New talent to tackle challenging times?
KIERAN FINNANE talks to two new faces in the councillor contest.
Law and order has moved to centre stage in the local government election campaign, following a horror week in Alice Springs: two suspicious deaths (March 6 and 9, the latter in Antherpe Town Camp), two serious assaults around midnight on March 7 at Little Sisters Town Camp (over one of which star footballer Liam Jurrah has been charged), a domestic violence incident on March 9 in which two people sustained knife wounds at Mount Nancy Town Camp (a stronghold of the Shaw family, usually among the more peaceful town camps), and a daylight attack on March 6 on a teenage girl in an Eastside suburban laneway. And these are only the worst incidents of personal violence. There were also house and vehicle break-ins, property damage and vandalism.
The above list of violent attacks was not complete when Mayor Damien Ryan on March 8 reported his contact with the Chief Minister and the assurances received that a strike force was to be mobilised, bolstered by Darwin officers. “Too little too late”, accused Alderman Eli Melky, seeking re-election and also campaigning for the top job. He wanted to know why Mayor Ryan had not supported him on the issue of a youth curfew; why he had “repeatedly declared” law and order is not the job of the council.
Such is now the fraught atmosphere of this election campaign, with no sign that anytime soon Alice Springs authorities will get a chance to rest on aspired-to laurels. Good work was done over the summer holidays, as noted by Mayor Ryan, with the combined efforts of the NT Government, Police, Town Council and local youth services, but with this latest spike of violence and other crime following close on the heels of the attack on a TV crew and Aurora hotel staff, the spectre of a lawless town is looming large. It’s not new, of course, and it’s interesting to observe the strong field of candidates that has emerged in response to these challenging times.
It fills candidate for councillor John Reid with hope: “This is a very passionately contested election. I feel very positive about many of the other candidates, their passion to represent the interests of the town, the policy-driven perceptions driven by strong research of people like Edan Baxter. We need that.”
Mr Reid, a researcher himself at the Centre for Remote Health, has lived in town for 25 years. That’s almost as long as Jade Kudrenko has been alive. Yet the 29-year-old, who works as a trainer for the Central Land Council’s Indigenous Ranger Program, talks the same language: “I’m for evidence-based approaches,” she says, careful to not commit herself on issues where she feels she doesn’t have the knowledge.
Council not ‘lead agency’ for crime
Ms Kudrenko expresses “real concern” over the spike in violence but says council is not “the lead agency” in dealing with crime and needs to work closely with the NT Government and police. She suggests candidates who feel very strongly about law and order issues should consider running and “having that debate” in the Legislative Assembly elections, due in August.
She doesn’t support a youth curfew: “I grew up in Alice Springs. I went to St Philip’s and had great family support but I also had a wide network of friends from all sorts of backgrounds, many of who are achieving great things.
“I don’t see the need to put all youth in the category of criminals, that will only further marginalise them.
“I prefer collaborative approaches such as the one that occurred over the holidays, in which council got involved, providing the aquatic centre and the library as venues for activities for young people.
“I’d like to see that happening more, year round and involving the schools.”
The town’s youth are close to her heart, a matter of daily commitment: despite their own young age she and her husband are foster carers. They have a very active and delightful 11-year-old living with them at present, quite a change from the pre-schoolers they’ve mostly had in the past.
“We’ve got a three bedroom house with a big yard – it’s nice to have children there with us,” she says simply.
Mr Reid is also opposed to a curfew and is interested in the Port Augusta approach, where he says youth have been drawn into decision-making and problem-solving. He would like to see “a coalition of seniors and youth” as one of council’s advisory committees, working together to come up with solutions to problems such as graffiti and vandalism. Such a committee would engender “respect, reciprocity and relationships” – “these are core missing values in our decision-making processes”, he says.
“If Aboriginal youth are displaying anti-social behavior, could it be to do with a lack of leadership and role models to demonstrate respect and reinforce basic values within their family units?
“Simplistic law and order approaches are not going to be able to deal with this. In my 25 years in Alice, I’ve seen them come up time and again. I don’t want to be still talking about the same issues with no progress in another 25 years – if I get to live that long!
“It’s invigorating to see the new talent putting their hands up. It’s high time we get to hear these different voices.”
The outgoing council has been made up of predominantly small business people – not that they all agree with another, far from it. Only Alds Sandy Taylor and John Rawnsley are in the NGO sector. It’s interesting to note that the fresh talent that excites Mr Reid – Chansey Paech, Aaron Dick, Ms Kudrenko, Matt Campbell and Mr Baxter – are all, like himself, from the NGO sector. The remaining new faces – Dave Douglas, Geoff Booth, Dianne Logan, Steve Brown – all have small business backgrounds, with the outlier being Vince Jeisman, long-time electorate officer for Labor MHR Warren Snowdon. The incumbents seeking re-election – Alds Liz Martin, Eli Melky, Brendan Heenan and Samih Habib Bitar – are all small business operators.
Port Augusta’s collaborative approach
Small business interests are certainly important, says Mr Reid. They, like other sections of the community, should be drawn into having an active role in the development of the town. Again he looks to the Port Augusta model, a town with demographics and a profile similar to Alice. In the face of its economic decline and social upheaval, back in 2000 a consultation was conducted in the form of “participatory action research” over two months, bringing all sections of the community together. They collectively developed a Social Vision and Action Plan, with a focus on “social well-being and social capital”.
The collaborative model has stuck, says Mr Reid: as an activity of council, agencies and groups from across the town continue to meet every month to ensure that they’re all making progress in their different fields. Little by little, they have turned the town around, pitching it as the gateway to the Flinders Ranges. The town centre is clean and attractive, the waterfront redeveloped; new industries, such as fishing charters, have been started.
“What we do needs to be driven by strong research,” says Mr Reid.
“The economics of our town need to be understood. Exactly why are all these shops empty? Is there enough economic activity to cover the expenses of the leases? Is there a case for rents to fall?”
Economic arguments are often invoked in the alcohol debate – a tourist town shouldn’t restrict access to alcohol, the argument goes.
Ms Kudrenko again calls for “evidence-based approaches”. What research supports this argument about the impact of restrictions on the tourism industry, she asks. She believes the focus of policy has to be the well-being of the community, first and foremost: “Change needs to happen and if our community becomes a better place, that will promote tourism.”
Mr Reid argues similarly: he calls on the anti-restrictions lobby to “do the research, present the evidence”. This has to be more than an “emotional debate”, he says, and clearly council, like the other tiers of government, is obliged to look at “the bigger picture” and “has a social responsibility to look after those who can’t look after themselves”.
Thinking big picture has to be at the heart of all council business, says Mr Reid. He notes the existence of council’s Indigenous Employment Strategy. (Council has a target of 20% full-time Indigenous employees – in January Indigenous staff accounted for 13.75%. It was 13.6% when the outgoing council took office, with fluctuations throughout the four year term.)
If Mr Reid were elected he would like to look at how this strategy could be strengthened. For example, with council now delivering municipal services to town camps, could employment of camp residents be built into those contracts?
He has spent much of his professional life working in the field of Aboriginal education, training and employment. The success stories are all too few but that’s no reason to throw in the towel: a work ethic needs to be developed amongst Aboriginal people certainly, but there are other issues that need to be addressed, he says, such as racism in the workplace.
No need to reinvent the wheel
Getting away from these thorny issues, we head for the weedy one: council’s trusteeship of the Todd and Charles Rivers.
On this Ms Kudrenko is on solid ground: no need for council to reinvent the wheel, she says, the expert work has been done and forms the basis of a detailed document, the Urban Todd and Charles Rivers Masterplan, dating from 1994. What council has to do is to negotiate with the NT Government to make sure it has the right level of funding to do the job, she says.
“The Todd is the heart of Alice Springs, it has many different values for different people and we need to be able to look after it. It also has a huge impact when it floods and that needs to be managed in an appropriate and safe way.”
On flood mitigation, she says she is glad to hear that the outgoing council has been gathering information. With the dam moratorium to be lifted this year, the issue will need to be carefully considered in all its dimensions – cultural, environmental and community safety.
On tree protection, she urges the development of a tree register, especially for the CBD, including trees on private property, where mature trees have “shared values for the whole community”.
If trees have to be removed, there should be “a robust replanting effort”, she says, noting that in the street where she has lived for the last five years at least a third of trees have been removed without being replaced.
“Perhaps if suitable natives had been chosen in the first place, termites would not have affected them,” she adds.
Mr Reid is very mindful of the need to work with Traditional Owners in regard both to tree protection and management of the river. He sees room for a public awareness campaign about council’s dealings with the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, to build “a more respectful relationship”.
With the CBD revitalisation, council also has extensive research to fall back on, says Ms Kudrenko. Only two projects are going ahead at this time, but a detailed vision has been developed to guide progress from hereon in.
However, at least one area of council’s management of public space needs revisiting, she suggests, and that’s the ‘removal of graffiti’ by-law. She says many people have talked to her about it and are feeling resentful over what they see as “a re-victimisation”.
“I appreciate what council is trying to do but it needs to be re-addressed to find a better solution.”
Mr Reid agrees with candidate Dianne Logan that the whole CBD, not just the mall, needs attention, including traffic management: “Sometimes the area is in grid-lock.”
But the townspeople need to look at their own behaviour too: “Do they really need to get in their car and drive into town for a loaf of bread?”
Council might look at ways to encourage people to use the walking and cycling paths more and to take public transport, he says.
‘Endearing’ Mayor Ryan
On the leadership question, both candidates given Mayor Ryan a tick.
“I don’t know the other candidates well but I’d be happy to work with Damien Ryan,” says Ms Kudrenko. “He’s invested a huge amount of himself in the role, and has maintained a consistent position – people know what he’s on about.”
She believes that, where disagreement has arisen within council, he has “provided respect to both points of view”. (This is something that would be hotly contested by those who have been on the other side of arguments with him, particularly Alds Melky and Habib Bitar.)
Mr Reid says the “confrontational environment” within council has been hard for the mayor.
“There are tensions in most workplaces. You can deal with it by adopting a cultural safety policy, where at all times you don’t play the man, you play the ball.”
He says it’s essential for the council to have a good working relationship with the other tiers of government – “it’s what the mayor is supposed to be doing”.
“At the end of the day, voters should ask themselves, who do they want to be representing the community when there are negotiations with the NT and Australian Governments to get the funds we need to develop our infrastructure and other services and activities.
“Damien Ryan’s record in this regard speaks for itself.
“I’ve never heard him talk the town down and he seems to be able to move comfortably between all different groups in the community. I think that’s partly down to him being a born and bred local. He communicates in an emotional way, with a positive approach. These are endearing qualities.”
Neither candidate has yet finalised preference deals although they are very much in the air, with Mr Baxter issuing an invitation to all candidates to enter into discussions with him in the course of the coming week.
Ms Kudrenko is an endorsed candidate for The Greens and thus in natural alliance with Mr Campbell, but even they have not decided on whether they will issue how-to-vote cards beyond exchanging preferences with one another.
On her membership of the party, she says it represents “a broad alignment of values” but “we are encouraged to be ourselves”.
If she were elected, there would no need “to go back to the party” on specific decisions. The advantage however is to have a group of people to hand “to bounce ideas off” as well as to support her campaign.
Another important network for her will be her fellow participants in the Desert Knowledge Leadership Program: “We’re all going back into the community now to reinvest the knowledge gained from the program and each other in the different areas we work in.”
One of the program’s most important lessons was in “how to work together”, she says.
“This is what I have to offer at council. I’m local and have a good grounding in the town, an understanding of the place, but I’m young and don’t know it all. I’m very open to working with others.”
Pictured from top: Jade Kudrenko – she wants “evidence-based approaches” and a tree register for the CBD to protect our mature trees. • John Reid – he says Port Augusta’s collaborative approach to arresting the decline of their town has lessons for Alice. • Date palms on Wills Terrace in the CBD, reflecting the town’s Afghan heritage. The tall tree is over 100 years old and sits on the border of council and private land. The squat tree on the corner was the victim of a suspicious fire in the early hours of February 18. It remains to be seen how it will recover from the attack. Tree protection is on the agenda for the new council to deal with.
UPDATE: Police last night arrested and charged a man in relation to the death at Antherpe Camp. He will appear in the Alice Springs Magistrates Court this morning. The dead man, who appeared to have suffered fatal stab wounds, was 36, the man charged, 31. Detective Senior Sergeant Peter Malley from the Major Crime Section confirmed that the two men were known to each other.
New talent to tackle challenging times?