Total alcohol ban won’t solve problems in Alice Springs, say Indigenous groups

Alice Springs traditional owners have said that a total alcohol ban of the type suggested by Anthony Albanese will not address the root causes of the social issues engulfing the town.

While some elders have welcomed curbs on alcohol sales, local Indigenous leaders say “punitive” and race-based alcohol bans will do nothing to ease the problems in the area.

Albanese said on Wednesday a total alcohol ban could be introduced in remote communities if recommended by a report into whether more intervention was required.

Related: Linda Burney says Indigenous voice would have prevented Alice Springs crisis

“That’s an option that we completely have said is there on the table,” Albanese told Sky News.

But locals like Shirleen Campbell, Tangentyere Women’s Safety Group’s coordinator, said alcohol bans could create bigger problems in the region.

“It’s a Band-Aid, I’ve seen this before,” the Warlpiri and Arrernte woman said.

“I’ve seen this impact before around the alcohol and the timing of the hours sales. That’s not gonna stop – that’s going to create more problems.”

She said such a move could inflame tensions within the town.

She said she did not believe the town’s Indigenous population had been adequately consulted before Tuesday’s announcement by the prime minister of tougher restrictions on alcohol sales.

“It’s going to create more problematic racism. There was no consultation and collaboration with people on the ground who actually gonna live and see this and experience it. People are just coming in and making up and creating all these assumptions.”

On Tuesday the prime minister and the Northern Territory’s chief minister, Natasha Fyles, flew into town to meet with two Indigenous organisations, NT police and local businesses about concerns about a rise in assaults, family and domestic violence, break-ins and property offences over the past 12 months.

Related: Indigenous elders welcome Alice Springs alcohol curbs but plead for more help

They announced a suite of immediate restrictions including takeaway alcohol-free days on Monday and Tuesday, and alcohol-reduced hours on other days, along with a limit of one transaction per person each day, with a progress report due in February.

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, and others were able to buy takeaway alcohol without restrictions.

Since then, NT police statistics show that reported property offences have jumped by almost 60% over the past 12 months, while assaults increased by 38% and domestic violence assaults were up 48%.

But Campbell said punitive bans are not the solution and are not the drivers behind violence against women and girls, and that working together and empowering communities was key to reducing violence and antisocial behaviour.

“Alcohol is not the driver of domestic violence, it often numbs people from the intergenerational trauma which we carry that every day, these problems come from the colonisation, we need to unpack that as well and that involves education,” she said.

“It’s still ongoing today, the impact of colonisation. We have racism, the removals of our children. We have incarceration in the prisons of men and women.”

Cherisse Buzzacott, an Arrernte midwife and head of health at Children’s Ground Central Australia, was born and raised in Alice Springs. She said she was disappointed that the solution from government was simply more restrictions.

Buzzacott said the community was dealing with several complex challenges including a lack of safe or secure housing and access to recreational activities.

“There’s been no planning for this younger generation to come in and they’ve taken everything away from the kids. So what else can they do but get into trouble?

“None of our communities have got functional playgrounds. We don’t have internet access, lots of the kids are coming into the CBD for wifi, there’s nothing really for kids to do,” she said.

Felicity Hayes, elder, traditional owner and educator who lives in Irrkerlantye, a town camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs, said she felt frustrated and ignored.

“They need to talk to us, no one comes and asks us what we want, it’s always what they want,” Hayes said.