This is a guest post by Bob Durnan, a community development worker in central Australia. Bob has previously worked as an adviser to the Keating and Clare Martin Labor governments.
Like the NT’s Acting Chief Minister Robyn Lambley, I too am saddened by yet more needless deaths of young Aboriginal people in the Alice Springs region over the Christmas and New Year period.
One woman, who was visiting Alice Springs from the Engawala community, died at the Mpwetyerre town camp on South Terrace very late on Christmas Eve, apparently from violent causes.
Another woman, a local town camp resident, was run over by an L-plated motorcycle rider as she lay sleeping on Sturt Terrace, next to the Todd River, in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
These deaths came just after a Wallace Rockhole couple and a woman from Hermannsburg were tragically killed in a vehicle rollover three days before Christmas; the rollover followed a police chase near the Ntaria drinking camp 90 km west of Alice Springs on Larapinta Drive.
A Bloomfield Street resident was seriously injured when he was allegedly bashed with baseball bats by two men after he asked his neighbours to turn down their music late on New Year’s Eve.
It has been said that alcohol was involved in all these incidents.
Along with many other citizens, however, I am also concerned about the Acting Chief Minister of the NT’s unseemly eagerness to take advantage of the quiet Christmas-New Year news period to go in hard and dangerously on one of these incidents while it was still the subject of police enquiries.
What the Acting CM said:
STATEMENT ON DEATH IN ALICE SPRINGS
31 December 2012
The Acting Chief Minister, Robyn Lambley, has expressed her shock at the murder of a young woman, after a savage attack at Abbott’s Camp on Christmas Day. The death of this young woman is a sign that despite the mandatory reporting requirement for Domestic and Family Violence in the Northern Territory, women are still being savagely beaten and murdered in domestic disputes.
“I have been advised that family and friends of this woman knew that the victim was being subjected to extreme violence and abuse by her husband prior to her death,” Ms Lambley said. “I am deeply shocked and deeply saddened by this young woman’s senseless, cruel death. I want to understand how this happened and form a clearer understanding of what could have been done to prevent it.
“We also need to ensure that Domestic and Family Violence strategies are targeted at the people must vulnerable with an emphasis on prevention. “After only 4 months in Government – it is the policies of the former Labor Government that have failed to make an impact on the spiralling rate of violence against women. “Women should not be losing their lives in this way, we need to examine what failed this woman.”
Someone in Lambley’s position should be well aware that it is erroneous and possibly prejudicial to cry ‘murder’ when there has been no such conviction by a court. The Acting Chief Minister and her media advisors should understand at least the very basics of the law relating to homicide. Murder is a very specific offence, and it does the NT Government no credit to have Ms Lambley respond in hysterical ignorance.
It is also disturbing that Ms Lambley has chosen this occasion to beat the populist law’n’order drum loudly during the quiet of the Christmas period, sensationalising the incident and probably shaming innocent relatives of the deceased woman. It is possible that Lambley may have prejudiced the police efforts to build a case. She has certainly shown herself as unable to resist the opportunity for gratuitously kicking out at her political opponents in a cheap manner, on a most inappropriate occasion.
Ms Lambley seems to be implying lack of action by the dead woman’s family, saying “that family and friends of this woman knew that the victim was being subjected to extreme violence and abuse by her husband prior to her death”, thus making it seem as though there were failures on their parts to notify police about the woman’s situation.
The Acting Chief Minister has chosen to omit the extremely salient point (communicated by police on Friday 28th December in a media release) that the deceased woman had in fact taken out a domestic violence order (DVO) against the man who has now been charged in relation to her death.
ACTION TO PREVENT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: THE CENTRAL AUSTRALIAN CONTEXT
Whilst it is tragically true that central Australian Aboriginal women are still being killed and injured in DV-related situations at many times the rate for non-Indigenous women here or elsewhere, it is equally relevant that the rate of killing and serious injury of central Australian women has declined in recent years.
It is very likely these rates would be even higher were it not for the Henderson [Labor] government’s introduction of new family and domestic violence prevention measures, the most important of which are the mandatory reporting requirements, the domestic violence intervention teams in the hospitals, and other Alice Springs-specific initiatives introduced in the last twelve months.
Most significant amongst these innovative measures are the very close collaborations between police and other key government and non-government agencies when dealing with actual and threatened violence, their high levels of care, and their implementation of sound strategy, such as a Family Safety Framework, with its practical integrated response measures.
The decline in the killings of women is almost certainly related to the very efforts which the Acting Chief Minister chooses to portray as possibly worthless and ineffective.
If we are to have a balanced and productive debate, the basic relevant facts must be acknowledged by participants in the discussion.
How can Ms Lambley possibly know enough detail about what has occurred to judge whether or not the incident is related to the former government’s family and domestic violence prevention measures, including mandatory reporting?
Young people experiencing violence are often very mobile, and can easily slip between the cracks in the systems established by services. Our clinics, women’s services and police stations are often over-stretched because of insufficient staff, inexperienced workers, high staff turnover rates, unrealistic workloads and logistical problems in dealing with clients over great distances.
What is Ms Lambley’s evidence for the alleged ineffectiveness of the mandatory reporting regime and the other Henderson government family and domestic violence prevention measures?
The Acting Chief Minister must acknowledge that no single measure – such as mandatory reporting – is a guarantee against some continued level of violence against women, and one death does not invalidate the long term worth of mandatory reporting of domestic violence.
ABOLITION OF THE BANNED DRINKERS REGISTER
Perhaps whilst she has been publicly discounting the mandatory reporting of DV, and abolishing the DV support worker positions which had been stationed in NT hospitals, Ms Lambley is in fact worried about whether the abolition of the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) by her government could possibly have been a factor in this tragic situation.
Perhaps she has considered that a person who was the subject of a DV restraining order would normally have been placed on the BDR, and wondered, if the BDR had not been so hastily abandoned by her government after its election in late August, whether this incident would have been much less likely to have occurred.
THE NECESSITY FOR CAUTION
The former NT government, its public service and NGO agencies had been making bravely radical efforts to grapple with the extraordinary problems around DV. They recognised that many young children grow up witnessing and experiencing a great deal of violence, which thus becomes normalised in their conscious and sub-conscious feelings and beliefs.
It is not unusual for violent behaviours to begin early in relationships, and for such behaviour quickly to become severe, with sometimes fatal consequences.
Ms Lambley, of all people, with her background as a senior social worker at the Alice Springs Hospital, should appreciate that courageous measures, even though controversial, should be maintained at least until they have been rigorously evaluated, and that dedicated frontline workers should be supported. Neither should be prematurely dismissed or undermined without strong evidence of the need to do so.
This piece was originally published at Alice Online, on 3 January 2013.