By Ed Stapleton
It’s a Sunday morning like any other in Abbotsford. The sun is shining through the chill of a Melburnian winter but on Victoria Street something is amiss.
Making their way along the street are locals and visitors to Melbourne’s own Little Saigon, including elderly women with shopping trolleys packed full of groceries from the Asian super market.
The smell of Pho and freshly baked bread is welcoming, as are the calls from shopkeepers spruiking their wares. It’s a vibrant scene in an incredibly busy area and one that local restaurant owner Meca Ho is rightly proud of.
Victoria Street has long been a destination for Vietnamese food and grocery stores and remains a hub of shopping in the area, but a closer look at the street reveals a darker undercurrent on select street corners and in front of closed shops. Recently drug dealing and abuse have become pressing issues.
Meca Ho says drug dealing is driving customers away and hurting local businesses. As he speaks, he surveys the street. It’s 11:30am on a Friday and the footpath is deserted.
He says not enough has been done to solve the issue. “My concern is that the council hasn’t done enough with the local traders here with CCTV.”
The City of Yarra, of which Victoria Street is a part, has had a 19 per cent increase in crime between 2011 and 2015, according to the Crime Statistics Agency.
The Greens councillor for Langridge Ward Amanda Stone says the situation is “no better or worse than it’s been for the last 10 years, in part due to lack of attention over the years”.
A trial of CCTV Surveillance in the area, with $1 million to purchase cameras, has been offered by the State Government, Stone says.
However she says the council has to consider the price of such an initiative, “The maintenance is in the tens of thousands and it costs upwards of $200,000 a year to monitor the cameras.”
David Nolan, a bartender who works on Victoria Street, says something needs to be done. “It can be confronting, you walk to work past people who are completely out of it, passed out on benches or the footpath.”
Pressure to find a solution has been growing due to developments by Salta Properties, developers of the Green Square apartment complex nearby, and other upcoming Abbotsford apartment developments.
Ho is concerned restaurateurs like himself will not be able to take advantage of this growth.
“There are 5000 residents moving here in the next four years, coming down here eating and dining.”
He sees CCTV as the first step to solving the drug problem in the area. “CCTV won’t be the solution for everything but it will reduce the crime rate.”
Stone disagrees, saying CCTV monitoring is only relevant in specific circumstances. “It doesn’t prevent crime, it’s only good at preventing theft from cars though it helps identify for convictions but not to prevent crime.”
But it can alter the perception of an area. Nolan says he would feel safer if he knew the cameras were operating. “But that wouldn’t really help if someone decided to rob me.”
The City of Yarra had 99 robberies in 2015 compared to the neighbouring City of Boroondara, which had 33, according to the Crime Statistics Agency.
This is also notable because the City of Boroondara has 177,915 residents, nearly double the City of Yarra’s 92,225 residents.
Crime is rising across the city, with Boroondara recording 7520 offences in 2015, an increase of 20.8 per cent from 5949 offences in 2011.
CCTV cameras can help prevent such offences, says Ho. “It’s important because the images go straight to the police station.”
Rachel Cosentino, a commercial litigator at Slater and Gordon, said in a recent article that “surveillance footage is invaluable in providing evidence to assist police to identify offenders where the footage records criminal activities”.
Whenever CCTV surveillance is suggested, there are concerns about privacy. A recent report by the Victorian Law Reform Commission stated: “Although there may be shared expectations of privacy in public places, the extent and reasonableness of those expectations differs according to context.”
Mr Ho says something must be done. “You can’t claim privacy without taking into account the situation”, he says.
He aims to make the area great again. “I’m doing what I can, working to support the needs of Victoria Street and the traders.”
Stone believes change can only occur if everyone works toward the same goal. “The council only has power over some areas, what’s really needed is a coordinated effort from all parties. Everyone needs to come to the table.”
She is not certain what CCTV will achieve. “What problem are you actually trying to solve? Is it actual public safety or just the perception of public safety?”