In each edition of Council Magazine we choose one local government from across Australia to shine a spotlight on. This edition, we focus on the Shire of Gunnedah in north-west New South Wales and their determination to address increasing crime in regional areas.

Gunnedah Shire, located in the scenic area that inspired My Country poet Dorothea Mackellar, has a growing community of more than 13,000 people. It covers nearly 5,000km2 of land and is home to some of the world’s best agriculture, as well as an expanding mining sector and a range of businesses that support the economy.

But as crime rates in regional New South Wales increase, Gunnedah Shire Council has taken the lead to help prevent crime and protect communities.

Gunnedah Shire Council, through its Crime Prevention and Community Safety Conference Working Group, will hold a national conference in November to bring together speakers and industry experts to discuss emerging crime trends and share the latest developments and approaches in resolving crime and improving safety across urban and regional communities.

A strong history of prevention

More than 20 years ago, Gunnedah Shire Councillors and staff recognised the strength in working with the whole community to enhance community safety. Council facilitated the Gunnedah Crime Prevention Working Group to act as an advisory group to address the core issues of community safety, and to help put in place initiatives to make a difference.

Still in operation today, the group has included police, health services, Community Corrections, Police Citizens Youth Club, First Nations representatives, youth representatives, community representatives and the Gunnedah & District Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “This group wasn’t formed to address a crime problem,”

Working Group Chair Councillor Colleen Fuller said. “It is a practical framework to promote crime prevention, looking at it from a whole of community perspective to come up with initiatives that work. “Crime impacts every community and each part of every community – that’s why it’s so important to involve a range of people with different experiences and ideas.”

Over the years, the working group has helped deliver initiatives that included lobbying state and federal governments for enhancements to community safety programs, policy and law, in particular domestic and family violence.

The group also supported the implementation of the Gunny Get Your Home Secure program to assist with home security and following consultation with the community, and together with the Gunnedah and Districts Liquor Accord, was behind the Gunny Get You Home Safe program to address drink driving.

In 2019, the group launched a proactive and highly visible anti-domestic violence and anti-bullying campaign with street banners throughout the CBD and “no violence” and “no bullying” messages installed on four of Council’s waste and water truck fleet.

As well as having ongoing input into the implementation of alcohol-free zones and alcohol prohibited areas in Gunnedah Shire, the group was instrumental in providing advice to numerous Council grant applications that has resulted in the installation of over 100 CCTV cameras across the Gunnedah CBD. Council makes the footage available to police to assist with investigations.

A regional challenge

But even with the community working together, Gunnedah Shire has not dodged the recent increase in regional crime. The latest NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) statement in March this year also noted across the state, domestic violence was up three per cent over a five-year period and sexual assault had increased by 6.8 per cent.

In the two years to March 2023, motor vehicle theft in New South Wales was up by 21.3 per cent, and break and enters were up by 8.6 per cent. BOCSAR reports the increase in motor vehicle theft has been “particularly large” in regional New South Wales.

In the New England and North-West of New South Wales, where Gunnedah is located, the number of cars stolen in the year to March 2023 had risen by 67 per cent. “Like any other regional area, we are facing challenging times with increasing crime,” Cr Fuller said.

“There is no immediate answer, but by listening and sharing knowledge, we can only get stronger in our approach to crime. “The Conference goes beyond dealing with the theft of a car – it is a way for people across a huge range of professions, services and interests to get together and help build a safer state and a safer country.”

Hosting a national event

Conference Coordinator, Debra Hilton, said the Crime Prevention and Community Safety Conference Working Group, set for November 23 24, will be headlined by 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame, who has turned her own traumatic experience into advocacy. She is committed to eradicating sexual abuse in Australia and supporting survivors of child sexual abuse.

Other speakers include 2020 Young Australian of the Year finalist Hunter Johnson, New South Wales Minister for Police and Counter Terrorism, Yasmin Catley, social researcher and futurist Mark McCrindle, community safety design specialist John Maynard, and asset based community development consultant and author Alan Blackshaw.

“We have attracted an exciting line-up of speakers from within New South Wales and interstate, who can share their experiences and their knowledge with those who attend,” Ms Hilton said. “This is a really exciting opportunity for local government and practitioners in community safety and crime prevention.

“Our program includes police, data analysts, cyber security experts, grass roots services, and social and youth justice advocates. We really want to give delegates an opportunity to take away practical solutions that they can perhaps implement in their own community.

“Innovation and collaboration are part of Gunnedah Shire’s ethos, and it is also a great way to approach the issues that are facing our communities.”

Leading the way

While a conference of this size and scope is demanding, Gunnedah Shire Mayor, Jamie Chaffey, says Gunnedah Shire is ready to collaborate.

“We have a strong community who are not scared of leading the way,” Cr Chaffey said. “A group of only a few dedicated people started AgQuip 50 years ago, and that has gone on to become one of the biggest field day events in the Southern Hemisphere. Our community is innovative and passionate about what they believe in.

“Our residents – and residents of every other community across regional Australia – deserve to feel safe. With this conference, we are working towards recognising common challenges – and hearing about some of the ideas that might well make a difference to our own regions and our own lives.

“We are really proud to be hosting the Gunnedah Crime Prevention and Community Safety Conference and urge anyone who works in this space or wants to make a difference to attend.”

To find out more about the Gunnedah Crime Prevention and Community Safety Conference to be held in Gunnedah on 23-24 November, 2023, and to book tickets, visit cpc.gunnedah.nsw.gov.au

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