Alice Springs crime ‘crisis’ scaring off visitors, tourism body calls for NT government action

Tourists are opting to drive through Alice Springs instead of staying overnight because they fear for their safety, a Central Australian tourism body says.

Tourism Central Australia moved a motion this week, urging the Northern Territory government to take immediate action to enforce law and order in Alice Springs, saying crime is reaching “crisis levels”.

Chief executive Danial Rochford said a visitor was browsing the local information centre this week when they were allegedly hit with a coward’s punch by an offender, without premeditation.

“They were shaken up. It was just pure, unadulterated assault,” he said.

A man wearing glasses with blue and white checked shirt leaning against a wall.
Tourism Central Australia’s chief executive Danial Rochford.(Supplied: Danial Rochford)

Mr Rochford says he has never seen crime levels like this before in the town and that the government needs to act.

“What they are doing is not working,” he said.

“The ultimate definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

“People want to know that they’re going to be safe tonight.”

Crime stats reveal surge

The latest crime statistics for Alice Springs show nearly every class of crime has increased in the 12 months to the end of July.

Domestic violence assault is up 22 per cent, while alcohol-related assault has surged nearly 20 per cent compared to the previous year.

Home break-ins, commercial break-ins and vehicle thefts have also seen significant increases.

Craig Laidler, wearing a police hat outside the Alice Springs police station.
Craig Laidler says increases in crime across Alice Springs are a concern.(ABC Alice Springs: Mitchell Abram)

NT Police Southern Division Commander Craig Laidler said the statistics were worrying.

“Particularly when I know the amount of work police are doing taking people into custody — and we’re not seeing it as a deterrent,” he said.

Commander Laidler said police were seeing a concerning number of new, often young, faces among offenders.

“Really for me, I would like to see that early intervention where they don’t come across our path,” he said.

Alcohol laws examined

The spike in crime comes amid changes to alcohol bans across the territory.

From July, dozens of previously dry communities, homelands and town camps have been allowed access to alcohol, after restrictions as part of the 2007 NT Emergency Response ended.

NT senator Jacinta Price is preparing a private member’s bill to have the bans reinstated, as Aboriginal health services report increases in alcohol-related abuse in the wake of the legislation change.

People and cars on a busy street in the Alice Springs CBD as the sun sets on the horizon.
Tourism Central Australia says many tourists are choosing not to stay in Alice Springs.(ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher)

They are urging the federal and territory governments to establish a promised data monitoring group, which would regularly release data from police and hospitals to NT Aboriginal health and legal bodies.

“Given what’s been implemented, you would have hoped that the data systems were ready to go, so the harms we’re seeing now could have been monitored in real-time,” said John Boffa from the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.

NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles this week said she would discuss the contentious policy changes with the federal government, including how to better monitor their impact.

Calls for community involvement

Alice Springs Town councillors have also weighed in on the rising crime rates, with deputy mayor Eli Melky saying it’s time residents took matters into their own hands.

“People have suggested we find our own security for the town, including a dog squad,” he said.

“I think there’s legitimacy in saying that we can’t always rely on government.”

An aerial view of the Alice Springs township and its town camps, on a sunny day.
Some Alice Springs Town councillors think residents should take a greater role in addressing crime.(ABC News: Steven Schubert)

It’s a call echoed by fellow councillor Steve Brown, who says programs like Neighbourhood Watch should be expanded.

Whatever happens, Mr Rochford says swift action is crucial.

“People are openly telling the world to avoid Alice Springs,” he said.

“It’s gotten to a stage where we must tackle this head-on.”

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