Friday, May 6, 2011

Arrest powers flagged in public housing crackdown

Katrina Bolton | PM | 5 May 2011
The Northern Territory Government has proposed giving public housing safety officers the power to arrest and detain people.
Under the plan, 20 officers would be employed to patrol public housing in Darwin and Alice Springs from early next year.
Housing Minister Chris Burns says they would have the power to ban people from public housing for up to 12 months and to confiscate alcohol.
He says they will also act as witnesses in cases where tenants may be evicted from public housing.
When asked what would happen to evicted tenants, Mr Burns said: "Frankly, I don't care."
"If people are acting up, they are living in subsidised accommodation, subsidised by the taxpayer," he said.
"If they are not behaving, if they are making people's lives a misery I don't really care where they go to."
But the Police Association's Territory representative Vince Kelly is incensed.
"I am appalled that the Northern Territory Government is contemplating giving police powers to private security guards," he said.
"Private security guards do not have the same level of accountability or training or oversight as sworn police officers.
"It would seem to be the first concession from the Northern Territory Government that they do not have enough police to enforce the law in public places, including public housing commission areas."
But Mr Burns says the officers would get about six weeks training, and that the whole idea is modelled on the safety officers that already patrol the Northern Territory's bus system.
"I really see this as saving police some time and effort so that police can focus on other things that really they should be focusing on," he said.
'Treated like criminals'
None of the public housing residents PM spoke to liked the idea.
"Too many untrained unqualified yobbos work in security. I don't think that they are the right type of people to do it," one woman said.
"Now they're going to have the right to come and arrest us and all that. No I don't believe that; only police should do that," a man said.
"It's bad enough living in these conditions, horrible conditions, we don't have to be treated like we're criminals," another woman said.
Northern Territory Ombudsman Carolyn Richards has only seen a broad outline of the proposed changes but she is horrified.
"I'm actually frightened that it is going to put Australia and the Territory in breach of its international obligations under the International Convention on Human Rights," she said.
And she says it looks like the safety officers would have extraordinary powers.
"They can ban individuals from public housing premises for up to 12 months and they can issue trespass notices on the spot," she said.
"I mean that actually is restricting people's freedom of movement and there doesn't appear to be any way that it can be challenged."
But the proposal is not yet set in stone. The Territory Government says it has already established a working group, and is keen to hear public feedback.

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