NT Police search for missing man Yun-Seob Shin in Central Australia



Northern Territory Police believe a man who has been missing in Central Australia since Thursday was planning to go camping in a national park west of Alice Springs.

An air and land search for 37-year old Yun-Seob Shin got underway yesterday amid temperatures reaching close to 40 degrees Celsius.

Police said Mr Shin, who is believed to be from Victoria and drives a white Nissan X-Trail, had been in Alice Springs for the past month.

He failed to show up to work yesterday morning.

His colleagues told police he had advised them of his intentions to go camping near Boggy Hole or Palm Valley on Thursday and Friday.

The two campsites are in the Finke Gorge National Park, about 140 kilometres west of Alice Springs.

Police said Mr Shin’s last confirmed location was at the Stuart Well Roadhouse, 90 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs, on Thursday.

“It is unknown what provisions or bush skills Mr Shin has, and police hold concerns for his welfare.”

Police are urging anyone with information about Mr Shin to contact them on 131 444.



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How our most troubled young people are falling through the cracks … and some possible answers


By RAINER CHLANDA

Images by TAMARA CORNTHWAITE

In the most extreme cases, troubled young people in Alice Springs can be surrounded by a dizzying number of services: they may have a primary case manager with an NGO; a bed and an assigned worker at ASYASS; a youth outreach worker (YORET) managing their parole amongst a case-load of 30 or so; they may be in a domestic violence program with Tangentyere and a substance misuse program with DASA; they may have St Joe’s College attempting an at-home pickup every day; be in a diversionary program with The Gap Youth Centre; be seeing a psychologist at Congress; and have a Territory Families Child Protection Case Worker that oversees all of this from afar.

But, I know from experience, it isn’t uncommon for a week to go by without anybody sighting them and that’s not through a lack of trying.

This isn’t to say that those programs are completely ineffective – they may enjoy good engagement and do meaningful work, but many who are most at risk, of harm and of contact with Youth Justice, who have high needs and may be recidivist offenders are falling through the cracks.

The young people concerned here are often highly transient – constantly on the move and staying between numerous homes. This may be to avoid certain homes where trouble is brewing or seek out others where a payment has come in so therefore the power is on and there’s more food to go around.

They are also constantly motivated by a desire to maintain contact and strong relationships with numerous family members. The same motives have many spontaneously jumping in a car and disappearing out bush.

If these young people don’t feel compelled to reach out to a service of their own volition, it is incredibly difficult to locate them, let alone have them engage with you.

We are failing them and at the same time not making headway on what many consider to be the town’s number one issue – youth-led antisocial and criminal activity.

Maybe it’s time to think beyond our usual responses.

These photographs were taken at the Meeting Place, behind Adelaide House, right in the centre of town. Run by volunteers it demonstrated the demand for a drop-in centre in the CBD as soon as it opened its doors. It could be a hive of activity; it could also be a place for young people to sleep safely (see at top and below). 

To work with troubled youth in any setting we need to acknowledge the real agency they have and accept that coaxing them into doing anything they don’t want to do is an uphill battle and usually fruitless.

Anyone who’s worked as a carer in residential care homes will know this too well. Despite there being an expectation or “rule” that the young people in care “must” go to school or be home at a certain hour, if they decide they want to skip school or walk out the door in the middle of the night, they will do so almost invariably, despite all efforts by the carers to stop them.

People are often amazed and appalled to hear how a young vulnerable person is “allowed” to make such decisions, but this is the point: As you cannot, for good reasons including legal ones, physically stop them from enacting their will, the only way to have any sway over their actions is through a strong and trusting relationship – whether someone is “allowed” barely comes into it.

The bulk of the public, including policy makers, are far removed from the youth concerned in this article. In thinking about what to do, they are likely left referencing the non-troubled young people in their own lives – who are far more inclined to take instructions and obey rules – projecting this experience onto how troubled young people may behave and what they will respond to. Not surprisingly, this is terribly misleading.

Our community’s anger that the streets are unsafe to walk through at night, that our homes are continually broken into (I certainly haven’t been spared), that at the worst of times the recklessness and chaos on the streets can result, as it did for motorcyclist Shane Powell last month, in a life being tragically cut short, is understandable.

Anger is a natural response to injustice. Indeed, it’s surely one of the prevalent emotions that motivate young people to offend. But we can’t let it lead us to irrationally support over-simplified and punitive reactions that have been proven ineffective.

With young people running riot in the street at night it is tempting to support the introduction of a curfew. It tempts us the way any proposal that employs strong language and basic notions to remedy complex issues does (like building a wall, or stopping a boat), and does so despite research “cast[ing] strong doubts on the claims that juvenile curfew laws prevent victimisation or reduce juvenile crime” and even finding that “juvenile crime during curfew hours was slightly positive — that is a slight increase in crime.”

If the police were to attempt to remove from the street all the young people who are out at 10pm every night, I anticipate a never-ending game of cat and mouse. There’s already a culture of this – many young people have told me gleefully of times they’ve “taken coppers for a run”.

Then, if they’re caught, they might resist, possibly committing an offence. Once they’re taken home (if not into custody) most of them would simply walk back to town or roam the suburbs.

In this scenario, possibly contributing to the likelihood of residential break-ins, the allocation of extensive police resources comes at a great expense to the public in dollars as well as safety: police will surely be slower to respond to emergencies if preoccupied chasing kids and being taxi for them. 

It also achieves yet another potential point of contact with the justice system for a demographic that’s already massively over-represented in the courts and gaols, and merely shifts any anti-social and criminal activity to the suburbs and potentially into homes where people are vulnerably sleeping.

We are taught in trauma-informed practice that challenging behaviour should be understood as “acting out”; actions that demonstrate unmet need when one doesn’t have the capacity to express the need in words. If we accept that young people, choosing to misbehave on the streets late at night rather than stay at home, indicates unmet needs and psychological distress, then we should accept that any policy or measure that isn’t aimed at correcting these underlying causes is futile in a fundamental way.

Another tempting notion and popular trope is that we must “hold parents to account.” I’m often struck by the vagueness of this statement and that those voicing it don’t feel obliged to elaborate, as though it is a policy in itself.

How does one hold someone else to account in this context? I assume the idea isn’t referring to holistic service delivery where programs aim to extend inclusion and support to the families of young people in need. I assume it’s referring instead to coercive social-engineering measures such as cutting child-support payments to the caregivers of kids not attending school, or, as some have suggested, making caregivers pay for the damage to property that their children do.

The appeal of measures like this is obvious but misguided; they satisfy the desire to penalise the presumed caregiver for their negligence, but where’s the evidence that their negligence or inability to keep their young people out of trouble can be remedied with a small financial penalty?

There is ample evidence showing that impoverished communities have higher rates of dysfunction, incarceration, drug and alcohol abuse, and violence, so why would further entrenching their poverty help foster responsible caregiving?

In my experience working with young people in contact with the justice system and their families, caregivers are unable to provide sufficient supervision and care to their dependents either because their modest resources (including energy) are exhausted by the demands of large families and pressures of their struggling community, or their capacity to provide adequate care has been too badly damaged by their own history of trauma. Any effort to encourage responsible caregiving that isn’t aimed at correcting these underlying causes is futile in a fundamental way.

After years working in the youth sector close to the most at-risk, high needs, disengaged, recidivist offenders with complex trauma, I believe that only culturally-informed therapeutic practices can increase their psychological wellbeing and strengthen support networks, and that this is the only long-term protective factor against offending.

Programs must interrupt, not contribute to, the vicious, hopeless cycles young offenders exist in. There are developed frameworks informed by sound research that teach us how to work in this way; there are skilled practitioners and strong leaders ready to act; the resources are there; but the challenge of how to achieve a meaningful level of engagement from our most vulnerable young people, remains unsolved. 

Apart from the very few philanthropically funded programs in Alice Springs, all other initiatives aimed at working with troubled youth of course rely on government funding, so must have a political (and therefore public) appeal. I fear the dilemma we’re in is that a program which has any hope of engaging young offenders to a meaningful degree may have no public or political appeal in the current climate.

But, motives aside, what everyone ultimately wants is for the young people in trouble to be staying out of trouble and in safe and responsible environments, right?

We are taught in trauma-informed practice that it is counter-productive trying to talk to people about their behaviour when they are “escalated”. When they are “escalated” or “heightened” their sympathetic nervous system is “hyper-aroused”, meaning they are in fight or flight mode and have reduced executive functioning (the mental processes responsible for reflection, controlling emotions, following instructions etc).

We are taught to help them de-escalate (to assist them in calming down and “coming back into themselves”) by promoting safety, both physical and emotional. Only once they feel safe and again have access to all faculties of their brain do we attempt to address the behaviour.

Perhaps our responses to youth are hamstrung by a system where programs aimed at servicing this highly vulnerable demographic are only funded when they promise to pursue outcomes that have political appeal, and that this very mandate is what dooms the programs.

If the intended recipients have complex trauma they may simply not be ready to talk about, for example, their substance misuse or offending, or their experience of family violence. Nor do they feel calm enough to enter an educational setting.

What if there was a program for high-risk young offenders that initially put all of the usual objectives aside, and instead made its primary objective achieving nothing else but regular engagement?

Beyond supervision and occupation, ongoing engagement would allow many incidental therapeutic benefits, such as the building of strong and trusting relationships (secure attachments); exposure to good role models, with physical and emotional safety ensured by responsible adults; basic necessities such as food being secure; experiencing structure (going to the same place regularly at a certain time, seeing the same people who maintain the same regard for you and expectations of you etc) thereby providing predictability which promotes safety.

Positive senses of self and healthy life-narratives are promoted through a strength based approach and positive reinforcement, and respectful and healthy relationships are modelled. Other services needing to make contact with the young person would also benefit from having a reliable place to look for their client. All of this can be done at the same time as doing whatever it is (within reason) that keeps the young person engaged.

The program should be allowed time to achieved prolonged (say three months) and regular (most days of the week) engagement. The young person needs to have calmed, to be within their “window of tolerance”, which means the range of nervous system arousal that’s considered healthy and allows full brain function. And they need to have formed trust with the workers and one another (the work should be done with a small cohort, known to one another already). Then the difficult sensitive discussions can be attempted, and work towards outcomes like school attendance can carefully begin.

The merits of such a program reflect the thinking and frameworks I learnt working as a case manager in an intensive youth support service. Essentially case managers and support workers in various programs are permitted to work this way, but are not given the time, nor the support (they often work alone but have supervision) nor the resources to achieve regular engagement.

Even in an “intensive” (meaning a small caseload) support service, case managers will have to support, through a five-day week, around seven high-needs clients, who are the centre of their focus, as well as their families.

The working week can easily be consumed by seeking emergency relief, responding to crises, supporting young people to attend appointments (this is often the biggest challenge), diversion commitments, court appearances and so on. All of this is of course important work, but it means the therapeutic work inevitably falls by the wayside.

So how might a program seek to reach and engage the young people who have for the most part avoided all other services? I am arguing that it would be by meeting them wherever their interests lie and wherever they move to.

We can look to programs with obvious successes and at what young people outside a structured setting show interest in, but this should only provide a range of ideas that the program can offer, not a model the program is bound to by a funding agreement.

I’ve observed in my own work and in other services young people responding strongly to bike riding (especially on the mountain bike trials going way out into our calming and beautiful landscape), bush trips, playing music, dancing, cultural practices (there appears to be nothing more precious to Aboriginal youth than their Aboriginality), mechanics, hunting, and camping. 

Many young people seek out the company of their family members first, followed by members of their language groups, then Aboriginal people more broadly.

It’s evident that they wish to be visible, to be seen by the public and be amongst the community – they choose spaces in the CBD over other public youth spaces like the skatepark.

Stealing food tells us they’re hungry, running amok in town shows us that they yearn attention.

Informed by observations such as these, a program could be well prepared to offer a range of things likely to appeal to the group; it could form client cohorts of family members or language groups, be predominantly (if not entirely) run by trained Aboriginal workers and ideally of the same language group as the client; it could ensure some activities are done in the public eye; it could have at its disposal the necessary basic resources like food, bikes, instruments, tools. But importantly, it must not prescribe any of these things but rather have them as options the young people are free to take up.

I worked for years with a young fella who was, and still is, in and out of detention, predominantly for joyriding in stolen cars. I developed a close and trusting relationship with him and his family, he’d seek my support and company regularly and we engaged in numerous recreational activities together, but his interests were always fleeting.

I tried endlessly to encourage his involvement in organised sports, other programs, workshops – all to no avail. Then I caught wind of an opportunity for a troubled young person made available by local business Jetcor Yamaha.

After a series of break-ins where motorbikes were stolen and their shop badly damaged, Garth (the owner), in recognising the town’s disadvantaged young people’s obvious want for the thrills of motor sports, responded by setting up the Sadadeen Quad Squad.

This is an ongoing program where kids from Sadadeen Primary School are rewarded for their good attendance and behaviour with the opportunity to ride quad bikes at the motocross track.

Garth also offered to fix up a rally car for a young person to use as their own (paint job with their name on it and all) and race at Arunga Park Speedway.

I got in quick and Garth reserved the offer for my client. I was convinced that this would finally be the thing to grab him, it was the perfect fit, but when I gave my excited spiel there was barely a moment’s consideration before he said, “Nah, I’m right.”

He was never able explain to me why it didn’t appeal, but I learned the lesson regardless; no matter how well informed you may be about a young person and their interests, nor how remarkable an offer is, you don’t know what will stick until you try, and for some nothing at all will stick for long.

The inability to maintain focus is another deficit that those with complex trauma often experience. When you’re in fight or flight mode, you’re hyper-vigilant, constantly scanning for threats, and you therefore cannot afford to become completely absorbed in a single task.

To stay with those who spend so much time in this mode we need to remain ready to abandon an activity and move on to whatever else will sustain them. If we don’t, they will simply walk. Above all else, something just needs to hold onto them. This is why it’s important that a program isn’t shackled by a narrow mandate.

In writing this I anticipate a backlash; I can already hear the responses –“So we’re going to reward criminal behaviour with a program that provides fun activities and lets kids do what they want?”

To this I say, that thinking about these kids as criminals first and as victims of far greater injustices later, is precisely where we take the first wrong step. When a study was conducted in a Youth Detention Centre in Perth assessing the cognitive functioning of the children detained, 89 per cent were found to have a severe cognitive impairment.

Serious offending doesn’t happen in a vacuum nor does cognitive impairment; they are often the result of abuse and neglect; of trauma. Any response to these young people that doesn’t acknowledge their trauma and promote healing is futile in a fundamental way.

Let us be of big enough heart and mind to respond to the real needs of these young people, then we can begin everything else.

 

 

Rainer Chlanda is an Alice Springs-born youth worker and winner of the Fitzgerald Youth Award – NT Human Rights Awards 2018. He has worked for a number of NGOs in Alice Springs and Melbourne, including as a case manager and a program coordinator.

 

Related reading:

 

Real young people, not the faceless offender

Turn rock-throwing into backflips: how community can help

Keeping youth in sight

Youth crisis: broken window of tolerance

 



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Indigenous rangers to start Top End burning project to stop large savanna bushfires


Indigenous ranger groups in the western Top End are starting a joint carbon farming business to prevent damaging wildfires.

Savanna burning during the early dry season reduces emissions from severe fires later in the year, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide into the air.

Rangers say better fire management will also prevent environmental damage from widespread savanna fires across the Daly River/Port Keats Aboriginal Land Trust.

Jaemie Page runs the Healthy Country program with the Thamarrurr Rangers, based in the Aboriginal community of Wadeye, 240 kilometres south-west of Darwin.

“The history of this part of the western Top End is big fires just going right across the whole land trust every year,” he said.

Fighting wildfires

The carbon abatement project is a joint effort between Thamarrurr Rangers, Asyrikarrak Kirim Rangers, and Wudicupildiyer Rangers.

Wadeye traditional owner and Thamarrurr ranger Dominic Bunduck said it provided a unique opportunity for regional collaboration.

“Other rangers enjoy helping one another as a team,” Mr Bunduck said.

Wadeye traditional owner and Thamarrurr ranger Dominic Bunduck is eager to share his firefighting skills with the next generation.(ABC Rural: Jon Daly)

The income generated from carbon credits derived from burning in the early dry season will help support traditional owners and ranger groups’ firefighting efforts across the region.

Uriah Crocombe is standing in front of bushland that has recently been set on fire.
Thamarrurr ranger Uriah Crocombe says the burning project will provide more work for people living in remote outstations.(ABC Rural: Jon Daly)

The final hurdle is the approval of a Section 19 Land Use Agreement which is currently being brokered by the Northern Land Council and expected by the end of the year.

Funding from the Indigenous Land and Sea Council is providing training and equipment to prepare rangers for the 2021 dry season and beyond.

Carbon income creating jobs

While income from carbon credits is not yet accessible, rangers conducted early burns during this year’s dry season and counted the tonnes of carbon abated.

Such saving of carbon amounts to roughly $500,000 based on current prices in the carbon market, and operations this year have employed more than 30 extra causal fire rangers, according to Mr Page.

An indigenous ranger is using a fire lighter to leave a trail of flames in the bush behind him.
Income earnt from carbon credits will support ongoing early burning programs and firefighting efforts across the region.(ABC Rural: Jon Daly)

Mr Page said it was an important way to diversify sources of income for ranger groups, making them less reliant on government grants.

The project could also provide benefits for other businesses in the region.

Traditional owner David Hewitt runs a bushfood business harvesting mainly Kakadu plums near the remote community of Wudicupildiyerr.

“We had a pretty rough first year, we picked about 300 kilograms of fruit, then we got burnt out,” he said.

“Second year, we picked four times that amount and we got burnt out again. So fire is our biggest threat out here.”

Mr Hewitt hopes the fire management and carbon abatement project boosts firefighting efforts and coordination in the land trust.

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Kids and crime: the beginning of winning


By ERWIN CHLANDA

The good cop – bad cop routine has been part of law enforcement since Eve stole the apple. Now it’s set to take on the entrenched juvenile delinquency of Alice Springs.

Strike Force Viper is definitely the bad cop, judging by frequent police media releases about their use “tyre deflation devices” (remote control model pictured above), car chases and drones surveillance since October 13.

And now enter Operation Lunar, cops teaming up with government departments, NGOs and angels in heaven to entice the arch baddies from the social media pages to swap sides for “a normalised structure of being at home, go to bed over night, go to school, have their leisure activities and sports over the weekend … becoming positive contributors to society, that would be a long term goal. There is obviously a bit of a way ahead for us,” as new police Commander Craig Laidler (at right) puts it.

He looks into the future with assertiveness and a healthy dose of self-confidence.

Asked what progress the Southern Command has achieved lately, he answers: “They’ve got me for one.”

The Viper unit is not distracted by other duties, exclusively focussed on property crime.

“But you can’t arrest your way out of these problems and that’s where Operation Lunar comes into it. That’s the real difference.

“It’s a co-located model – police, Department of Territory Families, Housing and Communities, Department of Health, Department of Education, who also work with NGOs, providing the intervention which the at-risk youths require to shift them away from offending,” says CMR Laidler.

Tens of thousands of words have been written or spoken in Alice Springs about what needs to be done with out-of-control kids on the street.

A 24/7 drop-in centre is the current consensus on what has been the missing link. We now have one, instigated by Families Minister Kate Worden, at corner Wills Terrace and Stuart Highway.

Now the debate has turned to the following key issue: Should that facility have an open-door, with the kids able to come and go as they please?

What if kids start to regard the drop-in centre as a convenient place between plundering forays? The present public view seems to be: Let’s give the current open door policy a chance to work.

NEWS: Should the 24/7 facility have beds?

LAIDLER: I don’t think that’s a call for me to make. There is crisis accommodation available for youths.

NEWS: What happens when a young person leaves the premises in the wee hours? Are police notified? What do they do?

LAIDLER: It depends on the circumstances, who the young person is, on the time, their reasoning for leaving. Are they collected in a vehicle to be taken home? We have a duty of care. We need to find a safe location with a responsible adult. If that is not possible we would transfer that custody to Territory Families.

NEWS: At Logan, near Brisbane, police partner with social workers on their rounds (report by JULIUS DENNIS).

VIDEO: Norton Peters, from Yuendumu, in town last weekend.

LAIDLER: I am familiar with Logan. I think we’re already doing very similar things at the moment and to some extent we might be a little bit in front. They seem to be doing a great job.

NEWS: Police have spoken out against a youth curfew. Why?

LAIDLER: I don’t believe it’s the solution. That lies with what we’re doing at the moment, with engagement, positive intervention, a number of agencies all contributing.

NEWS: Leaving politics aside for the moment, how many fewer officers could you get by with if a youth curfew were introduced, if there were no kids in the street after dark?

LAIDLER: I think that’s an over simplistic view, that the curfew would be the silver bullet. A curfew would simply put another law in place. It’s not changing the behaviour of the youths. Just having another rule in place doesn’t change their behaviour. We still would have youths and behaviour to deal with.

NEWS: The Southern Command, judging by establishment numbers, has three times as many police officers per head of population when compared to the national average. How come, with all those police, there are entrenched problems – youth crime at the top – that we can’t get a handle on?

LAIDLER: I don’t think we have youth problems that we can’t get a handle on. We are seeing a lot of these problems with positive outcomes already.

NEWS: What do you think about the assertion that police don’t reduce crime. Society does.

LAIDLER: Absolutely, society makes a difference. That’s why I said before we can’t arrest our way out of these problems. Police are part of the picture but absolutely, society sets the standard. It takes a contribution of the entire community to make a difference, working in partnership.

NEWS: There is an ongoing debate about what illegal incarceration means. I understand it means taking someone to a place and stopping him or her from leaving, although they have not committed a crime and nor are they suspected of one. Apparently those detained in such a way can take legal action. Some people believe this is even interfering in the relationship of parents with their children. How does the police deal with these issues?

LAIDLER: Arrest for us is the last resort. There are a number of options until we get to that point. What do we do with the small percentage of youths with ongoing unacceptable behaviour? [At times] police must go through the justice system and through arrests. That’s not a new thing. We don’t focus on the youth hub for them to be kept against their will. There are times, at the moment, when we have to take youths into custody, and that’s as per legislation.

LAIDLER: If we locate and identify a youth to be at risk then we have a duty of care to take them into our custody until we can have them with a responsible, appropriate adult, or into the care of Territory Families. That already occurs. We don’t need the youth hub for that. If we consider them to be at an unacceptable risk we can take them into custody, under the Care and Protection of Children Act. The welfare of the child is a priority for us.



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Western United and a local council are building a $150 million football stadium essentially out of thin air, thanks to a concept called value capture


Western United has kicked goals in the A-League, almost making the grand final in its debut season.

But it is off the field where they are having an even bigger impact, financing a new $150 million stadium essentially out of thin air.

In Melbourne’s rapidly expanding western suburbs, the new 15,000-seat Wyndham Stadium facility is set to rise out of a paddock and host games from the start of 2022.

No state or federal government money has gone into the plan to build the stadium, which has been entirely financed by the local government’s use of a ‘value capture’ model that could help boost infrastructure in Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

“Value capture is a closed-loop system of ensuring that the public receives a share of publicly funded infrastructure,” said Karl Fitzgerald, director of research at think-tank Prosper Australia.

“In Australia it’s largely the case that the public funds the infrastructure and private landholders who live nearby take the windfall [gains]. That has to change.”

Standing in a paddock about 20 minutes by train from Melbourne’s CBD, Kate Roffey explains the scheme.

Her title, director of deals, investment and major projects at Wyndham City Council, gives you a hint about the model — it creates public value by allowing a private developer to make a profit too.

“The ‘Field of Dreams’ we call it, because it takes a lot of vision to think that one day there’ll be a major sporting precinct out here,” she said, pointing to where the stadium will sit, next to a new station on the Melbourne-Geelong rail line.

Kate Roffey, director of deals, investment and major projects at Wyndham City Council, says the value capture idea “takes a lot of vision”.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

Essentially, Wyndham Council — the fastest-growing area in Australia — has given a 100-hectare paddock to the Western United team.

The sale of the majority of the land to developers, beyond the land used for the stadium, will pay the up-front costs of the venue.

The concept is that a profit is made when vacant land is developed into commercial and residential options, and that profit goes to the development of infrastructure rather than into a shareholders’ pockets.

That’s because the land will be sold for commercial and medium-density housing around the new drawcard venue. That makes it more valuable than standard ‘greenfield’ sites, areas without infrastructure or other buildings.

“The biggest question is: is our council paying for it? And the answer is no, we’re not,” Ms Roffey said.

“We’re providing, at no cost, the piece of land, apart from about six and a half hectares for the stadium itself. Anything that the developer wants to develop on, they pay for … purchased at market rate, stays in the ownership of council and we use the profit to pay for the stadium.

“So you need a group of investors who were really interested in doing something good for the community, as opposed to saying ‘we could just buy the land, develop it ourselves and put the cash in our pockets’.”

The model is common in Hong Kong and has helped finance the massive new crossrail tunnel under London.

In 2016, the Victorian Government floated the idea as a way for landholders who benefit from infrastructure — such as a new underground train line being dug under Melbourne’s central business district — to contribute to the cost of projects.

But it hasn’t taken it up.

‘Golden pen tick’ worth millions

That’s a missed opportunity, according to Mr Fitzgerald.

“It’s in the hundreds of thousands, often millions of dollars with what we call the ‘golden pen tick’,” he said, describing the soaring value of land when it is rezoned from industrial or farmland to residential, particularly for high-rise residential towers.

“When the government gives you that that pen tick to build upwards, up goes the land value and you’re sitting on an absolute killer —you’ve made good, good money.

“A little bit is captured through land taxes, a little bit through council rates but really it’s crumbs on the table compared to multi-million-dollar profits that are made through choices of, for example, which way a train line goes.”

A live example is Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne.

The industrial zone, close to the CBD, is mooted as the largest urban renewal project in Australia and set to be home to 80,000 residents.

But when the former government rezoned the land from industrial to high-rise residential overnight — creating windfall profits for landowners — not only was none of that value captured, but the state was immediately priced out of the land it needed to build services like public transport, schools and open space.

It’s the real estate industry’s mantra of “location, location”, said Mr Fitzgerald — the true value of a piece of land lies in how well situated it is and what it’s close to.

“It’s crucial in real estate strategy but if you look at the economic theory it’s all but ignored,” he said.

“Value capture closes that loop so that those who have the best location and have the greatest windfall gains, actually contribute more back to the public coffers than those who live two, three, or four kilometres away.

“That’s the common-sense element of it. At the moment we’ve got this sort of take-take mentality and we need to change.”

Development risky enough, says property lobby

Property groups are less enthused about a potential new tax on land.

Former Property Council of Victoria executive director Cressida Wall explains that every step of the development process is taxed, and charges like property tax are already closely linked to the value of land.

“People who are participating in the property industry — consumers, people who buy dwellings, people who are tenants in commercial buildings — they are paying enough in taxes,” she said.

“They pay more than 45 per cent of state revenue, they pay 25 per cent [of the cost of] a new dwelling in the greenfields … that’s enough tax, they’re already paying enough.”

The council suggests the inherent risks in developing property are already accounted for in the financial models used to obtain financing. Adding a further level of complication would simply add expense.

“Property developers price that risk into what they do and where they can’t they have to get that money from somewhere else. The costs get passed on,” Ms Wall said.

“All projects are going face more challenges to get finance and stack up in a post-COVID environment where demand and sentiment is compromised. In that context, additional taxes are more problematic than ever.”

Proponents of value capture argue it can help finance the billions of dollars of infrastructure required in our increasingly dense cities.

Mr Fitzgerald points to 2016, when the last gasp of a property boom sent the value of land in Australia from just over $5 trillion to almost $6 trillion. (As of June 2020 it was up to $7.1 trillion.)

“Land values in Australia went up over $660 billion in one single year,” he said.

“Now if just a tiny curve of that went back to government we’d be able to build all the infrastructure we needed.”

A woman with blonde hair stands in a dry field on a grey day smiling.
Kate Roffey says the concept could help fill Australia’s infrastructure gap.(ABC News: Peter Drought)

Ms Roffey sees the concept as the answer for more than just the rapidly growing area she represents.

“We need to use more of these value-capture style mechanisms because we can’t keep going to state and federal governments and saying, ‘You build it for us’,” she said.

“Because we need trains, we need airports, we need major road construction, so part of the value capture idea that we’ve been working on down here is: ‘How can we help fill the infrastructure gap?'”

If successful, if could mean a lot more fields of dreams being built.



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Government set to announce new flights before Christmas for Australians stuck overseas amid coronavirus pandemic


Several more repatriation flights for Australians currently stuck overseas will be put on by the Government in an attempt to get people home before Christmas, but where and when they will be leaving from is still unclear.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has told a Senate committee the Government is in the final stages of finalising how many people will be able to come back on the flights.

“We’re working through logistics at the moment to make sure all the arrangements for those flights are in place so we’ll be able to ensure that passengers will be able to get to the flights,” DFAT’s Tony Sheehan said.

“And we will have some further flights scheduled immediately after Christmas.”

In October, the Government began flying Australians home from India and London to Darwin, after striking a deal with the NT Government meaning they would be allowed to quarantine in the Howard Springs facility.

The committee heard there were now more than 36,000 Australians who had registered their interest with DFAT to come home, with 8,070 people classed as “vulnerable”.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said that a range of factors meant someone could be placed in that category, including being in financial stress, disability or mental ill-health.

In September, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hoped to have “as many people home, if not all of them, by Christmas”.

But he has since conceded that may not be possible, given an extra 10,000 people have registered with DFAT.

“There have been more who’ve joined that queue,” he said today.

“There’s more people who want to come and we just need to get as many people home as quickly as we possibly can.”

Victoria, Tasmania and ACT to help bring more people home

According to DFAT, 39,000 people have returned to Australia since September, including 14,000 Australians on their priority list. It expects a further 29,000 to return before Christmas.

“There are many more Australians returning to Australia than are on the DFAT list and many of those Australians may consider themselves stranded Australians and I’m sure are very eager to return to Australia,” Alison Frame from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said.

The committee also heard the main constraint on getting people home was still spaces in quarantine facilities around the country, but increasing capacity in the coming weeks would make it easier.

That includes an expansion of the number of people at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory of 500 people per fortnight, taking the total to 1,000.

As well as increased general capacity or scheduled repatriation flights, some jurisdictions have also increased their “surge capacity” — the amount over their cap they are willing to take to make sure vulnerable Australians can get on flights.

State and territory passenger arrival numbers will now stand at:

  • ACT: 360 passengers over two flights before Christmas
  • NSW: weekly cap of 3,000 passengers
  • Vic: weekly cap of 1,120 passengers, beginning again from early December
  • SA: weekly cap of 600 passengers but currently on hold until November 30
  • Qld: weekly cap of 1,000 passengers
  • Tas: 450 passengers over three flights before Christmas
  • WA: weekly cap of 1,025 passengers



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Government is recruiting for the national Aboriginal art gallery


By KIERAN FINNANE

Jobs ads were placed about a week ago for a “senior director” for the NT Government’s proposed national Aboriginal art gallery. Applications close December 6.

The role is to “lead the delivery” of the project, working with “a diverse group of stakeholders, including Federal Government, key philanthropic organisations and corporate Australia to facilitate partnership opportunities and investment models”.

Facilitating “meaningful partnerships with Traditional Owners” and ensuring “social, cultural and economic opportunities for Aboriginal Territorians” are also mentioned, but not as a first priority. The successful applicant will, however, have to “display a high degree of cross-cultural competency.”

“Knowledge of the Arts” and of “the arts and museum sector” will assist; a tertiary qualification “in Social Policy, Arts Executive Management, or Public Policy, and membership of a relevant professional organisation”, will be viewed favourably, as will a “sound understanding of collections of works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists with cultural, historical and social significance”.

A video promoting the project online says it will be “one of the defining experiences of Central Australia, especially as we work together to recover from the impacts of Covid-19”.

It claims that the gallery will be led “by Aboriginal experts” and that the site in the Alice Springs CBD is supported by “many Aboriginal custodians”.

It says work is underway to acquire Anzac Oval, for the project’s green space; to relocate rugby, and to develop a detailed design brief. 

It refers to “extensive community consultation” which found “majority support for the gallery to be built at Anzac Hill precinct” and cites a “comprehensive business case by Ernst & Young”, painting a glowing picture of its prospects.

See our analysis of the consultation (in reality an exercise in persuasion) here and the business case (far from “comprehensive” by its own definition) here.

Images at top and below, screen captures from the government’s promotional video.

 

 



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