Regional Crime Crisis Needs Action, Not Desks

NSW Nationals

When it comes to regional crime, we need to look beyond the nine to five.

Last month I set out on a week-long listening tour through some of the most impacted areas from the Northern Rivers to the Great Lakes region, bringing together locals, businesses, police and both government and non-government agencies.

It wasn't only important for me to hear from them, but also for them to hear from each other about what's working, what the issues are and how we can fix them.

As I've said many times before, each community is different and will need different solutions based on what capacity they have on the ground, so this open line of communication is crucial.

I hosted a series of round tables at Casino, Kempsey and Taree where some common themes began to emerge.

We know youth crime is rampant in the regions right now and we know kids as young as 10 are getting up to mischief.

In many cases this mischief is fuelled by boredom and this boredom is leaving people's lives and livelihoods in its wake.

I spoke to a local resident from South West Rocks, whose business became the target of five youths in South Kempsey.

They stole two trucks and went on a joy ride before setting them on fire.

This resident told me how much the incident affected their family, who faced the possibility of having to shut up shop.

Among other things, it resulted in huge loan repayments for replacement trucks, enormous insurance premiums, and the need for expensive 24/7 security monitoring.

Despite each town needing slightly different arrangements, many of them have a list of known perpetrators who keep getting bailed to the same environment they were in before they broke the law.

Local police in Casino told me they have some 38 kids in their district, who have committed about 1500 crimes between them, and the sad reality is some of these troubled youths are safer walking the streets at night, than they are within the four walls of their own homes.

As a regional MP and a father of two, that is both disgraceful and unsettling – and it reaffirms youth crime is a symptom of a much bigger problem.

Some will say this crisis isn't new … but the feedback I'm getting is the offences have become much more violent over time, and the prevalence of social media means we're also seeing them more.

At one of the forums, I met a mother of six from Coraki who was a victim of domestic and sexual abuse. She managed to break the cycle and get a university education and she now coordinates a playgroup to try and help others.

But she will be the first to point out there's nothing in the area to occupy kids and keep them off the streets.

This raises questions about the considerable lack of investment in diversionary programs.

Right now, it's only police who are available at three o'clock in the morning when these kids are up to no good, so we need to think about rosters differently when it comes to social service providers.

This requires a complete shift in the thought process where these agencies would deliver overnight services, because it's not about the nine to five.

We also need different pathways for different kids, with juvenile justice the last resort, but sometimes still required.

The different pathways would include supervision, education (not necessarily in a classroom), medication (where required) and access to a full range of programs.

Early intervention and education are key here and it needs to start as young as possible, because if you can get a child on to a certain pathway in their first 2000 days of life, then their life is completely different than if you don't.

Now that submissions have closed for the parliamentary inquiry into community safety in regional and rural communities, it is important the committee visits as many regional areas as possible.

We need to hear from the people who are being affected and the people who can be a part of the solution as we develop a holistic approach that is suited to each community.

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