Above, from left: CLP candidates Joshua Burgoyne, Damien Ryan and Bill Yan at the entrance to the Desert Park. Screen capture from a CLP Facebook video.
By KIERAN FINNANE
Last updated 1.50pm
The Country Liberal Party’s announcement that it will build a national Aboriginal art gallery at the Desert Park might appease those townspeople who are opposed to losing Anzac Oval but it does not overcome the project’s most significant obstacle to date: obtaining the backing of local Aboriginal people.
The party’s reliance on the recommendation of the Desert Park by the original steering committee overlooks the careful wording of that recommendation, that it was “subject to the endorsement of and legal agreement with Arrernte/Aranda Apmereke artweye (Traditional Owners) and Kwertengerle (Traditional Managers)”.
At this point, we know that the NT Government has obtained a letter of endorsement for the Anzac Precinct location from the native title holder corporation, Lhere Artepe, signed by its CEO and Chairman. It is not clear what kind of process their endorsement was based on.
It is clear that it has been repudiated by a group of custodians, in a letter signed by apmereke artweye Benedict Stevens and Doris Stuart, who insist they will support the gallery only in a location south of the Gap. They say this was the unanimous view of Mparntwe custodians as a family group numbering more than 30 who met with Minister Lauren Moss in June 2019.
The Desert Park is not south of the Gap.
So the Country Liberal Party, in terms of endorsement, are in an even weaker position than the government.
Their media release on the subject makes no mention of having or seeking endorsement or agreement from Traditional Owners.
It speaks only of “Centralians” wanting certainty, and of Aboriginal artists for whom the gallery would be an opportunity.
It makes no mention of consultation.
Candidate for Araluen Damien Ryan (left) is quoted as saying: “There was an expert panel put in place and yet again the Chief Minister and his government have chosen to ignore it despite this costing taxpayers’ money.”
In his position as Mayor, Mr Ryan also ignored that self-same expert panel, pushing for council to enter into an MOU with the NT Government’s Department of Tourism and Culture “to progress consideration of the Anzac Hill Precinct (including both the Anzac Hill High School site and Anzac Oval) as the preferred site for the National Aboriginal Art Gallery”.
He put this motion at the Town Council’s meeting of 30 April 2018, when the public gallery was full of locals vociferously opposing such an MOU, and custodians demanding to be heard as the people vitally concerned in matters of their cultural heritage.
The motion, seconded by Councillor Matt Paterson, was lost seven votes to two. (Mr Paterson is now Territory Alliance candidate for Namatjira and his party has announced it will make a decision about location of the gallery within the first 100 days of being in office.)
I asked Mr Ryan if that previous position makes it difficult for him to criticise now.
He said “the landscape has changed a lot since then” and reiterates his point made in the release about the division the government’s process has caused in the town.
I also asked what he says now about consultation with custodians, given that condition of the experts’ recommendation.
He said it is the CLP’s policy to work with the experts’ report, to “provide clear direction in policy”. Their “entire aim is to take away uncertainty”.
Is it not impossible to consult when a decision has already been made? And therefore, what is his message to custodians?
“We are saying to the whole community what our policy is,” said Mr Ryan. “The clear message from the CLP is, we’ll build the national Aboriginal gallery and we will be guided by the expert panel who produced the report.”
The media release also quotes candidate for Braitling Joshua Burgoyne (right) in similar terms to Mr Ryan: “The Gunner Government has failed to listen to the experts by choosing ANZAC Oval as the site.”
I asked him if he had read the original steering committee’s report. Yes, he has. That was as far as our interview went. I had not attended the media conference called by the Country Liberal Party on Wednesday – that was the occasion to put questions, he contended.
Actually, a free press chooses when and if to put questions and what the questions are.
My next one would have been about his understanding of the condition the experts put on their recommendation and what communication he had had with custodians on the subject.
No comment from Mr Burgoyne.
Candidate for Namatjira Bill Yan, however, was willing to talk.
In the release he is not quoted on the experts’ recommendation. His emphasis rather is on the gallery’s opportunity: “We need the NAAG,” he is quoted as saying. “Art is an integral part of Aboriginal culture and for many Aboriginal Australians. It is an opportunity to showcase their talent and cultural heritage. I have been a long-time supporter of Aboriginal artists in Central Australia.”
To my question, he said he has not had a chance to read the original steering committee report “as yet”.
He said he has spoken to Aboriginal people who support having the gallery “out at Desert Park”, and who refer to that location as supported by the steering committee, which had “respected Aboriginal people” among its members.
Certainly there is “very little support” for the Anzac site, said Mr Yan (left).
He said “consultation is probably essential to the process” but “not everyone is going to agree”, as with anything you do. Resolution is also about having “the majority of the people” in agreement.
Is it possible to consult when a decision has already been made?
Discussions with “the various stakeholders and groups” around the announcement made yesterday will have to be had, said Mr Yan.
Given that it is an Aboriginal cultural project, who should be the decision-makers, where should the leadership be coming from?
“That’s a very good question,” he acknowledged. But the gallery is about representing contemporary Aboriginal art from all over Australia: “It belongs to many people, not just one group.”
Input should come from within the region, but also “far wider” than our region too.
The Country Liberal Party, however, have not had those discussions – “as yet”.
The co-chairs of the original steering committee, Hetti Perkins and Philip Watkins, in early 2018 as they called for the release of their full report, warned against the emphasis on location of the gallery. Achieving Indigenous leadership and control of the project (the “right governance model”) was far more important, they said, as was the process – “the manner in which we get there”.
The “buy-in” needed for the project had to come “first and foremost from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around the country”, and both warned that this would not be forth-coming if “fissures” were seen.
There is no sign of that warning having been heeded by any of the political parties competing at the next Territory election.