Three of the Northern Territory’s top ministers say they are doing all they can to stamp out a growing wave of youth crime across the jurisdiction, days after another incident in Alice Springs Township.
- The NT government has defended its response to an escalation in youth crime
- It comes after several sprees of youth crime in major regional towns across the territory over the past two weeks
- Labor is still considering a previously reported plan to remove at-risk children from their families if they are found unattended on the streets of Alice Springs at night.
There have been at least three separate bouts of youth crime in the territory in the past fortnight, with police cars rammed and pedestrians endangered by allegedly stolen vehicles driven dangerously through the city.
In response, Chief Minister Natasha Fyles, Attorney General Chansey Paech and Police Minister Kate Worden held a joint press conference this morning, denying that the government had lost control of the situation.
“The police are well and truly engaged in this process. [to see] that those levels of crime are drastically reduced,” Ms Worden said.
In the most recent incident on Saturday, police say an allegedly stolen white van was used to ram two vehicles – including an unmarked police cruiser – and drove on the wrong side of the road.
The car eventually crashed and four youths were seen fleeing on foot. Two teenagers, aged 14 and 19, were arrested.
A few days earlier, in Katherine – an upcountry town 270 kilometers south of Darwin – three teenagers, aged 14 to 16, were arrested after two allegedly stolen cars were used to ram cars. police marked in the city center.
Earlier this month, five teenagers were arrested for auto theft, reckless driving and head-on into police cruisers in the Alice Springs CBD.
Ministers say enough is being done
Ministers highlighted existing “prevention and diversion schemes” on Monday, but made no new announcements or pledged additional funding to stem the problem.
Ms Worden said the government was still working on a previously announced proposal to remove at-risk children from their families if they are found unsupervised late at night on the streets of Alice Springs.
“We are continuing to work on this process – as you can appreciate there are certain sensitivities to removing young people for their safety from the streets at night and not sending them back to a family home,” she said. .
“It’s a lot of work to do, [but] we’re not too far away from having this implemented on a trial basis.”
The government also highlighted its decision to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 as a way to help “break the cycle” of youth crime and incarceration..
Ms Fyles said significant investment was being made in youth diversion schemes.
“From January to just recently, 590 youth from across the territory participated in the diversion,” she said.
“We need to understand the circumstances where these young people are coming from and support them, prioritizing our victims so they don’t commit offenses or re-offend.”
Opposition calls for more action
While the government said it was working on a solution, the opposition called for more to be done.
The deputy leader of the country’s Liberal Party, Gerard Maley, said the government had “lost control” of youth crime.
“There are no consequences for breaching in the Northern Territory,” he said on Monday.
Mr Maley also criticized the government’s plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility, which has been welcomed by indigenous organizations and health groups.
He said the reforms “opened the door” to more youth crime because adequate diversion programs were not in place to help at-risk children.
“We say this government has the balance wrong – it puts the rights of the offender above the victim.
“They have to make sure that if [children] you’re going to commit an offence, you’re… going to go through some kind of rehabilitation program that works.
“Right now it’s not working because our crime rates are skyrocketing.”
Mr Maley said the PLC would support any “urgent action” to help victims.
The issue of crime is set to feature prominently in Parliament over the next fortnight, with changes to mandatory sentencing and legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility set to be introduced.