By ERWIN CHLANDA
Mayor Damien Ryan resorted to abuse rather answer questions in an interview with the Alice Springs News Online, labelling questions put to him as “rubbish”, refusing to answer them, and asking that “we stop playing funny buggers here”.
Mayor Ryan, in a scheduled interview, disclosed that there had been no progress with an offer from senior elders (at left, Phil Alice and Shane Lindner) to collaborate with the town council on strategies for dealing with problem youths and he had no information about disturbances and crime last month, usually a dreaded peak time for offending.
Despite having chaired a flood mitigation committee, Mayor Ryan had no information about the government’s current strategies to protect the town from a peak flow of the Todd becoming more likely with climate change.
And while being dismissive of a suggestion that the council might form a pressure group with the Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Central Australia, Congress and the Arid Lands Environment Centre, and possibly others, to influence government decisions, suggesting this should be the province only of the council, he could not nominate any issue where the council succeeded in forcing the government’s hand in 2017.
NEWS: We recently published troubling tourism figures for the year ending September 2017 released by Tourism Research Australia and the Federal Minister for Tourism. What’s your view about the competition for tourism business between Alice Springs and the Ayers Rock Resort?
RYAN: Are you asking me to refer to an article you have written and I haven’t read? I don’t go to your paper on a regular basis to answer questions from stories you’ve written before.
NEWS: We don’t invent these stories. We are quoting statisticians who are working for the Federal Government, in this case.
RYAN: Speaking with Tourism Central Australia I was told they had a busy year last year. We would hope to see that growth again this year. We rely heavily on our events.
NEWS: Since you haven’t read the story let me quote you some details: In Alice the average spend per day was down 26% (12 month change), down 8% (three years) and down 5% (10 years). Numbers of domestic visitors were down 11% for the year and their spend, down 32%, although the nights spent were up slightly (3%).
RYAN: How does that work, the numbers are down but the nights are up?
NEWS: It indicates to me the people who are coming are spending less. Maybe they sleep on a park bench. Tourism Research Australia doesn’t disclose that.
RYAN: We are doing anything in our power as a council to support events. The council is very keen to see tourism grow.
NEWS: On the figures, what the council is doing is obviously not working.
RYAN: That’s an insult. Can we keep moving, Erwin? We’re not getting anywhere with the rubbish you’re asking.
NEWS: Should the money the government is proposing to spend on the revitalisation of the CBD be spent instead in the tourism areas of the West and East MacDonnell Ranges?
RYAN: It would be great having money spent in both areas. I can’t really speak about the East and West MacDonnells but the [CBD] revitalisation discussions kick off in about a fortnight’s time. I’m really keen to see what that investment in our CBD can do to assist us. I look forward to those discussions.
NEWS: You say you can’t speak about the East and West MacDonnells. These are the areas from which the town gets its tourism income.
RYAN: I said it would be great to have money in both areas but I am very keen to see the CBD revitalisation happen.
NEWS: Are there, or should there be, private enterprise initiatives, from local business people, for example, to create assets, such as privately funded wilderness lodges, in the West and East MacDonnells?
RYAN: That would be a great concept and it would be good to see Parks and Wildlife get involved. I suppose we have a little bit of that with the Glen Helen Lodge and Ross River.
NEWS: Should further investment come from within the town?
RYAN: It would be a great thing to see with private and government investment.
NEWS: Are there signs it will be happening? Do you see any signs of imminent substantial private investment?
RYAN: I just answered your question. Until you asked me the question I’ve never been asked that question before. So can we stop playing funny buggers here.
NEWS: The Lasseters casino is periodically building extensions to its accommodation. Are you aware of any similar planned private investment in town in this year?
RYAN: I have not discussed this with anybody, no.
NEWS: You’re on the committee of the Outback Way. How come it costs twice as much to build the road in the NT as it does in Queensland?
RYAN: Roads built in Queensland are of a different standard. It’s a main highway for the Territory, it’s a wider road, it has more conditions to it. In Queensland it’s a road leading into the desert, as far as they are concerned.
NEWS: Would it be a good idea to adopt Queensland’s standard and get twice as much road for the same money?
RYAN: Taking into account issues such as road safety I agree with the way the NT builds its roads. It’s a national highway. It will be a higher standard when you cross the border.
NEWS: To someone who’s never heard of Alice Springs, how would you explain the purpose of Alice Springs? What does it do?
RYAN: It is the centre for a lot of communities. It is a very big service and health centre for remote communities. A lot of people choose to live here. It is the gateway to some of the most outstanding scenery. It does lots of things.
NEWS: How does the current town planning reflect that? What’s needed in the near future?
RYAN: Our new residential area Kilgariff is just starting out. We may need a school for that area. We may need sporting areas for that area as well as the whole town.
NEWS: What else does the community need in the near future, as you see it?
RYAN: In council we look at parks and gardens, sporting grounds. There is planning required around the CBD, around the upkeep and upgrade of town camps. That was done some years ago under Gillard. That’s not a finished result.
NEWS: Where is flood mitigation planning at? There are two council members on the committee.
RYAN: The report by the committee was presented to the Minister Nicole Manison a year ago, with provision to start with stage one to run modules on the water flow in Central Australia.
NEWS: What has she done in the meantime?
RYAN: You have to ask the minister yourself.
NEWS: Is the committee still in existence?
RYAN: The committee was asked to do a job and it completed that job.
NEWS: Has the committee been disbanded?
RYAN: The committee was asked to do a job which we completed. We haven’t been asked to do anything else.
NEWS: Dale Wakefield has recently put in place a number of initiatives. Do you think she is getting a grip on a few dozen kids who seem to be holding the town to ransom?
RYAN: I’m intrigued to hear you are numbering the kids but I’m very grateful for the work Territory Families are doing right now in conjunction with other organisations in Alice Springs.
NEWS: Which new initiatives are you especially pleased with?
RYAN: It’s the way Territory Families and the other organisations are working together.
NEWS: Is the crime wave that usually occurs at this time of the year similar to last year, is it better or is it worse?
RYAN: I would ask you to go to the police on that, Erwin.
[We sent the following request to the police on January 1: Could you please provide the following details for Alice Springs, December 2016 and 2017, respectively, or similar statistics, plus a best guess of how many of these alleged offences were committed by juveniles: The number of reports made to the police of the following offences – assault, break & enter into home; break & enter into business; vehicle stolen; rocks thrown at vehicle; theft; property damage.
Police replied that stats such as these take a minimum three days to collate.
A spokesman for Police Minister Michael Gunner has told us he will be in touch with us today.]
NEWS: It’s usually impossible to get the actual number of people attending events that are supported with taxpayers’ money. What we get is people “through the gate” which means that a person can be going though several gates or several times though the same gate. It is not a reliable indicator of individuals attending although it is frequently used as such.
RYAN: We only have through the gate figures. I don’t know any other ways you could count people attending. To have [government] investment in events line Red Centre NATS and Parrtjima and more events in the future is all well and good for our community.
NEWS: Should there be a united voice for the town vis-a-vis the NT and Federal governments, with input from the Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Central Australia, Congress and ALEC, and maybe others?
RYAN: You’ve got bodies there that are elected, bodies that are membership only, and are just bodies. Town council always has the ambition to represent all of those. We run different opportunities for other people to be involved. We have, across our nine members, representation right across most of those bodies you’re talking about. We also sit on outside organisations. I’m not sure we need another body but it would be interesting to explore it.
NEWS: During the last year, what have the representations by the council to the two governments achieved?
RYAN: I couldn’t give you that off the top of my head, sorry.
NEWS: How is the intended collaboration between elders, led by Phil Alice, and the town council progressing?
RYAN: You were at the meeting when I asked the gentleman you have named on numerous occasions what he wants from the council. We still have to hear that.
NEWS: What role does the native title organisation Lhere Artepe play in the community and what role should it be playing?
RYAN: It is the peak body to which we as the council direct our enquiries. I look forward to growth of that relationship this year with the new CEO.
NEWS: It seems to us, after reporting about that body for decades, that there are groups within Lhere Artepe which disagree on many issues. Do you find this is the case?
RYAN: I don’t have a comment on that, sorry.
Mayor Ryan mentioned kerbside recycling and the draft for consultation for the council’s Strategic Plan 2018-2021 as issues for the new year, but declined to elaborate on any other initiatives.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We emailed our questions to Mayor Ryan two and a half hours before the interview. He consented for it to be recorded for note taking purposes on the condition that I report his disappointment about me ringing him not from Alice Springs, but from interstate.
I explained that a feature of our reporting over our 25 years in publication has been stories about travel experience that is relevant to our Central Australian editorial focus and about towns similar to Alice Springs in size and/or purpose, and about their policies, initiatives, failures and successes.
For example, in December we published a detailed report about the local government of Murray Bridge, SA, and its extensive involvement in commerce, turning the town into a bustling farm produce processing centre, in promoting tourism and even engaging in trade negotiations with China. We reported about the services it provides services for young people.
We also published a review of the Tarnanthi exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia, which prominently features artists from the Centre.
These stories are in our seven million word archive – google it from your online device.
I assured Mayor Ryan that these stories are popular with our readers and we will be continuing them.
He raised the question of whether we are becoming a fly-in, fly-out operation, as he suggested the Centralian Advocate had become.
I was able to put his mind at ease: I’ve been a full time journalist in The Centre since 1974 (and I could have added, our senior writer Kieran Finnane for 30 years), and we enjoy being the only local newspaper that is locally owned and run, and look forward to continuing serving this region.
By ERWIN CHLANDA