By KIERAN FINNANE
Last updated 3 October 2019, 7.32pm
Once again, the Town Council will turn its attention to what more they can do to curb antisocial and criminal behaviour in the town. From council to council, from Territory election to Territory election, the terms of the debate, the range of possible actions being considered scarcely shift, but in this council they have a bitter undertow.
The issue was raised at last Monday’s meeting by Councillor Jacinta Price (right, from our archive). During the day – the first day of the school holidays, as she noted – she had witnessed an ugly incident at Yeperenye shopping centre.
She said she saw two teenage girls threatening another. When security tried to intervene, they ran away, but circled back around to continue to taunt the third girl. At some stage the girls were standing on furniture. Police were called. The girls ran off and their victim’s mother (not the police) gave chase. The girls got away.
The mother is known to Cr Price, someone she grew up with. She told Cr Price that one of girls picking on her daughter had pulled a knife. This was why she felt the need to chase them down, said Cr Price.
She deplored the level of violence – in broad daylight, in a shopping centre.
Not long before she began to speak, a rock had been thrown at one of the chamber’s windows. Cr Price referred also to Cr Eli Melky having seen people fighting on the council lawns before the meeting.
She spoke of local primary school children at a recent event she attended, who had talked about too much alcohol, drugs, violence and crime in Alice Springs and, some too scared to go onto the streets.
That was not the Alice Springs that she grew up in, she said: “This to me is an emergency situation.” (Her comments were made after the debate about strengthening council’s climate action, during which this term had been a point of contention.)
Fixing the problem is not council’s core business, she said, but she argued that council needs to lobby “the current government, continually”.
One of her suggestions, which she returned to repeatedly, was for council to write to the government “an open letter” about “this crisis” that exists right across the NT.
Another suggestion was that council get Police Commander Bradley Currie to speak to them about the situation. (Other councillors agreed that this should be done, as it is from time to time.)
Cr Jimmy Cocking agreed that council needed to look at ways to move forward with this “wicked problem”, but he didn’t want to spend the next 12 months leading to the NT election lobbying the government on the issue.
Left: Crs Satour and Cocking. Photo from our archive.
He later became more specific about his concern that the issue was being used politically.
If council were to write a letter, would it be seen as coming from the Mayor, or from the candidate for Araluen? he asked.
He supported hearing from Commander Currie, and sitting down with Families Minister Dale Wakefield, as well with Tangentyere Council.
(Council recently met with Tangentyere, for the first time in a long time. Cr Glen Auricht said it was a “really rewarding meeting”.)
Mayor Damien Ryan referred to the success of the council-organised Desert Hoops Youth Basketball which had had its first tournament that day, with 50 youth attending.
(The next tournament will be this Friday 4 October – register on the day – then again on Monday 7 October and on Friday 11 October. Uniforms are provided, lunch is free, and there are Best & Fairest awards daily.)
Cr Price rejoined the debate, saying that her concern had “nothing to do with the election”. She pushed again for an open letter, saying she had spoken to Minister Wakefield about the child protection system failing, with culture prioritised over the human right to live in an environment that is not dysfunctional.
“I get nothing back in return.”
Cr Eli Melky suggested some credit was due to the current government, they have “listened to a certain point” but, he asked, are they getting results?
He said there has to be accountability from families and wondered whether council should revisit developing a relationship with custodians on this issue.
He also understood that a motion to introduce a curfew for Alice Springs would be debated in the Legislative Assembly. (Cr Melky has long supported a curfew.) Maybe council needs to get behind that discussion, he suggested.
He agreed with Cr Price that “if ever there was an emergency, this is one”.
Cr Catherine Satour said it is not until you leave town that you realise the level of antisocial behaviour being experienced here. She suggested that locals have become “slightly desensitised” to it.
She said she gets approached “incredibly often” about businesses and homes being broken into. (Commander Currie’s most recent message on year on year crime statistics for Alice Springs reported a 62% increase in house break-ins. He also noted that personal violence was down by 27%.)
Cr Satour says she is in fear in her own community, as are a lot of Central Arrernte people (she is not Central Arrernte herself, but works closely with them). They are prepared to work with government to address the deeper issues about why this is happening.
At times she paused while she spoke; she said she felt anxiety and frustration about having this conversation, as her early initiatives on the matter were connected to a difficult time for her on council – the Code of Conduct complaints that were made against her (and Cr Cocking).
During the 12 months it took to resolve them (they were all dismissed) it was “very difficult to try and do the work that this community so badly needs.”
However, she was not going to make it personal, the issue was “about community”, and everyone needed to be “mature, respectful, and find some common ground”.
Acting CEO Scott Allen had a list of “action items taken out of the discussion”.
They included inviting Commander Currie to the address council at the October committee meeting; talking with the CEO about drafting an “open letter” on behalf the community to the Chief Minister, to have discussions with him, as well as other Ministers and stakeholders, including Tangentyere Council, the police, the shopping centres, security services, council’s ranger unit and Traditional Owners.
Cr Satour said she was happy to support all that, adding that she appreciated the matter having been brought up.
Cr Cocking also thanked Cr Price for “bringing this to our attention”.
Politicking or community: What to do about youth crime?
By KIERAN FINNANE