Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner has received a barrage of abuse from an Aboriginal elder and artist during a press conference to promote his plan to target anti-social behaviour in the city.
The sight of itinerant Aboriginal people engaging in drunken, anti-social behaviour in Darwin’s CBD especially in front of tourists has long been a divisive issue.
The NT Government announced earlier in the week it would invest $8.9 million tackling the issue this year through various rehab and law and order measures.
That would include increasing its Larrakia Nation Day Patrols – which are run by Darwin’s traditional indigenous owners.
Since being brought back at the end of last year the service transported over 1300 people to safe locations, linked 203 people with Territory Connect and connected 374 people with social and health services, Mr Gunner said.
However Larrakia woman June Mills, an elder, artist and activist, began to shout and confronted Mr Gunner after the press conference, letting him know she regarded the crackdown on anti-social behaviour as racist.
She said “return to country programs” were not the answer and accused the government of not providing enough housing.
Her people were being “criminalised” through the “policing of bottlos”, she said, referring to auxiliary police being trained this year and rolled out at takeaway liquor outlets in Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.
“It is racist and wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else in the world but we put up with it here in the Northern Territory, the continued criminalisation of our people,” Ms Mills said.
She also raised fracking – hydraulic fracturing for gas – which the NT Labor government has lifted a ban on, saying people didn’t want it and it would destroy the environment and waterways.
Mr Gunner told her his government was providing new housing but mostly quietly listened to the verbal abuse.
He said about 40 per cent of Darwin’s homeless were not permanent but mobile and benefitted from the Territory Connect return to country service.
Larrakia Nation CEO Robert Cooper said the day and night patrols would increased by at least four-fold now with an increase of one to five vehicles.
As well as helping people get on to planes and home, they were links to tenancy support programs and would be better long-term outcomes for people, he said.