Wakefield, Ryan star in the Phantom of the Art Gallery


Diane and Ray Loechel today re-confirmed an early statement to the Alice Springs News that no-one from the NT Government, nor the Alice Springs Town Council, had ever consulted them about the development of the Todd Tavern land and building.
They say the owner of the land is Loechel Management Pty Ltd of which Mr and Mrs Loechel are the sole shareholders. The company acquired the lease to the Todd Tavern land in 1998 and the freehold in 2000.
They say they have no involvement in a group referred to by Minister Dale Wakefield as the “Alice Plaza and Todd Tavern Consortium”.
So who is it that sat at the table on behalf of the tavern when Mayor Damien Ryan and former Town Council CEO Rex Mooney where initiating discussions, behind firmly closed doors, about the national Aboriginal art gallery and the development of the Mall’s top end?
Mr Mooney, now retired, is tight-lipped about his and the Town Council’s involvement.
Minister Wakefield said in a letter made public by her today that “correspondence dated 27 June 2019 from Mr Rex Mooney … to the NT Government advises that ASTC [had made] a decision to initiate a roundtable meeting with the NT Government, Alice Plaza and Todd Tavern Consortium and Traditional Owners.”
She says that she and Minister Lauren Moss attended the meeting – chaired by Mayor Damien Ryan – via teleconference “in good faith to gain an understanding of why the ASTC had introduced a proposal by the Alice Plaza and Todd Tavern Consortium into negotiations between the ASTC and NTG for the use of land currently occupied by the ASTC Civic Centre.”
Ms Wakefield says further in her letter: “I mentioned multiple times that I was uncomfortable with the commercial nature of the discussion with the developers present and was unclear as to whether any interest by parties may be in conflict.
“I note that as the chair of the meeting the Mayor did not call for any conflict of interest declarations which contributed to the ambiguity regarding the purpose of the meeting and lack of clarity on what the ASTC was trying to achieve through a roundtable meeting with the Consortium.
“As outlined in the meeting the NTG has been in discussion with the Consortium since a proposal for development was first raised in discussion with NTG agency representatives and the former CEO [Mr Mooney] of the ASTC on 8 February 2018.”
Ms Wakefield says in her letter that Mr Mooney had received a master plan on February 28, 2019 “direct from the Consortium who acknowledged comments from the former CEO that it was received positively”.
On November 11 the Alice Springs News sent the following questions to Ms Wakefield: “The Department of the Chief Minister (DCM) provided a $37,500 grant towards the cost of producing a master plan and feasibility study for the Alice Plaza and Todd Tavern redevelopment.
“Subsequently we were told this master plan is commercial in confidence.
“How come a document produced with public money cannot be seen by the public?
“[And secondly] the owner of the Todd Tavern land and building is not party to any master plan arrangements. In fact he knows nothing about them.
“The operator of the tavern may be – but he has no power to make any arrangements about land [and assets] he doesn’t own.
“So the NTG gave a $37,500 grant for a master plan to two parties one of which has no authority to draw up a master plan.”
This afternoon we received the following reply from the Department of the Chief Minister: “This government is very committed to revitalising the Alice Springs City Centre and considers a funding co-contribution to local businesses for concepts to benefit the CBD are sound investments.
“The end product is owned by the proponent and any request for publication should be made to them. It is not unusual for operators to masterplan as a process to raise funds and engage property owners.”
So the government clearly thinks it’s sound use of public money on a plan of developing real estate whose owners are completely oblivious of the project.
“Please note this is all the information we can provide at this time,” says the reply from the Department of the Chief Minister.


  1. The past invariably catches up with us but it’s rare to do so quickly as it has with the Gunner “mea culpa” Government.
    Who remembers the mantra of open, honest, accountable, transparent and trustworthy government promised by NT Labor at the time of the last Territory election campaign in 2016?
    Let’s have a few reminders: First, an earnest NT Labor Opposition Leader had the following to say in an ABC profile leading up to the last Territory elections: “The number one thing lacking in Northern Territory politics is trust, according to Labor leader Michael Gunner.
    “Mr Gunner, 40, said he had worked hard to re-establish trust with Territorians.
    “But, he pointed the finger squarely at the Country Liberals Party (CLP) for what he labelled a “trust deficit”.
    “This term has been a term of chaos, and Territorians are just crying out for stability and politicians who will behave. We’ve got a team, I believe, who will do that, Mr Gunner said.”
    In an interview with Erwin Chlanda following her election victory, Dale Wakefield spoke along similar lines: “People were sick of having a local Member not focussed on local issues. Transparency of government.”
    She went on: “This election shows that if you don’t listen to the electorate, and you don’t take their concerns seriously, anybody can lose their seat. Michael Gunner has given that message to us very strongly. We need to bring trust back to government because I think that has been eroded.”
    Pardon me?
    Now we find this same Gunner Labor Government indulging in grants of taxpayers’ funds for the benefit of property holders, the inevitable excuse of “commercial in confidence” (so much for transparency), and a reliance on false information from top bureaucrats to justify Cabinet decisions made on the basis of no documented evidence (I’m referring to the reasons given for the destruction of the former Anzac Hill High School).
    Now, as revelations start to emerge of all the shady backroom deals behind closed doors over the past two years, Ms Wakefield seeks to excuse herself in a moral light with regard to a meeting held on 27 June: “I mentioned multiple times that I was uncomfortable with the commercial nature of the discussion with the developers present and was unclear as to whether any interest by parties may be in conflict”.
    She also makes the most interesting claim: “I note that as the chair of the meeting the Mayor [Damien Ryan] did not call for any conflict of interest declarations” at the meeting that she and her colleague Lauren Moss attended by teleconference.
    On the face of it, this is most uncharacteristic of Mr Ryan, as publicly at Town Council meetings he has been most anxious to avoid conflict of interest with regard to discussions about Anzac Oval in light of my nomination for its heritage listing.
    The Mayor was also the Local Government representative on the Heritage Council at the time too – he only resigned from that body following the announcement of his preselection as a CLP candidate for Araluen in September.
    I can assure he was most assiduous in ensuring he avoided conflict of interest in regard to any discussions about the heritage nominations of Anzac Oval and the old high school.
    Perhaps Mr Ryan thought he had an understanding at that particular meeting?
    The way things are going, the Michael Gunner Government is rapidly morphing as the Tommy-Gunner “Good Fellas” Government.
    If trust and transparency are so obviously lacking with regard to the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, the Civic Centre, the “Top End” of town (in more than one sense of the phrase) and the former Anzac Hill High School – well, where does the rot stop?
    Can this government be trusted on any of the issues it’s dealt with – for example, onshore gas fracking?
    As Michael Gunner stated in 2016: “I think you’ve got to own things. So if something goes wrong, I as leader own it, and you’ve got to take responsibility.”
    So be it.

  2. I might have to remove my shoes to count the number of “revitalise the CBD” initiatives were put forward over the last few years, none of which seem to have worked.
    We have no histories left to demonstrate apart from Adelaide house, Flynn Church and Todd Tavern for visitors wanting to see the history and outback romantics that once were here.
    However we have shopping malls and shopping facilities just like they have at home-often at inflated prices.
    In the meantime, the missed opportunities have been enormous outside the current CBD and South of The Gap but unrecognised through shortsighted planning and lack of a proactive approach.
    We could have had a major solar research facility here 40 years ago from Germany. We have just had a visit from a group of southern agriculturalists looking for food production investment (and employment) opportunities here.
    We could have had a hydrogen production facility here but no one bothered to approach them, and now we have an Indigenous food research and commercialisation facility being promoted in Queensland with bush tucker from here.
    Add to that development of acacias and other local plants for both food and animal fodder being developed overseas or interstate.
    All we can show potential investors is an outer metropolitan type housing development where there should have been a vibrant display of what the current government calls boundless possibilities. They omitted the word “missed”.
    A national transport hub at Brewer, with associated industrial estate facilities, with the convergence of three cross national highways, a train facility and an internationally recognised airport have been obvious for years but ignored.
    They missed the opportunity to keep the town unique and looks like they will continue to do so.
    The need for a visitors centre on the main approach to town as has happened elsewhere, is so obvious, but never considered or numbers researched and the obvious place is the Transport Hall of Fame in conjunction with the welcome rock, the old Ghan engine and cultural centre involving both our Indigenous and Afghan heritages, but ignored as has become usual.
    To join all these into one complex would involve around a kilometre of sealed road. Very sad considering what is happening with our competition elsewhere.


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