Above: Cr Melky and Mayor Ryan waiting for a quorum to be reached last night.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Councillor Eli Melky shook his head in dismay when a quorum failed to be reached at last night’s Town Council meeting.
He had prepared a notice of motion responding to what he sees as “very serious lawlessness and gang-related crimes on our streets”.
Its primary focus was for council to appeal to the NT Government to introduce an Emergency Youth Curfew for young people 16 years of age and under, from 10pm to 6am.
However, only four of nine councillors were present: himself, Mayor Damien Ryan, Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni and Cr Brendan Heenan.
One council seat, formerly held by Chansey Paech, is vacant; Crs Jade Kudrenko and Steve Brown were away on personal leave, and Cr Dave Douglas, due to ill health.
A quorum would have been reached if Cr Jacinta Price had phoned in from Docker River, as was expected. The meeting was delayed for an hour in the hope that she would but when that didn’t eventuate, it was postponed until next week.
Ironically, former Councillor Paech, now MLA for Namatjira, was in the public gallery as two items on the agenda were of particular interest to him. One was Cr Melky’s curfew motion; the other, was flying the Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill, a notice of motion before council that has languished without decision since August 2014. An officer report, in response to a recent letter from Mr Paech, was asking council for direction on the matter.
On this issue, it is likely that council will opt for doing nothing, as it has not had any response from Lhere Artepe, the native title holder body, and a negative response from the local RSL. The Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority does not have view on the matter although it would require a clearance certificate if any ground-disturbing works needed to be done. The Department of Veteran Affairs supports flying the flag although they see it as a way of commemorating “the service and sacrifice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women”.
The local RSL is currently uncertain as to its status even as an association, following entering voluntary administration and the liquidation of its club operations. However, back in 2015 a vote was taken on the flag issue and was “resoundingly defeated”, according to a letter to council from current president Dave Batic. Despite repeated contacts from council, there had been no formal advice of the vote outcome until Mr Batic’s letter of 19 June this year.
Mr Batic had also taken the advice of the National War Memorial, that “it is not custom, nor tradition, for memorials and cenotaphs to fly other than the National Flag fought under at the time of conflict”.
This advice ignores that fact that long before Anzac Hill became a war memorial site it was and remains a sacred site, known as Untyeyetwelye (or Untyeye-Artwiley), as Mr Paech commented to the Alice Springs News Online.
The spirt of the original notice of motion by Cr Kundrenko was in acknowledgement of this dual significance rather than as a commemoration of war service by Aboriginal people. She argued at the time that it would be a way of expressing council’s aim to “promote interaction between cultures and help maintain a cohesive community”.
While waiting to see if Cr Price would phone in, allowing the meeting to go ahead, the News also spoke to a frustrated Cr Melky.
Did he have a seconder for his motion?
No, he replied. He was hoping that a seconder would come forward as a result of discussion of the issues. And, as he pointed out, having a seconder at the start of a meeting is not necessarily foolproof. At the end of May, in his first attempt to win council support for paying off the Civic Centre loan, he arrived at the meeting with a seconder (Cr de Brenni) but following debate, Cr de Brenni withdrew. As we know, Cr Melky ultimately won on this issue.
However, his Youth Curfew motion attempts to address a far more complicated and controversial issue, even though all that council would actually be required to do is write a letter.
Accompanying it is a list of “strategic actions”, each of them requiring debate and unpicking themselves. One specifically goes against the logic of the curfew, as it proposes that the youth after hours bus service (run in partnership by council and Congress) be extended past 11.30pm, which is itself already an hour and half later than his proposed curfew time of 10pm.
Another suggests that community service groups “distribute food and blankets for those who are homeless or hungry” – presumably to help youths weather a night on the streets.
Cr Melky has sought council support for a youth curfew before and been defeated, more than once in fact, but just a fortnight ago he said in council that his position on the issue had “evolved” and he had come to see that a curfew may do “more harm than good”.
The News asked him last night what had caused him to change his mind.
It turned on the night of June 30, his birthday, he said, when he and his family, including his four-year-old daughter, were leaving a restaurant in Todd Mall at around 8pm. A group of youths had gathered. He recalls his son commenting on their presence and his reply that it was fine, they were doing nothing wrong. Then a bottle of spirits was thrown at them, smashing on the ground at their feet. Most of the youths scattered but a couple stayed behind, “too cool” to run.
Cr Melky asked to them why they had thrown the bottle, pointing out that there was a baby (the little girl) in his family group: “Then all the profanities came through.”
The News pointed out that even an effectively enforced curfew from 10pm would not have prevented this incident.
Cr Melky recognised that, of course, which is why he wants to “activate” government and other groups in the community to tackle the issue on a number of fronts. He doesn’t want to lock youths up, he said, nor overly involve the police, but he did use the word “gang”.
What did he mean, as doesn’t this imply a level of organisation with intent?
When they’re together they feed themselves an energy, he said, that makes them do “crazy things, like throwing rocks at people when they’re driving past”. And “they definitely are organised … they have a very good communication network.”
Communication is not the same as being purposefully organised, but Cr Melky said he had observed youths doing things like setting off fireworks under the nose of the police, or stealing from the Indervon service station, and then melting into the crowd of other youths milling around, changing shirts and so avoiding being identified. It looked purposeful and planned to him and requires action to be taken: “Put them on a bus, find out where they are from, and take them back.”
If they are committing offences though, it is a police matter, isn’t it?
Yes, he agreed.
Get ready for a long meeting next week, the last committee meeting before council goes into caretaker mode (from August 3) ahead of the election.
Telling the stories of war: we could do so much better