Tollner gets a free lunch in more ways than one

COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The Territory Budget was handed down at 11am on Tuesday last week (and the Federal one that evening). We published a report early that afternoon and left requests for comment on the NT Budget with Chamber of Commerce CEO Kay Eade, Tourism Central Australia CEO Jaclyn Thorne and Mayor Damien Ryan.

 

Ms Eade, reliably, soon gave us a coherent and comprehensive comment on expenditure in The Centre, as the chamber sees it.

 

All Ms Thorne communicated, in a text message, was her delight about Tourism NT getting an extra $8m, up to a whopping $45m.

 

Note: Tourism Central Australia (the industry lobby) gets much of its budget from Tourism NT (the government instrumentality). The adage about biting the feeding hand inescapably comes to mind.

 

Mayor Ryan didn’t respond at all, despite two requests.

 

Then Friday, as usual, the Budget luncheon took place, organised by the chamber, with Treasurer Dave Tollner (below left) in attendance.

 

At that time the media had been all over the Budget for three days, yet dutifully Mr Tollner went over the details again. Anyone not living under a rock would have heard or read all this at least once. No doubt the 65 or so movers and shakers in the room were across most of these facts.

 

So here they were, the Alice Springs captains of industry. They had the Treasurer trapped – literally – in the corner furthest from the door, standing at the lectern, facing a microphone. This was the moment I’d come for: to hear what those most vocal in the litany of our town’s woes would put to the man signing the cheques, for five thousand million dollars a year, $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the NT, some 4.5 times the national average.

 

Mr Tollner is a jovial guy. He likes a laugh. I’ve never seen him not answer a question, especially in a face to face setting.

 

No doubt, or so I thought, the town’s business elite would come up with something like this: Why, Dave, are you spending money principally on things that are turning us into a police state: dollars for more cops, a bigger police station, two more courts?

How about facilitating a five star wilderness lodge at Ormiston? Or Ellery? Or both?

 

Why not build an art and culture centre, Dave, the Guggenheim of Australia, a tourist magnet in all its other locations around the world?

 

How about building a culture centre, commissioning a standout building to house it. Things that would turn a dollar and Alice from a welfare town back into an enterprising one?

 

How about sealing a big slab of the east-west Outback Highway as the self drive market* is going through the roof elsewhere? How come the adjoining shires and Queensland and WA can seal a kilometer of road for a quarter of a million, and you guys are paying a million?

 

Now guess: How many questions were in fact asked? One. Yes, you heard right. One.

 

It came from DASA CEO Carol Taylor, who enquired about secondary education for bush kids.

 

Mr Tollner replied the government was looking at building two residential colleges, not yet known where. He was quoting from the Budget.

 

And that was it.

 

* The Alice Springs News Online travelling on the Stuart Highway between Glendambo and Port Augusta, between 2pm and 4.45pm, counted northbound: two caravans with boats on the roof of the tow vehicle; nine motorhomes; 18 caravans; six vehicles towing boats; two motorcycles pulling camping trailers and two bus style tourist vehicles. This was on April 19, well before the Ulysses invasion. Note also the count by Trevor Shiell in the comment piece at the bottom of our story about Streaky Bay.

 

MAIN PHOTO: Four star wilderness lodge at Redbank Gorge: Wouldn’t it be nice!

 

UPDATE May 26: Mayor Ryan was on a trip throughout the NT in his role of chairman of the Local Government Association of the NT. He was out of mobile range for part of the time. Mayor Ryan has now commented on the NT and the Federal budgets.

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