Doorstop - Alice Springs

Alice Springs
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese
Prime Minister
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
Minister for Indigenous Australians
Northern Territory Attorney-General

ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well this is my third visit to the Northern Territory as Prime Minister. I intended to come to Alice Springs in December, but COVID got in the way of that appointment. But today we've had very successful meetings and engagements. Firstly with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, where we talked to people including Donna and John; the NPY Women's Council; we had a meeting with the Mayor of Alice Springs, Matt Patterson, and the leadership of the police, including Assistant Commissioners Dole and White. And I want to thank Natasha, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory; Chansey Paech, but also my federal colleagues that I've brought here with me today; Linda Burney, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs; Senator Patrick Dodson, there at the back, who is my Special Envoy for the Uluru Statement from the Heart; Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and Marion Scrymgour, our local MPs for the Northern Territory, in both the House of Representatives in Lingiari but also for the NT. Today, we have some significant announcements to make, but also some foreshadowing of future activity to deal with the pressures which clearly have been felt here in Alice Springs. Natasha will go through some of the immediate restrictions which will be placed on and will be announced and implemented in co-operation with the authorities, including were welcomed very much by the law enforcement people and others who we met with today. We also though, want to make sure that we have co-operation across the levels of government to deliver better outcomes. These are complex problems and they require a full solution, which won't be immediate, which require different levels of government, but to work together to that end. We've agreed to establish a Central Australian Regional Controller, and that that person will be Dorrelle Anderson, who's here with us this evening. Dorrelle is the right person for the job, someone who's experienced and someone who's very familiar with this local community, but someone who will have responsibility to make sure that we get federal and state programs coordinated in the best possible way to make sure they're not the most effective, but also they provide for the best use of taxpayers' dollars to make a substantial difference. Dorrelle will oversee, as well, along with representatives of the Commonwealth and the territory government, a process over the next short period, to report back on the first of February to myself and to the Chief Minister about the implementation of potential changes to alcohol restrictions in Central Australia, including potentially moving to an opt-out situation rather than opt-in that has applied. But to analyse and to consult with communities to make sure that we get the right outcome there, and it's the one that brings community with us on that journey. The last issue as well that I'll go to is the development of not just a Central Australian alcohol management plan in the long term, but how do we deal with the complex issues which are here. We had today, the Mayor certainly put forward, that it was an issue of youth crime as well as issues related to alcohol, but also there was issues related to employment and opportunity, issues that were about service delivery and service hubs and about investment in communities. We have today, I can confirm, that we will be extending the safety and community services funding that we provide for Central Australian organisations beyond June 2023, that will be a $25 million commitment to provide that certainty for the workforce and for those organisations and for those people who depend upon their services going forward. The former government left a whole lot of zombie saves in the budget, there were a whole lot of programmes that just ended or end at the end of this financial year. The truth is that those organisations need to have that continued funding and we'll provide it for them, as well as for the Tangentyere women's council an additional $2 million. We have $14.2 million available for high visibility police operations, including security in public places as well. As well, $2 million for CCTV safety lighting to make sure that the public spaces and those areas of street lighting can make a difference. $5.6 million is available for emergency accommodation as well. This is an issue which has a severe shortfall in this town of Alice Springs, and that will provide support, particularly so that people who are victims of domestic violence have somewhere to go in those circumstances as well. This comes on top of the $19 million we'll provide for additional health funding in Central Australia and the $100 million program that we have for indigenous housing. The issues here are complex. Today we had an opportunity to listen face to face, and I appreciate the opportunity and I certainly appreciate as well and acknowledge the work of the Northern Territory Government and my friend the Chief Minister for undertaking the tasks. We spoke yesterday and agreed that we would meet here today, face to face, and that there was a lot of benefit towards having the leadership at both the Commonwealth and Territory level meeting here together.

NATASHA FYLES, CHIEF MINISTER OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Thank you, Prime Minister. Thank you, and I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners and pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. And I'd also like to acknowledge and thank my colleagues both in the Federal and Northern Territory Parliament that are here with me. Alice Springs is an important part of our community. Central Australia is an important part, not only of the Northern Territory, but Australia. After discussions with the Prime Minister and his team, we are going to be announcing measures immediately to support the community of Alice Springs and Central Australia. But I will say upfront that not everyone will be happy with today's announcement. The community has called on the government to step up, to step in and to help with a range of solutions and trials. And that is what we are going to do. But in return, I ask the community to work with us. As you've heard from the Prime Minister, we will be appointing a Central Australian Regional Controller who will be making sure that all levels of government are working in partnership to deliver what is needed to help our community. This is not just the township of Alice Springs, but it is the broader Central Australian community. We have seen decades of neglect under the previous Coalition government and changes in policies that have had an impact. And I'm very pleased that Dorelle Anderson has agreed to take this position. Someone who has lived and worked in Central Australia for a number of years, someone who gets it. In terms of alcohol, we have done more than any other government around alcohol policy and measures to reduce harm in our community. But we need to give the community respite and support, and we need to do that immediately. You saw action from the police over the weekend, and we have already reduced trading in Central Australia on a Sunday. We will now have takeaway alcohol-free days on Monday and Tuesday. We will also have alcohol reduced hours on the remaining days from 3:00 to 7:00 PM only for takeaway alcohol. We will also introduce one transaction per person each day, and we are able to do this immediately through the banned drinker register. So I do ask the community to understand we do not take these decisions lightly, but these are measures to reduce the amount of alcohol in our community. It is a decision that police fully support, and by reducing that amount of alcohol, we will reduce the harm. So these measures, coupled with the other restrictions and measures we have placed in the Northern Territory, along with an on premise BDR blitz, will help reduce that alcohol in our community. So we all have a role to play, and it will significantly reduce that amount of alcohol. We'll put that in place for three months and whilst that's in place, we will work on other measures as we have done continually since we came to government in 2016. And we will also work with the Commonwealth around a package, particularly to support kids and families. We will have two facilities that we will stand up, that will allow children to remain with their families, but to have the support and programs, and these won't be located in Alice Springs. We will look at alternative models to provide that support and care. Central Australia is a very special place. The Prime Minister and myself as Chief Minister, we won't give up. This team here won't give up. There is tough work that needs to be done, but we are here listening to the community and working with them. In terms of the alcohol restrictions, we have seen changes over the previous six months. Peter Dutton was a part of the Coalition Cabinet that sat there and let the Stronger Futures Law lapse in the Northern Territory. Yet over the last few weeks, he's played politics with this issue without even visiting the Northern Territory. But we have let the data settle. It's clear after six months that we need to make further changes, and you've seen that with the measures announced today. I can't make further changes immediately. We put in an opt-in system and we have seen communities opt-in. That opt-in finishes next week, and what I commit to is looking at the system, working with the community, including the possibility of placing an opt-in system. So we are announcing immediate measures and we will continue to work in this space. So I look forward to working with my colleagues at a federal level and the territory level to finalise the package of other supports and programs and we will continue to work here in Central Australia for a safer community. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER: Thanks very much, Chief Minister. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Is this an admission that it was wrong to let that Stronger Futures legislation expire and to allow alcohol back into some of those communities again?

PRIME MINISTER: We weren't the government when that decision was made. And the Stronger Futures legislation, of course, expired before the new Parliament had met. That was the decision of the former government.

JOURNALIST: Do you support the alcohol restrictions? And what were the discussions about today?

PRIME MINISTER: I support exactly what the Chief Minister has announced here. Immediate measures to place restrictions on the availability of alcohol, as well as ensuring that when that period of the opt-in concludes at the 31st of this month, so next week, a very, very timely review that will enable consultation to take place with communities themselves, including consideration given to restoring an opt-out system.

JOURNALIST: Sorry, PM, I was talking about the Stronger Futures alcohol restrictions that were in place, not the ones that are coming. I'm just interested in whether you actually support that, people in your team support that, leaders in town support so I'm just interested in what you think about it and how the discussions went today and whether everyone was on the same page.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I answered the question very clearly. What I do support is the announcement that's been made today. But I also want for communities to be consulted appropriately, and that was part of the discussion. That people need to be treated with respect, and that we've appointed today a timely person, we've named who the person is in Dorrelle who's with us, who will oversee a process whereby the commonwealth and the territory will look and report back to us by February 1, that's next week, by next week about the potential for going back to the opt-out situation. But Stronger Futures, of course, was about more than that as well. But if that's the aspect, that's our position is that we'll be receiving that report next week.

JOURNALIST: Is there any assistance for the local police force in the form of the AFP or the Defence Force given that some of these measures could potentially be a spike in antisocial behaviour and crime, for access to alcohol. Is that on the table?

PRIME MINISTER: The police officers, the Assistant Police Commissioners who we met with today, can speak for themselves. But it was certainly not something that was advocated today. And it's not something that has also been, the idea that an Australian Federal Police officer, who I have the ultimate respect for, who look after my safety and the safety of others, it's a particular skills that they have. The idea that they have more improved skills than someone who's here on the ground in Alice Springs and the local Northern Territory Police, I'm yet to see anyone put that argument.

JOURNALIST: Some of the women's groups in town would say that it's not alcohol that drives domestic violence, it's misogyny, it's men's attitudes, alcohol makes it worse. So can we really expect to see a dramatic improvement from these measures?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, a common theme today is that this issue is not just about alcohol. I'll ask Linda Burney to make some comments, and the Chief Minister may want to as well. But it was a very common view, including from the women's organisations who we met with today, there's a range of issues. Domestic violence is a scourge. It's a scourge right around our country. It is always wrong, every single time.

JOURNALIST: But why do this if you're saying that alcohol is not a driving factor?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is quite clearly a factor. If you look at the figures that were presented in our first meeting today, it quite clearly is a factor. It's not the only factor, but it's a factor.

LINDA BURNEY, MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: The measures that have been announced today are important. And the fact that we have an ongoing process for dealing with, as the Prime Minister said, incredibly complex issues here in Central Australia should be commended. The package that we will work on in the medium-to-long term is significant, and the measures that the Prime Minister announced today are also significant. The measures that the Chief Minister has announced today, in terms of restricting the sale of takeaway alcohol, are incredibly important. We met with a number of people today, one of them specifically a women's group, who raised the complexity of not only alcohol, but a whole range of issues that we'll be looking at in terms of what needs to go forward here in Alice Springs. I think the important thing is that we are here. We are here because there has been a desire from the community for action, and we have responded to that. That's what's significant. The issue of youth on the streets and the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence are real. Let's not pretend that they aren't. They are real. So we will be working closely together, which is the whole point of us travelling here today, with the NTG in terms of addressing the issues here in Central Australia.

JOURNALIST: Minister, two years ago after extensive consultation, the Northern Territory Aboriginal Justice Agreement proposed solutions to the problems that we are discussing here today. What is the Northern Territory Government doing to implement that and what is the hold-up?

CHANSTON PAECH, NORTHERN TERRITORY ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you for the question. Certainly the Northern Territory Government is absolutely committed to the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. We've had the Aboriginal Justice Unit in Central Australia last week meeting with a range of stakeholders. We have made the commitment to bring forward alternative to custody facilities right across the Northern Territory, particularly here in Central Australia. And we continue to work with the Commonwealth Government on that investment of justice reinvestment, to ensure that when we talk about justice, we absolutely acknowledge that we need to have community solutions in order for justice reinvestment to address the offending behaviours and change those offending behaviours. So we are committed to the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. We are continuing to work closely with the Commonwealth on that commitment of justice reinvestment, and Alice Springs and Central Australia are a key feature in that partnership agreement, to address the high rates of Indigenous incarceration we are seeing across the Northern Territory, and particularly to get in and work with our young people. Not just our young people, but our young people's families. We know that we need to do this together. Commonwealth, Northern Territory Government and the family units at home. That is the way we will absolutely overcome a huge number of the social issues that we are seeing here in the Northern Territory. So as Minister Burney has highlighted today, we are continuing those conversations around what that investment is, where it looks like and where it is best placed in this community to respond to the challenges and to work with our community members, so that we do see the reduction in Indigenous incarceration, we do see the reduction in property, crime and unlawful entries right across the community. This is something that all levels of government, and I will absolutely acknowledge the role that local government play in this conversation, and being part of this solution. This will only work if all three levels of government are coming together and working closely together. And what I can say, as a result of those meetings today, that is absolutely what is happening. That is absolutely what will continue to happen, and we will work with and pull every lever possible to address and overcome the social issues we are seeing in the Central Australian region at the moment.

JOURNALIST: Marion Scrymgour in her maiden speech to Parliament raised this issue about the return of alcohol into towns and communities, so did Jacinta Price in her first speech to Parliament. Two Aboriginal women from a remote part of the Northern Territory, and it's taken six months for something to happen. How is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament going to change people's lives here in Alice Springs, if it's taken so long for governments to listen to two Aboriginal voices who are in the Parliament?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, Marion Scrymgour is, of course, a great activist and someone who I have extraordinary respect for. I heard her first speech to the Parliament, and indeed, it was outstanding, and I'll give her the opportunity to comment. With regard to a Voice to Parliament, what is very clear, and today's decisions are in the context of the gap that exists in health outcomes, housing outcomes, life expectancy, incarceration rates, between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. If everything was working all okay, then we should just keep doing it the same way. What a Voice to Parliament will do is to have a representative body that is able to advocate and give advice to Parliament and to government. That is all that it does. And at the same time, of course, it gives constitutional recognition and ensures that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be given the respect of being in our nation's birth certificate, our constitution, that recognition. That is what the Voice will do. I think it's a positive measure going forward, and I think it's a good thing that a range of members, including Jacinta Price, have been elected to the Parliament. So you have Ken Wyatt, of course, who's participating in the process, a former Coalition member as well. But what you have is a range of people who represent, in Marion's case, the people of Lingiari, and her electorate, regardless of their gender, their ethnicity, their faith, who they are, that's their job. This is something very specific that we're aimed at doing because, quite frankly, when you look at closing the gap and where we are, we need to do better.

JOURNALIST: I just wanted to check that about the Voice, because there is some polling out today showing that support has slipped. Why is that and what are you going to do about it?

PRIME MINISTER: The polling today indicates a 60% yes vote. So that's what the polling today.

JOURNALIST: It's trending down.

PRIME MINISTER: A 60% yes vote. We have had eight referendums passed in this country on the almost fifty occasions that it's been put. It's very difficult to change our constitution. But the change that has been done and voted upon, and will be voted upon this year, is a clear one, one that the wording has been put forward, of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as our First Peoples, saying that, and that's the context of, there shall be a Voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It then says that Voice will be able to give advice to Parliament on matters that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And the third element, which is critical, it says that Parliament will have the power to determine the structure, the operation of the Voice. That is, it's subservient to Parliament, it's not attempting to create anything that's above our existing democratic processes. Now, those words were uttered by me, put forward that draft words in July of last year at Garma. I have not had a suggested amendment from any Member of Parliament, of the House of Representatives, or of the Senate, from any political party, from Labor, from the Coalition, from the Greens. I have not had any proposed change to what is actually before, or will be before, the Australian people. If people have a suggestion, I would welcome that. We have a Constitutional Working Group, including a former High Court judge, including Professor Anne Twomey and others working that through. The Referendum Working Group is working through detail as well, a very broad spectrum of Indigenous Australians, with the leadership, of course, of some of the fine people who are with me here today. What I will continue to do is to engage on this issue in a way that leaves the door open as wide as possible, for as broad a support as possible for the Voice to Parliament. I won't engage in the sort of politics that we're seeing, that people can draw their own conclusions on. But it's out there, there will be a process this year. There will be a process whereby the legislation for, the nature of referendums, because it hasn't occurred, we haven't had one this century, needed to be updated, that's before the Parliament. That report will come down as a committee report. It will come down and then it will be considered in the Senate when we return. There will then need to be legislation before the Parliament to hold the words, that has to contain the words of the referendum and the constitutional change, that will be the subject of a committee process that will involve people across the Parliament as well, and indeed across Australia to be able to participate and to put forward their views about that. That will have a process of at least six weeks of operation. There will then be a period whereby there can't be a vote immediately. Then there'll be a period of months before the vote can be held, and it can't be held longer than six months. There's a precise period in which it can be held. So there is an enormous amount of opportunity for people with a bit of goodwill, and I refer to Noel Pearson's comments in past days. I don't mind having arguments about a range of things, by all means, AUKUS, the economy, there's a whole lot of things that we can argue on with the other side of politics. This should be where people are looking for agreement, not looking for an argument. Because this is important for respect for First Nations people, for the way that Australians see ourselves and the way that the world sees us. Thank you.