Council chamber trashed: short term solutions needed, says Mayor

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By ERWIN CHLANDA

“We need something to change. If the government wishes to introduce a curfew we’d support that. We passed that motion previously. We don’t have the power to introduce it.”

That’s the comment from Mayor Matt Paterson after children aged 10 to 14, including two in breach of bail conditions, according to police, broke into the council chambers last night, smashing glass, furniture and computers in the meeting room.

Meanwhile the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, whose brief goes well beyond health, is silent on any role it may have dealing with youth offending.

Congress has 945 members and the customary broad network of relationships makes it compellingly likely that at least some of them are aware of the children’s offending.

In the financial year ending June 30 last year, Congress received $48.2m in public funds – about $10m more than the town council’s budget.

That includes $36.6m from the Commonwealth.

The rule book of Congress, approved by a delegate of the Registrar of Aboriginal corporations (ORIC) on February 9, states: “The objectives of the Corporation are to relieve the poverty, sickness, destitution, distress, suffering, misfortune or helplessness of Aboriginal people in Central Australia.”

PHOTO supplied by Town Council.

The organisation should be “assisting members and their families to alleviate their plight by becoming increasingly self-reliant and assume maximum responsibility for their own health and welfare … arresting social disintegration”.

Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee declined a request for an interview.

“We need short term solutions,” says Mayor Paterson, referring to the general disastrous vandalism, when six-year-olds are “out in the streets at two o’clock in the morning [when it is] freezing cold. Why are they causing chaos? It’s not fair that people are feeling unsafe in their own house. That’s what’s happening at the moment.”

Police Commander Craig Laidler said on Friday “we had a bad day” when 25 cars were damaged. Two offenders, aged 12 and 13, were arrested.

At the council chambers, once security had been breached, up to “15 people were inside”. A “14-year-old female” is in custody.

“There is no-one looking out for them,” said Cdr Laidler.

“The responsible adults aren’t responsible for these children. So there is no-one looking out for them … and don’t really have an interest in being involved.”

With “new faces” who are not known to the police they contact Territory Families.

“Where are the parents who should be looking after them? We can’t arrest us out of this. I don’t think arresting people is what’s going to make the difference.”

Commander Laidler did not answer these questions put to him by the Alice Springs News:

The area (around the council, pictured above) is saturated with police and council CCTV. When was the first observation made on CCTV?

• What relationships are there between police and the youths’ parents?

• How often is contact made with parents of likely offenders?

• Have any parents been prosecuted for failing to provide the necessities of life to their children?

• Is the police in favour of a night time curfew for youths? If so, why? If not, why not?

Mayor Paterson says in May the council called on the government to “ensure our community safety and escalate measured that may include curfews, the extended uses of drones and safe place options.

“These sort of things [juvenile crime] stop us from progressing … like the vandalism at the Aquatic and Leisure Centre, stopping us from investing money for a park for everyone.”

Mayor Paterson says the council is insured but questions such as excess and no claim bonuses would need to be considered.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Mayor Paterson is right to raise the question of why it is that children as young as six are out on the streets on freezing cold nights causing chaos, but before pushing for short-term solutions such as a curfew, he’d do better to direct those questions to the kids themselves.
    Their honest response would no doubt be illuminating and could point to more workable solutions than increasing public surveillance and enacting more punitive measures (getting a bigger stick).
    Police Commander Laidler hits the nail on the head when he says: “There is no-one looking out for them.”
    It’s useless to say that it’s the parents or extended family’s responsibility to fix the problem when many of them are unable the find the strength to do so and are dealing with insurmountable problems themselves.
    Perhaps we need to re-frame this “youth crisis” and accept it as a whole-of-community problem, as we do with those of us unable to deal with addiction or domestic abuse, and provide a community facility that caters to the needs of these youth.
    Erwin, I suggest your son’s excellent story “Youth Crisis: Broken Window of Tolerance” (Alice Springs News, April 2018), provides a much needed insight into the personal situation these kids find themselves. I suggest a copy of the article be forwarded to our new Mayor.
    It is from understanding the problem that solutions arise.

  2. In this intractable situation with no obvious solutions, switch from reactive to proactive policing.
    Change from viewing CCTV and hunting down perpetuals to stopping offending in the first place.
    Our town is bristling with police and security personnel but late at night and early morning you can drive around and rarely see a police presence.
    Divert 40 police and/or security guards to sitting in patrol cars overnight in front of attractive targets and 100 fewer will be needed to follow up break-ins and process offenders in court.

  3. Remove the children of all ages and find them a safe place to be given medical attention, fed, regular bathed, clothed, sleep, educated, taught social acceptance skills, the value of work for a wage and what that can bring them in the immediate and distant future.
    Problem solved … except a push back from the not concerned about the children minority. I believed this has been tried before, with great success, but we don’t hear from the generations that gained benefit from that solved problem.
    Give the children and teenagers a place they could call HOME, instead of the streets, riverbeds and court foyers.

  4. Increased access to alcohol and more pokies will increase poverty and crime and drive tourists away.
    And yet the additional pokies in pubs are supposedly to boost tourism.
    MLA Chansey Paech, the responsible minister for gambling, says the pokies decision has nothing to do with him.

  5. Ralph Folds has provided a social equation with “increased access to alcohol and more pokies” as two of the troublesome attributes of a once iconic Australian town.
    In 1956, the opening of the Flynn Memorial Church was broadcast to a national audience via the ABC, which included a performance by the Ernabella Mission Choir.
    We have witnessed a continuing downturn in civic life, aided by a culture which is supposedly progressive, but obviously ignorant of social consequence. Some say that it is this culture which now rules society, largely due, I believe to the fact that politics and the economy were seen as the driving engines of the late-20th century, while religion was consigned to the waste bin.
    Alice Springs seems to be the litmus paper for a creeping modernism that has overtaken a community’s ability to restore its soul. Meanwhile, the forecast 20% in Grey Nomad traffic of a few years ago has been confirmed. People are leaving the cities in search of something else. They won’t find it in present-day Alice Springs as Ralph Folds presciently notes. Similar voices, e.g., Bob Beadman and Trevor Shiels appear to fall on deaf ears, which is most discouraging.
    I don’t think there is a political solution, but perhaps, there’s a community one or maybe I haven’t yet succumbed to cynical mass.
    Poor fellow, my country.

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