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Social Justice Commissioner calls for governments to back Indigenous-led solutions in Alice Springs

Giovanni Torre -

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO has urged the Commonwealth and Northern Territory governments to support Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and communities to lead the development of short-term and long-term solutions to the unrest in Alice Springs.

On Friday Commissioner Oscar backed the reported recommendations of the Federal Government's Northern Territory Regional Controller Dorelle Anderson to introduce temporary alcohol restrictions across communities in Central Australia following a rise in crime and violence in the region.

"The proposed action being reported as part of Ms Anderson's report is appropriate and is consistent with community calls to counter the issue with temporary alcohol restrictions," she said.

"Limiting access to and consumption of alcohol in the Alice Springs region in the short term will provide communities with the breathing space they need to develop long-term solutions to the systemic problems which underpin the unrest."

Commissioner Oscar said alcohol restrictions will not be successful unless developed and supported by local communities, who are then also adequately resourced to develop self-determined long-term solutions.

"Local Alice Springs communities have consistently asked for a commitment from government to listen with empathy and respect, and to work together to provide sensible short-term actions as well as long-term solutions which target the systemic causes of trauma, harm and social unrest," she said.

"Where people are marginalised, where there is entrenched poverty and systemic discrimination, and where there is a lack of meaningful opportunities for education, training and employment, the outcome is intergenerational trauma and it's this trauma which drives alcohol and substance misuse, the disruptive behaviour of young people, and the violence in families.

"There is evidence of this the world over and this is what we're now seeing play out on the streets of Alice Springs. This is the outcome of decades of systemic under-investment, neglect and punitive measures and controls, many imposed and still remaining from the NT Intervention. This has completely diminished NT communities' right to self-determination, deepened poverty, and increased the vulnerability of First Nations families and communities."

Commissioner Oscar noted that in the lead up to the lapse in the Stronger Futures Legislation in July last year Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory (APO NT), the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women's Council & Congress called on the federal and NT governments to extend the legislation out of concern over alcohol-related harm and impacts on women and children.

The groups advocated communities and governments working together on, and for investment in, "multipronged approaches to reduce alcohol related harms" while legislation remained in place for a time-bound period.

The Commissioner said intervention-era alcohol bans ended abruptly with no forward planning or preparation.

Community leaders such as Donna Ah Chee, chief exeuctive of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO, stressed that spikes in crime and violence were predictable, and governments were repeatedly warned.

Commissioner Oscar said Arrernte people, Warlpiri people and peoples from across the Northern Territory have fought tirelessly for decades through their community-controlled organisations for "a sustained long-term holistic approach to investing in communities, culture, services and infrastructure".

"These are the long-term solutions that must be delivered for First Nations people, not just in Central Australia but right across our country, and it must be First Nations people who lead the development and implementation of these solutions, otherwise the trauma will continue and, therefore, so will the unrest in places like Alice Springs," she said.

"If governments had listened to and acted on the advice of community in Alice and beyond, a very different approach would have happened long ago. And in Alice, if community had been listened to before July 2022, then we would not be in the midst of the crisis we are witnessing right now.

"This crisis has been a wake-up call for many. Governments must now use this opportunity to work together in genuine partnership with First Nations communities and organisations to target the systemic causes of trauma, harm and social unrest, allowing new systems for housing, health and the economy to emerge."

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