By ERWIN CHLANDA
Public disclosure of town councillors’ assets, and income by Mayor Damien Ryan (pictured) other than from the council, led to a heated exchange with the Alice Springs News Online during an interview yesterday.
We pointed out to him that the register of “Members’ Interests – 45th Parliament” is online whereas the council members’ register remains confidential.
MAYOR: With Federal Parliamentarians lots of things are different. I read some of your stuff over the years and some of your claims have been outrageous about what I get.
NEWS: Which claims are those?
MAYOR: The hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars from everybody. You were so far out, I was amazed, someone who claims so much credit … The $80,000 for the board finished six months before that article but you did not report that.
The facts are that we did report about the issues – on July 2, 2014, more than four years ago.
We said clearly that Mayor Ryan “until recently” chaired the Central Australian Hospital Network Governing Council for which he received $82,363, plus $12,000 from the Local Government Association, about $8000 from the NT Grants Commission and $100,000 for being Mayor – a total of about $202,363.
Mayor Ryan did not dispute these figures at yesterday’s interview.
On the same day in 2014 we published this update: “The government has just confirmed that Mayor Ryan’s remuneration for his new job with the Department of Health, chairing CAHS, will be the same as his old one, namely $82,363 per annum.”
We also noted in that report: “The issue raises important questions of conflict of interest which we wanted to discuss with Mayor Ryan, but he declined to be interviewed.”
Mayor Ryan yesterday claimed we “accused” him in January this year of earning $80,000 “which I didn’t earn”.
We did no such thing. We referred to the 2014 report, and ran a link to it, in a story about the disclosure of assets by elected members.
We asked Mayor Ryan yesterday: What are the current boards you are on and what fees do you get?
MAYOR: I am on lots of boards, the only ones I get paid for the Local Government Association of the NT (LGANT – $20,000) and the Alice Springs Town Council. When you do a day’s work with the Heritage Council you get TA for that day. When you do things for the Grants Commission you get a payment for that day. No secrets. I get people throw abuse at me after some of the comments made by media. But they are never correct.
NEWS: I am happy to sit down with you …
MAYOR: I am not interested …
NEWS: Will the register of elected members’ assets be made public?
MAYOR: There is a policy council made some time ago that [information about] all elected members, business organisations, unions who you are connected with, what trusts, what gifts, every elected member is asked to provide that [and] they are on file here, they are at the discretion of the CEO. No, they are not for the public.
NEWS: Are you going to stand for Mayor again at the next election?
MAYOR: I am the Mayor, at this stage, I am not going to give you any more than that. I will continue to work for this town as long as I am able to.
The interview also covered a range other issues.
NEWS: Does the council seek to have a decisive say about big government projects in town?
MAYOR: That’s what we have been doing in the last 10 years since I’ve been here. We’ve always been an advocate for the community. If you are talking about the [National Aboriginal Art] gallery that was a different scenario. We have a piece of land they are interested in [and its sale] wasn’t supported by council.
NEWS: The gallery itself, do you expect to have a decisive say? Do you expect the government to listen to you about what the gallery is going to be like, and what would you say to them?
MAYOR: We want to be involved in any project. We will continue to advocate for the community.
NEWS: With the gallery specifically, what do you have in mind?
MAYOR: I am not going to sit here and draw a gallery. That’s for the experts to do. But as a council we will continue to advocate. As the council has already said, they support the gallery being built in Central Australia.
NEWS: Under what parameters?
MAYOR: That’s a bow too far. The clear message from the council is we are supportive of the gallery.
Mayor Ryan says with respect to Anzac Oval there has been no development since the council’s rejection of the government’s five point offer. [Last night’s council meeting decided to write to the government about this, again.]
Mayor Ryan says the council is continuing talks with the native title organisation Lhere Artepe about extending the landfill (pictured) which he says is expected to reach its limits in eight to 10 years.
Former Councillor Steve Brown had proposed a re-location of the landfill, leaving the transfer station where it is, but Mayor Ryan says: “We don’t have an alternative earmarked at this stage.”
“Best practice” recycling is continuing, currently running at 8%.
“That could blow out to 25% if there were a whole lot of roads were built. We’ve taken in thousands of tonnes of building material which we crush and prepare for road base. That does not count as recycling until it goes back out over the weighbridge.”
The same applies for metal.
A council in Victoria had recently laid a road using plastic and rubber from tyres within the bitumen: “That is the next generation coming on. A lot of councils will now be looking at that prospect.”
NEWS: To what extent is the council interested in developing tourist attractions? The gullies on the southern flank of the MacDonnell Range west of The Gap, are magnificent. They are not hard to climb and the view from the top is superb. Is that the kind of thing the council would get involved in?
MAYOR: With our limited budget, I don’t believe so. This is not core business of the council. The idea would be a good thing for Parks and Wildlife. We manage bicycle paths within the town. P&W have extended those cycle ways into their parks which has created a real boom.
NEWS: The gullies are well within the municipal area.
MAYOR: There are lots of things within the municipal area, like the Todd River which we look after as a good corporate citizen for the Territory Government. We don’t have a budget to create new parks.
The News put to Mayor Ryan that solutions for flood mitigation and the traffic through The Gap could possibly be linked. A committee of which he was a member handed down its report more than a year ago, after a year and a half, with the recommendation for a topographical survey and a study of the water flow in the catchment area the major result.
What has been the progress since?
MAYOR: Flood mitigation is in the $30m Ten Year Infrastructure plan, in the three to five year bracket. We’re coming up to the third year now. It is clearly the responsibility of the NT Government. It is also ticked in the six to 10 year longer term.
NEWS: What initiatives is the council involved in to combat anti-social behaviour?
MAYOR: Not sure what you are …
NEWS: You had a collaboration with Congress, picking up kids in the evening. Is that happening again?
MAYOR: No, we don’t do that. That contract ran out some considerable time ago. [It was mid this year.]
NEWS: Is something else happening?
MAYOR: I couldn’t answer that because I have responsibilities here [we were sitting in a council conference room]. We have rangers working with Congress. You have to go to Territory Families. We did not continue that contract.
Mayor Ryan offered no further comment on that subject.
He had no comment – neither for nor against – about the proposed new processes dealing with the code of conduct for elected local government members.
NEWS: What are the five most important things for next year?
MAYOR: I’ll do that with you in January. There is some exciting stuff.
Mayoral temper flares over accountability
By ERWIN CHLANDA