By ERWIN CHLANDA
A stolen five-seater car with 11 children in it, squealing excitedly, all under 17, some as young as eight, a 12-year-old at the wheel, screeching around a corner in the middle of town, running a red light.
They cross over a spiked ribbon, known in police jargon as a tyre deflation device. The car shudders to a halt, the kids get out and run in any direction, much too fast for the cops behind them.
These are some of the 50 to 120 young stars, depending on whom you talk to, in the blockbuster movie about Alice Springs.
The kids display astonishing skills in stealing cars, breaking into houses, or just getting thrills from throwing rocks through glass doors and windows.
Some make the Steve McQueen car chase in Bullitt (1968) look like a walk in the park.
Enter – very slowly – the governments, one from the local area (“The Council”), another from a fair way away (“The State”) and the third one from very far away (“The Nation”).
Although just a bit player, the latter is being applauded enthusiastically because they are bearing gifts. Big ones. $250m, on this occasion. It’s to fix the “problem” with the kids.
If they were to just give them the money it would amount to $2.9m each. But that of course would cut out the middle person who’s been doing very well for a very long time, not fixing the problem.
The man from the Nation and his predecessors have been presiding over this for decades but now he has switched to blowing money on submarines instead, which are expected to have an equal absence of logic and purpose.
The man from the Nation, before exiting, delivers lines that are so familiar that the audience can join him in a chorus.
Flashback: The head of the Council, known as the Mayor, stands in the town square, surrounded by a bustling crowd, with a campaign poster behind him, declaring: “I will make a difference.”
In the present again: The town square is deserted, the poster on the ground is flapping in blowing dust. A man walks past it, an interstate newspaper under his arm, mumbling: “He sure did.”
We see the headline over the Mayor’s photo: “Don’t come to Alice Springs. It’s a war zone.”
This is the part of the movie when the Top Cop, in the police muster room, pins a photo on the chalk board and gives a summary of what has happened so far, for the benefit of those of us who have dozed off.
“Listen up. It’s bullshit as usual. We have a problem. That’s good. We throw money at it but it misses the target. No worries. Everybody can do something but won’t and instead they will blame everyone else.”
Turns to the media officer: “Send this out. Strike Force King Brown strikes again. Northern Territory Police have arrested two 14-year-olds and a 16-year-old yesterday for their involvement in multiple property offences in Alice Springs.”
Cut to the Council meeting chamber, councillors assembled. Enter the head of the Tourism Lobby for Central Australia, Fred, wearing a hat with corks on strings dangling from the brim.
Enter a Minister from the State, Freda.
Mayor: Hello Freda. Hello Fred. Welcome. There are a number of ways to fix the problem with the kids but that would breach a long-standing tradition. So let’s be careful.
Freda: I can take care of that.
Freda: No worries. Diversion. Jargon. We have the Visitor Experience Enhancement Program. We call it VEEP. We enable the tourism industry to undertake projects that will improve the on-ground visitor experience, generating positive promotion for the Territory. We’re providing an additional $1m of grant funding. It’s a handout with a very limited shelf life.
Mayor: While we haven’t got visitors they can’t have experiences.
Freda: You told them not to come.
Fred: The brand. It’s buggered. We’ve had a firestorm of negative national media.
Mayor: We got 250 million dollars from the man from Canberra.
Councillor 1: Where’s that going to be spent?
Fred: We fully support [inaudible] in particular as the new Regional Money Spender. What she is doing is very positive … making agencies accountable.
Freda: We’re rolling out our new 2023 Working Holiday Maker campaigns to attract hospitality and tourism workers. Capturing the essence of the Territory. The messaging will highlight the freedom and job flexibility the Territory provides, from our stunning landscapes and wide open spaces to outback adventures, wildlife, traditional Aboriginal art, cultural and nature-based tourism activities.
Councillor 2: Are they going to do any work as well?
Freda: Work Hard, Play Hard saw 1,000 candidates apply for jobs in the Territory.
Councillor 3: Better not tell them what the Mayor’s been saying.
Councillor 1: Or that prominent (haha) businessman on Shock Jock Radio down south.
Councillor 2: What’s our local jobless rate? Why do we need Germans and Poms?
Councillor 4: Point of order.
Cut to the police muster room.
Top Cop (pins another photo on the chalk board): We had a meeting. Of course we had a meeting. What else do we know how? Here’s the drum. The Mayor is telling visitors not to come. Fred wants them to come. Freda is full of excuses. We can’t detain the kids once we arrest them. Up high someone thinks if we did make kids stay, it might be considered kidnapping them.
Cop 1: Why don’t they find out? Why don’t we? What if the parents give consent?
Top Cop: Fred wants Freda to implement the Child Protection Act. The children need care wrapped around them. Their staying at a care centre should be compulsory, under the care of the state. That’s what Fred wants.
Next episode: More of the same.
PHOTO: The dead Mall.