Who will stop the Alice sliding from bad to worse?

The Todd Mall was still a street and outside the now boarded up ice cream parlour was a bench on which I (Erwin) sat with the Territory’s first Opposition Leader. Not a minder in sight. It was 1977.
“Is this on the record?” I asked.
“Everything I say to you is on the record,” replied Labor’s Jon Isaacs. And he had plenty to say.
Compare this with his current pathetic counterpart (a one year old in 1977) who sneaks into town for a few hours, hiding from its people (with a few exceptions), and from its media, doing business behind closed doors and concealing from the public what it is.
In the ’70s forces in Alice Springs were shaping the political landscape of the NT, the CLP dominating for two and a half decades.
Unlike Michael Gunner, the current bungling Chief Minister, Paul Everingham built the Ayers Rock Resort.
And for decades the town blossomed as people put their money where their mouth was.
Keith Castle created a tourist industry from the ground up: We need a couple more hotels? Let’s build some. A bus company? Let’s bring in top national operators.
Airlines? Ditto. And we had our own – the legendary Connair with a workshop attached that performed aircraft refurbishing others wouldn’t even dream of.
Thousands of tourism beds were created. Many of them are gone.
Murray Neck, Di Byrnes, Reg Harris, David “Tuzza” Tuzewski and countless others worked, created and developed a town loved by people from around the nation and the world.
Today we complain about a handout mentality. Well, many of those hands are white.
The question isn’t: Where is there an investment opportunity?
It is: What will the government put money into?
We’re not investing in bringing people to one of the world’s most marvellous places.
We are investing in misery: the supreme court building, the police station, the juvenile detention centre, women’s shelter, the hospital staff accommodation.
Our major research bodies, from which we might reasonably expect concepts and projects to guide the way to a confident future, are withering on the vine – some are gone (CSIRO), others barely holding on (AZRI, CDU, IAD), and there is little to show from the considerable public investment in others (Desert Knowledge, for example).
We fail to take heed of the lessons of our recent past; indeed, we specialise in ignoring our history and continually re-invent the wheel.
We blindly put our faith in public funded big ticket projects to lift our economy out of the doldrums despite an inglorious track record littered with examples that have failed to deliver.
As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time.
As a town, a Territory, and as a society, we have clearly lost our way. We are punch-drunk on despair and unable to think the way clear for solutions to our problems.
So whither the future? Problems are opportunities in disguise – and we’ve no shortage of them!
We need to grasp those opportunities ourselves, not wait for handouts and assistance.
The past shows we did it before, there’s no reason we can’t do so again.
UPDATE February 1, 5.40pm
There was no meeting last week between Chief Minister Michael Gunner and Lhere Artepe.
This is according to the acting CEO of the native title organisation, Graeme Smith, who spoke with us today.
The Alice Springs News made several phone calls last Friday following up reports that the Chief Minister was in Alice Springs. We were speaking to staff in his office who refused to give any details about his whereabouts.
Mr Gunner’s minder did not respond to requests for a phone call one staff claimed to have passed on to him. The staff member either did not know or did not reveal the minder’s mobile phone.


  1. Erwin, people had their opportunity on polling day. Unless people make a stand at the booth, little will change.
    They ask how one can tell if a Polly is lying, the answer is, that their lips are moving.
    I am still surprised that Gunner retained his position. Perhaps at the next election, people may not be so gullible.

  2. Accurate and brutally honest. We have had four and a half years of Gunner and the clueless crew and what do we have to show for it? Debt, crime, and despair. Time he stepped down and put the NT into receivership.

  3. In defense of those of us (slightly more than half the electorate) who contributed to the return of Labor, I would venture to say that Australia’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee politics might have had something to do with how we voted.
    The choices we make often depend on the choices we are offered.

  4. @ Evelyne: I paid the fine :-). Imagine what would happen if nobody voted. The government would get some additional income, but one would hope that “someone” would ask some serious questions perhaps even people from Canberra.
    Same goes for the Alice Sprigs Town Council although I am sure they wouldn’t have the intellect to deduce people’s sentiment.

  5. @ Surprised and Evelyne: I have long thought that, in a true democracy, ballot papers should include an additional “None Of The Above” box for voters to tick when they believe none of the candidates would make a worthy political representative.
    A sufficiently high number of such votes (say 60%) could then trigger the calling of a new election, with all-new candidates, of course.
    This would reflect the true level of voter support and not the “best of a bad bunch” we have to accept in our present system.

  6. @ Evelyne and Surprised- Reminds me of the hippy era slogan “what if they gave a war and nobody came”.
    I admire those who deliberately paid the fine. One consolation to us who despair at the poor choice we’re offered is the preferential voting system, where we put the candidate who ultimately gets our vote second last.

  7. @ Domenico: This is a practice I’ve done a number of times by spoiling my ballots.
    If I’m unimpressed by the candidates on offer, I draw a little square with a tick or numeral one in it, and next to it write “Informal” or “None of the above”.
    I was prosecuted for not voting in the NT elections of June 2005 but my defence was not on the grounds that voting should be non-compulsory; rather it was just the latest in a very long saga in which I’ve argued that self-government of the NT (and all Commonwealth legislation pertaining to the NT post 1976) is unconstitutional.
    As per usual the court’s decision has never been enforced – no-one wants to risk this matter being referred to the High Court of Australia.

  8. @Alex: Alex, I like your practice. I will do that if future and it will save me a few $.
    It is a pity though that only a few actually think that informal votes mean anything other than the voter didn’t have the ability to fill out simple boxes, whereas we know that many are trying to send a desperate message to the “system” which spells HELP!

  9. Evelyne, Surprised!, Domenico, Frank: Take a leaf out of Alex’s book.
    Simply write “none of the above” on the ballot paper.
    Makes the message clearer than not attending the booth, and no fine.
    As I have been pointing out for decades, we don’t have compulsory voting we have compulsory attendance at a polling booth.

  10. How different would our Australian political historical landscape have been if our voting system was simply first past the post instead of “first preferences”.

  11. Sorry Charlie, you are incorrect there, voting is in fact compulsory. It is very clear under section 245(1), which also states: “It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election”.
    It is not the case, that it is only compulsory to attend the polling place and have your name marked off, and this has been upheld by a number of legal decisions.
    Many good people died fighting for our rights to enjoy the freedoms we enjoy today.
    To waste that fundamental right and responsibility to participate in our Democracy (I feel) is a slap in the face to them. Many people in many countries would love to have the opportunity we have.

  12. @ John Bell: Very true – first past the post would have changed Australian political history, so would have proportional representation, as would have non-compulsory voting.
    Even a larger change (for the better) would result from elected members putting their constituents ahead of their party. More focus on doing what is best for the country and less on getting re-elected, in an ideal world these would be cause and effect.
    Putting their dog whistles away would also help, as would more heart and soul.

  13. @ Local1: I think you’ll find Charlie’s “we don’t have compulsory voting” was tongue in cheek in that you have to attend and at least pretend to vote. 🙂

  14. I recall seeing a ballot paper (when scrutineering) in which each square had a carefully drawn Michael Leunig type pretty flower.


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