PHOTO: Aldermen John Rawnsley and Samih Habib Bitar at a “get to know you” evening with street kids in early 2009. Ald Habib Bitar is the seconder for the motion to be moved by Ald Melky at Monday’s council meeting: “That the Alice Springs Town Council request that the NTG invoke an emergency curfew measure and enforce a regulation to establish stronger control on the movement of males and females aged 16 years and younger, who are found on the streets of Alice Springs CBD and surrounding residential areas and are without a legitimate reason or adult supervision during the hours of 10:30pm and 6am. These emergency measures are to begin from 1st of December 2011.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
Ald Eli Melky will move his controversial motion for a youth curfew at Monday’s town council meeting. He says it’s no big deal, not a bid to change the world, just a logical move to round off the plethora of existing youth services. He believes there are 57 of them, counting government ones and NGOs, mostly working 9 to 5.
Now watch it all unravel. Ald Melky says while it appears there are hundreds of young people about at night, it’s just “30 to 40 kids who are holding the population to ransom”.
In a conversation with the Alice Springs News Online he suggests making it unlawful for them to be on the streets after 10pm will actually keep them indoors.
Our discussion soon turns to the question: Why should this new law make any difference to those 30 to 40 kids, given that breaking the law – pretty well with impunity – is a way of life for them?
News: It’s 10.01pm and a police patrol spots a 15-year-old.
Ald Melky: They would ask her if she has a lawful excuse to be in the streets. If she says I’ve just knocked off from Macca’s and I’m waiting for mum to pick me up, then there’d be no worries.
News: Let’s call her Jenny. She doesn’t have a lawful excuse. She gives the cops the finger. She’s known to the police for fighting with her mother and smoking dope.
Ald Melky: They take her to the police station. Loitering and insulting police are illegal but regarded as a low level offence.
News: What comes next?
Ald Melky: She’s asked where she wants be be taken. Home obviously is a first choice. News: She says no to home. She’s being abused there. Her parents are drunks. It’s now 10.30pm and she has nowhere to go.
Ald Melky: Then it’s time to bring in the youth services, including the Family and Children’s Services. They have experience, funding, infrastructure, staff. News: Do they work outside 9 to 5?
Ald Melky: Some do. They will take her to the Youth Hub [at the former ANZAC school]. The NT Government set it up for $20m and it has 26 beds.
News: It’s now 11.15pm. Jenny has had a hamburger at the Hub and is ready to join her mates outside. They have plans, breaking into a couple of licensed clubs. Should she be allowed to leave the Hub?
Ald Melky: Why should she want to leave? She is safe, well looked after. She’d stay the night.
News: She’s one of the “30 to 40 kids who are holding the population to ransom,” as you describe them. There’s all that booze at the Golf Club, the Gillen Club, the Memo. And getting it is a buzz. Hide and seek with the cops. Doesn’t get much better.
Ald Melky: She’s now in the system. The system will take care of her. She’ll be referred to services. That’s what they are funded for.
News: It’s now 11.30pm and Jenny is walking out the door. Should she be held against her will?
Ald Melky: We can’t put her in a prison environment of barbed wire.
News: So out she goes?
Ald Melky: The community has a duty of care to her. We have the infrastructure. We must make it work. I told my kids many times that they must be home by 10.30pm. And my parents told me. It’s the right thing.
News: Jenny hasn’t got a clue what the right thing is.
Ald Melky: Maybe the doors of the Hub need to be locked. Maybe they need to be re-inforced.
News: So we do hold her against her will? It’s 11.45pm now and she’s heading into harm’s way.
Ald Melky: The answer isn’t gaol, capsicum spray and handcuffs.
News: She goes?
Ald Melky: Why bother picking her up at midnight if we let her go now? The government is responsible. They have to go all the way, perhaps to adoption. Maybe the Hub needs to become her home – until she’s processed.
News: Against her will?
Ald Melky: The community must look after that child. And it’s against my will to be broken into.
Google in our archive our reports about a “youth curfew” dating back to 2003.
We do not think Ald Melky’s statement that the NT Government has spent $20m on the Youth Hub is correct – go to the NTG site. The Hub is not a safe house and does not have beds.
Alice Springs News Online put the following questions to the Department of Children and Families. We note they side-stepped most of our questions.
 Does the government have a position about [a youth curfew], one way or the other?
 We’re quoting an alderman suggesting that there are 30 to 40 children who are the main problem because they are committing crimes and are not under any competent care, supervision and control. Is that a fair assessment?
 How many kids are there in town not receiving proper care, supervision and control?
 What are the facilities in town at the moment for these kids (in 3 & 4) in terms of accommodation (numbers of beds, kids in foster arrangements, etc)?  Is a new 30 bed facility planned for the CDU campus?
 Is there a case for involuntary confinement of problem kids other than the police and court system?
 If so, how would it work? Are there any existing or planned facilities for this?  For example, when children are taken to safe houses can they be kept there against their will?
 At what age can children decline to be taken to a safe house?
 Is it the department’s experience that children or young people ever decline to be taken to a safe house?
 If so, how is this dealt with?
We got the following answers:
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) continues to work with other agencies and the Alice Springs Community Action Plan Group to support young people and provides a range of initiatives to address youth antisocial behaviour.
These initiatives include the establishment of the Alice Springs Youth Hub at the former ANZAC Hill school, extending and increasing operation hours of the Youth Street Outreach Service which now operates seven nights a week from 6pm to 3am and co-ordinating the Alice Springs School Holiday Activities Calendar.
As part of the Alice Springs Youth Action Plan the number of emergency accommodation places has increased with more than 20 extra beds provided by Anglicare and Tangentyere and DCF. DCF has provided $1.5 million for three Safe Houses in Alice Springs to ensure additional beds are available for children and young people at risk.
If initial efforts to engage a young person are not successful then formal care arrangements with DCF is an option.