Tuesday, January 19, 2010

From town hall to corner pub – a 1,300 km stumble

Supposed Laverton, WA loan shark Sam Tomarchio sure has a big territory for his business – all the way from Kalgoorlie to Alice Springs, according to the Oz’s Paige Taylor. This is despite Tomarchio expressly ruling out a Kalgoorlie customer base in the same story: “The ones here [in Laverton, 250 km* NNE of Kalgoorlie] are a different breed to the ones down in Kalgoorlie . . . they’re relatively half-honest” (same URL).

In fact, it appears that most of Tomarchio’s Laverton customers are visiting from the Ngaanyatjarra lands, which centre on Warburton, a dry community 500km NE of Laverton. It is possible, although I doubt it, that the one-pub town of Laverton also acts as a magnet for penurious visitors all the way east from Warburton to Alice Springs, a further 800km north-east. My strong suspicion is that Tomarchio would have even choicer words on the inadvisability of money lending to the Indigenous residents of Alice Springs than those of Kalgoorlie.

In a context quite removed from Tomarchio’s business, however, Paige Taylor’s Alice Springs reference is not without striking relevance to just about any Ngaanyatjarra story – the Ngaanyatjarra Council and Ngaanyatjarra Health Service are both based in Alice Springs, despite that town being almost 1,000km from Warburton by road, and in another jurisdiction. I should note here that while Ngaanyatjarra Council does many things, it is not a local government body – the Warburton-based Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku is this, and so strictly-speaking, Warburton’s “town hall” is indeed in Warburton.

Why Ngaanyatjarra Council and Ngaanyatjarra Health Service – which presumably ruled out Warburton as a base on the grounds of remoteness – did not settle instead for Laverton, Leonora, or Kalgoorlie (towns in ascending order of both urbanity and distance, but all closer to Warburton than is Alice Springs) is more than an administrative quirk. Laverton, vis a vis Ngaanyatjarra locals, is in a governmental blind-spot, despite its obvious importance as Warburton’s closest, by far, unrestricted (c.f. Yulara) alcohol outlet.

It is not surprising, therefore, that with so much Ngaanyatjarra alcohol-enabled dysfunction necessarily exported to Laverton – way, way removed from Alice Springs, a town with plenty of alcohol-enabled dysfunction of its own – Sam Tomarchio should emerge as the implied Fagin/boss of this alcoholic underworld (the details of which are politely – I would say cynically – left unspoken by Paige Taylor).

Also unsurprising is that Tomarchio’s two main apparent enemies are the Laverton police and the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku (the Warburton-based one). Both have evidently exceeded their respective mandates in their eagerness to “get” Tomarchio. Damian McLean, the Ngaanyatjarraku shire president “has succeeded in encouraging more than 100 Aborigines to cancel their bank cards and default on their loans” (same URL), while “Laverton Police believe Mr Tomarchio’s actions are immoral” (WTF?) and claim that “because of Mr Tomarchio, trouble occurs any night of the week and not just on the days when Centrelink money arrives” (both same URL). The latter appears to be an argument in favour of epic binge-drinking; if so, Paige Taylor has sorely disappointed us by not getting a Tomarchio-esque direct quote from the police-officer concerned on why Ngaanyatjarra locals are better drinkers on a once-a-fortnight basis only.

Meanwhile, the Alice Springs-based Ngaanyatjarra Health Service – which would see to be the logical chief advocate for shutting down a business accused of preying on its vulnerable patients – seems to just sit on the media sidelines, so muddying the real issue. Tomarchio’s lending business undoubtedly has a predatory side, but it is hard to imagine what shutting it down might actually do to improve Laverton’s alcohol-based health crisis. In other words, Tomarchio is just a bit-player, but a convenient scapegoat on the wrong side of Warburton from Alice Springs.

In any event, Tomarchio’s lending business now appears to be finished – with $100,000 in bad debt, and every indication from WA police brass that there will be no further inquiries on this front (same URL). Although Tomarchio’s modus operandi – of taking custody of his customer’s physical ATM cards and PINs – seems sordid, it is a much riskier way of ensuring payment that the more usual payday-lending method – a direct-debit authority. Tomarchio’s “security” can be quickly made worthless by a phone call to the bank’s lost-and-stolen card hotline (no change/closure of account required), while cancelling a direct-debit authority requires written notice to the bank, and even then, sometimes continuing liability regardless (I have heard of money being direct-debited from closed accounts, i.e. the former account-holder being billed the amount).

Also, belatedly trying to do some Tomarchio-scapegoating, or if not, Trojan-horsing, is Centrelink, which “is preparing to recommend to Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin that income management be introduced in the region [whatever that means] as a means of reducing Mr Tomarchio’s access to Aborigines’ welfare payments” (same URL). Meaning that, as with the current (since 2007) Commonwealth Northern Territory Intervention, up to 50 per cent of Centrelink payments would be quarantined for food and essentials. Shifting the Northern Territory Intervention over the border into WA (or parts thereof, presumably) of would be a big step in some ways. In other ways, though, it would merely ratify the status quo – that the current “Alice Springs-model”, of top-heavy, remote governance of a constituency in a downward spiral of dysfunction, is a dangerous and contagious disease, transmissible over 1,300km without even an Alice bureaucrat’s finger being lifted.

* Unless otherwise indicated, all distances are approximate and as-the-crow-flies.

See also : A long, long way from Patjarr – the death in custody of Mr Ward (18 June 2009)

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