People are hurting in my hometown of Alice Springs. Hope is hard to find at the moment.
When I visited Alice Springs Hospital last week, 14 of the 16 beds in the intensive care unit were filled with Aboriginal women who had experienced violence.
One older woman living by herself recently woke up at 1am to people breaking into her home – a few days later the same thing happened again. It was left to her neighbours to come and rescue her.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney, together with the NT government, last week announced short-term measures that are the beginning of our policy response, not the end.
The immediate alcohol restrictions that have been implemented will give everyone in town some much-needed relief, and are a chance to take stock and focus on what we need to do next.
Women and children in town camps have been speaking to me about what they want. They are overwhelmed by the amount of alcohol in town camps. They want the tap turned off.
Dorrelle Anderson has been appointed Central Australian Regional Controller. She has been entrusted to lead conversations with communities about alcohol restrictions and report back to government by February 1. We need to make sure the voices of our women and children are heard loud and clear. Everyone deserves to be safe in their community.
Alcohol restrictions are only part of the solution to much bigger problems that have developed after decades of neglect, particularly for remote communities.
Funding announced by the prime minister to organisations such as the Tangentyere Women’s Council to boost domestic violence services will help. Extending funding for safety and community services which were scheduled to end in June by the former government, will ensure this work continues.
But it’s hard not to draw a link from Tony Abbott’s cuts of more than $500 million from Indigenous Affairs in 2014 to so much of the neglect remote communities have experience over the past decade.
I’ve always said if you neglect the bush, the bush will come into town. And that’s what we’re seeing now.
Alice Springs just can’t cope with the influx of people from remote communities. A housing shortage out bush, alongside a lack of power, air-conditioning, health services and employment opportunities, has led to a large movement of people into Alice.
If a Voice had existed in 2014, at the very least it would have been able to provide advice to government and the parliament on the impact of budget cuts, like Abbott’s damaging cuts to support services in communities like mine.
If we had been listened to, and if policies had been designed in partnership with local communities to tackle the underlying disadvantage experienced by remote communities more than a decade ago, then perhaps many of the issues that have erupted now would not have occurred.
It’s why we need constitutional recognition through a Voice.
If you look closely at the Uluru Statement from the Heart, you will see my signature on it. I was part of the regional dialogues that led to the Uluru Statement.
The whole point of the Voice is to make a difference to the lives of Indigenous Australians by making sure we have a say in the matters and policies that affect our daily lives.
And the whole point of updating the constitution to include a Voice is to ensure a continuity and consistency of advice to government that withstands the political cycle.
I’ve spent many years advocating for my community. I tell it how it is, even if some people don’t like it.
A Voice will make a difference to communities like Alice Springs. It will mean government and bureaucrats need to listen to us. A Voice might even give people in Alice some hope. For me, that’s reason enough to vote ‘Yes’.
Marion Scrymgour is the federal Labor member for the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari.
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