CLP incumbent Robyn Lambley says it’s a non-issue: she also opposes a u-mine ‘on top of the water table’
Adam Findlay: his campaign trailer makes clear what he thinks the central issue is.
KIERAN FINNANE speaks to the two contenders for the seat of Araluen in August’s Legislative Assembly election.
The Labor Government might have a credibility problem with its stance on a possible future uranium mine at Angela Pamela, but the local branch of the Labor Party does not: “We were always at odds with the government over their support for the exploration process on that site so close to town,” says Labor’s candidate for Araluen, Adam Findlay.
“It was the lobbying of the local branch that brought about the decision to oppose any future mine there. It took a lot of hard work. The branch never ever accepted the granting of the exploration license.”
He says his recent door-knocking reveals that it is still a “hot topic”: “After what happened in Japan [the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear plant] a lot more people will be against it.” And there remain the issues that a mine would pose for the town’s water supply, air, tourism industry, he argues.
“I’m not anti-mining – there’s a lot of good exploration going on in this region – but I can’t accept that mine in that location.”
The Country Liberals’ Robyn Lambley, who won the seat against Mr Findlay in the by-election of October 2010, says Mr Findlay will struggle to make this an issue in the campaign as there is “no point of difference” between them.
No way in the world!
“There’s no way in the world that I could ever support a uranium mine on top of the water table in Alice Springs unless its safety could be demonstrated beyond a shred of a doubt.”
What would it take to do that?
“The evidence and information required to prove that the environment is safe – the town, humans, animals, plants. I’m no expert but I just don’t agree with a uranium mine over our water table. It would take a lot to sell it to me.”
Do the Country Liberals (CLP) accept the existing process for assessing proposed mines?
“If you grant an exploration licence, you agree to due process. The Labor Party don’t care for due process. The Country Liberals believe the mining company should have been afforded due process but at the end of the day the decision to approve a mine is not ours [the Territory's], it’s the Feds’. We support uranium mining but not this mine until it is deemed safe.”
Why did she vote against the motion put up by Labor in the last Alice sittings of the parliament to oppose the establishment of a uranium mine at Angela Pamela?
“The motion was devious. It was presented by Labor as a way of dividing the opposition. There had been a leadership spill and the motion was a set up to demonstrate that we were not unified.”
Robyn Lambley: in government the Country Liberals would get more capital works projects underway. Here she is in front of the private sector Asbuild project in Bath Street, producing a welcome buzz of activity in the CBD.
Mrs Lambley will be hard to beat. She got 68% of the vote in the by-election, on par with the primary vote for the former member, Jodeen Carney, in the 2008 general election.
Mr Findlay is not fazed. The 2010 by-election fast-tracked him into candidacy and, although he had only three weeks, he enjoyed the campaign. He says there are similar concerns in the electorate this time around, he’s well-prepared and has three months to build his case with the voters. He says he achieved an 11% swing at the Gillen booth, which he attributes to his door-knocking in the area.
“As an aspiring politician that’s the most valuable thing you can do,” he says. “I’m encouraged by the engagement I’m having with people. They are not dismissing anything I’m saying, and at this stage a lot are telling me they are not committed, they are swinging voters.”
However, Mrs Lambley has a big head start. In the 18 months since the by-election, she has maintained her door-knocking. Her electorate officer prints out a running sheet and away she goes, ticking off the households, recording the issues people raise with her, following up.
She sees herself as a ‘hands on’ local member, not “a career politician”. She wants to make a difference. Obviously being in opposition limits that. But if the CLP wins government in August, she’ll give herself four years: if by that time she’s not seeing results, “I would have to question how effective I’ve been”.
Unsafe in Gillen
In the meantime, even in opposition there are things a local member can do. Among residents of the streets surrounding the Flynn Drive supermarket in Gillen there’s been a lot of concern over property crime and anti-social behavior, often involving public drinking in the vicinity of the supermarket. She sent a letter to the residents asking them to tell her their stories and they responded: “I got a lot of emails, letters and telephone calls. People had been suffering, sitting silently in the suburbs, feeling scared. Some had been physically attacked, some had been broken into. They felt unsafe in their homes, they were disturbed by the noise, some felt they could no longer send their children to the shop by themselves.”
She says she has met with police “numerous times” over the 18 months, and for the residents of one particularly troubled street, she hosted a breakfast attended by Superintendent Michael Potts and Commanders Michael White and Michael Murphy.
As a result, she says, police said they would increase their presence in the area. They also gave the residents advice on how to better protect their property, for instance by having see-through fencing, low hedges, external lighting.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the residents of this street have come together in an informal neighbourhood watch. The situation didn’t immediately improve, but in recent months, especially after the police began stationing their mobile van at the supermarket as they have at Northside shops, Mrs Lambley is hearing that things are settling down: “It’s a start.”
Law and order: top of the agenda
Mr Findlay’s comments confirm that the situation has improved. Law and order concerns generally are at “the top of the agenda” for voters, he says. Specifically around Flynn Drive supermarket, “after a concerted effort by the operators, police and security”, the situation has been “tidied up”. He is now comfortable to let his two primary school age children walk there by themselves in the afternoon.
But that’s not the only hot spot, he says. Residents in Bloomfield Street are concerned by people “hooning in very nice souped-up cars”, and by “too many young people in the streets, day and night”.
And Mrs Lambley says some parts of the electorate are becoming inured to behaviour that elsewhere wouldn’t be tolerated. What she hears from residents in Gillen is that “this used to be a safe area, kids could go to the park and be safe”, but in the Gap area, when she has door-knocked, she has found a greater resignation. Residents spoke of the break-ins but seemed to accept that’s just the way it is – “they know they have to shut the door and wait it out”.
Although these messages are somewhat similar, there are differences in how the two candidates propose governments should deal with them. The takeaway liquor licence at the Flynn Drive supermarket puts the spotlight on alcohol policy.
“The CLP will trash the Banned Drinkers Register, putting 2400 people back on tap, and they’ll have alcohol flowing from 10am,” says Mr Findlay. “Robyn Lambley’s approach is to get them drunk early, before the sun goes down. But if the adults are all drunk, who’s looking after their kids?
“I do believe we are getting traction with the alcohol reforms and there’s a greater acceptance of them. Showing ID is quick and painless, and the restricted trading hours, it’s like anything in life” – essentially, some pain is worth the gain.
He says alcohol regulation has to be “a work in progress”. It’s important to close loopholes, as was done for instance around cheap bottled wine and to keep “all options open”.
“It’s a long-term problem, the government is fair dinkum in its approach but it’s not a quick fix.”
If the CLP wins government, there will be an overhaul of alcohol management policy. The party recognises that alcohol abuse is a major contributing factor to many of our social ills, says Mrs Lambley, but they don’t “believe” the current package of reforms is working. “Getting drunks off the streets” will be achieved by mandatory rehabilitation.
“We’ve costed it,” says Mrs Lambley when pressed on the expense of such a program. The details will be released by Shadow Minister Peter Stiles in the course of the campaign .
The success rates of rehab programs are not great. Will money be poured in for only a tiny benefit?
Good rehab programs have higher success rates, she says, and this has got to be tried: “We’ve gone down the track of limiting supply, now we have to focus on the people who actually have a problem.”
Learning to live with alcohol
And abstinence is not the only measure of success: “Building people’s capacity to live with alcohol and drink responsibly is harder to measure but could be very successful.”
She says there is “no strong evidence” that the current reforms have made a difference. In a now familiar argument, she says the cited decreases in consumption don’t take into account “the burgeoning online and mail order sales”. If these could be measured, “it would be a different story”.
Increasing police numbers is also something of an article of faith for the CLP and Mrs Lambley says the experience in Gillen “reinforces existing Country Liberals policy, that we need more police and a greater police presence in areas like the Flynn Drive supermarket and Piggly’s in the Gap too, that’s a bit of a meeting point.”
But the NT already has four times more police per capita than any other Australian jurisdiction – how far does it have to go?
“We also have double the national average in some categories of crime, double the national average in violence against women, incredibly high levels of child abuse and neglect, property offences have gone down a little over the last 12 months but during the by-election they had gone through the roof! We have always said that Alice Springs needs at least another 20 police officers.”
Services under pressure
She acknowledges, as Police Commissioner John McRoberts has recently said, that policing is not the entire answer, but as long as police are playing catch-up and only just managing to address immediate problems, families and services – health, education – remain under an unacceptably high level of pressure.
Mr Findlay says government should be guided by what the force itself says: “I manage a catering service. If I need more resources, I stick my hand up. If the head of the force said he needed more officers, then it would probably be warranted.”
The review of policing, announced by the Chief Minister last week, may also “demonstrate that the force can work with the numbers they’ve got, focussing on how they police”. He notes that police do solve most of the crime around Alice – “I take my hat off to them” – and points to the effective work between them and the Youth Hub, where after hours they can take young people to be dealt with by the Youth Street Outreach Service: “This was a fairly big part of my campaign in the by-election and I’m really happening to see that it’s working – it frees up police.
“The important thing is to also deal with root causes, the long-term issues. I’m getting that from my door-knocking as well. People are very keen to see young people going to school every day.”
Truancy laws are working
He says the government is onto this with their “Every Child Every Day” campaign and their support for truancy officers (there are three in Alice with more promised for The Centre next year). Mr Findlay is deputy chair of the school council for Ross Park Primary, where his children go (they had started school there before the family moved into the Araluen electorate) and he is encouraged by what he hears of the truancy laws working: “In the short term we treat the symptoms but in the long-term we want to see the next generation get a decent and full education.”
Mrs Lambley also makes the connection between education and law and order issues and is not afraid to give credit where it is due. She pays tribute to the work of principal Andrew Leslie at Centralian Middle School, situated in the heart of the electorate: “I’m hearing good things about a much more disciplined approach, I’m seeing the students in uniforms, reflecting the stronger identity of the school. It reflects better on the neighbourhood and the community, helps the neighbourhood feel better about itself.”
But she says boosting school attendance is an on-going struggle. When she’s door-knocking during the working week she often gets school age children answering, who appear to be perfectly healthy yet they are not going to school. (My School shows the CMS attendance rate in 2011 as 79%, a one percentage point improvement on the previous year when it was established. Gillen and Bradshaw, the local primary schools with somewhat similar profiles – though of course with younger students – had attendance rates of 88% in 2011.)
On the economic front, Mrs Lambley is heartened by some developments in the electorate, with the prospect of construction on the Melankas site, expansion of the Gap View Hotel, a possible expansion of the Quest apartments, the extension underway at the hospital (a new emergency department and 24-hour medical imaging service) – “but then there’s the Memo Club”, she sighs (after being in administration since March, creditors have voted to put it into liquidation).
Alice Springs needs a greater injection of capital works from the government, she says, describing as “appalling” Alice’s 6% portion of the NT infrastructure budget.
“We are the Territory’s second largest population centre – it’s clearly inequitable,” she says.
“We need a far greater commitment from government, in terms of infrastructure spending, to get Alice Springs out of the doldrums.”
Is the CLP making promises in this regard?
No promises, yet
“We have got some infrastructure projects that we are looking at now,” she says, without being more specific. However, a pet project for her, “my personal vision”, would be a new hospital.
“We have got to stop trying to fix an antiquated building, pouring millions into patching it up.
“The Labor Government hasn’t got a long-term vision for Alice Springs, it really just wants to maintain the status quo.
“How long are we going to wait for revitalisation of the CBD? We were talking about it in 2005 when I was on council, we are still waiting in 2012. It’s been in decline as long as I’ve lived in Alice Springs.”
It sends a very poor message to residents and visitors alike: “The mall is still attractive to me but when you go elsewhere – like Coffs Harbour where I went to visit my parents recently – you realise that what we’ve got looks very tired. The centre of town needs to reflect our iconic Outback identity but also needs to offer a clean, modern, serviceable amenity. We need to look like a town that is spending money on itself. The $5m or $6m that’s proposed – we need to be talking double that.”
Mr Findlay acknowledges that this year’s NT budget was “lean”, but it was “responsible”.
He says Alice will always struggle with the Berrimah line but the town would “probably get more if it had representatives as part of the Labor Government”.
Yet doesn’t the Labor Government always claim that it governs for “Territorians”?
“I appreciate your scepticism but my prediction is that Labor will be returned to government with an increase of two or three seats. It would be a travesty for Alice Springs if again its three local members are all in opposition.
“After 38 years of CLP representation – and for 27 of them the CLP was in government – it’s fair to say that a lot of the situation in Alice Springs is down to the CLP.”
Is Labor making any promises to entice local voters?
“It’s early days, there will be a time and place to make some announcements.”
He’s got some ideas: one is “sensible affordable housing for younger residents”. Some thinking “outside the square” will be in order for the new subdivision of Kilgariff.
“If it’s done in the usual way, it will be very unaffordable”, but any initiatives have to be carefully thought through: “We don’t want to damage the equity of existing home owners.”
Check out what the two candidates had to say last time: