By KIERAN FINNANE
See you around the table or see you in court?
The Town Council last night took a bet each way: inviting the Chief Minister Minister and Cabinet to meet with council in Alice Springs to address “community safety challenges,” a suggestion coming from Councillor Jimmy Cocking; and supporting Cr Eli Melky to drum up support from other Territory councils for possible legal action to force the NT Government to cut crime, support the NT Police, and to put victims first.
They also supported Mayor Damien Ryan’s call for the NT Government to conduct a community safety audit while also launching “immediately substantial action” on the matter.
They probably didn’t need A Current Affair’s recent focus on the issues, but its three million views to date are hurting the town’s reputation and have clearly put government and council under pressure.
Cr Melky was galled that it had taken the program to get some movement from the NT Government “when we’ve been calling for action for 10 years”.
Only Cr Matt Paterson challenged the balance of the coverage, saying that he looks around at the town and sees an “amazing place”. The coverage was “unjust and unfair,” he said, while at the same time noting that “people are leaving” in response to the social unrest and crime.
The coverage is built around a brawl in Todd Street, just opposite the council chambers. More critical is that it is also just opposite licensed premises. The focus of the program is entirely on lawless young Aboriginal people – their role in the brawl and more generally.
Cr Glen Auricht bought it, talking of “belligerent youth” who feel they are “untouchable,” and to whom, in the wake of the NT Royal Commission, “free rein” has been given, “with no responsibility and no consequences”.
The program though glossed over the vicious behaviour of adult white males in the melee that erupted outside the bar where they had been drinking. It recognised that trouble was brewing with the “drunk party-goers” but it was the “youngsters” who were “intent on doing damage”. (See screen shots from the program at top.)
Attention to the behaviour of the adults might have lead to more complicated questions about relationships between black and white people in town, and in particular with black youths.
ACA’s report dismisses this from the outset: “Oppression” in the town comes “not from racism but from fear”, according to unidentified residents, and that fear is expressed in people having to lock their doors at night (tell me which Sydney-sider does not do this) and in being afraid to go out on the streets (like so many women are, everywhere).
From left, Councillors Satour, Cocking, Paterson and Melky.
In last night’s council debate only Cr Catherine Satour raised the matter of community relationships.
She acknowledged the real fear that people feel, living behind six and eight foot fences – “not the little country town where I grew up” – and said it is “completely unacceptable” that kids as young as six are out on the streets at 2am.
She nonetheless took council to task for talking for and about Aboriginal people, not to and with them.
She asked who among them had ever brought into the chamber a public gallery full of Aboriginal people, as she did in November, 2017, when she invited Traditional Owners to talk to council about community safety.
In the meeting that followed they were “treated with contempt,” she said – no minutes were taken, there was no attendance sheet, and the initiative went nowhere.
Now the idea of involving them has resurfaced with council trialling a Traditional Owner-led “foot patrol”. But the relationship could be taken further: “I don’t need to be at the table, but I will create the space for conversations to be had with the right people,” she said.
Council’s motions though did not go there. They were entirely focussed on getting the NT Government to the table (or into the dock).
There was considerable frustration over the lack of communication, if not overt hostility, between council and government, centred on Chief Minister’s antagonistic relationship with Mayor Ryan as well as the fractious dealings between the organisations over the location for the proposed national Aboriginal art gallery.
That situation is only going to get worse with the government having served on council a notice to appear in the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal as the latest step towards the compulsory acquisition of Anzac Oval. (A directions hearing is scheduled for March 26.)
Councillors recognised that the government had made a move with yesterday’s announcement on tougher bail conditions for young offenders.
But the government already has many strong laws at its disposal, argued Cr Melky, including the Education Act (implying the need for enforcement of truancy provisions).
He also called for the “industry” built on the back of the “misery of people,” to be held accountable for the millions that are spent. He hoped these matters would be included in any community safety audit.
On the idea of an audit, Cr Marli Banks reminded her colleagues that she had brought such a proposal to council last October and it was not supported.
From left, Councillors Banks, Auricht, de Brenni.
Her move had followed the death of motorcyclist Shane Powell, allegedly hit by a car driven by a youth (this tragic story is featured in the ACA program).
Without an audit, council and the community would be “in the dark” trying to right the situation, she had argued.
So how is the situation now different to what it was in October? she asked Mayor Ryan.
He suggested that her motion had not involved asking the NT Government to conduct the audit, the body with the authority to do so, which Cr Banks rejected.
She asked him what he had done to progress the issues in the five months since, suggesting that the timing of his motion was a “knee jerk politicisation of issue” coming “in wake of a national exposé”.
She had sat in the chamber for five months, retorted Mayor Ryan, and they had not heard again from her on the matter. He had brought it to the chamber last night “because of what’s happening in the town”.
The onus to progress issues was on him, Cr Banks argued, “this is your full time job”.
She also asked officers for a report on all the correspondence between council and government on this issue between last October and now. A resolution to this effect was supported by her colleagues.
Cr Cocking recalled a similar national TV exposé during the time of Chief Minister Paul Henderson. It too had resulted in an economic downturn and tourism took years to recover.
He spoke of the importance of a long term plan, saying the Prime Minister “needs to come out here”. Such a plan would need federal funding, “10 years of concerted investment”.
Other towns across the country, such as Townsville and Broome, are experiencing similar problems: the lessons learned here might be able to help them, he argued.
Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price, attending the meeting by Zoom, advised the chamber that she would be address Federal Parliament today, “on the very issue we are discussing”, which she described as family and domestic violence, child safety, and the safety of women and children.
She offered to raise any points from Elected Members, inviting them to email their thoughts.
At the end of the meeting, Cr Cocking raised the issue of graffiti removal, by way of “putting victims first”. Graffiti has flourished apparently, particularly along the town’s arterial roads.
He wanted council to review its by-law that requires property-owners to expeditiously remove graffiti and imposes a penalty for failing to do so.
His motion, supported unanimously, was simply that council remove graffiti, which would take effect immediately.
Review of the by-law, along with others, is now also on the agenda.
But Cr Cocking also made a point about the way this issue, as well as the broken windows, the boarded up windows, the unrepaired fence on the Stuart Highway, in short “urban decay”, is impacting on the social malaise in town.