By OSCAR PERRI
The Alice Springs Town Council already has enough major projects on the table, according mayoral candidate Marli Banks, who says she would rather see the council getting better at meeting its current obligations to the community than adding more to the pile.
She says projects that already have an allocated budget, and have been long discussed by the 13th Council, include the National Aboriginal Art Gallery, the library redevelopment, CBD revitalisation, Kwatja Play Space, Youth Space and the Skate Park.
They have “stagnated” due to a deteriorated relationship between Council and the Northern Territory Government.
“We’re limited with our funding, so it’s really important to not promise the world and beyond to our ratepayers,” says Cr Banks.
“The majority of money that comes to council is ratepayer money,” says Cr Banks.
“We then have projects that get funded through grants, and the majority of those grants come through the support of the NT or Federal Government. Those relationships are really critical.
“It’s clear that there is not enough communication between the NT and the Council at the moment, and we need to improve that.”
Meanwhile Cr Banks says the council should commit funding to develop a regional master plan to identify the future needs of the town, with the expectation that it will take around two years at an estimated cost of $500,000.
She says the work should be done by a full-time “external independent facilitator, to really capture the voice of the community, uninfluenced and unbiased.
“Although planning falls under the purview of the CEO, developing such a full scope master plan is too big a project for the CEO to be able to take on as well as run a council at the same time.
“This may look like a big investment, but it’s a short-term investment for a long term vision.
“A regional plan will set the direction for future planning and development in our town and region, focusing on health, education, resources, economic and tourism sectors.”
Cr Banks says the success of similar plans in other areas, such as Western Sydney, Cairns and throughout South Australia, give a starting point to work from.
“We can look to research, best practices, and lessons learned by these other regions in our process.”
Cr Banks describes her time in the 13th Council as a “constant battle”, having been bullied and intimidated.
She had ideas ignored and then “plagiarised” over the last four years.
She says she is standing for election to ensure that this behaviour is not continued into the next council: Council needs to better hold itself to account,
with an increase in transparency.
Cr Banks specifically says having fewer confidential discussions and more information flowing from the Mayor and CEO to councillors about their communication with the NT Government and other stakeholders would be a good place to start.
Moving away from the “fractured and factional” relationships between elected members that have become a staple of the 13th Council is dependent on a cultural change in the chamber through “mature leadership” from the incoming Mayor, she says.
“We can improve. We need to improve. The community expects that we improve.
“We’ve got every rule under the sun. Now [it’s time to make] sure that leaders actually represent the policies and frameworks that have been put in place to ensure that we have healthy and safe neighbourhoods and workplaces.
“Instead of getting bogged down in creating more policies around more rules that then don’t get upheld, we actually need to start upholding those morals.”
Cr Banks has form for holding behaviour in council to account. Earlier in the year she made a public statement to call out bullying behaviours that she felt subjected to over her time on council.
“Currently, there is a lot of disrespectful behaviour in the council chambers, which is not something that I will tolerate as the chair. It’s not my style.”
A significant amount of council business is currently being discussed behind closed doors in confidential meetings, a practice which needs to be reeled in, according to Cr Banks.
At times, this lack of transparency has left her feeling “hamstrung” in her ability to answer questions from the public and media, giving controversial staffing issues at the library and the Traditional Owner patrol as examples.
“It looks foolish when I’m not able to answer questions because of this.
“The Mayor is privy to much more information than the rest of us, is a part of many more conversations, and so we have to rely upon that to filter back.
“People speak with the mayor with the belief that it will filter through into Council process, but that is not really getting through.
“In some instances, the knowledge that I have is probably as much knowledge as the public has.”
Cr Banks says council needs to play a more active role in addressing community safety in Alice Springs, but again needs to follow through on the commitments they have already made on the issue.
“We need to re-start a lot of conversations to work on this.
“Initially, this is just initiating and facilitating discussions with stakeholders and the community, but we also need to complete projects we’ve already actioned.”
PHOTO at top: (Left to right) Eliza Dennison, Maringka Abbott, Marli Banks, Leo Abbott,