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Australia is a crime scene. What about Mparntwe Alice Springs?

Written by: Lindy Nolan on 14 February 2023


(Above: Mparntwe Girls  Photo by Dominic Cicere   Creative Commons Flickr)

The NT Intervention imposed on First Peoples ended last year. Fifteen years of brutality, disempowerment and dispossession striking First Peoples, suddenly all better? Why aren’t we celebrating?

The ability to drown sorrows in drink-after-drink is capitalism’s gift of equality, via Dan Murphy and Co’s bottomless pockets. Few do it more than Alice Springs’ population.(1)
Elders and community leaders across the Territory asked for collective empowerment, including that communities remain dry (alcohol free) unless they chose to opt out. The opposite was inflicted. 
A higher percentage of NT Aboriginal People are non-drinkers than whitefellas. That’s true countrywide. But on average, both NT non-Indigenous and Indigenous people consume significantly more alcohol than the rest of the country. Despite bans, alcohol did not disappear. 
In Alice, the Guardian reports “property offences are up 60%, assaults by 35% and domestic violence over 50%”. 
According to four Mparntwe co-authors in The Conversation, in 2022 the Northern Territory received a lousy 1.8% of federal funding in national partnership funding to address domestic, family and sexual violence. 
They write of “chronically underfunded, understaffed and under-resourced” shelters and men and women’s specialist services, with little left for prevention. 
The biggest crime is not just grog. It’s ongoing suppression, theft of land, systemic disempowerment, catastrophic policing, poverty, overcrowded and dilapidated housing. 
In 2021 new mandatory refusal of bail laws forced 94% more young people,  overwhelmingly Aboriginal, into detention. By then the recommendations – to stop imprisoning children under 14; close Don Dale and Alice Springs youth prison; and much more – were five years old. So-called youth “crime rates” had already sharply risen in 2021. That rise continued last year, even before the Intervention ended. 
A child abuse “Emergency”?
On Monday 6 February, ABC’s Media Watch bought into the crime wave commentary. 
Paul Barry rightly called on Divide and Conquer Corp, AKA Sky, and other media companies, to “dial down the hype” of inflammatory claims which “smear all Indigenous people and can easily fan racism”, after “an outback nurse” alleged young people involved in pub fights, causing property damage and endangering themselves and others “were being raped at home” in Alice Springs. Her horrific “eye witness” descriptions were given blanket coverage, including by Barry.
He revealed the “nurse” had never lived in Alice Springs, and hadn’t been a nurse in Darwin for seven years, since she opened a cosmetic clinic.
But he didn’t end there. “We’re not suggesting she made it up. Nor are we saying sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is not a massive problem in the NT.”
Massive problem? Where’s the evidence? 
Child abuse, especially sexual abuse, is a terrible thing, no matter where it occurs. It’s not just statistics. It’s children’s lives, and sometimes deaths. But statistics still carry the weight of those lives.
The word ‘Land’ appears 579 times in the hundreds of pages of Intervention legislation. 
Yet, the words 'child' or 'children' don’t appear once. Wasn’t a child abuse “Emergency” the reason it was imposed? 
Lies and theft
Let’s go back 17 years.
In mid-2006, an ABC’s Lateline report alleged sexual slavery of children. John Howard’s minister, Mal Brough, alleged paedophile rings were being run by male Elders, specifically at Uluru’s Mutijulu community. The Lateline informant, a “long-time Territory youth worker”, was quickly exposed instead as a high public servant working in Brough’s department. 
Lies about NT First Peoples are not new. Their consequences are horrific.
Alyawarre woman Pat Anderson and Rex Wild QC were immediately commissioned to investigate abuse claims. 
In October 2006, Mal Brough called for comment on an already written Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs report ‘Access to Aboriginal Land Under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act – Time for Change'. It outlined the land seizures implemented the next year by the Intervention. 
It was aimed at the heart of NT’s much amended but still stronger 1976 land rights legislation. All opposing submissions were ignored.  
Anderson and Wild’s report, The Little Children Are Sacred, was released on June 15, 2007.
Howard falsely accused the Territory government of “sitting on” it. Miraculously, however, 500 pages of Intervention legislation was ready for parliament on June 23! Its barely read pages were passed with Labor support in a rushed late night sitting. 
While expressing concern about child abuse, both Anderson and Wild vigorously opposed the Intervention.
Elders were crushed. No televised apology. The lies were ignored. The Intervention rolled on.
After the Intervention began, then NT Co-ordinator-General of Remote Services Olga Havnen reported that rates of child sexual abuse were lower in NT Aboriginal communities than in the wider Australian population.
Fifteen years later there’s another lying “eye witness”. And Paul Barry, a journalist, unmasks her and then disseminates her lies across Australia.
Undeclared and ongoing war for land
As the military roared into unarmed communities in June 2007, high profile Arrente Gurdanji woman Pat Turner called the Intervention a Trojan horse disguising a land grab.
Now the NT is open to giant gas and mining corporations. They are the reason for the ongoing humanitarian disaster of the Intervention. They directly benefit as they industrialise First Peoples’ lands against their will. 
That’s the hidden crime wave.
The worst crime is against young Aboriginal kids. It robs them of their homelands, their laws, culture, languages. It incarcerates their future, their hope.
In 2008 Gunnai man Robbie Thorpe declared, “Australia is a crime scene.” 
He said it is a war, undeclared, ongoing. Truth is again a casualty.
Right now, Mparntwe is its genocidal epicentre. Its Peoples must not be left to fight alone. Listen to their voices.
(1) Both articles in The Conversation, one by Chay Brown, Connie Shaw and Kayla Glynn, Here’s some context missing from the Mparntwe Alice Springs ‘crime wave’ reporting and the other by Thalia Anthony and Vanessa Napaltjari Davis, Alcohol bans and law and order responses to crime in Alice Springs haven’t worked in the past, and won’t work now are strong anti-venom to media poison on Mparntwe. They’re must reads.


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