Author Archive for John Rawnsley

19
Mar
11

The question of a youth curfew for Alice Springs

The national attention in Alice Springs in the last few weeks has renewed calls for a blanket youth curfew.

That young people out late at night is an issue is plain.  Just over a month ago my son was born and at 3 am whilst driving home I came across a group of about 15 young people (with some of them very young).  This was a school weeknight.  I see it regularly.  Stories of youth out late at night and up to no good are common for this time of the year but are heightened because of the media attention.  Many of the observations (not all) made in national print media about our youth are true.

Calls for a youth curfew in response to the issue have been made for some time.  I remember attending the 10th Alice Springs Town Council meeting where the issue was debated to a packed house.  It seemed to me to be the conservatively-aligned Aldermen vs the politically active youth NGO crowd.  In our current Council at least one Alderman has been vocal in his support of a curfew but no motion has been put.  The current sitting Country Liberal MLAs of Alice Springs have put a blanket youth curfew forward as their policy.  The recently formed ‘Action for Alice’ group has put is as one of their ‘demands’ to government.  Beyond saying ‘there will be a youth curfew so that young people will no longer be on the streets at night’, there are no further details provided.  No costings and no details for how it would work.  The impression is all  youth in the streets and in public at night under a youth curfew would not be there.

Although I do not deny the scale of the issue I am not in favour of a blanket youth curfew.

At its core, the proposal is aimed at eliminating the presence of youth in the streets late at night.  Many of these youth are there because it is safer then their homes.  Their homes (if they have one) are in nearly all cases caught in the trap of substance abuse (often alcohol), and all its permeating and negative effects.  Many of the young people have been abondened.  What purpose would a blanket curfew serve other than to condemn these young people to the privacy of their dysfunctional homes?  Proponents of a youth curfew would argue that these young people should not be out in the streets at night and that a curfew would put them in the contact of authorities, but isn’t this the role of an effective child welfare system?  Many commentators against a blanket youth curfew fail to advocate this specific point, and choose to put forward other points, partly because they are part of the same political system.  If the proponents of a blanket youth curfew get into government they will simply avoid the exact point (the work required for real change) and for the same reasons.

The presence of a young person left to roam the streets unsupervised is supposed to be a condition to prompt child welfare action.  If our policies were effective this scenario would lead to a personal and formal intervention.    The young person would receive the direct attention and follow-through of child welfare.  A blanket youth curfew is not a substitute for an inadequate child welfare system.  In fact, it would simply mask and skew the debate and provide a distraction to what should be the central issue.  It would lead to a political blame game and proponents of the curfew would resort to wedge based politics designed to isolate those against the curfew as being soft, weak, and not having the ‘best interests of the child’ principle at heart.  This political tactic is used time and time again.  It is motivated in-part by the game of politics and a self-belief that a youth curfew is the answer.

On a related issue, and after review after review of policies that affect young people, and a Commonwealth intervention where nearly $2b was spent in the name of protecting ‘young people’, a friend kindly referred me to this blog post which poses an interesting point to consider.

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21
Nov
10

Statehood and a letter to the editor

The Centralian Advocate printed this letter to the editor:

If the Australian constitution is to acknowledge Aboriginal people as the first Australians then this will likely be a symbolic gesture.  Symbols and acknowledgements can be important; it can lift peoples’ hopes.  Going beyond symbolism will be very difficult because changing the Australian constitution requires broad bi-partisan support from across political parties.  This support exists now, and only to the point of acknowledging the ‘first Australians’, but there is still a long way to go.
Putting the Australian constitution aside, what is more important to us is Statehood because we have the opportunity to design a completely new constitution.  We start with a blank canvass.  A planned convention in late 2011 intends to involve delegates from across the Territory to do exactly this.
What a number of us on Town Council have said, and what we are calling for others to support, is for the new constitution to actively protect and empower regions.  We want a debate at the convention about how infrastructure funds should be spread across the regions, and how people at a regional level can have more of a say as to how they are spent.  The ‘royalties for regions’ program in Western Australia has proved significant for their regions, and we want a similar program built into the new constitution so that it can’t be changed by politicians.  This would benefit Alice Springs, but also those around us. 
One main reason (there are many) is that under our current governance structure the increasing population of Darwin, Palmerston and the new city of Weddell will see a substantive increase in political power.  Regional seats will be swallowed up by the growing capital centre.  To put this in perspective, recently a Minister of the Northern Territory said that 73,000 additional people are expected to live in Darwin and Palmerston by 2025.  Imagine what this will do for the political power of Alice Springs (and the regions)?
It is clear that the local Alice Springs community will be divided about whether to change the Australian constitution, but focusing on our once-only opportunity to design a new constitution as part of Statehood should not be an opportunity wasted.  I urge all to get involved, to be part of the debate and stand up for the rights of our town and our regions

04
Sep
10

A true privilege: leadership lessons

Recently the Alice Springs Desert Leadership Group had the privilige of so many experiences as part of a Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne east coast retreat.  One powerful experience was hearing directly from the US Ambassador as to his thoughts and insights of leadership.  A picture of our group (Official U.S. Embassy photo by Travis Longmore):

13
Apr
10

Statehood and regionalisation

An issue I feel passionate about is Statehood and the possibility of designing a modern constitution for a new State.  Constitutional law was an interest during law school.  The potential we have during this important time in history is, in my view, often overlooked, and to our detriment.  With such a complex issue many Territorians are asking questions.  In one sense there is simply too much information – many questions cannot be answered because we aren’t in a point of time in our history to provide an answer.  What can follow is uncertainty masked as confusion.  Whilst this happens there is the chance for leadership and for those showing leadership to coalesce around some core principles that define us.  

Dave Richards from Alice Online kindly posted this piece about Statehood and regionalisation – a speech I recently delivered to the LGANT general meeting.  The Alice Springs News printed a modified version.  The NT News (online copy unavailable) printed a modified version over two pages in the most recent Saturday edition.

This direction builds on a previous motion passed by Council, posted here.  There are many constitutional models for devolving infrastructure decisions closer to the regions, to the bottom-up, and many constitutional models for the distribution of infrastructure resources equitably across the regions – our call is to enshrine these principles in the new constitution and discuss various models in the convention that will decide a new constitution.  More to come on this topic.

13
Mar
10

Leadership in teaching

A habit of mine of late is to read articles from the NY Times on my iPhone (the application allows you to view the most emailed articles).  This article, building a better teacher, explores the work of Doug Lemov set out in Lemov’s Taxonomy

Continue reading ‘Leadership in teaching’

07
Feb
10

Dealing with alcohol, the Scotland experience

The NY Times carried an interesting piece here about the community problems attributed to a particular alcohol product in Scotland, ‘Buckfast Tonic Wine’ (a caffeine based product with 15% alcohol).  The figures cited in relation to its connection to harm and connection to incidents involving police intervention are staggering.  Interestingly, the supplier claims that the product accounts for less than 1% of total alcohol consumption.  

In the Northern Territory (and in particular Alice Springs) there are arguments that are parrallel to the political tensions in this area of Scotland. 

In Alice Springs the nominal left advocate alcohol restrictions (both in terms of trading hours and a bottom price per unit of alcohol), and the Scottish experience is often cited.  It is put that areas of Scotland with less of a social addiction than Alice Springs have taken stronger measures  to what Alice Springs has in restricting access through floor pricing and this has had greater impact to solving their problems.  The nominal right support widening restrictions and claim to support stronger personal interventions (for example, if there were trading hours during the day than services would have a greater chance of intervention as opposed to night, although no further details as to increasing the support of these services is provided).  This prompts two questions: if less than 1% of the population is affected by this particular product than is it because the proportion of those who drink the product belong to a particular class/group as against the overwhelming majority, and, if yes, is the case put for arguments in favour of ‘selective’ interventions based on this particular group/class (which appears to be the opposing argument in the Alice Springs body politic).

The Scotland experience at a place called Coatbridge indicates that broadening the trading hours hasn’t worked, and in this particular location a bottom price per unit wouldn’t apply because the ‘Buckfast’ product cost more than the bottom price per unit.  Whilst the Coatbridge experience and circumstances are different to Alice Springs it does indicate that price is not necessarily a driver of change if addiction is prevalent to this section of society (e.g. it’s not lack of money which is necessarily the issue, but a social acceptance). 

In Alice Springs in recent years a number of measures have been put in place to restrict a person’s ability to access alcohol and it is claimed that this has led to other problems (such as break-ins to premises with alcohol).  Such claims, of course, are difficult to prove on the basis of evidence but the political and (popular) public opinion views are certainly loud and clear.  Because of this ‘other’ bubbling problem (which perceivably are not as prevalent as the previous more lax alcohol supply rules), the political capital to move the solution to the next phase (or make improvements/modifications) appears stimied.  That is, there are less local advocates arguing restricting access to alcohol as a solution moving forward, partly because this places pressure on those addicted to alcohol who resort to other harmful meas to satisfy an addiction.  Because we have stronger restrictions than most other locations the argument is often caught in this context, rather than solely looking at our locality.  To further exacerbate our political and policy dilemma, the proposals currently put to extend trading hours in Alice Springs and drop restrictions (such as the requirement to provide photo id, a measure where there is pressure to drop because, apparently, it impacts upon the ‘right’ of non-alcoholics not to always furnish id) appear to be minimalist and, worse, counter-productive. 

The NY Times piece makes interesting reading for those interested in alcohol policy and its application to Alice Springs.

September 2010 observation – lately there have been many advocates arguing for further restrictions to supply.  This more recent observation overtakes the assumption above that these voices are more limited because of the ‘bubbling’ problem of those addicted to alcohol resorting to other negative means.  With reflection, I’m not sure if the reason for this observation is attributed to a cyclical lapse of political activism or other reasons.

15
Oct
09

An Early Childhood Literacy Project in Alice Springs

As a community service project of the ‘Rotary Club of Alice Springs Mbantua’ I’m working on a project to link sponsors that cover the costs of the Kumon literacy program with early childhood aged Aboriginal recipients (and families) in Alice Springs.  Interviews for the first available scholarship will commence soon.

As this proceeds I am in the process of seeking more scholarship sponsors.  If you live in a capital city in Australia and know how to tap into capital relevant to improving literacy for Aboriginal people in a regional/remote part of our country then this could be your opportunity. 

For more information please visit www.earlychildhoodliteracy.wordpress.com




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