Thursday, June 20, 2024

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HomeIssue 14Gallery: no deal yet on land swap

Gallery: no deal yet on land swap

There is no agreement yet between the Town Council and the Territory Government about a land swap that would see a national Aboriginal art gallery built on the site of the present civic centre.
Right: Civic centre slated for demolition? Palm trees to go too? 
Under this deal, the present civic centre would be demolished and council would relocate to the site of the old Anzac Hill High School.
The deal would not include funding for building a new civic centre but would include funding for a new town library.
There was a confidential meeting to discuss the proposal at 7am last Monday. Attending for the NT Government was Cliff Weeks, Executive Director Central Australia, Department of the Chief Minister.
Most councillors were present although Cr Jacinta Price was not. This was pointed out at Monday night’s meeting by Cr Eli Melky, when he asked for support from his colleagues to have the matter discussed in open.
Cr Marli Banks also wanted to have the matter brought into open, but no-one else did.
Any motion to that effect, warned CEO Rex Mooney, would be made at their “peril”: under the Local Government Act, motions to bring matters out of confidential can only be moved within confidential. That apparently happened but only the most general information has been released.
To an enquiry from the Alice Springs News, Mr Mooney said today that  council is pleased to be working with the NT Government “for the long term economic, social and cultural benefits for the whole of Central Australia and of course Alice Springs.”
The land swap deal, however, raises “many complexities and options which are to be expected and are taking some time to explore.”
The Alice Springs News has previously reported that there are no budget allocations from either party for the very substantial expenditure that would be involved.
The allocation for the gallery ($48.5m) remains in the NT budget but there’s nothing for a new library, estimated at $30m, and nothing in either set of books for a new civic centre.
A good part of the opposition to the government’s plans to put a gallery on the site of the old Anzac Hill High was on the basis of the heritage values of the precinct broadly, including the school, for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal locals.
The crunch came when Arrernte custodians collectively withdrew their support for a gallery to be built there, for cultural reasons.
However, demolition of the school to make way for these latest plans is still likely to be met with controversy.

– additional reporting by Kieran Finnane

UPDATE 6.45pm
Councillor Eli Melky, when asked to name the points of disagreement preventing the Town Council and the NT Government from coming to a deal about the land swap, said: “Council is now obligated to keep the details of the discussion in confidential until NT Government gives the OK to let the information out in the open.
“I can say that to date the council is working with NT Government to reach an agreement. I have sought clarification from the CEO, I am now clear on what is in confidential and what is not in confidential.”
After both the NT Government and the Town Council agreed to discuss the issues in public Cr Melky, having made several attempts to bring the details into the public domain, said: “I face three years in prison if I disclose matters that are in confidential.”
UPDATE 12.45pm June 27
The Alice Springs News put the following question to Two Council CEO Rex Mooney: What does “taking out of confidential” mean?
Does it mean the subject in its entirety can be reported, discussed, commented upon by elected members and staff and any correspondence, minutes or other documents are available to the public and the media for inspection?
Mr Mooney responded: Taking out of confidential usually means taking the decision from confidential into the open meeting. It would not allow for all the commentary that took place in the confidential meeting to be referred to the open meeting.
Letters and correspondence can, under a Council resolution, be transferred from confidential into the open.
In relation to the special confidential meeting on Monday morning, any release of documentation requires the express approval of the NT Government which has not been received.


  1. The new Library would likely cost around $5 Million. Similar in cost to a day care center or pre school. $30 Million is more than the original expected cost of the new supreme court building.

  2. Hi Interested Darwin Observer: $30m is the indicative figure being used by the council. Please find it here.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  3. Thanks Erwin, that is an astronomical number.
    The current library is approximately 1000m2 in size, to replace a similar size for $30m would equate to $30,000 per m2 (about 15x more expensive per m2 than a house).
    I suspect the $30m figure is to replace the entire civic centre not just the library.

  4. Who wants a run down old building? When are you going to stop and listen to the people?
    A diatribe once again.

  5. Matters are kept in confidential when they don’t want us to know what they are talking about.
    Only Melky and Banks seem willing to bring this issue into open. And yet, all were elected on promises of transparency.
    Confidential is where a “prefered option” is decided. Then they stage a public consultation. Then they enact the prefered option.
    This backfired on the Anzac Oval. I expect them to be more careful next time.
    And I wonder what the sweetener will be to induce the ACTC into forfeiting the best block in Alice Springs.

  6. The Alice Springs Town Council site is not only the best block in town, Hal, but it is crowned by one of the most significant architectural designs by one-time Alice Springs architect, Andrew McPhee, namely, the original Council buildings.
    Andy practised in Alice between 1966 and 1984 and his body of work contributes not only to the built heritage of our town, but towards the development of a local culture, if it is not demolished first.
    The tent-like design, with its wide eaves, acknowledges the Afghan connection with the site and represents an appropriate design response to our desert climate.
    Only the most un-cultured amongst us could contemplate its loss.
    Andy’s design achievements in Central Australia are many and include the Anglican Church in Bath Street, the extensions to OLSH School, his own Pyramid House in Andrews Court, and the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Hartley Street, for which he was awarded the NT Architecture Award for Enduring Architecture in 2017.
    Being practical as well as creative, he also developed the Aputula House design for Aboriginal communities (Finke, 1974), designed to be put together by community members using a mechanic’s toolkit, and which allowed for an open fire at its centre.
    In a town that has already lost many of its older historic places, we need to begin recognising the importance of our more recent built heritage and not knock everything down on the whim of unqualified politicians and so-called “civic leaders”.

  7. When I first heard of this proposed land swap I thought it was a joke.
    That it appears to have traction has me concerned.
    Time for the council to open up on this one.

  8. Why is the NT Government demanding Alice Springs to have this gallery? Are they slow learners? The council chambers are on a prime site and a new building of less than 20 years.
    Why would the council want the site taken from them and a prime real estate piece of town land given away?


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