By ERWIN CHLANDA
There was a strong thread at the election debate on Wednesday night, right across the political spectrum, about caring for young people and stopping them offending.
The record deficit was raised without any candidate offering a way of paying it back, and there were diverting views about water, fracking and the resuscitation of the economy post COVID.
As usual it was a well-meaning and generous initiative by the Chamber of Commerce but it was not a debate: There was no room for statements and claims to be challenged, tested.
Wayne Thompson, from the floor, asked the vital question in the youth curfew debate: What happens if a kid taken to a place of safety doesn’t stay there? He got no answer.
The two major parties – if the CLP, with two Members of Parliament, can be called major – are hiding from the media: Chief Minister Michael Gunner isn’t even replying to a request for an interview from the Alice Springs News, and none of the CLP candidates are available for one either, clearly preferring to communicate via minders and on social media.
And in the “debate” where were the well researched, sourced, costed, shovel-ready project proposals with solid business plans and money assured?
What was the Opposition up to in that space during the four years of Labor financial mayhem?
The public was expected to believe that the five elected members of the Town Council, hapless in the face of Alice’s woes, would suddenly fire in the Legislative Assembly. Really?
That’s Mayor Damien Ryan, three first-time councillors Marli Banks, Catherine Satour (absent because of a bereavement), Matt Paterson, and also Eli Melky, the head of the Federation Party, in the audience.
Cr Melky is still on council and we’ll get back the others, no doubt, if they don’t get elected to Parliament.
In the first of the meeting’s three parts the candidates were given two minutes each to introduce themselves to the audience of about 50, filling only half the COVID-spaced chairs: What qualities make a good representative for our region? How have you demonstrated these qualities?
Born and raised; worked tirelessly; family values; community work; problem solver; proactive; strong leadership qualities; sporting clubs; I love Alice Springs – that kind of stuff.
Then came four topics set by the organisers, starting with population decline and loss of skills.
Jackson Ankers (ALP, Araluen): We have the most generous home owner scheme in the whole country. Araluen voters are either Millennials or Generation Z. They will grow the population. More than ever we need the Aboriginal art gallery.
Domenico Pecorari (Federation): The population is declining despite migration from bush communities and overseas. Beautifying the Mall and a new hospital are merely a brief sugar fix. We don’t need a gas-led but a culture-led recovery.
Scott McConnell (Independent, Braitling): Crime is driven by social inequality. Indigenous people are feeling not welcome in their own country. Wenten Rubuntja’s book The Town Grew Up Dancing had the message: stop dividing this community and it will grow.
Matt Paterson (Territory Alliance) put his money on mining. A government resource co-ordinator general would streamline government processes: WA has the world’s fastest approval scheme, the NT is in 13th place. Currently proposed projects would operate from between three and a half years and 37 years and employ 1330 people after construction.
Wayne Wright (Independent): Making home ownership more accessible is the key.
Damien Ryan (CLP): We need jobs, community safety and opportunities. Mining is locked up in red tape. We need private money to flow into agriculture, mining and renewables. (Big applause.)
The economy shrank 21%, investments 85%.
Joshua Burgoyne (CLP, Braitling): The Gunner Government is $8 billion in debt which a CLP Government would have to pay down through earnings from investments. It takes nine months to get an exceptional development approval. Using local consultants rather than imported ones would reduce waste. Connecting the wet north with the dry Centre could turn the NT into the nation’s “agricultural powerhouse”.
Bernard Hickey (Greens, Araluen): Finding a way for Aboriginal people to feel more equal and involved will improve the economy.
Robyn Lambley (Territory Alliance, Araluen): Mismanagement has put us in the worst shape in Australia, but there will need to be more debt “temporarily”.
Pecorari: Get financial advice and follow it. When you are in a hole, stop digging. Higher royalties and pay for water used in mining. Reduce the size of the public service. Measures to prevent crime. Convert expenses to investments.
Dale Wakefield (ALP, Braitling): Debt is about saving jobs and saving businesses, keeping the economy going “in challenging times” and after a “chaotic” previous government.
McConnell: We’re not being governed well. Yet we are an “incredibly privileged jurisdiction”. Chief Minister sits on the national cabinet. We get $4.66 GST return on every dollar we spend. “We are getting lots of money and we are wasting it. Let’s stop peddling this crap that we are hard done by.” There needs to be one collaborative approach.
McConnell: We need social inclusion for Aboriginal people, involve them in our economy. The cattle station Napperby had more Aboriginal employment than now when he grew up there. Our children are not safe.
Ken Lechleitner (Federation, Gwoja): Instead of punitive laws we should have “good, inclusive laws” which encourage responsibility towards each-other and allow us to dream together.
Lambley: Caring for our kids is our number one issue. She hesitates to use the word curfew but says we need to take them to a place of safety, find a responsible adult. Mr Thompson’s question was left hanging.
Later in the meeting Minister Wakefield disclosed that the management of the juvenile detention centre, adjacent to the adult jail, will be handed over to an “Aboriginal health service”. Congress says it is negotiating.
For the time being, it is understood the “Juvie” will stay with Territory Families if Labor is re-elected, and go to Corrections under a CLP government.
Bill Yan (CLP, Namatjira): I don’t feel safe at home, in the town. Bring the police portfolio back under the Chief Minister. Offending must have consequences.
Mr Yan, who resigned as the head of the Alice Springs prison to stand for Namatjira, later said in response to a question from the floor that the adult recidivism is 56%. Rehabilitation measures need more than 12 months to succeed and many sentences are shorter than that.
Wakefield: There are no silver bullets, there has to be “continuous hard work and commitment to policy that works and is evidence based, supporting families and making sure we intervene before a crime occurs.” Act during the first 1000 days of life.
Chris Tomlins (Greens): Take the kids out to communities, engage them in tourism and as rangers, and show them how we can work together. They are now in a vicious cycle of coming to town, offending, imprisonment, release and being “left behind in Alice”.
Enviromnent protection renewable resources.
Hickey: Develop a renewables industry, farms on indigenous communities, bush foods, rangers, carbon abatement, green army, arts and cultural occupations.
Ryan: Renewables have potential but while we need to be “sensible how to get there” we have the potential to provide clean energy to the rest of Australia. We could lead the world in the transition to hydrogen but need to “get there slowly”.
Wakefield: She is “incredibly proud” of the government’s environmental record and the move of renewable power in the grid from 2% to 16%. The previous government regarded solar power as a “hoax”. Sun Cable in Tennant Creek will put us on the world map. “The minerals we have around us are essential for the renewable economy” moving to hydrogen power and “export it to the world”. (Loud applause.)
Marli Banks (Federation, Braitling): “Local decision making needs to be implemented” in economic development issues.
Paterson: Emphasised his party’s “no fracking” policy. Advocates a renewables taskforce.
McConnell: “Stupid” fracking “is not part of our future”. He calls for a return to Alice Springs of the conservation and parks administrations.
In reply to a comment from the floor during the public questions session Minister Wakefield said water allocation will be a “huge issue” for the next government: “The CLP has a history of handing out water licences left, right and centre” to its mates.
When Jenny Mostran, from the floor, suggested ID should be required from voters Minister Wakefield asked for public feedback.
Another member of the public said the Electoral Commissioner had suggested 25,000 people, mostly Indigenous, were not on the roll and did not vote.
Ryan: This is a Federal, Local and Territory government issue. We don’t have enough people for our second Federal seat. The Federal Electoral Commission had closed its office in the NT.
Lambley: There is just one NT Electoral Commission staffer in Alice Springs to cover the whole of Central Australian. The low turnout in the bush is a major concern.
Wakefield: The Federal Government had moved its Electoral Office to Queensland. The most vulnerable don’t get a voice.
Maya Cifali, from the floor, asked Mr Paterson about fracking and uranium mining. He replied the mining industry can get by without fracking and the uranium question is up to the party.
Mr Ryan replied to a question on education that the Charles Darwin University needs to be strengthened “from the bottom up”.
Mr Burgoyne, whose father is a retired police officer, said the force works incredibly hard, needs to be properly resourced, is an incredible group of people who put their life on the line. He made no comment about the police number in the Southern Command being more than three times greater per capita when compared to the national figure.
In discussion about sporting ovals Mr Paterson said one more sporting ground is needed and Ms Banks said one may be lost, Anzac Oval, if a national Aboriginal art centre goes ahead there.
Mr Lechleitner said when he’s asked who built the new Supreme Court he replies its “men behaving badly. We (Aboriginal people) have to change that, we have to own this problem”.
Gwoja, the new seat in the west of the NT and stretching from the Arafura to the SA border, can have a “thriving economy” with gold, gas, cattle and water in generous supply, he says.
“Let us grow up together.”
SOON: Is defunding the police part of the Greens platform? We are asking for an interview with Bernard Hickey.
Photos: At top – moderator Professor Rolf Gerritsen, Minister Wakefield (green dress), candidate Damien Ryan (seated at right); other candidates.