Councillors: do we need Federal intervention on ‘crime wave’?

Above: Alice CBD after dark, businesses pull down their roller doors and people stay away. 

 

By KIERAN FINNANE

Last updated 27 November 2019, 10.19am. Minor edits.

 

Councillor Eli Melky revealed a certain ignorance of Australian history last night, suggesting that appeals be made to the Governor-General, as well as the Prime Minister and the NT Administrator to help Alice Springs deal with its “crime wave”.

 

Since 1975, the year of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s dismissal, the intervention of the G-G in our politics and decision-making has been a sore point for many Australians.

 

Cr Melky was also showing something of a tin ear for the very contemporary political rage in Central Australia, which links the injustice of Kumunjayi Walker’s shooting just over a fortnight ago to wider anger with instruments of oppression, including the so-called Intervention with a capital ‘I’ – the Federal government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response of 2007 and its legacy.

 

Another history, however, revealed something of why Cr Melky (pictured) tenaciously pursues council action in response to what he sees as a “crime wave”.

 

That history has its roots in his native country of Lebanon, where – as he said last night before breaking down, unable to continue – he lived under guns and bombs and where his family had their home destroyed.

 

He spoke also of being ready to leave Alice Springs for his family’s safety’s sake, but he also said: “This is my home, I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

 

The debate that followed Cr Melky’s suggestion lasted almost an hour. Councillors have had this discussion before, they know it, they said so. The most recent occasion, prompted by Cr Jacinta Price, resulted in the invitation to Commander Bradley Currie to speak to council, which he did just last month.

 

Cdr Currie’s core message on reducing crime and anti-social behaviour was that the multi-agency approach is working but needs to be given time.

 

There seems no point in reporting in detail, once more, the trajectory of the debate, so I’ll be brief.

 

Councillors remain more or less stuck on the idea of summits, even if Cr Jimmy Cocking, whose suggestion it was, emphasised the importance of council first doing its homework and not just convening a general venting of frustration and anger in the Andy McNeill Room. (Facebook is doing “a pretty good job with that anyway,” Cr Cocking said.)

 

Another point of discussion was around having a safe place for kids to sleep at night, a perennial concept that, apart from the provision of crisis accommodation, has been challenged by some of those working with youth, as undermining family responsibility.

 

The importance of working with Aboriginal people was again stressed – because it was the behaviour by “lawless” Aboriginal youth that was being discussed. The instances of many failures to have Aboriginal leaders at the table were traversed once more but everyone is on board for continuing to try.

 

Those people must include not only Central Arrernte traditional owners, said Cr Melky, but leaders from remote communities throughout the region.

 

Families’ roles in their children’s lives was spoken to by Cr Glen Auricht, who lived for many years at Ntaria and is a fluent Western Aranda speaker. He described the free reign that Aboriginal children enjoy out bush, with discipline basically restricted to behaviour around ceremonies and sacred sites. This doesn’t work well when families move to town, he said,  and young people are exposed to “a huge amount of risk”. 

 

Cr Jamie de Brenni lashed out at Cr Cocking’s evocation of a Federal intervention as “seeing potentially armed forces on our street corners”.

 

It was “classic hysteria by hearsay!” said Cr de Brenni, and it was “wrong” to make those “accusations” towards other Elected Members.

 

“We are just verifying what is reported,” he said, referring to the incidents on Alice Springs streets, which he had no doubt the people Cr Melky wanted to appeal to were reading about every day.

 

Cr Cocking did not respond directly but strongly reiterated his support for a community-driven approach, and only on the basis of a well-developed local proposal going to the federal government for funding assistance.

 

Cr de Brenni was also the one to seek further input from CEO Robert Jennings, after Mr Jennings advised hastening a little more slowly on this “very big issue,” which needs “articulation and consideration”.

 

He had been part of many community-driven summits and seen many fail because they had been set up incorrectly, said Mr Jennings.

 

He believed consultation was the key, the way to start the process rather than with proposing solutions. He had taken “copious notes”, he would explore the options and then bring them back to councillors for decision.

 

A motion essentially to that effect was carried.

 

 

 

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14 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Surprised!
    Posted December 2, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    Further to my comment out of frustration albeit my belief this is all as a result of weak government and the wimpy do gooders.
    We as taxpayers contribute all money the government has and a part of this it is allocated to serve and protect us.
    We are clearly not protected nor are we allowed to protect ourselves or property.
    The government is not doing what we pay them to do yet we still support them. This doesn’t make sense to me. Either fix it or allow the people to fix it.

    View Comment
  2. Surprised!
    Posted December 2, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    A big stick would be a simple solution until the government shows some balls.

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  3. Jerry Fitzsimmons
    Posted November 29, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    Thank you Steve Thorne.
    I hope you are reading this from afar. You obviously may have have a connection to “Central Australia” and maybe even Alice Springs.
    You have hit the nail on the head.
    From Alex’s comments to our contemporaries who comment on our future we all have one thing in common.
    We have chosen to live here in The Alice for many reasons and many who live here because they were born here accept us for what we are. That’s why we stay.
    Steve, you pose a great message to us all and that is to follow up on what you suggest.
    Maybe, in going one step further, we could invite such success participants as yourself to our town. Allow you all to address a public forum telling your success accomplishments to everyone who wants to hear and not just meet the selected few who may believe they are wiser than all of us.
    Yes, there are obvious blame stories to suggest that the town is failing but every one of us would dearly love to see a much safer place for all and I guess no more so than the brave business people who keep our supplies available to us.
    They are the reason why many more of us need to seriously look at what you are suggesting, Steve, and take this opportunity to be pro-active and better informed.
    Thank you for supplying the contact for Gosnells and I would encourage anyone who wants to do so to contact this group.
    I will and I hope many others do, so that the information we receive we can share with each other and not just have to depend on the few community representative organisations who may not be “authorised” to report their findings back to us.
    I believe we all must chip in and offer something better than snide remarks about how to make our town a flourishing one for tourists to enjoy coming to.

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  4. Steve Thorne
    Posted November 28, 2019 at 9:53 am

    At the risk of commenting from afar, I read the article and comments with interest. As the saying goes, “for every complex problem, there is a simple solution – and it’s wrong”. Community safety and well-being is a complex matter. I am aware of a local government which undertook to address their issues (which were very similar to those facing Alice Springs)and developed a comprehensive set of strategies to first understand the parameters of the problem, then work out both short and long terms ways to begin to address what was identified. Follow-up studies show that the crime did not just become displaced, but diminished over time. The strategies have been in place since 1999. The Council is the City of Gosnells in Western Australia. Their SafeCity strategy was called “the most advanced community safety strategy in Australia”. I was fortunate to be part of some aspects of the strategy. It would be worth talking to people at Gosnells.

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  5. Jack
    Posted November 27, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    Our town is conflicted when it comes to being honest with tourists. We should be saying: “Don’t walk around after dark. Don’t walk along those attractive pathways built by the council, even in the daytime.
    “If an Aboriginal youth or youths ask you for a cigarette – move away quickly.
    “If you walk around in the daytime keep your wallet or bag hidden or hold it tightly. Stay alert at all times.”
    But if we did that how many tourists would we have? So we don’t and generally ignore the casualties. And there are many.

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  6. Evelyne Roullet
    Posted November 27, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    The biggest handicap we having is the division of our community. Nobody appears to really join hands, thinking their ideas are better than the others. Yes we have a big problem, let’s face it together.
    Alex spoke of the ’80s but in the ’70s the high fences were non existent. Our front fences were at hip level.

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  7. Chris
    Posted November 27, 2019 at 11:53 am

    What we need is a leader with some balls like Joy Baluch.
    Seems to me we are just on our gutless merry go round.

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  8. Posted November 27, 2019 at 10:10 am

    @ Eli Melky (Posted November 27, 2019 at 6:41 am): Eli, you’re no pioneer leading the way into new territory on this issue, by a very long shot.

    View Comment
  9. David
    Posted November 27, 2019 at 8:02 am

    Alex Nelson’s comments are true. These issues have been around more or less forever.
    Political parties keep banging the law and order drum for their own gain.
    Terry Mills with his newly formed political party is doing it again without demonstrating how that party will achieve law and order without going on the usual and predictable path all political parties and governments take.
    If a large number of people consisting of Aboriginal elders, leaders and influential people in the community can come together to protest, why can’t negotiations occur with these same people who were quite publicly prominent, to establish a body representing key Aboriginal elder groups, Aboriginal organisations, key government decision makers, non government agencies, police and Alice Springs Town Council, to work to seek bipartisan solutions dealing with youth crime and other anti social and criminal issues.
    Establish an agreed Memorandum of Understanding on how all parties should work together. Do it without political involvement or power plays. Try something outside the box.

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  10. Eli Melky
    Posted November 27, 2019 at 6:41 am

    Alex Nelson, it’s one thing to recite history, it’s a whole other thing to write your future. I prefer the latter.

    Arthur, giving up, locking themselves behind tall fences and quietly living out their days is Not living. We all deserve better.

    What will the pages of history write about your contribution to this debate? I will leave you both to ponder.

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  11. Arthur
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    I could have not have written what Alex Nelson has said any better. I mentioned it to my sister who has lived in Alice Springs for the last 80 years, and she absolutely agrees what he has written.
    It just goes on and on and on, we hear the same election time rubbish law and order bla bla bla bla.
    Most long term residents have given up, lock themselves behind tall fences, and quietly live out their days.

    View Comment
  12. Jenny
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    I have lived here for close to seventy years, in town and out Bush. I have never been afraid. Cautious at times but never afraid. Now I don’t go out at night and tiptoe around town very carefully during the day. Went in to do some shopping at Woolies on Sunday and had a fright when a group of trouble makers rushed into the centre, in off the street. The teenage girls waving their arms about and yelling and spreading out so I had nowhere to go. Thankfully a security guard appeared. We have people being attacked by these kids in broad daylight as well as at night. I have had two cars broken into, one in broad daylight and one at night while home. We are being bullied, day and night by children who are threatening people in the street and breaking into our homes while we are sleeping. No more excuses for this behaviour! Stop treating some Aboriginal people like poor little unintelligent lesser beings. They know right from wrong. This town is now a dangerous place and some thing has to be done to fix that.

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  13. Posted November 26, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    It’s not just “tin ears” that’s the problem here, it’s the goldfish-in-a-bowl corporate memory loss from which we most grievously suffer over the long term.
    For God’s sake, we all need to get a bit real – there’s been crime, alcohol abuse, domestic violence, kids on the streets to all hours of night, as front page news not just for years, but for decades! Repeat – decades!
    As for the “crime wave” supposedly inundating our town now, go back to the late 1980s to the mid 90s, when at times murders were occurring in Alice Springs at the rate of one a month!
    In October 1990 the crime wave was so bad – an offence committed at the rate of one every three and a half hours for the preceding 12 months – that the TIO was foreshadowing a premium increase for vehicle, home and contents insurance specific to Alice Springs, and nowhere else in the Territory.
    There is nothing like that happening now.
    Go back three decades ago and we had 13,000 protective custody cases in one year – that was equivalent to more than half the town’s population at the time.
    But what we get so often from local commentators today is that what’s happening now is the worst it’s ever been – and so many people have been saying exactly the same thing year in, year out, for decades.
    The overwhelming majority of people here, including those in prominent positions of office and authority, seem not to have a clue what they’re talking about, let alone any solutions.
    But, by gee, endlessly banging the law and order drum sure keeps a lot of us marching in unison come each election campaign, and virtually no-one wakes up to the fact we’re being dudded because nothing ever really changes, whomever we put in charge.

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  14. Psuedo Guru
    Posted November 26, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    Shameful law and order problems in Alice Springs.

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