Gaslit, Infuriated: Horrors In My Home Town Inevitable

An opinion piece published in The Australian, January 27, 2023

The crisis unfolding in my home town of Alice Springs requires a bipartisan effort to create meaningful change. So far, the NT and federal governments have not demonstrated they are prepared to take this approach, despite offers from the Coalition to work alongside them and be part of the solutions.

In all my efforts over many years to highlight the plight of our most vulnerable citizens it absolutely astounds me to learn our Prime Minister and Minister for Indigenous Australians still don’t understand – and do not have meaningful ways forward.

In June I predicted the continued deterioration of my home town and Territory following the lifting of the alcohol bans and abolishment of the cashless debit card. I stated that blood would be on the hands of Labor – and it is. On the day the alcohol bans were lifted, the life of Alena Kukla and her baby were taken by her violent partner before turning the gun on himself. Alena’s Uncle Mark Lockyer told me he saw the effects of lifting the ban as immediate.

There are many who continue to deny and downplay the state of crisis we are in. When Linday Burney tells us this would not be happening if a constitutionally enshrined voice had been established, you cannot help but feel gaslit and infuriated.

On June 9 I was cc’d into the email and letter signed by nine NT Aboriginal health and legal organisations to Burney and her federal NT colleagues. The letter plainly outlined the grave concern about lifting alcohol bans and the need for them to be reinstated. This message and the countless meetings held with local organisations have amounted to nothing. I’d like the minister to explain why she would only ever listen to and act upon the direction of a constitutionally enshrined voice and not to the Aboriginal voices crying out to her. Everyone is responsible for our community. NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker seems unable to admit the NT police are not coping, effectively denying the need for federal support from the AFP or the ADF. Instead, he responds to calls from our Mayor, Matt Paterson, by suggesting it wouldn’t be a good look if the ADF were to be seen locking up people – and those predominantly being Aboriginal people. This language only serves to reignite imagery of colonisation and the stigmatisation of the Intervention, and is a distraction from reality. Territorians are not stupid, and know the AFP or the ADF would be here in support of the locals who are terrified to live in the community they love.

In August the NT Police Union revealed the severely low morale of Territory police and the loss of confidence in our Police Commissioner. My private conversations with individual police show many feel helpless to work effectively. They feel they are at risk of being thrown under the bus by superiors when things go wrong. It is no wonder the public now lacks confidence that they can be protected by those whose job it is to protect.

Our local baker – and administrator of Facebook page Action for Alice – Darren Clarke, who regularly reports horrific incidents as they take place in our home town, has publicly stated he had been “intimidated” by the police top brass for reporting what the police media had not yet reported. Clarke feels the police media unit often downplays the serious nature of some crimes and fails to report some to the public altogether. This view is often captured by the NT Independent, whose recent article outlined the downplayed language of a police media report of a brutal crime. It stated: “An Alice Springs man charged with attempted murder for what NT police said was an attack on his partner with an ‘edged weapon’, allegedly almost severed the woman’s head.” When the victim presented to the hospital her vertebrae was visible; this was not simply a stabbing.

Three things I know absolutely do not work to create change: denial, ideological approaches and racial division. Our town consists of people of many backgrounds. We are one of the world’s most tolerant communities because we want what’s best for everyone and don’t buy into the racial division of woke politics that poisons our nation. We do, however, suffer as a result of our governments, who seem hellbent on applying divisive politics instead of heeding the truth and acting to apply practical colourblind measures to fix the problems.

There are many ways in which these issues can begin to be resolved and none of these have been suggested or applied by Anthony Albanese, Burney or Chief Minister Natasha Fyles. The kneejerk suggested alcohol restrictions will do nothing. Addicts will find their fix and homes will continue to be broken into. Instead, the Stronger Futures Legislation needs to be reinstated.

I have almost finalised my private senator’s bill, in which I call on the government to work with me to support it. The bill seeks to immediately reapply the alcohol bans in communities and town camps until such time as communities develop appropriate alcohol management plans if they choose to opt out of dry community status. Appropriate infrastructure needs to be in place with education on responsible alcohol management before alcohol can go anywhere near vulnerable communities. Instead of investing millions into a racially divisive referendum and another overpaid bureaucratic body, the government should be investing in effective drug and alcohol services and effective rehabilitation.

The issue of children on our streets needs to be addressed immediately. I have worked closely with Gavin Morris – the recently elected Alice Springs town councillor and principal of Yipirinya School – to fight for the school to build staff and student accommodation. In the lead-up to the last election I secured a Coalition commitment of $8.3m to build accommodation that would provide a safe haven and education focus for the very children on our streets at night who come from the Alice Springs town camps.

Education, as we all know, is the key to choice and opportunity and the pathway to overcome adversity. These children, who are Australian citizens, are being denied this right because their homes are not equipped to support them. Every one of them has doubtless experienced family violence, and many sexual abuse.

Those who have been failed by their families have also been failed by the system tasked with protecting them. The ideology of the Stolen Generation suggests that the “culture” of Aboriginal children is more important than maintaining their human rights and dignity to live lives free of violence and abuse.

Because of Stolen Generations policy recommendations and the accompanying applied stigmatisation of the removal of Aboriginal children as being “racist”. we now have a situation in which children are left in dysfunction and abuse. We now have a neglected, abused and retraumatised generation and they’re on display every night on our streets – if not breaking into the homes of locals.

I believe we need to allow for Aboriginal children to be adopted or at the very least given permanent care status for those children whose lives have been drastically improved by being cared for in loving Australian families. It is racist that policy makers have lowered the standard of care for Aboriginal children because of stigmatisation from the Stolen Generation.

As part of the 13th Alice Springs Town Council, we developed the Traditional Owner Elder Patrol, which consisted of local elders (my mother, Bess Nungurrayai Price, included) patrolling the streets from 9pm to 2am ensuring children were being returned to their families and not creating problems. The elders were language speakers and often had kin relationships with the children and their families so this created effective communication around family responsibility for the children. The Alice Springs Town Council needs to fight to have this patrol reinstated and the Albanese government needs to make this a funding priority.

If the local council will not act then they need to hand the responsibility over to Lhere Artepe, the representative body for Alice Springs Traditional Owners who have told me they’d happily take responsibility and implement this program.

These are just a few of the many immediate, effective measures that can be implemented. They’re not hard to see and they don’t require a constitutionally enshrined voice. They do, however, require common sense, honesty and a bipartisan approach – all of which I am deeply concerned the federal and NT governments have demonstrated they are not interested in.