By Greg Stolz & Jeremy Pierce
If it wasn’t so terrifying for the victims, the long series of Gold Coast crimes could almost be described as monotonous.
Forty-four hold-ups on the Coast so far this year, twenty this month alone. Barely a day seems to go by on the Glitter Strip when someone doesn’t pull a knife, gun, syringe or an iron bar on some hapless shopkeeper, service station attendant, pizza delivery driver or – in the latest robbery, which happened on Thursday – a teenage worker at McDonalds.
But the Coast’s depressed economy is also likely playing a role, say social commentators.
The region’s unemployment rate this month rose to 8.1 per cent, up from 6.5 per cent in February.
One of the few alleged armed robbers caught so far by the police, 21-year-old Tyrone Kilner, blamed tough times when he fronted Southport Magistrates Court this week charged with holding up a convenience store only 200m from the Nerang police station.
Kilner’s solicitor told the court his client was desperate for cash after being hit with an eviction notice and had a “brain explosion”.
Bill Potts, a criminal lawyer who has practised on the Gold Coast for more than 30 years says the spate of armed robberies is being fuelled by three factors: “Drug addiction, poverty and a fair amount of stupidity.”
“The perpetrators are invariably young males attacking soft targets such as convenience stores,” he says.
“The police union is using these robberies to push for an organised crime squad on the Coast but there is nothing organised about these offences. They are opportunistic. In the main, they’re looking for fast money to pay for drugs.”
However, Potts fears it may only be a matter of time before someone is killed or seriously injured during a robbery.
“The Coast is awash with amphetamines, a filthy drug which makes its users think they’re 10-feet tall and bullet-proof,” he says.
“When you’re in a psychotic state and armed with a gun or knife, it’s only a small step to actually using it.”
Potts says the Coast’s economic malaise is probably contributing to the robbery spree, with high unemployment leading to desperation as well as boredom – a fertile breeding ground for drug addiction.
“Financial pressures and unemployment are breeding dysfunctionality in a generation of young men, especially in the poorer socioeconomic areas around the city’s north,” he says.
Queensland Council of Social Services president Karyn Walsh says she is not surprised “because there is a link between crime rates and disadvantage.”
“Queensland has a 10 per cent poverty rate and in some areas where unemployment is high, that’s increasing,” she says.
“However, financial stress is certainly no excuse for committing crime. We really need to get the message out that there are crisis services available that can help people before they get to the desperation point of doing an armed robbery.”
Gold Coast police acting regional crime co-ordinator Chris Jory has a slightly different theory.
“There could be a number of factors,” Jory says.
“Social commentators would talk about unemployment and the drug problem (but) I wouldn’t discount greed.”
Whatever the causes, Potts says, the robberies are “stupid, dangerous and not enough is being done to address the problem”.
He believes the answer lies in a “serious” education program for all drug offenders, modelled on those in other states.
He says the schemes are similar to a successful traffic-offender program operating on the Gold Coast. Drink-drivers and other traffic offenders who complete the five-week program can be rewarded with lighter penalties.
“By the time drug offenders get to court, they should have at least started the steps towards rehabilitation,” Potts says.