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Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance backs Mparntwe curfew, calls for community-led initiatives as lasting solution

Dechlan Brennan -

The peak body for Indigenous Community Controlled Health Services in the Northern Territory says the curfew put in place by the NT government in Mparntwe/Alice Springs is necessary to ensure community safety. 

The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT) said protecting public safety required “substantial investment” in community-led initiatives to prevent crime, in line with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

On Wednesday, the NT government declared a 14-day curfew for children under 18 in Mparntwe/Alice Springs in an attempt to curb youth crime.

Tensions surrounding the death of an 18-year-old in a car accident erupted Tuesday - the day of his funeral – leading to dozens attacking a local tavern and police reporting an estimated 150 people in Hidden Valley community, outside the city, "going armed in public and engaging in violent conduct.”

AMSANT chief executive Dr John Paterson, who’s family is affiliated with the Ngalakan people, said like closing the gap in health outcomes requires investment in addressing poverty and education, reducing crime requires investment to tackle the underlying drivers. 

“Whether you look at health, crime or any other area where there is a gap between outcomes for First Nations people and the rest of the community, the drivers are the same,” said Dr Paterson.

“We support the Government’s efforts to address the immediate crisis in Alice Springs, as sad as the situation may be, but in the end, things will only turn around if we address the cause.” 

Dr Paterson said a much larger investment and stronger commitment to community-led action was needed, and pointed to regions like Groote Eylandt, where programs had helped lead to a 95 per cent reduction in crime. 

“That didn’t happen because of more police or prisons, it happened because we allowed the community to design smart, practical programs that work in that community,” he said. 

Dr Paterson's call for further investment mirrors those from the Justice Reform Initiative, who have urged governments nationally to tackle crime with proven alternatives to punitive measures that only see further children incarcerated. 

AMSANT chair Rob McPhee echoed calls from the Central Land Council for everyone - but especially young people -  to show respect to cultural authority, and to move past the “unacceptable behaviours” in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. 

“We need to make sure our young people are safe and a big part of that is respecting the cultural authority of Aboriginal people,” Mr McPhee said. 

“We need to accelerate the roll-out of community courts and programs run by community to give young people a better chance in life.”

He said the focus should be on the health and mental health wellbeing of people through the NT, where there remained significant need due to funding shortfalls. 

“Our response to the sad scenes in Alice Springs should be to drive fundamental change to the way we do justice in the Territory, in line with the Aboriginal Justice Agreement,” he said. 

Opinions have been divided on the necessity of the curfew, with some groups arguing it is a circuit breaker that is needed for the embattled town, whilst others - such as Amnesty International Australia, NATSILS and NAAJA have all criticised the decision as “knee-jerk” and unlikely to help the issue of youth crime. 


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