The Northern Territory’s Labor Chief Minister says she will not back any “race-based” intervention in besieged Alice Springs, despite the town’s two Aboriginal MPs demanding alcohol bans to curb out-of-control violence and calling the crisis a bigger priority than the voice referendum. After weeks of rising crime and children wandering the town’s streets at night, the Albanese government stood firm on its refusal to intervene, and Chief Minister Natasha Fyles visited Alice Springs to consult with locals. The crime wave in Alice Springs is threatening to derail the national campaign for a voice to parliament, with two federal MPs making heartfelt pleas for action and a pause in the constitutional debate. Labor MP for Lingiari Marion Scrymgour broke from her party to say discussion of the voice referendum in her seat, which has the nation’s largest Indigenous population, was challenging for people who were frustrated and felt unsafe in their beds.

“Absolutely I support the voice, but I think that we can’t have these conversations if there are all these issues that are impacting on communities like Alice Springs,” Ms Scrymgour said on 3AW. “How do we get Aboriginal people to have faith and to vote in this referendum if they don’t believe government’s listening to them?” Later, Ms Scrymgour said the national discussion on the voice should continue, but it was not currently a focus in her region. Country Liberal senator Jacinta Price, an Alice Springs local, said a voice to parliament wouldn’t “change anything on the ground”, and will this year seek to introduce a bill to reinstate a federal alcohol ban. “The point is that the constitutional voice is not a priority for those who have an immediate crisis,” she said. Opposition leader Peter Dutton said “there would be outrage” if a similar crisis were occurring in one of Australia’s capital cities.

Alice Springs’ crime rate has soared in recent months, with more than a 40 per cent increase in assaults over the past year and more than 300 arrests in the past seven weeks alone. Sources close to the Chief Minister said Ms Fyles would not be making any concrete announcements during her visit but would speak to town leaders and investigate the situation. Ms Fyles said she would never back a wider “race-based” intervention with the kind of alcohol bans that lapsed in the NT last year after being in place for more than a decade. “The federal intervention was tried in 2007, it did not work then, and it will not work now,” Ms Fyles said. “It targeted and disempowered Aboriginal Territorians and entrenched disadvantage, rather than improve it. “Peter Dutton was part of the Coalition government which chose not to extend the race-based Stronger Futures legislation and chose to let the restrictions lapse.”

The Stronger Futures legislation was put in place by Labor in 2012 to replace the “national emergency response act” legislated by the Howard government in 2007 to address alcohol-related harm. Under the Stronger Futures laws, part of a broader 10-year package to improve the lives of people in the NT, the commonwealth enforced alcohol restrictions that included penalties for the sale and possession of alcohol. The Opposition Leader said such laws were needed, which was in line with “the advice from the women and the grandparents I’ve met with on the ground”. “If the level of violence, of crime, of sexual assault and domestic and family violence was occurring in Brisbane or in Melbourne or in Hobart, there would be outrage,” Mr Dutton said. “It was clear to me when we went up to Alice Springs, that this issue was beyond the resources of the Northern Territory government.”

One of the architects of the voice, Tom Calma, said constitutional recognition and addressing the crisis in Alice Springs could “run together”. “There will always be natural disasters and other issues around that are going to take our attention, but we should stay committed to the voice,” Professor Calma said. Professor Calma compared the situation in Alice Springs to that of Bourke, NSW, which in 2013 was considered one of the most dangerous places in the country but has since reduced its crime rate significantly. “A bipartisan approach to addressing the issues in Alice Springs is something we should call for,” he said.  Wunan Foundation executive chair Ian Trust said the situation in communities such as Alice Springs showed why the voice was needed. “I see the voice as being part of the solution to this. If the voice is set up in the right way, it can give priority to places like Alice Springs and do something about it, along with Kununurra, Broome, Derby and so on.”

The Prime Minister said the voice was “the means” to making a practical difference in the lives of Indigenous people across the country. “We have tried a lot of things, people in Canberra or the state capitals deciding what was best for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, how we can actually give them voice?” Mr Albanese said on Seven’s Sunrise. The comments follow Alice Springs mayor Matt Paterson meeting Ms Scrymgour, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney to ask for immediate commonwealth intervention in the crisis and the deployment of federal police into the town. Mr Dreyfus continued to stare down such pleas and referred back to his previous comments that stressed policing was strictly a Northern Territory matter.

Greens First Nations spokeswoman Lidia Thorpe, who has previously been critical of the voice, said the situation in Alice Springs was “a humanitarian crisis” and called for the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody to be adopted to improve justice outcomes. “Implementing the recommendations will save people’s lives before any referendum,” Senator Thorpe said. The Greens will formally decide on their position on the voice in coming weeks at a party room meeting where the Blak Greens, who oppose a voice coming before truth and treaty processes, will also be present. While stressing he was not against a voice to parliament, Mr Paterson said he “endorsed” Ms Scrymgour’s comments that addressing the immediate crisis in Alice Springs needed to take priority. “We really need to have a conversation with the kids herein about if it’s safer being on the streets than it is being at home, that’s a key piece we need to get to,” Mr Paterson said.

Meanwhile an Intercessor on the ground in Alice Springs has written to give prayer points to encourage others to pray for the situation in Alice Springs. She wrote “Dear Praying Friends, Alice Springs has hit the headlines this last week due to escalating crime rates. Many of you are wondering if it is really true and just what is happening. There has been a dramatic spike in crime in the town in the past six months. There have been house break-ins and vandalism, vehicles stolen and used for ram raids and chasing police vehicles. Most of these crimes have been committed by Indigenous children, many of primary school age. A couple of weeks ago they broke into the town library and caused $20,000 worth of damage. The police were so over-worked they took seven hours to attend. Many people are leaving town, businesses are closing, and some people are frightened to go out at night.

There are many reasons for what is happening: family violence in the home (often fueled by alcohol), boredom, lack of longer-term funding for NGOs attempting to tackle the problem, and recently a tendency to film exploits and post them on Tiktok. The situation has been exacerbated by the greater access to alcohol in the last six months. However as has been said, “It is not an issue just about alcohol, it is about overcrowded housing, lack of access to services, and lack of opportunity for young people; This situation is not restricted to Alice Springs. It is happening all over regional Australia: Katherine, Darwin, Halls Creek, Kununurra, the Pilbara, Mt Isa, Townsville and other places in Queensland and NSW. Very severe alcohol restrictions (to act as a circuit breaker) have been introduced in Alice Springs which are set to last for three months. Please pray for Alice Springs. Here are some possible prayer points you can use to guide you.

  • For God to give the young people a purpose in life.
  • For wisdom for all those making decisions.
  • For consultations to include Indigenous People and Organisations.
  • That what has been happening will not result in the hardening of racist attitudes, especially within the police force.
  • For long term funding for NGOs that operate diversionary Programs
  • For Christians to commit to long-term praying.
  • For Christians to be sensitive to the prompting of the Spirit as to what He wants them to do.
  • For Government commitment to provide more housing.
  • For organisations to provide learning opportunities for people who have missed out on school.
  • For a spirit of peace to reign in the towns at night.

Source: Compiled by APN from various sources

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