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Report into Alice Springs unrest recommends urgent alcohol ban in central Australian communities | Alice Springs

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The Northern Territory government must urgently amend its laws to impose alcohol bans in central Australian communities, including the town camps in Alice Springs, according to a snap review.

The bans would remain in place until communities have time to develop their own alcohol management plans.

Once those plans are in place, communities may then opt out of the legislative restrictions.

These are the key recommendations of the highly anticipated first report of Dorrelle Anderson, who was appointed the regional controller for central Australia in the wake of rising social unrest and street violence in Alice Springs.

The report has not been made public, but details began to emerge after it was delivered to the NT on Wednesday and the federal government late on Wednesday night.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, was set to meet with the NT chief minister Natasha Fyles on Thursday afternoon to discuss the report and a way forward.

At a Canberra press conference, Fyles declined to reveal what was in the report or confirm details reported in the media. She also wouldn’t say exactly what assistance she would request from the federal government, only she wanted “sustainable” changes not “Band-Aid solutions”.

One tangible change Fyles suggested was a call for more government services such as Centrelink offices to be built in regional communities. She suggested such changes could address “urban drift” from remote communities into larger centres, in a bid to further address overcrowding and associated violence in towns.

“That can be driven by alcohol but it is not the sole single issue,” Fyles said.

The chief minister and her attorney general, Chansey Paech, rebuffed questions on “opt-out” alcohol measures on communities and appeared to hint such measures were not on the table. Asked about local measures at the community level, Fyles said “we trust them with the issue of alcohol”, and again suggested a ballot for communities to vote on their own drinking rules.

Albanese has already said he wants to act on the report “as soon as possible”.

“I want not to delay but I also understand that some of these issues are intergenerational,” he said on Wednesday. “There aren’t easy off-the-shelf solutions. It’s not just about alcohol. It’s about employment. It’s about service delivery. It’s about getting staff on the ground.”

NT police have reported a reduction in antisocial behaviour and domestic violence incidents since temporary restrictions came into force last week.

Since late last month, there have been takeaway alcohol-free days on Monday and Tuesday and alcohol-reduced hours on other days, with takeaways allowed between 3pm and 7pm and a limit of one transaction per person each day.

Chief minister for the Northern Territory, Natasha Fyles, speaks to the media on 25 January. Photograph: Blake Sharp-Wiggins/The Guardian

Fyles said she was still considering how to consult communities on whether or not ongoing bans should be opt-out. She said a public ballot in affected communities was one way to respect local decision-making agreements and listen to Indigenous leaders.

“I believe that one option going forward would be to have a ballot so that everyone can have confidence in whatever the decision is, there can’t be the accusation if you don’t like the decision that we didn’t talk to the right people,” Fyles said.

She said that the NT needed more funding to manage the challenges ahead.

“The commonwealth need to step up and we need to see needs-based funding,” she said. “I have said this time and time again: the NT, based on GST formulas and the cost we have of delivering services, it’s simply not fair.”

The chief executive of the Aboriginal Medical Alliance Northern Territory, Dr John Paterson, said it was time for “intervention era and kneejerk responses” to end.

“What we need is for the commonwealth and NT governments to sit down with the organisations controlled by our communities and negotiate a formal agreement on new policies, programs and funding to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people right across the Territory,” Paterson said.

Intervention-era bans on alcohol in remote Aboriginal communities came to an end in July, when liquor became legal in some communities for the first time in 15 years, while other communities were able to buy takeaway alcohol without restrictions.

Alice Springs has become a flashpoint in recent weeks, with an increase in property crime and violence prompting new alcohol restrictions to be imposed.

Last week, the prime minister and territory government politicians announced additional funding for measures including liquor licence compliance and emergency accommodation.

Southern Arrernte, Pitjantjatjara and Luritja woman and Pertame language educator Samantha Armstrong said the voices of locals need to be prioritised when working on solutions.

“Elders have been trying to get their voice across for years about government policies surrounding Indigenous issues, particularly around Alice Springs,” Armstrong said.

She said over the past week there had been less crime and antisocial behaviour, but she did not want to return to intervention-era blanket alcohol bans and income management.


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