OPINION by ERWIN CHLANDA
I’m going to borrow for this opinion piece from the comments – around 100 – which our readers posted on occasion of the town council election.
The Alice Springs News Online is proud to host an increasingly lively forum for readers’ views, many of them also contributing a wealth of relevant facts. The forum provides an interesting window onto the community for the nine elected members of the 12th Alice Springs Town Council.
Among our most responded-to stories relating to the election was the interview with Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch, explaining her success in fixing problems in her town to which Alice Springs still doesn’t have an answer.
Douglas Pearce wrote: “Please, please, please can we have her?”
The report prompted retired Alderman Jane Clark to comment that she didn’t agree with Ms Baluch’s public drinking ban, and saying: “I also wonder which of her initiatives has not been implemented here?”
And that leaves only this question: If they have all been implemented here as well, how come they work in Port Augusta but not here?
In a further post Ms Clark, who had been on an excursion to Port Augusta by elected members from Alice, commented: “At the time we also met with Mayors of surrounding councils who had ‘inherited’ issues as a direct consequence of Pt Augusta’s initiatives. My personal view is that they mainly shifted their problems rather than solved them. There is no silver bullet and we need to work through this together.”
This prompted Harold Albatross to comment: “Our town council cannot control what occurs outside of its jurisdiction. That is the responsibility of the other councils and the two higher levels of government.
“We deal with our problems and they deal with theirs. I just can’t see any other way for our council to successfully approach our issues.”
There were quite a few “camps” of opinion on the subject “problems,” but the major two were people who say dealing with symptoms (crime, trouble in the streets and so on) doesn’t cut it, and we need to go back to the root causes (lack of housing, education, dispossession, unemployment and so on).
The other camp is that we don’t have time for strategies that would take generations to show results. We need them now. The decline of the town has started with many important, productive people already having left, and people streaming into town who are unlikely to make any useful contributions.
The main proponent of that view was top-scoring councillor candidate Steve Brown and his wife, Janet, while unsuccessful candidate Matt Campbell was at the opposite side of the argument.
This is part of what he posted – the kind of stuff that would have senior public servants at a strategy meeting gravely nodding their heads in thoughtful approval: “For Alice Springs to generate responses that address our problems we need to develop ways to collectively define the problems we face.
“It is only in this process that we will be able to devise cures that address the problems we face. This requires the hard work of finding ways to sit down with all members of the town to understand their perspectives, and then to keep working with them to generate solutions.
“Talking with people to understand problems and generate solutions is not an easy out.
“Rather it rests on the belief that we live together in a community and it is that generating a ‘we’ rather than an ‘us’ and ‘them’ that our safe and happy future lies.”
Mr Brown was a forceful advocate of resolute and immediate action: “The answer is pretty damn simple, those who drink and get out of hand will be dealt with in a zero tolerance manner and subjected to mandatory rehabilitation.
“Those who drink and behave are left to mind their own damn business.
“And those who think it’s their God given right to interfere in the life choices of others are ignored.”
And the new council seems to be pretty well split along those two lines.
Surprisingly, what our Joy Baluch story, which quickly slipped into our Top Twenty list, failed to settle was the question of the council’s powers and responsibilities: Are they just roads, rates and rubbish? Does it matter?
It doesn’t, according to Mayor Baluch: She says her council represents the people of Port Augusta and EVERYTHING that happens in Port Augusta is the business of the council. That doesn’t mean it has to do all things things – just to make sure they are done.
Mayor Baluch did two things: She introduced the council position of Safety Officer “who has opened a Pandora’s Box” by keeping tabs on what government departments and agencies are – or are not – doing.
“Local government needs to have control of this watchdog position, to keep the state government honest,” Mayor Baluch told the News.
And then she introduced a monthly meeting of the local heads of these agencies, state, Federal and NGO, at which they are taken to account.
Would such a system be a good topic for a motion at the first meeting of our 12th council on April 16?
For example, a good question to the NT Department of Children and Families could be, why are there dozens of children – some as young as 10 – allowed to cause mayhem in Alice Springs in the middle of the night?
And if such a monthly meeting were introduced in The Alice, it may well explain to Ms Clark why Port Augusta is on its way up, and The Alice on the way down.
PHOTOS: Port Augusta Mayor Joy Baluch (above left) was a shining example – for some – of how to tackle problems. But she and retiring alderman Jane Clark (above right) were not on the same page.