I touched down in Alice and was greeted by these great open space and bright blue skies that, amid the constant rain and grey of the east coast, I had begun to miss. Don’t get me wrong though, I loved every roll, crash and rumble of the torrential storms back east, but it felt like cabin fever was setting in. My eyes were craving a good stretch, all the way up to the horizon. I had had my fill of city skylines and backyard fences. So I was excited to come down the steps onto the tarmac shimmering with heat and whipping with wind ... My first weekend back I set off for Two Mile to make sure all was in order.
There has been a lot of debate recently about 'carrots' versus 'sticks' policy approaches in fields where governments are attempting to change individuals' behaviour. The principle of open court offers an unusual opportunity for direct observation of a carrots and sticks program in action, or at least of one facet of it, in the case of the SMART Court. There is also a lot of cynicism in the community about so-called "do-gooder" programs. Here is one that gives cause for optimism and it's worth considering its features and thinking about whether there are lessons here for programs in other fields and a case for this one to be expanded.
What do Aborigines want and what do policy makers think they need? There's more to those questions than meets the eye, says WILL SANDERS (at left) in this week's Alice News summer feature, Food for Thought. He is a frequent visitor to Central Australia and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University in Canberra.
To illustrate what he sees as "complexities of Indigenous affairs policy and practice which intrigued me thirty years ago and intrigue me still" Dr Sanders tells about this old lady (pictured at top). She lives on the edge of small open highway town in the Northern Territory. Within 500 meters of her camp, or walking distance, she has access to an old peoples’ day care centre, a health clinic and a roadhouse which sells food and alcohol – but only beer to "drink in" and only a couple of hours a day. At the national policy level, she would be included in government statistics as a homeless person and as part of the justification for building more housing in Indigenous communities.
But she wants to live right here, with her dogs, on public land, paying rent to on-one – getting some help with her water supply and meals on wheels from the aged care day centre 500 meters away.
"All I can really do is tell you what it has been like to work in Indigenous affairs for thirty years and how I have come to think of it in terms of balancing competing principles in both ground-level practice and high moral rhetoric," writes Dr Sanders.
Alderman Samih Habib Bitar, the Town Council's longest-serving member, has not ruled out running for Mayor against incumbent Damien Ryan. Nor has council's newest member, Alderman Eli Melky. Ald Habib Bitar will, however, definitely run again as alderman, while Ald Melky may not.
Ald Habib Bitar would not say what will influence his decision on the mayoral contest, but Ald Melky, returned in a by-election in March last year, was quite clear: whether he runs for mayor or simply as an alderman, he wants to see who else is going to put their hands up.
Ald Melky, in an interview with the Alice Springs News, gives sitting Mayor Damien Ryan "an A+" for his exercise of the ceremonial role and for "talking up the town", for example in his role as vice-president of the Finke Desert Race committee, but on the "hard issues, a D-".
Mayor Ryan responds that he is "at a loss to find any input that Alderman Melky can claim as his achievement since joining ASTC in March 2011, although he has always been quick to provide media headlines while others in council have got on with real actions".
In the coming weeks we will bring you interviews with aspiring aldermen – they won't include 8HA talkback host Adrian Renzi, who has decided against running – and any mayoral candidates that may emerge.
A new voting system will mean that any candidate who can get more than 1/9th of the vote across Alice Springs ( 11.1%) will now get elected as one of the eight alderman, as opposed to the old system under which all eight had to attract over 50% of voters, likely to mean a broader-based council. KIERAN FINNANE reports. Ald Melky is pictured above, addressing the rally outside Parliamentary sittings in Alice Springs in March last year.
Booze remains by far the most damaging drug in the Central Australian outback: the top police officer in the bush says alcohol is doing 95% of the damage, with ganja (marijuana) the most popular illicit drug, and amphetamines playing a very minor role.
Police Superintendent Peter Gordon's beat is called Central Desert, with Alice Springs in the middle, around 600,000 square kilometers, twice the size of Germany.
He has 52 officers in 17 remote police stations. The trauma caused by alcohol is always on top of their agenda ... and the scams for getting grog to areas where it is banned display a destructive cunning. ERWIN CHLANDA reports. Photo: Backpacker's luggage being searched by police using a sniffer dog in the Adelaide bus terminal, a suspected place from where drugs are imported to the Northern Territory.
An audience of aspiring aldermen, roller derby enthusiasts and media watched the Town Council get back into business last night, with its first meeting of the year and one of the last for its term. With local government elections looming at the end of March, it was instructive: we saw aldermen struggling to make firm decisions, to reach consensus, to be consistent, to identify problems of enforcement and budgetary constraints ... and to get through the agenda in a timely fashion (the open meeting didn't finish till around 10pm and there was still quite a bit of confidential business to get through).
The issue of the night was about allowing the growing local roller derby league access to the basketball stadium, with aldermen going for the soft option of supporting the league to find another venue. There were also lengthy deliberations about graffiti removal, which must have had some aldermen wondering why council took the heat on its new graffiti by-laws when they appear not to have been enforced.
KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Vacant Commonwealth bank building in Parsons Street this week. It's been attracting graffiti and paste-ups for months with no action from council.