By JULIUS DENNIS
Blair McFarland came into the mayoral field late but says his experience working with the young people of Central Australia, the often pointed to perpetrators of crime, puts him in a unique situation to fix the problem.
“An expert in a field is defined as someone who has spent 20,000 hours doing it. I’ve spent about 60,000 hours, so I know what I am talking about,” he says.
“With all respect to the other candidates, I don’t think that any of them have got the sort of background that I’ve got and the insight that that background gives me into what’s going on and what to do about it.”
The Blair for Mayor campaign will be built on this experience. For those who are reaching for where they have heard the name, Mr McFarland and the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS), of which he is the Co-Manager of Operations, were the driving force behind bringing the low-aromatic fuel Opal to prominence in Central Australia.
It was the move that stemmed the petrol sniffing endemic across the Territory.
Mr McFarland (at right, with trademark blue Akubra) believes that “criminology 101” is the answer at the core of the crime problem in Alice Springs, and it’s not more cops and more arrests.
“Improve the safety of the town by improving the quality of life of poor people.
“Poor people commit crime partly because they have nothing to lose, partly because of anger, and their impoverishment.”
To those who see “the dole” as an easy ride, or think that people on Centrelink are merely there out of laziness, Mr McFarland says they’re using a mentality of full employment that was lost in the 1970s.
“There’s three people applying for every job across Australia, so people remember that era, and sort of use that era to judge this era, but that’s not the way it is anymore.
“Anybody who has bumped up against Centrelink knows the level of evidence you need to access any benefits there, and it’s usually well beyond what most Indigenous people can do.
“Consequently, that’s why half the Indigenous people you see walking around are on no income.”
By his estimation, $260m is lost to the NT economy as a result of Indigenous people not receiving government payments when they should be.
Mr McFarland says that to help reduce crime and uplift the impoverished, the Commonwealth must be held to account “for the failure of their income security system”, but things can be done to help that failure in Central Australia through advocacy and action.
The candidate says one “gaping need” is for a “secure data facility” that can hold people’s identification paperwork necessary for dealing with Centrelink.
Mr McFarland sees this as an extension of the library, something that would streamline workload of caseworkers and individuals when applying for payments and restrict the problem of multiple people relying on one person’s government payments.
He says the concept that a majority of Indigenous people in remote communities (including Alice) are on the dole is untrue, an argument he backs up with a supporting graph *).
Labour force status of Indigenous persons, 15-64 years, by remoteness, 2012-13. ABS.
“They’re not on the dole, they’re being supported by the other people who are on the dole, so everybody’s that much poorer,” says Mr McFarland.
If this sounds like dealing with the problems of surrounding regional councils, Mr McFarland says that “people from those communities all spend money in Alice Springs. It will be good for the economy.
“COVID demonstrated that if you give people at the very bottom of the economic ladder extra money, they don’t put it in this Swiss bank account, they spend it in the local shops.”
Mr McFarland also believes the reopening of the skatepark as soon as possible and “some improved recreational infrastructure for youth like BMX tracks in parks, a water play park, more free access to the pool,” will help drive immediate change in town.
That said, the role of the Commonwealth is what Mr McFarland believes is the most important to economic growth in the region that will help Alice Springs.
“This impoverishment has happened through a range of policies that have affected the systematic withdrawal of welfare entitlements without providing people with an alternative means to earn income and sustain themselves and their families,” Mr McFarland said in a written statement to the News.
“The government used to use its economic power to create full employment,” and they could do so again.
“Alice could be the Solar Centre, with support for business focussed on renewable energy, like is happening in the Tennant Creek area and the Kimberley. The NT could be the solar battery for Australia.”
Mr McFarland says his experience informs him that there is a way through the current problems facing the town: “It is not about Getting Tough – those kids are tougher than anything that the council can throw at them. It’s about getting Smart on Crime.”
Mr McFarland will be urging those who vote for him to give their second and third preferences to Jimmy Cocking and Marli Banks.
PHOTO at top: Why is Blair McFarland mopping the floor? “My wife says it will get me more votes,” he explains.
UPDATE August 16, 12.10pm
When asked to further clarify his ideas for more recreational infrastructure, Mr McFarland said: “I have been lobbied about all those ideas by community members.
“Should I get the position I will be advocating for these sort of ideas, funded by existing Council reserves and by seeking NT and Federal funding.
“I think the worsening crime rate in Alice will unlock some funding from both levels of government once a sensible plan is developed. The plan will be practical, not rhetorical, and based on what I know works from my 35 years’ experience,” says Mr McFarland.
“I hear many plans that are just wishful thinking – plans that rely on dysfunctional individuals transforming into role models. I understand the desire for change but most plans rely on the weakest link of the chain, and are more like exercises in blame rather than a way forward.”
Mr McFarland says the basis for his claim that “the NT could be the solar battery for Australia” comes from the work of the economist and former Labor advisor, Ross Garnaut, particularly from his 2019 book, Super Power: Australia’s low-carbon opportunity.
“The research is done, investment is looking to drop polluting activities, the Centre has the sun and land. All that is needed is a vision and political will,” says Mr McFarland.