By JULIUS DENNIS
With the current council’s term drawing a close, the back end of last night’s council meeting turned to what “the 13th” can do about skyrocketing domestic violence in Alice Springs.
Statistics released yesterday by the NT Police show that cases of domestic violence related assaults were up 31 per cent from 2019 to 2020, with a staggering 1113 incidents occurring.
Councillor Jamie de Brenni brought the statistics to the room’s attention, speaking passionately of how “domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, and I’m speaking on it as a personal issue”.
Cr de Brenni questioned what the council is doing as “one of the town’s biggest employers,” as well as using its status to promote exposure and education on the subject.
He went on to say that while domestic violence is a national issue, the Alice Springs Town Council “can develop and be a role model that other regional councils or councils around Australia might be able to go on the back of”.
Council’s support of Catholic Care NT’s “No More” program, which fights domestic, family and sexual violence, is not enough, he said, and the statistics bear that out.
Around the room most wanted to have a say, essentially agreeing something has to be done, but what?
Cr Marli Banks proposed a hard look in the mirror, stating “the most recent opportunity we had to support ‘No More’ was to put it on one of our murals, and we voted against it.
“So, I support moving forward with proactive suggestions and how we can work that. I hope leading into the next election that we’re not just grabbing at headline opportunities.”
Cr de Brenni was “pretty offended in regards to that accusation” but the near half an hour discussion he initiated lacked concrete ideas other than to get more public awareness of the matter, and possibly to work with the neighbouring councils, an idea that come from Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price as her only input of the evening.
DM Price came to council campaigning on it broadening its remit, including joining the battle on domestic violence, on which two years later she formulated a motion that council develop policy in the area.
Cr Eli Melky did suggest that council form a local board, “rather than coming back and supporting a third party or another party that’s on the campaign.
“This is the part where we make laws, and that’s what feeds into the system. So where we are all members at local government level we have an opportunity to invite unelected members into this authority or board or committee but I’m not suggesting committee because that doesn’t carry enough weight.”
By creating an authority that informs decision making, he suggested, the council could find a “solution straightaway that fits and covers what we really want”.
He went on to say that “what’s needed is actual action — resources and funding,” and that when people are affected by DV, they primarily need a safe place to go and that council could provide and fund that place.
“Let’s raise the ante,” he said, “we have the power to do so, we are lawmakers at local government level, we can go on to address and advocate that at Territory and Federal level.”
Before the subject landed in the hands of CEO Robert Jennings to look into what can be done, Cr Banks wanted to make the intentions of her earlier commentary clear: “We know we only have a few months left of this council, it’s really about making sure that we take positive actions where we can.”
Confidentiality sheds half light on ‘Hub’
Earlier in the night Cr Melky had looked to rescind a council decision made at the now contentious 7am-on-the-first-day-of-school-meeting where only five members were in attendance.
The decision was about a new library proposed for the Alice Plaza “Hub” development.
Councillors present that morning deemed that The Hub would not be a viable location for a new library, however, Cr Melky thought that the decision had been made too quickly and the council had “stopped talking about it prematurely.
“There are a great deal of benefits to having a library. What makes the best location is, in my opinion, yet to be decided. This motion knocks it out.”
The library proposal has been developed in the context of the CARGO initiative backed by council.
Much of the conversation — what was and wasn’t for public knowledge — was directed by nods from the CEO.
While initially the council had discussed the project confidentially at the proponent consortium’s request, the consortium has been speaking about it in the open, including making comment about the Town Council’s response.
“I am unaware after the consortium came out into the open, why we continue to stay confidential,” said Cr Melky last night.
Behind his wish to rescind the motion was his belief that “the library and the potential of it, a proposal that we’ve been approached with [that is] a $50 million potential investment in CBD, needs to be thoroughly fleshed out”.
Alas, it will not be fleshed out any further, the vote on his motion resulting in a four-four split in the absence of Councillor Glen Auricht. Crs Jimmy Cocking, Banks and Catherine Satour supported Cr Melky while Crs Paterson, Price and de Brenni as well as the deciding vote of Mayor Ryan turned down the motion.
Cr Paterson, while apologetic to Cr Melky’s cause, said that “the financials don’t stack up.”
That’s something that we are unable to test due to the project and the work surrounding it remaining confidential.
Parks, streets and that pesky media outlet
The consultation process on the renaming of Willshire Street was brought up by Cr Banks who wanted to “raise concerns” with the CEO “around how the consultation was conducted.
“I think that it wasn’t in line with the direct action or resolution of the council motion,” she said.
Readers will recall that council initially voted unanimously to support a name change (on the basis of Willshire having been involved in killings and sexual predation upon Aboriginal people) and asked for consultation on alternative names.
But when documents were provided to the residents of the street they included a question about whether they would support changing the name of their street, which those who came into the council chambers adamantly did not – resulting in an about-face by council.
Said Cr Banks: ”If we look at the actual consultation documentation that was provided to the report it was a bit more ambiguous, so I can understand the confusion of the residents, because it read [to] the residents, [that] we were asking, do they support a name change in the first instance, where our resolution actually spoke to the fact that we supported a name change,” said Cr Banks.
Cr Cocking, attending the meeting via Zoom, agreed that “process should match intention”.
Cr Banks worried that the messiness of the process would make it harder for future councils to tackle this problem should they choose to.
The CEO, for his part, recalled the process but “didn’t recall a mishap”.
Towards the very end of the night, the Alice Springs News and the stories of the Cassia Court imbroglio (see photos below with reader’s comment) involving multiple council staff attending to remove a small tree, and the recent comment piece by Dr Bernard Hickey on the implementation of the Tucker Park upgrade were raised for discussion.
Cr Cocking wanted to make sure that the council’s side of the story was being heard.
“Ultimately, there’s two sides to every story as it always is, and what are we doing to put forward our perspective on the stories?” he asked.
A simple way would be to respond to media queries on the subjects.
Later, when asked by Cr Banks about the events at Cassia Court, the CEO said that “the Cassia Court matter is not do with a complaint to the ombudsman,” and that “a potentially dangerous item was removed by officers.
“The danger was on our land, and so therefore we have the right to remove it and to be responsible.”
The report on the incident is, you guessed it, confidential.
Regarding the resignation of Kim Sutton, who was the Council’s Director of Community Development for a mere six months, the CEO read a statement from Ms Sutton, who apparently left her position “due to personal family reasons”.