LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – The hot topic of conversation at Tennant Creek over the last week has been CCTV footage on the Deadly Sweets Facebook page of the store’s frontage being destroyed by a group of young girls.
Understandably, from the comments on that site many people were appalled, angry, outraged or greatly saddened not just by the nature of the incident or the fact that it happened at 3.30am but that again, nothing will be done about it.
That has proven to be the case. Most of the girls have been charged and bailed, presumably with curfew conditions but they were out again at 3am today, this time lighting fires.
If you have lived in Tennant for more than six months, you will probably either have been broken into yourself or know people who have been.
We can talk about police and crime stats, we can talk about poor parenting, we can talk about the courts, we can talk about alcohol and other drugs. None of those in themselves are really the drivers of interlinked issues many people believe need urgent attention – youth crime, anti-social behaviour and poor school attendance.
The team at Barkly Youth Services has worked in the youth justice space in Tennant Creek and remote communities for many years. We have become increasingly concerned that the only solutions offered by Government to our increasing youth issues are band-aids and pointless meetings or rather, coffee and cake sessions for spinifex pixies.
Is a curfew for youth, say 9pm to 7am, a solution for Tennant?
Research indicates curfews by themselves don’t work – there are numerous studies and reports from the United States about how curfews actually increased the level of youth crime because it happens during the day instead, when the kids should be at school and the taxpayers are at work desperately trying to earn enough money to pay for their ballooning insurance premiums.
The other things most of those reports have in common is that they are all larger population centres. A larger urban area means more places to hide. That’s not an issue at Tennant.
There is also the valid argument that a curfew simply gives bored kids a new game to play called “run away from police”.
At Alice, for example, the kids would just run and hide until they want a feed and a warm cot for the rest of the night. Police in Tennant Creek are undermanned as it is without having those precious resources stretched even further. It’s probably the same in the Alice.
It could even be argued that chasing kids around all night is not the job of police.
There is also the issue of what to do with the young people who are picked up. To borrow a line from a well known Indigenous leader in Tennant, about a third of the kids on the street every night are just wannabe gangsters looking for excitement, a third want to hang with the “cool mob” but a third of them simply can’t go home.
Really, it’s the ones who can’t or won’t go home who need the support. Much of their offending here can usually be traced back to substance abuse, whether volatile or otherwise. Indeed, the girls in the CCTV footage were all high as kites, one of them even left her petrol can at the scene. Others filmed were on butane.
There is a popular school of thought that giving the young people a place to go at night may be a solution. It’s just not – it makes it more attractive for the kids to be out late and therefore, too tired to go to school. It also provides a free baby-sitting service for those who should be responsible for the children’s welfare in the first place.
We will never stop bad boys and girls from being bad, of course. Some people were just born wired wrong and that isn’t a colour issue. Martin Bryant killed a lot more people than Jimmy Blacksmith.
There are, however, genuine solutions to many of our youth offending issues at Tennant Creek. Clearly, there is not a simple fix but there are cheaper alternatives than the $50,000 each the government pays to send naughty boys and girls for a 10-day camel ride near Alice Springs to teach them a lesson. A significant part of those plans should be user (or parent or guardian) pays.
We actually have the infrastructure at Tennant that is ideal for dealing with the issue. The Feds built it; it was finished about a year ago at a cost of around $4 million and the keys are still swinging in the door. Like so much around the Territory, there was money to build it but no clear plan on what to do with it and no funding to run it.
The June school holidays are fast approaching. Nobody here really want a repeat of what happened over Christmas, when property offences at Tennant were simply out of control.
A petition has been circulating around Tennant Creek since Saturday asking for a youth curfew. It already has around 900 signatures. There are probably only about 1500 adults at Tennant who can actually read and write so in less that a week, that number is significant, especially when many public servants have refused to sign it because they “might get into trouble”.
I don’t believe the petition in itself will change anything at Tennant, or anywhere else for that matter. For the government of the day, youth justice in an election year as all about getting voters to think you are nastier than the other mob.
Youth Justice is, however, an important issue that needs a genuine conversation. That’s something we haven’t had in the Territory for too many years now; that doesn’t mean we just shrug our shoulders and move on.
CEO, Barkly Youth Services
LETTER TO THE EDITOR