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HomeIssue 23'Council needs more women and more younger people'

‘Council needs more women and more younger people’

By KIERAN FINNANE

Allison Bitar is a busy woman who wants to get busier: she’s putting her hand up for council election.

And you know what they say about busy women: when you want to get something done, ask one.

She and husband Nick own their own business – Loco Burrito in Todd Street – and share the care of their three children, the youngest of whom is three years old.

It is this mostly background that is driving her to be on council.

“Council needs more women and more younger people,” she says.

Being both, her presence on council would contribute to fairer representation: “Once more women are in the room, things even out a bit more.”

Her last few years have been really busy, “working and in the baby sphere”.

The latter shapes some of her practical suggestions for an incoming council: Alice Springs has a lot of playgrounds that are not shaded, which makes them unsuitable for use in the warm weather, even in the early morning.

“It would be great to have more of a lens on that and other things that affect young families.”

Unshaded playgrounds, a perennial issue in Alice Springs. Archive photo, supplied by Ruth Elvin, dates from 2015, when local residents planted 30 trees in the park.

I raise with her the particular issues within council for women and parents of younger children, brought to public attention by sitting councillor Marli Banks, now a mayoral contender: that is, bullying and exclusion

“There’s always room for improvement,” says Allison.

She hasn’t had direct experience of bullying in the workplace but “friends have and I’ve listened to their experiences. I’m going into this with eyes wide open, thanks to Marli Banks being so vocal.”

As for early morning council meetings – challenging for parents getting children off to school – she recognises the issue. In her own case, husband Nick could take charge of the children, but a single parent may not have that kind of backup. Council needs to be sensitive to that.

Apart from her own parenting and interest in the family business (she looks after its social media), Allison works full-time in the Office of Central Australia as a policy advisor.

She has qualifications in anthropology and was employed at the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) when she first came to Alice Springs, moving from Adelaide in 2002. She also has a graduate diploma in urban and regional planning and previously worked for the NT Government in town planning.

Allison Bitar in 2021. Campaign photo supplied.

Holding a government job would put her in an unusual position on council.

[Update] I previously reported that there is no-one in that position on the outgoing council, and that the closest is Glenn Auricht who had just retired when he sought election, although he continued to do some consultancy work for government during his term as councillor. I overlooked, as pointed out by a reader (see comments below), that Matt Paterson, an electrician by trade, is employed by the NT Government as a Prop­er­ty Con­tract Offi­cer.

Otherwise the 13th Council was dominated by people of a small business background (Marli Banks, Eli Melky, Jamie de Brenni, Damien Ryan). Jacinta Price went from running her own business to working for a privately funded think tank. Catherine Satour and Jimmy Cocking worked for NGOs.

Judging by the present mayoral field, this kind of profile – small business / NGO – will continue to dominate, and that has long been the case.

One reason for the absence of public service candidates could well be the constraints of holding a job in one level of government while trying to operate independently in another.

Allison places a strong emphasis on working together for the good of the community, and no doubt all candidates will say something similar and most in the community would support that as a broad proposition, both within council and across levels of government.

But relations between the 13th Council and the NT Government have been fraught, to say the least.

It will be a major challenge for the incoming council and mayor to try to reset that relationship.

Allison cites her experience with AAPA    coordinating with custodians, getting researchers out into field – as equipping her well for working as a team member (photo at top shows her at an AAPA staff workshop in Darwin).

Given her significant experience with Aboriginal people, I asked for her thoughts on council’s relationship with its Aboriginal constituents, which has been on a rocky road, though with some achievements, during the 13th Council.

She welcomed their decision to fly the Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill, but didn’t have further comment.

She has a particular interest in heritage and has served previously on the NT Heritage Council, as AAPA’s representative.

She spoke of council’s role in managing some of the town’s heritage assets, such as the Memorial Cemetery.

Memorial Cemetery in 2021, showing the grave of Albert Namatjira. Photo by Warwick Sellens, sourced from Google Maps.

“Council could do better at promoting these assets, as part of the wider story of Alice Springs / Mparntwe,” she said.

And what about Aboriginal heritage, I asked, thinking of council’s role in managing the river corridor, for example.

Aboriginal heritage is “protected under the NT Sacred Sites Act”, she said, mentioning the importance of council always having clearance certificates if they carry out works impacting on Aboriginal sites of significance.

Given her background in town planning, I was interested in her take on Alice Springs as an urban environment.

She spoke of the town as “beautiful”, even if some of its infrastructure is “aged”.

Fixing that is a matter of “getting sensible, simple things done”, including provision of more shade in the CBD, and upgrading the skate park.

“If a council asset is broken, it needs to be fixed, especially if it’s something for the youth of Alice Springs.”

She previously served on council’s Public Art Advisory Committee, during the time that the perentie sculpture was installed on the Wills Terrace / Sturt Terrace roundabout, public art was commissioned for the non-denominational chapel at the cemetery, and interpretive signage installed relating to the public art in Todd Street North – all worthwhile enhancements.

Dan Murphy’s sculpted perentie standing guard at the entrance to Eastside. 2015 photo from our archive.

Council has limited powers in bigger picture town planning – has she thoughts about that?

She referred to the potential for advocacy by council’s nominee to the Development Consent Authority.

On one of the major issues confronting the town, what has come to be termed “community safety”, she spoke of “working with the government of the day to advocate for better outcomes”.

This could hardly be more broad brush, but she was more specific on the necessity for council to also work with the business community to develop a “stronger night-time economy”.

She said council itself could think about staying open into the evening, to allow people who can’t get away during the day to attend to council business then.

So what would be her number one priority?

“Getting a council that works together and advocates for the entire community,” she said, “that carries out small upgrades and maintenance, things that can realistically get done in a term of council.

“Make the town a little bit better to attract people” – as she was almost two decades ago, when she found a “tiny little town middle of nowhere” with so much to offer.  She mentioned the Araluen Arts Centre – “The Australian Ballet comes through there!” – the cinemas, the aquatic centre, not to mention the great welcoming community.

 

Last updated: Monday 19 July 2021, 11.35am

2 COMMENTS

  1. As far as councillors holding a government job, [what is the position of] Matt Paterson [who is] listed on the council website [employed by] NT Gov­ern­ment as “a Prop­er­ty Con­tract Offi­cer”?

  2. @Matt Fan: You’re right. Apologies for this error of fact. I will draw attention to this within the article. However, it does not alter my overall point about the dominance of candidates from small business and NGO backgrounds.

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