NT Indigenous groups welcome new funding but push for longer-term solutions

Indigenous organizations welcome much-needed federal funding for investment in youth, employment and health in Central Australia, announced alongside the reintroduction of alcohol bans in the Northern Territory.

The measures announced Monday mean that Aboriginal people living in remote communities and urban camps in the NT will not be able to buy takeaway alcohol, with communities returning to arid areas.

Related: NT reinstates alcohol bans in an effort to curb the crime spree in Alice Springs

Under the plan, communities will need to develop community alcohol plans, with areas wanting to forego a dry zone needing the support of at least 60% of the community.

The alcohol ban, described by First Minister Natasha Fyles as a “circuit breaker”, followed a swift review calling for tighter restrictions to deal with the rise in crime and anti-social behavior in Alice Springs.

The measures will be introduced along with a $250 million federal funding increase, which the NT government says will go toward programs and diversion initiatives for youth and children in the region, support for families and the elderly, learning on the land, school attendance and preventive health measures. .

The funding comes on top of nearly $50 million for health, safety and crime-fighting measures — planned during the initial restrictions announced last month — aimed at addressing the underlying issues contributing to a wave of unrest.

Last month, fresh alcohol restrictions were imposed on Alice Springs, barring residents from buying takeout alcohol on Mondays and Tuesdays and restricting sales on other days, prompting some to raise concerns about a return to intervention-era policies.

Federal NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy told Nine’s Today Show that the measures were a “circuit breaker” the territorial government had to take to give communities a reprieve.

But she said the problems were complex and pushed for longer-term solutions.

“There needs to be a long-term conversation about alcohol and what those communities would like to see in the future, and I know that’s part of the plan.”

Catherine Liddle, chief executive of the National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) Secretariat, agreed, saying she welcomed the financial boost for organizations and services in Central Australia.

“That circuit breaker is badly needed and it seems that attention is being paid to the underlying drivers.”

The Arrernte/Luritja woman from Central Australia said the issues contributing to the crisis range from poverty to a lack of services in remote towns and communities, meaning people have to come to Alice Springs for basic needs.

“Many children and families on the street are severely affected by poverty. There is no home to go to. There is no food to eat. There’s no job to work — and when you’re a kid, you can’t even bounce a basketball,” Liddle said.

Underlying the city’s current crisis, she said, is a lack of understanding of what works for people and families.

“Police can’t fix this, alcohol laws can’t fix this, our communities have the answers,” Liddle said.

“What we are looking at in the Northern Territory are decades of policy failures across all governments…underpinning all of this is marginalization and poverty. If we don’t look at the causes of marginalization – how poverty influences the behavior of our crowd – we cannot solve this problem.”

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress also welcomed the restrictions and additional funding. CEO Donna Ah Chee said it will fill a great need after decades of underfunding in remote communities and urban camps.

“It has become clear to us that alcohol bans alone are not enough,” Ah Chee said in a statement.

“We need sustained action against the root causes of destructive drinking: intergenerational trauma, poverty, poor education and discrimination.”

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