But fix problems, including racism
By KIERAN FINNANE
Town councillors spoke as one last night: the Lightning Carnival should stay as an annual Easter event, but the necessary planning and resources should go into avoiding or dealing with associated problems, including the racist commentary they have attracted.
Councillor Eli Melky wanted Mayor Damien Ryan to take a position on the issue from councillors to a meeting later this week with AFL Northern Territory, police and local government stakeholders. It is an issue rolling “two items into one”, said Cr Melky, with the carnival having all the “wholesome” attributes of a sporting event but attracting anti-social behaviour that is putting a “great strain” on the Alice Springs community.
Mayor Ryan said he didn’t have “a position” but his “research” showed that half of the players involved in the carnival live in town; it is not just for visiting communities. He also referred to the “very emotive” discussion in the community and on the “very strong racial community forum” – presumably on Facebook. He asked whether, if the carnival were to be banned, the town would also have to consider banning the annual Show. He wanted to hear councillors’ views.
Cr Melky said he didn’t like to see “the racially orientated” attitudes in the community debate. He says the town has a lot of notice of the event taking place – 12 months – and also has “a lot of experience” with anti-social behaviour. He echoed the mayor’s point, if the event were banned, “where do you stop?” The challenges in Alice Springs are “highlighted” around events but are “constant” throughout the year, dropping off in the winter but coming back in the summer, as with the social media debate. He would like to think that the events and the problems can be separated – it was done in Europe, in response to soccer hooliganism, and nationally in Australia: “There is a way.” He would not want to see an up and coming football star miss out on playing opportunities because of hate and division and the town not finding a sensible solution to anti-social behaviour problems.
Cr Chansey Paech couldn’t support removing the carnival and pointed out that in previous years a taskforce had been in place providing an “integrated response” to “underlying issues” around the Lightning Carnival. He wanted the mayor to make enquiries about whether authorities are looking at what has happened in the past around events, such as with the provision of youth services and alcohol restriction measures.
Mayor Ryan said he had met with “the young man” who started the Facebook petition (calling for a ban on the carnival) and has arranged for him to meet with AFLCA: “I’m trying to get all sides together.” He said the carnival is not council’s event to ban (as is being called for by the petition) – “we don’t run the League” but only make available council-owned facilities to it.
‘Absolutely racist and disgusting comments’
Cr Jade Kudrenko said she hoped that the meeting would think about “root causes” rather than be “reactionary” in cancelling events. She recognised the issues of having extra people in town – they are “undeniable” – but couldn’t agree with blaming them on the footy carnival. She thought it was important for council to be clear in relation to the “not just racial” but “absolutely racist and disgusting comments” on social media that that is “certainly not our position”. Council is there to work on a solution but not to “support an apartheid town”.
Cr Dave Douglas wanted the carnival to continue but the government needs to be made aware that “we need more people on the street” to “keep the peace”. He suggested that “more things” for youth “who aren’t playing football” could be offered at the same time “for the whole town to enjoy”.
Cr Steve Brown said a ban would always be “a backward step”: “We should support this event and any other event that the community puts forward and find a way to making it work”. He said “anytime, anywhere” an event attracts large numbers of people, “no matter what their colour”, there would be anti-social issues to deal with. It is a matter of “managing” them, as Cr Douglas said, finding other things to occupy those not directly involved with the event, developing the right attitudes – if everyone gets behind it as with the Masters Games, you would see “a friendly atmosphere” and it would take “a lot of tension out of the community”. He referred to the “horrible racist commentary” and was surprised that anyone would ever allow it to be published in a community forum. He would like to see it “disappear very quickly”.
Cr Brendan Heenan expressed his support for the carnival and said it needs to work with government to find a solution to the problems, including ways to get visitors back to their communities more quickly, and so supporting the enjoyment of sport and making Alice Springs “a better place”.
Cr Melky, in closing, expressed satisfaction at the council being “united 100%” on this issue.
But fix problems, including racism