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2011 Media Release: Efforts in Alice Springs should continue for communities to thrive

Aboriginal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice

Existing long-term investment in Alice Springs should be allowed to continue in order for the community to have a chance to once again thrive, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said today.

But he said, access to essential services for Town Campers, alcohol misuse in the general population, and racial tensions needed to be overcome for Alice Springs to move forward into a positive future.

Commissioner Gooda made the comments at the end of a three-day visit to the area at the invitation of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and individuals.

“I’ve met with individuals and organisations and I’ve visited Town Camps,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“I came to listen and to see, and what I heard was that there are good things happening in Alice Springs.

“For starters, conditions in the Town Camps have improved. They don’t resemble at all those images portrayed in the media of areas littered with dirty mattresses, where packs of mangy dogs freely roam.

“As well, birth weights of babies born in Alice Springs have improved greatly with only seven per cent low birth weight which is almost at the national average and about half the NT Aboriginal average.

“I have visited new two-bedroom houses ready for tenants to move in.

“But we need to do more,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“For instance, why is it that in 21st Century Australia, all Town Camp residents remain without access to a postal service to their homes or access to public telephones that the rest of us take for granted?,” he said.

“People should be supported in their choices to live where they wish but they should be supported with the same standard of service that you or I or anyone else should be able to expect.”

Commissioner Gooda said more could be done to focus on early childhood issues such as maternal and child health and early childhood education as these initiatives are the essential building blocks of successful educational outcomes and promoting resilience in young people to all addictions.

He said alcohol was another significant concern.

“Central Australia has the highest rate of alcohol-related premature deaths of any part of the country,” he said.

“Alcohol is killing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people around the nation but it’s happening at a much higher rate in Central Australia”.

“I believe we have a moral imperative to go further in dealing with this problem here, and that’s why I’m calling today for legislation to introduce a floor price on alcohol at the price of full strength beer,” he said.

“Selling wine for less than 50 cents a standard drink is not helping anyone – Indigenous or non-Indigenous, young or old, visitor or permanent resident. I have been shown the international and national evidence and I have found it very convincing.”

Commissioner Gooda also referred to a recent public meeting convened by the Alice Springs Town Council where racism was acknowledged as a concern, and said it had been raised in virtually every meeting he’d attended.

“We must address the relationship tensions that exist in Alice Springs so that we free people up to enjoy happy, healthy and fulfilling lives,” he said.

“I’m convinced that the solutions to this issue lie within the community itself, not with others coming in and telling people how to sort this out.

“There are strong leaders in Alice Springs. There are strong organisations in Alice Springs,” he said.

“The solution lies in coordinated approaches driven by this community. This includes an open, honest and transparent dialogue within the community about all potential solutions.”

Commissioner Gooda said it was critical that the Alice Springs community was supported in its efforts to overcome these difficulties and urged the community and the public to get behind programs like the Alice Springs Transformation Plan.

“Change and improvement are possible and I believe they will happen but it will take time.”

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Media contact: Louise McDermott 0419 258 597