Alice Springs Mayor Matt Paterson is painfully aware of the distress felt by many locals over the conduct and offences by children in public places, but he is adamant that the town council’s ability to take robust action is limited.
He spoke with Editor ERWIN CHLANDA.
NEWS: The big public meeting on Monday last week was followed up by a meeting of 40 people from the audience, offering to take initiatives about the problems they see around town. Did they invite you?
MAYOR: No, I was’t there. I’m OK with that.
NEWS: What do think about group proposing legal action that, if successful, would drawn one thousand five hundred million dollars of public money out of the budget of the NT Government?
MAYOR: It’s more of a sign for me that the community is fed up and hopefully we’ll see some action.
NEWS: What do you think will be the upshot of that huge public meeting?
MAYOR: I’m not the organiser. I was just there as a guest. My understanding is the ball is rolling. It goes to show that 10% of the population went to the function because they are fed up with the anti-social behaviour. That’s a good thing. I appreciate the community coming together at a time when we need it the most, to address the problems.
NEWS: Are you concerned that an organisation of unelected people, seeking to acquire $1.5 billion of public money from the government budget for themselves, involves itself in issues that are meant to be dealt with by elected governments such as the town council and the NT Government? Politicians were specifically excluded from the meeting last week.
MAYOR: I don’t have an opinion on whether it’s the right thing to do or not. That will be up to the courts to decided if it gets to that point. It’s a wake-up call to all levels of government. The community wants change.
NEWS: Does the town council have a scheme, a policy ready to go, to deal with the problem of kids committing crimes?
Last week’s public meeting. Photo by the ABC.
MAYOR: What do you mean?
NEWS: Do you have a plan of what to do?
MAYOR: I am the chair of the Social Order Response Team (SORT). We deliver services. We are meeting with stakeholders. I can send you the strategic plan, the Livability and Sustainability Strategy.
NEWS: We covered that. Please give me the five most important points that SORT is working on, its strategy, and how to achieve them.
MAYOR: Community safety, kids off the street. People feeling safe, when they go down the street. That’s what the council is advocating for.
NEWS: The Federal Government announced yesterday that they will be funding a place where kids can go and be safe. Should they be at liberty to come and go as they please, or should they be required to stay until they can be put into the care of a responsible person?
MAYOR: That’s a question for the Northern Territory Government.
NEWS: Do you have a view about that, and does the council?
MAYOR: The council don’t have a view. The members may have a view but as a council we don’t have an overarching policy. No.
NEWS: Do you personally think that is one of the key problems, that nobody is making sure the kids are at home and not committing crimes?
MAYOR: There are enough organisations that are funded to make sure that kids are safe. Unfortunately there is a hole in the delivery, kids are falling through the cracks. We have so many service providers in Alice Springs. There is no level of accountability. There are service providers that are not getting audited to deliver what they are getting funded to do.
UPDATE February 10: Children “out late at night, unsupervised and potentially unsafe” may be taken to an NT Government facility but they “are not required to stay” there, according to a spokesman for Territory Families, Housing and Communities.
The facility will not keep them off the streets. It is managed by Saltbush Social Enterprise, an NGO, in an undisclosed location. It has provided “accommodation and support” for just five young people since it opened on November 27, 2022.
Youth Outreach and Re-Engagement Officer patrols, Aboriginal community organisation Tangentyere’s night patrol, and NT Police patrols provide a strong network to identify at-risk children, says the spokesman.
“The children who are eligible to access this service have not committed a crime,” says the spokesman.
“In the first instance, we always try and get these children home.
“If the children don’t have somewhere safe to stay this program becomes an option for them to be supervised and safe for the night.
“Regardless of whether the child stays the night, support is provided the following day to determine why the child was out at night.
“This assessment may involve re-engaging the young person or the family with diversion or support, through to a care and protection response and engagement with the school system.” END OF UPDATE.
NEWS: What stops the council from taking care of that specific problem? There’s been lots of talk about kids needing to be home, curfews, and so on, providing a place where they can go and be looked after, but they can’t go anywhere until it’s time to go to school in the morning?
MAYOR: Are you saying the council should do that?
NEWS: I’m asking you.
MAYOR: We are not allowed to, by legislation. It would be under the Child Protection Act, Police Act, that we can’t, as a council, pick up children off the street. We can’t hold them in remand either. Overarching it’s the Northern Territory Government’s responsibility.
NEWS: Do you think alcohol restrictions will fix problems?
MAYOR: Alcohol is certainly a problem and anti-social behaviour is another. Restrictions may address some of the crime but I don’t think it’s going to get all the kids off the street.
NEWS: Do you think declaring making homelands and town camps alcohol free again is a good thing?
MAYOR: I think it’s a start but we need to have alcohol management as well.
PHOTO AT TOP: Mayor Matt Paterson, Leony Bowey, Centralian Citizen of the Year (centre) and Marion Scrymgour, Member for Lingiari. Photo courtesy Town Council.