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HomeIssue 23Wakefield ready for fight: affirms intention to acquire oval

Wakefield ready for fight: affirms intention to acquire oval

This report provides a detailed account of today’s special meeting previewed here.
Last updated 8 May 2020, 9.33am.
The Town Council resolved today to challenge any attempt by the NT Government to compulsorily acquire Anzac Oval.
In response, Minister Dale Wakefield has reiterated yesterday’s threat as a clear intention: “The Town Council is not willing to negotiate, so we will acquire the land,” she told the Alice Springs News.
Council’s resolution followed more than an hour’s debate at today’s special meeting, called after Minister Wakefield (Territory Families) told the ABC the government will move to compulsory acquisition within the next few weeks.
The vote in support of the resolution was unanimous. Mayor Damien Ryan and Councillor Glen Auricht were apologies. The meeting was chaired by Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson.
Last December the council asked the NT Government to provide evidence of Traditional Owner support for their plans to build an Aboriginal art gallery in the Anzac Precinct. Its support for the gallery at the location was conditional upon this evidence.
It has never been provided.
The closest Minister Dale Wakefield has come was in a letter dated 9 March 2020, which referred to a meeting of 32 Traditional Owners who “strongly endorsed” the project.
That meeting took place in December 2018.
The letter talked otherwise about “many approaches” in support, with voices “getting stronger” over the past year.
It acknowledged the dissenting voices of some Traditional Owners and contended that the government “values them”, while in the next sentence saying, “we cannot allow a few loud voices to drown out the needs of our community and the economic future of our young people”.
So, why not provide some evidence of support? Such as numbers of meetings held, numbers of “approaches” made, some account of the kind of support being voiced – how positive or conditional it is – and some account of concerns.
The News asked the Minister for an explanation.
In reply she essentially reiterated the 9 March letter.
“Many Traditional Owners have told us that the Gallery and this site have their support.  They see it as critical to a better future for future generations.  There are others who do not agree. We will continue to have these conversations but we are not expecting 100% consensus.”
Councillors at their mid-April meeting said the government had also not answered the general community’s questions about a design – how much of the oval’s green space does it need? – and about where rugby will go.
This was reported in these pages at the time.
Unfortunately, in the pressurised environment of the pandemic response, the letter from CEO Robert Jennings putting this as a specific request to the Minister (and reiterating the request for evidence of Traditional Owner support) was only sent yesterday, councillors were told today.
It was also noted in today’s meeting that Mr Jennings’s fortnightly meetings with the government’s representative, Clifford Weeks, to progress this and other issues had been suspended by the government in response to the pandemic.
Mr Jennings, however, said the meetings had been largely about the Kwatja water-play park.
The News asked the Minister to explain why council has not been provided with a concept drawing or preliminary plans. After all, it’s their asset and if the concern is really to make progress, why not maximise the information flow?

There are no design concepts

Well, there are no design concepts, despite the 9 March letter’s clear reference to “plans” for the “iconic building” that may extend “somewhat” onto the existing oval and would require an access road and room for large vehicles to turn around (the implication being that these would also intrude into the oval). It talks otherwise in general terms about green space and infrastructure such as a stage, while noting that the oval’s community space at present is behind “a locked wire fence”.
The letter of 8 April, jointly signed by Minister Wakefield and Minister Lauren Moss (Tourism and Culture) does not enter into these issues at all. It asks council to “work with us”, by endorsing the Anzac Precinct as the site for the gallery, including Anzac Oval.
Left: The Ministers in September 2018 with Dr Mark Crees. The project has scarcely budged since.
It adds nothing new other than to now hitch the project to the pandemic recovery (previously the focus has been on revitalisation of the CBD).
“The Gallery will bring back the airlines,” Minister Wakefield told the News. “It will bring back visitors to our town.  It will give a huge boost to our economic rebound.  I will not let this opportunity slip through our fingers.”
The 8 April letter was apparently the “absolutely last ditch attempt” the Ministers would make to work with council, she told the ABC’s Stewart Brash yesterday.
The government will now “absolutely pull the trigger within the next few weeks” on compulsory acquisition, she said, so “tourism businesses can plan for their future knowing the Aboriginal art gallery is going to be part of it”.
The previous sweeteners on offer to the Town Council (such as a new library) are off the table. All that they (the town) would get under this “legal process” is the value of the land as determined by the valuer-general.
So you are “prepared to go to war” in the lead-up to an election, put Mr Brash.
“We need this project for Alice Springs,” said Minister Wakefield.
In a statement to the News today, she said: “The Town Council is not willing to negotiate, so we will acquire the land. One owner means one consultation point.  We can drive the result that Alice Springs desperately needs.
“Alice Springs just wants us to get on with the project and we will get this done.”
The council’s legal advice on the issues of compulsory acquisition, from its own solicitor, was before councillors today “under separate seal”, which meant it could not be part of the discussion.
Cr Eli Melky asked why.
It was provided “under legal privilege”, said Mr Jennings and as a result would remain confidential.
Cr Melky, who had familiarised himself with the Land Acquisitions Act, noted that it strongly advises that agreement be reached between the parties.
It also provides for an objection and appeals processes, compensation and so on. It would all take “a very long time”.
As well, he pointed out that council did not have before them a “formal request” from the Minister.

‘Megaphone diplomacy’

Cr Jimmy Cocking also noted that neither of the letters refer to compulsory acquisition. He said the public comments being made, including by the Chief Minister, make it very difficult for “a working relationship” to be established.
The government’s process had been “challenging” and “divisive” right from the start, he said.
If compulsory acquisition were to proceed, it would put the project on a bad footing, overriding council and overriding the wishes of Traditional Owners and Native Title Holders. Council needed to hear the “differing views” from Traditional Owners in order to make “an informed decision”.
The government has always insisted it is their project, but it needs to be an Alice Springs and Central Australian project on a national scale. If it proceeds under duress, it wont deliver inter-generational benefit for all of the community, and particularly for Arrernte people
“Megaphone diplomacy” is not the way to do it, said Cr Cocking.
Cr Jamie de Brenni agreed.
He said the oval means a lot to him personally, especially in relation to experiences he shared there with his father.
He said he would not approve ceding it without a concept drawing of what the government intends to do with the green space and without the community being fully consulted.
Cr Jacinta Price said at each turn in the government’s public comments they have made council out to be the problem, when council have not been provided with a solid proposal.
She was happy to continue with council’s present position.
Cr Marli Banks, who had called the meeting, expressed her disappointment that the Minister would use “such aggressive tactics in midst of a pandemic”.
“This is not how the NT Government should be dealing with their local council,” she said.
She was seeking a “simple” and “really clear” response from council to the Minister’s on air threats, and that is what she got with their final resolution.
Meanwhile Minister Moss is tidying up loose ends, making a statement today on her decision not to permanently declare Anzac Oval as a heritage place:

“I accept that Anzac Oval has a degree of heritage significance, for the reasons described in the Statement of Heritage Value submitted to me by the Heritage Council.


“I also accept that its significance can at least partly be attributed to its changing use over time, as a public space linked to the social and cultural needs of the community.


“The owner of the land, Alice Springs Town Council, does not support the permanent declaration of Anzac Oval as a heritage place and it is my view that the site can continue to be available to serve the social and cultural needs of the community and reflect the cultural and environmental values of the area.”



  1. They have just got a bee in their Labor Party bonnets that they will build this gallery.
    All the airy fairy figures they quote are very hard to believe at best.
    With a smidge of luck they won’t be around after August anyway.

  2. It’s taken years so far to a decision on the Art Gallery. So it is only common sense and democratic to wait until August 22, after the election, to get moving on this issue.
    Will it be such a difficult option as to save the bankrupt NT Government and taxpayer millions on court injunctions and other litigation from the Alice Springs Town Council to stop the Labor Territory government from compulsory acquisition and possibly activists protesting any construction?
    It may create civil unrest a few months out from an election and that would cloud democracy taking place.
    Minister Wakefield by all reports will be citizen Wakefield by August so it would be wiser for her to act in the best interests of Alice Springs she purports to represent.
    Labor it seems is trying to poke Alice Springs in the eye before they leave Central Australia.
    Maybe Ms Wakefield is joining Mr Gunner and his dissolution of Alice Springs and Central Australia and is moving to Darwin?

  3. Vacant land opposite CDU – Weekday Parking at Sportsfields- Good Roads – No Problem

  4. Surely the most logical site for the gallery, which is already owned by the Territory Government, would be at the Araluen Arts Centre.
    There is already a large collection of Albert Namatjira’s work. He is the best known Aboriginal artist. There is ample parking on the site, a tourist bus already goes there. There is also the Museum of Central Australia on site – and an excellent café.

  5. @ Alice resident: You forgot the The Alice Springs Gen­er­al Ceme­tery (Memo­r­i­al) adja­cent to the Avi­a­tion Muse­um.
    The graves of Albert Namatji­ra (Abo­rig­i­nal painter from Her­manns­burg), Harold Las­seter (who claimed to have found an as-yet undis­cov­ered 7‑mile-long gold reef in Cen­tral Aus­tralia) and anthro­pol­o­gist Olive Pink, who, eccen­tric to the last, is buried fac­ing the oppo­site direc­tion to every­body else.
    The Gen­er­al Ceme­tery is her­itage list­ed.

  6. “The gallery will bring back the airlines, It will bring back visitors to our town. It will give a huge boost to our economic rebound.”
    What are these clowns smoking?? I want some.
    They didn’t come down in the last shower, it was a hail storm and their brains got belted on the way. The only “boost” will be more debt added to the already overblown Territory budget.
    A half decent business plan of how this proposed art gallery will all work may be convinced me it is a good thing.
    Until then it is all pie in the sky bureaucrats and government wasting more money and time. As for the high school site being suitable, just more idiocy from [people] who really have no idea.

  7. As per the initial plans I saw for “the preferred new rugby oval”: Establishing a new rugby oval to the south west of Bradshaw Drive, only means the need to create additional road infrastructure such as widening of the roads, creating turning lanes, car parking, establishment of new greens (which uses no doubt use a lot of water, not bore water). Anzac Oval is irrigated by bore water from under the river not the town supply.
    There will also be a need to clear the scrub and ensure that the dust is kept down from prevailing winds blowing dust into neighbouring homes.
    A great big fence will be needed in the short term to keep vandals from doing burnouts on the lawns.
    Then there will be the ongoing need to keep the fields green, with what town water? As surely there will be no river water nearby.
    I’d say leave the oval where it is. A compulsory acquisition against the wishes of the Alice Springs Town Council, rugby movement and traditional owners sounds like a communist government move.
    Why not keep the oval where it is.

  8. I would have thought the Desert Wildlife Park be the most suitable and logic location for this art gallery.
    The services and infrastructure is already there.
    They would compliment and support each other … while visiting the wildlife park, why not visit the art gallery, or vice versa.
    After all, the government did put together and pay for an expert panel to come up with a suitable location, which they did, only for the government to ignore them and their recommendation.
    The Wildlife Park site makes sense to me, and I’m sure it makes sense to many others.
    Listen to the locals, just for a change.

  9. @ Gavin Carpenter: Of course the gallery won’t bring back the airlines and give a huge boost to our economic rebound in the near term.
    But in the long term it has the potential to stimulate the flagging business sector in our town.
    International tourists are especially attracted to high end Aboriginal art and they are big spenders.
    Papunya Tula Artists in particular will do well and the benefits will flow on to all their remote community artists.
    Along with town businesses, Aboriginal artists and remote community families will benefit from the gallery.
    This is a rare example of substantial government funding coming to the Alice and not just Darwin down to Katherine.
    At the risk of sounding unpatriotic I think the Council should accept the town location the NT Government has chosen.
    There are legitimate objections to it but going to court to fight the decision would delay the project, probably be futile and a waste of the Council surplus.

  10. I first posted this comment two years ago.
    Nothing has changed, except that Gunner seems even more determined to piss off Central Australia;
    The first problem is the government’s starting point.
    “Revitalising the Mall” should be irrelevant to the site of the gallery.
    The consultants envisaged a space, an environment, a backdrop where the gallery can be an icon, a feature in itself.
    Not a bloody attempt to do something to the north end of the Mall which, by the way, can only be done by turning the Plaza inside out. Put a big verandah on the Mall side and open the shops to it.
    I was originally in favour of the Melanka site, but realised that it is as short sighted as the Anzac site.
    It needs guts and determination to something truly visionary, like MONA.
    And Dale, it is time to speak the truth to power, and tell Gunner to get stuffed. Resign from the ministry if necessary. Stick up for Alice.
    The laws of history suggest that you have bugger all chance of holding your seat at the next election.
    You may as well make the most of it. Go down fighting for your town, and for a really important contribution to Indigenous Australia.

  11. Leaving the Anzac Hill sports ground as it is has a lot of sporting tradition behind it.
    Sport is a major Alice community social bonding element. Easily identifiable and easily maintained.
    And who knows? Leaving it as it is may see the Youth Centre May Day Sports afternoon rise from the ashes of commercialism in future years.
    Post-Coronavirus, a return to a traditional annual community bonding sports day with free gate entry and open to the poorest sections of the community is a cost effective no-brainer.

  12. The conclusion of this report, describing Minister Lauren Moss “tidying up loose ends” by refusing heritage listing for Anzac Oval, is more significant than perhaps many realise.
    The ONLY reason Minister Moss gave for her refusal is that “the owner of the land, Alice Springs Town Council, does not support the permanent declaration of Anzac Oval as a heritage place” but otherwise she prefaced her decision acknowledging “that Anzac Oval has a degree of heritage significance” and accepts “that its significance can at least partly be attributed to its changing use over time, as a public space linked to the social and cultural needs of the community”.
    It is standard practice over many years that a minister for heritage will not support nominations for heritage listings if the site owners oppose them; indeed, for the almost 30 years that heritage protection legislation has existed in the NT I understand there has only been one occasion when a heritage listing has proceeded against the wishes of the property’s owner.
    Now here’s the rub: The Alice Springs Town Council originally DID support my nomination for heritage listing of Anzac Oval.
    This position was suddenly reversed at the regular meeting of September last year.
    This decision by the ASTC provided the excuse for the Minister to refuse the nomination, as I always knew she would.
    While I hold the NT Government’s performance over the National Aboriginal Art Gallery can only be described as execrable at best, nevertheless the town council effectively shot itself in the foot for providing an easy “out” for the government over the heritage nomination for Anzac Oval.
    And who was it that led the way on the council’s abrupt reversal of support for Anzac Oval’s heritage listing?
    None other than Councillor Marli Banks, who now is the one who called the special meeting to oppose the government’s intention to compulsorily acquire Anzac Oval.
    I can’t decide if this is a case of being too smart by half or just trying to have two bob each way but do think certain members of the town council have a bit of explaining to do.

  13. The idea of international tourists reviving the local economy is not in line with logical thinking, not even in the long term.
    There is no vaccine for the common cold.
    There is no vaccine against SARS, avian influenza or bird flu, Mers.
    There is no vaccine for COVID-19.
    If we cannot find a vaccine for the common cold or influenza, we may never find a vaccine for COVID-19. All the news you hear about a vaccine for COVID19 is to comfort the population.
    Have no confusion, COVID-19 kills young and old. It spread exponentially with astonishing speed.
    COVID-19 is uncontrolled in Africa, Asia and South America as well as first world countries in areas.
    The problem for the tourist industry across the world is COVID-19 is different, it has the ability to infect very quickly and explodes in populations that have close contact such as Aboriginal people in Central Australia.
    It also has the ability to kill males over females and does not discriminate on age though the elderly are more prone to death due to underlying immune issues.
    As things stand now, cruise ships are a thing of the past.
    No country will allow their borders to re-open in the medium term. Such a move in Australia in particular could start a new outbreak across Australia and for the Northern Territory an outbreak would be catastrophic especially for Aboriginal communities
    As regretful as it is, tourism is a people intensive industry and will not be in operation any time soon.
    Even Australian tourism is dangerous to the Northern Territory. There are pockets of COVID-19 and when this moves around it is like pulling the pin on a grenade. It will explode and kill people.
    This is the reality of the new normal.

  14. @ Tourism in a COVID19 World – Not Happening: It’s far too soon to write off international tourism as a driver for our local economy.
    No-one is arguing that it will revive the economy in the short term.
    But the world-wide effort to find a vaccine is without precedent in terms of dollars and scientific expertise brought to the task.
    But even if it fails a treatment that makes Covid-19 a less serious illness is very likely to be found.
    That will enable us to develop herd immunity without deaths or even hospitalisation.
    It is far from illogical to believe that international tourism has a long-term future in boosting our economy.

  15. Looking ahead one to two years when Australian tourists come to the art gallery as things get to the new normal.
    I would be happier if these highly populated areas visited from around the country were outside the CBD.
    If we get an outbreak of any size our hospital will be overrun very quickly. By placing the art gallery in the CBD it becomes a hot spot in the most populated area of Alice Springs – a disaster waiting to happen.
    By keeping interstate visitors outside the CBD and not concentrating all to the CBD it will at least mitigate the contamination of our loved ones. Common sense please, Minister Wakefield.

  16. Greetings. I just love it. No news is good news. Keep up the good work. At least NT has no reported case of COVID-19 deaths. Hence good news.

  17. Tourism in a COVID19 World – Not Happening: Whilst I agree with a lot you said and certainly in regards to the progress of a vaccine, I do feel that the lethality of COVID-19 is perhaps a bit overplayed.
    Data from UK suggests that 95% of people who have died from the virus had a serious underlying health condition.
    A seriously ill cancer patient who dies with the virus is counted as a COVID-19 death.
    There is the chance that many of these deaths are accelerated deaths rather than an unexpected deaths. Of course, you could argue, we are all dying, some just faster than others.
    USA research suggests that there are so many cases with mild or low symptoms that perhaps only one in 10 cases are diagnosed and added to the data.
    As such, the population that has survived the virus may be 10 times larger and the deaths occurring in a large part in very sick people.
    Healthy people and children in the whole are not overly at risk.
    I dare say a healthy person in Alice Springs faces the far more real risk of being hit by a drunk driver.

  18. Representative Government seems to have been left by the wayside.
    #HowTheyRuleYa aren’t just words in a song anymore, it might be time for a reminder by doing away with the UniParty.
    Wakefield ignoring the community is one thing, but I guess it isn’t as bad as Giles selling the NT out to the Chinese via the port of Darwin arrangements!

  19. Spot on Charlie Carter and Alex Nelson.
    The election will see a huge protest vote against the NT Governments arrogance in choosing the Anzac location against the wishes of custodians.
    Sure, the government will be working overtime behind the scenes so they can parade Aboriginal supporters to sanctify their disgraceful and incompetent conduct.
    They are no better than the pirates of industry when it comes to divide and rule tactics.
    What a clueless, weak bunch. Watch Dale Wakefield’s vote plunge.

  20. I simply and strongly support the sensible remarks of Desert Rat on May 9: Desert (Wildlife?) Park land availability, infrastructure in place, the range as a back drop.
    The NAAG may revive the already beautiful but slow going park and add art next to it. Magnificent. When tourism starts again in a couple of years post Covid-19, there will be something to come to.

  21. Almost certainly the legal advice is suggesting that opposition to the acquisition is unlikely to succeed.
    Because the legal profession love to picnic the advice would not completely rule out blocking it.
    So why not release the advice and put a stop to the grandstanding by councillors.
    For all their posturing, they undermined what could have been a good legal defence, a heritage listing.

  22. @ Tourism in a COVID-19 World – Not Happening: I agree after seeing what is happening across the United States and the United Kingdom. Sadly, tourism is far from starting in Central Australia any time soon.
    I am finding some of these posts reckless and irresponsible and an uneducated viewpoint.
    An educated mind sees things as they are and not some disillusioned she’ll be right mate blurb or what I heard as a kid growing up, “we don’t need seat belts” and “there’s no proof smoking causes lung cancer”.
    COVID-19 is a killer virus and contained in Australia at this moment in time because the majority of Australians have self isolated and we were in summer.
    That is the fact.
    Japan admit they made a mistake opening up too soon and the second wave has been worse than the first. German and South Korean experts have warned that second waves of COVID-19 infections should act as a cautionary tale for Australia.
    Countries successfully flattened their pandemic curves and relaxed some coronavirus restrictions, only to see a spike of infections in recent days. As the Chief Medical Officer said: “My greatest fear is a larger second wave happening in Australia.” The second wave is larger than the first with COVID-19.
    I suppose some will never understand reality of the situation until it happens.
    Winter is upon us and we are now decreasing self isolation. I hope we have not let the virus genie out of the bottle, especially for the elderly and Aboriginal People, in fact all Alice Springs people.

  23. Did the Dinasaur museum do anything to enliven that end of the mall? Figures on entry? (Todd Tavern does better.) It too should have been at the Geological museum at AZRI in conjunction with the cultural centre across the road at Yirara, involving the students, and a new contemporary visitors’ centre at the Transport Hall of Fame, as in Katherine and as apart of a brand new tourism precinct between the gap and the airport, leaving the current CBD as a historical display site – what’s left of it!.
    Pitchi Richi site? Shameful in spite of the best interests of some locals.
    Townsville has a mining centre of excellence,like we should have at at the Minerals display at ASRI. It’s almost like we are ashamed of our unique geology.
    Qld has a solar highway Brisbane to Cairns. What have we got on our approaches? City type metropolitan houses so Southern tourists can feel at home.
    How long will it be before Governments realise that the economic future of the town lies South of the gap in spite of the vested interests protecting their backsides North of the gap. The number of vehicles moving in that direction daily should surely tell them something.

  24. In answer to Trevor Sheills’s comment on Pitchi Richi, we’d like to point out that we, Heritage Alice Springs (HAS), is constantly working at the sanctuary.
    In the past couple of years we have replaced the roof on Chapman House, launched a Master Garden Plan, held an open day and had a conservation assessment done on the William Ricketts sculptures. This year we have a grant to remove asbestos in Chapman House and another from the Town Council to buy some equipment.
    We are also in the process of applying for another grant to do stage one of the garden plan and another for a conservation assessment of the Leo Corbett collection.
    It’s big and we’d love your support, so we invite you to become a member and join our committee.
    Faye Alexander, Chair, Heritage Alice Springs (HAS).


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