By ERWIN CHLANDA
The current drop in crime in Alice Springs coincides with a decrease in tourism of around 40% in several sectors, triggered largely by the nation-wide reporting of crime in Alice Springs.
Mayor Matt Paterson (pictured) “wanted the army and the Australian Federal Police to intervene” the Guardian reported, quoting him on January 19: “We’re seeing domestic violence through the roof. We’re seeing drunken behaviour in the street. We’ve seen crime go up. We’ve seeing more kids out on the street. It’s been a disaster.”
Mayor Paterson said today it was his obligation to inform the public about “what we have to live through every day.
“Alice Springs needed help.”
It would be a “long bow” to blame him for the drop in visitation and for talking down the region: The “complete opposite” is true.
He says following his speaking out the Stronger Futures was brought back and a $48.8m grant came from Canberra, partly to be used for more police.
Claims by self-appointed defender of the town, blogger Darren Clark, described as a businessman, were eagerly snapped up by Murdoch’s Sky News, seriously harming the town’s one major industry that isn’t welfare – tourism. (Mr Clark declines to discuss his activities with the Alice Springs News.)
Restrictions to alcohol availability by the Liquor Commission, a Territory not a national instrumentality, and not army boots on the ground, are likely to have led to the drop in crime.
The town is clearly not out of the woods. Today’s police news is about the theft of two vehicles yesterday at 5.30pm, from an organisation on Percy Court.
“The vehicles were observed driving dangerously throughout the CBD and surrounding suburbs, intentionally swerving into the path of police vehicles,” says the media release.
Four and a half hours later tyre “deflation devices were successfully deployed” and 13 youths, aged between eight and 18, were arrested.
Tourism Central Australia CEO Danial Rochford says the lobby group met on June 7 when “talking up the town” was discussed in general terms, with no specific references to Mayor Paterson nor Mr Clark’s blog.
Mr Rochford says the region is having a “two speed tourism season” at the moment.
The “pressure point” is the drive market, the grey nomads, and the caravan parks in town and its attractions. A 40% drop is a variable figure.
Roadhouses out of town are doing well.
Mr Rochford says because of the Fitzroy River crossing seasonal flooding some road travellers are changing the normal routine of going ‘round Australia anti-clockwise – Alice first and from there to Katherine and WA.
These will arrive in The Centre later this year, on their clockwise itinerary.
Brendan Heenan, owner of the multi-award winning MacDonnell Range Caravan Park in Alice Springs, says in June and July his park is usually at capacity. This year on some days it is 50% below the corresponding time last year.
Mr Heenan says the media “made a thing” of crime here which, he says, is no worse than in other places around Australia.
“It went on for too long.”
Potential customers frequently ask: “Is it safe to go to Alice Springs?”
Crime here is getting more attention because The Alice is an iconic town.
Mr Heenan says it is unclear what is happening with the $250m promised by Prime Minister Albanese and he blames alcohol abuse for crime and neglect of children.
He says offenders should undergo “mandatory rehabilitation. They need help”.
Current government crime statistics show drops in some categories but not in all. It is clear that the town council, after an election campaign dominated by law-and-order issues, has contributed little to bring relief.
The new town council was declared elected on September 13, 2021, with offending at levels close to now.
In the following four months little was done to temper the crime wave unfolding in the early part of 2022, not much different to the way it had been doing for decades.
Using the first four months of the year (all our figures relate to this period) as a basis for an apples-with-apples exercise indicates that the euphoria about the current statistics is not entirely justified.
In the January to April periods the tally of all crimes hasn’t changed a lot in the past three years (check our table).
The 2023 number is almost exactly the same as the one for 2021, namely 3554 and 3764, respectively.
Assaults during the survey period in 2022 was 800. This year, when it’s claimed all is better than it has been for years, the number is 791. It was 583 in 2021.
However, the assault figures this year dropped from 264 in January to 171, 185 and 171 respectively for the next three months.
There was an even sharper drop in house break-ins in February, March and April 2023 (from 213 in January to 65, 82 and 52), and in commercial break-ins (from 130 to 79, 99 and 75).
Excluding January it’s very similar for house break-ins: 2021 (73, 60 and 71), 2022 (95, 112 and 97).
For commercial break-ins the pattern is similar, always with January the worst month.
Car thefts peaked in 2022. This year is marginally worse than 2021.
Property damage this year is level with last year and substantially higher than 2021. The figures are a staggering 1063 (2023), 1088 (2022) and 866 (2021).
“Senseless and destructive behaviour” was a continual problem in Alice Springs, Mayor Paterson told the Nine Network.
“The flavour of the month right now is edged weapons, but before that it was ram-raids of buildings.
“There will be no Alice Springs left” if the Federal government does not step in to address the town’s crime crisis, he told Today on January 24, the very day Territory authorities stepped in with alcohol restrictions and when people ponder their holiday plans.
PHOTO at top: Alice Springs terminal yesterday. An airport spokesperson says the Airport Development Group can confirm that passenger numbers through Alice Springs are significantly down on pre-Covid levels. There are a number of reasons for this including a reduction in the number of flights into Alice Springs and an increase in direct flights – they are not transiting through Alice.
UPDATE June 30:
The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade announced that domestic drive tourists in the Top End region for the year ending December 2022 exceeded pre-pandemic levels but gives no details about the Centre region except to say it “showed positive signs of recovery following the impacts of COVID-19 on holiday source markets”.
About the Fitzroy River crossing the department said today that a new two-lane low-level crossing is now open on the road to WA. The sealed crossing is part of a temporary detour of the Great Northern Highway around the site where a new bridge is being constructed.
It is the Fitzroy River, not the Victoria River that influences the clock-wise or anti-clockwise choice for ’round Australia travellers by road.
UPDATE June 30:
Robyn Lambley, independent Member for Araluen, this afternoon launched a blistering attack on NT Deputy Police Commissioner, Murray Smalpage.
In a media statement she says his comparing 2023 data to 2019 is “at the very least, incorrect.
“In fact crime statistics show an almost doubling of the incidents of crime in Alice Springs, both in terms of property crimes and crimes against the person.
“Earlier this month … we saw this deceitful narrative of Government systematically denying crime take shape,” says Mrs Lambley.
“The next NT Election is just 14 months away. This Labor propaganda on crime is obviously a key part of their campaign strategy to attempt to minimise the perception of crime in the NT.
“Moreover, big changes to the Police Media Unit have resulted in tighter controls on information being disseminating to the public.
“The NT Labor Government have employed a marketing manager in the Department of Chief Minister and Cabinet, who is working directly with the NT Police executive to produce a more favourable spin on crime.
“This is political interference. This is political propaganda.”
CORRECTION: We corrected in the table above the TOTAL line for 2022.
ERROR: The restrictions on alcohol availability were taken by the Minister for Alcohol Policy and the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, and not by the Northern Territory Liquor Commission.