Malcolm Turnbull has announced a new “regional deal” for Tennant Creek to coordinate services, with talks in train about whether to extend the cashless welfare card to the Indigenous community as part of the deal.
On a listening tour in the troubled community, Turnbull acknowledged on Monday that “a large number of crimes [have been] committed against children here” but said he was not “shocked” but rather “inspired by the resilience” of its residents.
In his visit Turnbull has met Tennant Creek’s cultural authority group and as many as 100 of the town’s 500 children and young people, who he said asked him “what we could do to make sure that they were safe”.
On Monday, Turnbull told reporters he had proposed a regional deal for the Barkly council. Under the deal the federal, territory and local government and Aboriginal organisations will set priorities to plan the community’s economic and social development.
Turnbull identified the need to develop a reserve of “kinship carers” to look after children that needed to be taken away from their parents without being placed in foster care in Alice Springs.
In June, it was revealed the NT government had removed 15 children from their families around the town, when it was deemed unsafe after the rape of a toddler there in February.
Turnbull said measures to restrict the sale of alcohol had reduced public drunkenness and violent assaults, and he expected they would be made permanent.
The social services minister, Dan Tehan, said the cashless debit card “has been raised with us by the local community” and the government would “continue to have those conversations”.
“If the local community thinks it’s a part of the suite of measures that are needed here, then obviously we would go forward with that, but that would very much depend on the local community being a willing partner in that process.”
The government plans to push ahead with the expansion of its cashless welfare card trials, despite the auditor general finding it was unclear whether the program was actually reducing social harm.
Like all welfare recipients in the territory, people in Tennant Creek already have the Basics card, which quarantines a portion of their support payments. In an earlier trip to Tennant Creek, some residents expressed concern to Guardian Australia that the cashless welfare card quarantines more money than the Basics card, making it more difficult when they needed cash in the isolated and remote town.
Turnbull said he had discussed the need for more public housing and a dedicated facility for drug and alcohol rehabilitation with local police and NGOs.
Turnbull said he, the Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, and Tehan had “talked about how the local people can use their authority … to ensure that people who are making trouble stopped doing so, and if necessary are encouraged to leave”.
The Northern Territory chief minister, Michael Gunner, said “every territory kid has a right … to grow up happy, healthy and safe” and his government would do everything it can to improve young people’s job and education prospects.
The prime minister noted a royal commission into child protection had found that a shortage of funding was not not the problem but that services needed to be better delivered with greater cooperation between agencies.