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Crime time

Tuesday, 22nd October, 2013

By Andrew Robertson

An Aboriginal group fears crime rates in Menindee will rise following the closure of a youth centre that kept children “off the street”.

The Murdi Paaki Regional Enterprise Corporation (MPREC) said yesterday it was left with no option but to close the doors of four centres earlier this month after the federal government withdrew funding.

The centres ran crime prevention programs for mainly indigenous children who participated in a range of after-school and holiday activities.

The MPREC said the four centres - at Menindee, Coonamble, Goodooga and Gulargambone - offered children a safe place to go while also keeping them “off the street”.

Twelve people have lost their job as result of the closures, including two in Menindee, where the centre had been operating since January 2011.

Up until its closure two weeks ago an average of 400 kids a month visited the centre, which was open for 20 hours a week during school weeks and longer during holidays.

MPREC CEO Janelle Whitehead yesterday described the closures as “gut-wrenching”.

She said they had become a major focus of the MPREC since it opened its first youth centre “from scratch” in Coonamble nine years ago.

The centres were very successful at drawing in children, some of whom then became involved in other programs that aimed to keep kids at school and foster leadership.

But Ms Whitehead said the Attorney General Department “changed the ballgame” when it decided to switch it focus to supporting people who have been incarcerated.

As a result, funding for the centres had been “moved down” in priority, she said.

The MPREC applied for and was successful in securing funding to offer the new program but Ms Whitehead said it decided not to proceed because they did not have the expertise.

“Why take on something you can’t deliver?”

She expects the closure of the centres to lead to an increase in crime, as bored children look for something to occupy their time.

“I think it’s inevitable. People get bored; there’s nothing to do.

“We’re going to start to see these effects.”

Central Darling Shire Mayor Ray Longfellow said yesterday closure of the Menindee centre would hit the town’s youth hard.

“It was the only outlet for the kids in the town, for goodness sake.”

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