Trouble in CBD: Ranger or ambassador?


p2282-drinking-fightingBy ERWIN CHLANDA
The town council is proposing to deal with “anti-social and harassing activities” in Todd Mall by employing an Indigenous Liaison Officer attached to its ranger unit.
An application for funding that the council is making to the Aboriginal Benefits Account (ABA) indicates the officer will get baton, firearms and “security operations” training.
Asked whether he has concerns the officer may be facing conflict arising from tribal, clan and family issues Mayor Damien Ryan said: “No. This land here is Arrernte. My preference would be to see an Arrernte man to take the position.”
It would need to be “someone with skills to work worth everybody whether they are from regional communities or from anywhere around the world”. Members of at least five major Central Australian tribes live in or frequent Alice Springs.
The Corporate and Community Services Committee chairman Eli Melky, who says he first raised the idea of an Indigenous Liaison Officer, says he would prefer for the funding not to come from the ABA, and he “would have an issue” if the position is restricted to an Arrernte man “although I am not a scholar on Indigenous protocols”.
He says his committee and the council are responding to “horrifying stories from people in Todd Mall, about violence, stealing, robbery. “Many are very desensitised by all this violence and are sometimes not even calling the police any more.
“Who that officer is should first depend on his or her qualification,” says Cr Melky.
“I would not oppose a white female. It needs to be an approach other than using a big stick, should be engaging, inclusive, warm and encouraging. The people need to be treated like human beings.”
Mayor Ryan says the officer would “do the same jobs as our rangers” and one of the main tasks would be “to liaise with shopkeepers and people within the Mall on a daily basis” working “not only with visitors from remote communities but also with visitors from other parts of the world”.
The council has not received an answer yet from the ABA but Mayor Ryan says the issue will be voted on by council at the end of the month and “we will find a budget line to support this”.
The committee said in a report tabled on Monday that the officer “will not just be performing regular ranger duties, but also focussing on the Todd Mall area to to help with preventing anti-social behaviour and to assist visitors wanting to know more about Aboriginal culture and the history of Mparntwe.
“It will be an ambassador role that will be invaluable in bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-lndigenous community members, as well as building cross cultural respect and social cohesion … employing non-confrontational methods through the use of the officer’s cultural experience.”
A proposal for an “ambassador” to work in the CBD was raised in 2006 in connection with the native title organisation, Lhere Artepe. UPDATED: Ambassadors Ian Stirling and Colin Tilmouth (pictured below) in roles very similar to those outlined by the town council’s application were actually employed in 2008 by Aboriginal Employment Strategy, then active in Alice Springs. (See story in our foundation archive, “Willing to get out there and give it a go.”)
The ABA application puts the salary at $63,000. With on-costs the total cost of the position is quoted as $130,000, including $23,000 for the council for “mentoring and management” and $17,000 for “programme administration”.


  1. Sounds very dodgy to me. Another example of how the town council requires double the money to employ an Aboriginal staff member but from the ABA.
    How would the council measure this person’s performance, assuming they are acting as a ranger / tourists info?

  2. Wow.
    $130,000 total cost.
    $63,000 wage.
    $23,000 mentoring and management.
    = $86,000.
    Add $17,000 for program administration
    = $103,000.
    Where is the extra $27000. And what is program administration? Is that for Lhere Artepe to advertise, interview and appoint the successful applicant?
    Or maybe it’s just a way to get their share of pure profit.
    I would have thought that those costs would have been factored into the day to day operations to try and gain employment for “their mob”.
    Plenty of money around it seems, so why are there people on the streets and living in poverty?
    Eli, I would have thought the ABA is the ideal body to fund it, and as far as getting a white woman for the role, you may be right about not being a scholar on indigenous protocols.
    For this to have any chance of working at all, a white woman would be the last chance.
    Not politically correct, but real world unfortunately.
    It seems the days of employment based on merit are long gone, now it is about being seen to look after the minorities.
    Getting the best person for the job is way down on the list of priorities.

  3. On top of the above comments – it still is about black against white – rich against poor.
    When will council decide to treat everyone fairly and stop trying to gain money for themselves by condoning racism? Anyone who has lived here for any time well knows the bit about men’s work – women’s work in the Aboriginal culture. They also know the old and disabled are left to die by that culture.
    Who owned the blue car that was smashed up the other night and who were the two that landed up in hospital in a critical condition? Who owned the white ute with the sirens on top that was headed north at that time?
    Where is Jon Veverbrandts these days – maybe he remembers one little white kid working with him at once stage after he lost his father and after he finished with school.

  4. @ Ray “Wow”: Thank you for your comments, Ray, but this report was not accepted and further information was requested from officers as it did not satisfy the initial request.
    You are spot on, it is way too expensive. I do consider the Todd Mall however to be the responsibility of the ASTC when it comes to municipal services and not the ABA.
    In my opinion we cannot be dependent on a grant and it would not be sustainable in the long term as this will take a while to fix and maintain long into the future.
    Traders are having to deal with an incredible amount of violence either against them or people who use the Mall daily. There are the ongoing vandalising of businesses, stealing of goods, begging but to list a few of the unfortunate experiences traders face each day.
    So, as to why only a local man can possibly fix it? This suggests that a local woman cannot. Take that philosophy into the real world of employment and see how you go.
    What happened to being an equal opportunity employer? It also suggests that only local Aboriginals are causing problems, well are they?
    So, no white person has ever stolen from a shop or skated down the Todd Mall or rode their bike with dog in tow no leash, graffiti or buskers busking without permit and on and on.
    My preference would be to call the position a Todd Mall or CBD Precinct Liaison Officer and not label it in the stereotypical fashion it has been.
    The important thing here is to do all we can to make the Todd Mall a safe and vibrant area for people to visit and work. I admit not being a scholar on Aboriginal protocols but after a few years of being a Councillor listening to the traders’ challenges, one does not need to be a scholar to work out what the problems are.
    The difficulty is providing a solution.

  5. Thanks for the reply Eli. I take your point about EEO and anti discrimination, but once again, we are not dealing with a “normal” situation.
    Race should not matter, gender should not matter, but it does. You cannot overcome 40,000 years of so called culture with expectations of modern ways.
    I understand that the Mall is council responsibility, by if there are other avenues of funding, they should be looked at.
    After all, council relies heavily on grants from State and federal governments for many other things, why not this, especially if it is an “identified position”.
    Lets not be that stubborn and say it’s our area, we’ll pay for it, especially when other funding streams are available to lessen the burden on ratepayers.
    Maybe it is an ongoing option, but even a few years of grant funding would be a better outcome for ratepayers, with the money saved redirected into something else.
    Finally, of course I understand that white people do break by-laws, but let’s get real. Riding a bike in the Mall or walking a dog is less damaging than drunken brawls outside the bottle shop waiting for it to open.
    Or humbugging or threats or bashings. Look at the percentages as well. You can’t tell me that the offences are equal between black and white, in both severity and frequency.
    Compare the real stats, what percentage of crimes are conducted by one race compared to the other?
    It’s far from equal, is it. Until we admit what the problem is, for fear of being called racist, it will be very hard to address it. Unfortunately that is the real world, it is not always PC. Cheers.

  6. Funding is sought for $130K but the wage is only $63K.
    Reminds me of the CLP’s old tax on Federal Government funding to Aborigines.
    It was 58% off the top for “administration”.
    The Aboriginal industry rolls on.

  7. THIS IS the role of an ACPO (Aboriginal Community Police Officer)!
    ACPOs are employed by NT Police, paid for by the government … this work is the ACPO’s bread and butter, liasing with the Indigenous people, dealing with these issues in the Mall and not only there but in the town camps, engaging with people black and white, shop owners, tourist and all the rest.
    If they weren’t stuck working in the bloody watch house, court or front counter as they are doing now and have been for quite some time, this is their job, they are employed for this very reason, Aboriginal people from Alice Springs, this their role in the NT Police force. Put them back out on the road where they belong!
    For goodness sake we don’t have to reinvent the bloody wheel every time there is an issue – these jobs are already filled with very capable ACPOs, I know I’ve work with them, let them do the job they were employed to do, not stuck behind the bloody counter!

  8. Shouldn’t the police cover this? If someone’s playing up, lock them up. Kowtowing as usual.

  9. Salary on-costs are usually around the 30% mark. I am in the wrong business. I would love to hire my men out at rates like they’re talking about with the ranger job.

  10. @ Kamare: Thank you for your input. As you can appreciate council has no authority to direct the police, but I will certainly put your suggestion up for police to consider.
    I find the police have always done an excellent job under incredible trying circumstances. Pressure from all corners makes it very tough indeed for them.
    I see this as a whole of community challenge and council must play a role.
    We can’t always handball anti social issues to police and wash our hands of it, hiding behind the Rates Roads and Rubbish ideals of council.

  11. @ Ray 40,000 years: Ray, your points have good merit but those who are committing offences of violence, robbery, vandalisim and so on are more likley to be either youth who are fuelled by hormones and full of energy to spend, or older people who are full of drugs and alcohol.
    These people are no different to the same trouble makers you will find in Rundle Mall SA or Newcastle mall or any other shopping mall or centre anywhere in the world.
    These kind of “people” be they black, white, young, old, female or male have to be dealt with by the full force of the law and supported where possible to become better members of our community at every opportunity, particularly the youth.
    Aboriginal people have over 40,000 years produced a rich and gentle culture, not criminals. ABA funding is better spent on its original objective supporting the community. Council through good budget management can re prioritise its spending and re allocate funds to support such an important position.
    It doesn’t always need to lead to increasing rates to afford it.
    I am a big believer that a chain is as strong as its weakest link.
    If the community is the chain then ASTC must be one of those links. I would like to see council do its best to be one strong link serving you, the community.

  12. @ Kamara: Wow, I rarely agree with most of what you write but you are spot on with your comments. Why indeed reinvent the wheel. The current proposal is very flawed – law and order is police business, council needs to influence the police to ensure public safety.
    This one position cannot be the; be all and end all to solving anti-social behaviour – what chance does one person stand? I wasn’t here at the time so am not sure why the Ambassador program by Lhere Artepe is still not happening – it should be.
    Tourists do wish to interact with native Australians in a positive manner not a handgun, handcuff shackled person! This is not a war torn country although sometimes it is made out to be that way.
    As for seeking the exorbitant amount from ABA – SHAME ON YOU Alice Springs Town Council! Your “oncosts” are way over the top. You should be finding monies from Territory Government agencies to implement such an Ambassador program even if it is disguised by trying to tackle the anti-social behaviour of a minority of people.
    Why not just provide permits for people to visit the Mall, especially after 6pm? “Tongue in cheek comment” by the way.
    Policing is the answer to anti-social behaviour with Arrernte Ambassadors to be “spotters” and also to assist with a positive image of native Australians.

  13. I admire the council for finally attempting to do something about the problem! I have previously written about all the humbug that al-fresco diners both in the mall and even inside restaurants face.
    Very few restaurant owners / managers seem willing or able to chase these people away. Too many visitors to town even encourage the humbugging behaviours for fear of being racist! They tolerate what I am sure they would never tolerate at home.
    SO, what is to be done? And will the problem fade away at 4:21 PM when said employee heads home? Of course not. It would seem to me that employing an Arrernte man is really setting him up for future problems.
    While it seems a real obvious solution, in practice I fear it will prove not so. Surely police ON FOOT PATROL in the mall, both regular and ACPO (Aboriginal Community Police Officer) are ideally suited to undertake this task?
    Why it hasn’t been happening is the real issue. Maybe the desk duty is, as @ Kamare proposes, the reason.
    But, really, with all the Indigenous organisations in town you would think that there were ample resources to address this problem!
    The entry points into the Mall are few. Could not these be patrolled and the few regular offenders sent packing unless they have legitimate business, much like the police quickly identify the problem drinkers outside the liquor outlets? Hardly rocket science. Goodness, we can make a simple problem complicated … and expensive!

  14. The drunkenness and bad behaviour has been like this for the last 40 years. With all the resources etc, nothing has changed? Police are doing their job, but when they are apprehended very little punishment is demonstrated.
    It’s not only the police’s job, it’s everyone’s in Alice Springs.
    Forget “culture” – this is just an excuse to get out if anything. Bad behaviour should not be tolerated no matter what race or colour or culture.
    If everyone did their job, I am sure this behaviour would be eradicated very quickly.

  15. OMG Eli … never a truer word has been spoken by you about yourself … no, you are definitely not a scholar on Indigenous Australian Culture. This is surprising seeing that though you are a blow in, you have a local business, married a local girl, on the local council, which maybe suggests that you have your head up your local.
    An initiated Arrernte man will be able to move on all other visitors from the surrounding communities without fear of retribution, and would be listened to, as commented by Damien Ryan, this is Arrernte Country!
    Women in Indigenous society are important, but not in the same way as an initiated man, particularly when it comes to traditional “laws”.
    And I take it that the idea of the Ambassador is that they will be listened to when a directive is given to others, by the Ambassador?
    Or is this just a decorative post, to make the council feel good about themselves? Keep those shopkeepers off your backs with a token?
    This is Arrernte Country and only an initiated Arrernte man will be able to move on and change peoples behaviour within Arrernte Country.
    This is a job with very specific prerequisites, and has nothing to do with equality and anti discrimination.
    It is about the best person for the job. As a suggestion to balance out the gender equality issue, maybe set up 2 x Welcome to Country areas outside of Alice; one before the Ilparpa “Gap” in the south and one north, where a ceremony can be performed, by the women, and re-install a mind set that this is Arrernte country, we are visitors, we need to remember respect.
    These Welcome to Country sites could be utilised during large football events or for “pay days” eg. Yuendemu just recently emptying out on to the streets of Alice.
    Please go and educate yourself. There is this place, near Araleun Arts Centre, called the Strehlow Centre. Please do all the people who voted you in a favour, visit and learn about where you live, past and present. And then maybe that way you won’t come off as the Salim Mehajer of Alice Springs.

  16. @ Louise Stokes: OMG. Thank you Louise for your comments, I appreciated the information about culture, not so much your personal attack.
    In my opinion you are wrong when you state that this has nothing to do with equality and anti-discrimination, to the contrary it has everything to do with it.
    Recently there was a great uproar as border police released a media statement which declared that “certain” people will be stopped and asked for their visa in Melbourne.
    This has since been withdrawn and an apology provided for its strong racially profiling risk.
    An Aboriginal liaison officer would in my opinion create the same risk of racial profiling.
    You see Louise, I don’t assume that only Aboriginal people break the law in the Todd Mall. I also don’t assume that they will be young, or old, female or male.
    I do expect that all people should feel safe and allowed to operate their business free of threat of crime and violence from anyone.
    I also expect that any one accused of an offence deserves the right to be treated equally fairly under the law of the land. I cannot and will not support racial profiling.
    As for your Salim comment, I can assure you that my wedding 25 years ago didn’t cost as much.

  17. @ Elvis: The indigenous people have been here for 40,000 years, and still need white man to prop them up. Why have they not created jobs for themselves? Plus ther hygiene is very poor, as one indigenous person from Arnhemland said, without the white man we would have very little food and no clothes.

  18. All I hear is blah-blah-blah about booze. Legalize cannabis and let the people choose something safer to use, when they relax and unwind after their day.
    It has been proven in Colorado that all of the things the prohibitionists warned about have not come true.
    In fact, quite the opposite is true.
    Crime, teen use, auto crashes have all been reduced.
    Last sales cycle for the marijuana revealed that the state made more money on taxes from cannabis, than they did from the booze markets.


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