An Alice Springs councillor has said the NT’s head public servant Jodie Ryan has failed to respond to the violence that lead to the Parrtjima festival being moved out of the town’s CBD, with some other events cancelled.
Eli 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 to discuss ongoing anti-social behavior following a weekend he described as a “war zone”.
Mr Melky said they had asked for a quick response to the ongoing crime, but is yet to see anything happen.
The ten day annual light installation festival – a major tourism draw card expected to revive a city hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic – began on Friday but reports of rocks being thrown from stolen cars had organisers in a tail spin.
The Australian film The Sapphires was cancelled on Sunday night following an incident which left two buses with shattered windows. Top End Wedding, Bran Nue Dae, plus a number of ground-breaking documentaries, including The Australian Dream and In My Blood It Runs were expected to be played but have been cancelled.
On Monday afternoon, an official program update outlined a decision to move all events from Todd Mall, in the city centre, to the Alice Springs Desert Park, 8km away, due to receiving “so much interest in our program”.
NT Major events, which controls the event, did not responded to questions from the NT Independent either on Tuesday or Wednesday and have made no public statement on the impact of the violence on the festival. Questions to the Police Minister Nicole Manison, and Chief Minister Michael Gunner, have also gone unanswered.
Despite reports of cars driving down Todd Mall – a pedestrian walkway in the CBD of Alice Springs – and rocks being thrown, police have not set up an operation as they have in the past, Mr Melky said.
“We’ve all been touched by it, we’ve all had a car stolen or window’s broken. In the past three months my real estate business has been targeted three times.
“It is a government responsibility and as a council it feels very frustrating.”
‘It’s unproductive and shameful’
Territory Alliance MLA for Araluen Robyn Lambley slammed an NT Government decision to frame the relocation of festival as a capacity issue, saying it was “absolutely” because of anti-social behaviour.
Ms Lambley says the move was “dishonest” and an attempt by NT Major Events to distance itself from an ongoing crime wave which has impacted a major tourism event.
“People are not silly, when you have one of the organisers of the event, national, proud Indigenous arts leader Rhoda Roberts, get on radio and tell the truth and the [NT] Government telling porkie-pies – it’s unproductive and shameful,” she said.
“The [NT] Government wanted to be re-elected – so provide leadership and resources so we can live safely in our town.”
Police overwhelmed and under-resourced
Ms Lambley, a former CLP Deputy Chief Minister, said the issue of crime in Alice Springs stems from a police force overstretched, especially in remote communities.
In a statement issued by NT Police’s Southern Acting Commander Craig Laidler, it was reported for the 12-month period ending in June 2020, there had been a 13.7 per cent increase in assaults in Alice Springs.
Ms Lambley says the residents of Alice Springs are living in a “world of trouble and pain”, as the re-elected government’s focus has been on the polls for the past six months.
“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.”
Shoring up the NT’s border security in the face of COVID-19, the government has re-deployed around 120 police officers to resource the response, NT Police Association president Paul McCue said.
In a force of around 1,550 across the Territory, Mr McCue said the redeployment is having a huge impact.
“From a policing perspective, COVID requirements are having a significant impact on the force and the ability of police, not just in Alice Springs, but all over the Territory,” he said.
“We know there have been quite a few incidents and we are having urgent discussions about solutions to protect [Alice Springs] from a crime wave.”
He said the force on the ground is “extremely frustrated” at the number of youths walking the street at night and at the amount of stolen vehicles.
“We have had a number of serious incidents over the weekend that have endangered the lives of our members, and we are getting feedback in line with the commander’s (Craig Laidler) reports of an increase in assaults.”
Both Mr McCue, who has previously said the force was at crisis point, and Ms Lambley said the NT Government needed to provide a long term plan.
“We need a plan and we need a whole government and whole of community response,” Ms Lambley said.
“I get messages every day from people in the community who have ideas about what can be done, from curfews to boot camps, to community service.
“It is only September and we know that when the weather starts to get hotter, crime escalates.
“By January the place will be falling apart.”
‘Lost control of the CBD’
On Monday at the Alice Springs Council meeting, Mayor and failed CLP candidate in the recent NT election, Mr Ryan said the relocation and cancellation of Parrtjima events was “an indictment that we have lost control of the CBD,” the Alice Springs News reported.
The NT Independent contacted Mr Ryan on Tuesday and Wednesday but he did not respond.
As NT Major Events continued to downplay the event changes Mr Ryan said the move required “a reaction” from the government.
NT Major Events has continued to provide updates about the relocation on its social media page, maintaining that capacity at Todd Mall had forced the move.