The alleged rape of a two-year-old girl has led to emergency measures being introduced in outback Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, a place described even by its mayor as the town Australia has forgotten.
The alleged attack on the toddler by a 24-year-old man prompted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar to urge community to work together to manage alcohol in the town, which has a population of 3000.
“This case has highlighted that alcohol can be a contributing factor to horrific crimes and can put our most vulnerable at risk,” Ms Oscar said.
She called on the NT Government, police and Aboriginal leaders to come up with an alcohol management plan for the town.
Her call comes as Tennant Creek faces spiralling domestic violence and crime rates, chronic overcrowding and alcohol abuse.
Tennant Creek Action Plan
In response to the problems, the NT Government this week released a construction tender for a new $6.5 million early childhood centre – part of a new Tennant Creek Action Plan. The centre will cater for 110 children.
The plan also provides for four child protection staff who will act as a rapid response team, an extra Aboriginal case worker who will begin work immediately with local families and a cultural advisor.
A senior elders and respected persons group will also be set up with the NT Department of the Chief Minister and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
One million dollars will be spent improving overstretched local services and will include a review of the Tennant Creek Women’s Crisis Centre.
A further $150,000 will be spent on a domestic violence prevention program, while $450,000 will go to improving youth activities.
Eleven extra police officers have been sent to Tennant Creek and interim emergency alcohol restrictions are in place that limit its sale to three hours a day, six days a week.
A town in shock: mayor
Tennant Creek Mayor Steve Edgington told NIT Tuesday the NT Government’s action plan was a good start, but a longer term plan was needed.
He said the town “is not lawless but the crime rates show it has been escalating over the last 12 months”.
He said it was Australia’s forgotten town.
Mr Edgington said the alleged sex attack on the two-year-old had been the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and the town was still in shock.
He said he wrote to NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner in November about the town’s problems but did not receive a reply until after the alleged attack on the child last month.
Meanwhile relatives of the two-year-old girl have told ABC’s 7.30 program they failed the child.
“We need not only be blaming the police, the government, but as a family group we should be blaming ourselves, because there were concerns,” an uncle, who could not be identified, told the broadcaster.
The child was being raised in a house in an area known as ‘The Bronx’.
The girl was flown to hospital in Alice Springs after the attack.
A 24-year-old man was charged with sexually assaulting the child.
Aboriginal groups in Tennant Creek were contacted for comment.