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Premier heads out bush to tackle youth crime

Samantha Lock -

As a swathe of increasingly violent crimes sweep across Australia's regional centres, one small northern NSW town hopes to be the blueprint for change.

Moree has suffered a spike in robberies, break-ins and car theft: evidence of an increasingly widening gap between crime rates in the country and city.

Mayor Mark Johnson acknowledges the serious problem facing his town but believes his is no different to most across the state.

"We're all faced with the same issues in the youth crime space," he told AAP.

"We have 54 agencies across town from health and education to youth crime and drug and rehab but we're getting the same result.

"We're not seeing any reduction in the level of youth crime."

Premier Chris Minns will meet town leaders on Wednesday to pitch controversial new bail laws and a suite of regional crime measures to curb a spike in violent robberies, break-ins and car theft.

He also hopes to jump-start a pilot program in which $13.4 million will be spent on provisions such as extra judicial resources, the Aboriginal Legal Service and a bail accommodation and support service for young people.

Mr Johnson is optimistic about the measures and hopes it will create a template for other towns.

"We put our hand up and said we were happy to be a test case," he said.

NSW passed "post and boast" laws in March, adding an extra two-year penalty for anyone who steals a vehicle or commits a break-in and shares material to advertise their crimes.

The controversial laws make it harder for older youths to be released on bail if charged for some serious offences while similar charges are pending.

Critics have slammed the measure as likely leading to more children - particularly Indigenous youths - being kept behind bars.

The Aboriginal Legal Service said more than half of the 4393 children sent to prison in 2023 were Indigenous.

"If jailing kids worked, we would have seen it by now," the organisation said in a statement on Tuesday.

Aboriginal community-led and Moree-based youth justice organisation Just Reinvest said initiatives should be about helping to break the cycle of crime.

"Incarceration (is) like a revolving door with the same dangerous behaviours passing on to the next generation," manager Thomas Duncan said.

Mr Johnson also knows a solution won't come in the form of a silver bullet.

"We can't jail our way out of this," he said.

The mayor believes agencies need to work collaboratively, including extending their hours during "at risk" times of the day and maintaining programs to keep kids active and engaged.

He also defended the tough bail reforms as a circuit-breaker and part of a longer-term strategy to keep children away from crime.

Mr Minns said the government had struck the right balance, with the laws applying only to the two offences of break and enter into a premises and theft of a motor vehicle.

But NSW Labor faces an internal revolt over the bail changes.

Party members will meet in Sydney on Thursday to discuss the "disproportionate impact" the legislation will have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Advocates from the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Australian Services Union will speak on repealing the changes.

Samantha Lock - AAP


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