Federal and local authorities have held crisis talks over the escalating wave of crime and violence across Alice Springs.
Tensions have been escalating in the central Australian town after an increase in property offences, assaults, and joyriding in stolen cars. NT police statistics show reported property offences jumped by almost 60% over the past 12 months, while assaults have increased by 38% and domestic violence assaults by 48%.
The federal attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, and the minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, met with the mayor of Alice Springs, Matt Paterson, on Thursday afternoon to hear his concerns. Paterson said crime had reached “crisis levels” and wanted the army and the Australian Federal Police to intervene.
A spokesperson for Dreyfus ruled out sending the Australian Defence Force or federal authorities, saying that policing is “a matter for the Northern Territory government”.
The government has allocated $14m in federal funding for crime prevention and community safety, including safety patrols, youth services and family violence support services in Alice Springs and surrounding town camps.
The NT attorney general, Chansey Paech, acknowledged on social media that crime was a concern and that many people were “hurting”. Paech said addressing the issue required complex solutions.
He said the NT government is considering trialling a suite of measures to combat crime and property offences and increase safety, including automated bollards and shatter-proof glass made out of polycarbonate clear sheeting in stores and shopfronts.
Paech said the state government was working with community leaders to implement the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, as well as justice reinvestment projects to tackle youth crime and disengagement.
But Paterson said alcohol-related harms had fuelled tensions, after liquor restrictions brought in as part of the controversial Northern Territory intervention were dropped in July 2022.
“We’re seeing domestic violence through the roof. We’re seeing drunken behaviour in the street. We’ve seen crime go up. We’ve seeing more kids out on the street,” he said. “It’s been a disaster.”
Paterson denied the approach was too heavy handed, saying the NT was “due for a heavy handed response”, and that violence and property offences were at unacceptable levels. He said the reason he had asked for federal authorities to intervene was “it’s the immediate impact we need. People want to feel safe.”
A spokesperson for the NT government acknowledged that businesses and community were angry and had “had a gutful of crime”.
“We know these are complex issues that we can’t just arrest our way out of,” the spokesperson said, adding that investing in the underlying causes of crime – such as housing and lack of services and jobs in regional and remote areas – was also key.
Michael Liddle, a Alyawarre man and an Indigenous councillor from central Australia, told Guardian Australia that antisocial behaviour, crime and alcohol-related harms have increased in the past six months.
He said the solutions were complex but many started with ensuring young children and youths had support, structure and role models to ensure they thrived.
“Too many kids have had no structure, and when they born the first few years of their lives are vitally important to their learning … we need more role models and Aboriginal men need to step up too,” he said.
“We can improve their lives, but we [have] got to have time and patience and there’s groups of people that aren’t listening.”