Risk of a ‘lame duck’ mayor, he warns
By KIERAN FINNANE
“There is a risk in this election of seeing a ‘lame duck’ mayor,” says candidate for councillor Vince Jeisman. He strongly supports the incumbent Damien Ryan but says it’s clear that the field is divided behind Mayor Ryan and Alderman Eli Melky as the lead contender amongst his four challengers.
Whoever wins the mayoral contest will be looking keenly at who takes the fourth and fifth positions in the councillor ballot, says Mr Jeisman, to see whether the “strong lobby from the right” or “the middle to leftist” candidates will have the majority.
Mr Jeisman, a Labor Party member and electorate officer for Labor MHR Warren Snowdon, obviously counts himself in the latter camp. He says he will be happy with whatever way the cards fall.
“The community will make up its mind on polling day and we all have to live with that decision.
“If I’m elected, I will bring my Labor values to the debate but once a decision of council is made I will be bound by it.”
If he ended up in the minority on a right-leaning council, would he be concerned at wasting four years of his time?
“It wouldn’t be a waste. You’re always learning, contributing. It’s easier for some than for others to work in a democratic spirit but if they do, the big winner is the community.”
He sums up his Labor values as a belief in social justice, equity and striving for a balance between freedoms and equality: “In our decisions how do we include everyone in the community without becoming too burdensome on some?”
Applying this to the issue on everyone’s lips – law and order – he says the causes, not the symptoms have to be treated. Unless we do that, it’s like filling a swimming pool with a hole in the bottom. That’s what we would be doing if we only brought in more police and youth programs, say, and didn’t do something about grog.
Alice needs its own community response to the grog issue, he says. The town grew up around grog, in contrast to Adelaide, the city he comes from, which traditionally had a strong conservative, non-drinking culture. Today that city can afford to have relaxed licensing laws, but not so Alice.
He’s a “great admirer” of Dr John Boffa, NT Australian of the Year, and lead campaigner of the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC): “He’s got the information and research to support his suggestions about how to move forward. I would like to take his ideas to council.”
Put community interest first in grog issue
How does he think the PAAC agenda – which includes having at least one day free from sales of take-away alcohol and a floor price – could be made more palatable to its quite vociferous opponents?
His answer is to appeal to people to think about what is in the best interest of the community, its health and social well-being.
“If tourists are put out, then so be it,” he says, but suggests that restrictions are not such a big issue for tourists if they are “well organised” and if the situation is well publicised. There are other places in the world where restrictions on alcohol consumption apply and “we have to respect that”, says Mr Jeisman.
It is quite likely that the new council will have to consider once again the issue of a youth curfew, as such a move has strong support from the ‘right lobby’ and at least some of them are likely to get up as councillors.
Mr Jeisman says a curfew would cause more problems than it would solve. He gives an example: a parent he was talking to supported the idea, realising that keeping track of where their child was at night would become a police responsibility rather than their own – “a very strange attitude”.
He recognises the problems with anti-social behaviour among some young people but argues that the community has to keep working with them, just as a parent would, both formally, through well targeted youth services and informally, in our everyday relationships.
“Most kids, I’d say 99%, have issues when they are teenagers but grow up to become good citizens,” says the former teacher, who taught in schools in Darwin, Tennant Creek and Alice for 20 years.
“Parents don’t just weather this difficult time, they try different things, some work, some don’t. That’s what the community has to do – we can’t give up on our young people.”
He says the issue has been around ever since he’s been in town, with its peaks and troughs, and is also common to towns across rural and regional Australia.
It’s the same with other public place issues. There are organisations working with people sleeping rough, people with alcohol problems and so on. What council can do is make sure it’s taking a strong message to government to ensure adequate resourcing for housing, hostels and youth accommodation, without which people are put in a position of violating by-laws, such as no camping in the river.
In his current day job, Mr Jeisman is in a good position to know about taking messages to government. He says the Australian Government funds a lot of services in the community but it’s important that those services are efficient and effective, don’t slip into a comfort zone and are responsive to what is most needed in the community at the time.
He would work with other councillors to determine which projects council should lobby for.
Workers’ accommodation – an issue for council
He says the issue of suitable accommodation for workers has come up “on the campaign trail”. He’s been talking to people in the 20 to 30-years-old bracket who’ve arrived in town, would like to stay but are finding it hard to find suitable accommodation because of high rents.
When he came to town 30 years ago, in an old Holden with a swag on the back seat, he lived in a caravan park for several months before he got into a house. In that era public housing was more readily available to people with jobs, he says. Now it’s hard to qualify for because of means testing and the waiting list is growing “longer and longer”.
The issue is impacting on local business trying to get staff.
“That’s one issue council could lobby on.”
His main concern in the CBD is to get a better environment for pedestrians. He’s worried about the ever increasing powerful vehicles in streets with heavy pedestrian traffic such as Hartley Street and Gregory Terrace.
“Crossing from the Post Office to the Yeperenye Shopping Centre is hard. People ask me why we have no pedestrian crossings.
“I’m not a traffic expert, I’d have to get more information but it’s an issue I’d like to take up on council.”
Traffic flow, car parking and pedestrian movement have all certainly come up reasonably frequently over the last four years but sorting them is a slow process.
Mr Jeisman says he’d like to see “consolidation of the multiplicity of plans for all sorts of things – a problem for all councils, large and small” in order to provide greater clarity of direction.
Looking at the bigger picture, he’d be keen to discuss with other councillors and the community the potential for greater “sovereignty” for the council, at present governed by an act of the NT Legislative Assembly.
With recognition of local government in the constitution being discussed across the country, it’s time for this conversation to happen locally, says Mr Jeisman.
It’s not a straightforward issue. If, for instance, council gained control over town planning powers – something many have argued for – it would change the nature of the council, with both “green” and pro-development groups vying for power. Councils elsewhere have experienced serious problems arising from the presence of “vested interests”.
“We don’t see too much of that on the Alice Springs Town Council at the current time,” says Mr Jeisman.
Pictured: Vince Jeisman in Hartley Street, between the Post Office and Yeperenye. He wants to see a better environment for pedestrians in the CBD.
Risk of a ‘lame duck’ mayor, he warns