Subject: Alice Springs crime crisis; Kevin Rudd’s appointment to US Ambassador.
We are focused on Alice Springs this morning as crime and violence becomes a daily occurrence. Politicians at every level of government seem at odds with how to deal with it at the moment. The Opposition Leader Peter Dutton put it on the nations radar weeks ago and he joins me live now from Melbourne.
Thanks so much for your time Mr Dutton. First of all, how did it get like this? And can you pinpoint a reason?
Good morning Laura. Thanks for having us on the show.
As you know, I went up to Alice Springs before Christmas. I met with the Prime Minister when I came back and said that it was just a national tragedy unfolding and this has been years in the making. It’s not a problem of either side of politics, it’s something that we should be working on together as parties and as leaders to find resolution, particularly for those kids who are really suffering up in Alice Springs.
It’s clear that there needs to be a restoration of law and order. We need to have that restored and my judgement from speaking with a lot of whistleblowers and people on the ground, including Indigenous leaders and women, mothers, grandmothers; it’s obvious that this is beyond the capacity of the Northern Territory Government and they are overwhelmed. I think the police and the emergency service workers, the DOCS workers, etc. are all just completely and utterly exhausted.
I believe the Mayor’s call to Mark Dreyfus should be answered positively, and I said to the Prime Minister when I met with him before Christmas that we would support any measure, any expense, frankly, that was required to firstly restore law and order and then provide those services on the ground to help normalise the situation.
So, you support the Mayor’s call. What is that call exactly and how would it fix things?
Well, I think Laura, if this was unfolding in Melbourne, where I am at the moment, or in New South Wales, in Brisbane, in Hobart, it just wouldn’t be tolerated. I mean we’re talking about multiple cases of children being sexually abused, physically abused, every night. If that was the case, well, communities would be demanding that police went in and restored law and order and that matters were investigated and perpetrators brought before the law.
Part of the problem here, if we’re speaking frankly, is that we’re living in the shadow of the stolen generation, and state authorities, in particular, don’t want to remove kids from environments where it can be claimed that they’re being taken from their parents. But the fact is that our first responsibility, above culture and everything else, is to the safety and wellbeing of those children, and we need to make sure that those kids are living in a safe environment.
At the moment, as the women conveyed to me when I was in Alice Springs listening to their voice, they were saying that these kids just don’t want to go back into those family environments, so they’re staying out at night committing crimes, and then during the course of the day, you’re seeing a situation where they’re sleeping and not attending school. So, it’s a compounding problem and has been for a long time.
Yeah, it certainly is. Look, as you say, it is a compounding problem. This is not an isolated incident. I was in Tennant Creek with Matt Cunningham just a couple of years ago after the rape of a two year old little girl.
What’s happening in Alice though, I mean, The Australian is reporting that kids are drinking hand sanitiser in soft drink, they’re drinking alcohol. The Stronger Futures legislation expired about six months ago. Is there a direct link between that and what we’re seeing now? Because essentially the expiration of that law meant that there was legal alcohol for the first time in some of these Aboriginal camps for the first time in 15 years?
Well, it’s a very significant contributor and even the Labor members on the ground are saying that. So, you can’t say one thing in Alice Springs if you’re the local Labor member, and then say something different when you get to Canberra.
The fact is that you do need to have these laws in place. That’s the advice from the women and the grandparents that I met with on the ground, and you have to have that law and order so that kids can go to school, so that they can have a safe environment to grow up in.
The Prime Minister needs to show the leadership here and as I say, we’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, make sure that we back in the course of the government, but the first thing they should do is restore that restriction on alcohol because it’s fuelling violence.
Laura, you know, I mean, it breaks my heart, but the reality is and it’s an unsavoury topic to talk about, but the fact is that the prevalence of child sexual abuse in these communities will condemn, particularly young girls, to a lifetime of difficulty, of problems in relationship formations and keeping a job down, the mental health scarring that goes with it. We should be in the business of preventing, not just responding to these horrible circumstances.
That’s why I think the Prime Minister should visit there tomorrow. I’d be happy to go with him and he should provide the resources to supplement what the Northern Territory Government needs on the ground, so that these kids can just lead a normal life like we would expect of our kids in capital cities.
Yep. Look that NT News is calling for that this morning. ‘Let’s go Albo. Alice Springs residents fed up with violent crime destroying their town, calling for the PM to visit and see it for himself.’ Now, he did several interviews this morning. He actually wasn’t even asked about this story, which is appalling in and of itself…
I just can’t believe it.
…You say you will go tomorrow with him. We’ll see what his office says. He’s usually pretty reasonable when it comes to this type of thing. But what can he do? First and foremost, what should be the first thing that the Prime Minister does here?
He can implement the grog ban immediately and we would support any parliamentary measure to do that. He can send Australian Federal Police tomorrow. He can provide additional funding for family services workers.
There are lots of people who are out on stress leave at the moment, so work with the three biggest jurisdictions on the East Coast to second those officers across, so that they can help perform the work on the ground to keep kids safe and to normalise the situation. If we don’t do that, then we’re just chasing our tail and it really needs that significant intervention from the Prime Minister and national leadership because as we’ve seen, even in my home town of Brisbane where kids are running around with knives, you end up with a tragic circumstance and I just don’t want to see that on top of what we’re seeing already unfold.
It can be addressed, it needs to be addressed. It’s an absolute matter of urgency. I can’t think of another higher order issue that needs to be dealt with by the Prime Minister today, and I just hope that he can respond as quickly as possible.
Well, let’s hope you are sharing a plane with the Prime Minister flying into Alice Springs tomorrow. We’ll see what his office response is this morning.
Before I let you go, and I know that you’ve got a very tight schedule this morning Peter Dutton, so we appreciate for taking the time out to speak about this very important issue this morning. Our reporter Matt Cunningham is on the ground. He is very experienced when it comes to reporting on these type of things.
Before I let you go, I do note that Kevin Rudd was speaking, I think it was Davos over the weekend, and he said that ‘his job now was to shut the F up’ and he is ‘slowly being demoted from Prime Minister to Ambassador.’ You would have read that. Any thoughts on that before you go?
Well, I didn’t see it. I mean, he’s got he’s got quite a vocabulary, but hopefully the diplomatic one comes out soon and I’m sure he’ll be working in our country’s best interests and he must, because that’s probably the most important appointment the Prime Minister can make. It’s an incredibly important relationship, more and more so given the instability in the Indo-Pacific region.
So, we want somebody who’s really on top of their game, and as soon as he can flip the switch to Ambassador Rudd, that will be a good thing and leave all of the commentary and all of the flourishes behind. We need that relationship to really develop, grow, and as AUKUS is implemented, the role of the Ambassador will be as important as it’s ever been.
Peter Dutton, thanks so much for your time.
Thanks Laura. Thank you.