Young offenders: Have Dutton, Price got the answer?

Peter Dutton, Leader of the Opposition, joint doorstop interview with Jacinta Price, Country Liberal Party Senator for the Northern Territory, and local person Darren Clark.

April 12 & 13, 2023, Alice Springs.

CLARK: On behalf of the people of Alice Springs and the Northern Territory, I’m very thankful for Peter coming up today because we’re hurting here. We are seriously in trouble in this town. We’ve got young kids in trouble. No one cares for them.

Our Territory government doesn’t care for them. Our Federal government isn’t caring for them. We’ve got the elderly people in this town, nursing homes have been broken into twice this week. Elderly people are being broken into in the suburbs here, being bashed.

We can’t drive from one side of town to the other of a night. We are in a self-imposed curfew in Alice Springs.

This town now for four years has been allowed to go to wrack and ruin. I’ve fought for three, four years for this, to save this town and nothing’s been done, it’s just escalated and escalated.

We’ve lost a life here. We’ve lost a life in Darwin and I’m telling you now, we will lose more lives and we can’t have that.

So someone’s going to have blood on their hands very shortly. So someone needs to take control of this. 

I would like Peter to go back to Canberra with Jacinta, bipartisanship, to sit down with the Prime Minister and Linda Burney because this needs sorting out. We can’t wait any longer. We can’t wait for generational change. We’ve got kids hurting.

We’ve got women being bashed. We’ve got men with severe alcohol problems. They’ve been forgotten too. We’ve got to change. We’ve got to change this immediately. We’ve got to save lives because people can’t wait any longer.  

So I’d like to really thank Peter for coming up. I’d like him to go away and use the experience here. It’s wonderful and I’m very thankful that he’s actually walking the streets. He walked the streets today. That’s what you’ve got to do as a Leader. You’ve got to walk the streets and you’ve got to talk to the people and you’ve got to hear the truth. I try and put the truth out there, no one wants to listen.

So mate, I thank you very much for coming up. I know the people of Alice will.

PRICE: Thanks Darren. I’m really pleased that we have our Opposition Leader Peter Dutton here today in my home town of Alice Springs. He’s learnt a lot. We’ve learnt a lot – well I know what’s been going on the ground within my own home community. The fact that as a local resident myself, I’m very concerned about going out late at night. One of my sons works at the cinema.

It’s scary to think that to try and pick him up at the end of his shift, you know, you’ve got to keep an eye out for any potential, you know, a stolen car coming through a red light, you’re checking both ways, you’re making sure that you feel safe, that you know, you want your own children to be safe.

My sons, you know, some of them are now in their early 20s and to be concerned for their welfare even late at night is huge in the home town that I grew up in and the amount of children that are on our streets. We’ve been calling now for the Territory government, certainly for the Federal government to do more to actually create some effective change around the safety of Indigenous children who are on the streets, who are left in dysfunctional circumstances. They’re on our streets because a lot of those kids have been in the foster care system, have been under the responsibility of Territory families, and through that, their human rights haven’t been upheld, they’ve been left in dysfunctional circumstances, or removed from healthy foster families and put back into dysfunction because apparently it’s their culture that’s more important to them, than their actual human rights.  

These children need to be protected from a young age. We did meet a woman today who has a foster child in her care, who she fought the system so that child would not be removed from her care and that child is now thriving. That’s all we want for the children that we are seeing on our streets.

There needs to be investment in alcohol and drug rehabilitation. Police need to be able to have the power to deal with the circumstances that they’re confronted with. We hear from Darren all the time, Darren’s Facebook page, we’re seeing what’s going on on the streets that we locals know what is happening.

Peter is here for another visit because apparently the last time when he went back to Albanese to suggest what needs to happen in this town, nothing’s happened as a result.

I’ve been fighting for Yipirinya School to be funded so that they can build their accommodation for staff and students, which is actually about putting those kids that are running around on our streets at night, who are in vulnerable homes, they’re from the town camps, putting them in accommodation that’s education focussed with adults that actually do care for their wellbeing. This is long overdue. This was a commitment that we had made as a Coalition going to the last Federal election.

This government, the Albanese Government can spend millions of dollars on what they claim is going to solve all these issues while the issues continue on. Millions of dollars and yet they cannot put $8.3 million into a school which takes care of vulnerable Indigenous kids in my hometown. It’s simple. Invest the money where it’s going to work. Don’t drag it out. Don’t pretend like you have the answer to everything, but we require a bloody Referendum for that answer to appear. That’s not the solution.

Locals know what the solutions are. I’ve listened to them.

Darren’s one of these locals. Peter’s been listening. It’s time for the Albanese Government

to step up and to listen. It’s time for the Fyles Government to actually step up and listen.

DUTTON: Jacinta, thank you. I want to start by saying thank you very much to Darren, who’s been the face of the community here and you can hear the pain in his  voice. Alice Springs is a beautiful town. It’s the heart of our country and that heart is broken at the moment. It’s clear that Alice Springs has never been further from Canberra than it is right now.

I would just say to the Prime Minister in a bipartisan way, just at a human level, please hear Darren’s story. There’s not another bakery in Australia that I’m aware of that has concrete bollards out the front and the shop next door here with six foot high iron bars to stop people from getting in and committing break and enters, wilful damage, theft, sexual assault. I mean this is commonplace in Alice Springs, in our country and it’s completely unacceptable and Australians should be as angry as anyone is who lives in this town.

There are stories that we’ve heard today as we’ve walked the streets about the dysfunction, the desperation of young Indigenous kids who are being sexually assaulted still on a regular basis – that hasn’t stopped.  

When I left here in October, I went to see the Prime Minister to plead with him to intervene, to do something, to not just say that they’re existing programs and the programs are rolling out and that they’re working with the Territory government.

What’s here at the moment isn’t working. People are leaving this town in droves. I was just talking to a young lady, she and her husband have decided to pack up and leave a community that she loves, that she wants to stay in, but they just don’t believe that they’re safe here anymore and that is heartbreaking.

The Prime Minister needs to spend more time than just jumping off the jet, spending an hour or two here and then jumping on the jet and going back to Canberra. It’s not sufficient. It’s not good enough. I think the people of the Northern Territory, but in particular here in Alice Springs, deserve to be heard by their Prime Minister and he’s not listening, he’s not acting and the travesty will continue here in Alice Springs.

Nothing has changed from when I was here in October. The same stories about break ins, about stolen cars, about risk to human life, about the sexual assault of young boys and girls. It’s still exactly as it was then, and this community can’t wait.

Regardless of your view on the Voice, we need to see help and assistance on the ground here to restore law and order and to make sure that people can go about their lives, can go to a barbeque without being accosted on the way to it or on the way home.

That they can go to a restaurant at night, that they can do that safely. And people that we spoke to on the street today spoke about exactly that issue. Exactly that issue.

And they’re just staying at home and so the economic productivity is lost in this community as well. Tourism numbers are down in Alice Springs because people won’t go and stay at the caravan park.

Let’s have an honest conversation in our country about the reality of what is happening here. Canberra is a million miles away and I’d say to the Prime Minister, to Linda Burney, to any of the government Ministers, come here, roll up your sleeves and listen to what people are saying here on the streets, because it is alarming and it’s very concerning.

QUESTION: What do you think the answer is? What can we do to change these alarming statistics of crime here. I mean the Federal government said they’ve put in $250 million. Where is that?  

DUTTON: But where? I mean where is that money? I understand that they’re still in a committee process of where that money will be spent. Now, a bidding war by public servants for more bureaucrats sitting in Canberra or Darwin is not going to fix the problem in Alice Springs. You need to restore law and order. In my conversation with the Prime Minister in October, I said to him, ‘look, mate, it’s beyond the resources.

I don’t care whether it’s a CLP or a Labor government in the Northern Territory, it’s beyond their capacity to deal with this problem and it needs federal resources’. The Australian Federal Police should be supplementing the support that they can offer to the local police. There needs to be a greater presence on the ground.  

Kids and adults need to understand that there is a consequence for their actions. If you’re going to ram-raid a business or if you’re going to steal a car, there needs to be a very clear message to the next kid that’s thinking about doing that, that there’s a consequence, that there’s a price that you pay for it.

If you’re told that you can do that without any punishment or next to no punishment, why wouldn’t your mates be out doing it the next night? Why wouldn’t they be on TikTok showing the video?

We need practical solutions here on the ground. Restoration of law and order is incredibly important. We need to have an understanding of what it means to take kids who we know are being sexually abused and put back into the hands of the abuser.

There is nothing in the Indigenous culture that makes that acceptable. It’s an affront to the Indigenous culture as it is to any culture in a civilised country like ours. I can tell you now if there was a young boy or girl who had been sexually assaulted in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or Canberra, and the police were putting that little white boy or girl back into the hands of the abuser, it would be the front page of every newspaper until the commissioner of that state or territory said that it was not going to happen.

Yet here, somehow it’s accepted as normal practice and we’re destroying the lives of those young Indigenous kids and it’s unacceptable and the Prime Minister needs to take responsibility. He was made aware of it last year and as Darren rightly points out – and he’s had the guts to stand up for his community at great personal cost to himself and his family – how can those little children continue to be abused? How in our country can we allow that to be commonplace?

It’s unacceptable, and I think you get a sense when you walk the streets, when you do it particularly of a night time – when we were here last time we went out to the communities, we went out to the town camps – we’ve been speaking to businesses and locals here today and we need to make sure that we can listen to the locals, Indigenous, non-Indigenous and get the work underway to make sure that these people can lead a life that we would expect to lead in a capital city.  

QUESTION: So who will you be speaking to? Which organisations and which locals on the ground are you talking to? And are you going to be consulting with them about the Voice while you’re down here as well?  

DUTTON: Well, the short answer is yes, we will be consulting with people about the Voice, but the urgency of what’s happening here now needs to be understood. Some of the video that we saw before of kids hooning around, of knives, it needs to be addressed now.

Even if the Voice vote takes place in October, the Prime Minister is proposing six months of consultation after the vote takes place – so out to middle of next year before they’ll even have a design of what the Voice looks like – the action needs to be now. The assistance needs to be in this community tomorrow to stop that.

We’ve spoken to small businesses, we will meet with more of them. We’re speaking with the Mayor, who’s obviously got a broader perspective on the town.

We’ve spoken with a number of locals just on the street earlier, and we’ll continue that engagement because if you aren’t out there and you aren’t listening to what people are saying, then it’s very hard to find the solutions. The solutions aren’t going to be given to you by bureaucrats in Canberra. I can promise the Prime Minister that.

If you’re listening to the bureaucrats who are just saying spend the $250 million on more bureaucrats, that’s going to make the situation worse. Where is the $250 million being pent? In what programs? And if it is being spent, why isn’t it having a positive impact on the community here?

QUESTION: Just for my colleagues in Canberra – how can you justify the Party’s position on the Voice when your two most recent Indigenous Affairs Minister, not just disagree with you, but quit in protest?  

PETER DUTTON: Well I mean you listen to the voice of Jacinta Price, you listen to the voice of Kerrynne Liddle, you listen to many Indigenous people that we’ve spoken to in this community, including back in October.

When you speak to the Indigenous leaders in Laverton and Leonora, the Indigenous people I spoke to on Palm Island, up in East Arnhem Land, here in Alice Springs obviously, I’ve been to Darwin, there are plenty of Indigenous people in this country who are completely opposed to the Voice because they don’t believe that a Canberra voice is going to provide support to the local community here in Alice Springs, in Tennant Creek in Katherine and elsewhere.

QUESTION: We spoke to Lhere Artepe CEO this morning. Lhere Artepe is the organisation that represents Traditional Owners in the town. He said he’s in support of it and he said that you didn’t consult with him about the Voice when you last visited. The Central Land Council over here has come out advocating for the Voice. Why aren’t you listening to those organisations?

DUTTON: Well, I’ll let those organisation speak for themselves. I’ve been out speaking to people on the ground; shoppers in shopping centres, people who are having their businesses boarded up, people who are actually living in the community and aren’t afraid to speak out.

The fortitude that Darren has shown is quite remarkable and it needs to be spoken about and it’s right that people see the confronting footage because without it, the Prime Minister wouldn’t have come up here even for a couple of hours. It’s okay to spend more time at the tennis than it is on the ground here in Alice Springs, but you need to listen to people in the local community and that’s exactly what we’ve done and it’s what we’ll continue to do.  

I don’t believe that a Canberra voice of 24 people who predominantly come from capital cities is going to be the solution to the problems here on the ground, if I did, I’d embrace it straight away. But I believe very strongly that listening to local and regional voices, which is what the Liberal Party is doing, is an attempt to make sure that we unite our country.

The Prime Minister at the moment is putting forward a model which divides our country and he won’t explain any of the detail. He won’t look Northern Territorians in the eye and explain how it is that the Voice is going to provide solutions to these problems and I just don’t believe that it will.

DAY TWO of Mr Dutton’s visit was pretty well a re-run of Day One, except for these exchanges: 


QUESTION: You mention again today the so-called ‘rampant rates’ of child sexual abuse in Central Australia. Now we’ve seen the SNAICC [Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care], which advocates for Indigenous children, come out and strongly reject your call for a Royal Commission into that.

They’ve labelled it an uninformed approach. Why do you think those kind of peak bodies are rejecting those calls by you, and what evidence do you have that there is this so-called “rampant child sexual abuse” occurring in remote central Australia?  

DUTTON:  I mean with respect, that’s such an ABC question. Do you live locally? Do you speak to people on the streets to hear what it is they’re saying to you? I mean do you believe…  

QUESTION: I live locally. 

DUTTON: I’ve spoken to the police and the social workers, some of whom are out on stress leave at the moment because of the scenes that they’ve endured. They have kids taking them back into homes where they’ve been sexually assaulted and six year olds grabbing on to their legs, screaming not to be left there. So they’re the people who are on the frontline.

I don’t know what the academics are saying. I don’t know what the bureaucrats are saying. I can tell you though, what the human experience is on the front line and if the ABC and others don’t see fit to report that, then frankly, I think it reflects more on the ABC than it does on the locals here, and I don’t think you’re doing your job if you’re denying the reality of the circumstances on the ground.  

QUESTION: I’m not denying the reality. I’m asking you, what data are you using to support your claims here?

DUTTON: I’ve answered that question., so if there’s a more sensible one, I’d be happy to take it.  

PRICE: Sorry, can I just say that I think the questions need to be put back on organisations like SNAICC, who are tasked to uphold the human rights of Indigenous children, but instead run an ideological line that it’s more important that these children are supposed to be connected to country and to culture than to actually have their human rights upheld.