By ERWIN CHLANDA
Using the $100m Julia Gillard earmarked for the “Malaysian solution” to build a center for asylum seekers in Alice Springs, which could become the source of sorely needed labour, and moving closely together the dates of the town’s iconic events such as Henley on Todd and Camel Cup, giving tourists a reason for staying longer.
These were two ideas floated, by Robert Gates and Peter Grigg, respectively, at yesterday’s public meeting called to seek ways of getting Alice Springs out of its doldrums.
About 70 people turned up for the brainstorming, briskly moderated by Chamber of Commerce CEO Kay Eade and hosted by the Town Council. When she asked how many business owners were present only eight hands went up.
“Where are the rest?” asked Ms Eade. “They are letting the town down.”
She said Alice Springs is competing with towns and cities around Australia, all looking for ways of coping with a sluggish economy. She said we should invite people to The Centre for a 12 months working holiday: that could lead to a job for them, or even to starting a business.
The introduction came from the main promoter of the meeting, the irrepressible Alderman Murray Stewart. A bout of laryngitis didn’t slow him down a bit. Resolved not to stand again for alderman, and being non-committal about any plans for seeking an Assembly seat, Ald Stewart said the next municipal budget, which will be brought down by a new council, should be seen as an opportunity for cutting the rate payers some slack: a two year freeze of rates on commercial premises would be a good idea.
And that saving would need to be passed by the landlords to their tenants, says Ald Stewart.
Power and Water could announce free electricity between 6pm and 9pm, enticing businesses to extend trading to these hours far more convenient for shoppers.
The town is a “sleeping hollow right now,” said Ald Stewart. “We need new people.”
In some parts of country Victoria land is given free to people setting up businesses.
People urgently needed – teachers, doctors, nurses – should be attracted to Alice Springs with tax breaks increasing with the length of stay, up to 75% after 15 years.
The Desert Sports Foundation Ald Stewart is heading up could play a role in giving the town a lift, he says, with events such as beach cricket in the “under utilised” Todd River.
And control of marketing the town should be in the hands of its people.
Jimmy Cocking said Alice’s growing recognition as a solar city could enhance it as a tourist destination and lead to manufacturing of renewable energy equipment here.
He later said minting a Central Australian dollar could a a good gimmick to boost tourist spending.
Phil Walcott, independent hopeful in Greatorex, says the council should increase its rates base by including many who are exempt.
Janet Brown and Domenico Pecorari, not usually on the same wavelength, agreed that the town needs a plan for its future development, so that individuals as well as commerce can prepare for the future.
Mr Pecorari said most businesses have a plan – the town doesn’t.
Mayor Damien Ryan said the council does not have planning powers and seemed content to leave it at that.
Owen Cole said around 2008 Canberra appeared interested in setting up in Alice Springs a national centre for indigenous art but nothing had come of it.
Peter Grigg said the town should push hard for this project: “Other centres are vying for it.”
Difficulties of getting staff, the importance of shopping locally and hemorrhaging customers to the internet were recurring themes.
Matty Day said visiting backpackers and young people living here are often ignored: “They are the people most likely to shop online and they are not happy.”
Eddie Fabijan, referring to an earlier comment that we should bring V8 Supercars racing to the Alice, said our climate is ideally suited for testing all manner of things in hot operating conditions, including vehicles. That’s something that wasn’t helped by the government introducing speed limits on the open road.
Hayley Michener said locals should support locally grown produce.
Mike Mitchell said local businesses are mostly operating in isolation, and there is a good case for collaboration, for example, art traders, tour operators and accommodation houses could link up to their benefit.
Rex Neindorf said becoming a state “would kill us” by being swamped by other states: Being a Territory still “has a frontier feeling about the place. Let’s keep our identity.”
A group was formed after the meeting to drive these ideas further.
Of course, the initiative will be judged by how many of them will become reality.
Photo: Monte’s is proof that in business, if you have the formula right, success is assured. The dozens of pushbikes tied to the fence most days are pedal powered proof of this.
ED – We’re obliged to Julia Winterflood for pointing out that the pubic meeting we referred to was in fact a public meeting. It was a typo – not a Freudian slip.