Archive for the 'Alice Springs' Category

21
Nov
10

Statehood and a letter to the editor

The Centralian Advocate printed this letter to the editor:

If the Australian constitution is to acknowledge Aboriginal people as the first Australians then this will likely be a symbolic gesture.  Symbols and acknowledgements can be important; it can lift peoples’ hopes.  Going beyond symbolism will be very difficult because changing the Australian constitution requires broad bi-partisan support from across political parties.  This support exists now, and only to the point of acknowledging the ‘first Australians’, but there is still a long way to go.
Putting the Australian constitution aside, what is more important to us is Statehood because we have the opportunity to design a completely new constitution.  We start with a blank canvass.  A planned convention in late 2011 intends to involve delegates from across the Territory to do exactly this.
What a number of us on Town Council have said, and what we are calling for others to support, is for the new constitution to actively protect and empower regions.  We want a debate at the convention about how infrastructure funds should be spread across the regions, and how people at a regional level can have more of a say as to how they are spent.  The ‘royalties for regions’ program in Western Australia has proved significant for their regions, and we want a similar program built into the new constitution so that it can’t be changed by politicians.  This would benefit Alice Springs, but also those around us. 
One main reason (there are many) is that under our current governance structure the increasing population of Darwin, Palmerston and the new city of Weddell will see a substantive increase in political power.  Regional seats will be swallowed up by the growing capital centre.  To put this in perspective, recently a Minister of the Northern Territory said that 73,000 additional people are expected to live in Darwin and Palmerston by 2025.  Imagine what this will do for the political power of Alice Springs (and the regions)?
It is clear that the local Alice Springs community will be divided about whether to change the Australian constitution, but focusing on our once-only opportunity to design a new constitution as part of Statehood should not be an opportunity wasted.  I urge all to get involved, to be part of the debate and stand up for the rights of our town and our regions

07
Feb
10

Dealing with alcohol, the Scotland experience

The NY Times carried an interesting piece here about the community problems attributed to a particular alcohol product in Scotland, ‘Buckfast Tonic Wine’ (a caffeine based product with 15% alcohol).  The figures cited in relation to its connection to harm and connection to incidents involving police intervention are staggering.  Interestingly, the supplier claims that the product accounts for less than 1% of total alcohol consumption.  

In the Northern Territory (and in particular Alice Springs) there are arguments that are parrallel to the political tensions in this area of Scotland. 

In Alice Springs the nominal left advocate alcohol restrictions (both in terms of trading hours and a bottom price per unit of alcohol), and the Scottish experience is often cited.  It is put that areas of Scotland with less of a social addiction than Alice Springs have taken stronger measures  to what Alice Springs has in restricting access through floor pricing and this has had greater impact to solving their problems.  The nominal right support widening restrictions and claim to support stronger personal interventions (for example, if there were trading hours during the day than services would have a greater chance of intervention as opposed to night, although no further details as to increasing the support of these services is provided).  This prompts two questions: if less than 1% of the population is affected by this particular product than is it because the proportion of those who drink the product belong to a particular class/group as against the overwhelming majority, and, if yes, is the case put for arguments in favour of ‘selective’ interventions based on this particular group/class (which appears to be the opposing argument in the Alice Springs body politic).

The Scotland experience at a place called Coatbridge indicates that broadening the trading hours hasn’t worked, and in this particular location a bottom price per unit wouldn’t apply because the ‘Buckfast’ product cost more than the bottom price per unit.  Whilst the Coatbridge experience and circumstances are different to Alice Springs it does indicate that price is not necessarily a driver of change if addiction is prevalent to this section of society (e.g. it’s not lack of money which is necessarily the issue, but a social acceptance). 

In Alice Springs in recent years a number of measures have been put in place to restrict a person’s ability to access alcohol and it is claimed that this has led to other problems (such as break-ins to premises with alcohol).  Such claims, of course, are difficult to prove on the basis of evidence but the political and (popular) public opinion views are certainly loud and clear.  Because of this ‘other’ bubbling problem (which perceivably are not as prevalent as the previous more lax alcohol supply rules), the political capital to move the solution to the next phase (or make improvements/modifications) appears stimied.  That is, there are less local advocates arguing restricting access to alcohol as a solution moving forward, partly because this places pressure on those addicted to alcohol who resort to other harmful meas to satisfy an addiction.  Because we have stronger restrictions than most other locations the argument is often caught in this context, rather than solely looking at our locality.  To further exacerbate our political and policy dilemma, the proposals currently put to extend trading hours in Alice Springs and drop restrictions (such as the requirement to provide photo id, a measure where there is pressure to drop because, apparently, it impacts upon the ‘right’ of non-alcoholics not to always furnish id) appear to be minimalist and, worse, counter-productive. 

The NY Times piece makes interesting reading for those interested in alcohol policy and its application to Alice Springs.

September 2010 observation – lately there have been many advocates arguing for further restrictions to supply.  This more recent observation overtakes the assumption above that these voices are more limited because of the ‘bubbling’ problem of those addicted to alcohol resorting to other negative means.  With reflection, I’m not sure if the reason for this observation is attributed to a cyclical lapse of political activism or other reasons.

15
Oct
09

An Early Childhood Literacy Project in Alice Springs

As a community service project of the ‘Rotary Club of Alice Springs Mbantua’ I’m working on a project to link sponsors that cover the costs of the Kumon literacy program with early childhood aged Aboriginal recipients (and families) in Alice Springs.  Interviews for the first available scholarship will commence soon.

As this proceeds I am in the process of seeking more scholarship sponsors.  If you live in a capital city in Australia and know how to tap into capital relevant to improving literacy for Aboriginal people in a regional/remote part of our country then this could be your opportunity. 

For more information please visit www.earlychildhoodliteracy.wordpress.com

15
Sep
09

Letter to editor: 6 months on

A letter in today’s Centralian Advocate:

It has been about 6 months since I quit alcohol. As a young adult my main reason was to send the right message to others in my generation.

I can confidently say that my challenge has been well worth it.  I never drank regularly, a weekend wind-down was always on the cards, but as more than 4 standard drinks on any single occasion is considered a health risk I was in the camp of many in the odd occasion of over-consumption.  Quitting alcohol meant that I could talk about it more and its place in our community.

If alcohol is consumed responsibly then this can be a good thing, it can be a good way to wind down and socialise.

Alcohol becomes a problem when relationships are harmed; when the amount of money spent dips too much into disposable income; when violence or abuse no matter how benign is dished out; when it is seen as an out to whatever personal or social problems persist. For some people the response to any of these experiences is to have another drink.

The problem self-generates.  For some, alcohol is a pitiless addiction.  For too many in my generation and younger alcohol and its misuse is a social contagion.  We egg each other on and poke fun at the hapless incidents. 

Abstaining from alcohol is not a solution for everybody.  I set myself this challenge to see what it was like.  Because alcohol was a weekly ritual it was difficult at first. My mind relied on its calming effects after a long week and mentally I had to adjust. Because I am a busy person it was easier for me to quash boredom without it (having boredom and no purpose is a big issue for many in Alice Springs).

Exercise helped me, as did a healthy addiction to coffee.  What I realised from quitting is that there is so much to life and its abundance that other interests can easily replace alcohol, so long as a kind of semi-dependency caused by years of use is overcome.  Without the after-effects my mind and body is better without it.

To others in my generation I hope these messages resonate.

11
Sep
09

My experiences with media

Since my involvement with local government one of the most interesting experiences is media engagement.  This is because instead of being an observor or reader I’m embroiled in it.  A lesson I’ve learnt of late (mid Aug 2010) is that I can advocate a certain position concerning policy development, and in the process use precious time and know that I’m using (and drawing down) trust and authority from others, and have that position completely undermined by media.  It is very frustrating because it makes me question the efforts of good people around me.  The challenge in Alice Springs is that newsworthy stories are often split on racial lines.  Journalists are tempted to drive these splits because it serves their purpose.  Ethics often becomes irrelevant.  Having observed closely the misconceptions fuelled directly from media stories too often I see this as a big issue for the direction of the town (but an issue that is very hard to address mainly because elected members at any level should never hold media to account).   

The following is a list of experiences that I update only after a long length of time passes…

In a letter to the editor I submitted the words ‘As an urban Indigenous person’ and then proceeded to criticise the playing of the race card by a prominent Alice Springs person.  The newspaper changed the ‘as’ to ‘to’, completely changing the meaning and context of the letter.  My intention was to start where I’m coming and whilst I have no problem referring to my circumstances as ‘urban’ I certainly would not refer to others the same way because everyone has a different angle.  One word can change the whole context.  This experience made me lose all faith in the idea of writing letters to the editor.    

When I was first elected a local journalist asked me about what it meant to have two Aboriginal Alderman.  I repeated the lines (because he kept on seeking a different response) that ‘I was proud to be associated with a Council with Alderman from a diverse range of identities and industries’.  I didn’t want to be drawn into a race-based analysis.  The next day my words were printed along the lines of being ‘proud to be’ on a Council with two Aboriginal Alderman and how this would make a big difference (it may have, but I didn’t want to be drawn on it).  This was my first direct experience.  It made an immediate impression.

Following my election as Deputy Mayor I held a lengthy interview where I said a core focus would be to argue for recognition of Local Government in the constitution that evokes Statehood (the document that formalises a new State for the NT).  I said that the new constitution can protect the interests of regions, and Local Government, because of its geographic spread, was one way to do this.  I said that the efforts of Local Government for recognition in the ‘national’ constitution was not worth the time or effort.  The media report said my ambition was for recognition of Local Government in the ‘national’ constitution.  Subsequent media reports made similar claims.  These articles were directly against the message I gave, they were the direct opposite.

In another media piece an interviewer asked me about my family heritage.  I told him the links.  He wasn’t familiar with those names so I explained more familiar family names that branched from a common ancestor.  I said that those more familiar names are not my direct family and I would prefer the original names I said, my reasoning was to avoid any potential sensitivities and to give him familiar names so he could see how all the families linked up.  When he referred to my family links he said the names I asked him not to. 

On a completely different topic the following is a Stateline interview, my first foray into tv journalism: 

MELINDA JAMES: They’ve been described as racist, unconstitutional and even wacky. Alice Springs Town Council has proposed eighty four new by-laws that have stirred up angry public debate. The by-laws cover a range of issues including a prohibition on people sleeping in the dry Todd River bed, drinking alcohol in public and demonstrating without a permit.

Alice Springs Deputy Mayor John Rawnsley says the aim of the by-laws is to improve the town. I spoke with him earlier today.

MELINDA JAMES: John Rawnsley, welcome to Stateline.

JOHN RAWNSLEY – Deputy Mayor, Alice Springs: Hi Melinda, how are you?

MELINDA JAMES: It’s fair to say that these proposed by-laws have caused quite a stir in Alice Springs, isn’t it?

JOHN RAWNSLEY: Oh look, it’s been twenty years since the by-laws have been revised. Recent changes to the local government act give local councils and shires more powers in relation to creating their own by-laws. This is a big project that were working on, previously we worked on by-laws in relation to trolleys and of course council’s got a lot of great initiatives such as the cash-for-cans scheme amongst one. But, you know, we encourage public discussion in relation to a wide range of issues and so we’ve taken the course of putting these draft by-laws out for public comment.

Continue reading ‘My experiences with media’

21
Jun
09

Op-ed: Alice Springs and alcohol policy

My first printed opinion piece was published in the NT News as a follow up to my commitment to quit alcohol for one year.  I was grateful for the opportunity.  The piece suggests three policy ideas concerning alcohol in Alice Springs.

Over the fold is a pdf version of my original submission and a scan of the News piece.

The following is my original submission:

As the first from the Generation Y (those born 1980-1995) to be elected to a municipal Council in the Territory I was honoured in March this year to be elected Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs. My generation lives within a specific set of circumstances and I am obliged to advocate reform with this in mind. In my new role my first decision was to quit alcohol for one year.

My main motivation is to set an example. If the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends no more than 4 standard drinks on any single occasion then excessive alcohol consumption in the Territory is commonplace. Too often we leave the task of finding solutions to policy makers without realising that it is also us who can build a social and cultural intolerance of alcohol misuse.

(continued over the fold)

Continue reading ‘Op-ed: Alice Springs and alcohol policy’

27
Feb
09

An Important Story

Excerpt from Alice Springs News

By ERWIN CHLANDA

Mark Lockyer says he began drinking at age 12.
At 17 he moved out of Hidden Valley, where he had grown up, so that he wouldn’t remain an alcoholic.
“I didn’t want to die from drinking,” he says.
But his aunty, to whom he was very close, did.
His mother, now an invalid, remained in the squalid town camp, and so he maintained a connection with this source of much anti-social behaviour in Alice Springs.
As a kid he himself was an occasional player, roaming the town in gangs of six to a dozen kids, “from the camps, the bush and urban kids” – stealing hard liquor, “bottles of grog, rum, vodka” – and food from bottle shops and supermarkets.
Mark’s mother lives in an exceptionally neat house amongst the Hidden Valley mayhem.
It’s 3.30pm on Friday.
Most able-bodied adults in Alice are still at work, but across the road, in a freshly renovated house, painted in garish blue colours, the daily drinking party is getting into full swing.
There are about two dozen young men and women, many already under the weather.
The scene outside leaves little to the imagination about what the interior would look like, recently refurbished at taxpayers’ expense.
Says Mark: “There are already graffiti, smashed doors and windows.
“It’s almost back where it started, trashed.
“There are 15 to 20 people, beds, mattresses, beer cans all over the yard, 12 year old girls drinking and smoking dope.”

(continued here.)




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