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Toowoomba Councillor Geoff McDonald Talks About the Benefits of Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Inc.

Toowoomba Regional Councillor, Geoff McDonald has outlined the benefits of Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Inc.

“We have a variety of groups, we’ve got the police, corrective services, the health sector, the education sector, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander area, the homeless area, people involved in drugs and alcohol as far as the prevention of,” Cr McDonald said in the podcast above.

“So, we’ve got a broad cross-section of the community that come together on a monthly basis just as a networking event, I guess more so than anything. But we do…

“Quite often we troubleshoot different areas and by the end of that two hour meeting there’s often a solution found, which is the power of community working together to solve community issues.”

Read the Toowoomba Councillor Geoff McDonald Talks About the Benefits of Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Inc. TRANSCRIPT

Andrew: There’s a lot of communities where central to everything that they care about is the safety of those that are a part of those communities. It doesn’t matter whether you turn the news on in the evening, or you open up a newspaper, or you look around on social media. Quite a lot of the content is centred around safety and safety of the community. While Toowoomba does something about that, they call it the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Incorporated. To have a chat about that we have Councillor Geoff McDonald of the Toowoomba Regional Council on the line. How are you Geoff?

Geoff: G’day Andrew, very well thank you.

Andrew: Yeah. Look, we also have Darrel Nicholson, he’s an advocate for Toowoomba, and we chat with him weekly. And he’s going to have a chat with Geoff about the Toowoomba Regional Partnerships. How are you going Darryl?

Darryl: Oh mate, going really well Andrew, thanks for asking. It’s been a busy weekend, and lots of events happening in Toowoomba and [Sandhills 00:00:51], and we’ll cover that off a bit later on. But mate, I was very fortunate enough in 2017 to sit on the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships and get involved in there, and through chairman Geoff we’ve done a bit of work, and I’m sort of more promoting what goes on in Toowoomba, but I just want to introduce Geoff and just ask Geoff to just explain how the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships came together. Good morning Geoff.

Geoff: Yeah. G’day Darryl, god on you mate. Yeah, no, and more than happy for you to keep coming along too, your inputs valuable, as is all the members that come along. We have a variety of groups, we’ve got the police, corrective services, the health sector, the education sector, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander area, the homeless area, people involved in drugs and alcohol as far as the prevention of. So we’ve got a broad cross-section of the community that come together on a monthly basis just as a networking event, I guess more so than anything. But we do… Quite often we troubleshoot different areas and by the end of that two hour meeting there’s often a solution found, which is the power of community working together to solve community issues.

Darryl: It’s great, isn’t it? And the Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnership’s objective is to make our region a safer and healthier place to live. And if I can just touch on first off with the cameras that are installed in Toowoomba, and world-leading cameras in keeping the CBD and the safe night district safe. Can you tell us a bit about the work Adam’s been doing on that?

Geoff: Yeah, look it’s… And that was probably the Genesis I guess for Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships Darryl, because Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnerships, or we might call it STRP just for way of getting through it.

Darryl: Yeah, please.

Geoff: STRP really kicked off in the year 2000, so it’s been going for 20 years this year. But the genesis of that was actually around the city safe cameras. And at the time it was the mid 1990s I guess, close to 1997 actually, when it all kicked off. And there was some untoward activity that was happening in our CBD, and the the various stakeholders in the CBD got together, be it the hospitality areas or the police, and also council, and came up with a solution of using a digital radio network that goes through the various venues, to alert people of activities that were happening, and also the introduction of, which were then, analogue cameras. And now of course they’re digital, and a roll-out that we’ve had over the last couple of years.
So we are well catered for in the Safe Night Precinct. So much so that now we have little plaques on the ground in the footpaths, which we show people a clear why to walk where they have got some level of surveillance over them for that distance, which makes people feel safer. And one of the outcomes of a recent survey we’ve done is that 69% of people avoid certain areas in the Toowoomba region at night, and these sorts of activities, once again, community helping each other, go a long way to alleviating some of that perception and actually making sure that people feel safe. Because that’s the first priority is that you feel safe otherwise people won’t venture out. And the night time economy, whether it’s in Toowoomba or other parts of the nation, is critically important for a lot of these places to stay open and to employ people, and all that flows through the society.

Darryl: Yep. And look, I can testify to that. I sit on the front door of the Toowoomba Sports Club, I listen to the communication between Toowoomba police and all the venues, and mate, they’re really onto it. And I can definitely assure you in Toowoomba at night time it is safe, and you can have a safe night out. In May 2018 Geoff, the Toowoomba region was awarded the national accreditation by the Australian Safe Communities Foundation. Can you tell us a bit of a story about that, and how we got one of those accreditations? There’s only six in this region I believe?

Geoff: Yeah, there’s six in Australia, and it’s actually an international accreditation, and it was around about a three year process actually. It took some time, and it started with a perceptions versus reality study from the university of Southern Queensland, just to work out what whether there was substance to perception,` as opposed to the figures that were coming through police and hospitals in regard to the actual data. And it proves that although we’re not immune to some undesirable activity, we certainly were far greater or far better than what perception actually stated.
So that was one body of work. And then we set about seeing all the different areas that do attribute to a safe and healthy community. And we got to a point where we thought there’s so many different things that take place and organisations that are doing their bit to make it safe and healthy, that we really should showcase that at a level. So Pan Pacific Safe Community designation is a nationally national body, but it actually stretches internationally. So we get to network with places in New Zealand, the US, Canada, and other places in Australia to look what they’re doing.
So it doesn’t mean that you’re immune to undesirable activities, but what it does do is say that we actually have networks and organisations that are in place to actually deal with that and make it better, and actually look at the prevention rather than the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. So it’s basically what we’re trying to do at an STRP level, is build that fence on the top of the cliff that that doesn’t enable people to fall off it. So the Safe Community designation actually showcases the fact that we are a safe community, but more importantly we’re not resting on our laurels, and we’re actually doing things to even make it safer and a healthier place for people to live, learn, work and play.

Darryl: And it’s good isn’t it? You can share off with other areas that have got the same accreditation as well, and share experiences and learn from each other.

Geoff: Yeah, you can. And we have a sister city in New Zealand called a Wanganui, which is actually a Safe Community designated area as well. And although their political system is a little different, having no state level of government, it’s still very much the same as far as… They have the same desires as we all do, to live in a safe and healthy society. And so there’s some programmes that they have over there that we’ve already taken note of, and could well be replicated in a place like Toowoomba.

Darryl: Exactly, exactly. And the STRP, as you were saying, we get together once a month and we’ve seen outcomes where [Kay 00:07:30] has had some problems with graffiti around town, and all of a sudden there’s another organisation name that’s paint that can help. And then probation and parole were able to chip is as well, so it is really good how everyone comes together in these meetings each month.

Geoff: Yeah, it is. It’s a great example, as I said earlier, of a community actually helping a community to solve social issues. And you’re right, we also manage the Graffiti Stop programme through the financial support of local government at Toowoomba Regional Council, but also through what’s now called Community Corrections, which is the former Probation Parole. They provide those that are on orders to do the cleanup. And then we network into our council infrastructure as well. So whether it’s water towers, whether it’s park benches or seats that have graffiti, and then we can offer that service for free to the local government. So it’s actually saving our community, our rate payers, every dollar. For every cleanup that we have, we’re saving dollars, and you can tell that we are a place that takes pride in where we live.
In fact, the recent survey shows that 79% of people take pride in where they live right across our region. So that is part of that, making sure that if there’s unsightly graffiti that’s offensive then we get in about and clean it up. So that’s one example. The other project, rather large one that we have, is the Heights Community Centre in Wilsonton, Wine Drive. And we’re very fortunate through the State Government that they’ve identified, as we keep saying to them, that there is a need for a more sophisticated centre route in that part of the world, and we’re very fortunate that the State Government have seen that and we’ll have a new centre built probably by around this time next year I’d say that it’ll be close to being opened.
So that’ll enable us to provide more services to that part of our region, and around health literacy, around isolation, around making sure that people are actively engaged in some level of work, whether it’s volunteer work, or hopefully getting into paid work and off welfare and contributing to society, which makes them feel better and makes the community better.

Darryl: Yeah, brilliant. Andrew you’re in the Caboulture and the area down there, is there anything similar running down your region there, and what do you think of what we’re putting together at the STRC?

Andrew: Oh look, listening to this is very, very encouraging. Jodie and myself as you know Darryl, we travel up into Toowoomba regularly, we absolutely love the place. We love the night life. We’ve spent quite a bit of time going around more to food venues. We’re not really so much into the music and all of that sort of stuff, but definitely enjoying the food culture up there, and being able to just… You know what it’s like Darryl, you have a full meal, and once you’ve done that you want to go for a bit of a walk. And it’s a really nice sense to be able to walk up that main street and just be able to take it in.
But I’ve got a couple of questions, Geoff. If you’ve got a couple of young people or maybe an individual that’s demonstrating a bit of antisocial behaviour and your systems have detected that, what are some of the practical steps that you take towards not just snuffing that behaviour out at the time, but correcting that behaviour of those individuals or maybe that group?

Geoff: Yeah, well obviously there’s the standard networks that are available through QPS, and I have to say that the work that the police do, and the emergency services in Toowoomba is second to none. They do an absolutely tremendous job with volunteers in policing, but also the community service polices that are about. So they’re the first port of call. If it’s of criminal nature, obviously then that’s the spot that people should go to. But we have wrap-around services, youth services and what have you. We’ve got a very strong Youth Connect team within council, not a large team but a very good team. And they in fact, they held or were part of holding the State Community Development Conference only last week where we had 400 people from across the state and Northern New South Wales, one from Tasmania, and a few from other parts of Australia came and attended.
And even at those you can see that there’s a sense of communities actually saying, “Well look, we need to solve our own problems.” So for those sorts of youth that are found, we do have networks that are available through our community groups. And quite often or not, those folk will be known to one of those groups, and they can act on it pretty quickly. But as I said from the outset, we’re not immune to undesirable activity, but what we do have is the support networks to actually help alleviate that. And quite often it’s an underlying issue that’s caused this. It’s not necessarily the act of criminal activity, it’s an underlying issue.
And this is where the social determinants of health, which was brought to the table by the executive director of the Toowoomba Hospital, Shirley-Anne Gardiner, just really stated that it’s more so the postcode is a stronger predictor of your health than your genetic code. So a lot of these issues, if those young folk that you talk of Andrew, were found, it’s probably an underlying issue. It may well be that they’ve found themselves on the street. It may be that they’ve got into some sort of difficulty with drugs or alcohol, or whatever it may be. And quite often, once that information is found then we can find the right services for them, and they can then become the strongest advocates for people doing the right thing in our community.

Andrew: Yeah Geoff, and also a Toowoomba Regional Partnerships, a partnerships part of it if we can focus on that for a moment. For businesses… And you have new businesses from time to time, the little family businesses. Maybe those families haven’t been involved in the CBD until they decide that they’re going to put together… You know, whether it be the dress shop, the chip shop, or something else, maybe a food venue. How do they get involved in this Partnerships programme?

Geoff: Yeah look, it’s a pretty straight forward process. It’s not really a very onerous task, I have to say to you. We have… Through, in fact they can get in contact with us through social media, through Facebook. We have a Safer Toowoomba Regional Partnership site. My details are are always readily available, and we do have a secretary who mans an office for Tuesdays and Thursdays each week. And they can be contacted even through the council, 131 872 number. But look, it’s really about making sure that people know that there are others out there that can help. And quite often they’ve gone through exactly the same scenario, that they’re feeling themselves in at the moment. So we can all learn from each other. And I guess that’s the little gem, that STRP and that networking each month provides, because quite often, as Darryl pointed out, a problem might be brought to the table and someone’s already dealt with it somewhere along the line, and they could share that.
One of the examples that we did actually, just after… When we got the accreditation in fact, in May of last year, was a little support finder card that was produced by STRP and our partners. And that was really a support finder card where people might be found, whether they’re in a park or wherever they are, whether it’s homeless-ness or whatever the case may be. And it has a whole lot of support services on a little easy to find card, and we’ve found that to be very popular with agencies as well, handing those things out. So they’re a great little support, and they’re at all of our service centres across the Toowoomba Regional Council as well as at community groups. So there is a willing group of people right across our community that can be there on call to help others when they need that support.

Andrew: Geoff, do you also find out there are other spin-off benefits just through… Okay the focus of the group may be about a safer community and you’re working hard towards that, but just because the businesses are naturally networking on that front, they’re are also getting other benefits just through simply that networking that may benefit other parts of their businesses and the broader community?

Geoff: Yeah look, there’s no doubt. And I think you might have mentioned it even in your preamble at the start, Andrew, that everyone wants to live in a safe and healthy community. And the University of Southern Queensland is a great example of that, as are all the education places. But when you look at the opportunities to attract people here, whether they’re for education as a student, or whether they’re a professional, the first thing that people will check is, is that place safe? Now if they see straight away that we’re a community that’s received International Safe Accreditation, that we have an organisation like STRP in place that helps be proactive in that area, then all of that helps attract people, whether it’s as I say, as a student, or perhaps in a professional service.
So there is a flow on effect, and quite often we’ll see that the business community particular, there could be a call out to say, “Well, you know, we’re after staff.” It might be difficult to find a professional in certain areas, and that has been a conversation for some time now, that these sorts of promotions of what we’re doing in STRP certainly help that.

Andrew: Yeah. Look, councillor for the Toowoomba region Geoff McDonald, thank you very much for your time, for spending that with us, to listeners. Darryl, I think that’s quite informative for the community, and maybe those that aren’t aware of this programme being underway now might have a bit of an insight as to what goes on behind the scenes, to make those streets safer, the graffiti disappear, and the businesses come together and take it on as a community.

Darryl: And definitely in a couple of weeks Andrew, there’ll be a launch of the survey from the USQ which asks the Toowoomba community what was important to them. And I’ll certainly be there Geoff when the girls from the university launch that with Toowoomba Regional Council. And Andrew and myself loved getting involved in the promotion of that as well around the region, as well as Belinda Sanders from ABC, and all of the media organisations, which do a great job in our Toowoomba region.