21/01/2021 - 12:00

State 'hamstrung' over tent city: McGowan

21/01/2021 - 12:00

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Premier Mark McGowan said the state government had been hamstrung and was unable to resolve the issues arising at tent city.

State 'hamstrung' over tent city: McGowan
It is understood there are now as many as 100 people living at Pioneer Park's 'tent city'. Image: Jesinta Burton.

Premier Mark McGowan has called on the City of Fremantle to step up and assist the state government in resolving serious criminal activity arising at tent city, saying it had been hamstrung by the actions of the council and protestors.

There are about 100 homeless and street-present people currently sleeping in tents at Pioneer Park in the city’s CBD, just metres from the office of Community Services Minister Simone McGurk.

Known as tent city, the site has grown substantially since it was established late last year and has been the subject of considerable political debate in recent days; including an election commitment from the Liberal Party of 100 accommodation beds in Fremantle as part of a $57.5 million plan to address the state's homelessness crisis.

The premier has repeatedly insisted that the state had the resources and services to support those gathered at the park, alleging that the campaign was being run by "professional protestors" and "anarchists".

Today, WA Police confirmed they had responded to more than 77 calls for assistance associated with the camp and issued 25 Move-on Notices in the Pioneer Park precinct since December 26.

Several people have been charged over assaults and theft in the area, and significant charges have been laid against two men who allegedly sexually assaulted two girls aged 14 and 13 years in Fleet Street.

WA Police said they would not act unilaterally, nor assist in the removal of the homeless without direction from the City of Fremantle and the Department of Communities, but were expending considerable effort in providing a visible security presence in the area and attending to calls for assistance.

Mr McGowan said police and the state government were unable to act because the land was owned by the City of Fremantle, which he alleged had invited people to stay there, and therefore it was not technically considered trespassing.

“I’m telling you, very serious offences have been committed that are shocking and horrifying and innocent people are the victims here,” he said.

“There are services available, we have beds available and they’re being exploited by the protest organisers.

“The council needs to step up here and assist us in resolving this issue.

“Technically, those in tents are not considered to be trespassing because the council has invited them onto the site and it’s land owned by the council.

“We are hamstrung because of what the council and protestors are doing. It is a difficult situation because the council has authorised the activity there.

“I don’t want it to continue beyond today, I want people to receive the attention they need and we’re working with police to achieve that outcome.

“There are businesses on the strip there that are trying to make a living and being terrorised.”

But City of Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt refuted the claims, saying that the City of Fremantle had never invited or authorised people to camp in the park, and hadnever promoted the camp or discouraged people from accessing the support on offer.

"We have been clear from the start that we don’t think this is a good place for people to live," he said.

"We want the people there to access proper services via existing agencies and to get access to appropriate housing.

"Now that the camp is there however, we do have a responsibility to maintain health and hygiene for the people in the camp and the broader community, which is why we’ve been taking away rubbish, emptying the toilets and so on.

"From the beginning we have been working with the government, the police and the community services to resolve this situation in a caring and compassionate way.

"Any reports of violence in the camp are concerning and I know the police and the City’s Community Safety Team have been on site at the camp to make sure the people there are safe.

"As in most places, from time to time there are incidents of violence or anti-social behaviour in Fremantle, which is why we have for some time been urging the state government to commit more resources towards addressing this issue."

Mr Pettitt also denied allegations that, as the Greens WA candidate for South metro, the issue was in any way politically motivated, saying the camp had not been supported by him.

"I have consistently called for it to be wrapped up as soon as possible," he said.

"Ultimately the Premier and I want the same thing, which is for the people in the camp and other needy people in Fremantle to be properly housed and getting the support and care they need.

"But it is the Premier and the WA State Government who are responsible for ensuring this housing and the necessary wrap around services are provided and, so far, they have failed to do so."

Yesterday, opposition leader Zak Kirkup gave the state government an ultimatum, saying that if the premier and the state government was confident there was interim accommodation available, he would expect to see everyone at tent city in emergency accommodation by the end of the month.

Business News spoke with a number of residents at Pioneer Park, who claim there is little to no violence, trouble or criminal activity.

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