Councillors of the Central Desert Shire – black and white – say the shire system time needs more time to prove itself. Most of those I spoke to will put their hands up again for election in March, including shire president Norbert Patrick. He says he would accept the leadership role again if asked, but would rather be just an elected member who could give new members the benefit of his experience.
I spoke to the councillors outside the chamber after they had met for the last time before the election. During the meeting shire CEO Roydon Robertson had raised the recent negative comments made about the shires by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, angrily dismissed by the CEO as "another insult". Mr Gooda was reported by the ABC to have called for the shires model to be scrapped, referring to its "total detrimental effect" on communities.
Councillors appeared to be in agreement with the CEO and the sentiments expressed by Kerry Moir, president of the Local Government Association of the NT (LGANT), who was appalled at Mr Gooda making such damaging statements just two months out from the shire elections. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Shire president Norbert Patrick and Councillor William Johnson, both of Lajamanu, outside the shire head office in Alice Springs last Friday.
Give half a billion dollars to Alice Springs instead of a billion to Nauru.
That's the way to fix Australia's dilemma about offshore processing, according to ex FICA CEO and local businessman Paul Lelliott (pictured).
He asked MHR Warren Snowdon to take the idea "as far as you can.
"There is considerable humanitarian merit in putting forward the case for onshore processing of refugees.
"There is also a significant economic benefit to our region if that processing was to take place in Alice Springs. Forget about pouring money into Malaysia, Christmas Island and Nauru.
"We need the funding and the resultant increase in labor to rebuild this town. We can create our own economic stimulus."
A new migration program for the Darwin region to help employers fill skills and labour shortages associated with major projects has now been announced.
It was an opportunity to remake her life and she took it: she turned from regular heavy drinking – of up to 30 cans of full strength beer in a sitting and this since 1987 – to being sober, taking on full-time employment, progressing in her job, looking after family, aspiring to rent her own flat.
Erica Lowah was one of three to graduate from the SMART Court program last Thursday. The three are the first in Alice Springs to complete the program since its introduction in July last year.
SMART stands for “Substance Misuse Assessment and Referral for Treatment”. Sentencing of offenders with serious alcohol and/or drug problems is deferred while they undertake programs as ordered by the court. The programs are tailored to individual needs but the bottom line is total abstinence.
Ms Lowah had been charged with high range drink driving and driving while disqualified and these were not her first drink driving offences. By entering the SMART Court program, she was given a chance to avoid gaol time and to get her life back on track.
A cake was brought into the court to celebrate the achievements of the graduates. Everyone was beaming. The usual formalities, already not great in this court, dropped away. I was even allowed to get out my pocket camera and take a snap, with the quietly proud Ms Lowah agreeing to have her photo published.
Magistrate David Bamber joked with graduate Benjamin Smith that his was the first SMART Court romance: while on the program he entered and has remained in a relationship with a young woman who is also a program participant.
Mr Bamber reflected briefly on his experience of this very different court. The legislation was introduced quickly and he'd had little idea of what his role would involve. Visiting a similar court in New South Wales, he learnt that their main 'problem' was that people wanted to keep coming back, to let the court know how well they were doing. One NSW graduate had even brought his one-day-old baby to show the court's team.
The stories reveal the importance of personal relationships in this court (in contrast to other courts where the personal is suppressed). The relationships obviously have their boundaries but there is an observable genuine warmth between the court's team and the participants, especially those – not surprisingly – who respond well to the chance they've been given. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Erica Lowah receives her SMART court graduation certificate from Magistrate David Bamber.