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Opinion: Peter Murray on addressing youth crime

Peter Murray

Last week, we heard that there were growing calls from the community for a bush-based detention centre in the Kimberley. While I believe this would be better than the current situation (with Kimberley children flown to detention in Perth), I don’t think it addresses the underlying issues.

Many of our children are driven to commit crimes because of dysfunctional home lives and boredom. During the long, wet season school holidays, there aren’t a lot of activities in Kimberley towns, especially for kids in secondary school.

I think it’s too simple to assume that if kids have a strong grounding in law and culture, they will commit fewer crimes. Having just finished law business around Fitzroy Crossing, I have seen children with the perception that because they are now considered ‘men’, they no longer have to attend school. Some local families also encourage this perception.

Addressing issues of youth crime really needs to start with families, and if families are dysfunctional, other organisations need to step in. We have the infrastructure—both from Aboriginal-run and government-run organisations. Many of these organisations even have a specific mandate to support children and families to live healthy lives. But unfortunately, it’s been my experience that they do not always work effectively, or work together.

I think it’s achievable, I think we can turn around this trend toward crime in our communities. But I don’t think any one organisation can do it alone. An issue of this complexity requires a whole community response. The funding is there. The facilities and the services are there. What we must find now is the will to work together.