Monday, August 2, 2021

The freedom of the press still furnishes that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide – Chicago Tribune.

HomeIssue 7Brawling parties: in the streets, in the meeting rooms

Brawling parties: in the streets, in the meeting rooms

By KIERAN FINNANE

See you around the table or see you in court?

The Town Council last night took a bet each way: inviting the Chief Minister Minister and Cabinet to meet with council in Alice Springs to address “community safety challenges,” a suggestion coming from Councillor Jimmy Cocking; and supporting Cr Eli Melky to drum up support from other Territory councils for possible legal action to force the NT Government to cut crime, support the NT Police, and to put victims first. 

They also supported Mayor Damien Ryan’s call for the NT Government to conduct a community safety audit while also launching “immediately substantial action” on the matter.

They probably didn’t need A Current Affair’s recent focus on the issues, but its three million views to date are hurting the town’s reputation and have clearly put government and council under pressure.

Cr Melky was galled that it had taken the program to get some movement from the NT Government “when we’ve been calling for action for 10 years”.

Only Cr Matt Paterson challenged the balance of the coverage, saying that he looks around at the town and sees an “amazing place”. The coverage was “unjust and unfair,” he said, while at the same time noting that “people are leaving” in response to the social unrest and crime.

The coverage is built around a brawl in Todd Street, just opposite the council chambers. More critical is that it is also just opposite licensed premises. The focus of the program is entirely on lawless young Aboriginal people – their role in the brawl and more generally.

Cr Glen Auricht bought it, talking of “belligerent youth” who feel they are “untouchable,” and to whom, in the wake of the NT Royal Commission, “free rein” has been given, “with no responsibility and no consequences”.

The program though glossed over the vicious behaviour of adult white males in the melee that erupted outside the bar where they had been drinking. It recognised that trouble was brewing with the “drunk party-goers” but it was the “youngsters” who were “intent on doing damage”. (See screen shots from the program at top.)

Attention to the behaviour of the adults might have lead to more complicated questions about relationships between black and white people in town, and in particular with black youths.

ACA’s report dismisses this from the outset: “Oppression” in the town comes “not from racism but from fear”, according to unidentified residents, and that fear is expressed in people having to lock their doors at night (tell me which Sydney-sider does not do this) and in being afraid to go out on the streets (like so many women are, everywhere).

From left, Councillors Satour, Cocking, Paterson and Melky. 

In last night’s council debate only Cr Catherine Satour raised the matter of community relationships.

She acknowledged the real fear that people feel, living behind six and eight foot fences – “not the little country town where I grew up” – and said it is “completely unacceptable” that kids as young as six are out on the streets at 2am.

She nonetheless took council to task for talking for and about Aboriginal people, not to and with them.

She asked who among them had ever brought into the chamber a public gallery full of Aboriginal people, as she did in November, 2017, when she invited Traditional Owners to talk to council about community safety.

In the meeting that followed they were “treated with contempt,” she said – no minutes were taken, there was no attendance sheet, and the initiative went nowhere. 

Now the idea of involving them has resurfaced with council trialling a Traditional Owner-led “foot patrol”. But the relationship could be taken further: “I don’t need to be at the table, but I will create the space for conversations to be had with the right people,” she said.

Council’s motions though did not go there. They were entirely focussed on getting the NT Government to the table (or into the dock).

There was considerable frustration over the lack of communication, if not overt hostility, between council and government, centred on Chief Minister’s antagonistic relationship with Mayor Ryan as well as the fractious dealings between the organisations over the location for the proposed national Aboriginal art gallery.

That situation is only going to get worse with the government having served on council a notice to appear in the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal as the latest step towards the compulsory acquisition of Anzac Oval. (A directions hearing is scheduled for March 26.)

Councillors recognised that the government had made a move with yesterday’s announcement on tougher bail conditions for young offenders.

But the government already has many strong laws at its disposal, argued Cr Melky, including the Education Act (implying the need for enforcement of truancy provisions).

He also called for the “industry” built on the back of the “misery of people,” to be held accountable for the millions that are spent. He hoped these matters would be included in any community safety audit.

On the idea of an audit, Cr Marli Banks reminded her colleagues that she had brought such a proposal to council last October and it was not supported.

From left, Councillors Banks, Auricht, de Brenni. 

Her move had followed the death of motorcyclist Shane Powell, allegedly hit by a car driven by a youth (this tragic story is featured in the ACA program).   

Without an audit, council and the community would be “in the dark” trying to right the situation, she had argued.

So how is the situation now different to what it was in October? she asked Mayor Ryan.

He suggested that her motion had not involved asking the NT Government to conduct the audit, the body with the authority to do so, which Cr Banks rejected.

She asked him what he had done to progress the issues in the five months since, suggesting that the timing of his motion was a “knee jerk politicisation of issue” coming “in wake of a national exposé”.

She had sat in the chamber for five months, retorted Mayor Ryan, and they had not heard again from her on the matter. He had brought it to the chamber last night “because of what’s happening in the town”.

The onus to progress issues was on him, Cr Banks argued, “this is your full time job”.

She also asked officers for a report on all the correspondence between council and government on this issue between last October and now. A resolution to this effect was supported by her colleagues.

Cr Cocking recalled a similar national TV exposé during the time of Chief Minister Paul Henderson. It too had resulted in an economic downturn and tourism took years to recover. 

He spoke of the importance of a long term plan, saying the Prime Minister “needs to come out here”. Such a plan would need federal funding, “10 years of concerted investment”.

Other towns across the country, such as Townsville and Broome, are experiencing similar problems: the lessons learned here might be able to help them, he argued.

Deputy Mayor Jacinta Price, attending the meeting by Zoom, advised the chamber that she would be address Federal Parliament today, “on the very issue we are discussing”, which she described as family and domestic violence, child safety, and the safety of women and children.

She offered to raise any points from Elected Members, inviting them to email their thoughts. 

At the end of the meeting, Cr Cocking raised the issue of graffiti removal, by way of “putting victims first”. Graffiti has flourished apparently, particularly along the town’s arterial roads.

He wanted council to review its by-law that requires property-owners to expeditiously remove graffiti and imposes a penalty for failing to do so.

His motion, supported unanimously, was simply that council remove graffiti, which would take effect immediately.

Review of the by-law, along with others, is now also on the agenda.

But Cr Cocking also made a point about the way this issue, as well as the broken windows, the boarded up windows, the unrepaired fence on the Stuart Highway, in short “urban decay”, is impacting on the social malaise in town.

 

Related reading:

Tourism wants independent inquiry into crime

 

22 COMMENTS

  1. The proposal by Councillor Eli Melky to drum up support for legal action to force the NT Government to cut crime is just silly.
    The Council needs to stop talking and actually do something now.
    Why not redeploy the Ranger force to fight youth crime rather than ratepayers?
    The Ranger force is a group of burly, uniformed men that appear to be armed.
    We recently saw 3 of them being used to assist in removing a small street tree.
    Ranger force patrols through the CBD during the day and at night would be useful to deter crime.
    They would reassure the public and help to make our town safer.
    A sensible use of the assets Council already has could make a big difference.

  2. Blair: To use Council and the rangers as you suggest is simply not possible. So I did what no one has ever had the guts to do.
    At Tuesday’s meeting I successfully moved a motion for the Alice Springs Town Council to seek the support of councils in the NT and seek legal advice to ensure that the NT Government cut crime, support the NT Police, and to put victims first in the NT.
    This follows the NTG knee-jerk reaction through a media release the same day titled cutting crime, supporting our police and putting victims firsts, in response to ACA which highlighted anti-social issues in Alice Springs.
    By virtue of this media release it is clear that the NTG has acknowledged their failure to support police, cut crime and put victims first in the past.
    It is more concerning that it takes a TV show to highlight images of violence for the NTG to react, albeit in a knee-jerk manner, when I have been calling on the NTG for over 10 years in my role as an Alice Springs councillor for help.
    The NTG has been slow in addressing the spiralling crime over many years in Alice Springs and across the NT, now we find ourselves at breaking point with increasing pressure on our community safety and economy from a COVID pandemic as well as gangs of youth roaming the streets unchallenged, breaking into homes, stealing cars and damaging property without fear of the law or of any consequences.
    I will have the opportunity at the next LGANT meeting in Darwin to encourage all local governments to unite behind this motion and seek legal advice to ensure this NTG does do as it says which is to cut crime, support police and put victims first.
    Not silly, Blair!

  3. When situations arise, such as which occurred and was shown on ACA for the rest of Australia to view, maybe even the world to see, we think “What can we do”? We’ve been labelled.
    This Alice Springs brawl was an incomplete story, apparently, involving a drunken group brawl yet it focused only on out of control youth and therefore not truly representing what had really occurred. It was great for those politically motivated.
    We then get volumes of ventilating dribble from our councillors telling us “We told you so” and “You should have acted when we raised this or that in this chamber before”.
    All talk, bluster and self-promoting statements that seem to go and on and on.
    We are truly sick of it.
    Yet the town appears to get on with it, every day, surviving one might say, and as one councillor said “…living behind six and eight foot fences”, through fear.
    Yes, there is fear. Ask someone who has ever been attacked in their home behind one of those six or eight fences.
    Actually, live in this town or the suburbs to understand what I mean.
    We have a problem and we must never try to hide that fact but, what can we do?
    This is not something that policies, audits, ongoing reports or grants will come near to fixing in the short term. It just keeps spin doctors in well paid jobs.
    We need to start accepting that there will be no resolution if we cannot move forward.
    Let’s forget about what we should have done, what we could have done.
    Let’s focus on how we can, from today, come together, maybe at a town meeting, and hear what our town folk see as their greatest real problem. Now this may take more than one meeting to come to that agreement but, let’s focus on that first agreed problem and attempt to address it. I appreciate, this will not be easy.
    Then let’s meet again to focus on our next most outstanding problem and work on reaching agreement to getting resolution on that problem and so on with further public meetings.
    One at a time, step by step, remembering that each and every one of us will have a differing viewpoint, but much to offer.
    Surely there must be a ‘leader’ out there not bent on self grandiosity who can set such a meeting in motion?
    Let’s start somewhere, by cleaning up our own backyard, or be seen to, and maybe then, those in power, those who know where the resources are, will come forward to assist us.
    We must stop blaming others if we will one day be needing their assistance.
    But first, let’s come together, not in protest form but in such a way that we all know we can do, such as when a bush fire occurs, a flood occurs or a major catastrophe occurs.
    This is for many of us a major catastrophe in our home town. Let’s all work together.
    In general, we seem to be able to get on with each other despite our differences.
    The longer we leave it, well, what more can I say!

  4. @ Eli Melky: A class action by 70 households in Santa Teresa against the NT Government regarding responsibility for house repairs was resolved after 3 long years by The NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT).
    The NTCAT do not have jurisdiction to resolve the matter you have raised so if there is a legal option, which I doubt, the Council (others will not support this) will have to go head to head against the NT Attorney General.
    Unlike the Santa Teresa case, there will be no pro bono legal representation for the Council.
    The Attorney General’s Dept, with all the top legal eagles (SCs and QCs) at their disposal, will legally obstruct the case for years, ensuring that costs to ratepayers are huge, long before it ever gets to court.
    In my opinion, your motion at Tuesday’s Council meeting supported by Jimmy Cocking was just grandstanding and offers nothing practical to combat crime in our town.
    As for using rangers as I suggest being impossible, they are already used for security roles far removed from parking and animal management.
    Having them patrol, if only as a presence, is well worth considering and unlike legal action, could have immediate and positive benefits without enormous additional costs to ratepayers.
    Finally, is it not time to set politics aside and build bridges with the NT Government rather than burn them?

  5. Relieved: “You say we must stop blaming others if we will one day be needing their assistance,” yet you are quite comfortable in being derogatory towards councillors.
    In December 2019 I called for a public meeting and we had over 300 people turn up to Alice Plaza. There were many who spoke at that meeting in Alice Plaza including Indigenous leaders and members from the audience.
    The NT Government did nothing then, all the while the town continues to suffer.
    I will continue to fight for this town and make no apology about the way I have over the past 10 years. If your solution is to hold hands and sing Kumbaya while you hide behind a Pseudonym, you are very much mistaken, we are long past that gate.

  6. A friend, now a security officer recently stopped a juvenile shoplifter leaving with stolen goods. The response from the thief was ‘touch me and I’ll call legal aid’. Hiding behind protection like that is no excuse, but common. Nor are historical perceptions of right or wrong. We live in the present and we continue to judge past events by contemporary standards.
    In a previous life as a teacher here, a young indigenous boy threw a chair across the room endangering other students. His response was ‘you can’t touch me, I’m Indigenous’. There may well come a time when parents will take action against the Government because the actions of a small group of children who are forced to attend school, get in the way of( or hurt physically) the majority of students who are there because they and their parents want a decent learning experience and are prevented from getting it because of the actions of a few. We may well be talking about the same few who believe they are immune from wider community expectations of behaviour, and have been nurtured that way. Publicity of children sitting on rooftops of institutions and destroying public property, or alleged mistreatment simply makes dollars for media and the legal fraternity and heroes of those incarcerated, thus perpetuating the problem. And what of the people who recently ruined a large number of solar panels at Yuendumu? Was there community response or even outrage there at the inconvenience or was it taken as normal? It assumes to be ok for the rest of us to pay for repairing the damage as being the norm.

  7. Blair:
    1. No one mentioned NTCAT
    2. I will be seeking the support of every council in the NT, as one united force, I believe it will give us much greater leverage when it comes to dealing with the NTG on this matter.
    3. The motion was supported unanimously and so was the second motion to invite the cabinet to meet with Council.
    4. Community safety is the responsibility of the NTG and it is the role of the Police who are empowered to act out those duties, not the Rangers who have very limited powers at rate payers expense.
    5. Council introduced the role of Aboriginal liaison officer four years ago following a meeting I had with Todd Mall traders. Their role is to assist the public to better understand how to behave when required in and around the CBD, rather than the heavy-handed approach.
    6. You say, “is it not time to set politics aside and build bridges with the NT Government rather than burn them?” Perhaps that would be ideal, however it is the NTG who do not want to meet with council not the other way around.

  8. Ouch. Must have hit a nerve. But that’s okay Eli.
    I can accept the “derogatory” label, with much pleasure.
    I do not require a representative platform to let everyone know how wonderful I am either.
    I get on with being critical and speaking out, as I should, when dribble keeps occurring.
    Get real. You chose to be a community representative. Does that mean that your dribble cannot be criticised? We are all capable of dribble.
    With regards to my Pseudonym, this is something I choose to do to protect those closest to me, after all, I’m not elected to speak out.
    However, I will speak up when the community I live in is under attack, especially from those who truly believe they are representing us all with their dribble.
    So, once again, let’s get real, and if you claim to have had over 300 people turn up to a meeting, why not seek from that vastly interested group of people, a small group to find potentially problem solving outcomes locally, not go to the NT Government. Stay local, set targets with those people and if you can recall those 300+ people to let them know of any progress or resolution, then wouldn’t that be representing Alice Springs, not the Northern Territory!
    I believe I said, “Let’s clean up our own backyard”. This is the first step.
    One of first things that needs to be done is contacting ACA as a community representative to clarify what their real intentions were and maybe even inviting them to one of your 300+ meetings for them to see the Alice Springs concerned residents coming together as one. I believe that’s possible!

  9. Thanks @Blair for your comments. My motion was to invite Chief Minister and Cabinet to Alice Springs to meet with Council and other stakeholders to develop a plan of action to disrupt the cycle of crime and to support long term community development to shift the drivers of crime – poverty, boredom, domestic violence, drugs and alcohol to name a few. The motion got through as a meeting with Cabinet and Council.
    The only way we are going to resolve these issues is by the community coming together and committing to each other and the town to do what is needed to change the trajectory we’re currently on. This needs to be supported by all levels of government and regional councils need to be a part of the process.
    At the moment everything is being done around the edges and not dealing with the causes. Politics is getting in the way. We need a plan that brings all parties to the table to change the course.
    The young people need to be a part of the solution too. We’re not going to solve this issue by continuing to demonise all young people for the sake of a few dozen who need intensive individual and family support to potentially transform their lives. The collective failing is on all of us and all of us need to take some responsibility to heal our increasingly traumatised community.
    @Relieved is on the money. We need to come together. We need to hear and listen to each other’s stories. We need to show more respect to each other. We need to come up with solutions together. The community is being divided through fear and anxiety and sending us further behind our fences. It’s no one’s ‘job’ to do this but we have a job that needs to be done and everyone is pointing at everyone else to say it’s their job. Council is the closest level of government to the community and I think collectively we need to lead.

  10. Then lead, and consider this comment. Lead for Alice Springs. Never a better time to “lead”.
    We desperately need a leader.
    Lead.

  11. @ Eli Melky: Thanks for engaging here, it is a rare thing for councillors to have the courage to do so.
    I see that you have now dropped the legal threat and say that you will be seeking the support of every council in the NT, as one united force, in dealing with the NT Government.
    That is more realistic but the problem is that the Alice Springs Town Council is an outlier.
    To be offside with the NTG may be a source of pride to some CLP leaning representatives but other councils are far too smart to join you.
    The bottom line is that being almost continuously at odds with the NTG is not in the interests of ratepayers.
    Taking the NTG to court or even gaining the support of other councils are not available as options.
    So we get back to what the council can do with existing resources.
    Now this is a worthy topic for discussion at council meetings.
    It would really take guts because it treads on the toes of council managers who resist most changes and take no responsibility for anything.
    They would love your idea of blaming the NTG for crime, no guts needed for that proposal.
    A bigger library, in the existing civic centre, with unaccompanied youth access could be helpful in reducing youth crime.
    Now that proposal would take guts.
    Rangers have limited powers?
    So do the security staff at our supermarkets.
    But they are a formidable presence and can quickly contact police.
    Imagine the reception that idea would get from management.

  12. Apologies Blair, and with respect, our library had never experienced the problems that it had until it was used as a ‘youth centre’.
    A library is a place of learning, of studying, of researching, and how the heck can that be done with ‘youth activities’?
    The town desperately needs a ‘Youth Centre’ and one that is open to all youth in this town.
    A library, unfortunately, cannot cater for that, and should never even consider catering for that.
    I fully understand our youth need a place of learning, and as members they can do that in any library, but, provision for such a learning place in a youth centre that caters for the needs of youth must also be an essential consideration.
    Youth are a part of our community. They are entitled, like all of us, to become members of any library, however, it must be considered that use of the library is for learning, studying and researching, not activities that interrupt others from learning, studying or researching.
    C’mon, we were all youth once. We all wanted to do our own thing, and rightfully so, but in a library? I don’t think so. Even in a ‘youth centre’ library, we must require ‘a quiet place’.
    I know this is Alice Springs but, let’s get some agreement, how and where can we best cater for our youth. This is one of my points of listening to our community.
    And thank you Jimmy Cocking, glad you are on board.

  13. I have a question for Blair, Relieved, Jimmy : What in your opinion/ understanding of the current problems with youths who do not attend school as it is required by laws and stay in the Mall stiff bored all day?
    Why have legislations of any kind if not reinforced? More than poverty “boredom “is one of the greatest reasons for what is happening in Alice.
    Talking of a leader is like talking about Santa clause if no one wants to follow.
    @Blair For the bigger library, I believe in the conditions we live in we need two libraries: one as a normal library for the ones who want to read, study in quiet and peace; two for whoever wants to be free to run and yell in the building. Does having a playground in the library help with reading and literacy skills?

  14. Now this is when I believe we are making progress: We are talking to each. We are seeking each other’s opinions. We all have an ability to seek answers.
    This is what we are asking for: A public forum where, if we are truly interested in our future, and our children’s future, it can happen, here in Alice Springs.
    Let’s continue to share ideas in this manner.
    We don’t need governments to help us to get our lives together with each other. We should be above politics, and particularly the politics we are currently experiencing.
    So I call out once again, let’s come together at a town meeting and respect each other’s ideas.
    Let’s record each idea. It’s achievable. Eli has proven that.
    Let’s do it again. Calling out for a concerned community leader to put this solution together.

  15. Apologies Evelyne. I didn’t answer your question. With regards to “youth in the mall” and other comments.
    I don’t know the answer but, if that is the most major concern that people in this town have and they want something to be done about, then let’s focus on just that one concern.
    Let’s do our best to address it, resolve it and then move on to the next major concern.
    One step at a time. At the moment no one appears to know what to do with what could lead to a less “boring” lifestyle for these young people who are in the Mall.

  16. @ Jimmy Cocking: Thanks for your comments.
    You write in idealistic terms Jimmy but (with regret) I don’t believe you are shining a light on a pathway to a lower crime future.
    The challenge for the Council is not to shift the drivers of crime, poverty, boredom, domestic violence, drugs and alcohol or redress poor education and a lack of training, welfare dependency etc etc.
    In my view, the challenge is not to change the world.
    It is to take meaningful action within the resources of the council that can reduce youth crime in our town.
    There is plenty the council can do and do it quicker and better without endless talkfests.
    Every inch of the CBD should be well lit and under CCTV coverage.
    I maintain that the rangers can contribute a lot more to community safety and crime prevention.
    The council should work closely with the police and support them.
    Since its commencement in October, Strike Force Viper investigators have submitted a total of 300 prosecution and youth diversion files.
    This is a great start and I feel for our hard working police when they read that the council (with your support) want to take the NT Government to court to force a fall in crime rates.
    The council needs strong leadership, less talking, not more, and a realistic and practical approach.

  17. @Relieved ” At the moment no one appears to know what to do with what could lead to a less ‘boring’ lifestyle for these young people who are in the Mall”.
    Yes we do , there is legislation for this: A parent of a child of compulsory school age has a legal obligation to ensure their child is enrolled and attends school each school day, or each part of a school day where instruction is provided, unless the parent has a reasonable excuse.
    Where a child has entered the compulsory participation phase (that is, has completed Year 10 and is not 17 years of age), a parent must ensure their child is participating in an eligible option.
    Regular attendance at school and engagement in learning is fundamental in achieving improved educational outcomes and increasing student wellbeing and life options.

  18. Good morning Blair, Relieved and Evelyn, thank you for the invitation to have a meaningful and decent discussion about a most important issue, that being our community safety.
    Sadly the NT Government at its first opportunity proved me right. During Parliament siting this week and following their own media release titled cut crime, support police and put victims first, it decided not to put into law their own ideas but to wait till sometime later in the year.
    At the same time while the NTG sat in Parliament, dozens of people in Yeperene were brawling at 3:30 in the afternoon.
    Being ignored by the NTG is no different to a doctor ignoring a trauma victim that presents at emergency. That doctor would never do that I would imagine. The leaders in charge have ignored our town and the trauma we have sustained. It is now time to make them accountable.
    I will do my best on April 22 in Darwin to ask for help and support from all NT councils so together we can hold the NTG to account. So wish me luck.

  19. @ Blair: Well said.Grandstanding and playing political games are rife in our Council. There is zero interest in simple, practical measures .
    Make the NTG accountable? How about the ASTC lead by example.

  20. Don’t we have a youth centre at the bottom of ANZAC Hill, adjacent to ANZAC Oval?
    With a hall/gym, outdoor multi-purpose court, cafe, etc etc?
    Which was recently upgraded wit many millions of Alice Springs Town Council ratepayer and NT Government constituent funds?

  21. Good afternoon Eli. Yes, if your trip to Darwin is in the interest and for the good of the residents of Alice Springs, then by all means, every success. Please keep us informed.

  22. @ Eli Melky: As the French believe that wishing good luck brings bad luck I will say: “Do your best and God will take care of the rest.”
    You have my support and may be you could make the NT Government and other NT councils realised that if we all leave the Territory, because we have enough, they will have no jobs.

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