By ERWIN CHLANDA
Nine weeks and six days after I reported to the police the illegal dumping of a trailer load of rubbish on the road into the West MacDonells National Park, the lifeblood of our tourism industry, it appears nothing constructive has been done by the NT bureaucracy.
My report to the police on February 10 included:–
• Description of the road as the “Larapinta / Jay Creek Road”.
• 36 kms west of Alice Springs, measured from the Larapinta Road / Telegraph Terrace / railway intersection.
• The rubbish is on a small mound on the northern side of the road, connected with the bitumen by a short dirt track, in and out.
• A photograph (pictured) showing the rubbish, the bitumen road, the short dirt track, the mound on which the garbage was placed.
• It is on the northern side of the bitumen road.
• The MacDonnell Ranges in the background unquestionably further identifying the location.
• I supplied my mobile phone number (the location is within mobile reach).
• And five envelopes I took from the rubbish, carrying the names of two people and their shared address in Alice Springs.
After presenting this information to the police station in Alice Springs I went home and sent a follow-up email with four photographs to the police at 5.58pm.
At 7.48pm I received a reply saying: “I have spoken with the Watch Commander and he advised that this it is not a police matter.
“However we have lodged a Support Link Referral regarding the dumped rubbish.
“Support Link is an online referral program where Police and other agencies in Alice Springs are able to refer matters to the appropriate agency.”
This was the curtain raiser to a comedy of errors which could encourage this solution to the “Budget Repair” for Michael Gunner’s record deficit: Sack half your public servants and make the rest do their job.
What follows is a condensed account of what unfolded, not including several other emails and the 50 or so phone calls I made compiling this report.
The police sent my information – via Support Link – to the Town Council.
This is inexplicable because the location I had described is a considerable distance outside the municipal area.
Unsurprisingly, the Town Council communicated this on February 26: “Council uses the Support Link Referral service and when jobs come through they are sent and actioned by the relevant authority.
“In this case it may be Crown Land, local regional council or NTG (under Parks).
“As you’ve mentioned it is out of the municipality, so I’m unable to assist much.”
So what happened with the complaint?
“I can confirm a Support Link Referral on this matter was received and replied regarding the correct authority for that area,” the council replied on February 27.
I took that to mean that it had gone back to the police.
I wrote to find out who’s in charge of Support Link, received his name and contact details.
It turns out to be Support Link IT Pty Ltd company which has PO Box in Erindale Centre, ACT, and whose email has, in part, this prophetic note at its bottom: “SupportLink is not responsible for errors or omissions in this message and denies any responsibility for any damage arising from the use of e-mail.”
Its website says its functions are to establish formal referral partnerships with government and non government agencies for police to refer to; secondly, to provide a single referral and diversion gateway for operational police and thirdly, to monitor and support the referral process for clients and agencies and police.
Isn’t that what our public servants are getting paid for?
On February 28 I emailed Support Link with these questions: “Can the public, or the complainant, follow the progress of a complaint resolution, and if so, how?
“Is it an app?
“Who owns the system and how much does it cost (the police, council, NT Government, for example)?”
No answer. “Support the referral process” clearly has its limits.
I asked the Department of Environment the same questions after it had emailed me: “Are you able to email me your query, any photos you might have, location details & the reporting app you refer to?”
Surely, these are the photos we had given to the police and which Support Link was meant to forward under its contracted job to “support the referral process for clients and agencies and police.”
However, the department spokesman replied: “I have never heard of the Support Link Referral so will see if this is even something we look after. Who told you this sits with us?”
I explained to the department that I couldn’t be sure who in the town council had handled the enquiry after the referral from the police because I wasn’t allowed to speak to that person because it all had to go through the media person who would then have to go to the person handling the matter (which was actually quite outside the council’s responsibility) and she would then get back to me.
I suggested: “It’s called democracy, Joseph Goebbels style.” Very naughty.
We also told the department that we had observed, on a subsequent trip to the West Macs on February 25, that the rubbish was still there.
The council replied on March 5: “I can confirm that a Support Link Referral … was received and, as it is outside of the Council municipality, a response was sent back to the original instigator of job (being NT Police) to advise this is not a Alice Springs Town Council municipal area and based on the location advised this may be a Parks and Wildlife area.
“As Council has referred the job back (in the Support Link Referral IT platform) to NT Police, we no longer have access to the job information/status and suggest further requests be directed to NT Police.”
So, we were back to where we started.
Also on March 5 an employee of the department reiterated: “Following on from [the council’s] email, I’ve looked into this for you and can confirm neither the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, nor the NT Environmental Protection Agency uses Support Link.
“I can also confirm that the NT EPA has no record of this matter being reported to the pollution hotline 1800 064567.
“More information about the pollution hotline is available [online] which includes a list of responsible agencies who deal with various pollution matters.”
On March 6 the department requested the photos we had already given to the police. I assume they still have the five envelopes I had handed in after photographing them.
After 55 years as a full-time journalist on all continents and working in three war zones I was used to getting the run-around – but this was moving fast to the top of the list. I sent this email to the Chief Minister, the police and the industry lobby, Tourism Central Australia.
I had a reply from the police: “Sorry for the delay. I have examined your report and after careful consideration have located the appropriate agency to initially deal with your complaint. This is the NT EPA. I have forwarded your report to them with your contact Phone number today so that they can address your concerns. Sorry for the initial mix up.”
But not a peep out of Mr Gunner nor the TCA.
I fired off an email including this: “The West MacDonnells are near the top among the reasons why my family and I live here (and have since 1974) and we take a dim view of vandals spoiling our environment.
“I’m putting myself into the shoes of Herr Huber, who could be a tourist from Germany, whom we may have lured here with promises of pristine landscapes. He is the kind of person our economy depends on. He would probably have a similar reaction.”
I requested “advice about what sanctions are being imposed on the perpetrator(s). They should be easy to find, using the evidence which I supplied.
“Please do not suggest to me to contact other instrumentalities, agencies, organisations and whatever – Herr Huber wouldn’t.
“He would simply tell his mates and there would be a black mark against us as a place to visit.”
I sent the requested evidence material to the Environmental Protection Agency on March 6.
A long silence followed. I decided to rattle their cage with a phone call mid-week.
I received the reply yesterday (six weeks and two days since the last contact): “The NT EPA has looked into your matter and unfortunately without further information about the specific location hasn’t been able to determine on whose land the rubbish is located.
“If the exact location can be determined we can contact the landowner and ask they clean up the rubbish.”
So even if they find the perpetrator it is the owner or lessee of the land – the Northern Territory? – who will have to do the cleaning up.
By ERWIN CHLANDA