By ERWIN CHLANDA
Politics and voting blocks would be out and partnerships would be in if he gets to be Mayor, says Patrick Bedford, who owns a growing tourism operation.
And while many have given up hope for Todd Mall ever returning to be a well-used community asset, he wants to go all out to “bring life to it”.
All that at a time when at long last some real money is being spent in the West MacDonnells where the G’day Group – reportedly flush with cash from domestic travellers – has added the Glen Helen Lodge to its 300 properties around the nation.
Mr Bedford says right now the Mall seems to be going the other way: Alice Plaza tenants are getting tired of losing money, subsidising the jointly funded food store, put there under a deal with Target, which would close if the food store did.
Such a closure would presumably be a blow to the Alice Plaza “hub” proposal about which not much has been heard since February.
The Irish-born self-made entrepreneur, now owning one of the three biggest local tour businesses, wants a playground and a splash park. Not near the mall, in it. “For tourists and locals to enjoy the cafes or restaurants.”
As the chairman of Tourism Central Australia (TCA) – with a membership of 432 businesses, translating into thousands of people – has he spoken to the landlords?
“No, I haven’t done any deep diving in that.”
A rent free period granted by the owners and council rates holidays could be amongst the incentives to encourage businesses back. The mall “looks terrible. It looks absolutely terrible”.
He provided no figures on the cost to council of such an incentive program.
At the southern end, the Gem Cave, an iconic business since the 1960s, is closing, he says, “because the rent’s gone up again”.
He says: “Look at all the empty shops. Where is the conversation with the property owners. Some have been closed three or four years. Why has the council not facilitated this conversation? What are they developing? What’s the plan here?”
Mr Bedford makes it clear he has no political affiliations and would not look kindly at politics invading the 14th Council as it has the 13th.
He has a strong commitment to the community. For example, he heads up the Emu Run Foundation.
He and his staff each year put together Christmas hampers and gifts for kids for “a handful of families we know to be in financial difficulty” and drop them ‘round without a great deal of ceremony.
Before Covid Mr Bedford belonged to a group of bicycle riders raising money for seven orphanages in Thailand.
“Partnerships, not politics” is his motto.
Does he have agreements, for example, to align with a group of five like-minded councillors, to be able to win support for initiatives.
BEDFORD: It’s about having relationships with all of the members. You can’t go in there saying I’m going to be with these guys. That’s not what it’s about.
NEWS: Block voting happened frequently in the 13th Council.
BEDFORD: If those councillors are elected back in, then that’s the fault of the town. We need a change of direction and a more progressive council.
He says if council wants to be part of the solution it needs to have a great relationship with the governments, Federal and NT.
“I have a great relationship with the NT Government as the chairman of TCA.”
Is Central Australia being neglected by the NT Government?
“Not neglected but I think the relationship is not in a good spot. The flow of conversation needs to be improved a lot. Bring them to the table, not just the NTG but the Federal Government as well.”
Why would the Federal Government sit down with us? The NT is just one percent of Australia’s population.
“Well, they put a lot of money in here.”
The three governments need to co-ordinate their spending, including the responses to juvenile crime.
“I don’t think a curfew is the answer. There is a generational problem happening in our town.
“The community needs to be at the table. It’s our problem, not theirs. And race doesn’t come into it. What’s the issues? It’s kids. They need love and support, and a place where they can feel safe. It needs to start with the kids and the families. We need to facilitate these questions to bring our community together.”
Mr Bedford raises the TV coverage by A Current Affair bringing the town into “disrepute”, saying that some kids have to be put into juvenile detention “but that’s a small percentage, I believe, out of what’s going on.
“Most kids just want to be loved, feel safe, supported, mentored, given a feed at night time, taken home, and if there are issues at home the government needs to facilitate that.”
Should the council be doing any of those things?
“I think they should be involved in the discussion.”
NEWS: Should they actually be doing it or merely discussing it?
BEDFORD: There is always discussion. I am for outcomes. In 16 years my business grew from a small one to now being among the three biggest tour operations in Alice Springs. (These include King and ATG.)
NEWS: What should the council be doing about the small number of kids who are causing a big amount of trouble?
BEDFORD: Facilitate conversation.
NEWS: Being at the table doesn’t necessarily fix the problem. What should the council be doing?
BEDFORD: Mapping out the resources, looking at the causes of antisocial behaviour. Look at the families. How do we support them to do better. There may be 10 organisations getting funding. For example, if only four are doing a good job, the other six either need to improve what they are doing or the money goes to the organisations which are doing the job really well. The crime statistics are going up every year.
NEWS: As the TCA chairman you could have brought people together.
BEDFORD: I’ve asked and asked and asked. It’s been “in work” was all I was told. It’s been in work.
Mr Bedford, dealing with complaints that tourists’ cars and vans are being damaged, says he’s been in touch with the new police commander in town: “He’s doing a good job, he’s got an uphill struggle. When he came to town he didn’t understand what are the resources across the region. He had to break down barriers for organisations to come in, such as housing and family, so we can share what’s going on.
“When you had organisations in their own silos for so long they don’t want to be involved in the bigger picture. That may bring the scrutiny onto them.
Mr Bedford met with Minster Manison and the Chief Minister: “I was saying we need to look at these resources and map them out, please.
“In the Barkly they have done that, with the Barkly Regional Deal, to see where the money is going.”
NEWS: Why did it not happen here?
BEDFORD: It hadn’t been called for.
NEWS: Should you have called for it?
BEDFORD: I have called for it. Where is the money going? Who is it going to? And what kind of returns are coming back on that. Is it actually getting penetration?
NEWS: What was the response?
BEDFORD: It’s in transit. It’s in progress. They are starting to work on it.
NEWS: Is there a result now?
BEDFORD: Not yet. That is why I’m standing for Council. The money is there. Has been there for years. That’s the issue. And when there is antisocial stuff more money is being put into it. But we don’t know the outcome. And that’s the question I am asking. Don’t spend more money on police because police does not help. They are good at what they do. But it’s bandaiding the bigger issue. When the weather gets cold, things die down, it looks like it’s fine. And it goes up again coming into summer. We all know the cycle.
NEWS: What power does the council have to make something happen? On the face of it they are nine elected members. The government has one this side of Katherine, Minister Chansey Paech. Can you tell the Chief Minister what to do?
BEDFORD: You can’t tell them what to do. You can’t dictate. Relationship is about let’s have an open discussion and what is the outcome.
NEWS: How assertive can the council be?
BEDFORD: They can lobby quite strongly. That’s what councillors do.
NEWS: Have you observed the 13th Council being assertive?
BEDFORD: Not so much, over the years. As a TCA board member and now as the chairman I lobby for the membership’s needs and as of now they are really struggling, not all the industry, certain sectors are again, after 12 months of no income in 2020/21.
NEWS: About assertiveness towards the government, on a scale of 10: Where is the council now and where should it be?
BEDFORD: I’m not sure where it is now but it needs to be … assertiveness is a very strong word. For me it’s about relationships. Partnerships not politics. Building that bridge to be sure we get those outcomes.
One outcome should be recycling: “I don’t understand why we don’t have a kerbside recycling bins in this day and age.”
Mr Bedford understands the cost to be $90 a year to the ratepayer: “Stuff that used to be recycled years ago now goes in the bin.”
PHOTO at top: Mr Bedford with wife Alicja and kids Isabella (13), Oliver (11), Aaron (8) and Harrison (5).