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HomeVolume 28Youth crime: More steam than scheme

Youth crime: More steam than scheme


If a couple of hours “letting off steam” today, as Mayor Matt Paterson called it, had any common theme it was that something needs to be done about the crime wave in Alice Springs.

Lots of old and a few new ideas popped up during question time at the town council meeting, but in the end the motion unanimously carried was that the NT and Federal governments should declare “an immediate state of emergency in regards to social order” and a “leaders forum to address the issues” should be assembled next month.

It was not explained what a state of emergency would achieve nor which initiatives the un-named leaders would be talking about.

Nevertheless, Mayor Paterson described the motion by Cr Marli Banks as “strong enough”.

The upshot was that the council is buckpassing the problem to Darwin and Canberra and to a non-existing forum.

Crime, committed in part by neglected children, is a decades-old problem with the main difference now being that the country’s media have woken up to it, prompting flying visits by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader.

Speakers from the council public gallery called for initiatives by the three tiers of government but the local tier, with nine elected members, remains missing in action when it comes to official initiatives.

Yet there were expressions of genuine anger and hopelessness.

Owen Cole, CEO of the Yeperenye Shopping Centre, talked about 250 drunk people rioting at two o’clock in the afternoon in the food court; about Woolworths closing at seven instead of 10pm; a person at large for some time, threatening shoppers with a machete, after some considerable time being arrested by police but let go again; a shop closing because the safety of the staff could not be guaranteed; 14 broken windows in the Tourism Central Australia office in the Mall since January 1.

Mr Cole says we need an initiative similar to the Armidale’s BackTrack (image at top from its website), founded by former Alice Springs resident and Australian Local Hero of  the Year in 2020, Bernie Shakeshaft.

It should be funded by philanthropists, suggested Mr Cole, who has clearly lost his faith in the government to make any difference.

There were several references to community football. It was suggested the games should be played in the communities, not Alice Springs, and they should not be used to prop up the “failing local competition”.

Cr Mark Coffey said: “Now is the time we say, that’s it. Community football won’t occur in Alice Springs this year. Not to say it won’t occur in the future.

“We need to take some pretty tough action.”

This is something the council could achieve – it owns the ovals in town.

Some suggested the Stronger Futures initiative, which barred alcohol on Aboriginal communities and which reached the end of its 10 year term mid-last year, should be re-introduced.

Cr Coffey tried hard to give the final motion some substance and “be more action oriented” – but failed.

Some of his points: “Businesses in the Mall are closing their doors during office hours so kids can’t come in.

“The impact on tourism, the difficulty of recruiting staff.

“It all comes down to the safety of children.

“There is this hidden domestic violence. It is just out of control,” Cr Coffey said.

“The level of domestic violence is just unspeakable.

“We speak a lot about what we see, about the kids, but there is this other issue about family violence, related to alcohol.

“The ID system when you buy take-away alcohol, that was always intended to be extended to on-premise drinking” so that the other drinkers can enjoy their alcohol in a socially responsible manner.

Cr Coffey said the NT Government removed the Stronger Futures restrictions six months ago.

“The Commissioner of Police said today the increase of alcohol offences is significant. He hasn’t seen increases like that for some time.”

There may need to be further alcohol restrictions in the short term, including bringing back Stronger Futures: “We should support that until there are initiatives and support in place. It was irresponsible to just go from restrictions to no restrictions. We haven’t put in place any support, education, any sort of plans.”

Cr Coffey said he speaks constantly to organisations about the Return To Country Program, getting people back out bush.

“Schools getting back to school in a week or two – that should be a priority for governments and for program funding.

“It’s got to happen at the highest level” involving the three tiers of government, with key decision makers at the table, who have money spending powers, “with local input, to make local decisions”.

Some highlights:

Ex-alderman Sandy Taylor commented on the “deafening silence of the traditional owners”.

Youth worker Charlotte Mardling (pictured on the meeting live stream addressing the council) tried her best to elicit from the councillors what they were doing: “What are the current services, programs and diversionary activities that are on offer to the young people in this town … to divert them from anti-social behaviours?”

MAYOR: “As a local government we not in complete control of the Magistrates or the legal system or diversions and that sort of things. Talk about the three tier approach, I don’t want you to assume …”

MARDLING: “I am not talking about when a young person is put on youth diversion through the justice system. Sports, public spaces that young people can access and do fun activities. I’d like to get a list of those things.

COUNCIL SERVICES DIRECTOR: We are constantly in touch with other services in Alice Springs. [She names them.] We offer [holiday programs], splash parties down at the pool … lots of activities there … we’ve got a big one coming up on the 26th of January … with bands … we also run a lot of programs out of our library … all these activities are free. We’re in discussions about an after hours sports program.

MARDLING: Are there any plans [for] skateparks, youth centres, youth hubs that young people can access? Currently I don’t believe there is one space the town council operates, delivering regular youth programs.

DIRECTOR: True. Other than the town pool.

MAYOR: And the town library. We’re also working with the Northern Territory Government … running those programs. In regards to infrastructure we’ve just awarded a design tender for a community regional skate park [open to the general public]… we have a [Federal] grant for an adventure playground at the [pool] and we are finalising the parks masterplan.

MARDLING: Any plans for a youth centre? An indoor area where young people chill out … young people aged 12 to 25 to spend time and feel safe?

MAYOR: We own the building [of the Gap Youth Centre]. We are working with the Youth Centre and those entities. We’re in constant discussions with them about those programs. There’s a splash party on Thursday.

Better luck next time, Ms Mardling.


  1. Comments on making kids feel safe? What about the rest of us?
    I once was told by an 11 year old student who threw a chair across my classroom: “You cant do anything to me. I’m Aboriginal.”
    Remove that attitude and you have much of the problem solved. A good friend was held up at knifepoint at mid morning last week by two young girls with knives opposite the post office.
    Because of that, as a partly disabled person I now carry a hammer in the car and go to town only when absolutely necessary.
    Should I be forced to use that as a defensive weapon I would be charged.

  2. Environmental responsibility, ethical responsibility, philanthropic responsibility and economic responsibility four criteria for harmony and justice in any society.
    Those four should be included in the Education Curriculum.
    Restrictions based on ethnicity are racial / prejudicial and do not fix the problems.

  3. Sounds like all was centred around booze.
    These kids need a goal. Education is a big benefit for everyone so they then can do something constructive with their lives.
    A safe place for these kids is needed to get food, sleep and get educated, even if they are required to stay for some time.
    Ie Yirara College or some of these Aboriginal centres in town, where they get a bed and food.
    The families are not being responsible with looking after their kids.
    While the government hands out continuous money for people to buy beer, spirits, and gamble, saying we can not tell people how to spend their money the tax payers have given to help them with everyday expenses, things will not change.

  4. @ Kathy: Yes, a safe place for these kids is needed to get food, sleep and get educated, ie Yirara College.
    In the last NAPLAN report only 4% of Yirara students attended for 100% of the time.
    Aboriginal students need continuity of relationships with their teachers but Yirara has one of the highest teacher turnovers of any school in the nation.
    Teaching at Yirara is very stressful with few, if any, consequences for appalling behaviour.
    To quote from a speech by a member of Yirara management: “The problem is that our students get over things quickly but some teachers do not. We even had a teacher who demanded an apology (apparently for being called a white C). Was the student going to apologise? Of course not. In the end we had to move the student to a different classroom.”
    Two disastrous decisions in recent years at Yirara have not been helpful. They made the college an employer of last resort for all but teachers with a strong religious calling.
    Yirara offers half the personal leave of NT Education schools and uniquely for town schools has no spare capacity to cover absences and has stopped employing relief teachers.
    Typically, by Term 3, up to a third of the teaching staff will be off on what is really unpaid stress leave meaning the other half have to cope with additional workloads, called “extras”. In turn, they go off on personal (stress) leave.
    Not surprisingly, at the end of each year, if not before, many teachers have had enough and resign. Along the way, their students will leave and many will not return. In their home communities there is usually no secondary education provision so they head for town.
    This cycle of teacher overload and burnout producing a rapid turnover of teachers and students is predictable but seen as normal. It arouses no concern and does not feature in school reviews or hamper school re-registration.
    Yirara is funded for over $50,000 per year per full attending student (total $10.6m PA in 2021) and savings from not paying absent staff for much of their stress leave and not funding relief teachers would be considerable
    The casualties of this system are remote families and students who desperately need teacher continuity founded on established relationships, and their education.
    The national shortage of teachers worsens this crisis and casts doubt on whether Yirara can find enough teachers this year.
    Sadly, Alice Springs youth crime will not be blunted by educational provision at Yirara this year.
    [ED – We have offered Yirara the right of reply.]

  5. Perhaps the collective “WE” need to look at a fundamental problem caused by Dr. Spock after he introduced no smacking by the parents and subsequent legislating banning parental control.
    We are now reaping the rewards of allowing children to run riot in several states. Has the time come to raise vigilante committees to sort out the lack of proper control?
    Action of what may at first be drastic is required, not gentle taps with a feather duster.
    Let the Aboriginal elders take charge.

  6. I think this is really just a political game played by the Federal opposition.
    Sydney has regular reports of shoot outs in the streets. Melbourne has had young men driving down footpaths and killing many.
    I do not think this is an Alice Springs problem.
    It is the death of Australian culture that is the problem.
    The introduction of the culture within the declining empire of the USA. Our News reports are looking more and more like the US everyday.
    Tik Tok, Insta, facebook etc, are used to spread videos of people rallying against the system. It is seen as vigilantism by those watching. Look at the entertainment coming out of the USA. Vigilant stories of destruction. All started by Breaking Bad.
    What we are seeing is the collapse of an empire. An empire we seem to want to follow.
    Endless war that Australian troops are fighting in and for what? The violence is being brought home.
    Saudis drove planes into LA skyscrapers. Not Afghanis or Iraqis. Australia helped the USA destroy those countries. Why? They had nothing to do with the original 911 attacks.
    The problems in Alice Springs are concerning but it is the destruction of the Australian fair go that is being replaced with marketing campaigns designed to reinforce a dying system.
    Instead of watching the national football and feeding large companies through online betting maybe it would make more sense to go and watch a local game and drink a beer produced by Alice Springs Brewery.
    A dumbed down society must be entertained. A socially conscious society goes to watch a football match.
    Capitalism no longer improves peoples lives. It is now destroying lives.

  7. In his book Mein Kampf, written in the 1920s, Hitler said: “Whoever has the youth has the future.”
    We have no future if we are loosing our youths because the adults are not giving them proper guidance.
    So if youth are lost, the culprits are not the youth, but adults in their life.
    I think the adults in their life are also lost and we should concentrate on them rather than on the youths.
    In my opinion it could be important to take notice of: “In 2007 the United Nations passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to help eliminate human rights violations against them. It creates a framework for laws to make sure that issues are addressed by working directly with Indigenous communities”
    Article Eleven: Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs. May be the time has come for the elders to be given the right to do with the youths what their culture demands especially the traditional punishments.

  8. For those who say give power to the elders to do with the youths what their culture demands especially the traditional punishments, I suggest reading Don Watson’s book “The Passion of Private White”.
    Set in Yolngu country, it follows the efforts a Vietnam veteran turned anthropologist who has lived with a small homeland community on and off for 50 years.
    A lot of insights into small homelands on country and the larger towns that offer services everyone needs. A lot of parallels with the situation in Central Australia in many respects.

  9. A book that should be studied in High School is Why weren’t we told by Henry Reynolds. It is well know that people inevitably misunderstand the present when they live in ignorance of the past.
    “Australia’s Indigenous peoples have lived on the country’s vast lands for tens of thousands of years. They are the world’s oldest living culture, and their unique identity and spirit continues to exist in every corner of the country.”
    That is a propaganda story told to tourists. Until Aborigines have rights to their cultures it is a lie.
    Article 14 of United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
    1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”
    Is it happening in Australia?

  10. MARDLING: Are there any plans [for] skateparks, youth centres, youth hubs that young people can access? Currently I don’t believe there is one space the town council operates, delivering regular youth programs.
    DIRECTOR: True. Other than the town pool.
    Excellent question and predictable answer.
    It took an online petition and youth workers fronting council to get action on repairing the exisiting skate park.
    A new facility that includes a skatepark with youth workers befriending and mentoring the young people of our town is a proven model. It has the potential to do more than any agency (including the police and the courts) to head off crime.
    Meanwhile, $25m to extend funding “for safety and community services”: Engaging youth in their own space and on their own terms is much more effective than reacting to crime.

  11. Thank you for the information conveyed in your article as well as the comments.
    The question I posit is why doesn’t the community put aside those comments by the Mayor etc. and crowd fund so that a skate park and other activities for youth suggested by Mahli, take place? Why not?
    If those in power are not delivering but waiting on another “tier” of government to solve the problem is voting them out.
    The other thing, like the Vietnam Veteran referred to in this story, is take the solution into one’s own hands.
    There may be more support for communities making their own decisions and crowd funding than people believe.


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