NT minister says deaths of Indigenous woman and baby should have been ‘all over the news’

by Caitlin Cassidy
Deaths prompt renewed calls for attention on First Nations domestic violence victims and needs-based funding

The shooting of an Indigenous woman and her infant child should have been “all over the news”, the Northern Territory’s police minister has said, in a push for needs-based domestic violence prevention funding in the region.

The bodies of a 41-year-old man, a 30-year-old woman and a baby were found at an outstation 25km north of Alice Springs on Sunday, prompting renewed calls for more attention on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims of domestic violence.

A firearm was found at a house on the property.

A spokesperson for NT police said the incident was related to domestic violence but were yet to provide details of the relationship between the people involved, and no charges had been laid.

The police minister, Kate Worden, who also serves as the territory’s minister for domestic violence, said it had been a “heartbreaking week” after a second separate alleged domestic violence incident in the region.

Late Tuesday evening, a 33-year-old woman died in the Katherine area.

Detective senior sergeant Paul Lawson said the woman had allegedly been involved in a fight with a female relative, and the case was being treated as a family violence incident. Police investigations were ongoing.

The minister was at a national summit for women on Friday hosted by the federal minister for women, Katy Gallagher, and minister for social services, Amanda Rishworth, where Worden renewed calls for a needs-based funding model that prioritised jurisdictions with higher rates of domestic violence.

The Northern Territory has the highest rate of domestic and family violence of any jurisdiction in Australia.

There were 5,579 instances of domestic violence reported in the territory in the past year, a 12-month increase of 1.03%. Alice Springs accounted for 1,337 of total cases, a yearly increase of 15.46%.

According to a report commissioned by the NT children’s commissioner, Aboriginal woman in the territory make up 0.3% of all women but account for more than 14% of hospitalisations for assault.

During Friday’s meeting, the ministers committed to finalising in October the next national plan to end violence against women and children.

Worden also called on the national media to do their part by reporting incidents widely to help pressure the federal government for additional funding.

“On what would usually be national stories, we have seen minimal coverage – and tragically this a story we know far too well here in the territory,” she said.

“The nation can no longer turn their backs on the complexities and heartbreaking reality we face.”

The deaths were reported by the ABC and wire service AAP, whose report was published in the Daily Mail, 7news.com.au and local papers including the Canberra Times, the Examiner and the Lismore City News. But the story has not grabbed the nation’s attention in the way Hannah Clarke and her children’s murders did in 2020.

The National Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services (FVPLS) chair, Wynetta Dewis, said media coverage aside, services for First Nations women and children weren’t given the funding they needed to address the domestic violence crisis.

She said rates of violence against First Nations women were 34 times higher than other women in Australia, and up to 80 times in the worst areas of the country.

“Our services have never been given the full level of resources that we desperately need to tackle the severe rates of family violence affecting First Nations people,” she said.

“Many of our women and children who suffer abuse live in isolated rural and remote communities … and there’s also a lack of reliable data, so the extent of family violence … has remained invisible in the planning and funding decisions made by governments for decades.

“The repeated failure to investigate the murders of First Nations women and the extreme levels of abuse that our women and children suffer needs to stop.”

The Tangentyere Women’s Family Safety Group will hold a vigil on Sunday for the woman and her infant. The group said more needed to be done.

“Again, we are grieving the loss of another woman and child from our community because of family violence,” they said on Facebook.

The minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said the levels of violence against First Nations women and children was a “matter of deep concern”.

“I extend my sincere condolences to the community in central Australia where this terrible tragedy occurred,” she said. “Ending violence against women is a priority for the Labor government.”

Northern Territory senator Malarndirri McCarthy said the territory had “unique challenges and circumstances”.

“People are in sorry business and dealing with the terrible tragedy that their loved ones are no longer here,” she said.

“The federal government is working closely with states and territories, women’s safety experts and victim-survivors to make sure investment in women’s safety goes where it is of greatest need.”

NT police acting commander, Mark Grieve, said there were no ongoing safety concerns for the community as a result of the incident.

“This was a horrific event, and our hearts go out to the family and community members affected” he said. “A team of detectives are investigating … a file will be prepared for the coroner.

“Police will not be releasing any further details of the incident while investigations are ongoing.”

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org