Linda Burney says Indigenous voice would have prevented Alice Springs crisis

Minister says Northern Territory government responded too slowly and a First Nations body advising parliament would have delivered earlier intervention

The minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, says the Northern Territory government responded too slowly to the spike in crime in Alice Springs, and she’s argued a voice to parliament would have prevented a problem escalating to a crisis.

Burney’s comments follow the announcement on Tuesday of new alcohol restrictions accompanied by more than $50m worth of community support to restore order and safety in Alice Springs. Dorelle Anderson has also been appointed as a central Australian regional controller, and will report on next steps to the prime minister and the NT chief minister, Natasha Fyles, on 1 February.

Burney told the ABC on Wednesday she had been in dialogue with the territory government and community organisations for months, arguing the case for renewed restrictions on alcohol sales.

“I think that the NT government admitted that they got it wrong yesterday, which is why there’s this immediate response to additional alcohol restrictions here in Alice Springs,” Burney said.

Burney said a constitutionally recognised First Nations advisory body would have delivered earlier intervention. “If the voice of the parliament had been established previously … we wouldn’t be where we are in terms of Alice Springs at the moment because we would be getting practical advice from people who are representative of the community in relation to these social issues.”

The law-and-order crisis in Alice Springs comes amid renewed political debate over the voice to parliament. The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has pressured the Albanese government to intervene in Alice Springs, and he’s spent the summer demanding detail on the voice while hedging about whether or not the Liberal party will support the advisory body.

Appearing on The Bolt Report on Sky News on Tuesday night, Dutton characterised the government’s intervention in Alice Springs as overdue. The NT intervention-era alcohol restrictions lapsed under the Morrison government, and Fyles has accused Dutton of “playing politics”.

Dutton contended on Tuesday night, without supplying any evidence, that the territory government and Anthony Albanese had responded slowly to the Alice Springs crisis because “they don’t want to act because of race”.

The Sky broadcaster Andrew Bolt also claimed a constitutionally enshrined voice would result in racial division, “where one race has different political rights to the others”, in a question reflecting his long-held opposition to the reform.

Bolt asked Dutton: “How can you as a Liberal possibly even think of supporting that? It’s not a question of detail, this is about fundamental principle.”

While side-stepping the substantive question about whether or not the Liberals would oppose the voice, Dutton intimated the advisory body could diminish one group of Australians at the expense of another.

“Well Andrew, the point I guess I was going to make was I just don’t think we need to pull down one part of who we are as a culture or a people to build up the other and I think it’s equally applicable to Australia Day, to other debates, including in relation to the voice,” Dutton said.

Dutton said it was important to hear from regional areas of the country because “as we’ve demonstrated in Alice Springs and across the Northern Territory, across western Queensland, far-northern Queensland and parts of WA in particular, parts of South Australia in regional remote areas there – there is acute disadvantage and people do want to see an outcome, a better outcome and a better future for those people”.

Bolt persisted, pressing Dutton about his failure to oppose the reform. “This is about fundamental principle, a Labor plan to divide Australians by race and giving one side, one race, different political rights to another. As a Liberal dedicated to everyone being equal before the law, how can you possibly even think about agreeing to something like that?”

Dutton side-stepped, although he signalled clearly the Liberals would line up with the National party in opposing the voice if they concluded the reform had “fatal flaws”.

The opposition leader said the “onus” was on Albanese to provide detail about how the advisory body would function. “If there are fatal flaws, if there are insurmountable issues that we can’t get over, then we’ll be very clear about that, but I’m considering respectfully all of the information that is there at the moment.”


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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