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HomeIssue 31Small is good in boosting Alice economy

Small is good in boosting Alice economy

p2142-Latzie-Costa-ABC star Costa Georgiadis (right) with renowned Alice botanist and author Peter Latz  at ALEC’s Eco Fair this month. Mr Georgiadis is now an ambassador of the organisation, promoting nationally its annual fair and innovations.
Jimmy Cocking (pictured below), CEO of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, says Alice Springs should start a string of eco-style small enterprises to give the local economy a shot in the arm, and residents should generate their own electricity as a buffer against inevitable price rises.
In a comment on two years of CLP reign he makes it clear he’s no fan of cops at bottle shops.
COCKING: A lot of people who come to town do report on what they see as being an apartheid happening in town, more so than anywhere else in this country. The benefits that may be reported as far as law and order are concerned, we really need to think about what is the cost of that on a social level.
NEWS: What is the cost?
COCKING: Increasing resentment of the police and authorities by indigenous people. I have also heard not only are the alcohol sales down from the IGAs but staples sales are down as well, which would indicate people are avoiding going to the supermarkets.
NEWS: What should be done instead of posting police outside bottle shops to curb crime and violence?
COCKING: There needs to be a more holistic way of looking at the broader issues [rather than] a law and order approach. Criminalising alcohol use is not necessarily fixing the problem. It might take the people out of sight and out of mind. This is not a long-term solution. Filling prisons is not necessarily the answer. People need to work together more rather than adopting quite simplistic approaches. There was an increase in hospital admissions when the Banned Drinkers Register was scrapped.
p2142-Jimmy-Cocking-&-Tanya-2At right: Jimmy Cocking with environmentalist and science journalist Tanya Ha.
NEWS: The effect of cops at bottle shops was to reduce the need for a law and order approach. It is keeping people out of the gaol. Most people see it as a preventative measure.
COCKING: Potentially it is working but it’s only Aboriginal people who are asked for ID.
NEWS: I’ve been asked several times to show ID. I am not Aboriginal.
COCKING: So have I but I am not asked every time, but every time I see an Aboriginal person walking in there they are asked, and we need to do something about that. The Treasurer, speaking to the Australian Hoteliers Association, in his white suit, saying no longer are people buying alcohol going to be treated like criminals, no longer are bottle shop owners going to be treated like drug dealers. Well, having police out the front does not seem to reflect these comments made to one of [the CLP’s] biggest sponsors.
NEWS: Many shops in town are empty.
COCKING: This reflects the dependence of Alice Springs on government expenditure. It seems we were sheltered from the GFC in 2008-09 but we’re feeling its effects five years later. With less government work being commissioned we see people going out of business. We need to look at small-scale economies instead of – as it feels like to me – being greased up for an oil, gas and mining boom which may or may not happen. We seem to be starved a bit so when those activities start and there is more investment, a ticker tape parade is going to happen for these companies. Let’s not put all our eggs in the resources basket. We need to look at broadening our approach, become sheltered from our boom and bust cycles.
NEWS: How would we do that?
COCKING: Potentially there are small scale solutions. How can we deal with our waste so it creates economic opportunities?
NEWS: ALEC’s Eco Fair was looking at this.
p2242-Glass-Crusher-2COCKING: We need to be looking at what are the resources we have here and won’t require billions of dollars of investment. Let’s look at what the council is doing with glass (council owned crusher at left), that’s a good start. Food waste can become compost to grow food locally which will reduce transport costs. We should be able to shred or pelletise plastics and feed it into a range of other businesses, moulding bollards, park benches or rubbish bins, for example. Developing a whole host of small scale industries is actually what is going to lift the economy here. Guided tours employing local people, sacred sites tours, for example. Telling tourists about the culture – that’s what they come here for. Sub-economic activity is better than no economic activity. Rather than sitting here waiting for some big saviour to come and sort it all out for us, let’s look at small scale initiative.
NEWS: Do you think the West MacDonnells are adequately developed and promoted?
COCKING: In our parks where people are paying $3 per night to camp, people would be happy to pay $5 or more so the parks have a bit more of a budget to play with. Also, we should have a Central Desert parks pass for, say, $50, valid for a year, same as your Desert Park pass for $25. We should encourage volunteers to work in the parks. We need to be able to give something back, enhancing the focus on bio-diversity.
NEWS: Should there be new facilities, roads, pubs, wilderness lodges?
COCKING: People come out here to absorb the majestic landscape. We have concerns about private interests setting up resort-style accommodation in parks. It would create environmental impact as well as two different tiers. It’s important the natural values are preserved.
NEWS: Should Tourism NT spend taxpayers’ money on promoting the Ayers Rock Resort? It is now owned by an interstate entity.
COCKING: Most of taxpayers’ money in the Territory comes from the GST and the Feds. That means everybody in the country is contributing to that promotion. Given that we now don’t have Tiger Airways flying into Alice Springs it’s critical for us as a town is to find ways of getting tourists to get on a bus or a plane from Yulara to Alice Springs and spend an extra week here. There are always going to be people going to Uluru.
NEWS: We have many NGOs as well as Territory and Federal instrumentalities. Do their activities overlap?
COCKING: Some progress is being made in that space through the Department of the Chief Minister as they are starting to work more with the not-for-profit sector, on a fee-for-service model, rather than on a project based model. We are in a resource-strained environment, with significant cuts to operational funding. The fewer opportunities to apply for project funding will impact the sector’s services. This is creating competition between the organisations which means there is less drive towards communication and collaboration, because everybody is going to be forced to see each other as competitors, as opposed to being partners. [In some areas there is] long term funding for big projects, 10 years not two or three, and this is where we need to go. It’s going to be challenging times. A lot of groups are in shock.
NEWS: Is Alice Springs still a town for young people?
COCKING: Yes, but there are some real challenges for employment in town. Five years ago it was different. From what I hear, when jobs were advertised there were, say, eight people applying, now there are around 30. While we have a really great lifestyle and entertainment venues, such a festival atmosphere with lots of activities, we need to create jobs so people can stay in town.
NEWS: Where should those jobs come from?
COCKING: For example, from investment in the Desert Smart Roadmap produced through Cool Mob that no longer exists except as a website, with a focus on energy efficiency and renewables, conservation, land management which would keep people here and also reduce the long term living costs. There is no investment from government in that sector.
NEWS: What is left of Alice Solar City? Things like the cheap night tariff for electricity and the guaranteed buy-back price are discontinued.
COCKING: The financial mechanisms have changed. The legacy of Solar City is an extra 500-plus people have solar panels on the roof, plus there are big solar plants. What we have been seeking from the outset is an investment post Alice Water Smart, post Alice Solar City, to make sure the momentum is maintained. Unfortunately, we’ve been let down by the Territory Government and its Power Water Corporation. A big part of that is the investment PWC made in the Titan generators at Brewer Estate south of town and the blow-out in costs of that. They have no incentive to produce any more renewable energy. They see the average household rooftop solar system as a liability because they have to guarantee supply. The price of power in the NT is only going to go up, except for a temporary drop after the abolition of the carbon tax.
The best thing people can do for the long term is getting solar power on their roof and feeding it straight into their house, whenever the sun shines.
We can’t make money by selling to the grid but we can save money by generating our own electricity.


  1. CORRECTION: Please note that I incorrectly stated Titan generators to Brewer Estate. They are “European built 10.7MW engines, primarily fueled by natural gas” from
    Also, there remain significant gains for Alice Springs as a result of the Alice Solar City project. The Clean Energy Finance Committee has invested $13 million into the expansion of Uterne Power Station to become a 4MW solar PV power plant. This is a big deal!
    There are also considerable opportunities to build on the success of Alice Solar City through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency The NT Government and Power Water Corporation have a lot to gain by being involved in future solar projects. While commercial rooftop systems may be viewed as a liability by utilities, utility scale solar is on the agenda in a big way. Stay tuned, the solar future of Alice Springs is bright. The commitment and vision of key individuals in this town and a renewable energy future is driving innovation and investment.
    I look forward to the opportunity to work collaboratively with other key agencies again like we did with Alice Solar City. Alice Springs Town Council, NT Government, Power Water Corporation, Chamber of Commerce, Tangentyere Council and others. Perhaps the Roadmap to a desertSMART Town could be a vehicle for re-building collaboration in Alice Springs.
    There are plenty of micro-business opportunities in there too.
    In these tight times, we have to overcome the instinctual competition for scant government resources and learn to share better the resources that we have. The resources that we have here in Alice are the institutional memory, corporate knowledge, willingness to act and a wide range of capable people.
    Let’s get smart and start talking about it, so together we can make it happen!

  2. Good work Jimmy.
    Experience and expertise tells us that Alice Springs is beholden to decisions and investment made far from Central Australia. With a long and strong history of ingenuity and innovation, supporting the growth of the local economy and its entrepreneurs will be the best strategy for a resilient future.


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