Is there a need for a youth curfew?


p2325-tennant-vandalsLETTER 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.
Peter Cain
CEO, Barkly Youth Services


  1. Being bored is a “choice”. What else can people choose to be? Being bored is an excuse; not a reason.
    This is a reflection of the attitude that “you owe me something and I don’t have to contribute to my own well-being or life learning” that some in society have learned to believe is how life is and has become normalised in the lives of many over the past 50 years.
    I’m proposing a Minus 9 project that brings the health and education agencies together to help support and encourage young pregnant mothers-to-be to grow healthy babies in their bellies (limiting birth defects like FASD) and when the little bub arrives on the planet, there are plenty of professionals to help grow them through the early childhood years.
    Learning theories emphasise that about 80% of everything we ever learn happens in the first four to five years of life.
    If we are going to turn around the half century of the dependency model, we have to focus on the yet-to-be born generations.
    Phil Walcott
    Independent candidate for Braitling

  2. For somebody who advocates a “conversation”, Pete goes about things in a rather contrary way. His letter above raises many questions, but provides no answers. Instead, he teases us with the idea that there are mysterious “genuine solutions” which he fails to name.
    He asserts that “police and crime stats, … poor parenting, … the courts, … alcohol and other drugs” are not “really the drivers of interlinked issues many people believe need urgent attention – youth crime, anti-social behaviour and poor school attendance”, and dismisses the ultimate usefulness of curfews, youth drop-in centres, incarceration, detention and camel treks (a.k.a. Elferink’s attempts at intensively therapeutic – but ultimately too cursory – “boot camps”).
    But Pete fails to tell us what he thinks the real causes and solutions of these problems are.
    Instead we get an enigmatic reference to unspecified “genuine solutions”, and mysterious unnamed “infrastructure” worth $4 million, which he seems to think should be used for some unstated purpose.
    Come on Pete. Why so coy? Are you going to let us in on your preferred solution, or just leave us hanging? Start the bloody conversation!
    PS: Pete, are you aware that the term “spinifex pixies” is a derogatory term used widely in WA mining communities to refer to remote Aboriginal people? Is that what you intend it to mean here?

  3. @ Bob: Apologies for being coy and contrary. That is simply because we have learned during the term of the current government not to provide too much detail.
    Three times during that period we have provided extensive business plans to government ministers or minders for projects to tackle critical youth issues in the Barkly.
    All were based on extensive research across Australia, overseas and more importantly, in the Barkly with the youth and their families. Two of them were based on more than 10 years of research.
    We paid for that out of our own back pockets, not government grants.
    Implemented properly, we believe all would have had a significant impact on the issues they aimed to address in the Barkly; all would have saved the government significant dollars.
    Despite being clearly marked as remaining the property of our organisation, all were handed to other organisations without us being included in the discussion, all for significantly more than we were asking for.
    Sure, we can seek redress through the courts; that is both a lengthy process and an expensive one, with no guarantee of success due to the legislation iteslf, not whether or not we have a case. We just shrug and move on.
    Nowhere in any of this are we asking for funding, nor do we believe we have all the answers.
    We want a genuine conversation in the Barkly with all relevant agencies. That stopped happening here years ago. There is no evidence the various silos within the agencies even talk to each other.
    If the petition is one way to perhaps make that happen, then it is a positive thing.
    You missed two critical words out of your shot about the ultimate usefulness of existing models – none of them in themselves are the real issues, although show me a child at risk and I will show you a pile of empty green cans.
    By the way, out here spinifex pixies drive white Toyotas. They are here to help and have an Indigenous experience, all at the same time. Many of them come from overseas.
    We have a girl in her early teens in town. She lives with extended family but hasn’t seen biological family for years.
    Her hobbies are lighting fires, wanton vandalism like smashing up cars and businesses and murdering cats (but only those wearing collars). She hangs them from the owner’s fence.
    She is intelligent but doesn’t go to school. She rarely goes to bed before 5am and has a willing circle of disciples.
    Perhaps you can get together with Phil and discuss what her issues may be and some possible solutions.
    By the way, she is already on bail with curfew conditions and on diversion which stipulates she must go to school.
    Will our possible solutions help her? No. Clearly, however, something must be done for her.

  4. Peter (Posted April 29, 2016 at 8:46 am): Alright, it has now become clear that you “want a genuine conversation in the Barkly with all relevant agencies”, rather than a discussion of the issues with those members of the wider public who may be reading this thread.
    We are still in the dark about the key details of your proposal, although it sounds as though the staff of the “relevant agencies” would know exactly what you are talking about, so blowed if I know why you are so unwilling to let the rest of us in on the secret.
    Perhaps really you may be seeking unconditional agreement by the other parties to you enacting a program to address the needs of the Tennant street kids?

  5. @ Bob: The plan we have is simple in detail. If a curfew was in place, a service would need to be provided to engage with young people on the streets at night and, as a first port of call, return them home.
    If “home” is deemed unsafe, they are taken to a safe place, in this case a hostel-type arrangement where they could be checked by a nurse and counsellor if appropriate and given a feed and a bed for the night.
    Such a place has already been built and not used. It’s finding a use for government-funded infrastructure.
    DCF would be given the notes the following business day to do whatever they deem needed to be done.
    Obviously, if a young person turned up more than a few times in a week DCF may have to look at other options.
    Police would only be involved if a young person had a court-ordered curfew condition but there would need to be discussions around that.
    Non-government agencies could offer other support programs around all of that, such as a drop-in centre earlier in the night.
    Perhaps the Education mob could even look at bringing back adult or night classes.
    Sorry Bob, I don’t have all the answers. I have suggestions around what may work here based on many years of working in the youth justice space here.
    That experience is also based on seeing too many years of failed band-aid approaches.
    The problem with meetings about youth issues in Alice Springs is that everyone sits on the same side of the table. Up here, the problem is there isn’t even a table to sit at at this stage.

  6. Perhaps the Barkly Youth Services itself under Mr. Cain has failed in the role and so puts out a petition for a bit of backside covering.
    For someone who says he has worked in youth services in the Barkly for years and mainly with Aboriginal kids to refer to them as “spinifex fairies” – really. And after years in the Barkly no MOUs with other agencies and government?

  7. To all the experts posting here, just stop my home and workplace being broken into.
    Stop suckling off the taxpayer and blaming everyone else, if you can’t deliver on the job you are being handsomely for, hand the baton to someone else.
    The solution is not the taxpayer entertaining kids at night while their parents are off their face. And the solution is not quarantining parents’ money so they do tricks for cash.
    I don’t know the solution, but clearly the experts being paid to fix it don’t know either.


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