By KIERAN FINNANE
Perhaps it’s because of his shadow portfolios – Indigenous Policy, Transport and Construction, Regional Development – that the Country Liberals’ Adam Giles takes a regional view of issues affecting his electorate. “I’m pro-development, we’ve got to grow the economy, create jobs for the future,” says the sitting Member for Braitling. But he links the old conservative mantra with a certain logic to the specific ills of the region.
He recognises the social issues that are the preoccupation of many – “especially our outrageous law and order issues” – but, beyond what is already being done in a raft of programs and measures, he believes they “won’t be fixed until the economy is fixed”.
“When we have more people in more jobs then we will see some of our social issues subside. With greater participation in the economy, more kids will go to school, people will be healthier, the imprisonment rates will drop, and social issues will have less relevance and impact,” he says.
The Alice Springs News Online puts to him that there are job vacancies across the region right now. “There is an issue about getting locals into jobs”, he agrees, rolling his eyes about what he sees as the Australian Government’s failure to adequately address welfare reform so that able-bodied adults take work if it is available. He has ‘form’ on this issue, conducting his campaign for the Federal seat of Lingiari in 2007 under the naively pitched slogan, “No more sitdown money”. It went down like a lead balloon in the largely bush electorate with high levels of welfare dependence. But he went on to win handsomely the Legislative Assembly seat of Braitling in the following year, with 58.2% of the primary vote. His nearest rival was the Greens’ Jane Clark, with 14.9%. (Also running were Eli Melky as an independent (14.1%) and Charlie Dick for the ALP (12.7%). After distribution of preferences Mr Giles had 70.3% of the vote.)
So, Australian Government action on welfare reform aside, what could a Territory Government do to stimulate the economy?
Affordable residential land
If we are to be competitive as a region the cost of living has to come down and government can make a difference here by ensuring there is adequate supply of affordable residential land, says Mr Giles. It should cost no more to buy land here than it does in other comparable locations. In Alice Springs in the immediate term, that means releasing enough blocks at Kilgariff to keep their cost as low as possible.
“I’ve never been a big fan of Kilgariff but now that we’re as far down the track as we are, it should be speeded up and not drip fed off, just a few blocks at a time. A solid number will keep the price down. This will bring work to the construction industry and contribute to a more affordable environment to attract people to work here.”
He says he asked Lands Minister Gerry McCarthy in the recent Estimates hearings about when land would be turned off at Kilgariff and was told not till the end of 2013.
“Why does it have to take so long?” he asks.
A Territory Government could also help our existing industries, he says, naming mining, tourism, the pastoral industry and horticulture as where the opportunities exist. He suggests the welfare sector is “winding back a little”. His most focussed propositions are with respect to tourism and horticulture.
He says the tourism industry should look after its own promotion.
“The tens of millions being spent on marketing by government employees are not getting an adequate response. Sure, the industry is affected Australia-wide but we are below par with the rest of the country.”
What does that mean with respect to Tourism NT (formerly the NT Tourism Commission)?
Policy specifics will be released later, he says, but “an industry-led approach would get better outcomes”.
On horticulture potential, he says the NT should be part of the Australian and Asian food bowl, with markets in Indonesia, Timor, China and Japan, whether it’s developing the NT’s Ord River region or growing oranges at Finke, expanding production at Ti Tree and Ali Curung, developing crops at Yuendumu and Alpurrurulam (Lake Nash).
Alice Springs should become “a key link in the logistical chain, a logistical support centre for the region”.
Works in progress at Kilgariff subdivision. From the Alice News archive.
Ali Curung’s problem with getting local labour is because “the Feds aren’t keen to bring about mutual obligation agreements”. But meanwhile, the Centrefarm project there, “outsourced to a private provider”, has another problem: power supply. There is insufficient capacity to take production to its full potential, says Mr Giles.
“Government has to work out what can be done about that.”
“The inertia in Central Australia around economic development really concerns me. Labor has no plan for Central Australia’s economy, it has no plan about anything at all for Central Australia.
“Its own Economic Development Committee has not met since June 2010, despite the people who ran it here [clearly a reference to former Mayor of Alice Springs, Fran Kilgariff, who has since left the public service to take up a position with Ninti One]. What sort of confidence can we have in the government’s intentions for Central Australia if they can’t even get the Economic Development Committee to meet?
“They look after Darwin and Darwin only. The faux pas they make is to not only neglect Alice Springs but also Tennant Creek and the remote areas where they rely on so many votes.”
He says the NT Government’s failure to invest in infrastructure in Alice Springs is the clearest example of its neglect.
So what are the Country Liberals promising in this regard?
It’s not about election promises, he says, it’s what the CLP does: “We built this town.”
He gives as examples the Alice Springs to Darwin railway, the Ayers Rock Resort and the then Sheraton Hotel in Alice, the Palm Valley gas pipeline.
“Labor has not built a major structure in Alice Springs in 12 years.”
What has been built has relied on Federal investment, he says. Again, he declines to be specific about what a CLP Government would do, but says there would be “a greater emphasis on roads and power infrastructure to support economic development”.
The state of roads is the “the biggest concern” he hears expressed “right across the Territory”.
In his electorate he took matters into his own hands, successfully applying for Black Spot funding to improve the intersection of Larapinta Drive with Lovegrove Drive. He’s disappointed that the Territory did not match Federal funds to install a roundabout at the intersection, limiting the works to widening and upgrading.
The ‘Indigenous problem’
Returning to the big picture, he says, “Seventy percent of Australia is an arid zone. If we support development of that 70%, we need a strong Central Australia and Alice Springs is poised to be the lynchpin in that development, a logistical centre. We cannot sit on the welfare tit forever. And we can’t keep going to Canberra to solve our problems.
“Labor was gong to fix the ‘Indigenous problem’ but all they have done is double the Indigenous prisoner population. That signals a massive failure.”
Is he saying that the Country Liberals, renowned for their ‘tough on crime’ approach, are going to stop sending people to prison?
“We want people working, leading happy lives,” he says, “but of course we don’t want criminals and drunks on the streets. But Labor has got policy so wrong that all they can do is lock people up.”
His broadbrush attack is aimed at both the NT and Australian Labor Governments. Local government reform “has disenfranchised remote area populations”. Inadequate servicing of the so-called Growth Towns, communities and outstations has driven people into urban centres, including Alice Springs. Income managing CDEP participants has acted as a disincentive to work. While CDEP must be a program which transitions participants into real jobs, income-managing those participants is “absurd”: “You do nothing and your dole gets income managed. You do something and your CDEP gets income managed. That drives people into unemployment.”
There need to be broader scale mobile renal dialysis services so that kidney disease patients can stay in their communities instead of coming to Alice Springs as “refugees in their own country”.
How can he reconcile the CLP alcohol policy, which will turn up the tap, with his concerns?
He argues that people won’t be able to get more grog because they won’t have more money.
“We need to manage how they get drunk, have it happening earlier in the day, rather than at night.”
He says earlier opening hours for take-away liquor trading would allow responsible people to purchase their alcohol “when and as they see fit”, while the “chronic drunks” would get drink earlier in the day and be easier to manage.
On the controversial take-away license at Northside, he has door-knocked in the area and says “a consensus view” is that earlier opening hours and earlier closing hours would improve the situation. He says the most pleasant day to go shopping at Northside is Saturday, when the bottleshop opens at 10am (on other days, it opens at 2pm.)
A license buyback there should only be considered if the police and government can’t better manage the situation.
He says having police stationed at bottleshops throughout the town is having a “good effect”.
On a take-away free day, he says non-one has ever lobbied him about that, except John Boffa, of the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition.
Pictured: Mr Giles door-knocking Braitling resident Alison Box.