More needs to be done to support families caught in cycles of poverty, drugs and violence in the Kimberley town of Derby according to Nyikina man Robert Watson.
The Chairman of Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation who is also involved in delivering well-being programs to the Kimberley spoke to the National Indigenous Times following a challenging couple of weeks for those in Derby.
At the end of December a video showing an Aboriginal child (believed to be in Derby) who appeared to be smoking marijuana began circulating online and alcohol restrictions were put into place as police resources were being stretched
Mr Watson said he was horrified to see the video online.
“We’re aware that things like this would go on in the community because of the disarray, I’m not surprised.”
He described the current responses to the issues in the town as “mostly punitive” where struggling parents had children taken from their care rather than being given the support to support their children and bored but brazen youths who got in to trouble were being put into the juvenile justice system.
“Incarceration is not a succession plan,” he said.
“The opportunity is lost to really invest in the family unit and provide a pathway for the family unit to work through, we have kids being removed, parents just break away to bits when that happens, the snowball effect of that is people self-destruct.
“Aboriginal people have lived in a low socio-economic bracket for decades and decades, the ability to be able to provide what kids require, people have lost the ability to do that.
“We’ve been put on a pathway to self destruction for so long and now we are looking at what the symptoms are.”
“When we have discussions on things like this we tend to focus on the symptoms and we need to peel it back and have a look at what the causes are or could possibly be, Aboriginal people have been trying to make a difference in this place for yours but it takes political good will and commitment.”
Mr Watson said what Kimberley communities such as Derby needed were actions rather than simply words.
Over Christmas restrictions on the sale of alcohol were put in place in the town and again on New Years Day.
In a video posted to social media on January 1, Officer in Charge of Derby Police Senior Sergeant Whitnell announced the measure due to the high number of incidents emergency services were having to deal with.
— Derby Police (@DerbyPol) January 1, 2022
“In the last 12 hours we’ve attended about 54 incidents, the majority of those being alcohol fuelled and alcohol related, we’ve also attended numerous calls of assistance by St John’s ambulance.
“To compound matters, we also had a suspicious house fire which is consuming our resources and our capabilities, some of our cops here have been working around the clock and this is just not sustainable.
“If this level of alcohol fuelled harm continues, I have some real serious concerns about the safety of the community and the welfare of your emergency services personnel. Accordingly I’ve asked theLiquor Accord to implement additional takeaway restrictions of one carton of mid-strength- one bottle of wine and no spirits, I don’t make this decision lightly as I’ve said before but its a decision I’m making for the greater good.”
Police have brought in such restrictions numerous times throughout the past 12 months in an effort to reduce the amount of alcohol fuelled incidents in the town.
Mr Watson said he supported the alcohol restrictions and acknowledged that the police in Derby were stretched.
On Tuesday Police Minister Paul Papalia announced 12 additional police officers had been sent to the Kimberley to help tackle juvenile crime.
Mr Papalia said the officers will be deployed throughout the Kimberley by the District Superintendent according to operational needs.
Mr Watson welcomed the additional resources but said more still needed to be done.
“Once again it’s band-aiding the real issue, it’s protecting the public and responding to calls but it doesn’t really change the circumstances that led to the call outs,” he said.
The National Indigenous Times understands the child in the video that was circulating online, who appeared to be smoking drugs was not in the care of the State when the video began circulating online at the end of last week.
A State Government spokesperson said any instance of substance abuse among children was deeply concerning.
“The safety and wellbeing of children is always the Department of Communities’ top priority,” they said.
“We would encourage anyone who has concerns for a child’s safety or wellbeing to raise those concerns to authorities through the appropriate channels so further inquiries can be made.”
“The State Government continues to invest significantly in initiatives in the Kimberley to reduce youth offending and encourage young people to engage in positive diversionary activities.”
Senior Sergeant Dave Whitnell on Friday said the video of the child who appeared to be smoking drugs was not a police matter as the video alone was “not enough” for officers to investigate the matter.
He said if anyone was able to provide details about the age of the child, date the video was taken, and details of where it was filmed they should get in touch with police.
“There is nothing I can see in this video of others of this nature to indicate these activities occurred in Derby and it could have occurred anywhere,” he said.
“Police are always extremely concerned about these types of activities when they involve vulnerable children in our communities,” Senior Sergeant Whitnell said.
“We implore anyone who can provide further information to contact us so we can take the best course of action to protect children in these circumstances.”
The WA Police Minister’s office confirmed a meeting is scheduled today between a number of relevant ministers to discuss the issue of crimes being carried out by youths in the Kimberley.
It is understood the Attorney General, Minister for Justice, Minister for Communities and Minister for Regional Development are among those taking part.
By Aleisha Orr