Giles, Conlan and Lambley snub Mbantua Festival


The head of the Mbantua Festival says he is “disappointed and disgusted” that three Central Australian ministers in the NT Government did not turn up to the five day event, widely expected to become a major fixture for locals and a knock-out attraction for tourists.
The only local Parliamentarians attending were Namatjira MLA Alison Anderson, who has recently been dumped from the Cabinet, and Minister Bess Price, who had earlier promised some funding, says Neville Perkins (pictured).
He is the chairman of Arrulka Aboriginal business corporation, which “auspiced, sponsored and managed the festival on behalf of Arunta people”.
The $2m event attracted 15,000 visitors. Mr Perkins’ says neither Chief Minister Adam Giles nor Tourism Minister Matt Conlan were present at any time, despite personal invitations.
Both live in Alice Springs – Mr Giles within earshot of the Telegraph Station where the festival was held.
When asked for comment, only Ms Lambley replied. She said: “We are always faced with many choices of how we spend our time, whether it is on the weekend or during the week.
“Whether we make the right choices of where we go and what we do will be ultimately judged by our constituents. And thankfully we all have different interests which means we spread broadly across the community representing Government.
“I knew that Alison Anderson was attending part of the festivities. I was not aware of the invitation until late last week. I don’t think it is fair to judge me on my lack of attendance. I was only invited at the last minute.”
But Mr Perkins said the festival had first been discussed with Mr Giles when he was still in Opposition. “I personally handed to Ms Lambley a flyer in Parliament House before the middle of the year,” he says, “and there has been a lot of publicity in the local media.”
None of the three ministers would disclose to the Alice Springs News Online what their engagements on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were (the Assembly was sitting on Wednesday and Thursday).
Mr Perkins says financial and in-kind support from the community was meager.
Former Chief Minister Paul Henderson had given a “verbal undertaking” of $150,000, and Mr Perkins says the new government should take that over.
There has been no news on that from the Country Liberal government, but he is now hoping for $250,000 – the amount Mr Perkins says by which the event is currently “in the red”.
“We are still waiting to hear from the Chief Minister. It would be a small investment from the government which is battling to resurrect a failing tourism industry,” says Mr Perkins.
“They are funding, to the tune of more than $200,000, concerts of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra in Alice Springs and Ayers Rock Resort.”
The Aboriginal TV station Imparja, which Mr Perkins says did not cover the event, had committed $100,000 from its alcohol advertising revenue.
CEO Alistair Feehan, currently embroiled in the escort agency scandal, had tried to block that payment but Mr Perkins is negotiating with the board direct.
The locally owned Central Car Rentals and Accor Hotels, which owns the former Oasis Hotel, gave some sponsorship in kind.
The NT Government provided two vehicles. Tourism Central Australia sold tickets but charged a commission.
The major contribution, $841,000, came from the Aboriginal Benefits Account which gets its funding from royalties generated by mining on Aboriginal land. Opera Australia helped out with Bungalow Song.
Mr Perkins says the crowd loved most of the events, in the alcohol-free venue (see our reports), from the Mauboy and Missy Higgins concerts, supported by a string of local performers, to corroborree dancing, spear throwing, youth activities and displays of desert art.
On the “learning curve” side of the balance sheet was the failure of the police to turn up on Saturday, and on Friday night for Bush Mechanics. Arriving spectators were exposed to youths throwing stones from Charles Creek, and some climbed the fence. Two mounted police were there for 45 minutes on Saturday.
However, there were no major incidents at any time and the problem was rectified on Sunday when a good police contingent was present.
Mr Perkins says the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) asked for $10,000 for a sacred site certificate. He did not pay that and asked the NT Government to waive that fee.
He said some female AAPA Aboriginal custodians also tried to prohibit men’s dancing but Mr Perkins says that demand was ludicrous, and he ignored it: “Arunta men have been dancing at that site for thousands of years.”
In the end, AAPA issued a certificate for the festival to go ahead, with a strict condition that the organisers protect the sacred sites in the area.
“We did that, but many non-indigenous events on the same site had not been required to protect these sites. I will be calling for a review of the AAPA,” Mr Perkins says. His large and prominent family has a long-time relationship with the Telegraph Station.
[We are asking Mr Feehan and the police for comment.]
PHOTO: Part of the crowd during the Catherine Satour concert.
UPDATE 5:30pm:
Bess Price emailed: We went to the “Bungalow Song” on Friday night. Two of our grandsons performed in it. And the concert on Saturday afternoon. Our daughter and her band performed in that.
UPDATE 2am Thursday:
Adam Giles emailed: I didn’t receive the VIP invite in my office until Friday afternoon I am told. I was in Darwin on the weekend and didn’t make it back home so couldn’t attend. Hope you enjoyed it.
UPDATE 8:40am Thursday:
Mr Feehan has responded.
UPDATE 10:20am Thursday:
Imparja CEO Alistair Feehan has withdrawn his response.


  1. Yeh I’m not so sure we should be putting up these events as worthwhile as they may be automatically expecting Government input, lashing out at all and sundry when we fail to reach our aspirational goals.
    Don’t get me wrong, I hear the events run under the Mbantua Festival’s Banner were fantastic and the whole concept has terrific potential as a marketable additional attraction to The Centre.
    I’m sure that next time round an early cooperative approach will see government assist where it can.
    I know Council is very much behind community events of this kind and usually very willing to assist, however nobody has a bottomless bucket of funds.
    In the end these events have to stand or fall on their own merit, success or failure subject to their ability to sell the product to the public.
    Because I was heavily involved with the Organisation of the Desert Sports Baseball and Cricket event that was also run on the weekend I was continually asking people in the days prior if they would be attending the festival.
    I was rather concerned if there would be anybody left to attend our event. A good number of those I asked, particularly the youngsters, weren’t even aware the Festival was on or that it was featuring nationally popular acts such as Jessica Mauboy and Missy Higgins.
    What that says to me is that the event could have used a lot more and a lot earlier promotion, a lesson for next time maybe.
    Similarly, getting the attendance of Pollies requires early invites followed by additional confirming invites. There are a lot of events – don’t just expect yours to be top of the list. You’ve got to put it there!
    It is obvious that getting the Festival of the ground and running it for the duration was a huge ask.
    I think for a first time event it did incredibly well. It’s always a long hard slog to get events of any kind off the ground, let alone events of this size. It will more than likely take a few goes before it runs to expectations.
    Congratulations to all involved. I hope when you are all rested and had time to think and analyse the event, and that you will be able to find the energy and enthusiasm to do it all again.

  2. Isn’t it marvellous what being a player in power politics does to one’s self-perception!
    We’ll have $10,000, and men can’t dance. That from AAPA.
    And our pollies hanging out for a VIP invite. As if…

  3. While the Mbantua Festival was no doubt about it a feel good event for some, what did local indigenous people get out of the nearly $1 million spent on it from the ABA?
    Jobs, skills, economic development? Better health outcomes? Better literacy and numeracy?
    Bottom line is it was an event organised by a Sydney-based company, run by an imported work force, with a lot of questions around who actually benefitted from a considerable expenditure of ABA money.
    How many visitors did it attract to Alice Springs? And 15,000 people over five days a success? We’ve had 10,000 to a footy match.
    Now Mr Perkins wants taxpayer funds to prop up his family company. Bit rich.

  4. I work it out that for $2m for 15000 visitors, $133.33 per person would need to be reaped to recover that outlay. That does not take into account the cut from taxes.
    So, was it a net profit – or did it rely on taxpayer handouts?
    Be honest.

  5. FYI Mrs Lambley actually spent Saturday morning at a fundraising event for the Wig Library, of which she is the patron.
    And why would the Minister for Health be expected to attend a festival? Can understand questioning the attendance of the Minister for Tourism and Major Events but not quite sure why Adam or Robyn would be expected to attend?

  6. I think the final line in your article says it all about the integrity of this “cultural Festival”. Neville Perkins is complaining about having to protect indigenous sacred sites. What a joke.
    This mob consulted with me, just a white fella, many months ago and it all sounded good on the surface, but, I said, I couldn’t commit to anything without consulting my friends, senior custodians for Mparntwe.
    I mentioned their names so we all knew who we were talking about, and of course the festival is going to consult with these people too. Or are they? Well I guess they did if you can call consulting waiting till just a few weeks before the festival, when all the plans are pretty much set in concrete.
    I would love to see an Indigenous Cultural Festival happening in Central Australia, but I would expect it to be an event that respected and followed cultural protocols.

  7. Even among us common folk it is considered to be polite to send a “Sorry, unable to attend” card (also E-Card).
    Not like they didn’t know it was on. Unlike at election time last year when you couldn’t walk down the street without a pop up politician in your face spruiking “you are very important to me”.


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