By OSCAR PERRI
Former Deputy Mayor and local conservative figure Steve Brown says the “racial divide” in town is his key concern, as his mayoral campaign heats up with the election drawing closer.
After sitting out the last council election due to poor health, the “closure” of Mount Gillen late last year served as his motivation to try and re-enter council. The decision to close the hiking trail was “another sign of the division absolutely exacerbating the hostility and the division”.
He says a negotiation process between traditional owners and non-Aboriginal locals to find a solution that “works for everybody” would go a long way to lessen tensions in the town.
Mr Brown (at left), during his time as a town councillor, with Cr Jamie de Brenni, who he says will get his preference in the August election.
This divide sits head and shoulders above all other issues in Alice Springs, according to Mr Brown, who says that issues with the youth, crime, employment and tourism that the town is facing all stem from it.
“These are the things that are really killing this town. People are leaving it constantly because of fear because they can’t sleep at night.
“They’ve got no faith, they won’t go out because they don’t want the car smashed up, they don’t want themselves smashed up. So clearly the future of the town absolutely depends on bringing an end to that kind of thing.
“If I get to be mayor what I’ll be concentrating on is that kind of stuff, it is absolutely about getting this community to re-socialise, talking to each other again, working together again.”
Mr Brown says that building a 24/7 Youth Center in town is “essential” to closing the divide and lowering youth crime. He has been lobbying for the project in various forms for years, including a major push by him and others in 2018, though nothing has yet eventuated.
He says that the project will cost $30m to $40m, which he plans to fund through a “regional deal”, similar to the Barkly Regional Real which the Federal and Territory Governments committed to in 2019.
Mr Brown says he plans to host events for the “foundational families” of Alice Springs, in order to get their heads together and work on re-socialising the town and creating a better relationship with council.
Aside from this, most of the plans mentioned are ones that he has been trying to make happen for a long time, like the “Port Augusta solution”, the youth centre and a youth bush camp, and a facility at the entrance to town for visitors to the town to use. These are strikingly similar to a list that he brought to council nearly 10 years ago, which failed to get support from elected members.
Before his time in council, Mr Brown was involved in starting the controversial citizens group Action for Alice which was formed in 2011 as a response to rampant crime rates, taking action through street patrols, advertising campaigns and lobbying government.
Mr Brown as candidate for the Assembly seat of Araluen in the 2016 election, with then Chief Minister Adam Giles. Mr Brown lost to independent Robyn Lambley.
One of the ads, which was broadcast on TV by Imparja came under heat after a complaint was made to the Australian Human Rights Commission that it was racist towards Aboriginal people.
Mr Brown defended the ad on ABC radio, but the group later apologised for it after negotiations with the complainant. He says that the group was not aimed at addressing the town’s racial divide, but “more about hell-for-leather law and order.
“It takes a while for people to understand what the real issues are, people come into this usually very angry. If you walk around the streets now and ask people what they think of the situation, you’ll find a lot of very angry people.
“If it’s white people they’re angry with Aboriginal people and if it’s Aboriginal people they’re angry with white people.”
Mr Brown says he is “sick of the complete and utter lack of progress” being made by the current council.
He says the reason for this is an abundance of bureaucracy and a failing of councillors to work together. He points to the previous council, which he was a member of, as an example of a much more cooperative group than the current council – aside from fellow mayoral candidate and current councillor Eli Melky, for whom Mr Brown repeatedly expresses his dislike.
“I don’t usually get really insulting about people, but he’s a dead set moron and I will never work with him.”
Mr Brown says that he has been “disgusted” watching the way council has dropped the ball in regards to advocating for the town, and needs to shift focus away from just providing “the three r’s” – roads, rates and rubbish. And according to Mr Brown the solution to that is to cut through the bureaucracy and change the culture of the council chambers.
“The person who speaks for the town is the mayor.
“If you’re not out there spruiking and speaking out for your town, then who does it?
“And if no one’s doing it, when the government looks in our direction, whether it be about housing or crime or anything else, if council’s not firmly in its sight, if it hasn’t been firmly in their ear, then they don’t come in with the level of relevance that it needs.”
The News asked Mr Brown before he was interviewed to provide the five most important projects or initiatives that he will bring to council if elected, as well as information on how they will be funded, evidence and public interest to support them and how long it would take.
He said that he is still preparing his policy, but addressing the “racial divide” is the key priority.
Although nominations do not officially open until July 16, Mr Brown says that he will be giving his first preference to Jamie de Brenni, with Cr Melky of course at the bottom of the list.
PHOTO at top: Mr Brown with prominent social activist Graham Ross in 2007, west of Alice Springs, where they planned a youth camp. It has not become reality.
UPDATE July 10 at 1pm
Mr Brown will also be contesting the election for Councillor.