Above: A pleased Councillor Matt Paterson (second from right) during discussion of a second skate park for the town. Alongside him from left, Crs Catherine Satour, Jimmy Cocking and Eli Melky.
By KIERAN FINNANE
The Territory Government’s proposal of a property tax received a big thumbs down at last night’s Town Council meeting. It was one of a number of areas of agreement among councillors, in contrast to the debate (yes, again) around flying the Aboriginal flag from Anzac Hill.
The property tax proposal – a 0.1% rate of tax on unimproved land values – is among several contained in a Territory Government revenue discussion paper, and soon to be subject of a round of public consultation meetings.
The government is looking for revenue-raising options in face of the downturn in the Territory’s share of the GST. It estimates it would raise annual revenue of about $21m, “costing about $300 each year for an average Darwin home”.
Taxing family homes is in contrast to other states where such a tax is on investment properties, council CEO Rex Mooney pointed out. Council’s significant property assets would also be subject to the impost.
Mr Mooney kicked off the reaction with the word “alarming”.
Mayor Damien Ryan followed up with “dangerous” and an “out and out money grab”.
He complained that the proposal comes while Treasury refuses to discuss the unfair conditional rating system for councils, which has some mining companies and pastoral leases paying less than individual householders.
He said the tax will confuse the public, as essentially the same tax coming from two tiers of government (rates are also calculated on the basis of unimproved land values).
Councillor Eli Melky predicted that the tax would have “a dire effect” on the real estate market and on people living in Alice Springs.
Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni took this further: the tax would be “a deterrent” to people coming to live in Alice Springs at a time when the town needs all the help it can get.
Mr Mooney had signalled that council will prepare a detailed submission in response to the government’s proposals but councillors wanted to send their own message. They unanimously supported a motion that council “strongly opposes” the imposition of a property tax on the community of Alice Springs.
That wasn’t the only message they had for the NT Government. Mayor Ryan asked councillors to support him in a call for the government to adopt all the recommendations contained in the Trevor Riley review of alcohol policies and legislation. Leaving any one of the measures out would weaken the rest, he said.
Left: Busy drive-through bottle shop in Alice. Council wants police to stay there.
The government has indicated that they support all of the recommendations in principle bar one, the ban on bottle shop trading on Sundays.
In the Legislative Assembly sittings just concluded they also passed legislation to re-establish the NT Liquor Commission and make related amendments to the Liquor Act. The review recommends that the “the independent and primary decision maker” under the Act.
Mayor Ryan, noting the strong local reaction to fewer police stationed at bottle shops, pointed particularly to the review’s recommendations on this: that police remain in the role until trained licensing inspectors take over, and that this measure – known as POSI, Point of Sale Intervention – be maintained until it can be demonstrated that it is no longer required.
The current inconsistent presence of police at bottle shops is taking the town “down the path of the previous government”, he said, where one measure (the Banned Drinkers Register) was removed before there was anything in its place and “we all suffer”.
Cr Jimmy Cocking, referring to the review’s emphasis on a bipartisan and whole of government approach, asked that a letter expressing council’s views should also be sent to the Leader of the Opposition.
Deputy Mayor de Brenni talked about the need for a change in the culture: “alcohol abuse does not discriminate, just as domestic violence does not discriminate”.
Cr Melky spoke of the importance of addressing the marketing of alcohol – “it’s in our language, they way we think … it’s a pathway to adulthood”. Mayor Ryan said there a number of very strong recommendations in the review in this regard.
Cr Melky also wanted to see tackled the apparently thriving black market. (This is also the subject of recommendations – that there be education campaigns in remote communities on the problems caused by grog running, and additional police resources to restrict it.)
Cr Jacinta Price spoke of the need for a holistic approach, supporting those suffering alcohol addiction: they have “underlying issues”, which is the “reason why they become addicted”, she said. (Treatment of alcohol-related problems is the subject of a raft of recommendations).
In other responses to the review the government is:
- introducing a new public interest and community impact test for decisions under the Liquor Act;
- extending and expanding a moratorium on new takeaway licences; and
- establishing the Alcohol Review Implementation Steering Committee & Industry Reference Group, which will be coordinated by the Department of Chief Minister.
Mayor Ryan will request a meeting between all councillors and head of the implementation team.
Another positive note was sounded with enthusiastic in principle support for the construction of a second skate boarding / BMX facility. The proposed location is Newland Park in Gillen, with a number of concept plans (such as pictured below) included in council’s papers last night.
Momentum for this has apparently come from Cr Matt Paterson, a young man himself (27) whose election campaign strongly emphasised engaging with young people.
There are a number of options before council, costing between $350,000 and $1.5m.
Councillors agreed that the next step is to consult with the community, starting with the Newland Park neighbourhood and the user groups, i.e. skaters and BMX riders.
In contrast to all of these areas of agreement, councillors split along predictable lines over Cr Catherine Satour’s motion to allow the Aboriginal flag to be flown on Anzac Hill “on ceremonial occasions” (a compromise from 365 days a year). Such occasions apparently refer to days of importance to Aboriginal people in particular.
This debate is the subject of a separate article – here.