Northern Territory internal police data obtained by The Guardian last week shows a significant drop in domestic violence calls and alcohol-related violence in Alice Springs after the reintroduction of stricter alcohol laws.
In the three months since restrictions were brought in, property break-ins were down by nearly 46%, domestic violence calls were down more than 30%, youth offences were down by 36% and alcohol-related incidents were down between 45% and 67%. In the first week of January, before the restrictions were introduced, alcohol was a factor in 76% of the domestic violence incidents police attended.
This was great news, but begs the question: Why were the restrictions lifted in the first place?
Alice Springs residents and organisations, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal warned the federal and Northern Territory governments last year that if restrictions were removed, all hell would break out. And it did.
Representatives of both governments were slammed earlier this year because of the rise in the crime rate and out of control youths. Under pressure from the media and locals, they brought the strict alcohol laws back.
Alice Springs was only the tip of the iceberg. The rates of lawlessness had also skyrocketed in Laverton in WA, Ceduna in SA, and across the north of Australia.
Both governments went down an ideological pathway driven from a capital city mindset — Canberra and Darwin in this case — rather than listening to the local people, police and observing what was really happening on the ground and acting on what they heard and the data.
Writing for The Spectator Australia in January, Professor Matthew Ogilvie of the University of Notre Dame Australia, observed that “The proposed Voice also has another fatal flaw. It is a national solution to issues that are fundamentally local”.
Professor Ogilvie is right. And this is the problem.
Problems in local communities will not be solved by people talking in Canberra in a new, giant bureaucracy. We need to deal with the underlying factors — at a local level — that are causing alcohol-related and juvenile crimes. We also need to recognise that the biggest gap is between regional and remote communities on the one hand and large provincial towns and cities on the other. This is nothing new. It has been known and spoken about for years.
My research report Joining the Real Economy analyses comparable remote Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities and uses quantitative evidence to argue that it is feasible for Aboriginal communities to participate in the real economy, just as their non-Aboriginal counterparts have been able to do.
From the research I make the following recommendations:
- Legislative reform must become a key component of each state and territory’s Closing the Gap Agreement. Jurisdictions must review and reform legislation that unduly restricts the ability of remote Indigenous communities to participate in the real economy. Particular focus should be placed on reform of laws impacting land tenure that stifle business and entrepreneurship.
- Governments must support the establishment of Indigenous-owned and Indigenous-run private businesses in remote communities in order to create local employment, meet the demand of the population and bring these communities into the real economy.
- Governments should work with communities to attract suitable private investment to help achieve these goals.
- Governments must cease the deficit mentality they have towards remote Indigenous communities. These communities must be seen for their potential, rather than as a perpetual drag on the government purse.
- Educational outcomes must be radically improved to ensure that people in remote Aboriginal communities have adequate skills to participate in the real economy.
These recommendations are fundamental to economic prosperity for these communities.
There are many more areas that need to be investigated including in regard to healthcare and mental health support, community infrastructure and town planning, opportunities for home and asset ownership and access and provision of fundamental services such as clean water, power and technology and sufficient policing — to name just a few.
We must not look away from the hard reality that there is dysfunction in these communities. Only when we truly face and lean into the hard stuff can we make progress in improving community outcomes and ensuring families are safe and thriving.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO DUniv (Hon. Causa) is Director, Indigenous Forum, Centre for Independent Studies.
Image by Jim Alcorn courtesy of The Australian