Charity Hedland’s concerns over taxi strikes in response to youth crime


Taxi drivers in Port and South Hedland are threatening to go on strike again if nothing is done to tackle youth crime in the cities.

The drivers returned to work on Monday after a seven-day strike, but say they will walk off the job again in four weeks if their concerns are not addressed by authorities.

But a local charity says vulnerable people will struggle to get to urgent medical appointments and buy basic supplies as they often rely on taxis.

Ozi Taxis owner Kristi-Anne Spoljaric said the strike was sparked by several incidents of dangerous rock-throwing by groups of children and teenagers.

She said the vandalism endangered drivers, damaged cars and cost taxi companies thousands of dollars.

Ms Spoljaric said local industry wanted Operation Regional Shield, which has seen an increase in police and deployed assets in the Kimberley, deployed in the Pilbara to crack down on youth crime.

Ozi Taxis says throwing rocks costs them thousands of dollars.(Provided: Ozi Taxis)

“We keep trying to pay for the windows and the kids are breaking them, almost every day,” Ms Spoljaric said.

Police Minister Paul Papalia did not respond directly to a question posed by the ABC about whether the state government planned to deploy Operation Regional Shield in Hedland, but said he there were more police than ever in the Pilbara.

Ms Spoljaric said the city’s taxi companies had met with government and police officials to share their concerns.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said it was supporting Hedland’s on-demand reservation services with guidance to ensure their safety management systems properly protect drivers and passengers.

A person's hand holding a large yellow rock
Mrs. Spoljaric says that stone was thrown at one of her taxis.(Provided: Ozi Taxis)

Vulnerable residents lack essential transport

Port Hedland’s charity, Bloodwood Tree, works with vulnerable and at-risk Aboriginal people in the city.

General manager Kelly Howlett said many of their customers were affected by the strike because they relied on taxis to get around.

She said people struggled to get around for daily tasks such as doctor’s appointments and food shopping.

“There is a very high proportion of people, especially in South Hedland, who don’t have access to a working vehicle or don’t have a licence,” she said.

“We had a number of customers who couldn’t access their banking services, couldn’t shop.

A broken rear window of a taxi
Ozi Taxis owner Kristi-Anne Spoljaric says vandalism is a safety concern.(Provided: Ozi Taxis)

She said service providers were not informed of the strike before it happened and responding to future actions by taxi drivers would require planning from stakeholders across the community.

Juvenile delinquency, a complex problem

South Hedland Police Senior Sergeant in Charge Gordon Armstrong said he met with local taxi companies and understood their concerns.

He said youth crime was a complex problem that could not be easily solved by the police.

“These kids are young and they’re just kids,” he said.

“Yes, we have to take care of them, but no, we don’t need to lock up these children at this age.”

Medium close-up of Kelly Howlett's face.  She is sitting in front of a brick wall.
Kelly Howlett, CEO of the Bloodwood Tree Association.(ABC Pilbara: Karen Michelmore)

Ms Howlett backed that up and said tackling youth crime would require a ‘multi-faceted’ approach from local leaders and authorities.

“It’s not something unique and special for Hedland. It’s a challenge we all face across the country,” she said.

Mr Papalia said the state government had provided additional funding for WA Police to carry out targeted operations in the WA area.

“The state government is committed to continuing its efforts to reduce juvenile delinquency by identifying young people at risk early and engaging them in positive activities and preventing them from becoming involved in criminal behavior in the first place” , did he declare.


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