Momentum is gathering for a 24/7 youth drop-in centre as a measure against street crime by children, but the government insists that they must be able to come and go as they please.
The community is desperately looking for solutions as five young offenders in a stolen car are accused of fatally injuring Shane Powell, and as discussion about police powers – and obligations – are at a fever pitch.
“We need to be very careful when we use that type of language. While a young person maybe out at a particular hour, they are not breaking any laws,” says front bencher Chansey Paech, the only government MLA in The Centre, holding the bush seat Gwoja.
He spoke with Alice Springs News editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
NEWS: It seems to be the general view that an open door drop-in centre is of no value because it doesn’t keep the trouble kids off the streets.
PAECH: There is no law to hold a young person against their will. If they are feeling unsafe then we need to work with them to find a place for them to go. Most people we talk to have a place to go to. But we cannot make it mandatory.
NEWS: You are the guys who make the laws.
PAECH: It’s not just a matter of making a law. We have to work within the human rights compatibility, we’ve had a Royal Commission which has resulted in a number of recommendations and all those matters are to be discussed. We need to work with young people to get them back on track, we don’t want to further perpetuate their relationship with the criminal justice system. Minister for Families Kate Worden can answer you far more in depth.
NEWS: Are the police accepting that looking after kids who are at risk by being out late at night with no adult present is part of what they are paid for?
PAECH: Police provide community safety. The police and the Tangentyere Night Patrol are working collaboratively to this end.
NEWS: The point is, are they at risk and are police obliged to ensure children at risk are taken to a safe place?
PAECH: When our first responders see a young person they deem at risk, there are mechanisms in place where they will offer that young person to be taken to a place of safety which the young person nominates. And secondly, they would notify the relevant agency to flag that that young person is potentially at risk or is showing signs of being at risk. The next day there is going to be a follow-up. It’s called a triage, working with the young person’s next of kin. There is also work with schools.
NEWS: Would police consider a child to be at risk simply for being out late at night and take the child to a safe place?
PAECH: We always have to consider that youth who are involved in anti social behaviours may be at risk and there is a range of Government and NGO services that address this. Again I would encourage you to address these questions to ministers Manison and Worden.
NEWS: You’re the only government Member in The Centre …
PAECH: And I can say, hand on heart, I am constantly making clear and apparent the issues that people in Central Australia face. I am a conduit into the Cabinet Room, but every Minister is a Minister for Central Australia.
NEWS: For years locals have been saying about the street crimes committed by kids, somebody is going to die. Now someone has. Do you consider this as a turning point?
PAECH: That incident is heartbreaking. We need to deal with these issues as an entire community.
NEWS: Are police effective in ensuring that children are not out there, both causing mayhem and being at risk? Are police getting a handle on it?
PAECH: The police are doing a fantastic job, as are the youth engagement officers with Territory Families. Police are often the people who have built up a relationship with the young people. I think Strike Force Viper is having a significant impact in town already.
NEW: How come, if everybody is doing such a good job, the community considers it is unsafe, they are unlikely to go out at night, they are fearful.
PAECH (pictured): We are seeing some positive progress being made. But there’s a lot of heavy lifting to be done and we all need to help.
NEWS: Warwick Sarre, Dean of Law and Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at the University of SA, says police cannot prevent the vast majority of crime; they simply respond to it. If we halved the number of police, crime would increase a little but not exponentially. He says most crime is prevented by good economic and social justice policies, higher employment rates, good family solidarity, high rates of educational opportunities, and welfare assistance. What should members of the community be doing?
PAECH: Working with Indigenous community leaders. There is a whole range of activities we should engage in.
NEWS: What exactly?
PAECH: I am talking about working with community and volunteer groups [helping] young people who are subjected to abject poverty, working with community leaders about how to engage young people – art and sporting groups, extending into the night to deliver services, working with local sports groups to get young people engaged rather than on the streets. As a community we need to work together looking at and developing community events we can host in our CBD to encourage and activate that space at night, crime prevention by design.
NEWS: How would that be done?
PAECH: You have to talk to Kate [Minister Worden]. That’s not my portfolio. I can’t go into specifics about how particular programs are being developed but I can say that Kate has already spent quality time in Alice Springs. We’ve been out on patrol late at night with the police and the youth engagement officers getting a firsthand experience of what is going on and Kate wants action. She’s firm but fair and I think people in Alice will appreciate her approach.
NEWS: Cr Marli Banks has identified the former police station in Parsons Street as a possible drop-in centre. Part of it has been fitted out for use as a women’s refuge while the new one was being built.
PAECH: I would welcome any investment from the Alice Springs Town Council into increasing options and activities for young people to engage in across the town and suburbs. Cr Banks wants the council to be involved in the bigger picture and I support that.
The Alice Springs News is seeking interviews with Ministers Worden and Manison.