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Fitzroy Crossing crisis ignored

Sarah Smit -

Fitzroy Crossing residents continue calls for government support has youth crime hits crisis point.

In 2020, the National Indigenous Times reported on a youth crisis in the area, with increased petrol sniffing and anti-social behaviour.

Patrick Green, chair of Leedal, a large Aboriginal community controlled business in Fitzroy Crossing, said there had been no government interventions since the article despite the increased youth crime rate.

It's a sentiment echoed by Fitzroy Crossing business leaders.

Fitzroy Crossing Business Network chair Phillip Hams wrote to the Shire of Derby/West Kimberley calling for urgent action to address the youth crisis in November 2020.

In the past two weeks, Hams has written again to the Police Commissioner Chris Dawson and all Western Australian Senators inviting them to the town.

Broome Chamber of Commerce and Industry acting chief executive Elicia Petite said the situation had worsened since the first letters were sent.

"There's been no serious actions taken by the appropriate departments to try and resolve these issues," she said.

Mining and Pastoral Region MLC Neil Thomson said he was surprised by how little had been done since the reports of youth crime first surfaced.

"I still get reports that is there are ongoing issues of substance abuse in the community especially among our young children - we're losing a generation."

On Monday, Fitzroy Crossing Police sergeant Neville Ripp was rushed to hospital when his police car rolled after being rammed by a stolen Toyota Landcruiser driven by a 15-year-old.

WA Police confirmed it's one of several similar incidents involving young people that have taken place in the Kimberley recently, and said they are "specifically targeting volume crime offences such as burglaries and steal motor vehicle".

"Senior officers in the region are working with other partner agencies, to discuss strategies that can be implemented to tackle youth offending within the region, as well as managing youth-at-risk within the region," they said.

But Green said Fitzroy Crossing desperately needs more government support in town to address the social issues.

"I'm worried about the kids because they are our future," he said.

"They've got very little in the way of support and services to help guide them."

"Some of these kids come from very difficult backgrounds and they really do need to be provided those alternatives," added Thomson said.

"The massive challenge is we're seeing a lot of the services delivered through FIFO services through Perth and Broome and that, I think, is not a good thing."

"We need to have more service provision within the towns and more investment needs to be done definitely in those diversionary services."

Green and Hams said the issue is exacerbated by a lack of adequate housing in the town for both residents and the social workers that are needed.

"That's why the services are probably a bit slow in coming, because you can't house people in town," Green said.

"The people who provide these services ought to be living in town. They ought to be spending 3 or 4, or 6 or 12 months [in Fitzroy Crossing]," Hams said.

"What I do see is a hell of a lot of Toyotas cruising up and down the road on a Monday and Friday."

Petite said the issues are driving residents out of Fitzroy Crossing, with as many as 20 residents, including business owners and government workers, looking at leaving due to the social unrest.

"I think our situation is critical. We're at a turning point. And if you're going to get people wanting to leave the town, you do have a problem," Hams said.

"Is it because of lack of activities [for the children]? Is it a lack of services provided to the police? What is the real problem?" Green asked.

Green called on the Premier to tap into the budget surplus to fund culturally appropriate services like ones that have worked in the past.

"Those programs included kids working with Elders who were transferring skills, empowering communities to have governance where they could make laws and address concerns in the communities," he said.

"We've had services that worked in the past, so where are those additional funds? You know, we've got a rich state, so what are some of those funds doing to address our social concern?"

Kimberley MP Divina D'Anna told the National Indigenous Times she had been travelling to the town recently to have "discussions with stakeholders, community members and organisations as well as service providers".

"I know that there has been real concern from the community in regards to recent events, and I do understand that there are initiatives being driven by local people," she said

"To keep our community and our young ones safe we need to all be working collaboratively."

The National Indigenous Times approached the offices of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson and Communities Minister Simone McGurk regarding early intervention programs and social services available to young people in Fitzroy Crossing.

The questions were referred to Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston.

Minister Johnston's office responded that $7.8 million had been allocated to the Kimberley Juvenile Justice Strategy in the State Budget, which included funding for a new night patrol program in the town.

By Sarah Smit


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