Alice Springs residents are mounting class action against the Northern Territory (NT) government as the ongoing wave of youth crime and alcohol-fueled violence continues to plague the town.
At a packed town meeting, organiser Garth Thompson announced that the community in Alice Springs was preparing to sue the Northern Territory government for $1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion) in compensation, reported the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC).
Thompson said the NT government had neglected Alice Springs on a range of levels and said residents “deserve to be compensated for what the government has put us through.”
“I’m 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 present measures put forward by the government were “sometimes quite disgusting.”
“They have the ability to fix these problems … but they choose not to,” he said. “We’re all controlled, and we’re all put in a place where we’re disadvantaged by their decisions to try [to] fix our problems with a band-aid, and it’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 for the re-introduction of alcohol to the community after 15 years of restrictions were removed in July 2022.
Governments Warned Lifting Alcohol Restrictions Could Lead to Unrest and Violence
The NT government announced a raft 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 hours of alcohol serving reduced on the remaining days of the week from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The government also introduced a ban on multiple alcohol transactions, with Alice Springs residents only allowed to make one takeaway purchase per day via the banned drinker register.
Alcohol bans in central Australia were first implemented in 2007 during the federal government’s Northern Territory’s Emergency Response, also known as the NT Intervention, under then-Prime Minister John Howard. It aimed to deal with lawlessness and crime in Indigenous 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 Albanese government said that it supported the right of Indigenous people in the NT to determine their futures and “live strong, independent lives, where communities, families and children are safe and healthy.”
This was followed the NT government’s decision in May 2022 to amend the Liquor Act 2019 and Associations Act 2003, which allowed for the sale of alcohol in the Indigenous regions.
Northern Territory Senator Jacinda Price has criticised the NT and federal governments on the decision to lift the restrictions and said that both governments were 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 Organisation—to the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney in June 2022, which outlined the Indigenous communities’ concern that the decision by NT government was wrong, and asking for the federal government to extend the 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 severe related harm,” the letter said.
“We believe that the entire process is a reversal of what should occur.”
The groups also noted that they did not believe that the alcohol restrictions were racist or discriminatory and that if restrictions were lifted, it would lead to a spike in alcohol-related injuries and offending.
“Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Darwin, in particular, are currently experiencing a seemingly unrelenting spate of property-related offending mainly by youths,” they said. “There is no doubt that many of the offenders are from families where adults have alcohol problems. To permit more access to alcohol will undoubtedly add fuel to fire. ”
Calls for Intervention Began Last Year
Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson was already appealing for assistance last year, revealing crime was out of control.
“Parents driving their kids to childcare in the morning are being confronted with anti-social behaviour; they can’t even go shopping in the afternoon because there’s someone wielding a weapon,” he said on Radio 2GB on Jan. 17, 2023.
“Our library was broken into on Sunday afternoon with over $20,000 worth of damage caused, and the police took seven hours to respond. Our police are doing an amazing job, but clearly, we don’t have enough resources.”
Meanwhile, opposition leader Peter Dutton has demanded the federal government establish a Royal Commission into the situation.
“There are reports of kids running around with machetes, children not wanting to go back home because they feel it’s unsafe to stay there, so they’re out committing crimes,” he said.
“It’s a law and order and crime problem, and we want those kids to grow up in a safe environment—and the prime minister has the resources, has the ability, and should show the leadership to deal with this issue.”