By KIERAN FINNANE
It was a “job interview” and he didn’t turn up. First question to the other three contenders for the Legislative Assembly seat of Greatorex was, “Where’s the CLP candidate? Has there been any apology from him?”
This was the ‘meet the candidate’ forum for Greatorex, organised well in advance by independent candidate Phil Walcott to which all contenders were invited.
“If someone chooses to not turn up for the interview, well …,” said Mr Walcott, explaining that incumbent Matt Conlan (Country Liberals) had indicated that he would not attend via a letter to the editor in the Centralian Advocate last week.
Joining Mr Walcott to outline their platform and answer questions were the ALP candidate Rowan Foley and the Greens’ recently announced contender, Evelyne Roullet.
It seems though that the campaign is hardly setting the electorate on fire. A dozen constituents turned up. Local media from three outlets were also in attendance.
Alcohol policies were an inevitable focus.
Mr Foley pointed to yesterday’s press release from Alcohol Policy Minister Delia Lawrie, claiming a “6% drop in crime” linked to the Banned Drinkers’ Register (BDR).
He didn’t mention that this figure excludes alcohol-related assaults associated with domestic violence.
The full report, also released yesterday, reveals that alcohol-related assaults associated with DV increased by 7.8% across the NT. However, it says this increase “is a reflection of the initiatives implemented by Police to encourage the reporting of DV and the improvement in the procedure of recording DV related assaults”.
The figures for Alice Springs in both categories show a decline, down 1.7% and 2.1% respectively. Darwin, Katherine and Palmerston similarly show declines. The Territory total is pushed up by increases in Tennant Creek, Nhulunbuy and “NT – balance”.
Ms Lawrie also pointed to fewer – by a “staggering” 10,000 – anti-social behavior incidents. While emphasising the BDR, she also outlined the government’s other measures, including the SMART court, the Alcohol and other Drugs Tribunal, and reduction in “the pathways to treatment”, from eight days to three hours.
Mr Walcott dismissed the ID-based BDR, saying that it doesn’t work and that drinkers will always find a way around it, but he criticised the CLP’s approach as more interested in punishment that in solving the issue. He pushed for an agreed approach, not based on “us and them”.
Ms Roullet, who in her own words speaks with “a very strong French accent” but has nonetheless lived in Alice since the 1970s, acknowledges the problem, but sees it as a symptom. The underlying causes are what need to be addressed, in collaboration with Aboriginal people themselves.
The candidates were quizzed on town planning and what they thought about having “greater control” based in Alice Springs.
A central point of Mr Walcott’s campaign is to regionalise, not centralise. “Stuff that belongs in Central Australia” should be dealt with by people here, he said.
Ms Roullet agreed, while Mr Foley said he was “relaxed about having some sort of regional body in place”.
Ms Roullet stressed the need for affordable accommodation, harking back to her early experience in Alice Springs when people were able to pay a $500 deposit on a home and pay it off over 45 years.
The issue of the railway crossing at the main intersection of Larapinta Drive and Stott Terrace was raised. On this point the moderator Kay Eade, present as a resident of Greatorex (not in her Chamber of Commerce role), had more to say than the candidates. She warned of “a lost opportunity” in not negotiating with mining and exploration companies for investment in a solution, such as a rail by-pass. She stressed the problem of the western side of town being cut off from emergency services while the level crossing is closed, and said that wait times will only increase with the expansion of Roxby Downs. She suggested that all three tiers of government combine to negotiate a funded solution with mining companies.
A possible uranium mine at Angela-Pamela got the thumbs down from all candidates (the issue is central to Mr Foley’s campaign).
Mr Walcott was asked what he would do in the event of a hung parliament. Would he negotiate a deal with whoever was in government, as Gerry Woods has done. Mr Walcott said he couldn’t commit himself on the issue until he sees the composition of the parliament, where it is possible that there would be four independents. He would be “very guided” by his constituents.
Mr Foley had earlier raised “the tragedy” at White Gate – the so-called “informal” town camp on the eastern fringes of town, home to a number of native title holder families, with very limited infrastructure. He said “we need to focus our resources” on doing something about it. The Alice Springs News Online asked him what specifically and whether he had raised the issue with government. “Not yet,” he said.
Ms Eade raised another issue – tenant behaviour in public housing. “Not their fault”, she said when they have not been educated to live in housing. It’s an issue close to home, literally, as her neighbours come from an outlying small community. The tenant is a grandmother whom she gets on well with but when this woman is away and family are visiting there are significant problems, including noise. She says complaints “fall on deaf ears”.
Mr Walcott said there are “lots of mentoring opportunities” in such situations and Ms Roullet said we need people – “social workers” – to teach Aboriginal people how to live in houses.
After the forum the Alice News asked about preference allocation. Mr Walcott said he would not be preferencing anyone, in line with his independent stance. Mr Foley said that the final decision will not be up to him, but rather Labor’s campaign director for the whole of the NT.
Photo (from left): Rowan Foley, Evelyne Roullet and Phil Walcott – but where is Matt?