CANDIDATE PROFILE by KIERAN FINNANE
People do still fall in love with Alice Springs. Amidst much gloomy talk, it’s good to be reminded of that. It happened to Edan Baxter when he arrived here five years ago and his ardour is undiminished.
He still sees at the forefront all the things that have built the town’s mystique – the fantastic mix of people, from around the country and the world, alongside Aboriginal people, the presence of their ancient culture, the closeness of pioneering history, burgeoning creativity, stunning natural environment.
But many decisions are made that limit the “amazing potential” of all this, he says, and this is what has prompted him to nominate as a candidate in the coming Town Council elections.
At 32 years old, he’s pitching himself as a “younger, fresher voice” but his emphasis is on the long-term. He sees the focus of public debate on “the issues of the day” – such as young people on the streets at night and anti-social behaviour – as something of a dead end.
“I respect people’s concern and upset – I’ve had my car stolen and it’s not a good experience – but short-term fixes tend to be the end of the debate.”
He worries about biting off one of the most contentious of local issues without having a defined policy position, but says, in contrast to the distraction of yet another debate on a youth curfew, there need to be longer-term commitments to things like the calendar of youth activities that the council supported over the summer holidays.
“I respect people taking the opportunity for a democratic discussion”, he says, but he’d like to see council taking a leadership position to head the discussions in more thoughtful directions. He says this could be done by council engaging more with their various advisory committees – “draw on the expertise that is there in our community”.
He’s not without some expertise himself: he has a degree in commerce and his first professional job was as a two-year stint as a financial analyst for the Australian Institute of Management. That kind of background could certainly be useful when it comes to working on council’s budget. It comes with high order IT skills and today Mr Baxter earns his living in web development and IT support.
He sees the development of online commerce as one contributing factor to the current local economic downturn but argues that the fantastic tourism potential of the town, as well as new energy resource projects and education and training opportunities are reasons to be optimistic that the slump is transitional.
“It’s a matter of adapting, freshening up our approach, recalibrating to maintain our presence.”
However, much more can be done to respond to the desire of international tourists to “immerse themselves in Aboriginal culture”.
To this end, Mr Baxter is suggesting that a regular “Law & Culture” gathering be held in Alice Springs.
His emphasis is on a celebration of resilient Aboriginal society and creativity but in discussion with the Alice Springs News he saw no reason not to open this out to a ‘two-way’ inter-cultural event. His key point is that the Town Council should take a proactive role in its development, finding the right kind of partnerships and ways to resource it.
He also sees such an event as an opportunity to bring the region’s peoples together, to pool ideas about ways to go forward on all fronts.
Again he has some relevant experience. He’s been involved in awareness-raising campaigns in the past, including a stint as the executive officer of the Indigenous Employment and Education Taskforce, auspiced by Desert Knowledge Australia, and also did event organisation for DKA and the Alice Springs Festival. The successful Alice on the Menu map of two years ago was his baby.
He’s wary of taking too many strong policy positions. The Alice News questions him about, for instance, a possible tree protection by-law. He goes so far as to say that he loves trees, sees them as contributing greatly to the town’s sense of place and would like to work towards their preservation.
He’s mindful that he will be just one voice, and one vote on council and feels it’s important to be able to work collaboratively with people, not to die in a ditch over particular stances.
He’s disappointed that no-one else from his social circle seems to be standing for council.
“They’ve said they’ll support my campaign but they don’t want to stand.”
A four year commitment is not to be undertaken lightly: “Four years is a long time in a young man’s life,” says Mr Baxter, “but if you think there are ways to do things better, you’ve got to put yourself out there.
“I want to make a productive contribution.”
Longer term thinking needed for Alice's 'amazing potential'
CANDIDATE PROFILE by KIERAN FINNANE