• The Central Australian town Mparntwe, or Alice Springs, is working towards solution to tackle youth crime. (Getty Images AsiaPac)Source: Getty Images AsiaPac
Mparntwe locals and justice advocates say an investment in community-led initiatives is crucial in addressing an increase of youth crime in the town, rather than stronger "punitive" laws proposed by the NT government.
Shahni Wellington

The Point
31 Mar 2021 - 4:16 PM  UPDATED 31 Mar 2021 - 10:35 PM

A panel of Arrente Traditional Owners have joined NITV's The Point to discuss a rise in youth crime in Mpartwe, or Alice Springs.

It comes after the Northern Territory government proposed stronger crackdown laws last week, including alcohol breath tests for children.

Arrernte and Mirning woman, Catherine Satour, is an Alice Springs Town Councillor and said there is frustration and division within the community.

"There are increased concerns around young people breaking into homes, stealing food, stealing family vehicles, breaking into properties and workplaces and businesses," Ms Satour said.

"There's also an increased concern around the future of our young generation, and what their futures look like... If we don't give them the support and the guidance that they need to be able to get on the right track."

Community solutions over punishment

More than 500 justice advocates have described the proposed laws by the Northern Territory government as "punitive".

Some of the measures include mandatory refusal of bail if a youth commits a serious breach.

This includes a failure to attend court, any reoffending while on bail or a failure to complete the youth diversion program.

Speaking to NITV's The Point, Ms Satour said the crackdown is not the solution to this layered social issue.

"When you break it down, what it says is a failure of government policies. 

"It's about building that trust and also ensuring that Aboriginal people are at the forefront and central Arrente and Mparntwe people are at the forefront of addressing these social and complex issues and that they're heard," she said.


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This month, the situation in Mparntwe was featured as part of a program by A Current Affair called "Anarchy in Alice Springs".

While some community members have been supportive of the coverage, saying it put a spotlight on the troubling issues, representatives from Strong Grandmothers of the Central Desert were critical.

The group said the NT government have also ignored their calls for an investment in community-led initiatives. 

"We just feel like we don't have a voice and we’re never going to have a voice if you get someone from elsewhere coming here into Mpartwe and doing things like what A Current Affairs done," Elaine Kngwarraye Peckham told NITV's The Point.

"We have tried to negotiate with the government to look at a lot of issues before we got to the stage where we are today, we have tried very hard. It hasn't happened and now look, what's happened now is out of control," she said.

Sabella Kngwarre Turner from the Grandmothers group echoed those sentiments, and said they hoped to find a way forward.

"So let's get serious, and get together (proposals) that are made with the grassroots people of this community, and see how we can work with children," Ms Turner said.

Policies of the past

As part of the proposed amendments to the Bail Act and Youth Justice Act, the NT government has conceded that one of the "practical consequences" will be "an increase of young offenders on remand".

The government has in turn allocated $5 million for "new youth remand infrastructure" in Darwin and Alice Springs.

It's a move that Larrakia, Wadjigan and Central Arrernte lawyer, Eddie Cubillo, told The Point is a dramatic step backwards.

"That goes right against what the Royal Commission had said," Mr Cubillo said.

“It looks like going back to the 90's when we had mandatory sentencing, that’s where we’re headed … we need to look at all the underlying issues."

Mr Cubillo worked on the 2016 Royal Commission into the detention and protection of children in the Northern Territory that made 227 reccomendations, and also made reference to the 339 recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991.

He believed there should instead be a focus on early intervention and working with communities on youth diversion and engagement programs that will deliver outcomes on the ground. 

"We're in a holding pattern and we watch all these recommendations and the government skate and kick the can down the road, and it's Indigenous people who are suffering, and the wider community also suffers.

“Everyone, including Indigenous people, want to be safe in their communities. It is not just non-indigenous people.”

-The Point is on NITV Tuesday's, 7:30pm AEST and on SBS at 11pm.

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