As he wraps up his whirlwind tour of Tennant Creek, Malcolm Turnbull flags a new deal for the region.
Malcolm Turnbull has given a strong indication he will include the Barkly region in the Northern Territory in a regional policy similar to the Coalition’s City Deals.
It would mean Tennant Creek and its surrounds join Western Sydney, Launceston and Townsville in the policy that combines three levels of government with business to improve local infrastructure and opportunities.
Almost every local he spoke to told him of the housing crisis in the town which is contributing to its high unemployment and levels of violence.
“The concept doesn’t just have to be limited to cities,” the prime minister told locals at a dinner on Sunday night.
“I think the Barkly region is an area we should be looking at … a regional deal where we actually make sure we sit down and take the advice [of locals].”
His overnight visit comes in the wake of the alleged sexual assault of a toddler in the town earlier this year.
In June, it was revealed the NT government had removed 15 children from their families in and around the town when it was deemed unsafe after the alleged assault.
A NT parliamentary estimates hearing was also told at least one child is sexually exploited or abused in the region each week.
But, when asked if he was shocked by conditions in the town the PM said he had been "inspired" by the hard work, commitment and sense of community.
He said he had spoken with local children who primarily asked him how he would make conditions safer.
"The kids were asking me - as prime minister - to ensure they were going to be safe," he told reporters.
“We need to work together more effectively."
Mr Turnbull also joined Tennant Creek’s youth patrol, which takes children home at night so they’re not wandering the streets.
His tour of the town included the street where the alleged sexual assault of the toddler occurred.
He later went to the local youth centre, where he was surrounded by dozens of children and invited into a disco organised for them.
“I’ve just been overwhelmed by the warm welcome and inspired by all these kids and their optimism,” he told reporters as he left.
The visit to Tennant Creek comes a month after Mr Turnbull met with Barkly Regional Council mayor Steve Edgington.
The mayor wants the Turnbull government to consider extending its cities deal program to Tennant Creek to include a regional development deal with the troubled outback town.
"Here in Tennant Creek, there’s a lot of underlying issues. We know there’s a high level of unemployment, we know there are overcrowded people in houses," Mr Edginton told SBS News.
"They’re the things that impact on a child’s health, a child’s education and they’re the issues that make it unsafe for a child to be growing up in some of these houses.