Plan to strip blankets from Alice Springs homeless

They often stash their blankets somewhere during the day.

Alderman Jane Clark says rangers can currently remove the blankets but the new by-laws would let rangers throw them away, rather than return them to an Indigenous organisation.

The proposed by-law states: "An authorised person may impound and dispose of items found in a public place which that person reasonably believes to have been abandoned."

Ms Clark said: "People tuck their blankets away during the daytime in Alice Springs because they're sleeping rough at night."

"And council wants to be able get those blankets and throw them away.

"And I just think that's completely the wrong attitude to have towards someone who is very disadvantaged in the community."

'They prey on the elderly'
The Mayor of Alice Springs, Damien Ryan, says the new by-laws are what the community wants.

"Begging is an issue that is not very acceptable in the fact that people prey on other people, they prey on the elderly, they prey on visitors, they prey on families," he said.

"I mean begging, or humbugging, is something that is not appreciated in the community.

"We don't have anyway to stamp that out, that's why this has been brought about."

He rejected suggestions the by-laws were racist.

"People in the town don't want people to litter; they don't want people to give beggars money; they don't want people to drink in public places.

"We need to enforce our by-laws so we can stop this practice."

Lawyers in Alice Springs say some of the proposed by-laws could be illegal.

The principal legal officer for Legal Aid in Central Australia, Russell Goldflam, says the by-laws could overlap or be inconsistent with the Local Government Act.

"A by-law should not impose unreasonable burdens on a community; a by-law should be consistent with basic principles of fairness and justice; and ... a by-law must not infringe personal rights in an unreasonable way or to an unreasonable extent."

Mr Goldflam says some of the proposed by-laws would be difficult to enforce.

"One of the difficulties with these proposed laws is that they would enhance the policing powers not only on council rangers but also of potentially Northern Territory police officers who could be declared by the Alice Springs Town Council to be authorised officers for the purpose of enforcement of these by-laws.

"You'd find police in an impossible position because they'd have one set of powers with dealing with people behaving in a certain way within the municipality of Alice Springs.

"But as soon as they step outside the town's boundaries then their powers would be back to the standard Police Administration Act powers that are endowed to them by the Northern Territory Government.

"That's a completely anomalous situation and fraught with difficulties."

Additional reporting: Alice Brennan

Begging fines 'beggar belief'

AAP | The Australian | July 31, 2009

People begging for spare change in Alice Springs could be slapped with a $130 fine.

So strange is the controversial new by-law, proposed by the Alice Springs Town Council, it has been described by Northern Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson as "wacky'' and "a stunt''.

Fining people for begging simply "beggars belief'', he said.

The council has voted to put 89 new by-laws on public display this week which, if passed, would give council rangers powers to fine people who are begging $130.

"That's up to them to figure out how to pay it,'' said the Director of Corporate and Community Services Craig Catchlove.

"We invoice people or give them the fine if they don't pay it within a certain amount of time...

"But the bottom line is we don't want people begging in this town and there needs to be some way of stopping the practice.''

Not all Territorians are as enamoured with the plan, which Jonathan Pilbrow, from the NT Council of Social Services, said created an "us and them mentality''.

"What will be achieved by fining people who probably have a limited capacity to pay, which is what drives them to beg in the first place?'' he said.

"Even if they can find the money to meet the fine it means they're going to be less well off the next fortnight and probably more likely to beg again.

"This is a sad response to the issue of homelessness and poverty in Alice Springs.''

Mr Henderson was even less diplomatic.

"I'm a politician that's into the solutions business rather than the stunts business,'' he told ABC radio.

"Certainly it beggars belief to think that somebody that's out there so impoverished and destitute that they're begging for money can afford to pay the fine.''

The council is for the fist time reviewing its by-laws for public places which have been operating for 22 years.

Another measure causing controversy is a ban on camping in the dry Todd River bed, which is regularly used by homeless or visiting Aboriginal people.

In a public council meeting, alderman Jane Clark reminded her colleagues that the eyes of Australia were on the NT and its handling of indigenous affairs.

"The whole of Australia is up in arms about the degradation and sad situation that so many people live in in the Northern Territory,'' she said.

"We need to have a compassionate attitude towards people who are begging and why they are doing so and how do we define that.''