The Darwin City Council has come under fire for its management of a divisive proposal for The Esplanade at a monthly public forum, with a small gallery accusing elected members of confusing messaging, deceit and outright lying.
One Darwin resident was told he was a “trouble maker” by an alderman after he criticised the council over its ongoing “inconsistent messaging” which has resulted in the “average Joe assuming the RSL [proposal] is a goer”.
And in another instance, Darwin Mayor Kon Vatskalis said the proposal had spiralled out of control because the public had “perpetuated” the issue.
Graham Kirby, a long-term Darwin resident in staunch opposition to the RSL’s $10 million proposal to develop a clubhouse on harbour-side land – after its original home burnt down in 2018 – attended the meeting to question the council over the site.
He said numerous letters of correspondence have been sent to the council, but had garnered “totally unacceptable” responses which did not provide an answer.
Mr Kirby has been fighting for the council to uphold plans for the greening of the site, which currently operates as a carpark, that was detailed in the 2018 City Deal.
Mr Kirby said he took issue with elected members in September unanimously voting to pass an official reply to his correspondence despite it holding incorrect information.
“It was a lie,” he said, “everyone voted to deceive me.”
The Mayor, in response, peddled the same messaging he has maintained for the past two weeks since a motion to lay the RSL’s proposal on the table stopped it in its tracks.
“The carpark has been a car park since 1982,” Mr Vatskalis said.
“The council has not received an official application [from the RSL]… we have to wait for the appropriate information from the Aboriginal Protection Authority.”
Mr Vatskalis also said new information had emerged, embroiling the site further.
“One reason we are reluctant to do anything with the carpark area is [council] received information from the army that it is a significant place for trucks and heavy equipment,” Mr Vatskalis said.
“We have to consider all of these things before we make a decision.”
Planning Action Network convener Nick Kirlew attended the public forum holding grave concerns over the rezoning of the carpark, but didn’t get far in voicing his concerns.
Criticising the council as being “divisive” over a public issue that has residents of Darwin taking firm sides, he said the Mayor, in particular, has “turned Territorians against each other”.
Mr Kirlew said he had received correspondence from the council stating the RSL had consulted with the community about their project plans – but this was denied by elected members.
“I have a letter that comes across as very different to what you’re saying,” Mr Kirlew told elected members.
“The Mayor gets on radio and says this is a fantastic job and then we get a completely different message the next day, and now we have the excuse that tanks will ruin the grass.
“Has the council been consistent in messaging on the RSL over the past couple of months?” he asked. “Because the average Joe would assume the RSL is a goer.”
In response to accusations of division, Mr Vatskalis said it was the “noise” surrounding the issue that was to blame.
“The key word is conceptual,” Mr Vatskalis said.
“Council has not officially considered an application. We will consider rezoning the carpark when we have all the information.”
But alderman Emma Young agreed the RSL’s plans were “advanced”.