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 90km 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 Lambley respond in hysterical ignorance.

It is also disturbing that 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.

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 December 28 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

While 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 among 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.

Peter Fray

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