Those in a hurry and those who are not

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.

    6 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. Anthony de Souza
      Posted April 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      Listen, Act NOW, involve the town.
      I left Alice Springs after 13 years, not because of the anti social behavior, not because because of the endemic drinking problem, not because of the myriad of social problems in Alice. I left Alice because of the inaction on all levels of government, from the CLC, to the council, to the minister, and a whole jumble of governing bodies of people, whose main objective in this whole mess is to bring home a big pay check, employ a countless numbers of consultants to do their job for them, and still not willing to make the hard decisions and put into action a plan to fix my town. A town and ALL its people who I love dearly, and sincerely think are the most unique and accommodating people that I have ever met in my life. LISTEN to my Model / Plan to secure a safe and thriving town for all.
      1: Dismantle and throw out all the insane drinking regulations that cause a horrific backlash to the community, and replace it with the standard model that the rest of Australia uses make the offenders accountable. Just execute it! Simple. The existing regulations / prohibition only gives the impression to the rest of Australia that the NT Government cannot manage its own back yard and puts Alice Springs into the bad town to live in image, bad publicity brought about by fly in and out politicians who have not walked the walk or talked the talk, honestly what chance have we got!
      2: Drinking in public. Again same law as the rest of Australia make the offenders accountable. Again Execute IT! SIMPLE, its not rocket science just common sense.
      It is inconceivable that under the very noses of all government departments, best examples being all around the council chambers itself, the Todd River, and yes! even outside the very Police department that are charged with the enforcement of this law, that in any minute of any given day alcohol is consumed and the discarded bottles and cans are left in full view for all to see. As quick as the discarded cans and bottles hit the ground the council sneaks in every morning early and cleans the areas. What an insult to the Alice Springs people.
      The Big problem here is not the fact that this is happening on a daily basics, it’s the dismay, the disappointment, the frustration that infiltrate the community as a whole which promote racial intolerance, a repulsive by product of yet another failed government process.
      The Minister blames the people for talking down the town and instructs us to talk up the town and all will just go away. I say to you Minister, sit down and listen to the families of lost ones, injured ones and sick ones that are products of this mess, and think to yourself if this were my children my family my friends, would I just walk out silently into the night as I have done in the past?
      3: Anti Social Behaviour: Again an existing Australian model exists for this – Execute it! And so on and on and on. Simplistic ideas? Not at all! Use what you have and get the job done! No more over complicating and procrastinating over all the issues make a stand now! The people of Alice stand with you, I know this for I have walked the walk and talked the talk.
      The People of Alice Springs expect, no, demand that the government workers employed by the people for the people act now or move aside and let someone else have a go, that’s what Australians do, have a go and save our town.

    2. Jane Clark
      Posted April 5, 2012 at 10:31 am

      This is misleading – she “didn’t agree with Ms Baluch’s public drinking ban”. I said I opposed the Dry Areas Legislation – this was because the 2km Law was in existence. The 2km law banned public drinking within 2km of a licensed premises which effectively is the whole town area.

    3. Matt Campbell
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      I think that the idea that we have only two options, act or talk, is one of the problems with the debate about where to from here.
      If we see “action”, as the opposite of “talking”, then we can position talking as a waste of time, just filling in the space between now and when we “act”. Of course, though, this position relies on a false proposition: talking and action are not opposing terms. In order to understand what is at work here we need to untangle why this positioning is attractive so we can see what lies behind it. It seems to me that those calling for immediate action base this on their belief that they know what the problem is.
      If one knows what the problem is then further talk can be seen as superfluous. Those who subscribe to this school of thought choose to position talking and action as being in opposition.
      If however you don’t think that talking and action are in opposition you can see things differently. For example I too think there is a problem: I can see that Alice Springs could and should be better than it is today. The difference is that I don’t think I have the final answer to it, in fact I accept that my definition of the problem and possible solutions are just one version among many.
      For me, therefore, the time taken to talk is not wasted time. It is actually an investment in the future. There are two major benefits of such an approach (one that as I have indicated in earlier correspondence is not necessarily easy). First, it means we build a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the problem, and it is from this that we generate solutions. Aspects of the problem that may be overlooked in the rush to action can emerge, and may indeed hold the key to appropriately targeted solutions.
      The second major benefit of this approach is in the process of developing this understanding a sense of community has been generated. It is this shared sense of ownership and understanding that increases the possibility that people will invest their time and effort acting to implement the agreed solution because they are part of it – they have an interest and a stake produced through their participation in the process.
      Taking the engaged approach is not easy, it means we need to leave our prejudices at the door as we commit to working together. It also means we need to actively seek out those whose perspectives we might disagree with, including those that we might like to position as being at the heart of the problem.
      There is no reason to think that taking such an approach is not taking action. It is just a different kind of action: one that sees that generating a sense of community occurs in the very building of that community, not as something that can be imposed from outside.

    4. Al of Alice
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 2:29 pm

      Your article on Mayor Baluch where she stated “You piss off back to Alice Springs to the Todd River” does not recognise that many of the people who were drinking and misbehaving in “her” town were from the many remote communities of APY Lands and others in SA. Not all drunks come from NT.
      It also does not state the fact that Port Augusta is a SA State priority in Urban and Regional Development Strategy for Aboriginal people. The agencies have a clear direction from the Premier to take action. From TAFE to schools, to employment programs, housing, youth issues, and correctional programs. So her solutions may appear grand and results look great it could never have been achieved without the coordination and decision making authority of the Govt. agencies.
      Unfortunately Alice suffers from an Intervention that has pushed people into towns to access their entitlements and it severely suffers from the lack of decision makers in the Alice. Only when the issues start effecting businesses in the town like the many vacant shop sites and “The Memo” (a bastion of non-Aboriginal Alice) that people start opening their eyes and acknowledge it’s “our problem”.
      Solving drinking issues is only a piece of the puzzle, though a pretty big one … schooling has long been an issue and the Education Dept gets a free ride … think about it … kids not in school are up to no good. And the family structures break down … it’s a bigger issue that the grog. Also a lot of non Aboriginal people have made a good amount of money off the “Aboriginal Industry Dollar” in Alice Springs, tourism, housing repairs, shopping, cars, and especially the Casino.
      So don’t bleat and blame when the dollars have dried up find a solution. Impose authority like curfews, and do not tolerate public drunkenness. Why are people allowed to camp in the Todd? Where do they go when it floods? Its not traditional to camp there … so let’s not tolerate it … it’s not traditional to humbug people for money … don’t be fooled by it. Consult the locals … the families that have lived in town for decades … both white and black … surely a solution can occur soon. Things can change quickly … if people have the gumption to act.

    5. Paul Parker
      Posted April 4, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Everyone needs to contribute to fixing problems. Can start by calling rural communities towns or villages, reflecting their sizes. Other terminology reinforces apartheid separatists policies in government, and are racists.

    6. Steve Brown
      Posted April 3, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      The time for thoughtful sitting around perusing the various issues problems and possible fixes has long gone! Our town, Alice Springs, is in serious trouble! Faster and faster turnaround times on the average workers length of stay, murmurings from one of the town’s largest employers about flying staff in, have our town teetering on the edge of a slippery slope.
      A slide that would lead to Alice degenerating into a fly in fly out bush camp, similar to many found in the west. Where no attempt is made to build a community, simply a place of convenience to be in and out of, in the fastest possible time.
      To prevent that from happening we have to create a place that is not only convenient but comfortable, inviting, interesting, safe, secure, where law is fairly and equally enforced. A place that offers incentives for those who commit to a lengthy stay, such as an easy path to home ownership for workers, business incentives such as land and housing packages that are simply far better than anything on offer anywhere else.
      How do we achieve these things? By making available something we have masses of, affordable land. Make it available and get out of the way! Let those who come to take up the opportunities do the rest, it is their drive and ambition that will build a worthwhile community, not a bunch of jaded grey little bureaucrats with no imagination whose only contribution is more bureaucracy, more problems, less incentive, whose constant and overriding fear of failure only ever leads to what bureaucrats do best: Nothing. Alice’s future lies in building its private sector! Pushing Government into the background, unfortunately for us we can only commence that process by bringing about a government that has the guts, be it ever so briefly, to commence the process!
      It is absolutely essential if Alice is not to sink into a mire, a decline, lasting decades, that in this year’s Territory Government election, Alice Springs extract from the Parties fully costed promises, signed in blood, to free up our lands! To deregulate the Territory! To throw off the shackles of bureaucracy, which are quite simply strangling the life out of the Territory’s regions! Another four years of the kind of neglect we have seen over the past 20 will be absolutely disastrous for our town. So whatever your political background, it’s time to unite and apply the blow torch to those who hold our town’s future in their hands. You can sit around and contemplate our future at some later date, when we have one.

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