Mayor’s challengers take shots at one another

Damien Ryan rejects branding as a ‘Labor man’




Many might think that the four challengers to Mayor Damien Ryan have entered into a strategic alliance to oust him. Not so, says Steve Brown, going so far as to criticise the capabilities of his main rival in the conservative camp, Alderman Eli Melky.

Ald Melky refrains from doing the same, even copping on the chin Mr Brown’s criticism of his being “green” (in the sense of young and inexperienced) and “muddled”. But Ald Melky says Mr Brown and Dave Douglas, neither of whom have served on council, will face the same challenges as he did 12 months ago, when he was elected following a by-election. His advantage over them now is that he understands council processes, including what goes on “behind closed doors”: “I entered a new and hostile environment, there were many things to learn. I’ve certainly improved,” he says.

“Having a mayor with no experience on council is not what Alice Springs needs. And as little as I have, it’s more than they have.”

He says Mr Brown and Mr Douglas have not really tried to familiarise themselves with council business, in contrast to his own efforts over three years before he stood for election, when he was often a visitor in the public gallery of the council chamber.

“The town knows what I stand for, they know how hard I try. I’m younger, fresher and I’ve got positive energy.”

Mr Brown says “political experience” as well as experience of the town and its issues are what counts and that there’s “no comparison” between him and Ald Melky.

“I know the issues and understand the town and its politics intimately. Eli Melky gets himself muddled and confused. He sees himself as on my side of politics, he listens to what I say and says the same things himself but he doesn’t know how I’ve arrived at my decisions, so he gets mixed up. His heart is in the right place but he doesn’t know how to put up a good argument.

“If he sticks around for a few more years he’ll become a good candidate.”

If it were to come down to years on council, Samih Habib Bitar would have it all over any of them, with his 12 years as alderman behind him.

Habib Bitar has ‘no plan’, says Melky

But “he hasn’t got a plan,” says Ald Melky, even as he declares appreciation of their friendship.

“He’s relying on that 12 years and the law and order issue.

“But he’s also making a point of his dissatisfaction with the mayor.”

Mr Brown characterises Ald Habib Bitar’s candidacy as “a protest” but suggests that he’s not good at selling himself, which may come down to “a communication difficulty”.

He does he distinguish himself from Dave Douglas? He too was very active in the lobby group, Action for Alice, and indeed was their pre-selected candidate for mayor in the last election before changing his mind.

“I’m stronger, tougher and harder,” says Mr Brown.

But if Mr Douglas were elected, “I’ll be happy – we can work with him, he’s got a different manner, that’s all.”

He is disappointed that another leading Action for Alice figure, candidate for councillor Geoff Booth, is backing Ald Melky for mayor. He says Mr Booth suffers the same drawback as Ald Melky, as a relatively recent arrival in town: “He likes Eli Melky’s politics. He doesn’t know that they have their origin in me.  If he’d thought about Action for Alice, about who got things done, he would have realised that it was me, before Eli Melky came in and tried to manipulate things.”

Some might see Mr Brown as too aggressive and Ald Melky as more moderate at least in manner, I put to him.

“I’m not aggressive, I’m strong. Eli Melky is a loose canon.”

Mr Brown is quite confident of getting the “thinking” person’s vote from the conservative to middle ground. Ald Melky will get the vote from people who respond to “marketing”, he says – “he’s a salesman, he’s good at that”.

Nonetheless, Mr Brown will be happy to see both Mr Booth and Ald Melky on the new council and stresses the united desire of the four to tip Mayor Ryan out, even if there was no advance planning between them on how to do that.

He recognises that cross-preferencing amongst the four challengers will have a strategic effect. If electors follow their how-to-vote cards and put Mayor Ryan last, unless he gains an outright majority of first preference votes, he could be in trouble.

Once Mayor Ryan would have been seen as a conservative, says Mr Brown, but now he’s clearly “Labor’s man” and has lost the support of many who would have voted for him last time.

Mr Brown says Mayor Ryan’s how-to-vote cards are being handed out at pre-polling by Vince Jeisman, candidate for councillor and a figure strongly associated with Labor, both as a party member and as MHR Warren Snowdon’s electorate officer. (In an interview with the Alice Springs News Online, Mr Jeisman makes no bones about his “strong support” for Mayor Ryan.)

He also mentions “letters to the paper” about the campaign from figures employed by the government, including a “department head”: “Once upon a time, that wouldn’t have been allowed.”

He contends that the Labor Government has boosted Mayor Ryan’s campaign by responding “in five minutes” to his recent request for more police to deal with the recent spike in violent and other crime.

Wasn’t that a good thing for the town?

No, says Mr Brown, this stop / start approach to policing is a “bloody disaster”.

He also says Mayor Ryan has “used his role mercilessly to self-promote over the last month”.

Ald Melky too is critical of Labor is “openly promoting” Damien Ryan, as are The Greens. He criticises the party-political affiliations of some candidates, raising the spectre of them running for office in the NT election and so causing a by-election, “abhorrent” for the town.

Conservative voters are “disenchanted” with Mayor Ryan, he says, with the way he has “gone to the left and done a deal to be re-elected”.

Mayor Ryan scoffs at all this. He says, apart from Mr Jeisman,  Ald Brendan Heenan, as well as candidates Chansey Paech and Dianne Logan have all also handed out his how-to-vote cards, as has Kel Davies, husband of Ald Liz Martin.

Ryan suggested preference swap deal with Brown 

He said he approached Steve Brown after the ballot was announced, to do a preference swap deal but it was “rudely rejected”. His how-to-vote reads one to five straight down the ballot paper. Luck of the draw put him at the top and Mr Brown in number two position.

Mr Brown, in a comment on this article (below)  says his rejection was “not rude, just definite”.

He says that in a lengthy question and answer session with all five mayoral candidates on CAAMA radio, Mr Brown could only talk about law and order.”This is a very important election,” says Mayor Ryan. “There is a group of people who are determined to take over but they haven’t given voters an ‘all of community’ vision.”

He agrees “whole heartedly” about its importance for the town but “Stevie does not seem to comprehend that he won’t get to run the police force”.

He defines his relationship with the NT Labor Government as “working diligently to get I can for the town”.

“That doesn’t make me a Labor man. I’m not accountable to them.”

Nonetheless he wants to work with the Australian and NT Governments, at present both Labor, and can’t see how Mr Brown thinks he could do the job without doing the same.

Ald Melky accuses Mayor Ryan of blocking his initiatives without coming up with solutions, naming three in particular – his attempt to have a youth curfew; to raise revenue for council by selling off some parkland; and to have the ‘removal of graffiti’ by-law rescinded.

Mayor Ryan says Ald Melky does not do adequate homework for his motions. He says Ald Melky has never once availed himself of the opportunity to work with the Director of Finance, before coming into council with “an hysterical motion”.

With the NT Government and the Opposition both against a youth curfew, where was the money going to come from for an appropriate facility, he asks. Likewise, where was the money going to come from to remove graffiti throughout the town, if individual property owners were not required to do their bit.

Ald Melky doesn’t do “the serious work”, he just comes up with “wonderful media grabs”. He ‘s also prone to change his position as the wind changes direction, says Mayor Ryan, “he’s a net fisherman looking for votes” in contrast to Steve Brown with whom at least “you can see what he wants”.

Is he worried about the way cross-preferencing from his challengers could play out for him?

“I can’t do anything about that. It will be a decision of the community. It’s important that they think, when they cast their votes, that they need to return a mayor and eight councillors who can work for the whole town.”

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9 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Russell Guy
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I think it’s fair to say that of the four Mayoral challengers, Mr Brown, Mr Melky and Mr Bitar stand opposed to a take-away alcohol sales restriction as an emergency means of restricting excessive alcohol consumption (twice the national average) and its impact on anti-social behavior in Alice Springs.
    A weekly regime, subject to a twelve month trial evaluation, would limit supply and regulate responsible drinking by focusing on pub / club environments, rather than the current irresponsible take-away source, thereby freeing police resources for other areas of crime – but what about you, Mr Douglas?
    Your vision, as stated in Alice Springs News Online advertising is that “council must confront the town’s social issues.” How and what exactly? Would you support present restrictions to remain in place, and a take-away restriction similar to that described above?
    In the interests of voter clarification, and the benefits such a regime would bring to the escalating imprisonment, health and economic costs of alcohol abuse to ratepayers and taxpayers, I would be most grateful for your answers to these questions.

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  2. Russell Guy
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Eli Melky, finally, after a month of total silence, comes to this public forum displaying his Master of Spin credential. His apology is noted, but his “Change for the Better” policies are disastrous.
    The effects of his policy advocacy are failing Territory-wide and Nationally on every indicator, imprisonment, health and economics. A vote for the Melky change will result in higher taxation and fees. Restriction of supply by implementation of an emergency take-away alcohol sales regime, subject to a tweleve month trial evaluation, is the first change Alice needs if it is to show any social improvement.
    Eli Melky is a prosperity by law and order salesman, who would rather attack the failings of the Mayor than argue the detail of his so-called “change for the better” policy. Spin, silence and failure to answer reasonable questions on notice, are nothing new in politics and neither are Mr Melky’s darkly constructed policies. They are old, tried and have failed to arrest the death count.
    Don’t waste your vote. There are plenty of others, including newcomers who support a take-away alcohol sales restriction as a primary means of regulating responsible consumption and restoring some order to the social chaos.

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  3. Eli Melky
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Dear readers, I wish to take this opportunity to publicly apologise to my dear friend and fellow alderman Mr. Samih Habib Bitar for the comments attributed to my response in the above article. Samih has been a loyal and humble servant to this town for over 12 years and for him to stand again is great news for this town. In the correct context my comments should have reflected that Samih does have a plan which is to stand up for the town and highlight this current mayor’s failings during the past four years. It was unfortunate that I did not provide the writer with more details and for that I apologize. I am looking forward to being elected along with Samih in whatever capacity so that we can continue to represent the people of Alice Springs, working together. We make a good team so on March 24 send us both back in and let us work for you. Sincerely, Ald Eli Melky.

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    I really did mean that as a bit of light relief. A magic briefcase and a determined pigeon? Can’t we just enjoy the animation?
    But to return to the serious, I don’t think there is anything myopic about focusing on law and order in Alice Springs today. On Friday night’s 7:30 report, the outgoing Mayor of Katherine suggested that if things continued to deteriorate in her town, it could become as ordinary as Alice Springs.
    While that’s not a direct quote, it is true that we are not looking good right now.
    And it’s a lack of law and order that’s doing it.
    We’re on a slide, and the election on Saturday is a chance to arrest it. Choose wisely, but there’s nothing to fear in being bold.

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  5. Janet Brown
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Just been to yippie centre and noticed Damian Ryan has inserted a printed by his camera shop over the printed by Adelaide company is this a breach of copy right act?

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  6. Steve Brown
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Editor, I’m not sure why you have highlighted my supposedly rude rejection of Damien’s preference offer but I wish to assure you and the readers that at no time have I ever been rude to Damien Ryan.
    I don’t dislike the man I don’t harbor any ill feelings towards him. I simply disagree with the manner in which he has carried out the mayoral role. My rejection of his offer may not have left much room for discussion but it was not rude, my words were: “I’m sorry Damien but I’m afraid my preferences have already been allocated.” That is word for word what I said to him, not rude, just definite.

    ED – “Rudely rejected”is an direct quote from Damien Ryan. His offer of a preference swap deal is newsworthy in the context of the campaign. We have now adjusted the highlighted sub-heading and referred to your response in the article.

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  7. Steve Brown
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    There are few if any that have my overall broad brush of experience, practical expertise, history of association and general knowledge of Alice Springs, what makes it tick, and more importantly what could make it tick a lot better. If you take the trouble to look back through the archives of this publication you would find many many articles, letters from myself and the Advance Alice movement that started and or pushed for projects such as the Kilgariff subdivision, the shifting of the power station to the Brewer Estate and many many other concepts or changes to law and regulation. Yet I choose to push almost as a single issue in my Mayoral Campaign, Law and Order! Why do I do that?? Because it is not possible to build a strong healthy town on rotten foundations! Law and Order until we can get it under some semblance of control, is the all consuming issue! Alice Springs is losing its locals, losing its knowledge base, losing its history. The previously largest industry, Tourism, is reduced to a mere declining shadow of its former glory. We can’t get staff, property prices are collapsing, business is closing – why??? Because of Law and Order break-ins, bashings, robbery, but most of all because of a loss of security. People no longer feel safe here! They don’t feel safe to raise their families here. To make Alice the successful, growing, prosperous town, that is my intent, we have to first change that! Castles are built upwards from their foundations, so are towns! Law And Order is the foundation of any town worth residing and investing in, if we can’t provide that we won’t be needing roads, rates and rubbish, just someone to turn the light out.

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  8. Jason Quin
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I second that. If we want representation of the Alice Springs community, then tune into Hal’s link and seriously consider this pitch for council. We are living in times where change is accelerating and a forward looking team in council is essential. Simply focusing on law and order shows political myopia.

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  9. Hal Duell
    Posted March 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    This year’s municipal elections have generated a degree of interest that is promising for the healthy future of our Town Council. It’s good to see so many in Alice Springs expressing their interest, but perhaps not so good to read some of the more rancorous comments.
    In the interest of providing a bit of light relief in the midst of all this earnest electioneering, I offer the following link with the suggestion that you turn the sound up and use a full screen.

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