By ERWIN CHLANDA
“The rural area has to stop being a place for things the government, council and industry don’t know where else to put,” says Member for Namatjira, Chansey Paech.
And these things, it seems, may well include the planned Youth Detention Centre, the national Aboriginal art gallery and the Aboriginal cultural centre.
In fact the bizarre situation at the moment is the three could well be next door to each-other in the Desert Knowledge precinct on the South Stuart Highway.
That is where prominent Aboriginal figures Harold Furber – one of the founders of the precinct – and Owen Cole want the cultural centre to be, in line with the predominant Aboriginal position that the new art and cultural facilities should be south of The Gap.
There is lively discussion about the wisdom of the government, labouring under a massive and growing deficit, to spend seed money of $20m and $50m, respectively.
A common question is, should the public purse not insist that the art gallery and the cultural centre are combined, achieving economies of scale?
Meanwhile Families Minister Dale Wakefield is casting around for a place to detain delinquent kids: “Discussions are ongoing with Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA) on ways that we can partner to create better pathways for at-risk young people.
“The Territory Labor Government is investing $70m to replace [the “juvie” in Alice and Don Dale] with purpose-built facilities that will create safer communities, and meet the needs of at-risk young people to put them back on the right track. Planning is already underway to achieve this.”
While that sounds pretty wonderful for the young people, recent alterations to the existing Alice “juvie” make Alcatraz look like a holiday resort: Razor wire, some six meters high, CCTV cameras, and a tin wall blocking the view to the outside from the outdoor recreation area are just some of the features.
Should the government decide to set up the new “juvie” a little further south of the Desert Knowledge precinct, on the site of the government’s former Arid Zone Research Institute, it would be next door to the Kilgariff suburb, also being developed by the government.
The residents there would almost certainly raise hell, in a fit of NIMBY: In Darwin, the proposal to put Don Dale Mark II into an industrial area, Pinelands, is causing outrage although it is not even residential.
Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro yesterday asked Ms Wakefield in Parliament: “Can you confirm that Desert Knowledge is now out of the picture and the new centre, according to sources in Alice Springs, will be located at the Arid Zone Research Institute, whose buildings are full of asbestos?”
Ms Wakefield replied: “DKA is a wonderful organisation that is focused on training … we are working with them to ensure we come up with a model that works.”
In September last year journalists were shown around the temporary facility on the site of the Alice Springs Correctional Facility, after detaining kids had become a job for Territory Families rather than Corrections.
The bars in the windows will be replaced with perspex windows, we were told by Andrew Pike, Senior Director Youth Justice Operations.
“This is an ex-adult facility, and young people should not be in an environment where there are bars. Some of these kids have sustained a lot of trauma,” said Mr Pike.
“[Our] intent … is to provide an environment that’s more aesthetic for them and more focussed on the programs that we want to deliver for young people moving forward.”
If razor wire is the aesthetic they are after, the facility is a roaring success.
Clearly, reality set in after string of break-outs, prompting one wit to suggest that the doors should be left open and a taxi rank put outside.
Mr Paech, as the local member, clearly has his work cut out in his electorate but he has runs on the board.
Ahead of the 2016 election he campaigned strongly on stopping the rampant industrialisation of the rural residential areas.
This year he took a hard line against the illegal use of rural land for storing dozens of dongas for hire. The offender had his application denied by the Development Consent Authority (DCA), under its new chair person, Suzanne Philip.
Also this year the DCA took Stanes Transport Pty Ltd and Mark Stanes to court for illegally operating, for several years, a transport terminal on land zoned Rural Living, at 330 Ross Highway.
The company was fined $280,000 and Mr Stanes, $30,000 (on two charges, plus victim levies).
Judge John Birch said in court that the maximum penalties for these offences for a company were $3,064,600 for one charge and $896,280 for the second; and for individuals, $612,920 and $499,368, respectively.
Judge Birch said a “significant sentencing factor was the issue of general deterrence”.
He said in his reasons for judgment that the company and Mr Stanes had been “garaging of up to five trucks, several trailers and three fork lifts and the maintenance of trucks including washing trucks, using an industrial pressure cleaner, and intermittent power tools such as rattle guns.
“The use of the land was detrimental to the amenity of the adjacent properties due to noise, dust, artificial light and visual appearance.”
Notices had been issued and approval refused in respect to the operation of that business but “it took a long time for the business to be transferred to a new location”.
In victim impact statements neighbours had referred to “noise, fumes and dust, suffered some anxiety, and financial impact upon their residence”.
Judge Birch said: “It was incumbent on the company to ensure compliance with the Planning Scheme before embarking on any development on the Ross Highway property and failure to do so has caused the financial burden upon on them and the company.
“The defendants’ activities have caused a significant reduction to the amenity of the neighbours and I take that into account in determining an appropriate penalty today.”
Mr Paech says departmental officers are now regularly patrolling the rural areas to check for “inappropriate activities”.
“We are not turning a blind eye, and we are seeing positive results for rural residents” says Mr Paech. “Rural is rural.”
But Mr Paech says he is also ensuring that there is appropriate government support for the Stanes family business to succeed in its new location.
“I’ve made sure Minister Lawler has spoken with representatives from the company around options forward,” says Mr Paech.
“I’ve also heard loud and clear from the people of Central Australia around the lack of commercial land available and I am continuing to voice my concerns to the Government on this matter.
“I look forward to working with the Minister, planning officials and bodies on identifying and developing commercial land for the people of Central Australia.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA