Is the town over all the talk?

ABOVE: Room half full or half empty – the small turn-out for the mayoral Q&A suggests the town’s flagging interest in all the talk. A few more than shown did arrive. Councillor candidate Matthew Campbell in the front row is not sleeping – in fact he was the first to arrive – we just caught him during a blink.  BELOW RIGHT: Mayor Ryan and challengers (from left) Steve Brown, Eli Melky, Samih Habib Bitar, Dave Douglas.

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

Alice seems to be getting sick of talking. Last night’s mayoral candidate question & answer session was a lacklustre affair and poorly attended. If candidates’ family and friends, councillor candidates and media had been removed, the Andy McNeill Room would have been three-quarters empty.

The five candidates outlined their campaign message with no surprises. Steve Brown, candidate for mayor and councillor, was the one to come closest to making a speech intended to inspire, nominating the town’s biggest single issue as “social inclusion” – a term usually coming from those who would count themselves as his opponents.

To offer residents of remote communities and town camps a way into our community is the “burning issue” for Alice Springs, he said. He said the situation where there would be children “unfed on the streets tonight” was “not good enough”. And all that has been done so far hasn’t adequately addressed the situation.

The only way to build inclusion is to have one set of laws for everybody to live by, he argued.

In his allocated five minutes he didn’t have time to detail what he would do to achieve this but he acknowledged that it would be “very complex”. In his brief conclusion he emphasised the need for a new youth club or centre, a point also made in his campaign materials.

A future biennial festival, Yeperenye style? 

Mayor Damien Ryan in his five minutes said creating community events makes the community more “inclusive”, and that council is not given enough credit for its program of events. In its next term council should work on having more, he said. In collaboration with Indigenous elders they could include a biennial Yeperenye-style desert festival, which could be taken to world tourism markets.

In his speech Alderman Samih Habib, running for mayor or seeking return as a councillor, had criticised (mainly for causing the loss of local jobs) the move of CCTV monitoring to Darwin. Mayor Ryan defended the move, saying that it had led to more convictions in the first two months after the move than it had in the preceding 14 months while monitored in Alice Springs. Mayor Ryan said CCTV needs to be extended and particularly to have wireless capacity so that it can focus on hot spots where they spring up.

He mentioned the development of the Regional Waste Facility as a key achievement of the 11th Council.

Asked from the floor about recycling of wine and spirit bottles, which are excluded from the NT Government’s Cash for Containers scheme, Mayor Ryan said they can be recycled at the landfill now and his aim is to have collection receptacles for them placed around town.

Mayor Ryan promised “good governance” in a future council he would lead, stressing as a final remark the need for people to “work together as a team”.

He was questioned from the floor by councillor candidate Aaron (Charlie) Dick (pictured) about his plans for future youth programs. Mr Dick said he was “very disappointed” by council’s work in this area over the last year.

Mayor Ryan referred to the youth forum three years ago “which didn’t go a long way”. But renewed interest in forming a youth council has come from young people involved in the Desert Knowledge youth leadership program, he said.

Ald Habib Bitar said the town must fight centralisation of government functions and jobs; he said government funding should be on a per capita basis – this would be “fair”.

His claims regarding law and order were certainly broad brush: the police “in this town” have “no power and no resources” and “we pay the price”.

Ald Eli Melky, also having a tilt at the top job or seeking return as a councillor, said council can do more than implement by-laws when it comes to law and order. It could be better addressed with the relevant bodies including the Chief Minister. Council has not been doing this to “maximum” effect, he said.

His position on a “bedtime curfew” for youth had been misrepresented as “ripping them off the streets and throwing them into gaol”, he said without going into further detail.

He was given the opportunity to return to this theme by Paul Lelliott who, from the floor, questioned the effectiveness of the numerous government agencies involved in the youth field.

Ald Melky highlighted the problem of youth services being unable to detain a child if the child wanted to leave and called for the consolidation of services: funding should be channelled to reputable services who get better results, he said.

Mayor Ryan on this issue pointed to the effectiveness of the calendar of activities in the recent summer holidays, organised by youth services and supported by council. The Community Action Plan, which he co-chairs, is pushing to have such a calendar for every school holiday period, he said.

Council must talk with youth

Councillor candidate John Reid said council must talk with youth, not just about them and pointed to the way Port Augusta council has been able to involve its youth in decision-making.

Mr Brown said council has to take a “central role” in youth issues: “Alice Springs has to take ownership of its own children.”

This shouldn’t be left to a bureaucrat in the NT Government, he said, taking  a broad swipe at youth services and police juvenile diversion programs.

Ald Habib Bitar harked back to the days of Aranda House when it was a place where vulnerable youths could spend the night. He wanted to know how many beds are available at the Youth Hub.

Ald Liz Martin, who is seeking re-election, said from the floor while the meeting was on this theme, that the reality is that council will need “to deal more and more with our remote communities”.

“We must embrace that for our future. If we fight it, we’ve got no future,” she said.

Ald Melky in his introductory speech said the pressure on ratepayers needs to be reduced, while council needs more resources to keep up with things as simple as keeping the verges mown.

Judy Buckley (pictured) from the floor challenged the suggestion that rates could be cut, saying she is stunned at what council achieves with its $31 million budget, comparing it with the $33 million budget of Victoria’s second largest high school where she worked before retiring to Alice.

Candidate for mayor and councillor Dave Douglas painted a picture of a much safer Alice 30 years ago when he first came to town. You could leave the Stuart Arms and walk down the street “with no trouble at all – now you can’t do that”.

This was challenged from the floor by Graham Buckley, referring to headlines from the period that showed the same concerns about anti-social behaviour existed then. Kel Davies from the floor made a similar point.

If he were mayor, Mr Douglas would not take “second best from Darwin”. He also complained of government centralisation, with Alice left behind as the “very, very poor cousin”.

He spoke of getting a lot more recycling happening, including of industrial waste, and of having “a go” at getting a second airline into Alice. But he returned to the safety of citizens and visitors as his main concern: you give the squeaky wheel the most oil and he’ll be “squeaking like hell” to government for the funding to ensure more effective law and order.

Tackling alcohol-fuelled violence

Ald Melky was questioned from the floor by councillor candidate Chansey Paech about his stance on alcohol restrictions – he advocates their removal – and how he would fight the violence fuelled by alcohol.

Ald Melky says he starts at home by not drinking alcohol himself but he can’t accept the restriction on trade of a legal product and claimed it does nothing to reduce consumption.

At the same time he acknowledged the problem of alcohol-related crime and said “give me a solution”.

Mayor Ryan in his concluding remarks emphasised the importance of the Todd Mall redevelopment, specifically of council obtaining the funding to proceed with the second and third stages.

Mr Brown urged that voters keep in mind that this election precedes the Legislative Assembly election in August. The lead-up will be an important time to lobby government, he said, to redress the neglect that Alice has suffered.

Ald Melky stressed the importance of elected members raising awareness of issues in the community as they can rely on council’s administration to effectively run “roads, rates and rubbish”.

Mr Douglas said he wants people to get behind the town which he’d like to see prosper and grow to a population of 50,000 over the next 10 years.

Ald Habib Bitar said he likes to be “part of the people and being on council you are” as council is “the voice of the people”: “If the voice is not strong enough, we get nowhere.”

The biggest round of applause  for the night was reserved for Kate McMaster (pictured), a teacher and 5th generation Territorian, speaking from the floor. She said teachers must deal with negative behaviour in the classroom quickly and firmly, but their focus remains on positive behaviour, building it up with endless feedback. She urged candidates in tackling the issues to start with positive as “it’s poisonous out there at the moment”.

Councillor candidate Edan Baxter had also urged some perspective: Alice is a town of less than 30,000 people, he said – “we’re not rebuilding Iraq”.

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21 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. Kim Petersen
    Posted September 7, 2012 at 10:33 am

    I would like to see all the Aboriginal people looking out, and looking after each other, surely this the key to the progress of their race, then you won’t have young kids playing up, drinking the cheap grog, etc. Also I think most of them are bored, and naturally look for things that may not be the best things to do for them, or the rest of the Territory, as this trouble goes on I would like to say state wide, but that has not got that far, yet. I realize that we have many tribes of the Aboriginal race to negotiate peace with, I suppose we have to keep trying.

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  2. Janet Brown
    Posted March 24, 2012 at 6:40 am

    So Mez it appears that Liz Martin was ill informed of who actually arranged the event. Again it appears the current mayor wants total control even over the organization of a privately arranged event. Damien Ryan knew of the tourism event so Liz needs to discuss the clash with Damien. Not put aspersions in the wrong area. Well today is the day. Not because Steve is my husband and I have known him since he was 16. He is a man of principle and conviction. He will do all he can to stop the train wreck that is currently happening in Alice due entirely to the inability of two mayors who took well to pomp and ceremony and ignored the people of our amazing town. Steve will push for change loudly and Territory and Federal governments will listen. Without Steve at the helm we really will have the same. No voice for Alice – silence is killing us. Fran and Damian both have ignored the plight of our town. The years have not be kind to us. Your vote today will ensure change if your vote is 1 Steve Brown for Mayor.

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  3. Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Apart from the fact that the town really is “over it” I am surprised that no-one has mentioned the clash with Tourism Central Australia’s Mega Walkabout which was well attended right next door in council’s quadrangle. Pretty hard in this town not to clash with other events, I know, but tourism is a vital industry to this town and its future. I had made a previous commitment to attend the walkabout and honoured it, and was pleased to see a few other candidates attend earlier.
    Ah, one more sleep to go!

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  4. Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I noticed many old warhorses at cricket training last night preparing for grand finals. Sorry I wasn’t there to listen.

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  5. Diana Whitehouse
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

    @ Nose Hair posted March 23, 2012 at 10:46 am.
    Yes Nose Hair it is a wonderful site. Are you a new student to the area? Look forward to more comment and perhaps your true name.
    There are serious matters at hand and each day I wonder where are the valued inputs of old warhorses like Chris Tangey, Basil and Derek Schild?
    Cheers,
    Diana Whitehouse.

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  6. Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Whoah, this weblog is fantastic. I love studying your posts.
    Stay up the great work! You already know, a lot of people are looking around for this info, you can aid them greatly.

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  7. Meredith Elliott
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Perhaps the small turnout was because, as I predicted, it was in a council arena and many people were opposed to attending as they felt that it was on the current Mayor’s territory. It was originally organised for a BBQ in an outdoor relaxed area on the lawns of the Long Tan Bar @ the RSL, to not only give some money to the RSL (which has closed its door but to be on neutral grounds). It was requested by the mayor that it be changed to council and the date be changed and as I am a reasonable person I obliged as did the other Mayoral Candidates. Perhaps I / we should not have. Lesson learnt.

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  8. Russell Guy
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 5:46 am

    May the banner of love overshadow you, Janet.

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  9. Diana Whitehouse
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:50 am

    @ Jason Newman, posted March 20, 2012 @ 5:17pm.
    “My lord … The Northern Territory Government and the Alice Springs Town Council have let us down horribly over the past four years.”
    Whilst your sentiments would find broad agreement in the Alice, it also misses by a country mile, the fundamental reason why Alice Springs is facing such a big social problem now.
    Unlike the Alice Springs News, unlike the very popular Alison Anderson and others, our family has opposed the Federal Intervention from day one.
    You cannot inflict such a divisive, permanent policy on towns with extremely fragile social fabrics and even dream of harmony in the long term.
    The best thing about the June 2007 intervention was that it dumped rather promptly on the Howard regime.
    To all the pro-intervention authorities who live in a state of denial about these devastating and wicked policies, it is not all doom and gloom.
    What we create we can undo once we have seen the light. We just have to be humble enough to go back to basics.
    For the Alice it’ll take a bigger backflip than the Cameco Angela Pamela fiasco and a whole lotta love and respect.
    Thankyou,
    Diana Whitehouse

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  10. Hal Duell
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:35 am

    To answer the question in the headline – yup! Let’s vote.

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  11. Bob Durnan
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Are we lost in some surreal episode of an Australian version of Mad Men? Have any of these candidates who want to abolish all the alcohol restrictions of the last few years realised that, if they succeeded, then the cheap wines would be on sale from early in the day at less than a quarter of their current prices? i.e. young people being introduced to grog, including young pregnant women, as well as binge drinkers and people who habitually drink at excessive levels, would all be able to purchase four times as much pure alcohol each pay week or fortnight, compared to what they have been able to buy in recent times. They would be able to buy as many as they can afford of the 5 litre casks full of the cheapest wines in the world. Alice Springs would be awash with a king tide of alcohol, dwarfing what we currently see. There would be much more drunkenness. We would have to put up with far more crime, violence, traffic accidents, foetal alcohol syndrome, vandalism, hospitalisation, imprisonment, chronic disease and bad behaviour than our town presently hosts.
    Think about it, Steve, Eli, Dave, Samih and Geoff.
    You too should think about it, voters.

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  12. Janet Brown
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Russell the banner of stupidity belongs to you.

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  13. Anonymous
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Mr Nelson and Mr Durnan live “in town” not 15km away in White Gums, are keeping an open mind, participating in the nuts and bolts of the CBD on a daily basis and interacting with an eclectic mix of people. Their comments do have credibility and they are not alone. I’d rather put up with our problems than shootings in western Sydney, armed robberies in the Gold Coast or find syringes in sandpits. There are no easy answers to the law and order problems, both sides of government have tried and failed. What does Warren Snowdon do again?

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  14. Russell Guy
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    You don’t need anyone to teach you about delusion, Janet, but as a woman of self-professed “strong Christian faith,” you should be aware of its origin (See 2 Thessalonians. 2: 11).

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  15. Janet Brown
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    We have issues of social chaos. But if you read with conviction you would agree that comments from persons such as Russell Guy, and Alex Nelson you would be right to conclude that they have no ability to empathise with victims of crime. Or is that they just plain don’t give a s**t about the people who live and survive the horrors they have endured. It was similar to Damian Ryan talking up the infrastructure of the town. What infrastructure, I am asking, and still forgetting that our town is made up of people. People who walk the streets run businesses and contribute to the town. It was obvious Mr Ryan does not notice that people live here. And that we are in real danger. He likes the Chief Minister and Alex Nelson would have you believe we have no issues and no social breakdown. Wow those rose coloured glasses. Or is it us. Is all that stuff happening or are we not seeing Alice as they do. Let’s leave it to them to teach us the lessons in delusions.

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  16. Bob Durnan
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks Alex for one of the most rational and sensible contributions to the public debate about these issues that I’ve read in the past 35 years in Alice Springs. I also walk along the Todd on an almost daily basis in the morning or evening, between Mills St and the Taffy Pick Causeway or the Gap, often partly on the sand or on the tracks used by the police and Council workers. Most weekday evenings I also cross the river on foot after sunset between the end of Mills St and the Totem Theatre, walk past the Senior Citizens Centre, through Snow Kenna Park, past the Todd Tavern and down the Mall to Parsons St and check my mailbox at the post office. (Like Alex, I used to sometimes have problems with stray dogs, but I rarely have that problem these days. Also like Alex, I avoid using the Wills Terrace Crossing and its walkway on foot late at night, as I have heard stories about young hooligans attacking people on it a number of times over the years). After checking my post office box I often then visit one of the supermarkets and return home via the Uniting Church lawns and the Mall, crossing the river in the same area.
    I have been walking and bicycling along the river, and crossing it at both day and night times, usually alone, for most of the last 15 years since we bought a place in Mills St. I have never once been assaulted or threatened, by anybody. Like Alex, I often engage in conversations with people I come across who drink, picnic, relax, camp in, argue, fight or otherwise frequent these places. I have more problems with tourists who don’t understand which side of a bicycle path you should use in Australia than I do with anybody else, although I do sometimes get irritated by locals who take up all the path by sitting on it when partying, and the broken glass on these paths can sometimes be a hazard. The presence of far too much litter is a continuing annoyance.
    Last night I walked to and from the meeting in the Andy McNeil room and felt completely safe, although I wouldn’t go near the Bo’s / Rock Bar area late at night on foot, as when working late in an office in that area I have sometimes had apprehensions about the intent of aggressive and heavily intoxicated people in their vicinity. However I think that people like Renee G. (@Posted March 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm) and Dianne (@Posted March 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm) and many others who assume that all our public spaces are going to be unsafe at night should reconsider some of their assumptions. I understand that women often have more reason than men to be apprehensive, but I fail to see why anybody would be scared to attend a meeting in the Alice Springs Town Council buildings at 6.30pm on a Wednesday night under most circumstances.

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  17. russell guy
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    Diane, you’re posting anonymously, but thanks for following my comments and allowing me to have “a go” in return. This “nanny state” business is hard to follow.

    You, Janet and Steve Brown are the only ones to have employed this all encompassing term for an elected government and its officers, who offer to serve and protect its citizens.

    I have no issue with personal responsibility, but I object to out-moded legislation which ill-serves its citizens by legalising an addictive drug, creating dependence, with attendant miseries to the families of victims and those who are set-up to fail at helping them.

    The economic cost to rate and taxpayers can be deduced by primary math and if you’ve been following my comments, you would have seen the widely-collated stats supporting the multi-billion dollar tab per annum. It’s not viable in any sense and reform is gathering pace.

    Welfare reform and substantial economic savings for life-affirming activities is hindered by drip-feed psychosis-inducing alcohol in a system that despite increasing regulation, continues to create social chaos.

    The argument for a take-away restriction regime has been made ad nauseum. If you haven’t familiarised yourself with that argument, then you haven’t been paying attention. At the very least, it would restrict the excessive supply which is proven to be violence-related in areas from domestic to gratuitous crime and self-harm.

    Please see Alex Nelson’s eloquent post where he has deduced by equation that alcohol is the primary culprit in the decline of Alice Springs.

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  18. Posted March 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    I didn’t attend this meeting. Like most people, I’m sick to death of the incessant chatter and next to no resolution of all the problems we face. But another reason I didn’t attend last night’s forum is because I had to go to work at a local supermarket in the CBD.
    I left my home in the Old Eastside and walked down a laneway at the rear of my address to Sturt Terrace, I crossed Wills Terrace along the bike path and then proceeded down an old bush track along the east bank of the Todd River. There were a number of Aboriginal people I encountered along the way, most had been drinking. They didn’t bother me, although one woman from Yuendumu greeted me and spoke about her home for a short while. I proceeded across the bed of the Todd River and onto the west bank opposite the ANZ carpark, along Parsons Street, through the Post Office and then to the Yeperenye Shopping Centre.
    While I was at work filling shelves at Woolies, I was twice informed that my comments on ABC radio earlier that afternoon concerning media headlines (actually from almost 40 years ago, specifically November and December 1974) were mentioned at the public meeting.
    I finished work just before midnight. I exited the Yeperenye Shopping Centre into Hartley Street and made my way back home exactly the way I had come in. The only people I saw were a few young backpackers at the YHA opposite the ANZ carpark.
    That’s the way I go to and from work four nights per week. I’ve been taking this route (except for when the Todd flows) for more than two years.
    Prior to that, when I was working at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden, I walked or rode along the much-feared Todd River bank every morning and evening (frequently after dark) to and from work, from the time I shifted to my current address in February 2006. At no time has anyone threatened or bothered me. (There were a few occasions when camp dogs came snarling after me but I just stopped and calmed them down, and after awhile they didn’t bother me, too – but that was a few years ago, and the council rangers have long been on top of that problem).
    But then again, 21 years ago when I was living at another address in the Old Eastside, I was walking home one evening on the Wills Terrace footbridge when I was approached by a jogger from behind who kinghit me in the face, breaking my nose, because he wanted to take my money. Too bad! I wasn’t carrying any!
    A decade later, I was living at a friend’s place in Lindsay Avenue (south of Undoolya Road) and I had commenced working as a nightfiller at Woolies at that time, too. As usual, I walked to and from work at night. One night, about 12pm, I walked home to find police with torches doorknocking and searching for clues in the park opposite my residence. Turned out a young German woman had been abducted from the Wills Terrace causeway an hour or so earlier, dragged all the way to the park near my home and viciously beaten and raped. She had screamed for help but apparently nobody heard her; something I find very difficult to believe.
    I was born in this town and grew up here; however, for most of the first half of my life I lived in the rural area south of town and never personally witnessed or experienced all this kind of crime and antisocial activity. Yet I can 100 percent guarantee that I can pick out editions of the newspaper randomly from anytime since the early 1970s and find stories about crime, alcohol abuse, petrol sniffing, police numbers (or lack thereof), truancy – you name it, it’s all there.
    This town and region is classic Jekyll and Hyde, and the formula that has created this dichotomy is well known to us all – it’s called alcohol.

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  19. Dianne
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    @Renee G – I wanted to attend last night, but wouldn’t attend by myself because of the issues in town.
    To all of those who are saying that there is nothing wrong in this town – take a look around.
    And Russell – I’ve been following your comments over the last bit of time and with all due respect, the nanny state does not need anymore supporters. Personal responsibility is what is needed – not more restrictions on people’s lives. Now have a go at me!

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  20. Russell Guy
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    It strikes me that those talking about “youth” have nothing to offer while they keep pontificating about whether take-away alcohol should continue in its seven day per week (70% of the NT market) flow. No leadership there.
    During most of the Eighties and into the Nineties, I managed, produced recordings and played in Aboriginal dance bands all through Central Australia, nationally and abroad, so I reckon I know something about grog and youth.
    To me, all the talk at the Q&A describes a bunch of blokes out of touch with youth. Condoning the grog flow in this town makes their professed concern for “youth” hypocritical. Absolutely, appalling result, gents.

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  21. Renee G.
    Posted March 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    The turnout might have been low because of the fear of being in the downtown area at that time of night. Who wants to be assaulted, or have their car damaged, etc, just to listen to political crap?

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