By KIERAN FINNANE
A youth curfew is official Town Council policy. It’s called a “Night Time Youth Strategy” and one of its measures is to have unsupervised children 15 years and under “taken into protective care and custody if found on the streets of Alice Springs at night” between 10pm and 5am. It’s been on council’s books since November 27, 2006.
It appears Mayor Damien Ryan was unaware of that: He tweeted on September 2, well before the matter came before the council again later that month: “I do not support a Youth Curfew, this proposal is not a #alicecouncil position.”
As council prepared to formally vote down Alderman Eli Melky’s youth curfew motion on Monday, Ald Murray Stewart reminded his colleagues of the anomaly. If they were going to vote against Ald Melky, they really should also put a recision motion to the meeting on this policy: it would be “disingenuous” not to.
Mayor Ryan, in the chair, knocked that idea on the head. He asked for debate on Ald Melky’s motion to be limited to presenting new information.
Ald Melky attempted to oblige by responding to points previously raised by Mayor Ryan in objection to the proposed curfew.
Attempting to provide a cost-benefit analysis of youth services, Ald Melky added things like the wages in the youth sector to the refurbishment costs of the Youth Hub to come up with a figure of $150,000 per child (with 6000 odd in Alice between the ages of five and 15) – money wasted in Ald Melky’s view as there remain 100 to 150 young people contributing to increased crime.
A curfew would address both the “social welfare” of these children and the “lawlessness on the street”, said Ald Melky.
“I did ask for new information,” commented Mayor Ryan, “I didn’t find a lot in there.”
Ald John Rawnsley expressed his frustration with having to hear this “gross distortion of reasoning … so far removed from analysis of how a curfew would work” and reiterated his view that if a young child is on the street at night, it points to the need to improve child protection services, not to the need for a blanket curfew.
Ald Samih Habib Bitar, in favour of a curfew, launched an attack on politicians who have “failed this community”, refusing to respond to “the cry of the people in the street whose houses are being smashed every day” and wanted to know why council was “not doing its job and calling on the government to do something”.
Mayor Ryan suggested that if Ald Bitar had not got anything from council’s debate on the issues two weeks ago, he wouldn’t now, and the pair exchanged heated remarks.
Deputy Mayor Liz Martin, speaking over on-going rumbling between Alds Rawnsley and Bitar, reiterated her opposition to a curfew as penalising the “future leaders of this community” and pushing vulnerable young people to the places where they would be out of sight, out of mind.
Ald Bitar lashed out: Where’s the $14m Youth Hub, he wanted to know, what’s happened to it? (There is some activity at the Youth Hub, but clearly not enough to impress Ald Bitar.)
Both Alds Rawnsley and Martin had expressed their offence over the suggestion that if they didn’t support a curfew, they didn’t care about young people.
Ald Stewart attempted to dowse this fire by commenting that everyone on council had the “best interest of children at heart” (Ald Rawnsley thanked him).
Ald Stewart went on the argue for a youth curfew as without one, there is effectively an “adult curfew”, with adults reluctant to enjoy the town’s nightlife because of danger on the streets.
The issue was finally put to the vote and a division called. No-one had changed sides: Mayor Ryan and Alds Rawnsley, Martin, Sandy Taylor, Jane Clark and Brendan Heenan voted the curfew down, watched from the public gallery by youthful campaigner against the curfew, Gavin Henderson, and a handful of young friends and adult supporters. MLA Robyn Lambley, architect of the 2006 Night Time Youth Strategy, was also in the gallery.
Reports on the youth curfew debate of late 2006-early 2007:
By KIERAN FINNANE