BREAKING NEWS (see below): Rock throwers may be put into care, parents may be fined for truant kids.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
It was a “no, no, no and certainly not” type of meeting on Monday, suggesting that the town council would need to be dragged kicking and screaming from its rates, roads and rubbish comfort.
There was a resolute “no” to a call for a moratorium on fracking.
There was a “no way” on a youth curfew.
There was “no change” to the investment policy for the council’s substantial cash reserves, despite probing questions from Cr Jade Kudrenko.
PHOTO at right: Ambulance window smashed by rock throwing vandals.
And the “no” to even the seemingly innocuous issue of “illuminated” street advertising drove Deputy Mayor Kylie Bonanni to visible exasperation, as council by-laws were found to be in the straightjacket of Australian Standards rather than subject to the common sense of an easy-going bush town.
As it was a committee meeting, all of these decisions still need to be ratified by the full meeting on April 28, but they seem to have zero chance of change, except if the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance can improve on its paltry 165 signatures on a petition presented to the council on Monday.
The slimmest chance of all initiatives is that of Cr Eli Melky’s proposition for a youth curfew for kids under 13. It got only one vote in favour – Cr Melky’s.
This is indicative of the degree to which the council is remote from public sentiment. Its decision coincides with an avalanche of rock throwing and property damage.
Yet seven of the eight elected members present (Cr Liz Martin is on six months leave) saw no need in this to even investigate how a curfew could deal with this scourge, perhaps making it easier to identify neglectful parents, or showing the need for a safe place to take those kids.
Today again the police issued damming statistics: Superintendent Travis Wurst said police took “34 people into protective custody last night, conveyed 77 youths home, and apprehended three youths for trespassing at a business on Bath Street”.
Far from coming up with some answers the council was indignant about a statement from Chief Minister Adam Giles – which turned out to be understandable wishful thinking.
On April 10 he had “congratulated Alice Springs Town Council and Central Australian Aboriginal Congress on their commitment to becoming part of the solution to youth issues in the town.
“The new arrangements will see the existing Town Council Rangers funded to expand their patrols to help manage young people on the streets at night.
“They will work alongside Congress staff to provide case management, connecting young people to broader services that can help them keep their lives on track.
“Detailed planning for this new three-way youth partnership is now underway.
“It’s great to be working with Congress, as well as both the CEO of the Town Council and the Mayor on the project.”
Nothing of the sort had been agreed upon, the council meeting on Monday was told by CEO Rex Mooney: the media release was a “complete surprise,” he said; figures had been provided but no action taken.
There had been two conversations, he had given no commitment, he gave figures, there was no formal correspondence, and he may need to revise the figures. Media outlets were given the release without consent of the council.
Cr Chansey Paech said it appeared the youth issue was being “handballed” to the council and that was not reasonable.
Cr Steve Brown said the press release may have been “premature … but we should be working with the government when we can about youth issues … discuss the use of rangers, not rule out anything … and have our hearts and souls in the discussion”.
All the same, the focus of Monday’s meeting was on finding ways to pass the buck.
Cr Paech said it was the responsibility NT Government to act on youth issues, they are obliged to provide a “statutory response”. There is no evidence about how many of these people are under 13. There is a need to reinstate the Youth Steet Outreach Services (by the government, of course).
The police have capacity to act, said Cr Paech. It’s the responsibility of the department.
Cr Brown said we’re all aware of the youth issues, children are not being looked after at home, parents don’t care.
There needs to be a “measured process” over the long term, not a “temporary fix, thorough and lasting” – clearly as long as it isn’t the council getting its hands dirty.
Cr Jade Kudrenko, stating the obvious, declared we’re facing “extremely challenging and difficult” circumstances, dysfunctional families, and we need to “keep working with the department and appropriate authorities”.
She said these are “big issues we need to respond to,” she was “passionate and concerned”, keen on working with ministers and departments and having robust and frank discussions – “work with people”.
Mayor Damien Ryan claimed this was a “bigger issue than a motion out of this chamber” could deal with “for something that the council is not resourced [for]”. More needs to be done “than just chasing people out of the mall and rounding them up”.
Mayor Ryan lamented the Federal removal of funds from councils and regional councils.
Bush people are attracted to the “bright lights,” he said. Housing in the town camps is inadequate and new “leasing arrangements have removed opportunities to act on visitors”.
Cr Brendan Heenan, attending by a frequently inaudible phone link, said he would not support Cr Melky on the curfew.
Cr Dave Douglas said the same, adding that a lot more work would need to be done, and that we need more youth services in the town.
Cr Melky, again out on a limb, said it was the third time a curfew motion had been put, previously by Aldermen Robyn Lambley and Murray Stewart – all in response to spates of violence and vandalism.
He said members of the public had recently taken action to stop rock throwing from Billygoat Hill, according to social media.
The success of his motion would send a message to the “relevant bodies”.
Cr Bonanni said councillors were “rambling on a lot here”.
She said at a recent meeting of the council with Families Minister John Elferink he had “heard our concerns but was on the fence on a curfew.
“Why are we still gong on with this,” she asked. “We have all said we won’t support the motion. People who look after the children need to do this, they don’t support curfew.”
Young people were not the only issue on which the council appears out of step with the government which now mandates that tenderers for government contracts must have 30% to 40% indigenous staff.
As of March 31 the council had 20 full time Indigenous employees, which is about 12.5%.
Meanwhile the NT Government has released the following media statement a short while ago:
The Northern Territory Government has put parents of rock-throwing youths in Alice Springs on notice that their children will be put into care if the current situation continues: “Get your kids off the streets. Get them back to communities and back into school,” Mr Giles said.
“Otherwise, these children will be regarded as requiring protection and we will take immediate action. Parents should not doubt our resolve to do this.”
The Chief Minister has also directed the Department of Education Attendance Officers to start issuing infringements notices where any school age child is found on the streets during school hours.
“That’s a $298 fine. Parents are warned. If these officers find a child on the streets tomorrow that should be in school, a notice will be issued,” he said.
Minister for Children and Families John Elferink is in Alice Springs assessing the situation first hand.
“I have directed my department to take strong action and take children into care where the legal grounds are met. Normally the department would see this as a last resort and be willing to work with parents but these are not normal circumstances,” he said.
“Gangs of youth throwing rocks at Police Officers is not normal and is illegal. It’s an extreme circumstance and will bring a zero tolerance approach for this kind of behaviour.
“Our advice is that many of the children throwing rocks and committing anti-social acts are from communities.
“If parents don’t want to see their children in care then they need to get off the grog and head back to their home community,” he said.
The Government is looking at organising bus transport to assist families with their return.
Mr Giles said the Government was also reviewing its support for next year’s Lightning Carnival in Alice Springs.
“If the organisers want taxpayers support then they best think long and hard about how they conduct their event and how to reduce the impact it has created on the town in the subsequent days.” Mr Giles said.