Alice Springs: Ugly racism on show to all Australians

Alice Springs - Rough Living for Aboriginals

Peter Robson Green Left Weekly March 13, 2011

Media reports paint Alice Springs as being in the midst of an out-of-control crime wave.

Action for Alice, a group of local business owners, has produced a commercial for Imparja television. The ad calls for a law and order push to end the alleged crime wave, which it blames on Aboriginal youth.

The level of hysteria reached a new pitch in an article by Nicolas Rothwell in the February 19 Australian. Rothwell claimed that Alice Springs was plagued by rampaging young Aboriginal people, fuelled by alcohol.

Residents have called for vigilante groups, claiming that the police are letting criminals get away.

Aboriginal country musician Warren H Williams has launched legal action against Action for Alice's advertisement, saying it was racist.

"I have never encountered anything like the unjust portrayal and vilification demonstrated by these advertisements," Williams said on March 3.

"Many Aboriginal peoples have seen these advertisements and feel they have been unjustly represented.

"A serious repercussion of these advertisements is the effect on self-esteem and self-worth, further fuelling a deterioration in the mental health of Indigenous peoples, particularly our youth.

"There is enough segregation within our society between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people ... these advertisements just wedge that gap open even further."

The stabbing of a tourist and the savage beating of a woman in her house were cited as examples of the crime wave.

These examples are tragic, but violent crime has fallen over the past five years, according to a statement by the People's Alcohol Action Coalition in the March 3 National Indigenous Times.

Most reported crimes are property offences and criminal damage - crimes of the poor and dispossessed.

Some have blamed the policies of the NT intervention, which enforced widespread alcohol bans in August 2007. This, the argument goes, has forced more Aboriginal people into Alice Springs.

The outrage ignores the causes of crimes and appropriate solutions. In the absence of facts, Aboriginal people and the Aboriginal town camps of Alice Springs have become scapegoats for a social crisis.

Rothwell said: "Just as significant is the role of town camps as magnets. Since the racially defined zones serve as bases for out of town visitors, and they are apartheid zones, with entry restrictions, they encourage a double standard in service provision and social responsibilities for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal."

Social justice commissioner Mick Gooda went so far as to call for the town camps to be closed.

This proposal ignores the reality of the housing crisis in Alice Springs.There is no way Alice Springs could cope with the closure of the camps.

The town camps of Alice Springs were set up in the 1970s as places for Aboriginal "fringe dwellers" to live. They have public housing and were administered by Tangentyere council until the federal government forced them to lease the land in 2009.

Housing in Alice Springs has become more expensive and the growth of the town has far outstripped its housing capacity.

Aboriginal people face the sharp end of the housing crisis. The camps, previously on the edges of Alice Springs, have been absorbed by encroaching suburbs. Now 180 houses must cater for up to 2000 people, Rothwell's report said.

This is made worse by recent changes to the leasing system imposed by the federal government.

Town camp land has been leased to the government, ending local control over the camps. Humpies and other emergency accommodation have been levelled to "clean up the camps", making the housing situation even worse.

Alice Springs is also a hub for Aboriginal people across central Australia as the main place to access health and other services, adding to the housing crisis.

The Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program has not succeeded in turning this around. New, temporary housing has yet to open. This has created a new level of homelessness.

Aboriginal activist Barb Shaw tried to explain this to an angry February 22 meeting of Action for Alice, but was shouted down. People at the meeting demanded buses to send Aboriginal people home to their remote communities.

On March 8, a community sector meeting discussed a different approach.

Some of the youth support services have been very popular and effective in combatting youth apathy in Alice Springs, but are drastically under-funded.

More resources for such services would go a long way to fixing the problem but have had little support from groups like Action for Alice.

Alice is booming economically, but Aboriginal people remain marginalised. The riches of the mining boom are not for them.

It is this marginalisation of Aboriginal people that is at the heart of the crisis. Unless this is addressed, Alice will remain a town with an ugly reputation.

From GLW issue 872

About GLW - the need for alternative media
In these days of growing media concentration, Green Left Weekly is a proudly independent voice committed to human and civil rights, global peace and environmental sustainability, democracy and equality. By printing the news and ideas the mainstream media won't, Green Left Weekly exposes the lies and distortions of the power brokers and helps us to better understand the world around us.

Green Left Weekly, launched in 1990 by progressive activists to present the views excluded by the big business media, is now Australia's leading source of local, national and international news, analysis, and discussion and debate to strengthen the anti-capitalist movements.



Article Comment

Peter Robson is basically correct when he states that the "marginalisation of Aboriginal people ... is at the heart of the crisis". However he overestimates the capacity of youth programs alone to provide the more immediate relief from widespread violence and property crimes that are being demanded by just about all sections of the community.

Robson also once again demonstrates a lack of command of the facts when writing about the NT.

He seems to think that Alice Springs is booming because of mining. In fact, it is booming mainly because of the Commonwealth and NT Governments' large investment in the NTER programs and projects.

The Native Title holders of Alice Springs are making money hand over fist out of real estate development. Some Aboriginal groups in some remote communities are making money out of mining and oil/gas projects and tourism. Quite a few artists are making money from their art.
The new temporary accommodation (costing more than $11 million) to which Robson refers has opened, and now has more than 100 people staying there, with room for more.

The NT Intervention did not create new alcohol bans in 2007, as implied by Robson - alcohol was banned in just about every bush community many years before the NTER was legislated by Mal Brough. The Intervention did provide police for some communities, which enabled the restrictions to be more firmly enforced in some places, generally with the strong support of most local Aboriginal residents.

When describing the crime problems, Robson mentions the severe bashing of an American resident, and the stabbing of a German tourist, but fails to mention the two stabbing murders that have also occurred in the past month: that of an Arrernte woman from Hermannsburg at the Little Sisters camp, and a Pintupi man from Kintore at Hoppy's camp. Aboriginal youths have been arrested for all four of these incidents, and a large number have also been arrested for other crimes against mainly Aboriginal victims. The crime wave is hurting Aboriginal people as much, if not more, than it is hurting other residents. It is neither wise nor honest for left media to ignore these unfortunate facts.

Bob Durnan
Alice Springs

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