Candidate for councillor backs Eli Melky for mayor
KIERAN FINNANE talks to leading light from Action for Alice lobby
“It’s hard to stay positive,” says businessman Geoff Booth, manager and owner (with partners) of two licensed venues that have experienced a shocking run of break-ins. Town & Country, a bistro in the mall, was broken into in the early hours of this morning, twice. Club Eastside was the target of a ram raid in the wee hours of March 8, while Town & Country, also had a rock through the window, just a few hours later.
On that night Mr Booth (pictured at left with bollard protecting the club’s entrance) was called into Club Eastside at 1am, went home at 3.30, was called into Town & Country at 4.30, then went home at 5.45. In neither case did the police attend – the night of March 7 and 8, as we know, was a busy one in Alice, for all the wrong reasons.
Town & Country was attacked again in the early hours of March 11. On all occasions thieves took a few bottles of liquor and some RTDs – of insignificant value alongside the damage they caused .
A ram raid of a few weeks ago (pictured below) caused $10,000 worth of damage to the club entrance, prompting the installation of the red bollard. Five more bollards have now been installed to protect the front wall of the club. The raiders used stolen cars, says Mr Booth.
Last year’s damage bill for both venues came to $50,000. To date this year Mr Booth has had to spend $28,000.
By anyone’s standards, these are intolerable conditions in which to do business. But Mr Booth, who came to town 13 years ago as a golf professional to work at the Golf Club, remains resilient. He has put his hand up to run for council. A leading figure in last year’s Action for Alice campaign, his views on law and order are what you would expect: he stands for zero tolerance; he considers the outgoing council and Mayor Damien Ryan have failed the community on this issue; temporary solutions like Operation Thresher are only “bandaid solutions and short-term fixes if a few weeks later everything is turned upside down again”, he says; council has to make every possible effort to lobby the NT and Australian Governments for a longer term strategy and resourcing.
Yet he admits to not having all the answers and understands the importance of listening to different groups, having “everyone at the table”. This could be suspected to be empty rhetoric but one of my first contacts with Mr Booth was in the context of a small discussion group thinking about how urban design could contribute to a better and safer experience in town. Mr Booth wasn’t an obvious fit in this context but he was there, listening and contributing.
I ask him about the often polarised debate around social issues in Alice.
He suggests the divisions have their roots in a loss of direction for the town.
“We are not a very proud town right now. We can’t sell ourselves because we don’t really know who we are. We can no longer hang our future on The Rock. They have direct flights from Sydney now and their own nine-hole golf course, they don’t need us.
“We have terrible law and order issues, the rubbish around the place is disgusting.
“I want the town to stand up and be proud of who we are and what we’ve got.”
What would it take?
Beyond tough policing, a youth curfew for under 18-year-olds and maintaining high standards in a clean and tidy town, he talks of the importance of a mood change:
“Let’s get some joy and laughter back into the place!”
He suggests a big street party in the mall, no alcohol, full of kids, non-profit organisations selling food, local bands.
“Do this a few times a year!
“Have 20 night-time markets a year!
“If the culture changes, business will get its confidence back.”
We need to work on local economic development: “Take a deeper look at Indigenous cultural tourism, see if there are areas where that can grow.”
There are “tough challenges” ahead for tourism operators, “probably another two years of pain”: “Work closely with them, make sure our voice is strong when we need to lobby on the issues that affect them.”
The best person to do this on behalf of council and the town is Eli Melky, says Mr Booth.
He also likes Steve Brown, indeed he likes all Mayor Damien Ryan’s challengers, but “it’s not a personal thing”: “Eli is very passionate about the town, he’s had 12 months of experience on council, he understands the processes and policies, it would be good to have some continuity.
“Damien Ryan has done a fair job in certain areas, he carries the role of dignitary extremely well but on other issues I believe he has let the town down.”
On a future council’s position in the liquor debate, Mr Booth is not quite as predictable as you might expect: he would be “quite happy” about the introduction of a floor price – that would be “a move in the right direction”.
But he characterises restrictions on take-away trading hours as “prohibition” and he is 100% against them.
He agrees that consumption in Alice – currently around twice the national average – needs to come down. When I ask him how, he talks about social clubs on Aboriginal communities, starting with the Growth Towns where they would make up part of the picture of a normalised town. Their operation could be tied in with alcohol education programs and social bargains, such as “no work, no club”: “Kids would see their parents treating alcohol responsibly and the profits from the club could be put into developing facilities for the towns.”
I put to him that non-Aboriginal drinking in the NT is also significantly higher than the national average – 52% higher is the figure quoted by researcher Professor Denis Gray. Social clubs on communities would do nothing to address that.
He’s not aware of this statistic but “if it’s one and half times, that’s quite strong,” he concedes. He can see why it might be the case – a lot of social gatherings and barbecues, given the relative dearth of other entertainments, lead to a lot of drinking – but he doesn’t suggest the need for any action.
On improved management of the Todd and Charles Rivers, he’s “fully behind” it.
“I love the Todd. It’s very unique and should be treated with the respect needed to show we care about its dignity.”
On tree protection, it’s ‘yes’ to what it takes to protect street trees, but ‘hands off’ trees on private property.
On graffiti removal, he says property owners, whether business or residential, are responsible for looking after their property and therefore for graffiti removal. And council has it about right if it provides assistance when a property is repeatedly targeted.
On the CBD revitalisation, he’s not confident that the current projects – opening the northern end of the mall to traffic and the redevelopment of Parsons Street – will have a big impact if the social mood and evening activities don’t change.
That’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. The mall needs “lots of restaurants, bars and cafes”. He also likes the idea of casual vendors, for instance of coffee, icecream, pancakes, flowers – whatever it takes to bring people into the area, especially after hours. But to get business to the point of confidence where they will make that investment, anti-social behaviour needs to be dealt with.
Daytime, another issue in the CBD is carparking: “People are always complaining to me about it.” He wants to identify more carparking options but would also like to investigate the possibilities of improved public transport.
If elected, he would want also to scrutinise rates and charges, such as dump fees, to see whether they can be held at current levels or even decreased.
Besieged businessman stands for zero tolerance but also calls for more 'joy and laughter'
Candidate for councillor backs Eli Melky for mayor