A petition threatening legal action against the Gunner Government for its perceived failure to publicly act on escalating crime has surpassed 8,400 signatures from people across the Northern Territory just a week after launching, its creator says.
The change.org petition criticises the government for “placing the rights of criminals before that of victims” and threatens a class action lawsuit against the government to “seek compensation for the financial and psychological trauma that we’ve had to endure”.
The petition was started by Alice Springs resident Ben Kitson, who said on Tuesday that the response from across the Territory has been extraordinary.
“I was extremely surprised how many (people) we were getting,” he told Mix 104.9. “I was anticipating as soon as we hit 2500, we’d start inquiring legally and we’ve actually already commenced those inquiries.
“This isn’t just Alice Springs. I’ve got people signing from Palmerston, Darwin, even in the Arnhem Land areas of the Northern Territory.”
Mr Kitson said he has spoken to legal organisations about the possibility of launching action.
“The way I was thinking, we would get a class action against the NT Government or … the NT Government would wake up to itself and realise (this is a big problem),” he said.
Mr Kitson said crime in Alice Springs has been a “nightmare”, with crime rates the worse he’s seen.
The petition highlights the fear people in Alice Springs are currently living in.
“We’ve had to live our lives planning on when we will have our homes invaded or business robbed,” the petition reads.
“We’ve had our homes invaded in the middle of the night. We’ve woken up to strangers standing over us to steal our keys next to us. We’ve been assaulted in our own homes. We’ve been assaulted in broad daylight whilst getting supplies to feed our families. We’ve had our cars stolen and vandalised. We’ve all been told that we need to foot the bill after these criminals are caught and prosecuted (that’s if the get prosecuted at all).
“But most of all we no longer feel safe anywhere not even in our own homes.”
Last Friday, Chief Minister Michael Gunner travelled to Alice Springs but ignored calls from local MLAs to discuss the community’s crime concerns.
He told ABC Radio on Tuesday that he was only in town to have bureaucratic discussions about an employee leaving a senior role in the Department of Chief Minister and Cabinet’s Alice Springs office.
He acknowledged the recent crime wave in Alice Springs and said he was “doing a lot of work making sure there are consequences in place” and that a softer approach was needed rather than hardening the NT’s bail laws.
“If you spend all your time on bail that’s after a crime has occurred,” he said.
“We want to make sure you do everything possible that the crime doesn’t occur in the first place so that’s engagement with the youth.
“We’ve got a lot of consequences out there, we’ve got good returns from the consequences in terms of not doing repeat crime.
“I think 75 per cent or something like that of kids don’t get bail – most, most, most times bail isn’t actually acknowledged … so that’s not the, that’s not the period of trouble so for me that will be a distraction.”
He later clarified that he believed 75 per cent of repeat offenders do not get bail, but that he would “double check” that.
Recently released government figures meanwhile showed that 32 of 80 overall youth arrests between July 1 and September 30 last year were offenders out on bail at the time of the offence.
Independent Alice Springs MLA Robyn Lambley said the petition is a clear indication of “just how desperate the people of Alice Springs are”.
“Their safety, happiness and future lies in the hands of a disinterested Chief Minister,” she said. “This is a serious business.”
Mr Kitson said he would now be checking the petition to ensure the names involved in any potential legal action are residents of the NT, which he speculated would be at least half the names so far. He said the costs of insurance for many who have had their businesses or homes broken into constantly were becoming untenable.
“What we would be seeking to do would be financial compensation for the emotional distress that we have been suffering,” he said.