Tuesday, December 1, 2020

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Home Issue 45 A centre where children at risk must stay until a responsible carer...

A centre where children at risk must stay until a responsible carer is found: Lambley

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Sir – It is clear the Gunner Government does not have the political appetite to implement a youth curfew, despite considerable community support for at least trialling a curfew. Taking unsupervised children found on the street at night to a safe house, using a statutory child protection approach, seems like an incredibly caring and civilised thing to do. But apparently not for some.

75% of our crime in Alice Springs at the moment is being committed by juveniles. 

The groups of children roaming the streets of Alice Springs at night remain unabated despite Police Strike Force Viper shaking things up over the past four weeks.  Viper has temporarily removed or deterred some of the young culprits causing us grief, but the majority of the kids are still on the streets at night: idle, hungry, lost and clearly still getting up to mischief.

If the government really is committed to addressing the problem of escalating youth crime in Alice Springs, then a bold, new approach is required. Obviously what we have in place at the moment is not working that well.

If not a youth curfew to get the kids of the streets at night, for their safety and the safety of the whole community, then the government must consider providing a 24 hour youth centre where children can be safe. The concept of a 24 hour Youth Centre has been talked about by a lot of people for a lot of years.

In 2018 former Town Councillor Steve Brown headed a community movement to use the old Memorial Club for this purpose.

More recently the Chamber of Commerce convened a group of leaders and stakeholders, known as the Central Australia Regional Group of Organisations or CARGO, to drive key projects. 

The key recommendation of a CARGO report from July 2020 was to establish a “24 hour purpose built hub” for youth in Alice Springs. The model they recommend would provide not only a safe place for kids but a central connection and coordination point for youth services, something that is apparently lacking at the moment.

The support for this 24 hour youth centre model to address youth problems in Alice Springs is now significant, with Government and non-Government agencies, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups and leaders coming together with one strong voice.

The only voice missing is that of the Gunner Government’s.

Being around politics for many years in Alice Springs, I now understand that ideas can take many years to seed and germinate; to get traction and widespread support; and to come to fruition. The same idea might have been a good idea five to 10 years ago, but for a variety of reasons it failed to take off or did not capture the attention and support of the right people, at that time.

I believe the time is right for the Gunner Government to take on board the recommendations of CARGO and the demands of the average citizens of Alice Springs, for a 24 hour youth centre in Alice Springs. It would not have to be purpose built.

An existing facility could be used for this purpose, at minimal cost to Government. Children coming into such a centre cannot be legally detained or held against their will.

But my view is that children coming into the Youth Centre past a certain hour (perhaps 10 or 11pm) must be required to stay until a responsible parent or carer can be found, or they must stay until day break.

If the children choose to leave past a certain time, they cannot be allowed to return. The rules of this centre must be designed to keep the children safe and the community safe.

On October 22, 2020 I gave notice of a motion in the NT Legislative Assembly that the NT Government provide a “safe house” for children found on the streets of Alice Springs at night, consistent with the concept of a 24 hour youth centre. This motion will be debated on the next general business day of the Assembly.

I am optimistic the Gunner Government will support this motion.

Robyn Lambley, Independent Member for Araluen.

PHOTO: A car driven by a child races towards a man filming on his mobile phone a tumultuous evening in the Alice Springs CBD.

25 COMMENTS

  1. I am not convinced that a 24/7 youth hub is the answer to the crime problems in town, I also want to point out that I don’t know what the answer is myself.
    But my question is, if we build this youth hub and give it a go, and it doesn’t work, what next?

  2. What about that centre on the corners of the Stuart Highway, Railway and Wills Terraces?
    I thought that was a government run 24/7 “youth outreach centre”. Can the operations there be expanded to help look after trouble children at night?

  3. When the Alice Springs Correctional Centre first added a juvenile section it had good security but not like the adult prison.
    They were containing kids after all, not adult criminals.
    A year of assaults and escapes later there was open acknowledgement that the juveniles posed a much higher threat to staff and a greater escape risk than the adults.
    Keeping juveniles against their will in a youth hub would require expensive security and trained custodial officers to have any chance of working.
    Assaults and constant damage to the facility would be ongoing.
    No-one should underestimate the challenge and expense of holding juveniles against their will.
    Are ratepayers footing the bill?

  4. Yet again I say, throw the gates of ANZAC oval open. Alice Sprigs Town Council get your input on the issue. Turn some lights on, kick a footy around, workers on sight doing their work. After the campaign to keep it, use it.

  5. Jason’s comment above is important: A “safe house” as outlined by Ms Lambley would need to be a virtual police watch house, with all the security issues, attendant risks and costs that implies. Some of the children would be very resistant to being held.
    On the other hand, police working well with other services, are currently proving that the problems can be brought much more under control than many of us thought possible a few weeks ago.
    Let’s hear from the police and others working on the front lines, about what is working, and what more needs to be done, before we rush in to another expensive white elephant project.

  6. After acknowledging that “children coming into such a centre cannot be legally detained or held against their will,” what does it mean the children “MUST be required to stay until a responsible parent or carer can be found …” Doesn’t the “must” imply that they are not free to go? If not, the word is redundant.
    Is the only attempt at enforcing this rule having the condition that “if the children choose to leave past a certain time, they cannot be allowed to return”? Does this mean they can’t return indefinitely or for the night?
    Both would then obviously render the centre useless for those individuals for whatever period of time they’re banned – not worth the weak disincentive to leave, in my view.
    After many years working with youth that roam the streets late at night, without, as Bob mentions above, having a “virtual police watch house” (which would be deeply problematic and obviously illegal), [I know that] the young people will simply leave when they choose. Of course this is exactly what they have done at their homes to be on the streets in the first instance.
    This feels like an all too familiar response to a complex issue we struggle to address; a proposal that employs strong language and basic ideas that sound promising but is another toothless tiger.
    The 24 hour Youth Centre is a hope inspiring prospect and could have immense benefit for the kids and community if done the right way.
    We should acknowledge the real agency of youth (as all those who have worked on the front line know too well) and accept that they absolutely cannot be held against their will, legally or otherwise, and focus not on how to dis-incentivise them leaving but on how to incentivise them to stay – how to make the space attractive enough for them to choose to be there.
    No mention of this in the letter.

  7. @ Rainer Chlanda. Yes the focus has to be on making a centre attractive so kids want to be there.
    One thing bothers me.
    On the streets different gangs eg Bloods keep away from their enemies thereby avoiding violent clashes.
    I can’t imagine warring gangs sharing a space.
    In the longer term a gang or two will “own” the Centre although the staff may not be aware of it.
    Do you have any thoughts on this?

  8. Where is the best interest of the child? If a suitable family or other responsible person cannot be identified then these children cannot simply be left or let go.
    If they were my children they would be removed and put into a safe environment (e.g. foster care), regardless of what it might do to “our culture”.
    This is such a reverse racist position – where the kids can’t be touched because they are part Aboriginal.
    If they don’t have a safe home, they must be put somewhere safe.
    My children would not be given the right to leave if they wanted to. Why are these children different?
    The entire situation of hands off needs to be addressed.
    If you are not looking after your children then someone else must.
    If you can’t keep them safe, fed, housed, schooled – like I have to – then there should be no discussion at all. They need to be removed.
    If Aboriginal foster families can’t be found, then put them with other families (white families would usually be more than half their heritage anyway).
    If they break the law they must be punished. If that includes juvenile detention, so be it.
    If you want to keep crying about a stolen generation (most of whom believe it’s the best thing that ever happened in their lives, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story!) then it’s very simple: Look after your kids.
    Do not continue to put someone else in the position of having to make these decisions because you won’t.
    You, as their parent, are responsible for taking care of them. End of story.

  9. @ How about calling a spade a bloody shovel: Get real.
    These may technically be children but they are ganged up or rather, mobbed up.
    There is no fixed leader but the leader of the moment is the most daring.
    The gangs such as the Bloods and Eastside Crips have their own sign language and street code.
    They share a hatred for other gangs.
    The gangs compete with each other to do the most outrageous things.
    The parents of gang members have zero control over them and at best stay out of gang business.
    Let’s stop calling them kids.
    Gang members is more accurate for most of them.
    It’s obvious that there is little understanding of what we are dealing with here.
    Until there is an understanding what hope can we possibly have of controlling their criminal activities.
    I’d love to hear comment on this from those who work on the streets, who know what is going on.
    I suspect that they are silent because they could be seen as vilifying Aboriginal youth.
    Is political correctness standing in the way of a solution?

  10. @ Jason: I absolutely agree. The political correctness is completely out of hand.
    How does a seven-year-old child in the middle of night get to decide what they will do or after they have threatened someone with a knife?
    They only way they can is because they call themselves Aboriginal. Therefore everyone else must be hands off.
    I have no issues at all about calling it gangs and that it’s out of control.
    It’s time to stop the consistent bowing and scraping to one part of our society.
    Look what it has achieved for them – nothing, multiple generations of uneducated and uncared for children and unemployable adults who expect a handout for everything.
    Multiple generations who all have been well drilled that the rest of us owe them.
    Well, we don’t.
    You do not have any right to anything except what you personally have worked for. Not a perceived slight from hundreds of years ago.
    You want something, go to school, get a job and earn it.
    Something really bad is set to happen in Alice Springs and then the media – who have been so obvious by their lack of presence – will be crawling all over us to present one side of the story.
    I also agree with Jason, that having conversations with those working on the streets would be very useful, if they could be honest.
    To the Aboriginal families in Alice who have had enough, it’s time for you to take a stand as well.

  11. The reality: We don’t have a bunch of youngsters running around our town needing parental care.
    We have gangs who answer to no-one except their own gang members.
    The gangs grew up listening to gangster hip hop and they they know and copy the history of their violent hip hop heroes.
    Many come from homes where domestic violence is normal and this fits with their gangster hip hop idols such as Chris Brown.
    The concept of making their parents take responsibility for them is absurd.
    The gangs are rooted in families and town camps, eg the East Side Crips draws on town camps and families to the east.
    They also have links to communities and gang numbers grow when families from communities visit town.
    The gangs are often at war but not always.
    If not fighting, they avoid each other and would not attend a Youth Centre together except for a violent confrontation.
    The gangsterisation of Aboriginal youth in our town has been an important contributor to the upsurge of crime.

  12. Jason, a number of experts who are familiar with the development of “gangs” in contemporary settings advise caution about granting this status to little wannabes posing around the CBD and trying to spook us older people.
    There may be some superficial similarities, but dealing with our little pretend gangs requires different, probably much less drastic, measures than dealing with youth gangs in Rio, Jo’burg and LA.

  13. @ Bob Durnan: A straw man fallacy is when someone takes another person’s argument, exaggerates it in an extreme way, and then attacks the extreme distortion, as if that is really the claim the first person is making.
    So we are dealing with “little pretend gangs”?
    Bless them! Send them home to their parents.
    Who dares to walk the streets of our town after dark?
    Who doesn’t feel a tingle of fear when approached by a “little pretend gang”?
    Which shops have not been repeatedly broken into in the past 12 months?
    How many people have been hospitalised by the pretend gangs?
    How many tourists have changed their minds about visiting after reading the warnings?
    Etc etc

  14. Bob, Jason: You are on the same side fighting the same war, just from different angles.
    I do like the use of the word “experts” though.
    I like to think of “X” as undefined and “Spurt” as a drip under pressure.
    I guess the experts haven’t actually looked at the damage done to society by these thugs, just the correct definition of gangs. They must be academics!
    The thugs haven’t the brains to see what damage they are doing to their own kind, although yesterday’s facebook post will help some of them get convicted by their own kind.

  15. Elders will scream when one of their pretend gang member “kids” gets shot and killed by authorities – just doing their job.

  16. @ Jason: There is no doubt that the criminal behaviour of youth in town is real but I don’t think it’s motivated by their gang affiliation. I think the Bloods and Crips thing is essentially playful, like Cowboys and Indians.
    I’ve known kids to switch from week to week between the two.
    In my view youth offending is better understood as acting out in order to attract responsible adult attention (often lacking in young offenders’ lives) and a protest and expression of anger against the inequality and injustice their struggling communities face. Again not dismissing the seriousness of youth crime in town, but I think attributing it to gang affiliation is misleading and unhelpful.
    @ how about calling a spade a bloody shovel: If a child of any racial background “threatens to stab someone” then they don’t get “to decide what they’ll do” as this is a criminal offence and warrants police intervention. The debate here is concerning kids accessing a youth centre and whether they should be held against their will if they choose to leave due to it being late.
    I don’t understand your thinking whatsoever that kids are getting away with things because “they call themselves Aboriginal.”
    There seem to be two allegations here; that some people are masquerading as Aboriginal when they are in fact not (first time I’ve heard this theory, please enlighten us), and that Aboriginal people somehow evade the justice system due to their Aboriginality.
    The only way I can possibly accept that there is any truth to the latter allegation, is if your former one is true and that the vast majority of people incarcerated here who identify and appear to be Aboriginal are in fact, as you insinuate, merely pretending to be.

  17. @Rainer Chlanda: Thanks for your insights.
    There is a persistent theme in these discussions around the failure of parents, variously described as irresponsible with remedies aimed at making them accountable.
    You are now suggesting that ‘youth offending is better understood as acting out in order to attract responsible adult attention (often lacking in young offenders’ lives).’
    What ‘responsible adult roles’ are varies sharply between some Aboriginal and non Aboriginal societies.
    On most remote communities kids have immense freedom, even to take risks that could lead to injury or death.
    That is the way their kids have always learned in the desert and their parents are not considered irresponsible.
    Indeed, to deny the freedom and autonomy of children attracts far more criticism from relatives than letting them get into harm’s way.
    Here in town, some (but certainly not all) Aboriginal parents share this tradition.
    They allow their kids the freedom to roam the streets at night time, just as their own generation did.
    Their kids are not trying to attract responsible adult attention.
    They are simply enjoying the freedom granted to them and consider it a right.
    This cultural difference has implications for how the youth problem should be addressed.

  18. Yes that happens Rainer. I once had an Aboriginal boy 13 years old, throw a chair across the room. When I pointed out out him the possible consequences, his reply was straight out.”You can’t do anything to me . I’m Aboriginal”. Another girl (around 15) whose behaviour was interfering with the learning of others, responded by accusing me of picking on her because of her skin colour. Having worked with people with different skin pigmentation both here and in the Pacific, for many years, I pointed out to her that my own children had the same skin pigmentation as her – part Fijian. Her response was immediate “But they’re not Aboriginal”
    Q.E.D. When you can sort this one out we might get a solution.

  19. Wow to everyone’s comments; any solutions?
    As an Arrernte woman and descendant of Mparntwe land, here are some solutions that I would like to see in this community.
    [1] A permit system that only allows community people to visit Alice Springs for shopping, going to hospitals appointments, footy carnivals and visiting families in town for one week. Permits should be issue with an actual home address and not a creek side address. I do not like the idea of community people camping up in the creek or riverbeds.
    Who and where do people get permits? Through Central Land Council!
    The CLC has an obligation to all communities including Alice Springs with issuing community permits to non-residential people of the visiting communities. So why can’t we have one as well for Alice Springs?
    [2] Return to country: If any community people who do not wish to comply with the permit system, then they are automatically returned to Country. At who’s expense? Central Land Council’s expense of course!
    [3] Community banned: Any community people who are on the Alcohol Banned Registry, who have Domestic Violence Orders, stealing, robbing people or property damaged or assaults, leaving their children in town to run amok, should be automatically banned! And returned to Country with a ban for 12 months or two years from entering into Alice Springs community. We do not need disrespectful community people in our town. With some communications between the police, courts and CLC.
    [4] Kids in school: All children should be going to school. If any community people who come to town and they are here for a week, then their children should be going to either Yipirinya school or KITES (Kids in Town Education Schooling) at Sadadeen Primary. These schools do cater for Aboriginal students from communities. And not to mention children should be at school and not wondering our streets to look for houses to break into. No school, no visiting town.
    I feel that Central Land Council executives and community board members from outside communities do have a responsibility to and for their family members who come into Alice Springs.
    So really Central Land Council what are you doing to help curb the destruction from community outsiders to our community here in Alice Springs?

  20. Either each individual is an Australian or they are not an Australian.
    Australia’s Constitution requires Australia’s legal system start with all holding equal legal rights and equal legal responsibilities.
    Ongoing failure to recognise then treat other Australians as equal Australians is why so many of these problems exist.
    Ethnicity does not effect nationality.
    Ethnic labelling is a racist action with intent to divide and qualify our shared legal rights and responsibilities.

  21. @ Lesley: It’s encouraging to see your suggestions, Lesley. If they were implemented, I think there would be improvements in our daily lives.

  22. Dale was an utterly inconsequential minister last time.
    No one elected now can repair the lost past but a change of the law to herd them into jail or at minimum curfew.

  23. @ Ken: And therein lies the issue with Ministers and the lack of accountability.
    Dale Wakefield actually further damaged an already damaged system, but now cruises through life like the closing of a chapter in a book.
    In a good system pollies would be held accountable for past decisions or in Wakefield’s case, lack of positive actions.

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