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Australia: Heartbreaking family violence text message leaves NT police chief feeling a 'sense of failure'

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The woman died at a residence at Hidden Valley town camp.  (ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher ) © Provided by ABC NEWS The woman died at a residence at Hidden Valley town camp.  (ABC Alice Springs: Samantha Jonscher )

WARNING: This article contains content that some readers may find distressing.

The Northern Territory's top policeman has spoken of a "sense of failure" after a horrifying family violence murder where the victim texted her daughter to say, "Your dad is going to kill me."

NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said the woman's partner "poured accelerant over the door and under the door and set it alight", trapping her inside with him.

He said in the hours before she died, the victim texted her young daughter to say goodbye.

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"She sent a text message that said, 'Today your dad is going to kill me. I love you, please don't cry for me,'" he said.

Commissioner Chalker was speaking at an anti-family violence event in Darwin, where he said police needed to "do things far better".

The woman’s 36-year-old partner – who also died of burn injuries – was arrested three days before the fire for breaching a domestic violence order.

He was granted bail by police before he killed the 34-year-old woman at an Alice Springs town camp last month.

Worst it's been

Commissioner Chalker said he felt "a sense of failure" over worsening rates of domestic violence in the Territory.

He said the past year was the "worst it's been" and in the past decade NT police had responded to about 10,000 domestic violence incidents a year.

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The woman was the second in Alice Springs to die in an alleged domestic violence related homicide this year, following the death in January of R Rubuntja, a prominent anti-domestic violence campaigner.

She is the third this year to die in the NT.

Larissa Ellis from Women's Safety Services Central Australia (WOSSCA) said the woman's death, like all deaths as a result of domestic violence, was "entirely preventable".

"This is the second woman in Alice Springs, and the third in Northern Territory this year. That actually isn't good enough, these women didn't need to die."

The organisation is reviewing its processes to determine if any improvements to its service could have prevented the woman's death.

A bed bug infestation at the organisation's specialised crisis accommodation meant it was closed the week the woman was killed.

The shelter is still taking on referrals and placing women in alternative accommodation, but Ms Ellis says the accommodation's temporary closure will be part of their review.

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The murdered woman was also known to the Tennant Creek women's refuge.

Funding welcomed

Indigenous women in the Northern Territory experience the highest rates of violence victimisation in the world and are hospitalised for assault at 40 times the rate of non-Indigenous women in Australia.

In recognition of this, the sector recently received a 50 per cent boost in funding from the NT government, adding $15 million to the $26 million a year spent on tackling domestic violence in the NT.

On the frontline, Ms Ellis said she welcomed the additional funding but had questions about how and where it would be rolled out.

Ms Ellis said the present level of funding resulted in over-worked case workers, high levels of burnout, possible gaps in service and little capacity to prevent violence before it happened.

A recent report by the Equality Institute found primary prevention work that stops violence before it happens almost always falls on frontline crisis staff.

"If another woman's death isn't an impetus for change, then I don't know what is," Ms Ellis said.

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Federal inquiry

Funding for domestic violence is awarded on a per capita basis, but Ms Ellis — like others in Northern Territory — has called on the government to award funding on a "needs" basis, given the Territory's small population.

These gaps in service will be considered at a new parliamentary inquiry that will assess the disparity in resources allocated to murder and missing persons investigations involving First Nations women and children.

Northern Territory Senator Malarndirri McCarthy was part of the push for the inquiry and said she would ensure it heard from Territorians on the frontline of family violence work.

"That means families, nursing staff, police, those organisations that look after families in these situations.

"We need to hear from them."

Coronial inquest

NT Police said an ongoing investigation would address “all aspects” surrounding the deaths of the woman and the man, and that a file was being prepared for the coroner.

Acting Alice Springs police commander Kirsten Engels separately described the incident as “about as horrific as it gets".

“What the witnesses had to experience and what my team had to contend with when they went there is, to be honest, heartbreaking," she said.

The Tennant Creeks Women's refuge did not respond to requests for comment.

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