Above: Constituents gathering outside the chamber ahead of last night’s meeting.
By KIERAN FINNANE
“We didn’t know what was happening, it just went so fast there wasn’t time to blink or even think.”
Outside council chambers last night Mick Liddle, of the prominent local Liddle family, was dismayed.
He had come to council to hear about its decision on the Anzac Oval “change of use” survey results.
Instead, like everyone else in the public gallery, he’d been given the brushoff.
Left: Mick Liddle and Brenda Shields.
From the floor, before the meeting got underway, Yvonne Driscoll had asked council what they were going to do about the survey result and “what we can do as a community to convince the Northern Territory Government that we are actually serious”.
In the chair Councillor Jimmy Cocking told her that council would “seek to deal with some of those questions when we talk about that item later on”.
They dealt with nothing.
It was clear that councillors had come to an agreement beforehand. The Mayor put his motion.
Cr Cocking asked if anyone wanted to discuss it? No-one did despite the roomful of people waiting to hear from them.
The motion was put to the vote, and supported unanimously, allowing it to be actioned today (instead of waiting for formal ratification the end of the month).
“Can we ask questions, are we allowed to?” a dismayed Owen Cole asked from the floor.
The committee had changed, from finance, to corporate and community services. Now Cr Jamie de Brenni was in the chair.
“The survey, are you going to discuss the survey at all?” asked Mr Cole.
“No, that’s the end of the matter tonight,” said Cr de Brenni.
Mr Cole is a prominent business man and centrally involved in the planning for a National Indigenous Cultural Centre (NICC), a parallel project.
“We’re disgusted by the whole thing,” he said when he got outside.
“We Aboriginal people have been locked out again,” said Harold Furber, chair of the NICC group, having made similar comments within earshot of councillors inside.
Mr Liddle was standing with Brenda Shields, also a local, born and bred.
Did they feel locked out?
“Very locked out,” answered Mrs Shields.
What had she wanted from the meeting?
“What’s this in the newspapers about 88%?” she asked, obviously confused by the NT Government’s claims about the Anzac Precinct site.
“I thought they might have discussed that here … It’s why you come in here to a council meeting, to listen, so we’re aware of all these things that are happening. You just don’t treat people as … she looks for the word and finds it … stupid!”
“In three or four minutes it was closed. They didn’t say Anzac Hill,” said Mr Liddle.
He went on to talk about the gallery consultation generally, not really distinguishing between the government’s process and the council’s.
“From my point of view the whole thing is a farce and a scam … From the beginning Anzac Oval has been a priority, without consultation … a preferred site. A lot of people don’t want that.
“As for Aboriginal people being consulted … I doubt very much if anybody went into a town camp or whatever and got Aboriginal people involved in this conversation. I’ve never heard of it. I never heard one thing about it. I tried to go online, couldn’t get through. Any Aboriginal person, no-one is going to come to the mall and sit down and have coffee ..”
Meanwhile, another group formed around Cr Eli Melky, who sensing the confusion if not anger of the constituents leaving the public gallery, came outside to talk to them.
Left: Cr Melky and Mr Furber; the ABC’s Nick Hose in the background, Ms Driscoll in the foreground .
Ms Driscoll was interpreting the lack of any mention of the oval as “a good sign”.
“We’ve said we don’t want Anzac Oval to be a deal breaker,” said Cr Melky, reading words into the Mayor’s motion. “We want Alice Springs to benefit from having this art gallery and we want it in Alice Springs, all options on the table.”
Why does the motion not explicitly exclude Anzac Oval? asked the ABC.
“To keep the conversation going,” said Cr Melky.
He said he would be happy “to personally move a direction” to be “very very clear” about council’s position.
What he went on to say to this small group was rather different from what he said once he returned to the chamber (see last night’s report).
To Mr Cole, Mr Furber, Ms Driscoll and others, he said: “We have no confidence in the government’s process of doing their consultation, we have very little confidence in the way the Michael Gunner government has led this from the start, but we as a council don’t want to be caught in a wedge, we don’t want to be the excuse for them not to keep a political promise to the electorate.
“The art gallery is popular, we want it in this town. We don’t want it on Anzac Oval, that’s clear to us as well. And we, on your behalf as a community, are not going to vote for Anzac Oval to be used, but we need to keep the discussions going.
“To do that we have moved a very simple straightforward motion that really is about inviting the government to take the next step. It has to be the government coming through and finding a solution. It’s their art gallery, their promise …
“It’s not their art gallery!” Mr Furber cut in. “It’s an Aboriginal art gallery, it has to be driven by Aboriginal people.”
A woman in group expressed her scepticism about the Mayor’s intentions: “I’m not sure the Mayor meant the same thing either, I think he left those words out deliberately as well.”
“He never said there’s going to be any Aboriginal people in that discussion,” said another woman.
“Council is not in that position,” said Cr Melky.
“We are everyday people … we don’t know what you guys are thinking,” the woman replied. “Instead of saying this discussion is over … it should have been a forum for anyone who has questions to clarify things.”
“The committee structure doesn’t allow for that,” explained Cr Melky.
“It should have been said at the start – this is the only opportunity to talk about it,” said the woman.
Meanwhile, if Aboriginal people interested in this issue were hoping for Lhere Artepe to represent their views to council, they would have been disappointed.
Part of council’s process was for the Mayor to hold separate meetings with key stakeholders – concerned residents who have been vocal on the issues as well as a range of civil society representatives.
Lhere Artepe CEO Robert Campbell “did not attend [his] scheduled meeting,” according to council’s report on the Anzac Oval consultation. The report does not record an apology from Mr Campbell.