UPDATE March 19, 1pm
Crime statistics released today show yet another massive increase in offences against person: In January, compared with the same month last year, in Alice Springs assault was up from 1507 to 1794 (up 19%); for domestic violence from 866 to 1126 (up 30%) and alcohol related assault from 781 to 909 (up 16%). House break-ins increased from 516 to 644 (up 25%).
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Tourism Central Australia, the region’s peak tourism industry association representing almost 400 businesses, is calling on the Northern Territory Government “to launch an independent inquiry in to the crime and safety issues and to put in place immediate additional resources above and beyond what has been put in place to ensure safety to our communities once again”.
Chairperson Patrick Bedford says despite facing down the biggest challenge ever seen by the tourism industry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry “is now suffering as a result of the prolonged crime and safety issues besieging Central Australian communities as well as now the negative national media exposure”.
Meanwhile a senior bureaucrat, Andrew Hopper, attended the Tourism Towards 2030 conference in Alice Springs yesterday but declined to be interviewed about the local issues.
Says Mr Bedford: “This week has again put the spotlight on Alice Springs, but not for the right reasons. TCA members have made it clear they want to see immediate additional resources, but also a long term sustainable solution.
“This issue needs to be de-politicised and that is why this inquiry needs to be non partisan, independent and respectful of all the views and ideas of our communities, but focused on delivering long term solutions to deal with the causal issues besieging our communities.
”Rather than talking about the issues, we need to be focused on additional ways to alleviate the problem,” Mr Bedford says.
“At this time we should be focused on positive reasons to visit and explore Alice Springs and Central Australia and on the industry’s recovery from Covid-19. There are many positive stories and outcomes in Central Australia and we do not need them overshadowed by our social issues.”
At TCA’s general meeting the organisation heard from one operator who has reported the loss of a $100,000 conference group who cancelled their booking after the A Current Affair story: “This is $100,000 that won’t be in the pockets of the tourism industry and local communities in our region,” Mr Bedford says.
“This is just one example and members are reporting cancellations since Monday. These cancellations are why we need action now and we are calling on Governments to put in place additional resources immediately to both Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.
“While waiting for the independent inquiry outcome , we need community and Governments at all levels – local, Territory and Federal – to get in a room together and start to work together to put more resources towards this issue.
“TCA will continue to take a proactive approach to dealing with this issue working with Government, Alice Springs Council and Chamber of Commerce to improve the situation.
“We understand there are plans and programs in place but as an industry we need to see these programs make an immediate material difference.”
At about 10am during yesterday’s conference the Alice Springs News requested an interview with Tourism NT (TNT) Executive General Manager Tony Quarmby and was told by TNT staff they would pass on the message.
Mr Quarmby, the main speaker, addressed the meeting soon after but mentioned no specific rescue initiatives for Alice Springs, and the town seemed to be absent from visual promotions shown.
During the lunch break the News was told by a TNT staff Mr Quarmby would be unavailable and Andrew Hopper, Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade would deal with our enquiries. We would need to make arrangements with the department’s media person.
She said questions would need to be supplied by email. We sent this at 2.02pm: “These questions relate to Alice Springs only, not Central Australia nor the whole NT.
“The pandemic has destroyed the town’s international tourism. Now Nine’s A Current Affair, accessible to more than two million people, has portrayed the unrest and crime in the streets of the town, especially involving young Aboriginal people.
“Tourists and conventions have been cancelled as a result.
“The Top End received $26m worth of tourism vouchers. Central Australia got $4m.”
It was stated at the conference that Darwin had a good tourist season compared to the other capitals, and much better than Alice Springs.
“There is a call for targeted promotion,” we said in our email to the media manager, having spoken to tourism operators at the conference.
“What will Tourism NT do to alleviate the problems: Please provide clearly defined initiatives with costs and time frames.
“Deadline one hour (I spoke to your staff here at about 10am about an interview with Tony Quarmby).
“Please ensure the person making the statements is available on the ‘phone for follow-up questions.”
At 2.53pm we rang the media person. She told us the reply to our questions would not carry a name and she would neither confirm nor deny that Mr Hopper was in charge of making media statements. She nominated no-one to field follow-up questions.
As it happened, Mr Hopper was about 15 metres away from me in the lobby of the hotel where the conference took place. I asked him to answer questions. This was his reply:-
UPDATE March 22:
This is the only answer we received from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade:
“This is a challenging space with a range of agencies and NGOs working to keep our communities safe.
“Tourism NT will continue to focus on targeted promotion of the destination to grow the visitor economy and support our tourism and hospitality sector.
“Central Australia is a unique part of Australia that has many incredible people and experiences to share and remains open to welcoming visitors.”