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HomeIssue 24Mayor candidate Cocking: masterplan idea but no costed projects

Mayor candidate Cocking: masterplan idea but no costed projects

By OSCAR PERRI

Mayoral candidate and current Councillor Jimmy Cocking has a vision for Alice Springs to become a “vibrant and safe cosmopolitan regional capital”, but first council needs to restore its relationship with the town.

If elected, Cr Cocking says his priority will be to engage a diverse range of groups and organisations that make up the town, as well as the NT government, to continue his efforts to create a “master plan” to direct the coming decades for Alice Springs.

Despite requests from the Alice Springs News for detail and corroboration of his claims Cr Cocking responded mostly with generalities.

In our request for an interview we asked him, as we have all candidates, to provide, in each case: Where did he get the idea from? What does the public think about it? Cost and budget? Schedule – how long will it take? Proof it will work (e.g. research of similar efforts elsewhere, or reliable experts, preferably people who can be named, who have given it their tick).

How will it be handled by the council, especially given the frequent counter-productive five-four split in the past?

How should the council act as an advocate for the town, vis-a-vis governments and big investors? How will you be allocating your preferences?

Cr Cocking says the master plan will be a six to 12 month process at a cost of around $250,000, for a yet to be established dedicated regional development unit to develop the plan, with the goal of being ready to go in time for the next budget.

He says the quarter million figure is based on an earlier proposal for a master plan, which was intended to be partially picked up by the NT Government.

“At the moment, we don’t have a vision, and we don’t have a master plan for the town, which brings together all the different areas from our economic development to our social needs.

“If we don’t get that plan right, if we don’t get the buy-in [from stakeholders and the community], then we’re going to continue on with this town being led by pet projects and not developing in a cohesive framework that brings the community along with us.”

Cr Cocking says he has been in conversation with NT Government representatives and Centrecorp (which has the Central Land Council, Aboriginal Congress and Tangentyere as shareholders), whom he identifies as key stakeholders, and expects them to be at the table when the time comes.

He is yet to speak with Tangentyere Council, Lhere Artepe Council, Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Central Australia and other groups that he says will need to be a part of the process to develop a successful master plan.

From conversations with members of the general public, Cr Cocking has seen an appetite for a strong sense of direction from the next council. He says they currently see council as “rudderless”.

According to Cr Cocking, the Mayor’s role in this is to bring stakeholders to the table, ensuring that all voices are heard and encouraging collaboration.

He doesn’t have any firm figures for costing on any of the projects suggested to bring to the table, saying that the mayor and elected members’ role is to facilitate rather than instigate.

“That’s what we pay Council staff for, anything that I put forward is going to have to go through Council anyway.

“The idea is to have a range of shovel ready projects, so when the opportunities come for grants from the Federal government, or potential investment opportunities arise, we’re ready for them.

“We can go along and have a real sense of what the town needs, whether it’s a youth centre, upgrades to the hospital, flood mitigation, a new skate park, library expansion, how the national Aboriginal Art Gallery fits into all of this, how we get accommodation and purpose built transitional accommodation.

“This would be something that would set us up for the next 10, possibly even 20 years, so that everybody who lives here has a clear sense of where we’re going, and we can identify those priorities and needs, and be able to direct that investment.”

He says it is important that recognition of Arrente people is “permeated” throughout the plan as well as a focus “to invest in a cleaner, safer future with renewable energy, we’ve got to reduce that waste going to landfill. And we’ve also got to make sure that we’re prepared to meet the challenge of climate change.”

He does not explain what he means by “permeate” except to say he wants an Arrernte cultural advisory committee and a multicultural advisory committee.

In 2017 a then newly elected Cr Cocking introduced a motion to initiate work with the NT Government on a master plan for Alice Springs which he had promised to do in the lead up to the previous election.

Since then, there’s been little movement in regards to bringing the plan to life. In 2018 council moved to approach the NT Government for support, and a 13 page briefing document was developed to assist but little came of it.

The arrival of Robert Jennings as CEO had hopes raised again for the master plan, but since there has been no more than update requests or a mention in council chamber discussions.

Revitalising the CBD is high on Cr Cocking’s list of needs for Alice. He wants council to work to open currently vacant shops up for business again, encouraged by rates or rental incentives from council, and introducing shade structures and “immersive art installations”.

He says: “The place is looking tired, we need to work with the local businesses there as well to ensure that we’ve got a vibrant CBD.

“But we need to make sure that our suburbs are also benefiting through that process, whether that’s more trees or cleaner streets and parks, more shade, better playgrounds.”

Cr Cocking says that the council has enough cash in the bank “to get started with some of the smaller projects and the master plan,” but will need to look to Territory or Federal Government to finance bigger projects.

This month Cr Cocking stepped down as CEO of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, a role he has been in for the 13 years he’s lived in Alice, to focus on his election campaign and listen to Alice Springs residents on what they want to see from council.

Integral to an effective council is good lines of communication with the people, and Mr Cocking says he has heard that council needs to be better in this regard by seeking contact with residents rather than waiting for them to bring their issues to council.

The loss of the Centralian Advocate as the town’s last print newspaper significantly impacted council’s community engagement, claims Mr Cocking, and council have not found new ways to reach the public since.

“A lot of people I’ve spoken to have also expressed the concern that they’re not finding out about these things, because there isn’t a local newspaper anymore.

“Rather than expecting people to come to our website or see a Facebook post from Council, we need to look at ways in which we can better engage with people.

“Otherwise, we miss out on the really valuable knowledge and wisdom that comes from our community.”

Alice Springs News editor Erwin Chlanda says: “Surely Cr Cocking has informed his unnamed sources about the role of the News in the community, that we have a fully searchable story archive of seven million words, including detailed coverage of the Town Council over more than 26 years so far.

“Does he ignore the 26,000 published comments from our readers, and the professional news coverage of his own activities within the council and elsewhere?

“In the past 10 years the Council has boycotted the locally owned and operated News, spending ratepayers’ money on advertising in the overseas owned Murdoch Advocate, violating the Council’s own purchasing policy,” says editor Chlanda.

“We’ve made comprehensive submissions on these issues and Cr Cocking should be fully aware of them. He shares responsibility as an elected member.”

Cr Cocking says one solution is the formation of “hyper local” resident groups to bring the needs of small areas around town to the attention of council and working with a wide range of groups and organisations to support better community engagement.

Cr Cocking says if elected he will be “a listening mayor”.

Among other issues he’s already heard a need for more public toilets, a bigger meeting space than the Andy McNeill Room, an increase in bike services, and a need to address illegal dumping and recycling, and to advocate for a solution to the lack of affordable housing in Alice Springs.

He provided no costings, even ball park, of any of these measures.

He says the Mayor’s job in fixing these problems is to hear what the community wants and make sure the right people are involved and working well to find a solution.

“One of the key things that I’ve got to offer is that I know how to do collaboration. I know how to get groups working together. And I know how to get the best out of a group of people.

“Investment needs a long term outlook. And so we’re looking at Federal government investment projects or laying down plans to be able to demonstrate to private investments that we’re ready for those developments.”

 

UPDATE July 31, 7.20am

Cr Cocking has informed us that he did not say the Alice Springs Town Council is rudderless, but that the Alice Springs town is. We regret the error.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Suddenly the dreadlocks are gone! Well, let’s face it, not a good look for an aspiring Mayor. Do the people of Alice want the East Side alternative clique calling the shots?

  2. What a breath of fresh air.
    A candidate resisting the easy temptation to make big unfunded promises!
    A candidate who is leading by building community consensus!
    Jimmy as Mayor of Alice Springs is the change this town needs.
    I have tended to be conservative my whole life but I’m now convinced Jimmy is the centre voice we need.
    [ED: As the report makes it clear, we’re not asking candidates to proposed unfunded promises. In the contrary, we’re asking them to state by whom their proposals are funded and what are the costs.]

  3. For all his faults, Damien Ryan knew that politics in our town is very much the art of the attainable.
    He didn’t expect warring factional interests, of which there are many, to reach a consensus.
    In fact, he often avoided the ugliness of divisive politics that can arise from attempts to get agreement from parties that will never, ever, agree on anything.
    Ryan kept in touch with the business end of town and focused on making good decisions that would stand the test of time.
    Once he had made a decision he toughed it out, he stuck to his guns when the objections rolled in.
    More often than not he did make reasonable decisions and became a long term Mayor.
    Now we have a candidate that seeks to lead by building community consensus.
    I can hear Damien chuckle “good luck with that, Jimmy.”

  4. @ Erwin: I find it somewhat disingenuous of you to be demanding project costings of a candidate when we, as a community, have not even agreed upon what actions are necessary to address the many cultural, social, environmental and economic problems facing our town.
    It’s like expecting an architect to provide a building’s cost at the very beginning of client consultation, before that client’s needs and wishes have been determined and a design worked out. That is: not worth the paper it’s written on.
    Jimmy proposes a collaborative approach that will involve the community, that taps into the high levels of expertise and experience that we have in this town, in reaching consensus and developing the vision / roadmap / plan (call it what you will), by which projects are then able to be defined, costed, and potential funding sources identified.
    The specific, detailed projects will become obvious after that consultation, not before.
    This story brought back echoes for me of Damien’s often-used discussion stopper: “Who’s going to pay for it?”
    Like Andrew Sutherland, I welcome Jimmy’s approach over that of over-confident candidates who believe they have all the answers and ride roughshod over the community they claim to “serve”.
    We will all need to be more involved and pro-active if we want to see our town thrive and I for one will be voting for change, since “business as usual” has been more than given its chance and failed.
    I believe Jimmy leadership skills, his ability to see the bigger picture and his proven track record as head of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), will see this town changed for the better. He has my vote.

  5. @ Domenico: Jimmy, like all the elected council members, had four years to seek public agreement “upon what actions are necessary to address the many cultural, social, environmental and economic problems facing our town”.
    He could then have tapped “into the high levels of expertise and experience that we have in this town, in reaching consensus and developing the vision / roadmap / plan by which projects are then able to be defined, costed, and potential funding sources identified”.
    That would have put Jimmy into a position of placing before the voters carefully developed proposals, ahead of the elections, rather than lightbulb moments that are soon forgotten by those meant to be serving the community.
    And it would give you the chance of knowing prior to casting your vote what the change is that you are voting for.
    The Alice Springs News stands by its editorial policy of reporting facts, not furphies.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  6. @ Domenico: Given that Jimmy does not offer any insights into how he will achieve community consensus it’s fair enough to look for clues in his track record over the past four years.
    Jimmy was one of the first of our elected representatives to support the introduction of strong boundaries that protect council from public scrutiny.
    Once the CEO declares a matter “operational” our representatives cannot discuss it.
    So called “operational confidentiality” now embraces just about everything.
    Jimmy also supported cutting down on Steering Committee meetings, a measure Eli Melky opposed on the grounds that it undermined “transparent democratic local governance”.
    Jimmy argued it was excessive reporting.
    Nor has Jimmy stood up for ratepayers.
    For example, where was he when our library staff were “forced out of employment”, as they claim.
    Jimmy has big plans but I just can’t see the values of collaboration, openness and transparency in the way he has operated over the past four years.
    Nor do I see evidence of his courage to stand up for what is right.
    In my opinion, Jimmy has not demonstrated that he can deliver on his promises.

  7. Councillors are elected to provide information to the community about the policies and decisions of council and the community relays its desires, concerns and opinions to the council through its members.
    I had at two occasions expressed my concerns to Jimmy:
    [1] The blocked footpaths of Brown / Priest Streets making impossible for prams, toddlers, wheelchairs to use. At the time I was walking with four children under four years of age.
    [2] Council gardeners destroying native plants growing naturally on the footpaths feeding pigeons and galahs.
    No results and no contact with me for a follow up.
    So in my opinion, like Ralph Folds observes, Jimmy has not demonstrated that he can deliver on his promises.

  8. To Erwin, Kieran and the staff of Alice Springs News:
    I acknowledge the role Alice Springs News plays in our town’s affairs. I appreciate the coverage the Alice Springs News team has given, over many years, to issues and stories that are close to our town’s heart. Your work, and that of your contributors, illuminates our town, more often than not, for the better.
    I do however reserve the right to disagree with your editorial positions at times.
    Having been on the Council Executive for three of the four years of this term I am well across the strategy, finances and operation of Council.
    I am aware of the power dynamics at play throughout Council processes. The simple reality is that a road-map to 2030 (and beyond) will help focus the direction of Council and other major stakeholders in Alice Springs and the region. It will better leverage existing capacity, capabilities and resources to deliver outcomes that we need.
    I welcome the “shaking of the tree of ideas” that occurs at election time in Alice Springs, and I acknowledge the format of your “Idea-Source-Budget-Schedule-Proof” request would seem a reasonable approach to “sorting the fruit from falling leaves”.
    A co-designed town plan and vision is a tried and proven process throughout the world as a means to focus effort and resources to deliver better outcomes. A business plan sets the direction of a business – and the best ones include all levels of the organisation.
    In the same vein, a town plan that includes as many stakeholders as we possibly can will give us something to focus on – and enable us to hold each other to account to deliver on it.
    I appreciate that the Alice Springs News will be giving all Mayoral aspirants similar editorial treatment as regards their fully costed policies or lack thereof.
    In the meantime, I would ask your readers to appreciate that I’ve sat patiently, as an independent, outside any power block, giving consideration to what I would do differently as Mayor of this town.
    I have chosen my timing carefully, with a view to providing a different type of leadership. A type of leadership I strongly believe this town needs at this time.
    As such, I will continue to clearly state that my Mayoral candidacy is not about big new $ promises. My Mayoral candidacy is about the Council and the rest of the town working better, together.
    This town needs a plan and I am the Mayor to deliver it, working closely with all parts of our diverse community.
    For those of you out there I’ve not yet spoken to, send me a message or give me a call.
    Regards, Jimmy Cocking
    Mayoral Candidate

  9. To “Jon”:
    Damien Ryan has given a significant portion of his life in service to this town and his legacy will be respected if I am elected Mayor.
    Indeed, I will endeavour to learn from and take on the best aspects of Damien’s mayorship whilst clearly articulating my points of difference and encouraging others to see the value in other styles of leadership.
    As an example, I disagree with the limitations your comment insinuates on the “art of the attainable”. Yes, I am well aware of the challenges of bringing the town together and dealing with some of the big picture challenges for our future.
    But rather than throwing shade from the sidelines I’m putting myself forward to be Mayor of Alice Springs.
    And so, I’ve spent recent months meeting with everyone I can. This includes key industry and business leaders. It includes Indigenous leaders. This includes families and individuals from all suburbs and all the different mini-communities we have in this town.
    I strongly believe this community is ready for a new approach. I strongly believe this community is ready to do the challenging but rewarding work to co-create a vision for our town’s next era.
    Finally, I’m pleased to let you know I met with Damien last week. We had a respectful chat and talked about many things. I am focused on working with everyone, for everyone.
    Regards, Jimmy Cocking
    Mayoral Candidate

  10. To Ralph Folds: I am happy to stand by my record but your representation of this matter is not accurate.
    I have not been in a “voting block” or in “control” of Council decision making, but I have always been an active and respectful contributor whenever an issue is debated. I stand by my integrity and my approach.
    I don’t expect to receive every vote at the next election. But I will stand by my policy of respectful interaction with all members of our town – even those I may disagree with – and will continue to present a positive, inclusive vision for this town’s future.
    Regards, Jimmy Cocking, Mayoral Candidate.

  11. Hi Evelyn:
    1. I have specifically raised this issue on your behalf with Council. I’m sorry to hear you haven’t had an update about this from a member of staff. It’s my understanding that progress is being made. I am happy to chase this up for you.
    2. Clean and maintained verges are an issue close to my heart. I love to see active participation of residents in maintaining their verge and beautifying our town. I’m keen to push for more native verges, and hard rubbish collection too. I look forward to updating you on developments in this area soon.
    Regards, Jimmy Cocking, Mayoral Candidate.

  12. Jimmy Cocking claims that elected members are the decision makers at the council.
    He tells CEO Jennings what to do, not the other way around and the Local Government Act backs ratepayer elected Councillor control.
    Jimmy claims he is perfectly placed to follow up and progress ratepayer’s concerns.
    Reality:
    Response to ratepayer (my own) street tree concern is that while the issue may be important to me, the council, of which he is a team member, is busy.
    Second response is that the matter is “operational” so he cannot interfere with council: “We have to wait to see where it lands.”
    Third response is that he has made sure that CEO Jennings is aware of the issue i.e. that’s all he can do.
    Evelyn, when Jimmy says he has specifically raised an issue with Council that’s what he means.
    CEO Jennings makes the decisions, as a team player Jimmy backs them right or wrong.

  13. Thank you Jimmy, but I felt you could have contacted me to asked if someone had talked to me on these issues.

  14. Ralph, thank you for your good explanation. I think you are correct because my two issues are still the same, contrary to what Jimmy said.
    As I raised the issues to him. He should have give me the answer. I have been long enough in Alice to know that if I want to talk to a ranger and the head gardener, I can, but I simply believed that it was part of the duties of a councillor.

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