By OSCAR PERRI
Eight of the 10 candidates for Mayor of Alice Springs were given a (very) brief opportunity to state their case last night, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Central Australia.
Over 100 business owners, tourism industry figures, and members of the general public showed up at Club Eastside to see the mayoral hopefuls answer five questions prepared by the host organisations.
The function was called a Mayoral Q&A session, though the audience were not allowed to ask any questions.
They each had two minutes to give a prepared response on their “vision for Alice Springs”, and then a minute to answer each of four questions, which they had not been given ahead of the event – each candidate making their pitch for the future of the town.
Those who have already spoken with the Alice Springs News gave brief outlines of what has already been written, laced with catchphrases. Matt Paterson added plans to “support seniors, and support the Show Society”, though did not go into detail as to what either entailed.
Aaron Blacker showed his support for the way the council is currently being run, only wanting to “expand on what we currently have”.
Distancing himself from addressing the more serious issues facing the town, he is campaigning to bring more music festivals to Alice and promote it as a destination.
Local accountant and relentless election candidate Wayne Wright wants to be elected to council, rather than as Mayor, which means he was in the wrong place.
He spoke about his desire to see Alice Springs become a city “even if that means changing the name like they did with Uluru” and wants to “improve trust and a sense of ownership in the community” – subjects clearly requiring more time than he was entrusted with the microphone for.
The second round of questions were:-
What credentials would you bring to the position of Mayor?
How will you work with all tiers of government to support investment and growth for business and tourism?
How will you make Alice Springs more liveable for both residents and visitors?
A modern Council is not just about roads, rates and rubbish – how would you lead Council to drive economic and social development in this town?
Although the hosts acknowledged, at the beginning, that they were on Aboriginal land, the 20% of Alice Springs who are Indigenous would have been puzzled about not getting a further mention from any speakers.
That is aside, of course, from the veiled nods in relation to youth crime.
All the candidates spoke about this issue in one way or another, though especially Mr Blacker, Steve Brown and Mr Wright made efforts to avoid specifically naming the problem. “We all know what it is,” Mr Brown said.
Eli Melky made clear his support for a curfew, while Mr McFarland described Alice Springs as a “lab rat for Canberra bureaucrats to try out social policy”.
He said that council needed to find funding and take over to repair the damage done.
Mr Brown pushed for a 24 hour youth centre although he had undertaken in May 2018 to help build one and still hasn’t.
The rest all had a similar message in improving council’s relationships to bring about cultural change.
Jimmy Cocking spoke with notable confidence, and had a long and clear list of relevant qualifications – his masters degree (in social science – international, urban and environmental management), 13 years running the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), co-owning the Wide Open Spaces festival, and four years on council.
On this question, surprisingly, most others struggled to find more than one or two relevant points.
After 10 years on council, Eli Melky showed his understanding of its workings, emphasising his knowledge of budgeting.
Mr McFarland was also the only one of the candidates to talk about the council’s role in responding to COVID, speaking about the long term impact it may have on the region and the dangers currently posed by the virus.
In terms of major projects, the skatepark did not receive a mention from any candidate, while Mr Paterson continued his push for an all abilities play park.
Mr Blacker wants to see the National Aboriginal Art Gallery built, as does Mr Bedford, who is also promising to revitalise Todd Mall.
There were no questions from the audience, though after the panel was over, the mayoral candidates, as well as eight others running for council, made themselves available to answer questions.
The only woman in the running, Marli Banks, was absent.
In an apology sent to the organisers, which was not read out on the night as requested, she said she did not come “due to the unknown nature of the evolving situation and the seriousness that I believe the Delta outbreak in other states poses to us here in Alice Springs given that there has been many traveling between Alice and Darwin in recent days.”
Angus McIvor, who is having a very quiet campaign, was also an apology.
NT Chamber of Commerce CEO Nicole Walsh said they had considered postponing the event, but decided that it was in line with the current public health advice.
All attending were required to check-in, and the microphone was sanitised between users, though social distancing was not noticeably enforced.
PHOTO (from left): Blair McFarland, Aaron Blacker, Patrick Bedford, Jimmy Cocking, Wayne Wright, Steve Brown, Eli Melky and Matt Paterson.
FOOTNOTE: After decades of covering council elections we take some pride in having worked out what questions not to ask. You’re welcome to find the answers here. The dinky-di candidates provided some good answers.
Erwin Chlanda, Editor
Last updated 17 August 2021, 5.46pm.