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A dry desert breeze kicks up leaf litter and lifts the edges of tattered shade cloths tied to cyclone fences. Tires, broken play equipment, cars that may or may not work, are scattered across verges. Skip bins hold rubbish from unfinished work. On the corner of a road a mobile police CCTV camera is parked, its lens trained over a short suburban stretch. It was from here, in the desert town of Tennant Creek, that a two-year-old girl was driven the km south to Alice Springs for treatment for appalling injuries.
It was a crime that caused shockwaves around Australia. The Northern Territory government has responded with alcohol restrictions, extra police, new child protection staff and new funding for community groups.
It has pledged speedy action on promises it had already made after a royal commission highlighted systemic failings in the child protection system. The prime minister was berated for his lack of interest. Last week Malcolm Turnbull said he would send two federal ministers to the town. Indigenous organisations had their power stripped by the federal intervention policy 11 years ag o but, in response to one crisis after another, they are clawing back control over care and assistance to their community.
They want to stop the growing rate of child removals by supporting families before they reach crisis point. Everyone in Tennant Creek notes there have been improvements since the shocking assault but Guardian Australia has found there are still major problems. Amanda Moreton, her two-year-old daughter and year-old mother spent an entire mosquito-infested wet season and part of the winter sleeping on a mattress in a grassy area outside a town camp.
There is no house for her. The waiting list for public housing has more than people on it and the wait time is four to six years. The lack of housing means that as many as 20 people can end up living in the one home. Desperate and unsafe, Moreton saw some nearby abandoned tin sheds. She sought help from Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation and the Aboriginal-controlled Stronger Families organisation to move in. They fixed the doors and cleared the knee-high grass.