Elders’ desperate measure as town hits flashpoint
EXASPERATED indigenous elders in Cherbourg have taken the drastic step of calling for accused criminals not to be allowed back into the community on bail, saying they fear for the safety of residents.
In an extraordinary step, members of the Barambah Local Justice Group have written to the local magistrate calling for tougher enforcement of bail conditions, asking that offenders involved in a wide range of criminal offences not be allowed to return to Cherbourg on bail.
Social issues in the state's indigenous communities have been thrust back into the spotlight following a large-scale riot in Aurukun and violence in Doomadgee, both of which forced the State Government to fly in extra resources to cope with the unrest.
"Due to current and ongoing car theft and vehicle crimes, we the Elders of Barambah Local Justice are writing to support strong enforcements of bail applications," the letter says.
"Our worries are for our community's safety."
In the letter viewed by The Courier-Mail, the elders request that accused criminals including repeat offenders, repetitive co-offenders, anyone involved in vehicle crimes including dangerous driving, theft and underage or unlicenced driving, armed robbery, ram raids or elder abuse, be excluded from the community.
"We are requesting respectfully that Your Honour take into consideration that these type of offences are not condoned in our community," the four elders wrote.
"We're requesting respectfully, that you take into consideration the concerns of our Elders, we would like bail addresses for these types of offenders not to be in Cherbourg due to the safety of our community."
Queensland's Bail Act allows a court to receive, and take into account, submissions made by a representative of a community justice group on a bail application relating to a person who is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
A spokesman for the Office of the Chief Magistrate said the submissions would be taken into account by the local magistrate.
"The Registrar of the Murgon Magistrates Court wrote to the Barambah Local Justice Group (BLJG) in December 2019 proposing that the co-ordinator contact the registry if the BJLG want to make a submission on a bail application by a particular defendant, so that arrangements can be made for the submission to be heard in court," he said.
"Whilst there is no specific meeting scheduled to discuss submissions on bail applications, the Magistrate and Members of the BLJG regularly meet to discuss issues."
According to Queensland police data, almost 1900 offences were committed in the small Local Government Area of the Cherbourg Shire Council in 2019, which, at the last census, had a population of 1269 residents.
This included 202 offences of assault including serious, grievous and common assault, 63 offences of unlawful entry including 17 cases which involved violence, and almost 170 breaches of domestic violence orders.
Criminologist and former police detective Terry Goldsworthy said forcing offenders to live at bail addresses outside of Cherbourg could just move the problem to another area.
"If you prevent them from going back into the community then yes they'll simply not be there to commit the crime, that's what we call crime displacement," he said.
"So the problem is you prevent them from going into Community A but they can go into Community B will they then commit more crimes in that area and then crime will go up there so it is problematic."
Dr Goldsworthy said it could also be setting bailed offenders up to fail.
"If all of their support is one small community and you say well we're going to let you out but you can't go back there well where do they go?" he said.
"That's the difficulty if you don't provide some alternative address or support structure for them, the two choices are they'll go back to that place anyway because they've got no option and commit whatever they do or they'll go into another community and have no support base there and of course to support themselves they may well turn to crime.
"If you're going to say they can't go back into the community you'd want to be satisfied that they had somewhere to go or you're really setting them up to fail I think."
The criminologist said bail was a tough juggling act for magistrates, especially in small communities like Cherbourg.
"It's difficult when you're in a remote community compared to a big town like Brisbane or the Gold Coast where you can be released on bail and be nowhere near the victim," he said.
"When you're going back into a small community that's very difficult.
"If they're going to go back into the community for offences they've committed in the community then there may well be a possibility that they'll endanger victims or interfere with witnesses would be a high possibility."