COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
Something terrible will happen if nothing is done. That’s been the public fear for a long time in response to the rising incidence of young people joyriding dangerously in stolen cars.
Now it has. A man is dead. This is a turning point as we realise the NT Government is incapable of dealing with crime and we need to look to the local government for answers.
You have a hole in your footpath. You ring Councillor Fred whom you gave your vote at the last election and you know him from cricket.
“Leave it with me,” says Cr Fred. A few days later the hole is fixed.
That was then. This is now: There are emails backwards and forwards between you and non-elected council staff. There are delays. There are explanations which sound like buckpassing. You ring Fred.
Illegally dumped rubbish west of the National Road Transport Hall of Fame.
He says: “Sorry. That is Operational. I am not allowed to touch it. Our road works program is under discussion. It’s in Confidential. I could get locked up if I told you any more.”
And so, while Alice’s economy is being ground into the dirt by COVID-19, and its social fabric is torn to shreds by crime committed by youths in the street, the town’s government, in a bizarrely masochistic move, is divesting itself of key powers and obligations.
Instead of elected members being undisputedly in charge of council business, as the people with whom the buck stops, important controls are being transferred to unelected staff.
No doubt the underperforming element in this council will say that most of the issues I will mention here are Territory or Federal Government issues.
That is part of the problem: Not only has the council no vital initiatives of its own on the go, they are incapable of putting arguments to the Federal and NT governments for “recovery” projects.
There is plenty of bumph couched in generalisations, and repeated endlessly, but devoid of sound research.
This could be carried out in cooperation with Tourism Central Australia and the Chamber of Commerce, both of which have fresh teams on the job, and the Arid Lands Environment Centre which has a good record of giving it a go. With them the Town Council may at long last start firing as Alice’s most powerful defender and promoter.
It must earn that role. The public deserves it.
Instead of haggling over minor issues rooted in self-interest – the co-opting farce being a recent example – the council needs to establish itself as being well-informed and authoritative.
What are the costs? What is the time-line? How will the town benefit?
Demonstrate the need and public support.
Can we apply already existing resources? How?
How do other administrations cope with a similar problem?
Much of the town’s municipal area is still wide open spaces.
It would be a brave government that would say “no” to substantial and convincing propositions from nine people elected by the NT’s second biggest town.
The following would be a good start. Some are issues of life and death.
Flood protection. There is none. The moratorium on a dam imposed by Canberra in 1992 expired eight years ago. That excuse for inaction is gone. What is the current one?
How come we are still wasting billions of litres of water and two square kilometres of prime land, owned by the public and unencumbered by native title, and use it for a foul smelling sewage plant in the middle of the municipality while the world is recycling and water is running short?
The dump is bursting at its seams and the town is ringed by illegally disposed rubbish because the council’s fees are clearly too high. Why?
The 24/7 youth centre, talked about for 10 years as a measure to get problem kids off our streets: Nowhere to be seen.
The national Aboriginal art centre: A fiasco. Have custodians changed their minds on the rejection of Anzac Precinct as a location? How long does it take to get an answer to a very simple question?
Are we holding the managers and the Aboriginal owners of the West MacDonnells to account over the poor fire protection of the national park which underpins our tourism industry? Nope.
When the town votes in August next year, will there be well researched, compelling business plans or will we just have faces grinning from posters around town?
This year nearly half the councillors told ratepayers they would much prefer to be in Parliament than serving them on council. They all lost and returned. A poor call would be a kind way of describing this.
And now, it’s time to put the shoulder to the wheel.
AT TOP: The class of 2017: Back row, from left – CEO Rex Mooney (soon to retire); councillors Jamie De Brenni, Jimmy Cocking, Eli Melky, Glen Auricht. Front row – from left: Marli Banks, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Catherine Satour and Matt Paterson. Mayor Damien Ryan is in the centre.