NT federal Labor MP says families need to be more accountable for youth crime

State proposal to take unsupervised children off Alice Springs streets a ‘Band-Aid solution’ that will fail, Marion Scrymgour says

Federal Labor MP Marion Scrymgour says a Northern Territory government plan to take unsupervised children off the streets at night is “putting a Band-Aid on the situation” and she is calling for traditional owners “to show leadership on the issue”.

Scrymgour has raised concerns about the proposal in which children undertaking “risky” behaviour in Alice Springs at night would be taken into custody for assessment, and removed from their families if they are found to be continuously unsupervised.

Scrymgour said crime rates in the central Australian city have been rising for a number of years and action was needed, but called for families to be held more accountable.

“What if a child is just hanging around the streets, they’ve not been involved in a crime – what’s the legal basis for the removal of that child?” the member for Lingiari said in a statement on Friday.

“We can target young people but if we don’t make families accountable then we’re putting a Band-Aid on the situation and the Band-Aid will fall off.”

Scrymgour called for more support services and said she would consult Alice Springs’ traditional owners about the issue.

“We need to look at how we intervene in the lives of these young people to help them become productive members of society and not end up in a life of detention,” she said.

“This response needs to be led by traditional owners, who need to show leadership on this.”

Earlier this week, the NT government said work was under way to allow police and other agencies to take children undertaking “risky” behaviour at night into custody.

“We want to make sure we intervene and have a circuit breaker before that behaviour turns criminal or potentially tragic for them,” chief minister Natasha Fyles said on Thursday.

“It is essentially providing a safe place and then in daylight ascertaining what’s happening in that individual child’s life.”

She said it would allow authorities to be certain if further support for the child was required.

“This is for the best interests of that child and that family,” she said.

Asked if parents should be punished for their children’s antisocial behaviour, Fyles said on Thursday: “It’s a fairly simplistic response and these are complex issues and complex family situations.”

The proposed plan comes amid ongoing frustration with the Fyles Labor government over a perceived lack of action to combat property crime in Alice Springs.

The NT government told Guardian Australia it was working closely with territory families, housing and communities to support young people at risk due to a lack of supervision.

A government spokesperson said it would not be seeking to reform legislation, and that children taken into custody would be returned to their families. Alternative “safe-place” accommodation was a last resort.

“The safe-place accommodation will only be used where all other options for returning the young person to their family have been exhausted,” the spokesperson said.

The NT government was still working out the details of the safe-house accommodation flagged by Fyles and will ensure it’s appropriate.

“The safe-place accommodation and support program is being developed in partnership with local agencies and service providers to ensure it is fit for purpose and appropriate for the current settings in Alice Springs,” the spokesperson said.

The NT government said it is committed to investing in programs to divert youth from the criminal justice system.

“In the 2022-23 financial year, the NT government is investing $9.2m in youth diversion programs,” it said.

“A further $7.8m is used for youth outreach and re-engagement teams.”

In the recent 2022 NT budget, the government committed $76.7m for youth justice, including an additional $8m to increase youth detention staffing.

The 2022 budget also includes $64.3m to continue to construct and redevelop contemporary youth justice centres in Darwin and Alice Springs.

• This article was corrected on 12 November and 14 November 2022. Earlier versions stated that Marion Scrymgour was a senator rather than a lower house MP and gave an incorrect figure for money allocated to increasing youth detention staffing.


Sarah Collard and Australian Associated Press

The GuardianTramp

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