Above: The Territory Government’s feedback form. Its determination to incorporate Anzac Oval into its national Aboriginal art gallery plans puts the venue at risk of being compulsorily acquired, says councillors.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Finally, the Town Council is going to ask the people of Alice Springs what they think about the Territory Government’s plans for Anzac Oval.
A letter from Chief Minister Michael Gunner, which Mayor Damien Ryan received at 4.30 pm yesterday, apparently made it clear – if it needed to be any clearer – that the government is unwavering in its determination to build a national Aboriginal art gallery on what they are calling the Anzac Hill precinct.
This comprises the government-owned site of the former Anzac Hill High, where St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre now operates, and the council-owned Anzac Oval, home to Rugby League and Union as well as the frequent venue for many cultural and community events. The rugby codes are being offered a new alternative venue.
The government’s so-called consultation underway at present, in the form of “pop-up coffee chats”, is really an exercise in persuasion.
Its feedback form carries an image of Anzac Oval (above), with an event in full swing, but nowhere does it ask a question about the use of the oval for the gallery or about any alternative site.
It invites you to tick boxes alongside general statements in support of the project, including having a “welcoming green space in walking distance of the CBD to relax, play or attend an event”.
In deference to some kind of opinion-gathering, it also has a space for “I’d also like to say”.
The process is being “done to us” rather than “with us”, said Councillor Jimmy Cocking, and this regardless of what has happened within council – rejection of an MOU with the government – or out in the community, where the issues are far from settled.
The risk to council is that the community-owned asset may be compulsorily acquired, Cr Cocking said, and so far council has not asked the community what it thinks. This should have been done last year.
Council has said it wants the gallery project for the town but in face of the government’s unwillingness to compromise, it’s time for council to take “a leadership role” – “it is our oval”.
He said the “coffee chats” are about “convincing” the public, they are not consultation.
He outlined a number of core principles that should be followed in the process. These have been distilled by the International Association for Public Participation Australasia (IAP2), “based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.”
They also provide that:
• the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
• sustainable decisions recognise and communicate the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
• the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision is sought and facilitated.
• the input of participants is sought in designing how they participate.
• participants are provided with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
• the process communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.
The Territory Government ‘s gallery process to date would score a fail on every single point.
Councillors unanimously supported Cr Cocking’s motion which specified that the consultation will be conducted in line with the IAP2 principles.
(Earlier in the meeting Cr Cocking had asked CEO Rex Mooney about reviewing council’s consultation policy generally with a view to incorporating the IAP2 principles. This was in the context of some residents in the Albrecht Oval area being very unhappy with the process to date over installing light towers there. Mr Mooney said he would move the policy to the top of the queue in the policy review that is underway.)
The Chief Minister’s letter had asked council to meet with Tourism and Culture Minister Lauren Moss and Braitling MLA Dale Wakefield, who is leading the “coffee chats”. This was also agreed to.
Dissent came when Cr Cocking put a second motion about specific involvement of Aboriginal stakeholders in the consultation.
Cr Eli Melky was strongly in favour: he doesn’t want to see support for the gallery project lost in the consultation over Anzac Oval. Council needs to get the input of Traditional Owners, the people who hold authority in Indigenous culture, he said.
Cr Cocking argued that there are different ways to engage different people, not everyone responds to online surveys or attends meetings in the Andy McNeill Room. He also reminded council that it had supported a motion that encouraged the NT Government to engage with Aboriginal stakeholders in the gallery process.
A number of prominent senior Aboriginal people had told council they had not been spoken to on the issue during a packed session in the chamber on 30 April. This failure contravened Australia’s international obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Margaret Furber-Ross said at the time.
However, Mayor Ryan, Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni, and Cr Jacinta Price all argued that Aboriginal people, including Traditional Owners, are part of the community and consulting with them was implicit in the first motion.
“Let’s not start dividing our community further,” said Cr Price.
The vote split down the middle, four to four (Cr Catherine Satour being absent). Mayor Ryan used his casting vote to defeat the motion.