Anger with out-of-control kids: council needs to step up


Above: CCTV proliferates in Todd Mall, with a mobile unit now placed virtually next to  one permanently installed. And the years go by and the problems remain. 



Last updated 12 February 2020, 3.15pm (minor edits).

In two and a half years the Town Council has done little more than write letters in a response to young people on the streets who are seen to be out-of-control.


Several councillors during last night’s meeting named November, 2017 as the date when council dropped the ball.


Senior Arrernte custodians – Apmereke-artweye – had approached council offering to get involved after “some very serious acts of violence and rock throwing”.


“The community is under siege,”  Apmereke-artweye Philip Alice said back then. “Traditional owners have had enough. We must become part of the solution.”


The motion put by Councillor Catherine Satour was that council  “accept the invitation from the Central Arrernte traditional owners to build a formal and strong relationship between the council and the traditional owners”.


It was whittled down to inviting them for discussions.


And nothing happened. Those relationships have not been developed.


Little wonder then that there are “real perceptions” in the community that “leadership is lacking in council”, said Cr Marli Banks.


“We haven’t enacted anything to make something meaningful out of that [2017 resolution].”


Once again, the town is talking of little else. But it’s different this time, said Cr Eli Melky. Everyone has their own story to tell of a bad experience of being broken into or worse, and some people’s stories are “horrendous”.


His sample: all the people stopping to sign MLA Robyn Lambley’s petition to bring in a youth curfew. Cr Melky has stood “shoulder to shoulder” with her in two- to three-hour stints in the shopping centres, collecting signatures.


Cr Glen Auricht (pictured) said the problem is not limited to town. He travels widely with his work and in every community he goes to, council offices, health clinics, houses, shops, sport facilities are broken into  and smashed by out-of-control kids.


Aboriginal people working on communities have their houses destroyed, their cars stolen, he said.


And in town “we are copping the same behaviour”.


He spoke of “gangs of children doing this damage”, “being supported by other criminal elements”, “operating outside of anything we are able to deliver”.


He spoke of “Utopia gangs, Ali Curing gangs, Pitjantjatjara Lands gangs, outdoing each other with damage”.


He said adults waiting in the street are sending children to break in, acknowledging that this is “anecdotal”. (Cr Melky made a similar claim.)


He decried the limitations on police to “even grab hold of a youth, to stop them throwing rocks at cars”.


“Kids have got all the rights, and absolutely no responsibility,” he said, although this applies only to a “small percentage” of the population.


He said “frustration, anger, and helplessness” are building in the community “from the police down”.


He wanted to see council working with police and the NT Government, to hold children “accountable”.


The way they are being dealt with at the moment is  “almost like rewarding [them] for the amount of damage they do”.


He is “fearful that these children are going to be injured by angry people”, that “these kids would be killed” – “not what we want, but something has to give”.


Cr Melky’s comments were restrained in comparison. His latest proposal for a curfew that would deal with young people out on the streets at night using council’s public places by-law powers, is “working its way through the council process”.


Meanwhile, he wanted council “to send a message” – “we are not prepared to accept the status quo”, which has a high risk of a knock-on effect in the economy, and of cultural breakdown.


Hang on, council has already addressed the situation in two motions – on 25 November and 9 December 2019 –   and written to the Chief Minister to ask what measures his government had in place “to ensure the short and long term safety and healthy future of our community”.


The motion of 9 December also called on the government “to establish a 24 hour drop-in centre”.


Have we got a response, asked Cr Jamie de Brenni. It’s “their responsibility”, with council support, and council rangers are “working like crazy”.


The Chief Minister wanted “some other questions” answered first, said CEO Robert Jennings. He was applying the utmost discretion, those other questions being about the vexed issue of Mayor Damien Ryan’s perceived conflict of interest in being both council’s principal and a CLP candidate for election.


Mr Jennings suggested that the government would be of the view that the Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison’s response, on behalf of the NT police, did address council’s questions. And in the meantime, officers were proceeding on youth matters “where we can”. This has involved numerous meetings with community groups, the NT Government and agencies; the development of projects that some Elected Members are aware of, and also understanding the legal framework for council’s options. All this will be talked about in the upcoming council forum (closed to the public) and in confidential sessions (following council’s public meetings).


Cr Melky was scathing about the Chief Minister’s failure to respond: it was holding the whole town “to ransom”, it was a “personal thing”, “a dogfight” between the Chief Minister and the Mayor.

Left: November 2017, Apmereke-artweye Philip Alice addressing the Town Council. Photo from our archive.

He said the Chief Minister had failed to define what the conflict of interest is.


Cr Banks, however, said that it “needs to be resolved”.


Cr de Brenni, who is a CLP vice-president, angrily rejected the suggestion of a conflict of interest for the Mayor who has “never put anything but this community first”.


He also told the chamber that there is “a tender out to get rid of Loves Creek, a purpose-built facility still sitting there”.  (He was referring to a youth camp at Loves Creek Station, 90 km from Alice Springs, which closed its doors controversially in 2017.)


“We want a reply [from the Chief Minister],” said Cr de Brenni, “where do we sit, where can we help you?”


Deputy Mayor Matt Paterson agreed that the Chief Minister’s refusal to deal with council’s correspondence is “just ridiculous”. Council needs to demand that he  “address the issues, regardless of the Mayor running”.


The community does not care about that, he said, everyone just wants to feel safe. It is “a major issue” on which the community wants “bipartisan support”.


Mayor Ryan, attending the meeting by phone (Cr Jacinta Price was an apology), suggested that the government and police should join council in a public meeting in the Andy McNeill Room.


Cr Jimmy Cocking, in the chair, said the Andy McNeill Room would never be big enough; it should be held at Anzac Oval. And in the meantime, council should work with Lhere Artepe and Tangentyere Council so that the meeting would show them all “working together” on this  “wicked problem”.


Such a meeting should also include a presentation from Neighbourhood Watch, he said.


But Cr Melky poured cold water on the idea. Isn’t it the definition of madness, to do same thing over and over? he asked.


“It would be an uncontrollable talk fest and slug fest.”


Cr Banks also saw it as “so far off what we need to do” even though she “really wants to hear from the community”. She herself, as a business owner and parent of young children, does not feel particularly threatened but she understands that “some businesses  are feeling it more than I am” and that “some people have had horrendous experiences”.


Cr Melky said the necessary “humanitarian response” to people in need has to be separated from dealing with “the criminal element”: “I’m not sure why we continue to confuse the two.”


He urged council to meet with Aboriginal custodians “immediately”:  council needs to understand “what they understand and can do”.


Cr Banks agreed: now is the time, “with new leadership in operations”, to look at making the partnership with “Aboriginal law holders”, as aspired to in the 2017 resolution.


Cr de Brenni was also on board: action “the old item”, plus demand answers from the Chief Minister.


Cr Satour, who had been quiet throughout this debate, now spoke.


She was really disappointed to see Elected Members “playing into the politics” of this issue; it goes far beyond politics, it is about getting our community back together – “all the old Alice Springs families, black and white”.


November 2017 was “an opportunity missed”. Now council has a lot to do to build relationships with Aboriginal people.


She spoke of the “social complexities” faced by some Aboriginal people in doing things “as simple as running a household, getting kids to school” – “some people don’t have a house”.


She said the town’s social programs, which are “really comprehensive”, as well as police, are running “at capacity”.


The “missing piece” is local Aboriginal people being in the conversation: “How can we work together, in respectful meaningful relationships to come to solutions?”


She gets annoyed hearing about government this, government that: “What about our people in the community, all people?”


“For me, as a local Aboriginal person, and more importantly as a  community member, I want to work towards solutions.”


First and foremost, that means engaging with Aboriginal people “who want to be part of the solution”, she said.


Crs Cocking, de Brenni, Banks and Melky, all endorsed her words.


Mr Jennings said Elected Members would be updated in the forum about meetings that have been had to progress the resolution from 2017.


  1. Out of control is what it is. Where does the blame lie?
    Alice Springs has an Aboriginal problem, [people] who have no regard for western rules or property in the municipal area of Alice Springs. It’s also got a bigger problem with Aboriginal youth criminal behaviour which is now just not acceptable! Good people like doctors, lawyers and employees who work in the Aboriginal services industry, providers of fast food shops, their properties are being broken into by thoughtless careless actions.
    Churches are being broken into for what? This is a place of calmness and healing.
    The Aboriginal medical service is being broken into, they provide care for sick Aboriginal people. All these entities that provide services to Aboriginal people for the benefit of the society of Alice Springs are being treated like shit and laughed upon after he/she has done the crime!
    Right now these Aboriginal kids have no understanding of feelings, what is wrong and what is right, what is good and what is bad.
    Ask them why and they will shrug the shoulders and say: “I don’t know.”
    Go to the prison and talk to the young juveniles in the centre and ask them “where is your father?” He will reply: “He is next door in the big jail.”
    Not all but a most of them.
    Ask him where is your brother, he is in the big jail! Ask him where is his uncle, he is in the big jail, ask him where is his cousin he will reply, he is in the big jail!
    Ask him is there any man in your life who you like to sit down and talk with, when you are happy or when you are sad, he will say no.
    Ask him who is the closest to him in his family and he will reply, my nanna. Why your nanna? Because she gives me food and money!
    So the true talk is that there is not a male who is around to provide a positive influence on this young male’s life. No male to give him good advice, only the male who has led him away from listening and led him astray and danced with him straight into the courthouse.
    Does anyone come and visit you while you are in jail? No, no-one comes and visits us, no family!
    This problem can only be fixed by the Aboriginal man and the Aboriginal man has to have an understanding and knowledge of “who’s who in the zoo!”
    Please don’t reply with an anonymous name and bag out a fact, add to the conversation with an outpoint for a action to attempt to try and contain this sad plight and make people understand that this is a generation of identity that will be lost and Alice Springs will not recover from this unfruitful plight on its timeline.

  2. Michael Liddle. Spoken like a true leader. I seriously hope your comments are listened to, even acted on. I further hope you will put your knowledge to those who can work in a positive way with you.
    Families are desperate for help. They want honesty. Young fellas need your respectful support.
    I am pleased to hear how succinctly you put your argument. It does not sound political, it sounds genuine.
    You can have my support to take your honest comments forward and try whatever it takes to keep most of these young people out of a system that just labels them ‘criminals’ for the most of the rest of their lives.
    No one benefits, least of all they or their families. I guess businesses would be supportive of any initiatives you have but, first they need to hear what you have in mind.
    I applaud you most sincerely for your comments.

  3. @Michael Liddle
    Great [comment] Michael and the Truth.
    Businesses in Alice Springs are red hot angry about this issue, why would they not be? It is threatening their livelihoods and lowering services for everyone as they leave for a more civilised lifestyle.
    Historically, these issues concerning Aboriginal youths have peaks and troughs. Right now the Territory is in recession which is exacerbating this peak in youth crime in Alice Springs.
    People feel very much powerless because those who have the levers of power are not politically capable of standing firm and addressing the issue. Labor is left and traditionally soft on crime, in particular Aboriginal crime, which has been a disaster for all Aboriginal people in our community.
    Labor does have some good policies, but facing the reality of life and applying those principles of discipline in this context is not one of them.
    We need strong leadership that is willing to put their name to ending this perpetual dysfunction. Are there any Labor Leaders in our community that will stand up and be counted? Please do not give us “there is a good program happening”, sorry Michael, but this only angers people who live in Alice Springs.
    If we have another ‘program’ for youths then I will howl at the moon.
    I will not hold my breath waiting for Labor to do anything and that is a sad state of affairs for our Community. I wonder what Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley would have done? Probably the greatest Prime Minster with Sir Edmund Barton beside him.
    I know what he would have done, what his generation of Labor leaders did, [they] were down to earth, used their common sense and made significant change regardless of some remonstration.
    We really are feeling as a community in 2020 as we are in a political leadership vacuum.
    There is some good on the horizon, we have a Northern Territory born and bred Police Commissioner; Mr Chalker a very capable Police Officer and an achiever. So we are blessed with the Police leadership in the NT .
    This is shown by Commissioner Chalker by his Alice Springs visit that he knows his business, he will need all of our support as well as all NT Police Officers.
    The reality is this, the NT and or Federal Government cannot resolve this issue of Aboriginal dysfunction that wrecks communities, in particular businesses, at this time.
    Government cannot resolve the Aboriginal issue alone.
    Government can only hold the line as is the case and they have spent literally hundreds of billions of dollars of your hard earned taxes on a tiny part of the Australian population.
    We have some hard questions to ask the Aboriginal community that we have not asked before.
    Can you the Aboriginal people end this perpetual dysfunction that afflicts us as a community?
    Aboriginal people who do the right thing, work, look after their kids and contribute to the community and economy are burdened most on this issue but have most to gain. It is you who must lead on this and we the broader Australian community must support you and not block the hard decisions this will require.
    Such as ending the approach of throwing money at the problem and not demanding accountability. This approach has many bitter pills to be taken, metaphorically speaking. Resolution must come from Aboriginal Australians and [be] reinforced by all Australians. Not supported with many looping programs that end in more dysfunction.
    Our aim is to end Aboriginal dysfunction and that means taking a different attitude to what we have done in the past as a community.
    By doing so you are doing your bit to end a people who are being used by too many, including [other] Aboriginal people, that profit from human misery.
    A tough row to hoe, yes but we should be inspired by our Diggers who did the impossible and made Australia the greatest country in the world.

  4. What exactly do you propose the council do? How will they enforce it? Even the police are overstretched now. It is tine to bring in the army.
    Unfortunately these kids are destroying our town.
    It does not mean all are bad … but a fair number.
    Army can do a curfew and is the only alternative. We are no longer the lucky country. Too much violence, robberies, drugs, racial division.
    And the manby pamby do gooders.

  5. Bloody hell Glenn, you are fearful for the kids? I would have thought your first fear would have been for the ratepayers who vote for you. Crime is crime, regardless of the skin colour.

  6. The ASTC have been sitting with their thumbs firmly implanted in their bums ever since Damien Ryan’s 2nd term as Mayor ! He disrespected and underestimated the traditional owners back in 2017 and to the absolute detriment of the community! The ASTC have only just started to listen to the public on this matter and if not for Eli Melky trying to make them more accountable and actually do something to earn their positions they would probably still be doing sweet nothing! I mean two letters to the Chief Minister, I am embarrassed for them in their lack of effort for the Alice Springs community!
    I don’t know who Catherine Satour is talking about when she says the whole community need to be a part of this solution! What a joke, we are all too busy working, raising our children, and paying for damage repairs for our cars, houses, businesses and bodies! How about the people elected to positions of CouncilLors and Politicians actually do the job they were employed to do!

  7. All very good comments – spot on.
    We came back from a six week holiday and the first thing our daughter said to us: “You should have stayed away. It’s been terrible what’s been happening here in Alice.”
    And yes, all the damage, loitering we never saw in all the large and small towns we visited through Adelaide, Victoria and NSW.
    We have a lot invested in this town but sadly will also be a long term family to leave. Enough is enough.
    I thought school term has started but why are there so many kids getting around through the day? I also heard that finding a truancy personal in town is difficult as they prefer to go out bush because of TA?
    All Aboriginal organisations need to step up and the government need to investigate and make sure that all of these organisations are productive in their role in society. So many questions.

  8. Wow! Alice is not the only town in Australia having issues.
    Most people are doing their best to find solutions.

  9. Alice council pays 100k for the mayor plus committee money 50k for the councillors who don’t even represent a ward but push their own agendas.
    Do we need them?
    Talk fest after talk fest.
    Third tier of government phew. It’s all about them and their ambitions.

  10. There was a time when ivory poaching was at its peak that a problem with ‘rogue elephants’developed in the African landscape. Young elephants left orphaned without parental guidance to teach them how to behave like an elephant should. These rogues’ behaviour was so antisocial that some had to be put down as the most humane option. Of course this is not an option within human society but the premise is the same: Absent parents.
    We hear that all the dads, uncles and other significant male role models are in jail and that nannas are the people kids go to for food etc. Where are the mums? Are they too hung over or too busy playing cards or getting themselves beaten up in front of kids watching on, to look after their children as a priority before their own personal need for grog, gambling or violent man in their life?
    Family is the cornerstone of all human society worldwide and it is within the confines of the family unit that potential rogue elephants are guided or redirected away from unacceptable societal behaviours.
    The banned drinkers register and other interventions are only racist if not applied Australia wide. The interventions should expand to force chronic drinkers, druggies and gamblers of breeding age who repeatedly refuse medical assistance to get well and behave acceptably, to be sterilised. To be at the mercy of an alcoholic or foetal alcohol rogue elephant is just as frightening and dangerous as facing an ice addict. If it’s wrong to remove children from abusive, neglectful cornerstone family units (citing the stolen generation as an excuse rather than a reason),then at least stop the self absorbed […] from breeding little rogue elephants, some born already brain addled from alcohol before their first breath is taken. Potential mums and dads of all backgrounds need to keep their knickers on and stop breeding trouble for the rest of society to suffer.
    The utter selfishness of addicts who blame society or history rather than their own choices when confronted with their disrespect of societal laws and cultural values, is at its core the reason for problems in Alice Springs or elsewhere in Australia.
    To all potential parents in black, white, multicultural Australian society who don’t want to be constrained by the obligations of parenthood: Your behaviour is remiss as is citing racism or stolen generation every time somebody tries to remove vulnerable children from witnessing it, experiencing abuse in neglect. It is not the person removing the child to a safer place who is the racist. It is the breeding age adults who are disrespecting traditional culture, culture of the family unit.
    The erosion of culture – whatever the hell that is – comes from within, not without the family unit. Stop blaming everyone else for being too weak and lazy to do your rightful job of parenting and stop putting hand out for parenting payment support if you relinquish your responsibilities to others or even actively train and encourage your children to steal for your habits knowing that minors can’t be charged.
    The law needs to change here too. Any kids found roaming about unsupervised at inappropriate times etc should lose Centrelink support to the adult meant to be parenting that child roaming the streets, and [the adult] should be charged with those crimes including jail time because they are already absent parents. My comments relate to every town, every family in Australia.

  11. One common trait among all the Aboriginal kids running amok in this town is that they are all, to a boy/to a girl, racist.
    It’s not just Whitey copping the abuse, altho it is largely Whitey running the programs (early intervention, school lunch, etc.) trying to keep these kids from being flogged and [abused] and generally passed around before they reach puberty.
    Rather it’s anyone not deemed to be Aboriginal. Hang around the front door of the supermarket in the Coles Complex and listen to the language these kids direct to the African security guards. Come inside and listen to the language directed to the largely Asian night staff.
    And what are the Aboriginal organisations in Alice doing about it? Too easy – nothing.
    You don’t and won’t hear the same timbre of comments coming from European kids, from Asian kids, from African kids. For openers, they are too well mannered. Also, it’s because they and their parents are too busy studying and working to build a life that works in this multifaceted society of ours.
    In short, all but the Aboriginals are too busy living to put up with the losing proposition of being forever on the outside looking in while blaming that amorphous “other” for their woes. Is it really too much to ask that they pull their socks up? Everyone else has.

  12. Lucky we don’t have much sniffable substances around these days. Petrol nearly gone, deodorant locked up, paint and glue locked up, access to alcohol greatly reduced. The parents of this generation had it much harder. Gov and NGOs need to pull their finger out, get the kids off the street, out of jail, and then their children in 10 years might have a chance.

  13. How about schools step up!
    Council isn’t funded to control youth and rates are already sky high.
    Schools are funded.
    Yipirinya get about $28,000 for each student.
    Each Yirara student costs $60,000 a year according to an article in The Australian in 2018.
    These two schools are very well paid to educate the youth now causing havoc on our streets.
    Any comments from the schools or staff about the programs they run to teach their students regard for property are welcome.

  14. All parents need to step up to this responsibility ASAP. Time for the parents to sort out this mess and be a parent.

  15. @Jack1 Of course parents should step up but that sentiment has been expressed dozens of times and it is clear that they won’t or can’t.
    We have to go beyond wishful thinking.
    It is logical to try to influence these kids on their first contact with our institutions and that’s school.
    Yipirinya at the primary level and Yirara for secondary are the main ones.
    Imagine the benefits of heading off these kids at an early age, before they become street criminals and in time prisoners at the local jail.
    Michael Liddle says that Alice Springs has people who have no regard for western rules or property within the municipal area of Alice Springs.
    Schools are not responsible for this or at fault but they should be addressing the issue as far as they can in my opinion.
    Having regard for western rules and property should be part of schooling.

  16. All parents receive parental payments. This payment this should make the parents accountable. As for the schools a child can attend closer to the home in the suburb they live.
    You need to place the responsibility back on the parents.
    The schools can’t teach everything and parents need to be involved in the children’s life and volunteering at the schools and sports.

  17. Financial incentives and disincentives have been tried and both have failed.
    All strategies aiming to throw the responsibility back on parents have not worked.
    We must move on.
    Of course schools can’t teach everything but it is reasonable to expect them to reinforce the values that are under threat, namely respect for western rules and property.
    Teaching values has always been part of schooling and is not an additional burden.
    There is evidence reported by the Alice Springs News that some schools are part of the problem rather than the solution.
    In my opinion it is timely to examine the part that schools are playing or not playing in the Aboriginal youth crisis in our town.

  18. Why I ask do we continually have to provide these parents and families our hard earned taxpayers dollar?
    I go to work everyday and work my butt off, that ends up going to these people who get everything handed to them on a plate?
    Education, medical, welfare … the list goes on. All because? They pull the race card and blame colonisation and inter generational trauma to ebb more guilt and money from our pockets.
    Look around guys, so many other cultures that were colonised by white people – and so many cultures don’t get “sit down”. What a joke. Sit down money!
    Only here with Aboriginal people. Alice Springs, where everyone is too scared to call a spade a spade for fear of retribution via crime and payback?
    Physical assaults, verbal assaults to name a few.
    I can’t believe we as a community still have to provide solutions for a failing culture that even its own people are sick tired of.

  19. @ Kelly: That is such a terrible comment, are you serious? Every “people” that have been colonised and that are still colonised, continue to be so disadvantaged in all spheres of life.
    “Race card”?
    I can see how fear of living in Alice Springs at the moment can motivate a mentality of you against “them”.
    Either way, the only thing I see that should be called out here is the total ignorance and lack of sensitivity in your comment.
    These are people too, who have been so severely disadvantaged, and what is most helpful is psychological, social and economic intervention that takes in the intense amount of healing required for the Indigenous community.

  20. Michael Liddle has an excellent post.
    Clearly he’s keen to see positive changes like all of us.
    @ Jade Blake: I don’t see that @ Kelly has said anything so terrible. Kelly says it from his/her perspective. I tend to agree with much of what is said.
    Everyone talks about Aboriginal disadvantage. I looked up disadvantage community on Dr Google. “Disadvantaged communities refers to the areas throughout California which most suffer from a combination of economic, health, and environmental burdens. These burdens include poverty, high unemployment, air and water pollution, presence of hazardous wastes as well as high incidence of asthma and heart disease.”
    So, I now understand better what it really is and how it related to our Aboriginal people.
    But now, to me the question is why?
    In particular health, economic etc. There is hundreds of millions spent to try to alleviate this, why isn’t is working?


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