Council debate happening in closed meetings

Public gets the polite rehearsed version

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

Councillor Steve Brown’s move to create a Town Council body to monitor the effective delivery of government services in Alice Springs inched forward at last night’s end of month meeting.

The concept is similar to one operating in Port Augusta, reported on by the Alice Springs News Online in the wake of the council election campaign as part of an interview with outspoken Mayor of Port Augusta, Joy Baluch.

The concept was promoted in the campaign by candidate John Reid.

Removal of standing orders last night allowed a mild-mannered discussion of the subject, with no sign of ‘gangs’ of four or five. The end result was that councillors will put their heads together with Corporate and Community Services Director Craig Catchlove, pooling the information they have gathered. At the urging of Cr Geoff Booth, it was decided that this will start at an early morning meeting in the coming week.

He, Cr Brown and Cr Eli Melky all wanted it to be seen that council is doing something “urgent” (Booth), “immediately” (Melky) to address the “considerable anxiety” (Brown) in the community over law and order issues and economic decline.

Cr Liz Martin told her colleagues she had spent a lot of time over the last week talking to people in Port Augusta and had information to share with them, including about that town’s “alarming” rate of substance (other than alcohol) misuse and relatively high crime rate.

Cr Booth also said it was “vital” that council seek the views of business owners in the mall, while councillors supported Mayor Damien Ryan’s suggestion that he contact representatives of the Combined Aboriginal Organisations after they meet tomorrow to discuss current social issues.

Apart from questions to a deputation from the National Trust (about which we will report separately) this was the sum total of discussion in the open section of the council meeting, during which everyone was on their best behaviour.

The report from the Finance Committee was a pure formality and all over in 30 seconds – this despite the major announcement during the week that the YMCA is withdrawing from its contract to run the Town Pool and that budget drafting is in full swing. In fact councillors had met early that morning to thrash out some aspect of the budget – what exactly we will never know.  Council does release a draft business plan for public comment but the public is never privy to debate around its priorities. The public comment that is received is usually very narrowly focussed.

In a question pertaining to finances from the public gallery, none other than retired MLA Lorraine Braham asked whether council could sell its glass crusher, now “lying idle”.

Mayor Ryan said it was not idle, it continues to crush glass and there had been discussion “today” (presumably at the early morning meeting) about another project for it. As it was purchased with grant money ($850,000 for the machine and its set up), it would be difficult to sell, he said, adding that the Technical Services Director would be able to give Mrs Braham a more detailed reply. Although he was sitting by Mayor Ryan’s side, unfortunately Mrs Braham did not ask to hear the detail then and there.

Now debate around the Port Augusta-style monitoring body, in which there is keen public interest, will also take place behind closed doors. Getting things done should not come at the expense of transparency.

 

Pictured: Cr Geoff Booth during his swearing-in with Local Government Minister Malarndirri McCarthy. He wants immediate action, but will it come at the expense of  transparency allowing public input?

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8 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. Ian Sharp
    Posted May 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Erwin has asked me to elaborate on my earlier comment. I have limited net access at the moment so will be brief.
    ‘Law and order’ is a phrase largely used to refer to crime, and often reflects the user’s perception of the crime rate. That in itself raises lots of issues – eg see Adam Graycar (Aust Institute of Criminology) article on law and order. It’s a hot button issue and often used in election campaigns hence the cynical ‘laura norder’ term.
    L&O is important to any society, but to think it is the basis, the bedrock, is simplistic. One thing the Taliban achieved when they ruled Afghanistan before the US led reaction to Sept 11 was a very low crime rate … but not many of us would approve of the way they did it. Hands up those who want to see hands chopped off!
    What we all want in our democratic and pluralistic society to reduce crime as much as we can without resorting to extremism.
    That is where the ‘rule of law’ comes in. It is our greatest gift from our British heritage … bigger even than cricket, fish and chips, the English language and Shakespeare. It is the bedrock of Western Civilization and needs to be prized.
    The RoL is a broad concept that involves achieving social cohesion through ideas like every person / entity being subject to the law … including not just bikie gangs, but all of us, our governments, our corporations and even Clive Palmer.
    The biggest potential threat to our liberty is potentially the government, hence the separation of powers, the checks and balances that limit the powers of parliaments, the executive and the judiciary.
    It is important for any democracy trying to achieve the RoL to avoid ‘majoritarian autocracy’ where a government with a majority in the parliament / diet / Reichstag can legislate any law it likes. Otherwise you can have a situation like the early years of the 3rd Reich, the ‘blood and honour’ laws were made lawfully and supported by a majority of citizens.
    There needs to be more than elections to establish which party has its turn in power, there needs to be ongoing respect for human rights and natural justice so laws seek to achieve justice for all citizens, in all ways, economically, politically and socially.
    Only then can real law and order be achieved.
    So we do need to take steps to tackle crime in Alice, but that needs to go far beyond CCTV cameras, and extra police and more jails.
    It also needs to go beyond restrictions on alcohol, we need those, but we need more.
    We need to see big changes in health, education, housing, employment … as recognized by the Federal Government and the Intervention. I think we need a cultural revival out bush, based on a positive sense of purpose, self-respect and respect for others. And us townies could aim higher too.
    We need to see the big picture, and the long term, not just the here and now.

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  2. Bob Durnan
    Posted May 5, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Thanks Ian (Ian Sharp Posted May 4, 2012 at 11:30 am) for bringing your much-needed insight to this discussion.

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  3. Ian Sharp
    Posted May 4, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Good to hear the new council getting some non-acrimonious discussion going. All members deserve praise for this useful first step. Let’s hope it leads to positive outcomes.
    Re ‘law and order’ being the basis of our society, I would say that is too limited. It is ‘the rule of law’, a much broader concept. I think this distinction is important and accounts for much of the disagreement expressed on this website.

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  4. Bob Durnan
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Steve (Steve Brown, Posted May 2, 2012 at 4:38 pm): It is highly disingenuous of you to imply that somebody who objects to your continuous loud public obsession with law and order is therefore themselves necessarily against law and order.
    This is particularly hypocritical for you to do when those who criticise your excessive fetishisation of law and order (which you advocate at the expense of most other ancillary and complementary actions) are themselves advocates of policies which obviously and necessarily rely on a major component of criminal justice actions and sanctions. These critics of yours are not against law and order, they are simply against a simplistic reliance on it alone. Spare us the dissembling humbug, please.

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  5. Russell Guy
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Steve, I have never questioned your commitment to law and order and I have stated that “nobody would ever question” it.
    I am, however, questioning your total rejection of the need for alcohol supply restrictions in cooperation with a law and order approach. Particularly, in relation to the chances for successful rehab in a seven day per week supply schedule. This is a hard one, but it took forty years to make it. It’s not going to be easy to break it.
    I thought that my post below made this clear. You declare that you will take on board any “useful” contributions from the public, while at the same time saying that you want PAAC “gone” and are opposed to public debate.
    I would welcome clarification on these seemingly contradictory statements. Your stated urgency implies that rehab policy needs to be formulated. Saying that there’s not enough hours in the day while denying input from members of the public who can usefully contribute is odd.

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  6. Steve Brown
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Ordinary Council Meetings are not the forum for establishing policy, it is the forum where such policy is implemented. My motion was withdrawn and put up for discussion in the ordinary meeting because it appeared the Media and public gallery missed its discussion in Committees and I felt it was important the public were made aware this was happening. What should have been noted by Media was the willingness of all parties to work on this, hence the lack of fireworks and passionate discussion. “We were all on the same page”! I would have though that point alone may have been worthy of some note, and that it might even have given the Community some kind of hope that this Council is actually capable of achieving something other than fireworks and passionate discussion!
    Let’s hope there will be many more hard-working constructive, non controversial, cooperative, boring for Media meetings to come, because it’s in those kinds of meetings that the sort of structures needed to right the wrongs of this Town will come step by step into being. Our next step is to put this concept together with every bit of information we can glean from the Port Augusta experience, our Town’s own experience and expertise, and come up with a similar strategy that will work for the Alice. We are all aware that it is absolutely urgent, there is also limited time in our day, and an undertaking of this magnitude can hardly be put together in front of the gallery on one night. I’m sure we will take on board any useful contributions from the public and I am absolutely certain that there will be plenty more public discussion and room for input when we get the basics of this strategy together.
    As a further comment on some comments I’m really rather curious as to how you would enforce alcohol availability or restrictions without “Law and Order”?? Law and Order is the very basis of our civilisation, without it we return to a more primeval state, “The Rule of the Strong, the bully, the thug”. I would suggest that it be very much in the interests even of those few who continually lambaste me for pushing it, that it be maintained at all costs!

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  7. Hal Duell
    Posted May 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I thought the suggestion by Cr Martin that a few of the councillors get together to consider the information she has from Port Augusta and to report back to Council with any ideas they come up with was a good one.
    Was CEO Mooney’s insistence that a senior officer attend their meetings a way of insuring all discussions remain in confidential? I don’t remember any elected councillor campaigning on the Mushroom Party ticket, but you get that.
    While in Confidential, I wonder if Council will consider providing security for the Civic Centre precinct during their public meetings. It can get pretty ordinary out there on the lawns and in the car park. More than once when leaving I have had to keep my eyes on the ground and walk straight to my car to avoid being challenged by some clown with a green can.

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  8. Russell Guy
    Posted May 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    It will be interesting to see if Cr Brown’s Port Augusta-style council coordinating officer can get to work counting the existing rehab beds in Alice.
    Peter Styles, NT opposition spokesperson on Alcohol Policy, cites 13,000 persons taken into protective custody in 2001, but 94,000 in 2008/09.
    Although, many would be repeat offenders, the numbers versus the beds and the obvious need for more, means that policy and costings need to be publicly declared ASAP and prior to the election, but rehab without restrictions on alcohol supply will be a permanent game of chasing your tail.
    I hope Steve Brown’s law and order obsession takes note. We need action, not reaction and solutions, not politics, inclusion not exclusion. The call for PAAC to be “gone” and his stand against public debate is lamentable.

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