The Guardian • Issue #2039

Alice Springs

A lesson in neglect and discrimination

Note the dwelling in poor condition and the number of people living in it. Aboriginal Housing is a desperate need in Alice Springs. Photo: CPA

Bans on alcohol sales in the Northern Territory were lifted on July 16, 2022. Almost six months later, the media is filled with alarmist stories of an Indigenous “crime wave.” Police reports indicate property offences jumped by almost 60 per cent over the past 12 months, while assaults increased by 38 per cent and domestic violence by 48 per cent.

The situation is serious and complex, but it is hardly a surprise.

It has been common knowledge for decades. In 2006 the ABC program Lateline reported:

“There are calls … for genuine partnerships between government and communities aimed at addressing decades of abuse and neglect by government agencies in a way that also addressed the terrible legacies of colonisation, genocide, dispossession and racial discrimination.”

In May last year Congress (the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the main health organisation for Aboriginal people in Alice Springs) warned: “At a stroke, many Northern Territory communities, town camps and Community Living Areas will lose their legal protection from alcohol abuse.

“The ‘rivers of grog’ will once again flow through our communities. The effects on the broader community through increased crime, antisocial behaviour and violence will be of great concern.”

Scattered around Alice Springs are the town camps which are occupied by Pitjantjara, Arrernte, Walpiri and other communities who make up the majority of the Aboriginal people in the town.

Town camps often have poor quality housing that is overcrowded and under-resourced. Often several houses have to share toilet and washing facilities.

Some Aboriginal people live in the suburbs of Alice Springs, most often in public housing. At the other end of the spectrum are Aboriginal rough sleepers.

When the “crisis” became news, the NT Government’s Police Minister Kate Worden claimed: “Our primary focus was to talk to those takeaway alcohol retailers to see how they can contribute to making Alice Springs a safer place to live.”

As if alcohol retailers will voluntarily restrict their sales for the sake of the greater good! This is nonsense and shows just how our governments serve business, not the people.

The people in Alice Springs are betrayed by their politicians who fly in, make a few comments, and fly out.

Prime Minister Albanese flew into Alice Springs and went straight to bureaucrats from the Council, NT Government and Federal government as well as ALP politicians.

Where were the consultations with the Indigenous people? Where was the respect for the organisations that for decades have battled alcohol issues in Alice Springs?

Congress covers health, the Central Australian Land Council manages land issues and mining. Tangentyere Council provides local council services for Aboriginal homes as well as some community-based services including dealing with domestic violence. The Traditional Owners (TOs) are also crucial to solving problems like the recent incidents.

The PM left the town after agreeing to strict restrictions on alcohol sales and pledging $2 million for Tangentyere Council’s domestic violence program.

Youth issues

The only youth services in Alice Springs are the library and the town pool. Youth worker Charlotte Mardling asked the Alice Springs Town Council, “What are the current services, programs and diversionary activities that are on offer to the young people in this town … to divert them from anti-social behaviours? Are there plans for skateparks, youth centres, etc?”

The Alice Springs Mayor had to admit there are not any such services and none are planned.

Contrast that with the new youth detention centre costing $24 million.

Contrast it with the fact that Council installed a baseball pitch for Pine Gap workers and reports that staff members had great times playing golf with “Aussies”.


The NT government is building houses in remote areas using a modular method with the housing built in town and bolted together in the field. This destroys any opportunity for employment of local people.

Former NT Labor politician Scott McConnell says: “You can’t have large towns that have effective unemployment rates north of 90 per cent. We must work on a participatory economy.”


Education opportunities for Indigenous young people are limited by their backgrounds which are disorganised by poverty and disadvantage, leading to poor attendance rates and poor academic performance.

The NT Education Department demands that US history is taught in Alice Springs High Schools for the children of Pine Gap workers.


In the NT, almost every child in the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre or in Don Dale is Indigenous. Some of those kids are ten-year-olds. US Marines in Darwin who commit serious crimes such as rape are extradited to the US and treated leniently.

With leadership by the Indigenous people themselves, the problems arising from deep-seated trauma and the many decades of neglect could be solved.

It will require funding for teams of educators, social workers, and health workers, working with generations.

It will need more addiction rehabilitation centres, Indigenous social clubs run by Indigenous people.

Massive expenditure on housing and women’s refuges is essential.

If there were serious attention to and funding for these and more programs, we could at last see some end to the suffering and social disconnect.

The largest spy base in the world operates happily alongside the massive injustices inflicted on the Indigenous people. Pine Gap gets $300 million a year from the Australian government while the local people eke out lives of deep poverty and disadvantage.

Who is committing the crimes?

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