If the new town council’s Gang of Four – Steve Brown, Eli Melky, Dave Douglas and Geoff Booth – act as block they will need an extra vote to achieve a majority and that vote is most likely to come from Liz Martin (at left) or Brendan Heenan (above).
Both were re-elected, clearly are of a similar mindset to the Four on many issues, and also operate businesses.
In fact they are top performers in the vital yet currently seriously depressed tourism industry: Councillor (Cr) Martin runs the National Road Transport Hall of Fame. While last year saw the shutters going down for many businesses in the CBD, Cr Martin says the Hall had its best year ever. She’s just signed a $1m deal to build a display hall for Mack and Volvo trucks, rivaling the existing Kenworth complex. And Cr Heenan’s MacDonnell Range Tourist Park is like a small, very well run town that wins Brolgas year after year.
At least one council project, spending the $5m NT Government grant for rejigging the CBD, is facing delays not of council making: no-one knows where many of the underground water, electricity and sewage mains are located, so there’s no start date in sight for any digging. How could the new council break though on that front and what else can we expect from the holders of the balance of power in the 12th Town Council? ERWIN CHLANDA talked with them over the Easter weekend.
HEENAN: They are not working, have never worked. All they do is putting a bandaid on it.
People are killing themselves – and other people – in domestic violence. It doesn’t matter what the floor price is. If an alcoholic wants alcohol he will get it, no matter what price he has to pay. He’ll break into a home.
There are statistics that less alcohol is being sold now. I don’t believe them. Go to the post office and watch how much alcohol comes in, pallets and pallets of mail orders [which are not captured in the local alcohol sales statistics] from south now, tonnes of the stuff, every day.
The worst thing was getting rid of the casks. Bundy and Jack Daniels bottles have very thick glass which can be turned into weapons. One of the rangers told me if you drive down the Todd River now you’ve got to be careful not to stake a tyre. There is so much glass in the river now. There is no way you’d walk there in your bare feet. Same with the footpaths. People are just breaking glass and I think that’s the worst thing that’s ever happened with the restrictions.
You remember the flagons many years ago? They were weapons. At least the cardboard casks disintegrate after a while and you can blow up the bladder and use it as a pillow.
Our pensioners in town are relying on their casks to have a glass of wine.
What should be done?
We need a tribunal or a special court, and if you get picked up three times in six months – and I’ve been saying this for 10 years – you go into mandatory rehab. It could be run by an NGO, or by several of them. It’s not voluntary.
These people have to be locked up, but you can teach them horticulture, woodwork, art, a bit like a work camp. A lot of them might be illiterate. We could make them literate.
Confinement could be for up to two years, three months to begin with, but if they’re picked up again it should be six months.
This would take the pressure off domestic violence, police, hospital, courts and gaol.
This way we’re looking after the health of those people. With restrictions they can and will still get alcohol.
MARTIN: Law and Order is firstly an NT Government issue but we also need to take the Federal Government to task. A lot of the issues come from the Intervention and the urban drift it is causing.
Some of these people are beyond rehabilitation.
There needs to be a place for them where they can be safe for the rest of their lives because they have no hope for rehabilitation.
If need be they should they be kept there against their wish?
Yeah, I think so. They really do want to be taken somewhere and looked after because they get sick of wandering around in limboland.
People tend to get themselves into a rut they can’t get out of and they need to have their environment changed.
Trouble is when they come out they are still sleeping rough or on someone’s floor, and nine times out of ten they’re in trouble again three months later. I’ve seen 14 year olds becoming 28 year olds and they’re back and back and back, into the same environment.
A THIRSTY THURSDAY FOR ALICE?
MARTIN: No. In Tennant Creek it put the drunks on the road. They were going down to Wauchope and up to Renner Springs and even down here to Alice Springs to get grog. They were actually drunk and driving on the road. It did give some relief to the emergency services and the nurses and the doctors and police but the mayhem started again the next day. To me it’s like a temporary measure. We need to get much more serious with dealing at a grassroots level.
A floor price I can live with, it doesn’t impact on me at all. But they are not drinking the cheap grog anyway. They are still drinking Jim Beam, Bundy, VB. What a floor price would do is reduce the tax on a bottle of Moet by 800% and reduce it on VB by about 7%.
We should not have gotten rid of casks. We had a lady out here the other day stabbed in the face with a bottle. People are starting to complain to council again about glass in the parks and the river.
HEENAN: No, no way. It didn’t work in Tennant Creek.
What I’d like to see is takeaway opening up at 9am. Why should we be any different to Darwin? We’re all Territorians.
MARTIN: We need extra financial support for strategies dealing with kids on the streets at night, and perhaps for extra rangers.
We need more temporary accommodation for when the one we have already is full, or there are families in there which other families can’t stay with.
Everyone makes a big issue out of grog but we find in just as many instances people are breaking in to get food.
We’ve had $1800 worth of damage done here and all they took was bread and cheese.
Perhaps a soup kitchen is needed, a new thing done by council or added to an existing service. A lot of kids don’t know what services are available to them.
Many of them are from out of town, so they can’t tap into a school. Their parents are down the pub or out in a drinking camp somewhere and the kids are left to free range.
Is there a case for a facility where kids can be confined, not as a matter of choice, but against their will, if necessary?
I think so. I really do believe that, after seeing children here in the drinking camps, exposed not only to physical and sexual harm but also drugs and alcohol, use and abuse. I’ve been horrified at some of the things I have witnessed out here.
It’s something the council needs to take a lobbying role in. There’s been a thing in recent years where people are a bit paranoid about interfering because it’s politically incorrect to do so. But when it’s about protecting people we need to do it.
Would it be a taking children away strategy?
It don’t think it should be in the first instance, but if you play up three times, for example, you’ve got to be accountable.
I don’t like the word institution, it too has a negative connotation, but it needs to be a place where children can be kept while the family gets support.
I don’t like the term curfew. It also brings up negative connotations. I believe we have to get the kids off the streets and we need some sort of night strategy. A curfew for the sake of a curfew without having the programs behind it doesn’t make sense. One of the things I notice out here [at the Transport Hall of Fame] is the second they crack down in town I have 500 times more dramas out here. All it does is force them into another area. And I know it happens on the Northside and the Eastside. We need to cover the whole of the municipality, not just the CBD area.
HEENAN: I don’t believe in a curfew. Who’s going to run it? Who is going to pay the cost involved?
A curfew doesn’t solve the problem of getting the kids off the streets. If they see someone coming to pick them up they just run away. It doesn’t solve the problem.
The Youth Hub at the old Anzac Highschool, run by Matty Day, will make a big contribution. We need a facility to which the kids want to come along. If they can’t sleep at home we need a facility where they can sleep, where they feel safe and get a meal, and then get them to school the next day.
Half the break-ins in town are kids stealing food.
I’ve mentioned this to Damien Ryan, Steve Brown and a few others, we need a soup kitchen. Council would need to back it and maybe put in a bit of funding. It could be run by people like St Vincent de Paul, the Salvos or the Youth Hub. It could be a caravan. They can tow it wherever the kids are. We need to interact with the kids. Take them to basketball – something the kids want to come along to. It would be voluntary. Interact with them.
For example, the YMCA isn’t used at night. We need a facility like that somewhere.
It’s not a council responsibility but we should back it, or I would, anyway. The council could coordinate it, or certainly lobby the Government for funding.
Supermarkets could donate food approaching use-by its date.
ROUND TABLE, PORT AUGUSTA STYLE
Under Mayor Joy Baluch the Port Augusta council introduced monthly meetings of local state and Federal agencies, NGOs and others engaged in welfare and law and order work, to coordinate their activities and give account of them. The council employed a Safety Officer who checks on what these agencies do – or not do. Mayor Baluch says the council need to control this watchdog function because all that goes on in the town is council business, because council represents the people. Would you favour such a system in Alice Springs?
HEENAN: We have 57 agencies here. Some need amalgamating, so we get them down to eight or 10. There could be some overlapping and some gaps. We don’t really know.
Would the council make the assessment?
The council perhaps would not have the power.
Could it not start a monthly round-table conference?
We could probably do that, but you’d have 57 people ’round the table. It’s just not going to work.
Port Augusta has 15 or 16. You’d pick the major ones.
I’d be happy to do that. Council also has a subcommittee that meets with Tangentyere and Lhere Artepe.
What about the government and the major other NGOs? Some of them have a budget as big as the council’s. Should not the major ones be brought to the table?
That’s probably a good idea, just to see what’s happening, and where the gaps are. And we’d still need to know what the minor organisations are doing. Perhaps there is a great deal of money being wasted, people doing the same thing. What I’d like to see is amalgamate them until there are 10 or 12 or 15, so we can have a bit more control over them.
MARTIN: A round table? Yes, absolutely. It happens now with council staff and elected members doing their own research and monitoring. It would be good to have someone specifically doing it, a researcher.
In Alice Springs, with lots of Federal funding, people get very protective of their own little patches and sometimes they are not very willing to let out the information about what they are doing or not doing. There is a lot of duplication but also some gaps. The trouble I can see is that people may not recognise the need to report back to local government when they are funded by another level of government.
What would you say to them?
This is our town. We represent the town and we are the government closest to the people. And people are on the phone to us when they want to whinge. Yep, that’s something I would really like to see happen.
SHOULD PARKS BE SOLD?
MARTIN: I’m against it now. I would be prepared to look at it again, in view of the current housing crisis, but with Kilgariff and other developments coming up, I say definitely “no” to the sale of parks at the moment.
HEENAN: Selling parks is not an issue.
ARE LEAKS A BAD THING?
MARTIN: What we find that usually gets leaked isn’t the full story. You’d like to correct it but you can’t [because it is in "confidential"].
Cr Martin says matters concerning staff members, salaries and unresolved tenders should remain under wraps.
Most things I supported to be kept in confidential had a personal aspect in it. Sometimes 90% could go out there but it’s the rest that needs to be kept under wraps. That’s something I’m happy to look at with Hal Duell [see his comment on this site that proposes a new approach to matters in confidential].
At times information is kept confidential until the facts are checked.
HEENAN: Unresolved tenders, matters that can be detrimental to other people, personal issues. There is not a lot else that should be in confidential.
What about the pool story the Alice Springs News Online broke after a leak? No personal issues were involved, no tender, it was simply about public money being spent?
There were negotiations going on. That should not have been released.
SHOULD THE COUNCIL GET TOWN PLANNING POWERS?
HEENAN: We want town planning but we’d need $2m a year from the NT Government to run it.
At present two council nominees are on the Development Consent Authority (DCA) – you are one of them – but they are not allowed to take instructions from the council, nor represent it. They are sitting as individuals in their own right. And in any case, the Minister can do what he likes.
At the moment the DCA meets monthly just after the council so the council does not have the information until the Monday after the DCA meeting.
Could the council not be a “submittor”, same as any other citizen in town, who can make a submission for or against a proposal, and the Minister, if he disregarded it, would be seen to be going against the town’s elected representatives?
Yes, he would certainly have to give weight to it.
[Cr Heenan says car parking is a big issue: Developers can make a one-off payment of $6800 for each obligatory car parking space they don't build. In Darwin that figure is around $20,000.]
MARTIN: I would like to see it as a council responsibility. It is Australia-wide. But to do it all at once it would be a huge burden on the ratepayer. We need to take it step by step and we would need government funding. And I don’t think the NT Government wants to let go of it. Nor would a Country Liberal Government. Ultimately, 10, 20, 30 years down the track, the council should have full responsibility. I would like to see it happen sooner but I can’t see it in the very near future.
SHOULD THE COUNCIL PAY FOR GRAFFITI CLEAN-UPS?
MARTIN: I would have supported Eli Melky’s stand except for the three words he had at the end of his motion: “In its totality”. I believe corporate and national companies need to have some responsibility when they leave an empty building.
Sometimes landlords … when they are not here they don’t care. Council has support in place for removing graffiti, particularly for pensioners and others experiencing difficulties. We need to better promote these mechanisms.
HEENAN: It’s not only youths, adults are doing it, too. We need spaces where people can practice graffiti as an art. There is some really fantastic stuff – look at the Youth Hub and the skatepark. There are little laneways in Melbourne being brought to life with aerosol art, which makes these laneways safer. More people coming to look at it.
What about the mandatory removal of graffiti from private properties: Should the owners continue to have to pay for it?
Yes. It’s costing the ratepayers $100,000 a year now. Homeowners can get a voucher from the council for materials to remove graffiti.
IS CCTV WORKING?
MARTIN: Since it has been monitored in Darwin there have been some charges laid, more than when it was done from here. I’d like to see some more cameras around the CBD but also more lighting. There are some really dark corners. The kids aren’t stupid, they see a cop car and they head straight for a dark corner.
HEENAN: I’d like to see more CCTV in certain hotspots. Police are solving a lot of crime through CCTV now that is being monitored in Darwin. Trained people watching it all the time can recognise behavior and prevent crime. But it must be very frustrating for police to be picking up people and then for the courts to go and release them. I know the jails are full but we can talk about bracelets, for the soft areas of crime. These people can still be working and supporting their families and be under a 6pm to 6am home detention.
We need more lights in some areas currently too dark.
SEVEN OF THE NINE ELECTED MEMBERS OWN OR RUN A BUSINESS: SHOULD THEIR SKILLS BE APPLIED TO SOCIAL OBJECTIVES?
MARTIN: There’s plenty of work and plenty of education but we need to have some sort of transitional thing get the long term jobless into real employment. I don’t know what it should be, maybe a four months support program?
I’m a firm believer in the dole so long as they work for it. We’ve got plenty of rubbish to pick up, lots of pensioners who need their fence painted.
But could the council not be instrumental in providing real work, for example, in horticulture? We have plenty of land, plenty of water and certainly, lots of manpower.
It is outside the square. There are lots of good ideas in the council but Alice Springs has a small rate paying base and whatever we do within the current structure is going to come as a sacrifice from the rate payer, and to the benefit of people who are not rate payers.
The NT Government fumbled the horticultural project on AZRI land. Could the councillors who are in business not apply their talents to making something like this work, as a money making venture?
There is lots of opportunity for council if we were given the manpower and finances. The staff would have to come on board with that. I would be very wary of going into competition with private enterprise. Plus you need to go through the process of meetings. What takes the council 60 days takes me six days here (at the Transport Hall of Fame). I just do it. That part was frustrating for me in the beginning.
The council has enormous powers. And all you need is five votes to have a majority in council.
I’d be happy to look at anything that may get people into work. The council has some very good business brains. I hope people will put issues behind them and work together.
HOW CAN WE RE-VITALISE THE CBD?
HEENAN: We need to bring people into the mall, people living as well as tourism in the CBD. The old Commonwealth Bank and the Melanka proposal, both five stories, should bring people to the town centre. The Melanka project has been altered so much I think it has to go back to town planning. There are no underground car parks now because they are too expensive. There are more single-room apartments. I suppose that’s going to be good for tourism and investment buyers and young couples.
Land is getting too expensive to go to just three storeys.
Cr Heenan says the $5m grant from the NT Government for the CBD revitalisation was received late last year. The major initiatives have been worked out while finer details are still subject to public consultation. But a major hiccup is that the exact location of underground services – water, sewerage and electricity – is not known, and the major road works will have to wait. It is not known how long the survey of the services will take, how much it will cost and who is going to pay for it.
When you start digging you’ve got to know what’s under there. It’s going to take quite a few months.
We will probably do a section at the time but it will be 18 months at least from when we start and we still need to liaise with the shopkeepers.
MARTIN: This is a legacy of how the Territory used to be: “Bugger the paperwork, we’re doing it our way.” When I was a kid and you wanted to build a shed you just built a shed. In the last 20 years we had to play catch-up to the rest of Australia. It’s going to be big dollars. Power and Water will have to pay for it. They have not said yes yet.
MISCELLANEOUS & WISH LIST
MARTIN: The council should be gifted land in Kilgariff, for uses ranging from depots to playgrounds. Sports grounds should be upgraded to engage youth. The library needs an outreach service: Sit in the park and read to the kids. Solar Cities should continue its link with Watersmart. Take the Berrimah Line down a few rungs.
Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton: I’ve more to do with the other Ministers who are Darwin based, and that does make it hard. I’m not a very sporty person and I believe that is where he has his primary emphasis.
Has Cr HEENAN been buttonholed yet for his game changing vote? No, not yet. We might be surprised who comes up with what!
Cr HEENAN’s wish list (the first three were presented by the council to the current NT Government, and the Opposition Leader):-
• From the NT Government, another $5m for the next phase of the CBD revitalisation.
• Also from the NT Government, $2m for an all-ability park which disabled kids can use as well.
• A big block for a council machinery depot.
• At least 150 blocks to be released in stage one of Kilgariff with at least 20 to 30 for first home buyers “at cost” – around $70,000 each. They would need to be built on within two years or else the land would need to be sold back to the government, for the price paid for it.
• Five to 10 acres for a big rose garden “so we can have a rose festival every year, and encourage people to smarten up their gardens. We have the beautiful climate for roses here”.
PHOTOS (from top): CCTV in the mall • Town park sales not on the agenda for Cr Martin and Cr Heenan • Drinkers’ debris on one of the picturesque hills of the Eastside • Cr Martin with a Volvo truck soon to be displayed in a new $1m display area at the booming National Road Transport Hall of Fame • Police rounding up alleged illegal drinkers at the base of Anzac Hill.