Chief Minister Michael Gunner has come under fire for refusing to strengthen bail laws for repeat young offenders that Opposition and independent politicians say would protect the community from an ongoing Territory-wide crime spree.
According to recently released arrest figures from Estimates hearings, there were 32 arrests of youth offenders who were out on bail between July 1 and September 30, of 80 overall arrests for the same time period.
But the Chief Minister said he has no interest in changing the laws that currently have a presumption of release for young offenders.
“No, I don’t think that’s the issue,” he told Mix 104.9 on Wednesday.
Deputy CLP Opposition leader Gerard Maley said Mr Gunner is out of touch with the community’s expectations on crime and needs to take action immediately.
“At a time when Territorians are looking for increased consequences, Michael Gunner and his soft on crime Labor Government are not only making it easier for (young) offenders to get bail but have also removed breach of bail conditions as an offence,” he said.
“There are no consequences for repeat offenders.”
A recent spate of crime has resulted in some businesses closing in Darwin and last weekend more than 25 homes and businesses were broken into in Alice Springs from Friday to Monday.
Independent Alice Springs MLA Robyn Lambley said her constituents have had enough of government inaction as youth crime skyrockets.
“The lack of action by the Gunner Government is sickening,” Ms Lambley said.
“Crime has never been this bad in Alice Springs and it is getting worse. People are leaving or planning to leave Alice Springs in droves. Our safety and happiness as a community is being compromised to the point whereby people cannot see a future in Alice Springs.”
Even after a death, government has taken no action to fix youth crime problems: Lambley
Ms Lambley pointed to the death last October of Alice Springs man Shane Powell who was allegedly killed by a teen while on bail in a stolen car as an example of the government’s inaction.
She said a similar incident in Queensland this week, that saw two pedestrians hit and killed by a young offender in a stolen car, has been handled much better by Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who ordered a coronial inquiry and full police investigation into the circumstances around the incident, as well as pledging to strengthen laws to protect the community.
“Once again, I call on the NT Gunner Labor Government to follow the words of Annastacia Palaszczuk and address this serious problem,” Ms Lambley said. “There must be legislative changes and a more proactive approach.”
Meanwhile, Mr Gunner wrote to Alice Springs town council this week informing council that the best way for them to deal with their out-of-control crime problem is to engage kids in “community activities”.
He also offered cash for those activities and facilities.
“The council has many options available for youth and community activities and government has offered funding for facilities that will engage the town’s youth,” he wrote.
“While the Northern Territory government has been very active in working to address community safety, social and economic challenges, many of these can only be achieved with the co-operation of the council.”
Alice Springs CLP MLA Josh Burgoyne said bail laws needed to be changed and immediate action taken to reduce crime.
“In 2017 Michael Gunner admitted the youth justice system was broken, but instead of fixing it, has promoted a system that lets victims down and puts offenders first,” he said.
“Crime, and particularly youth crime, is out of control from the Top End to Central Australia. The youth justice system has collapsed and victims of crime have been abandoned by this Gunner Labor Government.”
On Thursday, NT Police’s media unit issued a statement to inform the public they had arrested three youths in relation to “a number of unlawful entries” in Alice Springs over the weekend. The youths were apprehended while driving in an allegedly stolen car.
Two 13-year-old boys were arrested and charged for the alleged unlawful entries, while another young offender was found to be breaching bail conditions. The 13-year-olds are to appear before court, police said, while “one youth was bailed and will be dealt with under the Youth Justice Act”.