By ERWIN CHLANDA
Local business leaders say the growing public fear of falling victim to the juvenile crime wave, with no solution in sight from the National Children’s Commissioner down, is a block to private investment in Alice Springs.
People rather drive through the town than stay here for a visit, according to Tourism Central Australia, the lobby for what was once the town’s major industry.
“We have to sort out our cultural divide. People are risk averse. No-one wants to fail,” says Neil Ross.
He and his wife Julie have just sold Ross Engineering after nearly 40 years of heading up the company.
It is staying in local hands, with Clark Petrick, from a cattle station and road train family, taking over. He has a significant invention to his name.
And Temba Ncube, the CEO of the three IGA supermarkets and vice-chair of the Chamber of Commerce Alice branch, says “we should not run away” from the anti social behaviour crisis, but rather seek a solution, beginning with collaboration of the “three pillars” – governments, business and the community: “We need each-other.”
Meanwhile almost all recent and new building projects in town have been paid for by the taxpayer, either direct or via publicly funded non-government organisations (NGOs): The supreme court building, the eight storey health staff accommodation in Todd Street (pictured at top, two storeys taller than when first announced), the juvenile prison, women’s refuge, hospital carpark, the new Akeyulerre Healing Centre building, 11 town camp dwellings costing a total of $40m (including this in the picturesque Hidden Valley, above) and Pine Gap “one of the biggest construction sites south of Katherine” according to a businessman. (There is a massive upgrade of the Tindal Air Force base underway which would be bigger than current Pine Gap constructions.)
Building approvals in Alice Springs for years ending July 2017 to 2022 were: 53, 79, 92, 56, 61 and 87.
The spikes in Mount Johns in November 2018 and February 2022 could well be Pine Gap dwellings (joining several already in place there. We were not able to confirm this with Pine Gap).
Says Mr Ncube: “The government needs to start a proper consultation process. It should initiate discussions.”
This should include NGOs for immigrants such as the Multicultural Community Services of Central Australia: “We should work through those associations.”
He says the chamber should be the “mouthpiece for business,” running an online portal where business can exchange information about antisocial behaviour, showing “how businesses are suffering, waking up in the morning to find their business has been trashed”.
This could also be a forum for pointing out the specific concerns of the town’s varied neighbourhoods.
Concern about youth crime is equally shared by the people in the town camps, as the News has found in research over the past two weeks for a report to appear next week.
By contrast the National Children’s Commissioner has nothing to say about dozens of children at extreme risk in Alice Springs.
Anne Hollonds (at right), with a base salary of $247,810 per annum and a “total remuneration for office” of $339,460 per annum, declined requests from the News for an interview.
She was quoted by the ABC recently as giving “a scathing assessment of child protection systems across the country” but she passed up this opportunity to drill down to the detail of the crisis in The Centre.
And as locals are asking, with increasing urgency, what responsibility parents should have for their offending children, the NT Government, too, appears clueless.
In NSW Section 44 of the Crimes Act provides for a gaol term up to five years for people guilty of failing “to provide necessities of life” to people they are “under a legal duty to provide” such necessities. It’s an issue that has been raised repeatedly in the News.
For a current take, we asked NT Minister for Justice Chansey Paech if his government is planning to introduce similar legislation. He flicked our enquiry to Kate Worden, Minister for Territory Families. We’ll keep you posted.
The town’s other existential problem, according to Mr Ncube (at left), is not just skill shortages but shortages, full stop.
He’s in a prime position to know, arriving in town in 2005 from Zimbabwe, with a string of accountancy and business management qualifications to his name. He was IGA’s finance manager for eight years from 2013 before getting the top job in the supermarket chain owned by the local native title organisation, Lhere Artepe.
His wife is a theatre nurse in the hospital and they have two girls and a boy.
Mr Ncube says the immigration policy labelling as “regional” vastly different towns where immigrants have to work initial periods must be reviewed.
As it is, Alice Springs must compete for workers from overseas against towns that they may prefer, such as the Gold Coast.
The shortage of labour is a puzzle given that unemployment is 2.3% (in the March quarter 2022).
Next problem: No backpackers. They used to be a major part of the stores’ staff, says Mr Ncube.
This a yet another area, he suggests, where resolving the crime issues may well to lead to a solution.