The murder rates in Katherine and Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory are higher than that of the United States, new NT Government figures have shown.
According to new crime statistics, there have been seven homicides in the Northern Territory towns of Katherine and Tennant Creek since January.
Those occurred in towns where the combined population is just 13,000 people, meaning the rate of murders, manslaughters, and attempted murders is about 50 times higher than the national average.
It is 30 times the national rate of the USA, a country notorious for gun violence.
All seven victims and those charged with the crimes in Katherine and Tennant Creek are Aboriginal.
The crimes occurred in pockets home to some of Australia’s most extreme poverty and family violence, fuelled by alcohol and drug abuse.
In an attempt to turn the tide, $18.9 million will be distributed to eight Aboriginal-run health and legal services throughout Australia, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said.
He said the money was intended to “deliver a range of services, including trauma-informed therapeutic services for children, services for perpetrators to prevent future offending and intensive family-focused case management”.
‘Things are changing very, very slowly’
In Katherine, 320 kilometres south of Darwin, Wurli-Wurlinjang is one of the very few Aboriginal-run organisations to receive the targeted funding.
Chief executive Suzi Berto said their $2.4 million slice was an unprecedented financial boost.
“[It’s] something that’s very close to the Katherine Indigenous community — at last, they have an Indigenous service where they can come to seek help to get the proper treatment and counselling and support,” she said.
Wurli-Wurlinjang said it would have outreach teams going into Katherine’s nearby camps and communities to teach that violence was not cultural, and it did not have to be cyclical.
“The challenge really is coming from the communities in how they take this information on, in how they deal with it, and whether they want the help or not,” Ms Berto said.
She said the most important thing was to begin raising awareness and educating people.
“Things are a challenge with Indigenous people because sometimes they think that’s the cycle and that it’s OK, when in reality it’s not OK,” Ms Berto said.
“There’s a lot of awareness now where things are changing, but things are changing very, very slowly and that in itself is a challenge.”
‘Majority of perpetrators are repeat offenders’
Eric Thomas is the coordinator of Wurli-Wurlinjang Strongbala Men’s justice program and runs a 13-week alcohol and drug rehabilitation program for men in Katherine, most of whom have been referred by the courts.
“Most of our clients are repeat offenders to breaches of domestic violence orders,” he said.
“We’ll work closely with those clients, and a majority are intoxicated when they’re breaching, or when they’re engaging in unlawful activities, so a lot of our referrals are alcohol related.”
A six-hour drive south of Katherine to Tennant Creek in Central Australia, the problems are remarkably similar.
Tennant Creek’s police officer-in-charge, Senior Sergeant Don Eton, recently returned to the town where he began his policing career in 1981.
The local police presence has gone from 14 officers in the early 1980s to 52 officers this year, he said.
“Back then the town was thriving, every night there was something to do. There’s no drive-in anymore,” he said.
The NT’s Labor Government is now moving away from the previous Country Liberals’ policy of stationing police outside bottle shops, but Senior Sergeant Eton said he believed the violence would worsen under the change.
“Police standing on bottle shops — yes, I know the [police] association is against it, and I know we’d rather not be doing it, but it’s a proven method in relation to decreasing the amount of domestic violence,” he said.
“It’s the serious harms I’m talking about — we don’t see the multitude of broken arms, broken jaws, or even murders, or the use of weapons, like we used to.
“You still see it, but not as much as we used to.”