By ERWIN CHLANDA
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”.
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.