Arrernte traditional owners urge PM to ‘come back and talk to the elders’ amid Alice Springs crisis

Arrernte traditional owners are urging the prime minster to return to Alice Springs to talk to elders on the ground following his visit last week in response to a surge in crime and antisocial behaviour in the Northern Territory town.

Eastern Arrernte woman Elaine Peckham, senior Western Arrrernte woman Doreen Carroll and Southern Arrernte and Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra woman Brenda Shields form part of the Strong Grandmothers of the Central Desert group, who have come together to advocate for their community and push for change.

Alice Springs has become a flashpoint in recent weeks, sparking calls from the mayor for military and federal police intervention.

Related: ‘Under siege’: As Alice Springs becomes a national flashpoint, locals fear what comes next

The women want senior politicians, including the prime minister, to sit with them and hear the concerns of people at the grassroots level first-hand, in addition to the views of politicians, peak bodies and organisations.

“He needs to come back and talk to the elders … Not only talk to the government and organisations,” Carroll said.

Last week, under pressure from political opponents, Anthony Albanese visited Alice Springs for several hours along with territory government officials to announce a suite of new alcohol restrictions. He promised $48.8m over two years for a range of measures, including liquor licence compliance and emergency accommodation.

“This is important, he can’t just fly in and fly out again,” Shields said. “This is all about human beings here in Alice Springs and our humanity.

“Walk and talk with the people … This is a big country. This is a big region, the biggest region in Australia, where all of these issues need to be dealt with.”

Peckham cautiously welcomed the trial restrictions, which include takeaway alcohol bans on Mondays and Tuesdays, reduced takeaway hours on other days and only one transaction a person, a day.

“The previous laws were discriminatory because it was basically a blanket for Aboriginal people but the others [could] drink alcohol,” Peckham said.

“I think we should just give it a try for that three months and then reevaluate it after.”

Interventionist bans on alcohol in remote Aboriginal communities came to an end in July, when liquor became legal in some communities for the first time in 15 years, while other communities were able to buy takeaway alcohol without restrictions.

NT police statistics show reported property offences have jumped by almost 60% over the past 12 months, while assaults increased by 38% and domestic violence assaults doubled.

The women said much of the trouble in Alice Springs stems from ongoing trauma and dispossession; the disempowerment of the NT intervention; and the poverty, and lack of services and investment which force people out of communities and into the town.

The Labor MP for Lingiari, Marion Scrymgour, whose electorate encompasses much of the vast bush territory, said First Nations people had been demanding action for decades.

“Aboriginal people have been screaming for a long time that we need resources and we need better outcomes,” she said.

Scrymgour said an Indigenous voice to parliament could ensure policies and consultations are fit for purpose and that working with communities most affected would mean policies are less likely to backfire or fail.

“I think if we had a process of a voice to parliament 15 years ago, I don’t think the intervention, which has created all of this nightmare … I don’t think that we’d be here today talking about it,” she said.

Related: Grog bans return: what is going on in Alice Springs and how did we get here?

The minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, agreed that the intervention caused a lot of damage.

“I have heard repeatedly from almost everyone … about how disempowering the intervention was, how it stripped resources out of remote communities and in many ways, what we’re seeing now, not entirely, but in part is the result of the disempowerment that the intervention created,” she said.

Peckham supports an Indigenous voice to parliament, saying it is one way voices in remote towns like hers can have their concerns heard by those in power, but she said it is vital politicians work with communities to explain the process to those on the ground.

“I think that’s what the voice is about, getting our voices out there, having a voice in parliament to listen to First Nations people because if we don’t have that voice [we] will be still sitting here, trying to make changes,” she said.

“What about the people on the ground? When they make decisions on our behalf all the time, they can change things just like that and having no input from any Aboriginal people.”

Peckham said it is important that the voice is explained to the people of Alice to ensure First Nations people are adequately informed and consulted throughout the process.

“They’ve gotta go out and speak to the people,” she said.