parliamentary privilege in Canberra to specify the exact nature of all these allegations. Snowdon never did.
    That example was typical of the nature of the debate at that time – lots of allegations and outrage coming from the Labor side, most notably the NT Trades and Labor Council, but never any specific details. That created an impression of endless muckraking and point-scoring on the part of Labor which actually AIDED the CLP’s grip on power!
    Nowhere was this more evident than during the course of 1990 when the CLP was at its most vulnerable since its inception in 1974. I attended a CLP Central Council meeting in Tennant Creek in April 1990 where I witnessed Chief Minister Marshall Perron on the verge of an emotional breakdown in front of all the party’s delegates, such was the pressure he was under.
    Yet fantastically the Left of politics came to the CLP’s rescue just two months later. It started with the convenor of the NT Greens, Bob Ellis (formerly the CEO of the NT Sacred Sites Authority and hugely despised within the CLP) launching a scathing attack against the leadership of NT Labor leader Terry Smith, stating that Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse could do just as good a job of leading the ALP.
    In late September it was the turn of the NT Trades and Labor Council president Mark Crossin (husband of Trish Crossin, who was later to become a Labor senator for the NT) who also lashed the NT Labor leadership. In early October, Marshall Perron called an early election and – as the Centralian Advocate headline succinctly put it – Labor was “thumped”.
    In short, what I’m saying is that the Labor Party contributed significantly to the long-term electoral success of the CLP. Was that deliberate on the part of certain members of the Territory’s political left?
    It’s further to be noted that many of the projects and visions for developing the NT predated the CLP’s existence. The long-serving and highly respected Labor MP Jock Nelson was an ardent supporter of developing the north, not least in advocating gas pipeline developments from Mereenie to service major mine site developments such as Gove, Macarthur River and Mt Isa. (Incidentally, only two decades ago it was NT Labor that was pushing for the NT to build a gas pipeline to link south with Moomba – Barkly MLA Maggie Hickey was especially strong on this – and taking the stick to the CLP for failing to do this rather than the CLP’s preferred option of a gas pipeline to Gove!)
    I could go on with other examples but to sum up – it takes two to tango. And the past invariably comes round to bite us all on the bum!

  2. These ‘sensible infrastructure’ plans should have solid business and economic development plans attached, so taxpayers can see the projected benefit from these projects.
    We need real investment in projects that are going to support existing industries and development to grow and encourage new development (good roads spring to mind), good community services (modern communications infrastructure for a start.
    While big promises have been made in Darwin and Katherine for the TIO windfall, again we have nothing for Alice that will really pay off in the long term.
    While I believe the TIO sell off was the wrong move, our four local members, including a Chief Minister, should be talking to the community about some real economic investment in projects that will build some sort of future in Central Australia.
    Sadly, I don’t believe we are going to see this from Adam and his mates.

  3. Bob
    If I am reading you correctly you ask for sensible infrastructure projects and then list gas pipelines, irrigated food-bowls, high tech hospital services, entrepreneurial education facilities and flood mitigation works as being not sensible infrastructure works. What in that list is not a sensible infrastructure project?
    Personally, I would only question the gas pipeline because that seems to imply fracking for gas. However, even fracking will likely get the nod once the price of hydrocarbons goes back up and a “free” trade agreement with the US is signed. It seems the Giles government has anticipated this and is planning the necessary infrastructure to accommodate our input into the national grid.
    Just consider: Without a hydrocarbon industry here in the Centre, would the Melanka site proposal make any sense, and would road works between Alice and the Simpson side of Allambi Station even be contemplated?
    I think as a tourist centre we are finished. But perhaps as a continuing service hub for our far-flung suburbs and as a newly born mining centre our future has only just begun.

  4. As I said before, Bob, well said.
    You have only hit the tip of the iceberg.
    I would hate to see how much inside trading goes on within the council. Might be something to look into.

  5. One of the many problems of our Government system is the four year term creates a very short sighted development plan.
    TIO was a major Territory asset that gave us a degree of independence, power and security.
    Sell that off to a world player who is getting a monopoly on the market and we may see down the line the true loss of this sale. Giles, with his cheesy smiles, and hand shake deal behind closed doors, may be more interested in his ego and his profile than the future of the Territory.
    The fact that Giles is pushing so hard for fracking the Territory is another example of ego and glory because by the time our gas has been exported cheaply to overseas markets, and the money has gone, and the Territory has to deal with contaminated aquifers soil and many other social and environmental issues, Giles will be well set up well away from the mess he created.
    California currently have major issues with billions of gallons of contaminated fracking water that illegally got injected in to the aquifers.
    Smart countries like Germany and France have banned fracking following a European Commission which found that contamination to ground and surface water was of a high risk.
    What does our government plan to do with the billions of litres of water contaminated with a cocktail of highly toxic chemicals, as a result of the proposed fracking?

  6. Re: Jason Posted December 4, 2014 at 10:24 pm
    This EU report, with easy read Executive Summary, reads similar to Jason’s comment re EU.
    IMHO for Alice Springs the challenge is less to STOP FRACKING, than to identify, develop and promote various alternatives.
    Without viable alternatives the fracking remains profitable, perhaps essential.
    Australia, particularly Alice Springs has an abundance of sunshine for which exist many tap into energy supply methods.
    Alice Springs should be identified as Australia’s solar capital, attracting many from around the world to study practical alternatives.

  7. Hal Duell (Posted December 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm), my ideas of sensible infrastructure projects include all-weather roads, with culverts at creeks and flood-out sections, running between our remote population centres and servicing our cattle stations, tourist attractions and mines; all-weather airstrips with night light systems, and all-weather arterial roads, with bridges over creeks, as needed; affordable accommodation in those locations (such as Alice Springs) where there are jobs and specialised services available (i.e. sufficient affordable accommodation suitable for all Territory citizens and their families who want to reside in these places for purposes of obtaining employment and/or need to make use of the specialised services, in sectors such as education and health); sufficient serviced blocks and housing to meet the needs of those people living in the remote communities, who need to continue to reside in these places; decent civic infrastructure (sport and rec facilities, youth centres, pre-schools, clinics, schools, adult learning centres, adequate staff accommodation) to meet the needs of the populations in the remote communities; good reliable all-weather power, water, sewerage, flood mitigation works and communications systems in our regional towns and remote communities; and adequate facilities in our parks and wildlife and tourism areas.
    Much of this infrastructure should be publicly financed and owned, but some of it could be built in partnerships and collaborations between government, private businesses, NGOs, and/or philanthropic foundations, along the lines being pioneered in Alice by the Central Australian Affordable Housing (CAAH) Corporation.
    I think uneconomic gas pipelines, uneconomic and environmentally unsustainable irrigated food-bowls, high tech hospital services to attract cashed up overseas cancer patients (as proposed by Giles and Gina in Darwin, on a prime site like the heritage listed Myilly Point), and entrepreneurial education facilities to attract rich overseas students at the DKC, are not at present sensible infrastructure works, especially in comparison to those works and needs listed in my previous paragraph.
    If they are to be tried, they should not be competing for government money that is urgently needed to meet the basic needs of our marginalised long-term citizens, now and into the future.

  8. @ Bob Durnan
    Fair enough, and I’m hardly speaking against all you mention as necessary infrastructure.
    But would a gas pipeline be uneconomical? I don’t know, and I also don’t know about an irrigated food bowl. I do know that Asia to our north holds many, many people, and they all want to eat.
    High tech hospitals might well catch cashed-up visitors, but they might also catch some Aussies. And entrepreneurial education facilities are seen by a growing number as the way of future education.
    One reason I’m favourably inclined to the proposals now coming out of Darwin is not in the hope that they will all pan out, but in the hope that some of them might.
    As for the direction which you seem to be proposing – that expenditure be directed to and around remote communities – I’m just not at all sure that there is where our governments of today are focused. Perhaps it would be more in our interest to observe where they are focused and try to obtain some benefit from that.
    For instance, a new road to the Chandler Salt Mine Project would firstly service the proposed mine with secondary benefits to the existing community of Titjikala. But without the mine, any claims from Titjikala for a new road quickly diminish.
    It’s a corporate world out there, and it’s all about return on investment.
    Of course, if the economy tanks, none of this will come about. Neither the pipelines nor the community upgrades. This was pointed out to me last night with the 1980s used as an example of optimism gone cold. Hopefully that won’t happen this time, and hopefully the fear that it might will not stop us from having a go.

  9. Hal Duell (Posted December 6, 2014 at 9:32 am)
    If the gas pipeline is “economical”, private enterprise wouldn’t be saying that it needs government to organise and subsidise its construction.
    And if those calling for a new “irrigated food bowl” in the north are more than just professional blowhard politicians trying to fool the masses, or self-interested rightwing ideologues trying to provoke greenies with dams, then let them find their own sources of capital to buy the land, construct dams and irrigation systems and roads and services for the project, and prove the great majority of scientists wrong about the folly of throwing good money after bad in such an enterprise.
    Similarly, if Gina Rinehart wants to build her high tech cancer hospital for fly-in patients, then let her purchase a suitable block for it in Darwin, rather than massaging Adam to get access to heritage blocks that generations of conservationists have struggled to hold onto for the benefit of posterity.
    The same with Mr Hatzimihail’s dream for a luxury supercar production facility in Alice Springs: if he really does have the investors for this, let them buy a block of land and put in the services for it.
    The idea that there will be the possibility of an academic faculty based around this and overseas students wanting to pay high fees to study at such an institute in Central Australia is more bizarre than even Steve Brown would judge feasible to tease us with.
    These crackpot schemes are highly unlikely to work, even with major government subsidies, and if they somehow did work, they are bound to be importing overseas or interstate labour to carry out the work, from sweeping floors to lecturing students and operating the robotic scalpels.
    Let’s get real, and worry about the huge cost to society and taxpayers if we don’t start to alleviate the overcrowding in communities like Areyonga and Atitjere, and don’t provide the early childhood programs that the kids in those communities need if they are to have a chance of avoiding ending up on the scrapheaps of life on the edges of Alice Springs and in the long grass of Darwin.
    Nor should we tolerate for one moment this tomfoolery, all smoke and mirrors, by novice politician Giles, in his attempt to hypnotise the gullible with hallucinatory glimpses of seven storey hotel-shop complexes on any vacant site he can identify around town. This way lies even more madness. The Territory, and Alice in particular, cannot afford to put up with such stupidity for more wasted decades.
    Existing businesses will benefit from a sensible program of developing the infrastructure we need, which I have outlined below (see Bob Durnan, Posted December 5, 2014 at 10:19 pm).
    Tell Adam Giles you are not going to allow yourself to be mesmerised by his shallow, wasteful, risky proposals (which will mainly benefit people like him and his big business cronies), and that we must invest whatever capital we can raise in sensible and responsible infrastructure development that will benefit existing residents of the Territory in the places that really have the priority needs.
    I guarantee that there will be more good training and decent jobs available to our local school-leavers in making and maintaining these investments than there will be during the brief disastrous life-spans of Adam’s illusory high profit mirage “investments”.
    (NB: I should state here that Richard Bentley will be correct when he takes me to task for not having pointed out in my post that renewable energies should be the hallmark of those sensible infrastructure developments.)

  10. @Bob
    Not trying to disagree here, but just asking is there an energy pipeline anywhere in the world not subsidised by government? Probably, but the big ones hitting the news, whether in Russia, China, the US, Canada or across the failed states in the Middle East, all sound like they are government backed, and often multi-government backed.
    As I said earlier, I don’t know about any food bowl, but I do know there are people wanting food and more food just to our north. Perhaps it would help if CLC got its act together to harvest camels instead of wasting a national resource? And just on the off chance they did decide to do that, would they be asking for a subsidy to harvest them as I assume they are to waste them?
    And hospitals? Who just put how many millions into our Alice Springs hospital? Not completely sure here, but I doubt if it was private money.
    As for “crackpot schemes … importing overseas or interstate labour to carry out the work, from sweeping floors to lecturing students and operating the robotic scalpels” who do you think works today in the Alice Springs Hospital?
    Who do you think runs the check-outs in our supermarkets and comes in after midnight to clean the floors. Who handles almost all the private security in town?
    Maybe, and just maybe, some of those jobs currently employing overseas and interstate labour would be filled at some point in the future by locals if the residents on our remote communities could be persuaded into school. However, right now it’s not that they are not working those jobs, but more that they are not even applying for them.

  11. Hal Duell (Posted December 7, 2014 at 11:11 am): There may well not be many energy pipelines anywhere in the world not subsidised by government.
    That is the problem. Many governments have been long captured by the prophets of corporate greed and shackled themselves to the energy-guzzling rocket of unsustainable over-consumption and cancerous growth. That is no reason for us to continue to imitate that bad behaviour, in the infantile manner perfected by the CLP in previous decades.
    There is, of course, a big demand for food, but that does not mean that we should put subsidies for more mad, uneconomic and environmentally unsustainable dam fantasies ahead of pre-schools for existing children.
    If it was “economic” to harvest wild camels in remote central Australia, Gary Dann and a dozen others would have been doing it years ago on a much larger scale than is presently occurring.
    It is entirely appropriate that governments put money into public hospitals that are run as public hospitals and which address the priority needs identified by the health professionals for the public good.
    Gina’s proposal is not like that.
    The issue with overseas labour is that Australia’s boom is rapidly coming to an end, and we need to start planning for unemployed Australians to have priority access to whatever jobs there are remaining in this country. I am quite aware that overseas labour, holidaying backpackers and 457 visa holders, have been keeping much of Alice Springs going in the last few years. This cannot continue, and the only Australians who will benefit from it remaining thus are the Ginas of this world, and their political lapdogs.
    We need to start training more young Australians to perform these tasks again.
    I am not kidding myself that many of these jobs are likely to be filled by people brought up in remote communities, unless they have been able to enjoy decent early childhood experiences and gain a better education than many of those whom I have known have had the misfortune to endure.
    I am thinking more about the offspring of Alice Springs, and thousands of other small and large rural communities and towns and cities around Australia, along with some of those from our local remote communities.

  12. Better education? It isn’t going to happen under the current system. Prepare for the excact opposite.
    The government is ripping money out of education. Many schools are losing teachers. The remote schools are losing all their Aboriginal staff.
    In many cases the Aboriginal staff are the only reason the schools function. A first year teacher with no experience and suffering from homesickness and culture shock can’t run a school.
    Instead of Aboriginal teaching assistants the government is employing Kiwi bouncers as truancy officers on huge wages and permanent contracts.
    Somehow fewer jobs for indigenous people and less money for bush schools will “close the gap”.

  13. @Bob Durnan
    Posted December 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm
    No argument from here that corporate greed is fuelling the use of hydrocarbons to produce the energy we all use and demand.
    But no one wants to turn their lights out, including us here in Alice, and since gas is a better hydrocarbon than coal as far as the environment is concerned, or so it is as far as I understand it, than why not send our recoverable deposits to the east coast via a pipeline? This is assuming that any fracking will not impact our aquifers – jury’s still out on that one.
    Another possible argument in favour of sending our gas east might include Steve Brown’s assertion that any fracking here is deep gas fracking rather than coal seam gas fracking. If that is the case, would using our gas help reduce the call for coal seam gas currently a point of controversy across Queensland and NSW?
    For what it’s worth I would prefer to see an increase in the use of renewable energy, but just how realistic is that? And how immediate?
    Gina’s hospital? Will that be needing NT money or just NT approval to build on a particular piece of land?
    And of course it’s corporations again. Witness the sale of TIO to an international giant in the insurance game, a sale which started this whole thread. Our Federal Trades Minister is currently in South America trying to secure an even greater participation of multi-national corporations in our national life. That tide has yet to turn.
    I’m still not buying into the irrigated food bowl argument, but I do question your assertion that harvesting camels has been tried and shown to be uneconomic. I question if those wanting to try have been given full and helpful access to the wild product.
    The labour pool in Alice, and across much of Australia, has changed permanently, and for the better.
    Our new residents, many of the now Australian citizens, have hit the ground running. Their children will continue as their parents have started. These families have taken what they have found and made the best of it. Often their best has shamed the rest.
    Can the same be said for those on communities?

  14. Hal Duell (Posted December 9, 2014 at 8:06 am), you are playing a good game; thanks for the spirited match. Still, it would be better if it were mixed doubles. Where are you other sportspeople this week?
    Anyway, here’s a few return shots for you Hal:
    Experts whom I trust assure us that we could be meeting most of our power needs via solar energy in Alice, and in remote central Australian communities, using available technologies.
    Expensive to introduce, yes, but more economical in the longer term, and better for us and the environment; and part of a great branding mechanism for our tourism industry – responsibly progressive clean energy sources, in sunny, beautiful, pristine Central Australia.
    If we have money to spend on infrastructure, let’s include a mirrors (for concentrating solar energy) and molten salt (storing the energy) installation, as was planned near Mildura until The Abbott Gang threw a vested interests spanner into the works late last year.
    Hold the pipelines and fracking until the science is in about how our aquifers, atmosphere and economy are likely to be effected.
    Indications from elsewhere are that the local economy would barely benefit at all, with machinery, chemicals and other operational supplies coming in by rail and then trucked straight out to the work sites.
    As with the Tanami mines, workers would be mostly flown in and out, with barely a night spent in Alice by the majority of them. Our precious water supplies would be over-consumed, contaminated and under-valued; and our planet’s atmosphere still likely to be severely contaminated, if only just not quite as much as by coal or diesel.
    The biggest problem with the gas pipeline proposal (apart from its contributing to the problems of carbon and methane overloads in the atmosphere, by supplementing the process of releasing them from their strata beneath our earth) is the huge amount of government capital that it is likely to tie up for many years, thus depriving other more needy projects of their guernseys. The returns to either the NT government or Alice Springs itself would not be significant.
    Gina’s hospital: The details of this proposal are unclear, but it would be safe to say that she will expect government contributions to both the capital and operational costs of this jewel in her northern crown.
    As for camels, I believe the bigger problem is the lack of roads and abattoirs within reasonable distance of their (ever shifting) haunts.
    I do not disagree with you about the fact that our present labour pool is a good one; I just do not believe that it is possible for us, as a nation, to go on ignoring the needs of our own citizens for jobs.
    It is our duty to look out for each other, before we take on the problems of the rest of the world.

  15. @Bob Durnan
    Posted December 9, 2014 at 4:51 pm
    All good, Bob, and I’m glad you have enjoyed it as much as I have.
    I’ll leave it now, and shift my focus to a separate piece I’ll be submitting to Erwin soon.
    The only point I will go on a bit about is camels.
    If there really is money for sustainable development projects, I would like to suggest a camel dairy for long term income and a product of proven worth, and a mobile abattoir to produce camel jerky.
    The latter could relieve the pressure of camels on remote communities and the jerky produced could join dried camel milk to help feed the many, many displaced people in the world desperately needing help.

  16. And the camel’s hump is almost all fat. By a simple process it can be rendered down and turned into high quality diesel at a cost of approximately 40cents/litre, once you have the hump.
    Dr Wrongo made a test batch in the lab (kitchen). Should make transport costs lower for a portable abattoir and all the trucks etc.


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