COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
It is dark. Several figures move stealthily around a multi-story building. They smash a window and make their way inside. They fan out around the offices, searching. They find what they are looking for: Car keys.
Not one set. Five.
They leave the building, find the cars in the carpark and make off at high speed.
No. It’s not the opening of a crime drama. The location isn’t in the big smoke. It’s Alice Springs.
The burglars are not hard-faced career criminals but children.
And they are not on the screen, they are real.
The cars are also real, owned by the government which, yes, is funded by the taxpayer.
What happens then is described in a police media report on Saturday (never mind that it was April 1 – this, too, is real): “The public reported multiple incidents relating to vehicles driving erratically around the CBD. Police CCTV continued to monitor and capture the happenings.
“The vehicles all contained several youths, sometimes hanging out of the car and attempting to swerve at police vehicles before driving away at speed.
“Police could not pursue the vehicles due to the weather conditions and the inherent risks to public safety and officers.
“All five vehicles [were] later recovered. Strike Force Viper is investigating.” [See also update at the bottom of this report.]
It was just one scene in a comic opera starring the government, NGOs – some of them lavishly funded, industry lobbies and the public.
At the moment we have vigorous back-patting about the decrease in domestic violence hospital admissions from 246 in December (usually a bad month for DV) to 97 in February.
Let’s put that number into perspective.
In Australia each year, there are around 6,500 hospitalisations for injuries known to be related to family and domestic violence, or 540 a month.
On those numbers the Alice Springs figure is an eye watering 180 times the national one. Nothing to be gleeful about.
Given though that our DV rate is obviously susceptible to alcohol control, why not go all the way?
As the News has proposed several time over the years, let’s have take-aways on one day of the week, the day before all welfare payments are received (get the Feds to legislate to return to that payment system).
That means all the preceding week’s money has been spent on food, rent and clothing, etc. All responsible drinkers can stock up on the one day of the week. For those who are irresponsible – too bad.
For tourists a 24/7 bottlo facility should be available, on presentation of proof that their usual domicile is outside a 1000km radius from Alice.
Our alcohol problem would be fixed in a week. The alternative is the crime rate continuing to escalate.
Meanwhile the hospital is in an existential crisis. The Nurses Union’s Cath Hatcher told SBS in February: “Nurses and midwives alone are 130 full-time equivalent down in all the rosters, not including doctors and allied health workers.”
Anecdotal evidence is that health staff simply don’t want to come to The Alice because they don’t feel safe.
DV is horrendous but it is done behind closed doors. As such it is not linked to the rest of the crime except in the long term – parental neglect, foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs).
And so, as the kids running amok throughout the night are so convincingly demonstrating, the government has stuffed up again: Temporary alcohol restrictions will not reduce shuttered businesses, smashed and torched cars, record property offences, assaults. Kids don’t drink.
What is exacerbating the problem enormously is the nation-wide news reporting about the crime rate, especially by Sky. Its main source seems to be “business owner Darren Clark“.
More of a worry still has been Mayor Matt Paterson’s national campaign which clearly is having the effect of keeping visitors away from Alice Springs and from its vital tourism industry, without presenting any clear idea for fixing the problem.
Mayor Paterson is now adding to his disinvitation program people from the bush normally coming into town for football, using the council’s oval.
Mayor Paterson co-authored a statement titled “Community Football in Communities” together with the native title organisation Lhere Artepe and the Combined Aboriginal Organisations (CAO) of Central Australia, with prominent Aboriginal businessman Owen Cole the signatory.
CAO, established in the early 1980s, is a bit of a mystery. It has no presence on the web other than a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the IAS tendering process in May 2015 when it described itself as “a collective voice on issues being faced by the Central Australian Aboriginal community”.
It is not registered with the ORIC (the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations) as most Aboriginal organisations are. The News has contacted Mr Cole for information.
The statement is treading on dangerous ground, suggesting the lure of football in Alice Springs is “pulling young leaders away from communities” and would lead “to a lack of connection with country.
“Remote based football programs allow people to play their sport of preference on country of significance,” the statement says.
Talking about someone else’s country and its significance is a serious no-no in Aboriginal culture.
Coming from the Mayor it falls into the category of “we know what’s best for you”.
It would be hard to gauge what traditional senior people would make of CAO in the tribally diverse region around Alice Springs.
Lhere Artepe CEO Graeme Smith, speaking for Arrernte native title holders, is currently formulating a type of permit system and code of conduct for non-Arrernte visitors. (At right.)
He blames some of them for the crime wave in Alice Springs: “It’s not Arrernte kids who break in, jump on the roof of taxis, trash the town, run amok.”
At the height of the media frenzy over the continuing crime wave Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promised $250m – that’s more than five times the town council’s $47.3m budget, for example – to go towards fixing the problems.
Dorelle Anderson, as his appointed “Regional Controller” (a job title seeming to have been resurrected from another era) is in charge of this money. As yet, there is no expenditure plan known to the public, no key performance indicators.
Ms Anderson heads up the region’s Territory Families, the department responsible for kids at risk and on whose watch the trashing of Alice has escalated.
For instance, we’ve had a variety of facilities where young people can come and go. This has made no difference to the crime in the street.
We hear talk about a new stolen generation, kidnapping. We need to hear more about a generation that will be lost in the Big House.
We also constantly hear education is the answer. Time it was defined what this means.
It takes a lot of resourcefulness, energy and skill to pull off the heist we described at the top of this piece.
How about education that turns these considerable personal assets towards endeavours that makes the kids and their community a success?
If the parents won’t do it the state must.
It’s not going to happen, I hear you say.
PHOTO: The “rust building” containing NT Government offices in Bath Street where the car theft took place.
From the logbook of a local security firm. None of these offences were reported in police media releases. It’s notable that these have become less informative, and are often just requests for information from the public.
April 3, 23:39:18
United Heavitree Gap store
Southern cross. Unlawfully entry. Key holder [person having access outside trading hours] on site. Three to four Aboriginal juveniles armed with axes smashed the front roller door to gain entry. Key holder awaiting police attendance to be further followed up with police and the key holder.
April 3, 04:32:54
External four cars at Congress stolen while patrols on site at ABC. Ram raided through the gates then sped past patrols at speed joining business Congress.
April 3, 05:48:32
Railway Tce out of control juveniles
At approx 0440 patrols were in Railway Tce when two of the stolen vehicles pulled up in behind Coles side by side one on the wrong side of the road. Proceeded to drag race at extreme speed and in a extremely and out of control manner. Both stolen vehicles did not stop at the Maccas crossing [where the is a stop sign] doing at least 100 ks. Patrols called police. Patrols also advised police due to the dangerous manner these juveniles were driving stolen vehicles. Patrols were getting out of the CBD area.