NT declares all of Victoria a COVID-19 hotspot as Qantas passengers head to Howard Springs



A planeload of passengers from Melbourne have been sent into supervised quarantine at Howard Springs after flying into Darwin about 15 minutes after the NT government’s latest coronavirus restrictions came into force.

The Qantas flight landed at Darwin just before 12:15pm with those on board put on buses to take them to the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

On Wednesday night, Northern Territory Acting Chief Health Officer Charles Pain declared all of regional Victoria a hotspot, which followed last week’s move to declare Greater Melbourne and Bendigo hotspots.

The latest declaration came into force at 12:00pm.

“The declaration follows a continual increase in the number of COVID-19 positive cases being recorded in Victoria with exposure sites expanding across a wider geographical area,” a NT Health statement said.

The statement said anyone who arrived in the NT from Victoria after 12:00pm on Thursday, June 3 must undertake 14 days of supervised quarantine at either the Alice Springs or Howard Springs facilities.

Shane Robinson was waiting at Darwin airport for his 18-year-old daughter, who was making the trip to celebrate his birthday.

He said she would probably have to fly back to Victoria on the next flight, which was extremely disappointing for both of them.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles said the hotspot measure was necessary even though restrictions are set to be eased in regional Victoria overnight.

Dr Pain added the easing of restrictions in regional Victoria would potentially put the NT at greater risk.

But Hospitality NT boss Alex Bruce said the move to declare all of Victoria a hotspot was “disappointing”.

“Making all of regional Victoria excluded from the Territory right now at a time when the Victorian health authorities look like they are actually going to ease some of those rules down there is a question many in our industry are asking,” he said.

The Finke Desert Race runs between June 11-14 while the Darwin Supercars race takes place between June 18-20.

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The welfare dependency disaster – Alice Springs News


COMMENT by ROGER STEELE and DON FULLER

Photo: Queue outside Centrelink office in Alice Springs.

The terrible state of Aboriginal community living standards, particularly in relatively remote regions, shows up starkly in social indicators such as life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, the incidence of disease and increasing levels of violent crime.

These primarily result from a lack of economic development which in turn is largely the result of grossly inefficient and ineffective government programs.

Past emphasis on welfare policies has not led to any improvement even though an estimated 90% of the income of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory comes from the Commonwealth and Territory Governments.

Vast amounts of taxpayer moneys have been spent in a pointless attempt to solve the problems rather than recognise, and act upon, the more complex interrelationships necessary to achieve economic and human development and growth.

Associated with this approach to Aboriginal development is a dependence by governments on welfare arrangements.

Bob Beadman has committed much of his life to trying to improve the social, economic and human condition of Aboriginal peoples living in remote regions. It is a great pity that governments have been far too timid to grasp the nettle, and to try to make things happen, rather than simply watching the disaster unfold.

Mr Beadman has pointed out the need for substantial changes should not be dominated by those with little awareness and knowledge of what it is actually like to live in a remote Indigenous community, but who live in urban centres and cities, for example, with vastly more infrastructure, employment opportunities and sophisticated, developed economic systems. 

In May 2009 the NT Government announced Working Future. This aimed to build on the policies, programs and targets included in national agreements, and identified 20 regional growth towns in the NT, that would be the focus of future human and economic development.

But since that time innovative and responsible policies related to Aboriginal economic development, within remote regions of the Territory, have been badly stalled. This has occurred under all successive governments at both the Federal and Territory levels.

Such failure has led to increasing social dislocation and worsening social indicators in a number of key areas, such as violent crime.

As the then Co-ordinator General for Remote Services, Beadman writing in 2009, was of the view that there is now almost universal acceptance that the “well intentioned plans of … Governments had unforeseen, perverse consequences for the human and economic development of Indigenous Australians, and that change is desperately needed”.

Now, some 12 years later, there has been little change and consequently the living conditions of remote Aboriginals have worsened into a nightmare scenario.

This is very hard to fathom given Australia is a wealthy country with a Christian ethical and cultural tradition of equality and the “fair go”.

Mr Beadman correctly believed that the key to a future where remote communities become regional centres, with all of the amenities found in similar sized towns elsewhere, will be opening them up to private sector investment and business migration.

This would require the leasing of Aboriginal townships to a new entity, which can in turn deal in subleases for businesses.

The key to a future where all residents … will truly be able to choose from the full scope of life’s options will come from pre-schooling, educational attainment, vocational training, work, decent lifestyle practices, decent housing, pride and self esteem. Only then will we begin to see a reversal in the social indicator statistics that depress us all.” (Beadman 2009).

The 2010-18 cohort of Indigenous workers in the Northern Territory who are either unemployed or who have become discouraged and left the labour force is estimated to be 11,000 to 16,000 adults and youths.

The compounding effects of such unemployment upon future generations are likely to be significant in terms of inter-generational dependence upon welfare.

It is likely that there would be little difference in the costs to government of directly funding employment opportunities compared to having Indigenous people in remote towns remain unemployed with high welfare dependency.

Many remote Indigenous communities are deficient in terms of available small enterprises to service their needs. Mr Beadman (2010) refers to this as the enterprise gap.

This is defined as the difference between the number of enterprises a relatively developed community supports compared with those presently operating in an Aboriginal community of the same size.

These include an interest in consumer goods and services e.g. bakeries, laundromats, furniture retailing, meat works, community gardens, tourist accommodation and broader industries including environment management, tourism and forestry.

Governments need to provide proactive assistance in supporting new private sector business start-ups and attract outside interest and investment in business development [forming] joint venture arrangements with Aboriginal people in remote communities.

Concurrent with this employment there needs to be ongoing mentoring and training of Aboriginal people.

The appreciation of the value of such skills was widespread amongst remote Aboriginal people when these communities were jointly managed by the Church and Government.

Given the data available on township populations and an evaluation of per capita incomes, it is possible to estimate the potential expenditure on consumer goods and service businesses that could be sustained in each town.

Any economic development strategy concerned with creating employment opportunities within regional communities should also examine those associated with the public sector and associated government expenditure from recurrent funding and direct grants.

Opportunities are available in areas such as education, health, defence and emergency services, police, justice and local government. Defence and police would seem to offer valuable opportunities for young Indigenous Australians.

Far more attention should be placed on having Aboriginal people contribute to tourism in national parks administered by the Territory government. Currently there appears to be a complete lack of interest and energy by the NT government on utilising these wonderful assets to their full potential.

While programs are available in defence however, none of these appear to be well targeted to remote communities.

This may appear to provide the necessary Aboriginal numbers to the Department of Defence, but does little to contribute to skills formation in employment and human development in regions where it is most needed.

Employment opportunities also exist in larger scale industry developments in proximity to growth towns within the areas of mining, forestry, fishing and pastoral development – for example.

There currently exists a relatively large, under-utilised workforce in regional and remote communities of the Northern Territory. This is despite a number of important industries such as tourism experiencing severe labour shortages.

Mr Beadman identified the growing tendency for people to opt out of available work in favour of remaining on welfare. He found it was not just jobs that were being declined, but also generous training opportunities provided by governments to get people job ready. Despite non-compliance there appear to be no, or very few penalties applied.

The complexity of the provisions of the Land Rights Act has severely blocked the use of extensive Aboriginal holdings of land for commercial and employment purposes. Aboriginal owned land now constitutes around 50% of the total land area of the NT. 

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act requires the land trust administering the land to be directed by the Land Council. The Land Council is then required to satisfy itself that the traditional Aboriginal owners understand the nature of the proposed transaction and consent to it.

Given the political polarisation which has occurred within Land Councils this has often meant that it is almost impossible to receive the necessary approval from Land Councils to use Aboriginal Land for commercial purposes.

Where approval has been provided it is often for such a short period of time and with such restrictions that potential joint venture investors and financiers, such as banks, are forced to walk away.

Those not represented adequately within the power structures of Land Councils often claim that their requirements for the use of their land for commercial purposes do not receive due regard by Land Councils.

Consider for example, the excellent cases discussed by Beadman.

“Imagine the difficulties for some bright person in the middle of Arnhemland wanting to begin, say, an exotic tropical fruit orchard on a shared equity arrangement with their old trading partners from Sulawesi.

“The entire area of Arnhem land comprising 89,872 square kilometres, and the offshore islands comprising another 5,956 square kilometres, is held by one Aboriginal land trust.

“The function of the land trust is to hold title to the land, and act on a direction from the Land Council (the land trust has no power to act on its own accord).

“The functions of the Land Council are to have regard to the interests of, and shall consult with, the traditional Aboriginal owners (if any) of the land, and any other Aboriginals interested in the land,” said Mr Beadman.

“In other words the Land Council, not the traditional owners, decides.

So the person wanting to start the orchard on part of the land would require the grant of a lease from the land trust, acting on a direction from the Land Council, after consultation with the traditional owners and others, and the Commonwealth Minister’s consent has been obtained.

Needless to say, not many Aborigines seek to pursue business, given this discouragement on the top of the threat to their welfare payments.

“Then there is the difficulty of identifying which of the many Government agencies manages the program to help Aboriginal enterprises such as this, given that they seldom advertise their programs, and are even less likely to move around the bush and consult with proponents.

“If one does progress to this stage the 40 or 50 page application form for the grant or loan generally finishes them off!”

It is clear that what was originally well intentioned policy, designed to protect Aboriginal ownership of their land, has in fact worked against the interests of Aboriginal people.

These overly restrictive provisions of the legislation need to be streamlined substantially.

There is an urgent need for a more informed administration of welfare within communities in conjunction with taking up employment and training opportunities. Aboriginal people must be reawakened to the value of work.

Pastor Paul Albrecht AM, born and raised at Hermannsburg west of Alice Springs,  explained his view of the tragedy: “The nihilistic philosophy I saw creeping in among Aboriginal youths in the latter years of my ministry (he retired in 1998) in Central Australia was quite alarming.

“Many could see no future for themselves, in either the traditional or the modern world, and so, among other things, were quite deliberately drinking themselves to death.

“It seems to me, if we have given Aborigines land simply so they have somewhere to exist while living off welfare payments and royalty monies, while they are vaguely engaged in something called self determination, or is it self management, then we haven’t progressed beyond the old policy of Smoothing The Dying Pillow.”

Roger Steele was a founding member of the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory. He held a number of key Ministerial portfolios in government. Prior to politics he managed a number of cattle stations, working with Aboriginal people in remote regions.

Don Fuller grew up in Darwin, forming wide relationships with the Tiwi and Aboriginal people of the Territory. He holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Adelaide and became professor and Head of Business and Law at Charles Darwin University. He also was an economic and policy adviser to Country Liberal Party governments.

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Victoria weighs up quarantine village similar to NT’s Howard Springs facility


Flexibility and adaptability will be the key for the proposed Victorian quarantine village, the architect of the Northern Territory’s model says.

Premier Daniel Andrews is considering establishing a version of the Howard Springs quarantine facility.

James Dorrat, is the technical director at Aecome, which designed the Manigurr-ma gas plant workers’ village in Howard Springs outside Darwin in 2012.

James Dorrat says the village could be used after the COVID-19 threat subsides.(

Supplied: Aecom

)

“It is motel-style accommodation and so keeps people distant,” he said.

“It can be used long-term as a recreation or tourist part, a camp facility for educational institutions, or for gradual integration into the local surrounding community.

“Our brief was specific at the time, but we also designed the flexibility and adaptability into it.

Looking ahead

Mr Dorrat said a similar design would not take long to produce, but offsite manufacturing and installing underground infrastructure would be time consuming.

“It’s not a case of just plonking things on the ground and hoping for the best,” he said.

“After this pandemic, the village could be used for things like bushfires, or other accommodation to provide a life for the village.”

Howard Springs’ $400 million village features self-contained “suburbs” with courtyards, parks and breezeways.

It also has a pub, a fully equipped sports centre with gym, pitches, courts, swimming pools and a jogging track.

The award-winning 67-hectare Manigurr-ma Village, 20km east-southeast of Darwin, was completed by Laing O’Rourke in 18 months in August 2013.

It was used to house some 3,500 workers who were building the $34 billion Inpex-Total Ichthys LNG onshore facility on Darwin Harbour.

The village was vacated in 2019 and was handed over to the NT government just before the pandemic hit.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Brett Sutton at a COVID-19 press conference.
Daniel Andrews, seen here with Brett Sutton, is weighing up a quarantine facility for Melbourne.(

ABC News

)

Mr Andrews said he was weighing up a facility near Melbourne’s airports.

“People would be in the same location but would not be sharing the same spaces, so they’re not under the same roofline,” he said.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said something akin to the Howard Springs village would be “fantastic”.

“An open-air setting with a real distance between rooms is … what we’d all love to see,” he said.

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Telstra troubles in Alice – Alice Springs News


By OSCAR PERRI

Telstra is continuing its efforts to build a mobile phone tower to service areas south of The Gap with an NTCAT challenge to a decision blocking the construction.

Plans to build a 30 metre high monopole on private land in Ilpara were denied by the Development Consent Authority (DCA) in December last year.

The DCA judged that the benefits to the community that the tower would provide did not outweigh the damage to the “character and amenity” of the area that it would cause.

There were 33 public submissions noted in the meeting, including 14 objections and 17 in support, with objectors against the impact of the tower on local views, and supporters eager for an increase in wireless coverage and access to better services.

In January Telstra began a challenge to have the decision overturned at NTCAT, with the next hearing scheduled to go ahead after June 25.

Meanwhile Telstra has been given the second highest penalty ever imposed under Australian Consumer Law on Thursday.

The ACCC instituted the Federal Court proceedings against Telstra for admitted unconscionable conduct in November last year.

The Federal Court handed down a $50m fine after findings that five Telstra stores, including one in Alice Springs, engaged in unconscionable conduct towards Aboriginal customers.

Telstra admitted that from 2016-18 sales staff signed up 108 consumers, around 30% in Alice, to multiple post-paid mobile contracts which they did not understand and could not afford.

The court found that these staff manipulated Telstra’s credit assessment process, misrepresented products as free, and were likely to have received incentive payments for these sales.

The customers all incurred debts in the thousands, one up to $19,524, some of which were sold to third party debt collectors.

It is unclear which of these practices occurred in Alice Springs.

Telstra would not disclose details about specific individuals or changes at an individual store level, but have announced that all previously independently licensed stores, as was the case in Alice Springs, have now transitioned to full Telstra control.

“I want to apologise to all of the Indigenous customers affected by this. I am deeply and personally disappointed that we have let you down. We should have listened more carefully. We should have been more attuned to what was happening. We should have picked this up earlier.”

Telstra CEO Andrew Penn said this in a letter announcing a new First Nations hotline and cultural awareness training and a new Indigenous policy statement.

The findings say responsible managers within the relevant arms of Telstra became “increasingly aware” of the practices, but this did not extend to the board and senior executives.

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Good morning, Alice Springs – Alice Springs News


Alice to get more internet speed

Alice Springs and close-by suburbs Araluen, Braitling, Ciccone, Desert Springs, East Side, Gillen, Ilparpa, Larapinta, Ross, Sadadeen and The Gap are getting “ultrafast internet…

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Howard Springs prepares for travel from India to resume



This service may include material from Agence France-Presse (AFP), APTN, Reuters, AAP, CNN and the BBC World Service which is copyright and cannot be reproduced.

AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

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Youth bail laws strengthened – Alice Springs News


LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Today’s Youth Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 will strengthen bail laws, expand prescribed offences and give more powers to police through electric monitoring.

Family Responsibility Agreements will be court ordered and will make sure families are accountable and provide a home environment that does not contribute to youth offending.

Judges will be able to order families of troubled youths to participate in family group conferencing and counselling, education or training, housing management and financial counselling or on-country programs.

If a young person commits a serious breach of bail it will be revoked and they will be taken into remand. A serious breach of bail will include re-offending while on bail, breaching certain electronic monitoring conditions and curfew, failure to attend court, and failing to complete youth diversion.

No presumption of bail will be given to offences such as unlawful entry, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, assault of a worker, assault of police and other serious offences.

Judges will have information on breaches of bail.

Young people behind the wheel of a car can be breath tested the same as adults when driving. Amendments will remove the requirement of a responsible adult being present for a breath-test to occur.

If a young offender fails to complete their diversion, they will have to go back before the courts and have their case reconsidered.

Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Nicole Manison.

PHOTO Labor Party.

 

UPDATE 1.20pm

An alliance known as the Justice Reform Initiative has written an open letter to the Chief Minister and Opposition Leader saying the policies are misguided and will only increase the level of incarceration and crime: “The experience of incarceration, even for very short periods including on remand increases the likelihood of further offending,” the letter says.

The alliance includes Pat Anderson AO, human rights advocate; Richard Coates, former magistrate; Ted Egan AO, singer songwriter and former Administrator of the Northern Territory; Olga Havnen, Danila Dilba Health Service in Darwin; Tom Pauling AO QC, former magistrate, Solicitor-General and NT Administrator; and Robert Tickner AO, former Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister.

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NT senator warns over Howard Springs staff


A federal government senator has cast doubt on Scott Morrison’s promise to expand the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine centre.

The prime minister has pledged to lift the capacity from 850 to 2000 beds this month in a move crucial to allowing repatriation flights from India to restart.

The NT government has recruited 160 of the 400 staff it needs to manage Howard Springs when it takes over from the federal AUSMAT team now in charge.

NT Nationals senator Sam McMahon believes the capacity “absolutely can’t” be lifted to 2000 beds because of the staffing shortage.

“It would be foolish to try and ramp up the facility to 2000 unless the required staff are there,” she told reporters in Darwin on Wednesday.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has warned Australians in India could die as a result of the flight pause, which he recommended was necessary to stop quarantine from being overwhelmed.

Senator McMahon said she had major concerns about transferring responsibility from the AUSMAT team to the NT government.

“It is an extremely well-managed and functioning facility under AUSMAT,” she said.

“But I have received assurances from the Northern Territory government and also from federal minister Greg Hunt that AUSMAT will remain involved as long as they are needed to be involved.”

There are 9000 Australians with 650 considered vulnerable trapped in an agonising wait for the government to lift the travel ban.

Mr Morrison expressed confidence in allowing the NT to take over Howard Springs during a visit to Darwin and surrounds last week.

“We wouldn’t have entered into those arrangements were our expert advisers and medical experts not comfortable,” he said.

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Hundreds return to Dawn Service in Alice Springs



AT Alice Springs Garden Cemetery, the people of Mparntwa, Alice Springs had emerged by first light to commemorate Anzac Day in a new location this year.

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Scott Morrison announces Howard Springs coronavirus quarantine facility will increase capacity


The Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility will soon be responsible for quarantining 15 per cent of all Australians returning on international repatriation flights.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility would expand to accept 2,000 returned Australians a fortnight, up from 850.

Speaking after National Cabinet, Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth had entered into an agreement with the NT government to expand the workers’ camp.

“That will be done over the next few months,” he said.

“That is an important addition to the capacity of those quarantine facilities, to receive those return chartered flights that Australia has been putting in place for many, many months.”

After Mr Morrison’s announcement, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner revealed the management of the facility would undergo a significant change — with the NT Government taking over both the domestic and international quarantine operations.

“The Territory government will assume management facility from the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth will continue to work hand in glove with us,” he said.

Mr Gunner said merging the domestic and international cohorts “is what the Australian government wanted us to move to [and] we are more than happy to take on that responsibility.”

Currently the NT Health department is responsible for domestic arrivals at the facility from interstate, while international arrivals are managed by the federally-funded National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC).

Mr Gunner would not say how much extra money the Commonwealth was providing to fund the expansion.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner is standing in front of a microphone with a serious expression. Behind him is the Australian flag.
Michael Gunner says the NT Government will work to increase the cap on arrivals at the centre.(

ABC News: Michael Franchi

)

Mr Gunner said this decision had been aided by a significant decrease in domestic travellers needing quarantine and that the change would not increase the risk of the virus getting out into the community.

“What we are moving towards is the same model, with many of the same people involved, but a clearer governance structure and clear certainty of who is accountable for what,” he said.

NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said police had long favoured consolidating operations into “a single governance model” and that the removal of federal oversight would not damage operations.

“The infection and control procedures that we have in place are world class and that is held equally in NT Health as it is with the NCCTRC,” he said.

Vista into the sun from a height looking over the fence at the reception and carpark of the village
The former mining workers’ village outside Darwin has been taking 850 arrivals a fortnight.(

ABC News: Michael Franchi

)

“NCCTRC play an incredibly important service to the rest of the country and to international hotspots when they are called upon. We want to make sure that their ability respond is not dulled.”

Mr Gunner said the expansion of the facility would be a “huge logistical job” and that work would begin immediately.

“We have agreed to this expansion because we know Howard Springs can play a larger role for the nation without compromising the safety of Territorians.”

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Inside the Howard Springs quarantine facility

Mr Gunner said the workforce at the centre would need to increase from over 100 to 500.

“A recruitment drive will start this month, and new staff will start and be mobilised from May,” he said.

More than 4,600 international arrivals have quarantined at the Howard Springs quarantine facility since repatriation flights to the Northern Territory began on October 23.

The former workers’ village housed Australians evacuated from Wuhan and the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship before it began taking on Australians returning on federal government-organised repatriation flights.

The village was vacated in 2019 and was handed over to the NT government just before the pandemic hit.

There have been 67 positive COVID-19 cases identified at the facility since flights began last year.

There have been no cases of community transmission in the Territory, with all cases related to international or interstate travel.

Mr Gunner also confirmed that the vaccine roll-out in the Northern Territory was on track, with 1,840 frontline health workers inoculated so far and more than 2,200 vaccines delivered in total.

He said the NT government would receive its first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines next week and would begin administering doses immediately.

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