Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will fly to Alice Springs on Tuesday from Canberra, following mounting calls from local community leaders and the federal opposition for him to visit the crime-plagued town.
He is expected to visit on Tuesday afternoon, alongside the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister Natasha Fyles.
The Coalition is calling for the reinstatement of alcohol bans to rein in law and order, while NT Labor MP Marion Scrymgour has said Alice Springs has more urgent needs to address than a Voice to parliament.
NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker told ABC’s a reduction of Australian government employees in the territory meant “those key decision makers based in Canberra are potentially not getting the full line of sight of all of the social challenges that we face”.
However, he said a federal intervention was too crude a response and that issues regarding a significant increase in alcohol-related harm in Alice Springs needed to be addressed through dialogue with every community, and police couldn’t arrest their way out of the problem.
“I understand that the prime minister is travelling there. I know the chief minister is heading down there this morning as well. I think it’s a positive that both are going down there to see what is occurring on the ground and doing a lot of listening,” he said.
Albanese has been in Canberra for a meeting of cabinet. This will be his first visit to Alice Springs as prime minister.
Speaking on Radio National on Tuesday morning, Government Services Minister Bill Shorten acknowledged the scope of the problem.
“There are real problems there, and I think it’s going to take partnership with the Northern Territory and the federal government to help – and the community, listening to the community to help fix it. But no one underestimates the problem.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton told Nine he was shocked when he visited the town in October. “I said to the PM we would support whatever measure the government would take whether it needed legislation, additional resources, additional money going into the Northern Territory,” he said.
“It was clear speaking with Indigenous elders and women on the ground and business owners this issue was completely beyond the capacity and resources of the Northern Territory government.”
“I was hoping that the prime minister would take up the offer [to visit Alice Springs together] because it does require both sides to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and that’s what we’re offering to do.”
Dutton told Sky said the government should restore alcohol restrictions “because it’s fuelling violence”.
Crime has risen sharply in Alice Springs in the last year, including property damage and assaults.
Scrymgour told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Monday that long-term locals had never seen the situation as bad as it currently is, warning someone was going to be seriously hurt or killed.
“Let’s stop pussyfooting around the issue of alcohol abuse,” she said, adding strong alcohol restrictions in place during the federal intervention, as well as income management, should have been extended.
“The federal legislation lapsed, the Northern Territory government did nothing to put in place its own legislation … at the moment it’s all open slather.”
She added that constitutional recognition was the furthest from the minds of Alice Springs community members, and while she supported the Voice “we can’t have these conversations if there’s all these issues that are impacting on communities like Alice Springs”.
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