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HomeVolume 28Kids trouble: The government has to fix it, says Mayor

Kids trouble: The government has to fix it, says Mayor

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.


  1. So decision-making on local issues must come from Darwin and Canberra.
    But shortsighted decisions by those two levels of government caused our problems.
    Matt ran for office based on his lifetime of local knowledge.
    But supports business people trying to turn a profit from the problem.
    This does not make a lot of sense.

  2. They have a specialist crew for going around impounding loose dogs on the prowl which is obviously of more importance than rounding up loose kids! Which do the most damage?

  3. Was banning unaccompanied youth from the library and in effect dismissing the librarians who opposed the ban really such a good idea?
    The decision was reversed but most of the youth did not return.
    Was shutting down the skate park for so long that a public petition was needed to get action wise?
    A new skate park off the agenda after years of procrastination.
    However convenient it is to demand the Feds fix the problem. The Council needs to have a hard look at the way it responds to community needs.

  4. In my view the Mayor, either consciously or unconsciously, is operating in the political zone on this (for want of a better word) issue.
    Politicians need to step aside on this matter. It requires a balanced approach, not in the political zone where pollies constantly muddy the water. Political point scoring resides in the gutter!
    Alcohol is obviously an important element that has to be addressed in this debate however, I see a far more pressing matter that needs to take centre stage right now.
    There is a serious failing by NT governments, of both persuasions, in ensuring that all First Nations children have a good attendance rating at school. [There needs to be] a situation whereby children have a path to follow, a path that says it is normal for employment, or higher education, to occur post secondary level schooling.
    For them to be growing up in an environment where they see parents / guardians / close relations going to work each day. This is what is going to turn lives around.
    Yes, a generational turnaround of course and a monumental task, nevertheless one that the whole Territory community needs to embrace.
    It is vital that the present conveyor belt of chronic mediocrity (that is a generous description) that is the life of far too many people, is stopped.

  5. @ Ralph Folds: I totally agree with your comments, it goes too with the beautiful Youth Centre at Anzac Hill that it no so friendly or welcoming that it used to be in the 70s and 80s.
    In my opinion a big problem is school attendance, because if you go to school and do your homework, you do not have the urge to go down the streets at night.
    It comes back to the parents (of all creeds).
    Laws – quote: As a parent, you must make sure your child goes to school every day. This is your legal responsibility.”
    Your child must go to school all day and every day that it is open. This is unless there is an explanation. For example, if your child is sick.
    Your child must be enrolled and going to school by the age of six.
    Your child must go to school until they are 17 years old.
    If your child wants to leave before they are 17 for another program or employment, there are certain requirements that must be met. These must be approved by the department.
    Parents can be prosecuted if they do not make sure their child goes to school. This means being fined or getting a criminal conviction. End of quote.
    Can someone explain why it is so hard to have parents to obey the law?
    Safe and Supported: The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2021 – 2031 (Safe and Supported) recognises that all Australians need to work together to keep children and young people safe and achieve the best outcomes for those who are vulnerable and/or experiencing disadvantage.

  6. Remove the “infants, kids and teenagers” off the streets and adopt a modern version of the Stolen Generation which would solve the problem within a fortnight.
    I would say a number of parents would welcome the exercise as they have lost control of “their” kids or, dare I say, wouldn’t know they are missing.
    We, as a caring and concerned nation, MUST adopt extreme and firm action, equal to, or greater than the determination the young ones have rampaging and are ruining the once inviting hot, dusty enjoyable streets of Alice I remember since 1969 where I lived, worked and played.

  7. The 50+ Community Centre was entered last night for the third time in about six months.
    [Vandals destroyed] electrical security and entering the wood shed members use and now the centre is closed till repairs are completed, which will take some weeks or longer.
    Thanks guys for the mindless useless waste of others people’s homes, cars, centres and everything else you like to destroy for no reason.
    Guess you now see why locals are fed up with your behaviour and demand action.

  8. I’ve alway thought boarding school or an expansion of Yirara college could be a solution.
    A stable environment with consistent food, care, activities and probably the most important thing if the cycle is to ever be broken, an education.
    School holidays would be a chance to return home and connect with the land and culture.

  9. @ Graham Buckley. I’m with you. There is some agreement in related posts that a partnership, rather than a Treaty is the way to solve the problem of education for children currently causing anti-social behaviour in Alice.
    If the Voice succeeds, it won’t be legislated until 2025, so where does that leave the shortfall? Focussing on a path forward requires, as you say, a generational change and a monumental task.
    Alcohol reform needs to be incisive to achieve a generational change, with focus on the alcohol industry’s unregulated status in turning down the tap or secondary supply will continue to fraught the issue, but that requires courage and community goodwill.
    For a nation of pisspots, this is a big ask. Kids have had enough of alcohol-related family trauma.
    The Youth Hub idea could be a sorting-house in much the same way that Recruiting Centres functioned in both world wars. The analogy is not that radical, given that many residents consider themselves at war.
    It would require bringing a united focus to the various community aid / social / youth bodies to develop a path towards higher education as a goal.
    Employment, aka something to do as opposed to drinking to oblivion as Prof. Colin Tatz wrote in the 1970s, is an ancient issue and worthy of a pragmatic approach. We all need a win-win on this, not more politics.
    A conversation, not a debate mired in ideology and mud-slinging.

  10. Sadly, until a child is killed when breaking into a home, nothing will change.
    For years now, since parents cannot punish and police have to be politically correct, we have a lot of talks but no real actions.

  11. It’s relatively easy. A traditional solution. First Australians are demanding recognition as “First Nations People”. I support that 100%.
    Clearly, Mbantua, Alice Springs is an Arranta Nation. All we need is the support and endorsement of genuine Arranta elders to a practice at 7am each morning at Alice Springs Police Station whereby last night’s apprehended recalcitrants are lined up and asked: “What is your Nation?”
    If the reply is Anmatjira, Warlpiri, Pitjantjara whatever, they are put on the Bush Bus and returned, under police supervision, that day to their home “Nation”.
    No suggestion of Stolen Generation here: This is Welcome Home Country.
    Oh, you say: “They have the right to be in town”. Yes, they may all come as visitors, but everybody must respect the Arranta Nation.
    Yes, of course they can steal a car and come back the next day; they also need to steal money to get petrol / diesel: “But my own people might give me a hiding?” What a good idea.
    I am totally on the side of First Nations people in their endeavours, but vandals and thugs have no place in our society. Over to you Arranta leaders. Give the police the nod.

  12. But Ted it will be too easy!!!
    Have you ever seen a politician sign a document / legislation by KISS (Keeping It Simple, Stupid)?

  13. Great solution Ted, common sense stuff. I have always said the local Elders need to be involved to solve these issues with the children. Build a boarding school here for the kids to stay at night if their home is not safe and next morning go to school. Education, we need these kids to contribute and have a great life with jobs, apprenticeships, playing sport etc.

  14. Sorry, Matt, but your “not our job” approach to the town’s youth problems is simply not good enough and it reminds me of past “do nothing” mayors that have held our town back.
    Have a good look at last night’s episode of “Back Roads” on ABC TV for ideas on how a local council can get involved in supporting locals in overcoming intergenerational trauma and giving young people an alternative to roaming the streets and getting into trouble.
    You may be surprised to find out that the town featured in the episode is none other than Tennant Creek, and the “hands on” approach of its former mayor and present MLA, Steve Edgington.
    I’m reminded that change only comes about in two ways – from the bottom up, or top down – but that both need one vital ingredient, and that is enlightened leadership.


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