As WA government ministers and community leaders gather for their second crisis meeting in as many weeks, a leaked briefing note has painted a grim picture of the crime plaguing Kimberley communities.
- A leaked briefing note reveals juvenile offending in the Kimberley has increased 54 per cent in two years
- The ministerial meeting addressed reports of offenders’ “sense of impunity” about Banksia Hill Detention Centre
- Kimberley residents say the region is reaching breaking point
The note was prepared in the wake of an initial meeting held in Perth last week, after months of tension triggered by escalating juvenile crime in Kimberley communities.
Citing information from WA Police, it reveals juvenile offending across the region is up 54 per cent on the previous two-year average, with 526 burglaries reported during 2021 alone, and 273 children identified as involved with serious offending.
Police have also raised concerns about the increasingly brazen offending, citing ram raids, the ramming of a police vehicle that left a Fitzroy Crossing sergeant seriously injured, and the death of a 12-year-old girl in a stolen car in the town last year.
The widely-shared video of a young child smoking a bong in Derby, egged on by adult onlookers, was also highlighted.
The note also revealed potential causes for current crime trends including a “media-driven attraction to US-style gang culture” characterised by one-upmanship and social media coordination.
It also noted a “sense of impunity” from some offenders who struggled to see Banksia Hill Detention Centre as a punishment.
The meeting was called by Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan prior to Christmas, and included Attorney General John Quigley, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti, Police Minister Paul Papalia and local member Divina D’Anna.
Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston and Child Protection Minister Simone McGurk were not able to attend but were later briefed by their staff.
In a public statement put out after the meeting, a spokesman for Ms MacTiernan said there was no overnight fix for the problem, but the state government would be undertaking an audit of all services and programs currently running in the Kimberley to “get a better understanding of what is working, and where resources could be better directed”.
A second meeting will be held later this week.
Confetti of funding to ‘modest programs’
News of the audit has come nearly 18 months after the start of the Kimberley Juvenile Justice Strategy rollout.
The documents obtained by ABC confirm the Department of Justice requested $30 million for the project, but the bid was knocked back by cabinet.
Instead, $7.8 million has been allocated to a series of crime prevention programs such as night patrols and on-country camps.
But Kimberley community leaders have expressed concerns about the strategy, saying it’s nowhere near what is needed to reign in the offending.
The briefing note conceded the money had mostly gone to “modest preventative programs”.
The note acknowledged gaps in services including on-country alternatives to prison and residential facilities that help provide a safe place for children to go.
The document stated there had been discussions about converting the existing Wyndham work camp into a youth detention centre.
‘The talk needs to end’
The insight into government thinking comes amid growing concern about potential vigilantism in WA’s north.
Residents regularly share images of young offenders in community social media groups, which attract comments recommending locals use weapons to defend their properties.
There is growing frustration among Aboriginal community leaders.
Halls Creek resident and Bunuba Kija woman Millie Hills said she believed the problem was worsening Kimberley-wide.
“It’s actually getting real, real bad,” she said.
“You know, back in the 80s and 90s, you hardly ever heard of this sort of behaviour from the kids.
“The kids have just gone off the rails and we need to bring them back and bring them back in in a positive way.”
Fitzroy Crossing businessman John Rodrigues said his building had more than 30 break-ins over the course of November and December – including seven in a single night.
“It started at 9:30pm, and the last one was 6:30am. We just couldn’t get back to sleep, [we were] back and forth,” he said.
“We send the paperwork out to new employees and we feel really good that they’re coming, [and then they Google Fitzroy Crossing] and we get the phone call.
“[The staff] have just had enough, they just want to go … mentally, physically, they have had enough.”
Fitzroy Crossing’s Leedal chairman Patrick Green said he understood the current frustrations across the Kimberley – particularly with ineffective reports, meetings and government initiatives.