Chief Minister Michael Gunner has finally revealed that the real reason Alice Springs’ Parrtjima Festival events were cancelled and relocated from the centre of town was due to concerns around crime and public safety.
Last week, NT Major Events called off a string of events due to take place at Todd Mall in the centre of Alice Springs’ CBD, and relocated many more than eight kms away to Desert Park.
Creative director of Parrtjima Festival Rhonda Roberts stated on ABC Radio last week that three cars had driven through the highly populated mall at “high speed” following the screening of a movie that raised safety concerns.
However, the government ignored that incident and others, claiming the reason for relocation was overcapacity issues.
But speaking on Mix 104.9 on Monday morning, Mr Gunner admitted a car had in fact driven along the pedestrian walkway filled with people.
It is unclear if the revelation was a slip of the tongue or a redirection on messaging as Mr Gunner explained national policy protections for mass gatherings, coordinated by the National Counter-Terrorism Committee (NCTC).
“Once a vehicle got into that space, we, we had to move [the event] you can’t have that,” Mr Gunner said.
“When it comes to Parrtjima, what happened in the mall – the national crowded spaces policy is that you shouldn’t be able to take a vehicle into essentially what a mass gathering is.
“So, you either have the bollards… and firies can get access… but outside of that, if you can physically drive a car and it’s not safe you’ve got to move it.
“After what we saw in Melbourne and overseas, you can’t have vehicles be able to access areas where people are.”
Claims that the festival needed to be moved due to overcapacity are ‘dishonest’: Lambley
The 10-day annual light installation festival – a major tourism draw card for Alice Springs – began on Friday September 11, but quickly drew criticism from local politicians and some in the community who asserted the decision to frame the relocation as a capacity issue was “unproductive and shameful”.
Territory Alliance MLA for Araluen Robyn Lambley said the move was “dishonest” and an attempt by NT Major Events to distance itself from an ongoing crime wave impacting a major tourism event.
There were also reports of rock-throwing incidents escalating and children caught in the proximity of shattered glass.
Last week, Alice Springs councillor Eli Melki told the NT Independent that the NT’s head public servant Jodie Ryan had been alerted to the escalating crime but failed to respond to the violence that lead to the Parrtjima festival being moved out of the town’s CBD.
Mr Melky said Mayor Damien Ryan and chief executive officer Robert Jennings met with Department of Chief Minister chief executive Ms Ryan, and executive director Cliff Weeks in Alice Springs on Monday, September 14, to discuss ongoing anti-social behavior following a weekend he described as a “war zone”.
He said the council had asked for a fast response to the ongoing crime widely impacting the town, but said as of yet, nothing has eventuated.
‘I went and walked through the streets’: Gunner on Alice Springs ‘war zone’
Mr Gunner visited Alice Springs last week on Wednesday to attend the festival and said he “caught up” with NT Police, Territory Families, Public Safety Officers and the private company in charge of security.
Speaking on Mix 104.9 this morning, he said he attended a “muster” – a briefing before police go out on patrol – where he was informed of what the issues were.
“I went and walked through the streets… [police] are saying a lot of the kids in Alice Springs that have been gathering in the CBD are Alice Springs kids,” he said.
Mr Gunner said problems can emerge when “groups of six become groups of 12 become groups of 24,” adding the solution was working “with families and kids so they’re not all gathering bored in one spot in the CBD”.
With a police force overstretched and under-resourced, the Gunner Government has come under fire for neglecting to fix crime.
“Police are overwhelmed and under-resourced and that needs to be addressed… Once the government takes its eye off the ball on crime you lose traction,” Ms Lambley said.
An Alice Springs Police Officer, who wished to remain anonymous told the NT Independent that police had swept the streets of trouble-making youth ahead of the Chief Minister’s visit.
NT Major events, which controls the annual event, did not responded to questions from the NT Independent last week and has made no public statement on the impact of crime on the festival.
Questions to Police Minister Nicole Manison and Mr Gunner have also gone unanswered.