By KIERAN FINNANE
In her first foray into politics, tourism operator Deborah Rock is standing for Labor in Braitling. Not previously a member of the party, she first came to Labor’s attention as a result of penning letters to the editor. Their theme was to reject the idea of widespread fear and insecurity in Alice, asserting that the town was a beautiful and mostly safe place to live.
That remains a key message. The magnificent landscape drew her to Alice in 1998 but what has kept her here – and she thinks this is true for many people – is the sense of personal freedom and community.
“You can be yourself and still be successful,” she says, “and you can get to know a wide range of people. I love that small town thing of going to the shops and running into lots of people I know.”
Not surprisingly then, community harmony is at the top of her agenda: “We need to address our problems without creating division, without talking the town down.”
Youth at risk
She says law and order issues are raised regularly when she is door-knocking “although they are by no means the only subject and a lot of people are perfectly happy and love living here”. Those who are worried are aware of break-ins in their neighbourhood, hooning in cars on the local streets and are particularly concerned about “kids mucking up”.
Ms Rock says “discipline and welfare” have to go hand in hand when dealing with young people “who are not just a risk to the community but are at risk themselves”.
She says the Territory Government is kicking goals here, naming the Youth Street Outreach Service and the Youth Hub as examples.
More could be done in providing more supported accommodation for at risk youth and more activities for youth generally, but everything costs money and governments have to work within their budgets.
Residents are also raising alcohol issues, with views split on whether tightening or easing restrictions is the way to go. She says she is interested in listening to everyone’s thoughts on the matter, although she subscribes to Labor’s policies on maintaining current restrictions and the Banned Drinkers Register.
Hope and opportunities
Ultimately she’d like to see restrictions eased but only when progress is made in the areas which feed people’s alcoholism: “Until we’ve raised people’s standard of living, given them hope and opportunities, we’ll continue to have alcohol issues. And to turn up the tap in these circumstances would be pouring fuel onto the fire.”
So, how will the necessary progress be made?
Ms Rock commends the Alice Springs Transformation Plan for improving housing for Aboriginal people.
She says the Aboriginal people she has spoken to want to work, want education but express “frustration and resentment” at being targeted by specific policies. The only way through is to continually consult them in identifying the problems and their solutions, she says.
After 25 years in marketing and sales positions in the tourism industry, Ms Rock this year took up the study of psychology through the University of New England. This has stimulated her interest in improving mental health services in Alice. In her door-knocking she has come across families with autistic children who need greater support and services. It’s also clear that children affected by foetal alcohol syndrome need greater support.
She welcomes the opportunity that the election campaign is giving her to raise these issues and intends speaking directly to Health Minister Kon Vatskalis about them.
Alice and the region could also do with more counsellors and she is interested in exploring the possibilities of local training being delivered by Charles Darwin University.
Self-help in tourism
In her own industry she promotes self-help (see her comment piece published earlier this year). Tourism may be down but certainly not out. Operators may need to be clever about delivering the right products. She runs, in partnership, an upmarket bed and breakfast which continues to do very well. It is promoted directly into European markets where people are seeking “niche experiences”.
What about government investment in the industry? Is it well targeted?
Ms Rock says her operation is well supported by Tourism NT offices in Europe and the USA. On its promotion campaigns, she says most of them target the domestic market which is not an important market for her.
“But people in the industry do look to government for help, as they do in all industries.”
If elected, is this an area where she would focus her energies?
She says that would be up to the Chief Minister. She has a strong interest in tourism but is also interested in education, health and housing. In terms of the local economy, she would like government to look at what can be done to help support up and coming entrepreneurs.
What about on the housing front?
“The Kilgariff subdivision is coming and that will make a difference.”
She has heard arguments for a large number of blocks to be released inexpensively but says government must be mindful of the repercussions that could have on the market and people’s existing investments.
Angela Pamela an issue if CLP wins
Her campaign posters, like those of her colleagues in Greatorex and Araluen, highlight Labor’s opposition to a possible uranium mine at Angela Pamela just south of town.
How much of an issue is this amongst people she has door-knocked?
She says it as been raised specifically only by two people, but while it may not be a hot issue now if the Country Liberals were to win government, it would be.
The Alice News asks her if Labor will act to definitely rule out a possible mine on the tenement, by reserving the land in some way.
She says she would love to see “a guarantee for the future”, but the pros and cons would have to be carefully weighed up.