Two new supreme courts, no expenses spared

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The NT Government endlessly gripes about the debt left to it by its Labor predecessor. Why is it now seeking tenders for two new supreme courts, no expenses spared?

 

The brief for the tender, closing on May 25, makes it clear that the government will not be using the court building (pictured), corner Railway and Stott Terraces, for which it is committed to a 10 year lease entered by the previous government, and which is mothballed.

 

The tender document gives the impression it is tailor-made for a new building, or part of it, planned by the construction company Sitzlers, on the site of the old Commonwealth Bank.

 

Says a spokesperson for the Minister for Corporate and Information Services: ”The Territory Government is exploring alternative uses for the property [opposite Billygoat Hill] given the former Labor Government entered into a 10 year lease in mid-2011.

 

“While the property is configured as a hearing room to accommodate the former Government’s Alcohol Courts, it is not suitable for use by the Supreme Court as there is no way to accommodate a jury.

 

“The Government is exploring other options to ensure the building can serve a useful purpose for taxpayers.”

 

These assertions are questionable. After several requests the Alice Springs News Online was given permission to inspect the building.

 

We were not allowed to take photographs inside – no reason was given for this.

 

However, we took approximate measurements of the interior and there seems to be plenty of room for one court, including a jury room, reducing the apparent need from two new courts to one.

 

At the eastern end of the complex are toilets and washrooms. Then there is a room 16 by 12 metres formerly apparently used as an office, with some desks still inside.

 

Then comes the court room, 12 by 12 metres, and adjacent to it, a room measuring 4 by 12 metres.

 

At the western end, where the entrance from Railway Terrace is, are more toilets and a small lobby.

 

There is also a door at the eastern end of the complex, so participants in a hearing can avoid coming in contact with each other, if necessary.

 

Of course, the rather mundane building opposite Billygoat Hill falls rather short of some of the government’s ambitions: “The building should be dignified, stately, and authoritative to achieve a presence within the CBD appropriate to a Supreme Court, a superior Court of the Northern Territory,” the tender document requires.

 

“It should be architecturally impressive, iconic and convey a style commensurate with the dignity of the Courts.”

 

It’s language more suitable to a building that, for example, enhances the lifestyle of locals, or boosts tourism – such as a centre celebrating the region’s ample cultural riches – not a place where the community’s most depraved events are dealt with, day in, day out, and with scant signs of improvement to the region’s oppressive crime rate.

 

“Location should be as close as possible to the existing Courts and proposed new Police Headquarters and Station in the Greatorex Building,” says the brief – a clear advantage for the Sitzler location.

 

The 172 page tender document outlines a facility that has everything that opens and shuts.

 

The winning tenderer would be required to provide for a 20 year lease multiple rooms, offices, car parks or toilets for judges, witnesses, defendants, counsel, court staff and so that members of the public who may have differences can avoid one another.

 

Items:

• “Secure judicial parking” – would it not benefit Their Honours to take a brisk walk to Billygoat Hill from wherever they are parking their cars right now?

 

• “Counsel Robing Room Lounge and Kitchenette” – could counsel perhaps arrive at the court robed?

 

“The Robing Room needs to accommodate the installation of twelve (12) full size lockers, full height mirror and space for legal counsel to robe” and to “include male and female toilet facilities for the exclusive use of legal counsel”.

 

Given today’s advanced communications systems – video, audio, email – and the numerous vacant commercial premises in town, plus the already existing registry office in Parsons Street, why is it necessary to create space for the registry including a counter area, work space, offices, distributor room, staff room?

 

And why do the Director of Public Prosecutions, NT Legal Aid and Aboriginal Legal Aid (all publicly funded) need offices in addition to those they already have in Alice Springs – a short walk away? Why a court recording room?

 

The building – new or refurbished – would need to “contribute to the civic architecture of Alice Springs and be clearly visible within the street as a public building”.

 

And: “The Supreme Court must be removed from, and free of ordinary commercial and partisan pressure.” On the other hand “it should not inhibit commercial development”.

 

This raises the question: Would the shenanigans outside the courthouse, attendant to some trials, not inhibit more than commercial development right in the heart of the CBD?

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11 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. Roger W Miller. Darwin.
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 10:44 am

    If it was’nt for comments 1 and 5 I could have been mistaken I was on the wrong story. New buildings to favoured contractors because the old building was on a 10 year lease by “Labor”! Just like conquerors of old. Remove all trace of the old regime regardless of the cost.

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  2. Melanie Ross
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 11:05 am

    What a surprise that this Supreme Court tender is tailor made for the Sitzler project at the old Commonwealth Bank.
    Wouldn’t have anything to do with Sitzlers looking at pulling out of Alice earlier this year would it? That wouldn’t have done Adam and co much good in Alice would it, one of the largest and oldest construction firms pulling out.
    While I’m very happy to see Sitzler and its workforce stay in Alice Springs [I am wondering] about this deal.

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  3. Don Moray
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Sorry, I don’t think Neville Perkins had any vision of “bridging the cultural gaps”. I think his vision was firmly aimed at his own pocket.
    If he was aiming to bridge the cultural gap by staging a cultural festival in Mparntwe, then one would think he would have had the manners to contact the Mparntwe-arenye people and invited them to have some input to the festival, its planning and management.
    This festival was staged on their land and using their name. The festival only contacted these people in the last few days before the festival started, after being embarrassed into doing so by a whitefella who is aware of the correct cultural protocols.
    With a lack of respect for the original owners of the country this festival was doomed to failure from the start.

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  4. Aaron
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 6:54 am

    @russell guy. Clearly you’ve only read a few of my comments. When we endure a so-called leader that made it all sound so easy for a number of years, one can only be disappointed and cynical with his behaviour and performance once he crash and burned his way to the top. (I have no doubt he’ll fall in the same fashion).
    The solution is quite simple. Yet it takes courage, vision and balls – of which our current leader has none. Finally there is someone who is taking the step, being Tony Abbott. The solution is stop it at the source: cash. Tony Abbott’s no dole till 25 is an absolute step in the right direction. Stop the handing out of cash and self respect can evolve. With self respect, pride and responsibility can build. That is the foundation of any successful community/society.

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  5. Russell Guy
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 9:57 am

    @ Ray. Posted 3rd May, 2014. 10: 47PM.
    I’m not praising the organisation of the Mbantua festival, but I am identifying Neville Perkins as someone who had a vision and tried to bridge the cultural gaps that are used to divide the community of Central Australia.
    Your opinion that the Mbantua Festival “was an overpriced, mismanaged embarrassment” may be shared by a few social media pundits and others, but by all accounts the old Bungalow Rainbow Village show at the Telegraph Station was an artistic triumph and I’d reckon that a few careers were born in young hearts that day, despite the difficulties offstage.
    I only know what I read about the financial issues, but I can tell you that I’ve been a production manager for several cultural festivals, hiring P.A. and generators, including back-ups, lights, staff, crew, catering, staging and artists and it’s not something you take on lightly.
    Often, I was the first one there and the last to leave, with a bag full of paperwork.
    I remember telephoning the head of a W.A. Indigenous organisations about money owed and being told “you’re not the only one been kicked in the guts.”
    I knew where she was coming from and I drove out of there to another gig. I did that countless times over a decade to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars owed and I have no recriminations.
    It’s an unfortunate fact that artistic pursuits incur bad debts like any other business.
    The Arts are undervalued in Australian society and it’s easy to sit in the stalls and criticise, even when you’ve paid money to see a show. Much harder to have a go at making a show work.
    Art works at a level of wonder, emotion, beliefs and values, to mirror ourselves and our aspirations as a community. It should not just be judged on material returns.
    If that was the case, we’d be in worse shape than we are and as someone said to me recently: “Aboriginal people have a culture, whitefellers have a way of life.”
    Management of festivals is not something you learn in school. It’s built up from years of experience and networking, including the need for accountability which often gets trashed through personal failure or taking on too much.
    So, you’ve “heard of a school waiting for their equipment to be returned”? I would love to hear or read of you going up to Neville Perkins and asking him if you can help plan a future festival. I’m not recommending “the model”, but like you say, the “concept was brilliant”.
    My post was about leadership, vision and cultural input in the way that Garma has become a forum with this year’s themes leading the way towards cultural understanding and reconciliation.
    Alice Springs needs all of these things from those who are already being paid to come up with it.

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  6. R Henry
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 12:06 am

    Why in this day and age do they need to “robe”? And “wig”?
    Do they have a fetish or is it just some type of complex?
    Having an imposing building is nowhere near as important as having an imposing legal and court system and personnel.

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  7. Ray
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:47 pm

    Russell, I enjoyed reading your reply to Aaron, but under the heading of “and another thing”, I really cannot see how the organisation of the Mbantua festival can be praised.
    It was an overpriced, mismanaged embarrassment that had such potential. After spending all the money that was spent, the organisers lived off a line or credit from money the hoped they could recoup from Minister Scullion, a request that Mr Scullion rightly rejected.
    Some performers, artists and contractors are yet to receive payment. I have heard of a school waiting for their equipment to be returned that was on loan for the event. Was this insolvent trading? Social media was awash with disappointment from people who paid outrageous fees, only to leave in disgust when the activities that were available were were poorly organised or did not even occur.
    If it was done to feather nests it needs a thorough investigation. The concept was brilliant, and could have been as big as Garma. Who in their right mind would support this concept if it was tried again. These issues can’t be downplayed, they were not simply small details that were dwarfed by an outstanding success. I feel sorry for the people who worked so hard and were burned.

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  8. Russell Guy
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:07 pm

    And another thing, the Yothu Yindi Foundation is holding the Garma Festival in N.E. Arnhem Land from 1 to 4 August.
    The theme for 2014 is ‘Reflecting on Responsibility, Reform, Recognition’. This major festival has been going for over 20 years.
    Where is the ongoing Central Australian equivalent?
    Whatever problems with the Mbantua Festival, at least Neville Perkins pulled it together and it was largely an artistic success, despite some cultural and financial issues.
    I’d imagine the flak he received would make it difficult for him to want to take it on board again, but people like him with a vision for a forum deserve leadership support if a festival like Garma is to be realised in Central Australia.

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  9. Russell Guy
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 9:50 am

    @ Aaron.
    I note that your anonymous posts are full of advice and cynicism, but I’m yet to read anything from you that is focused on taking steps to resolve the alcohol-abuse crisis.
    A social policy vision includes the issue of youth on the street and alcohol supply reform, similar to the recent ABC TV focus DEAD DRUNK in Kings Cross.
    At present, it seems that many parents are blamed for drug and alcohol issues that are beyond their ability to manage, as we are seeing in hospital admissions and nightly TV news broadcasts.
    This problem won’t go away and requires rigorous police work in detection. You must have read the numerous other posts on this issue.
    A social policy vision includes addressing education, housing and employment, to take the pressure off Health and Justice departments, not just in Alice, but in the region.
    It would include an Alice Springs Town Plan, but what good is that without an Alcohol Management Plan? We are only now beginning to formulate one.
    Alice Springs, being a regional bub, could manage itself better if it looked at the communities within the region and brought them into the picture, so that mining, agriculture, tourism, etc. had a vision of where Central Australia can go to get out of the ad hoc arrangement it’s currently trying to understand.
    There are many other regions within Australia competing for the tourist dollar and unless social policy is looked at in a more holistic manner, in the way that the so-called Port Augusta Solution was promised two years ago, then grey nomads and other tourists may learn to travel new pathways to find a better product as I suspect is already the case.
    I can understand your cynicism and even though I’m sticking my neck out trying to lay down some thoughts on this, I’m still committed to having a go at the complexity, so that we can escape the drug and alcohol-related violence that is wearing us down.
    That, I hope, may give you some idea of where I’m coming from and hopefully, something to chew on. The power of one, etc. can make a difference. Two, is even better.

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  10. Aaron
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    Mmm yeah, that will fix it all won’t it. Ongoing joke!

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  11. Russell Guy
    Posted May 2, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    The answer to the first question this timely story asks may be the same as to why the CLP government disbanded the Banned Drinker’s Register: they had to pay back alcohol industry campaign donations in kind.
    Added to the unknown budget for the new court house and mothballing the Alcohol and Other Drug Court building is the $2.5m BDR dismantling cost, along with Alcohol Mandatory Treatment.
    In this economic climate, it’s fair to ask where the money is coming from and what the NTG’s social policy vision is for Central Australia?
    Despite putting the CLP in power, the bush is an afterthought to the “Gateway to Asia” and as such, we get what we’re given, or not, as the case has been, apart from forty years of increase in alcohol supply and a tourism industry that is burdened by it.
    Terry Mills’ Productivity Commission idea is looking better as time goes by. It may have uncovered the cost of passive welfare and the alcohol industry’s share, versus the need for a social policy vision.

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