A looming staffing problem in WA's twenty-six Police and Community Youth Centres is exposing the Barnett Liberal government's disregard for youth services and the complete hypocrisy of the "law and order" rhetoric that crops up at every state election.
The PCYCs are formally independent non-profit organisations, although supported by the state through the provision of police officers as full-time centre managers.
The Fremantle PCYC based in Hilton sees a staggering 38,000 visits per year and hosts a vast array of activities from the traditional sports through to guitar lessons and its award winning Noongar Healthy Lifestyle program. There is also a computer room and drop in centre, used by up to 40 young people per day; mostly from the local Noongar community.
The centres are now under threat because of a decision by the Police Commissioner to withdraw staff. Who they will be replaced with, if at all, has not been revealed; but the signs aren't good. At a number of centres they have already been temporarily replaced with civilian Police Department employees and then told they would have to find and fund their own centre managers.
The PCYCs fund their activities through donations, grants and very modest fees; so they will simply be unable to pay for full-time managers without taking the axe to many of their programs. The head of WA PCYC is predicting some centres may have to close.
Perhaps the association with the police and their promotion of respect for the law kept the PCYCs in favour with conservative politicians in the past. But now their managers may have to spend half their time scrabbling for grants and donations simply to pay their own wages, just like so many other non-profit organisations providing essential community services.
This drama comes in the context of the Barnett government's drive to reduce spending by 3% across the public sector. Unsurprisingly the the most needy and vulnerable are carrying the biggest burden of the cuts. In December the Disability Services Commission announced it would do its bit for Barnett by slashing the positions of its twenty-seven social trainers.
It also fits the Barnett government's pattern of tough talking regressive "law and order" policies that will do absolutely nothing to make communities safer; such as the re-criminalisation of the possession of small amounts of cannabis, and its draconian stop-and-search powers legislation which failed in the parliament because even the National Party MPs thought it went too far!
Likewise anyone who thinks that cutting affordable after school activities is going to reduce crime has rocks in their head. No doubt the government was planning to dress up this cost cutting exercise as proof they're making us all safer by getting police out from behind their desks and on the beat.
But programs for disadvantaged youth should not be treated as some kind of optional extra; dependant on charity, special grants or the whim of the Police Department. They should be properly funded by the state.
The talk about cost restraints is rubbish. Western Australia is rolling in mining money, it's just not being shared around. The company of Australia's richest man Twiggy Forrest paid no corporate tax for eight years. It's well beyond time that wealth of the mining boom was used for the social good.