Alice Springs Residents to Mount Class Action Over Northern Territory Government Response to Crime Wave

Alice Springs Residents to Mount Class Action Over Northern Territory Government Response to Crime Wave

Alice Springs residents are launching a class action against the Northern Territory (NT) government as the ongoing spate of youth crime and alcohol-fuelled violence continues to plague the town.

At a packed town meeting, organizer Garth Thompson announced that the Alice Springs community was preparing to sue the Northern Territory government for $1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion) in compensation, the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) reported.

Thompson said the NT government had neglected Alice Springs on a variety of levels and said residents “deserve to be compensated for what the government has put us through.”

“I am more than proud to stand here and say we, as a community of Alice Springs, are about to sue our government for $1.5 billion in compensation,” he said.

The ABC reported that Thompson noted that the current measures proposed by the government were “quite disgusting at times.”

“They have the ability to solve these problems … but they choose not to,” he said. “We are all controlled, and we are all put in a place where we are harmed by their decisions to try [to] fix our problems with a patch, and that’s wrong.”

The news of the class action comes as the town continues to experience an ongoing crime wave and youth violence, which has been blamed on the NT Government’s decision to allow alcohol to be reintroduced to the community after 15 years of restrictions were lifted in July 2022 .

Governments have warned that lifting alcohol restrictions could lead to unrest and violence

The NT Government has announced a series of new restrictions on alcohol sales in Alice Springs as a temporary measure to help police deal with a youth crime wave in the region, with sales of takeaway alcohol now banned on Monday and Tuesday and reduced hours of alcohol service on the remaining days of the week from 15:00 to 19:00

The government has also introduced a ban on multiple alcohol transactions, with Alice Springs residents only allowed to make one takeaway purchase per day via the banned drinkers register.

Alcohol prohibition in central Australia was first implemented in 2007 during the federal government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response, also known as the NT Intervention, under then Prime Minister John Howard. It aimed to deal with lawlessness and crime in native townships and communities. Restrictions were continued in 2012 under Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Stronger Future legislation (pdf), which expired in July 2022.

At the time of their expiration, the Albanian government said it supported the right of indigenous people in the NT to determine their future and “lead strong, independent lives, where communities, families and children are safe and healthy.”

This followed the NT Government’s decision in May 2022 to amend the Liquor Act 2019 and Associations Act 2003, which allowed the sale of alcohol in the Indigenous regions.

Northern Territory Senator Jacinda Price criticized the NT and federal governments over the decision to lift the restrictions, saying both governments had been warned by indigenous community groups.

Price shared a letter on Facebook from nine Indigenous advocacy groups—including the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Yilli Housing, Danila Dilba Health Service, the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjarra Yankunytjatjarra Womens Council, and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organization —to Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney in June 2022, who highlighted Indigenous communities’ concerns that the decision by the NT Government was wrong, and called for the Federal Government to extend Stronger Futures for two years.

“We are now in a situation where the NTG (Northern Territory Government) has suddenly abandoned its generally admirable record on addressing the very high rates of alcohol consumption and serious related harm,” the letter said.

“We believe that the whole process is a reversal of what needs to happen.”

The groups also noted that they do not believe that the alcohol restrictions are racist or discriminatory and that if restrictions are lifted, it will lead to an increase in alcohol-related injuries and offences.

“Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Darwin in particular are currently experiencing a seemingly unrelenting wave of property-related offenses mainly by youths,” they said. “There is no doubt that many of the offenders come from families where adults have alcohol problems. Allowing more access to alcohol will undoubtedly add fuel to the fire. “

Calls for intervention began last year

Alice Springs mayor Matt Paterson had already appealed for assistance last year, revealing that crime was out of control.

“Parents who drive their children to childcare in the morning are confronted with anti-social behaviour; they can’t even shop in the afternoon because there’s someone brandishing a weapon,” he said on Radio 2GB on January 17, 2023.

“Our library was broken into Sunday afternoon with over $20,000 worth of damage done, and the police took seven hours to respond. Our police are doing an incredible job, but it’s clear that we don’t have enough resources.”

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton demanded the federal government set up a royal commission into the situation.

“There are reports of kids running around with machetes, kids who don’t want to go back home because they feel it’s unsafe to stay there, so they’re out to commit crimes,” he said.

“This is a law and order and crime problem, and we want those children to grow up in a safe environment – and the Prime Minister has the resources, has the ability and has to show the leadership to deal with this issue.”

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