Brown’s “blow-in Enviro-Nazi” blast draws formal complaint

By KIERAN FINNANE

 

A formal complaint has been lodged with the Town Council about the conduct of Councillor Steve Brown. The complaint comes from Jimmy Cocking, coordinator of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) and it’s about the letter to the editor written by Steve Brown and posted on this site on Tuesday morning.

 

Cr Brown signed the letter only as “Steve Brown” but he does not stipulate that the views are personal and they very much concern issues that are before council – the adoption of “community water rules” being pushed for by Alice Water Smart. Further, the Town Council is an Alice Water Smart consortium partner and has an elected member (Eli Melky) on its Citizens Advisory Panel in relation to the “water rules”.

 

Cr Brown accuses Water Smart of having a “blow-in Enviro-Nazi mentality” and, in a follow-up comment, describes its personnel as “Loopy Left Environmentalists”.

 

Mr Cocking (pictured above during a protest against the nuclear waste dump) says the letter breaches clause 5.4 of council’s Code of Conduct for Members which requires of them that they “treat members of the public fairly and equitably and with respect, courtesy, compassion and sensitivity”.

 

He says Cr Brown’s language is “offensive to us, our organisation, environmentalists generally and to the families of people around the world who suffered at the hands of the Nazis”. He says it is simply not acceptable for an elected representative to behave in the way Cr Brown does and that he needs to temper his approach.

 

Cr Brown, however, stands by his choice of words. He says the term “Enviro-Nazi” is in common usage and he has not applied it to any one individual: “If an individual recognises themselves behind the term then that’s their problem.”

 

The code of conduct provides penalties for breaches.  They include the possibility of a censure motion being passed by council; council requesting that the member make an apology; or council reprimanding the member who may be counselled.

 

Cr Brown says council might ask but he would not be apologising. And if council instructs him to? “I’ll take no bloody notice,” says Cr Brown. “I won’t be constrained in my language.”

 

Mr Cocking says Cr Brown’s letter is also in breach of council’s agreement with Alice Water Smart as a consortium partner: “You can’t go out in public slamming one of the other program partners. The whole spirit of the agreement is that we respect each other.”

 

To this Cr Brown (at right) says that he is a councillor, “not part of council”. He was elected to put people’s point of view to council: “I’m not subject to its rules and conditions.”

 

What about the code of conduct? The News read to him clause 5.4 (as quoted above). Cr Brown says he does treat members of the public with courtesy, and reiterated that his comment was about a particular mentality, not about individuals.

 

Mr Cocking says Cr Brown’s behaviour is especially of concern given that he is chair of the council’s Environment Advisory Committee: “It’s very hard for that committee to have credibility when its chair sees people who are concerned about the environment as ‘Enviro-Nazis’.”

 

Cr Brown rejects this: “I’m just sick of the holier-than-thou smart-assess who give all environmentalists a bad name. I’m an environmentalist, of the common sense kind.”

 

Mr Cocking says Cr Brown has also demonstrated “disconnection” with his responsibilities by failing to attend, or provide an apology to, the October meeting of the Alice Springs Water Advisory Committee, convened by the NT Government, and on which he is the council representative.

 

Cr Brown is again unapologetic. He says he can’t attend every meeting nor apologise for every absence. Things come up at the last minute, especially as he’s a working electrician.

 

The controversy comes in the wake of council adopting on Monday a “usage” policy relating to media, including social media, which imposes similar constraints on elected members. It generally calls on them to exercise “sound judgment and professionalism” and stipulates that those using social media “must … be polite and respectful to all people with whom they interact” and “must not post material that is offensive”.

 

The vote was split five to four. The dissenting four were Councillors Brown, Eli Melky, Geoff Booth and Dave Douglas. Cr Brown’s objections were mainly focussed on this paragraph: “Views expressed by elected members should be clearly identified as their own, either personal or professional. Comments should be in line with relevant Council policies and not at any time bring the reputation of Council into disrepute.”

 

During debate Cr Brown agreed that once elected members reach a decision they should back it up and that they should not bring council into disrepute but he didn’t like at all the idea of “wording that sits on our shoulders and every time we go to write a letter to the paper or make a comment that we have to think whether it complies”.

 

He said that it may often be the duty of an elected member to disagree with council and not to necessarily follow council’s guidelines. “Our role is to represent a point of view of ratepayers to council. Any wording that places restrictions on our ability to do that is anti-democratic and I will not support it”.

 

It so happened that Cr Brown had his letter to the editor ready to fire off, and has thus provided an early test of the policy and the “disciplinary action” it warns of.

 

Meanwhile, he says he will be working to overturn the media usage policy which is a “direct threat to freedom of speech”.

 

Town Council CEO Rex Mooney has said he will respond to questions from the Alice Springs News Online “as soon as I am in a position to do so”.

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13 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. Hal Duell
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I’m still not sure just how important regional biodiversity and the surrounding natural environment as we now know it is. The genie seems to be well and truly out of the bottle as regards imported plant, animal and human inhabitants here in central Australia.
    And given that if climate change is anywhere near as real as we are led to believe, the chances are we will experience a growth in all three categories, probably sooner rather than later.
    Why limit the choice of trees for amenity planting to those that have a pedigree from here? Might that not be severely and unnecessarily limiting? I know that an imported Brazilian Pepper Tree is home to many species of birds and lizards in my back yard, as well as housing most of my hanging baskets while throwing afternoon shade on my outdoor living area. All wins and no losses.
    Everything is in flux all over the world, a state of affairs that is only to be expected when the globe is home to seven billion souls whose driving engine is turbo-capitalism. And the consequences of that is what we have to deal with.

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  2. Bob K. Durnan
    Posted December 11, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Mike (Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm): Could you tell us a bit more about these WA eucalypts – e.g. where and when they were planted in Alice, and where they are still in place?
    Are there any exotic shade trees that are unproblematic in terms of their competition with locally native plants?

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  3. Mike Gillam
    Posted December 10, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    The notion that our society might sit on its hands and even actively assist the next wave of species extinctions by failing to protect regional biodiversity could only be described as NOT “dealing with it”.
    While the actions of 19th century acclimatisation societies who introduced various pests including English songbirds, rabbits etc can be excused in large part by ignorance how do we explain studied indifference to the loss of biodiversity today?
    I’m not totally sure about the relevance of Hal’s whitefellas and yet another enviro-bogey man thrown in for good measure. I was referring to the historical choice of trees for amenity planting. Sustainable and “prolific” shade was probably a core objective at the time but inexplicably the Town Council’s choice of Eucalypt species included some from south-west WA, a temperate zone.
    The climatic contrasts are great. Alice Springs lies in a semi arid zone with many more days of high summer temperatures and much higher maximums.
    Equivalent “local” species were largely ignored and the town received a less than optimal return on its investment. Fair enough, we all make mistakes and hopefully we learn.
    Councillor Brown takes the lesson in a peculiar direction: “More Furphies: native plants use less water! … while there are few suitably attractive species native to this area that give value for money / water, there are many exotics that do far better…”
    Exploiting the failure of some temperate zone Eucalypts to justify promoting exotics (potentially harmful to the surrounding natural environment) is irresponsible. Brushing over an array of local native plants that could help to transform this town’s public places simply beggars belief.

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted December 8, 2012 at 5:02 am

    The native versus imported plant debate is an interesting one.
    Since moving onto my current block 18 years ago, I have enjoyed planting a variety of trees and vines while whacking most of the grasses. Mulga is local, as is a white gum, but a prolific lemon tree and an equally prolific mulberry come from somewhere else in the world.
    Once I had to physically restrain a young environmentalist, a dear friend, who was adamant that my fence-covering vines had to go.
    And yet over the years one particular acacia (I think it’s an acacia) has colonised both my front and back yards. Birds drop the seeds, it grows under and around everything else, and it’s tough as. One robust plant was (is) throwing a bit too much shade onto my lemon, so I ring-barked it. The last I checked, it was still laughing.
    I lack the horticultural skills to know whether this plant is a local native or an imported native, but it likes it here and seems determined to stay. A bit like the dove. A bit like all us whitefellas.
    Things change. Deal with it.

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  5. Mike Gillam
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    Steve Brown’s assertion: “I’m an environmentalist, of the common sense kind” sits uneasily with his biased promotion of exotic plants and apparent indifference to their potential as environmental weeds. His latest offering continues in the same vein as his letter “Blow in enviro Nazis – hands off our water!” (I’ve mostly quoted from this earlier letter). Almost lost in the name-calling and dogma he does make some valid points concerning the importance of water recycling and cost recovery from consumers. But he also promotes the planting of exotic trees over natives (claiming water efficiency as his justification) while making special mention of the “olive from Spain…” despite its recognition as an environmental weed in this country. His views are concerning because he is Chair of the Alice Springs Town Council’s Environment Committee and as such he may be voicing something more than a private opinion.

    Promoting the merits of exotic trees over natives, Steve observes, “we’ve filled our town with ugly, …. water guzzling WA gums” I’m grateful to Steve for raising this historical tragedy but I’m shocked if he thinks this helps to prove his point “…the sacrifice of our town to the blindly naive beliefs of a few Loopy Left Environmentalists …” Surely no student of Alice Springs Town Council history could ever believe that lefty/environmentalist/do-gooders have EVER held sway in the chamber? It is however a reality that the Town Council (before Steve’s time) made a huge public investment in “popular” Australian natives in preference to endemic (Central Australian natives) for street tree plantings.
    These included some species with relatively high water needs. Many failed to thrive and I can’t begin to imagine the waste of water or the collateral “marketing” damage to the reputation of local / endemic species. Instead of helping to drive demand and increase availability to the general public, local natives were often studiously avoided by the Town Council. For many years most trees planted in the streets of Alice Springs were Australian natives but not actually Central Australian! Advanced stock was often favoured over smaller fresher plants and “fast growing” was another attribute that didn’t necessarily translate into a sound local investment. Some trees were planted in soils that guaranteed their failure and planting schemes tended to be ad hoc and rarely determined by a landscaping plan – a huge lost opportunity for local government to improve the amenity of public places, highlight local responses to this amazing region and lead by example. Unless public officials can rise to the challenges of leadership and draw upon this community’s enviable breadth of skills, Town Council’s stewardship of public places including the beleaguered Todd River are unlikely to improve. On a positive note, endemic trees have increased greatly in Town Council plantings in recent years and it would be a shame if Steve’s comments encouraged Council to retreat from this position. Trees are a long term investment for our community and it would be good therefore to see experienced streetscape designers making better use of our rich botanical heritage. The Town Council might also seek help from a wide array of local environmental scientists, ecologists, botanists, including experienced CDU lecturers, to run courses on environmental awareness for relevant staff and committee members.

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  6. Posted December 4, 2012 at 8:11 am

    When Steve Brown, or anyone else uses the word “Nazi” to describe anyone, or any situation they show that there are not totally aware of the pain and suffering that the Nazis inflicted on many parts of the world, including and perhaps worse of all on the population of Germany. With his fine eye for place and detail I recommend acclaimed historian Antony Beevor’s latest offering, “The Second World War” as an excellent read.

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  7. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted December 2, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Alex Nelson sent a Letter to the Editor on this subject.

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  8. Hal Duell
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    @ Lone Dingo & Stephan Hattrell
    While reflecting on the comments the two of you have contributed to this article, I feel another point has to be made.
    English is a living, dynamic language. It grows. It is not owned, but belongs to all of us. Words once known only in a specific historical context can change over years, and through use, to become something more than what they originally were. Such is the case with the word in contention here.
    In an historical context, Nazi refers to a political movement from the mid-twentieth century. That was the topic of the debate you, Lone Dingo, referred to from a Council meeting last March. That debate ripped through Council chambers on the night it happened to the extent that a time-out was called for tempers to cool.
    But in the current debate, nazi refers in a particularly emotive fashion to strong bullying, to amounting to what is also known as stand-over tactics. The odious politics of Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s have nothing to do with it.
    Object if you like to Cr Brown’s emotive language, but it is a misdirection to try to equate his use of the word enviro-nazi to Hitler’s political party.
    Time to move on. Our common language is continually doing just that.

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  9. Hal Duell
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 9:41 am

    @ Lone Dingo
    Upper case, and Nazi refers to a German member of Alolf Hitler’s political party.
    Lower case, and nazi is a derogatory term for a person who is fanatically dedicated to, or seeks to control, some activity or practice.
    In my comment last March I used the upper case, a point easily checked. I stand by that comment.
    One point I find interesting in this debate is that no one bothered to object when I used the same term – enviro-nazi – in a satirical reply to a comment posted on this website by Cr Brown’s wife, Janet Brown, only a couple of weeks ago.
    But did I use the upper or the lower case? I forget, but if it was the upper then I was wrong to do so, and I apologise.

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  10. Posted November 29, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    My thanks to Stefan Hattrell for his post November 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm. You have brought some balance into this realm. It is a real shame that some of us have to discuss this at all.

    In the Alice Springs News the same issue was commented on by regular correspondent Hal Duell when challenging another (i.e. not Steve Brown), local government elected representative.

    Hal Duell advised: “He also forgot the truism that the first person to mention the nazis loses the argument.” Published Alice Springs News, March 13, 2012.

    This time, only eight months later, talking about Jimmy Cocking, coordinator from the Alice Springs Environment Centre, Hal Duell says “Toughen up Jimmy … whinging gets nowhere.” Published Alice Springs News 28/11/12 at 3:14 pm.

    I will let you draw your own conclusions.

    Let me say that the advice from Hal Duell (13/3/12) is worth printing and heeding. It was one that I learnt well back in the painful days of a country high school. Back to the Leveson report into ethics and corruption in the British media.
    David Chewings aka THE lone dingo

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  11. Stefan Hattrell
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    Surely Brown can express his opinions and personal views (and those of the constituents he claims to represent) without resorting to such loaded language.

    The term “nazi” may have taken on some new meanings since WW2 but it still has very strong connotations related to that time.

    It is unfair and unhelpful language to use in any context, let alone the arena of local politics.

    Communities small and large depend upon people working together to achieve common outcomes and often this means compromise.

    Using this kind of language will only serve to divide the community when we need to be creating dialogue.

    Cr Brown may also care to inquire with relevant scientific organisations in the NT before making sweeping claims about the state of our water basin.

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  12. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted November 29, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Former alderman Murray Stewart has written a Letter to the Editor on this subject.

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  13. Hal Duell
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    From the Online Dictionary: nazi – derogatory term for a person who is fanatically dedicated to, or seeks to control, some activity, practice, etc.
    derogation, disparagement, depreciation – a communication that belittles somebody or something
    controller, restrainer – a person who directs and restrains
    Toughen up, Jimmy. You have a right of reply. Use it. Whinging gets nowhere.
    And please, please can we not muffle our councillors? Rather we should encourage them to say what they like. We can all read. The danger in restricting public comments is all of them could go bureaucratic on us and only comment when they are in a position to do so, whatever that means.
    Let’s keep the debate rolling, warts and all.

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