Friday, June 21, 2024

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HomeIssue 33Pollies and public disconnect: is there a bigger main game?

Pollies and public disconnect: is there a bigger main game?

What a choice to have on Saturday!
On the one hand we have Labor which has removed any doubt about its disdain for Alice Springs by promising to spend as much on footy TV lights – to be used maybe once or twice a year – as it would on the town centre’s facelift.
And the Country Liberals are proposing to spend a corresponding amount – $2.5m – on the Youth Centre although locals say that’s nowhere near enough and doesn’t cover the facilities and services also badly needed. There is a lively debate about a facility costing 15 times as much.
Mayor Damien Ryan and Chamber of Commerce CEO Kay Eade have expressed their dissatisfaction with Labor’s effort, with the town’s third major lobby, Tourism Central Australia, notably absent from the debate.
But that’s detail. The more fundamental issue is that when people think, “What difference will I make by casting my vote?”, many say, “Not much”.
Why? Because there is a growing disconnect between the pollies and the public.
The tiny size of our constituency notwithstanding, politicians have introduced filters and barriers between themselves and the voters, using an army of minders and one-liners spruiked incessantly, through media releases, advertising and social media – and far too little face-to-face contact.
Labor leader Paul Henderson was in town for just a few hours to make his major election announcement, attended by the media and hardly anyone else. The exchange was only a few minutes underway when a minder decreed: “Last questions.”
Opposition Leader Terry Mills yesterday spent a half hour being shown every nook and cranny of the Youth Centre but the media doorstop was cut short.
The Alice Springs News queried the price of land at Kilgariff and were told market forces would set them.
MLA for Araluen Robyn Lambley was standing right next to Mr Mills. Two years ago she gave an interview to the News canvassing the notion of selling some of the land at or near the cost of development (some $75,000 a block). No opportunity was given to revisit that train of thought.
Under what law would Mr Mills lock up drunks not voluntarily attending rehab? The answer? “We have a plane to catch.”
No they didn’t, it was a charter flight that would sit there as long as instructed.
But don’t blame the pollies for that – blame yourself.
There was much talk earlier in the year that 2012 would need be a watershed, the time when we arrested the town’s decline, with elections of both local and Territory governments. The opportunities to influence candidates and get precise commitments from them were not offered to us but we could have created them.
We didn’t.
The Chamber of Commerce and independent candidate Phil Walcott made valiant efforts to organise election forums. They were poorly attended and used by some as a soapbox for their own ideas, rather than extracting commitments from the pollies present.
Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions: What, really, is the main game?
Bruce Walker, who chairs remoteFOCUS, a project facilitated by Desert Knowledge Australia, is raising some interesting questions in a submission to the Senate.
OK, we are those who are living “in the forgotten backyards of the capital cities, and they are not part of a national narrative which makes sense of the decisions made elsewhere which affect their lives”.
But the “we” here doesn’t mean Territorians, but the people inhabiting desert Australia – those of us living in the vast remote parts of all the states except Victoria and Tasmania.
Would that be the framework that could get us excited?


  1. Erwin
    You ask, What, really, is the main game? And the answer is – numbers.
    It’s always numbers in our political system, and getting enough of them to form government is the main game, whether in the NT, SA, WA or Queensland.
    The remote, sparsely populated desert regions in those electorates will never have enough elected representatives to sway the policy directives in their respective capital cities. Nor will they ever be able to access sufficient funds for remote regions to prosper. All pollies spend money where the votes are. Their jobs depend on it.
    And the way out? I suggest two, or perhaps it’s one in two parts.
    First, we need a constitutional amendment that recognises local and regional government. They need the legal recognition currently reserved for the states.
    Second, using this amendment we need to break the control state governments have over their remote regions. We need to by-pass the states in favour of regions, and give regions a direct line to the money in Canberra.
    Admittedly this would be a huge and fundamental change to governance as we know it, and I don’t presume to know how it would play out. But there are those who study these things who might have an idea on how we could make it work.
    What I do know is that ruling central Australia from Darwin doesn’t give us much, and that doesn’t seem to change no matter who forms government in the NT.
    We deserve more, and we need more if we are to retain our place and grow in viability.


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