Not so happy birthday for CLP government

p1811gilesadamCOMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The chief financial executive of a five billion dollar a year operation is forced to resign because he makes a crass remark to an acquaintance at a private party. Although he apologised for what he had said, it is leaked to a newspaper.

 

Would you buy shares in a corporation with so little control over its affairs? Hardly.

 

Yet you’re stuck with your shares in the Northern Territory Government, which spends your tax money, controls many facets of your life and which will celebrate its birthday tomorrow amidst speculation that its second leader in as many years may get the chop.

 

Ex-Treasurer Dave Tollner’s “shirt lifter” and “pillow biter” seems mild compared to Matt Conlan’s verbal assault, in a Parliamentary wing meeting, upon his Ministerial colleague at the time, Alison Anderson, Member for Namatjira. “Why don’t you f… off , you c…,” he is not denying to have said. Mr Conlan, a lesser political scalp than the former Treasurer, is still a Minister.

 

Then again, the former Treasurer was not learning his lessons about ‘foot in the mouth’. His demeaning mocking of the Member for Namatjira went around the country, reinforcing the cowboy image of the Northern Territory.

 

Two years ago Alice Springs expected milk and honey to flow in its streets. After 11 years of a high spending Labor government, with little to show for it but debt, the CLP would end stagnation and despair.

 

Mr Giles had tons of good will, especially in The Centre: he lives here, all Members of Parliament in the region were on his side, and a friendly government was poised to take power in Canberra with his mate Nigel Scullion holding the key Indigenous Affairs portfolio.

 

All the ducks were in line, the electorate thought. Alice Springs – languishing in a slump while Darwin was in a head spinning boom from the natural gas investments – would at long last be doing well.

 

We have spoken to five Alice Springs community leaders about their views of the CLP government’s first two years. What was good and what was bad, we asked Alice Mayor Damien Ryan; CLP vice-president Daniel Davis; Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee; Arid Lands Environment Centre CEO Jimmy Cocking, and Chamber of Commerce vice-president Neil McLeod. We also invited Tourism Central Australia to comment but haven’t received a response by deadline. We will publish it when and if we get it.

 

For us, in our third year as a newspaper exclusively online (after 17 years in print), dealing with the CLP government has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. We had – and have – good relationships with Ministers including John Elferink, Robyn Lambley, Peter Chandler, Bess Price, Alison Anderson (now heading up the Palmer Untied Party in the NT), Dave Tollner and Willem Westra Van Holte and their staffs.

 

But with Mr Giles we have experienced significant low points in our quest for informing the public about what his government is doing. Contrary to ready and cheerful access while he was in Opposition, we found have him thin-skinned and short-tempered  – not a good look for a politician, let alone a statesman. Here are a few examples:

 

Ahead of the election Alice Springs News Online‘s Kieran Finnane gave him a pretty good run in a 1650 word report on his campaign, published on July 5, 2012. But Backgrounding his political career, she termed as “naive” his slogan in his 2007 campaign for the Federal seat of Lingiari. It was “No more sitdown money” which, as Finnane observed, “went down like a lead balloon in the largely bush electorate with high levels of welfare dependence”.

 

Mr Giles’ nose was out of joint for quite some time.

 

I wrote a story on March 1 last year, saying:  If the government wants 100 residential blocks in Kilgariff ready for sale “off the plan” by July – the target date, according to minister Adam Giles – then they’ll have to get a wriggle-on.

 

I sent a draft to Mr Giles – a courtesy few journalists afford their sources. “I don’t like it. I just read it on my iPhone and I deleted it” was his response, or words to the effect. The Kilgariff blocks went on sale a year later than promised.

 

Mr Giles’ government has some minders who are professional and diligent – no more than one would expect them to be. But it also has many minders who are arrogant and obstructionist. Some politicians hide behind them, and let them take control of what is meant to be a free flow of information in a democratic system.

 

No different to the Labor regime past, the Country Liberals’ touted ‘accountable government’ soon shrank to  “send me an email and I’ll give you some lines”. This drags out news gathering task that should take 10 minutes to  days and weeks. Our requests to talk first-hand to the elected person rather than receiving massaged material is too often ignored.

 

Mr Giles was at this year’s Alice Springs Show. He attended as an elected person, representing the Territory government, at a public event. I was filming him for what in TV is called “overlay” – footage to run over narration introducing an interview we posted on YouTube. He was taken aside by his minder, they had a low voice conversation and then he told me … well, here it is.

 

If you can see this, then you might need a Flash Player upgrade or you need to install Flash Player if it’s missing. Get Flash Player from Adobe. This error may appear if the URL path to the embedded object is broken or you have connectivity issue to the embedded object. Powered BY XVE Various Embed.

 

Mr Giles later did give us the interview, to reporter Rachel McFadden, who worked for us as an intern at the time. The footage  gives us a clue to how Mr Giles likes media to behave. He shakes the hand of Centralian Advocate staffer Steven Menzies who calls him “Sir” and tells him he liked his speech.

 

Last week Mr Giles – under Parliamentary privilege – accused the Alice Springs News Online of publishing material that is “slanderous and incorrect”.

 

Member for Namatjira Alison Anderson brought this to my attention and invited me to provide a statement in reply that she would present to the Parliament.

 

This is what I said in it: “I stand by my story. It accurately quotes my sources. All of them are named. With their permission I recorded the face-to-face interview.

 

“Neither in his minder’s reply to the Alice Springs News Online, given in response to our offer of the right of reply and published by us, nor in what he told the Parliament (so far as I can see), did Mr Giles deny that he rang Mr Tickner and Mr Bray.

 

“He does not say in which way the Alice Springs News Online is incorrect.

 

“His account of the meeting in his office does not diverge from our account of it.

 

“For Mr Giles to call our report ‘slanderous and incorrect’ without substantiation is reprehensible.”

 

With the defection of three bush Members to the Palmer United Party, the Treasurer and Business Minister moving to the back bench, and a torrent of rumours of further turmoil in the CLP, the ducks, to be sure, are in a line no more.

 

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3 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. Erwin Chlanda
    Posted August 26, 2014 at 6:10 am

    @ Margaret Shaw, posted August 25, 2014 at 10:05.
    We published a comment, declared as such, about my job of reporting the news being made difficult by some politicians and their minders.
    The losers in that are you and other readers who made 123,276 views of pages in our newspaper in the past 30 days. (Source: Google Analytics.)
    In several reports in the current issue we quote community leaders agreeing with your view that the “town has improved”.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor, Alice Springs News Online.

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  2. Margaret Shaw
    Posted August 25, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Here we have the Alice Springs News taking an obvious political stand when it should be showing objectivity.
    You are trying to create something for the sake of news when you should be just reporting the news.
    One thing is for sure, since the CLP took over the town has improved tenfold. Those of us that have lived here long enough know what the ALP did to this community because of their lack of reality.
    The fact is the last government blew the money when it should have stretched it out.
    Government departments were flush with cash and were falling over each other to meet excessive budget spending targets on anything and everything.
    The problem was the bureaucracy could not handle the spending requirements that had to be met each month and ended up throwing money at contracts for little return.
    Now we have a Government that has NO money and are at least trying to create activity by supporting private enterprise and the spending initiatives that were locked away by a Labor Government that was intent on following anti business policy.
    So what if there are a few wrong words thrown around, the focus should be on the policies and the achievements so far especially considering this government is trying to live within its means.

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  3. Crystal Clear
    Posted August 24, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    These are issues that worry journalists and the politically correct. All I really care about is a safe street to walk around at night and MY tax dollar remaining in MY pocket for as long as possible.
    I don’t care if the AS News likes Giles or not. I don’t care if Conlan uses a word I use a lot either. Racism – white on black and black on white is just too common for comment and pro or anti gays groups are just part of what society really is.
    Talking today sitting around a Sunday BBQ – 12 out of 14 of us seem to think this way.

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