Neglect of Alice to be on Country Liberals’ agenda?

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

When the Central Council of the Territory’s ruling party meets in Alice Springs tomorrow and Sunday it can expect an ear bashing for its politicians’ neglect of the town, while they are hyperventilating over Darwin’s new draft master plan signaling the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars.

 

At the same time, the Country Liberal councilors may ask, where are the Alice Springs entrepreneurs, now that there is a government pledged to make their life easy? Of course, the apparent absence of smart and courageous players in the local economy is a subject about which the party may like to do some internal soul searching.

 

Alice Chamber of Commerce CEO Kay Eade is grappling with similar questions. She says the town has been in a slump since the Federal Intervention has scaled back, SIHIP, the Aboriginal housing initiative, and the upgrading of town camps – projects worth close to $1b – have come to an end, and stimulus money has dried up.

 

“We’re back to where we were in 2010,” says Ms Eade.

We’re in a tailspin: people are leaving town which means fewer service industries are needed which means more people are leaving town. There is a bright side right now, it’s easy for find tradies to fix your air conditioner or upgrade your kitchen.

 

Used to be spoon fed from the public purse, local businesses are failing to come up with substantial projects of their own.

 

Asks Ms Eade: “Where are the business people who see an opportunity, analyze it and if it stacks up, take the bull by the horns?”

She says all that’s on the go are the Sitzler building (the former Commonwealth Bank) in Parsons Street, tipped to get at least part of its income from leasing space to the NT Government for Supreme Court rooms.

 

The other is a block of “affordable accommodation” on the site of the defunct bowls club in Gap Road. This has a three year covenant to begin construction – but as can be seen with the Sitzler building, extensions can be obtained.

 

Melanka seems to be on the radar again, says Ms Eade, “redesigned to suit the budget,” but that would be money from interstate, from the Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel & Resort in Cairns.

 

She says there is a lack of communication with the government. Treasurer Dave Tollner listens to “select people” on his business council.

 

Robyn Lambley is the only local Member communicating with the community – raising the question what Chief Minister Adam Giles and Tourism Minister Matt Conlan are up to.

 

Local companies are in limbo: They cannot forever retain idle staff and carry business expenses such as rent and car leasing without knowing where their next cheque will come from.

 

Ms Eade says the government has made it clear they will not significantly invest in assets but they will cut red tape, release land and pay for services, such as a child care centre, from private providers. But so far, she says, the next step – investors coming forward – is slow in coming.

 

Is it the judgment of the local entrepreneurs that there is no opportunity in Central Australia to make a dollar from private enterprise? It seems so.

 

Mr Giles is ebullient about Darwin’s future – maybe even including a light rail. Commenting on the master plan draft unveiled yesterday he said: “With careful planning Darwin will become the jewel at the top of Australia’s crown, with economic prosperity, new business opportunities, more jobs and a promising future for all. We can build a thriving city that will become an example to the rest of the world of life in the tropics.”

 

This is in sharp contrast to Alice Springs. Its master plan, drawn up in 2008, had a 1200-plus block industrial, commercial and residential subdivision south of The Gap at its core.

That has shriveled to 30 residential blocks, which now have to be developed by the government because no private business would have a go.

 

Ms Eade says 30 blocks are not economically viable for a private developer. She concedes that the government would have offered the opportunity to develop 100 or more blocks – but there were no takers.

 

She says it seems the future of Alice is likely to be as a supply and support centre for mining in the region. However, the mines now on the drawing board may take up 10 years to go into production.

 

PHOTOS: Model of potential redevelopment of Frances Bay and its relationship to the Darwin City Centre. Light rail without overhead cables in Bordeaux, France, servicing a population of 200,000 people.

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3 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Greg Simon
    Posted February 23, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Tourism is suffering because of inadequate road access to important venues. For years, for the sake of sealing 100klm of Ernest Giles Rd, tourist coaches and others have had to cover unnecessary kilometers and valuable time driving 150 kilometers every time they travel between Kings Canyon and Alice Springs and vice versa, wasting three hrs of valuable time, on a tour, costing tourism businesses dearly. I had to drive that route for years bearing the brunt of complaints for the unnecessary drive of 300 kilometers on a return trip. The road between Alice Springs and the East needs sealing between Harts Range and Boulia, saving 900 kilometers on a trip between Alice and the East coast, without going via Tennant Creek. The Tanami Road is another urgent problem.

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  2. Posted February 23, 2014 at 11:03 am

    In perusing media coverage of the past in Central Australia and the NT (of the past half a century or so), a regular theme crops up in relation to Aboriginal issues.
    On virtually all missions and settlements the complaint was that young Aboriginal people were successfully educated to a good standard of secondary schooling, and many people were trained in a range of trades and skills – but there was invariably insufficient work available for them.
    The long term result of this was that Aboriginal people failed to see the relevance of a good education as it gave them no advantage in finding work. This has played a major part in the disaster that afflicts Aboriginal communities to this day.
    I raise this point because it seems to be an appropriate analogy for the plight afflicting the economy of Alice Springs.
    What’s clearly evident is that our local economy is overwhelmingly dependent on government largesse, both Commonwealth and NT Government.
    Without a constant influx of taxpayers’ dollars we have an insufficient economic base upon which our town can maintain its current size, let alone grow larger.
    For many decades now we’ve been living in a fool’s paradise; and the answer obviously doesn’t lie with continuing the old pattern of knocking down older buildings and infrastructure to be replaced by larger inappropriate structures that depend on the continuation of government spending to remain viable.
    Equally the solution doesn’t lie with extending the town’s suburban sprawl onto prime – potentially highly productive – alluvial land south of the Gap (ie. AZRI).
    We’ve been here before – in 1987 the NT Government (then CLP) formally announced the commencement of the Undoolya Subdivision, east of Alice Springs, with funds allocated for headworks.
    Up to this time our town had been bursting at the seams for two decades (population growth was in excess of 10 per cent annually in the late 1960s, in those “bad old days of Commonwealth control”) but this was largely due to an unending stream of government money. That dried up sharply in the late 1980s and early 1990s – in fact, Alice Springs has never fully recovered from those times.
    Along the way went the vision of the Undoolya Subdivision, although the NT Government insisted as late as 1991-2 it was still going to proceed eventually.
    We’re now seeing exactly the same thing happening with the Kilgariff subdivision; and the NT Government is undertaking the limited development of this ill-considered project in order to keep the local construction industry on resuscitation.
    Not only is this essentially a “false economy” but it’s history repeating – this was the main reason for proceeding with the State Square Project in Darwin during the economic slump of the late 1980s/early 1990s, and (locally) for proceeding with the construction of the Tom Hare Building (Parks and Wildlife headquarters at AZRI) and the Strehlow Museum in the Araluen Precinct.
    It’s worth noting the Undoolya Subdivision was announced by the Deputy Chief Minister, Ray Hanrahan – also then the Minister for Lands and Planning, and the local Member for Flynn (I was a long-serving executive committee member of the CLP’s Flynn Branch in those years).
    Today we have all three local urban members as senior ministers of the current CLP government, including the Chief Minister – plus the two Central Australian bush seats also held by the CLP (a situation not seen since 1974-77) – and they’re floundering.
    A major problem for the local urban members is that they’re all comparative new chums to this town – they don’t know the history here, and display a profound disregard for it – and overwhelmingly their advisors and top bureaucrats are the same.
    The recent history of our town and region is NOT irrelevant, as so many would have us believe. We continue to ignore it at our peril because we simply continue to regurgitate the same errors made in the past, with ever worsening consequences.
    We don’t learn from the past, we don’t avoid the mistakes of those times, and we’re basically clueless about how to make things work better in future.

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  3. Steve Brown
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Spoon fed! What a ridiculous comment. There is nothing spoon fed about the contracting game, it’s hard, tough and super competitive no matter what the source of the funds!
    Sure, government projects have been the bread and butter of the industry for quite awhile, why is that?
    Where’s the private investment you ask? Maybe just take a little look backwards over the past dozen years and you will see a back trail littered with the carcasses of many rejected projects!
    Projects rejected on a whim, or on a deliberate political decision to shut down growth in the Centre, for one stupid ideology or another.
    If the proposed projects had received backing at the time they were put up Alice would be a thriving town of around 50,0000 today. Now we have a government that says it will support such projects and are encouraging growth. That’s great. However, it requires investors who have already had their fingers burnt to trust, to believe again!
    Then to find the considerable sums that it takes to put up such proposals while at the very same time deal with a massive collapse in earnings bought about by a government that has simply stopped spending.
    As I’ve said before, it takes a long time to get projects through the planning stages. We are talking years. So tell us, Kay, no income for a couple of years while you await government approval on projects? How do we do it? It’s very easy to sit on the sidelines on a fat assured wage and criticise, and perhaps therein lies the real issue: Not enough on ground practical experience in government, no real grasp of the enormous difficulties that have been created for local business.
    Yeh, there I was just a few weeks ago sitting in a meeting with a whole bunch of our leading bureaucrats who seemed to be of the opinion that things “weren’t to bad”.
    Nothing like a fat public service pay-packet to make the economy feel brighter is there? And why do we need local business anyway, after all there are plenty multi-nationals to take their place! Ah, government by bureaucrats!

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