By ERWIN CHLANDA
Welcome to Election 2020.
In the escalating Aboriginal gallery controversy the NT Government is now considering compulsory acquisition of the Town Council owned Anzac Oval. The government already owns the adjacent Anzac High land (at right).
The first campaign salvo was fired on Wednesday by Labor Ministers Dale Wakefield and Lauren Moss asking this question: Was Damien Ryan acting as a candidate for the CLP Opposition or as the head of the town’s elected government when it decided to reject the NT Government’s gallery offer on Monday?
No doubt Labor will keep exploiting the thoroughly compromised position of Mr Ryan aka Mayor Ryan, as the historic Anzac high school is facing demolition starting Monday.
There will clearly be a best-case or a worst-case result in next year’s election.
Worst case: Either of the two “major” parties, both abysmally on the nose, gains a comfortable majority. In this case Mr Ryan – should he defeat Independent Robyn Lambley (if she stands) in Araluen, which is by no means certain – will be one of 25 Members of Parliament.
Maybe he will be seen but certainly not heard very much, coming from a far-flung outpost, 1500 km distant from where the real action is, namely Darwin and environs.
Best case: The seat score of the “majors” is even or very close and Independents in The Centre are holding the balance of power. In that case we can write our own future. Mr Ryan would put his Mayoral chain back on and finish his term as one of the town’s nine elected local government members, on full pay.
The power of the nine is what they decide it to be: using to the full their statutory functions, as the representatives of a town that has had a gutful of being bullied or ignored. This a where Mayor Ryan’s opportunity to serve is, should he get ’round to using it.
The nine can put the fear of God into the high and mighty in Darwin who are swimming in taxpayers’ money without having the foggiest idea of how to spend it wisely. After a decade at the helm, born-again Mayor Ryan may finally grasp that reality: The Mayor of the Centre’s capital can have a profile far more impressive than a backbencher in the NT Legislative Assembly.
Ten months to the ballot will give ample time to contemplate what has happened in this term of the Town Council – and what hasn’t: No flood protection; dump bursting at the seams; Power and Water being allowed, in the stench of the sewerage plant in the middle of the municipal area, to waste billions of litres of water as the globe is running drying; half of the town’s West and East MacDonnells tourism lifeblood being wasted by inept fire management and trampled by cattle; youth crime rampant – and more.
The council should have stepped in when Chief Minister Michael Gunner arbitrarily rejected the Desert Park as the gallery’s location, as suggested by the initial steering committee, headed by Hetti Perkins and Philip Watkins, which he had appointed.
The Town Council should have developed a policy, based on its own independent consultation with the obvious players – black and white – and then taken charge of the project, on the grounds of our town, our gallery, our artists, our tourism industry.
Of course that wasn’t possible because the council, for most of the current term, was paralysed by Mayor Ryan’s fellow CLP candidate Jacinta Price and her parents, taking code of conduct action against fellow councillors, including Jimmy Cocking who had opposed Ryan in the mayoral race.
The Mayor made no discernable effort to stop Cr Price from pursuing her complaints, which the tribunal dismissed as frivolous, vexatious or misleading.
Talking about Election 2020, some significant things are happening – quietly – in Namatjira, in the south-eastern corner of the NT, the electorate most remote from that seat of power.
MLA Chansey Paech (with constituents, at left and below, photos supplied) lost about half of his area, the western part, in this year’s redistribution.
It went to Gwoja (pronounced Kwotscha) that stretches from the Arafura Sea to the South Australian border, is between 300 and 400 kilometres wide, measures 427,605 sqkm, had 5489 electors at the time the new boundaries were set and includes Ayers Rock Resort.
Gwoja is much bigger than Germany, which is just 357,386 sqkm but had 61,675,529 voters in October 2017.
Mr Paech says he gets into trouble a lot for suggesting that urban electorates should have 10,000 electors and remote ones 5000, and equip them with lots more resources and staff as the remote electorates are significantly larger than urban electorates. The number of seats in the Assembly should be reduced accordingly.
“People will probably say it’s gerrymandering but how can you bring democracy to such vast areas with competing priority groups, with just one person,” he asks.
There’s more: Under-enrolment is rampant in the remote NT and with the Australian Electoral Commission no longer physically based in the NT that doesn’t look like changing anytime soon. Also, by no means do all of the comparatively few people who are enrolled show up to vote.
“If the remote Territorians were all enrolled to vote the Territory’s electoral boundaries would look very different and I suspect we’d have far more bush seats than what we have currently,” says Mr Paech.
Unsurprisingly, no candidate has put up their hand to contest Gwoja.
Mr Paech, a first-time Member of Parliament, now has an electorate that is about half urban (rural residential blocks and town camps south of The Gap). The other half are Aboriginal people in remote communities, south of The Alice and along the Plenty Highway towards Queensland.
He says the even with the redistribution he feels positive the ALP can retain the seat: “I’ve spend a lot of time out working closely with my constituents over the last few years and have been a strong advocate for people in the bush and Central Australia.”
Far from serving a single “community of interest” Mr Paech now needs to cope with at least two of them.
“Creating hybrid seats is not the answer. Bush people and rural people deserve to have strong representation in Parliament and watering down that voice, like what’s been done with this current redistribution, is not okay,” says Mr Paech.
“I love my job, I love the bush it’s my passion. I have awesome communities and people to represent and I’ll continue to work hard for them because their voices matter.”
He’s plugging away at meeting one of his key election undertakings to the “blockies” who are living on two hectare (or bigger) rural residential land south of The Gap.
They come in two groups: Those who enjoy the lifestyle on their bush-style blocks and look after their land, and those who flagrantly abuse it for illegal industrial use.
Mr Paech employs a softly-softly approach: There has been, for many years, a dearth of industrial land in Alice. The illegal users of rural land, not unreasonably, as he sees it, were acting out of necessity.
However, new industrial land is now closer to becoming a possibility, for sale of course, on the western side of the Stuart Highway, in the vicinity of the National Transport Hall of Fame, if Mr Paech gets his way.
When that kicks in the government will have every right to get tough with the illegal users, and enable the blockies to their regain their lifestyle expectations.
Mr Paech is a member of a private group (including the writer of this report) putting together a prisoner rehabilitation program based on personal achievement and private enterprise.
The group works in closely with Bill Yan, the general manager of the Alice Springs prison.
He also happens to be the CLP candidate for Namatjira.
“Bi-partisanship in the truest sense of the word,” says Mr Paech.
Who needs Darwin?
Election 2020 salvos fired with Alice the first battleground
By ERWIN CHLANDA