By ERWIN CHLANDA
The new town council’s foray into dealing with burning social issues was off to a poor start last night.
A motion from new councillor Catherine Satour for the council “to accept the invitation from the Central Arrernte traditional owners to build a formal and strong relationship between the council and the traditional owners” was whittled down to inviting them for discussions.
PHOTO: Senior Arrernte men Phil Alice and Shane Lindner.
Cr Eli Melky, who supported Cr Satour, said to defeat her motion would be a slap in the face of the traditional owners issuing the invitation. What was passed, following an amendment suggested by new councillor Jimmy Cocking, was hardly less offensive.
A second motion from Cr Satour to allow flying the Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill was deferred: There should be further discussions with the traditional owners, it was decided – presumably if they are still talking to the council after scuttling Cr Satour’s motion number one.
And Jacinta Price, the top-scoring candidate in the August 26 election, moved a 231 word motion about the role she wants the council to have in reducing domestic violence, making nine specific recommendations.
By the time the discussion was over this is what was left: “That Alice Springs Town Council create a policy that supports the reduction of family and domestic violence.”
The meeting agreed it would leave it to council staff to fill in the – yawning – gaps.
Phil Alice is a traditional land owner for the Alice Springs area, an Apmereke-artweye, and he addressed the meeting on his own behalf as well as that of his fellow land owners with top traditional authority.
Reading from notes he told the councillors that the invitation had been developed over several months, with him, Cr Melky and later with Cr Satour meeting most Sunday mornings “to discuss the plan and how to develop it”.
Mr Alice said: “There have been some very serious acts of violence and rock throwing. The community is under siege. Traditional owners have had enough. We must become part of the solution.”
He was inviting the council “to build a strong relationship between us. I hope you will consider our invitation to become a closer, united community.
PHOTO (from left) Councillors Marli Banks, Jacinta Price and Glen Auricht.
“This document is the result of many weeks of hard work … to build a meaningful relationship between the council and Arrernte people … tackling the issues side by side … creating a bond direct with the traditional owners.
“Together we can take on the many challenges of our town, such as making parents accountable for their children, remove children off the streets at night, reducing anti-social behaviour,” said Mr Alice.
“Youths are out of control, and how late at night alcohol issues rage in our community. [We need to] clean up our town and make it safe for our tourists.”
Mr Alice said his group did not aim to replace the council’s Memoranda of Understanding with Tangentyere and Lhere Artepe. This MOU was later raised in discussion as having been formed in 2000, reviewed in 2004 and practically ignored ever since.
Mr Alice said: “We do not ask to replace any organisations. We do not ask for money. We are not asking council for free use of anything. We are asking council to accept our invitation to become better friends, a closer community and united.”
When Cr Cocking, in the chair, invited questions Mayor Damien Ryan asked: “What is it you want us to do?”
“The invitation comes from traditional land owners and we want to build a strong relationship between us,” Mr Alice replied.
Later Mayor Ryan asked: “Tonight’s motion is about accepting an invitation. I couldn’t quite understand from Mr Alice’s deputation, who would we be making that with? When you make MOUs or partnerships or whatever connections, be it with an organisation or a group … how is it done legally, through a solicitor? How is that described by a solicitor?”
Cr Melky said a petition is underpinning the motion, an open document. The signatories, 65 of them so far, are traditional owners, which will form the basis of the agreement.
What followed was a systematic dismantling of the initiative.
Mayor Ryan expressed irritation that he had not been briefed by the council solicitor although Cr Satour and her supporters clearly had been.
Cr Satour (at left) said she had been told by the solicitor that something much stronger than a MOU would be needed.
She said to Mayor Ryan that she had discussed the initiative with him in his office.
Would it not be better to strengthen the MOU with Lhere Artepe rather than starting a new relationship, asked the Mayor.
New councillor Matt Paterson complained he had not been included in the preparations.
“What does it mean?” he asked.
He would be happy to have a forum with a solicitor, it does not have to be a motion, it’s unfair to have a take or leave it attitude: “I am just expressing my disappointment that this is the first time you and I had this discussion,” he said, apparently addressing Cr Melky.
Cr Melky said it needs to be a motion or else it is meaningless: “That’s how we do business here in this chamber.”
New councillor Glen Auricht launched into a protracted account of what the MOU with Lhere Artepe provided for, including “dual naming” of streets and “stormwater and drainage” and said: “Lhere Artepe is the group that we go to.”
He expressed concern, soon taken up also by the Mayor, Cr Price and Cr Paterson, it would cause “fight or friction” among Lhere Artepe and other Aboriginal organisations around town if the council were to enter into a relationship with Mr Alice’s group.
Had the council maintained an interaction, which having an MOU could be expected to require, it would have noticed over the years the chronic dysfunction of the native title organisation.
But its chairman, Shane Lindner, felt compelled to spell it out: “Lhere Artepe is in a rebuilding stage. We’ve got a consultant coming in. And we’ll go from there.”
As Cr Satour’s original motion stood, it was obvious that Mayor Ryan, councillors Price, Auricht and Paterson would vote against it.
The supportive votes would have been councillors Satour, Melky, Cocking and Marli Banks – a tie, with the casting vote going to the Mayor or Cr Price who was in the chair, sending the motion down.
Instead the emasculated amended motion – which may be no more than inviting the pinnacle of the local Aboriginal hierarchy to a bit of a chat – was carried unanimously.
Although no decision about the Aboriginal flag flying on to of Anzac Hill was made, with the issue to be raised again at the December 11 meeting, there was plenty of discussion.
The current council policy is a “no”.
Traditional owner and artist Patricia Ansell Dodds (pictured below) addressed the council from the gallery: “A lot of our old people have fought in wars for this country and they are very good citizens. My father was one of them. His name is Jack Ansell. In WWII he went to Papua New Guinea. When he came back they wouldn’t recognise him as a citizen. Let’s put up a flag that recognises that.”
The views in the chamber ranged from absolutely never for 365 days, to maybe on Reconciliation or NAIDOC days (and perhaps a couple more) or else a really big flag on 365 days at West Gap – presumably alongside the radio towers.
The current positions about the flag issue, first raised by former councillor Jade Kudrenko in August 2014:-
• Aboriginal Ares Protection Authority: Does not have a view. Although Anzac Hill is a sacred site it would be beyond the authority’s scope to “consult on general matters of public opinion”.
• Department of Veteran Affairs: It would be most appropriate.
• Chansey Paech MLA: Hopeful the issue may come to a positive resolution soon.
• RSL: There may be discretionary circumstances in the near future … to commemorate a specific event … as a symbol of unity. But not 365 days.
More on December 11. All this took up more than three hours last night.