West Melbourne Salvos rival Crusaders in mayhem?

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The Salvation Army are being paid big money to house violent criminals in West Melbourne – who then terrorise local residents and businesses – then they send much of the money overseas. Brett Quine reports.

“The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

~ Gordon Gekko (from the film Wall Street, 1987)

Image courtesy
Image courtesy

A BLOOD soaked veil of secrecy, the legitimate international siphoning of funds by stealth and government endorsed deception pervades a large portion of inner Melbourne to this day, as a legacy of the evil Gekko-like Jeff Kennett Liberal Victorian Government of the 1990s.

Tragically enacted by supposed servants of God, but in reality multinational stakeholders in a big business enterprise, the Salvation Army compounds the misery of some of Victoria’s most pathetic and mentally disturbed violent criminals by housing dozens of them in one building with ready access to CBD bars and illicit drug suppliers.

Unfortunately, these criminals are also on the doorstep of hundreds of innocent residents and shopkeepers, who are treated as fair game for regular crime sprees. They also cohabit cohabit[Ron 1]  with a small number of non-criminal men with intellectual disabilities, treated with great warmth by most locals.

And taking the tragic to the obscene — police sworn to protect the public engage in regular information clampdowns to try and hide the harsh realities. In this, they are readily supported by the silence of the state’s fourth estate — its two tabloid dailies, The Age and Herald Sun.
Flagstaff Crisis Accommodation Centre (Image courtesy John Wardle Architects.)
Flagstaff Crisis Accommodation Centre (Image courtesy John Wardle Architects.)

Welcome to West Melbourne, an historically downtrodden suburb on the fringe of the CBD and a stronghold of community minded residents, many of whom view only the Christian Crusaders as a better example than the Salvos as perpetrators of State sanctioned violence and mayhem in the name of God.

The building in question is the Flagstaff Crisis Accommodation Centre, better known to some locals as Flagstaff Crime Support Centre, where a perfect example of the chaos and cover-ups referred to above was played out on Tuesday, 28 May 2013, and the days which followed.

At around 3:15pm on Tuesday, 20 homes on the border of this building were put in lockdown for almost two hours as 11 police units, including three from the CIRT (Critical Incident Response Team — Victoria’s equivalent to American SWAT teams) converged on the scene. In the words of an officer on the scene, one of the residents of the facility "with a history” had, allegedly, “threatened harm to himself and others” and “said he had a weapon”.

According to the information provided, the man had locked himself in a room and threatened a staff member with violence, and so police were called. Certainly much better trained and equipped than their UK  counterparts, CIRT members armed with riot shields, pistols, a shotgun, tasers and battering rams, soon swooped and were pictured leaving the facility once the offender was secured without further incident and arrested at around 4:55pm.

Another four regular police patrol cars also attended – including a divvy van – while a further three Public Order Response units blocked traffic into the street at three intersections and ordered residents to stay inside their homes along an adjoining road. An undercover police car with a further four officers inside also attended, so a count of 30 police officers on the scene may be conservative.

As a nearby resident myself, I have witnessed several bodies being removed by ambulance, three attempted burglaries on my home in recent years, ice-infused threats to kill, frequent street fights along Victoria Street and Errol Street – North Melbourne’s main shopping strip – and heard of knife fights with blood trails over a hundred metres, pickets stripped from fences for use as weapons, and regular sightings of drug deals and users shooting up in nearby lanes.
Channel 7 News crew reported West Melbourne CIRT lockdown.
Channel 7 News crew reported West Melbourne CIRT lockdown.

None of it is ever reported in the press, but I thought the obvious police presence on the 28th of May would have to be noted in newspapers the next day. Especially after a Channel Seven News crew had been on the scene and had footage for the second lead item on their television station that night, something most certainly monitored by both newspapers.

Didn’t happen. No reports of the siege were in either major newspaper the next day or even the day after that.  Despite the fact residents of 20 homes were locked down, neither that nor the incident which caused their confinement was even mentioned in page leads on crime statistics. Even the Police Media Centre web page had no items on the incident over three days. Those people confined to their homes due to a unspecified threat would have to be content to know next to nothing. Admittedly, three of those homes were ostensibly vacant, one of them believed torched the week before by Flagstaff junkies who had been using it as a shooting gallery.

Yet there were certainly dozens of innocents ordered to stay in their homes by heavily armed police. Two primary school students were given an armed escort to their front door.

A little bemused by the lack of coverage but not totally surprised, I phoned the Police Media Centre late Thursday afternoon and was told no information could be released, as the man arrested was in custody and there would be sub judice issues.

I said:
“Sorry, but I thought sub judice only became an issue after a person was charged.”

The reply:
“Well, there are mental health issues involved and we have to be careful about how we handle it.”

CIRT Member 5 ia

Call me a cynic, but perhaps the fact the Salvation Army owns and operates the facility has something do with the silence. Two days before the incident, they completed their weekend Red Shield Appeal Doorknock Appeal, reported on their website homepage to have raised $6.17 million nationally, with donations to “go directly to Salvation Army social programs”. A link is given to the full story, which quotes an officer who provides no such assurance.

The co-operation between the Salvos and Victoria Police is understandable, as they share a goal of serving the greater community good. Police also have the added convenience of knowing exactly where to locate most lunatic criminals. Mainstream media silence is better understood in the context of advertising revenue from the Salvos.

Of course, the Salvos undoubtedly do much good and have taken on a vital welfare role for the mentally ill — an area where the Victorian State Government long ago abrogated most responsibility. Yet in ethical terms, information clampdowns demonstrate a significant aversion to disclosure many believe worthy of condemnation. In the absence of proper information, people do tend to assume the worst.

As a result of the siege of 28 May, some West Melbourne locals have speculated the offender could have been a recent gaol-released terrorist sympathiser, or activist, who threatened to detonate a bomb or go on a shooting spree.

The Salvation Army is also a big business, taking in $166.2 million in State and Federal government grants for operations in their “Southern Territory” (Victoria, SA, Tasmania, Western Australia and NT) in their 2012 annual report, and further government funds for their “Eastern Territory” (NSW, ACT and Queensland). The Eastern Territory website provides an overview of the annual report, but no financial statements, which have to be requested in writing by post.
Salvation Army annual revenue, from their 2012 Annual Report.

The Salvation Army are also huge advertisers in daily newspapers, television and radio. There is no disclosure of advertising expenses in the organisation’s Southern Territory annual report of 2012; however some $22.73 million is listed as “Other expenditure including Red Shield Appeal”.

When questioned on advertising expenditure, regardless of the appeal, the Salvo’s Southern Territory Chief Financial Officer,Gregory Stowe, would only reply in the context of the Red Shield Appeal, stating “we expended $1,062,578 for advertising and promotion”. Yet the organisation’s operations extend far beyond the appeal. As stated in the 2012 annual report, the territory had 542 officers; 4,944 staff; more than 9,500 registered volunteers; operating revenue of more than $333 million; and a reserve balance of more than $115 million.

The Salvation Army officers, who mostly live far away in the eastern suburbs, usually visit the Flagstaff facility around midday on weekdays, when the occupants have just woken up and are on best behaviour. In the evenings, those residents deemed too drunk or drug-crazed by the poor staffer behind a bullet proof glassed enclosure are refused entry. Locals cop the consequences.

Many West Melbourne residents believe The Salvation Army cares little about the community in comparison to their revenue stream; in this instance, mainly recent gaol released criminals — who also pay for their accommodation, but at very cheap state subsidised rates. But what really gets on the goat of some is the belief the Salvos also siphon off a good whack of revenue to their parent organisation in the UK.

A local CPA and former contract worker for the Salvos pointed to the 2012 annual report, where $5.53 million in “allocations to capital funds” is taken off total income just over $6.6 million in the profit and loss statement, to leave $1.07 million.

CIRT Member 2 ia

However the $5.53 million is not fully accounted for under the later financial notes, which list four different funds. Only one of those funds records actual monies allocated, and it shows a net increase to capital funds, or the reserve balance, on the previous year of only $893,000.

 “So where is the other $4.637 million?” she asked.
“I can tell you now it goes straight back to the parent organisation in the UK. It is all quite legitimate, properly audited by KPMG, but nowhere in the report do they say where that money goes.”

If that were true, then around 70 percent of net profits were sent to the UK. This was stridently denied by the Salvos’ Mr Stowe, who stated this is certainly not the case at all”.

Mr Stowe said the Salvos “do not intend to provide you with specific balances, names, etc” but did disclose that two of the four funds, including the reserve balance, were under the auspices of the Social Fund, from which no money was sent overseas.

He also disclosed that AUD$305,852 had been paid to the Salvos International Headquarters in London as a contribution “which is standard practice for all financially independent Salvation Army territories throughout the world".

Mr Stowe continued:
“Beyond this contribution, any other funds remitted overseas represent funds [that] are raised for such purposes within The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory, including funds raised from Salvationists within corps (churches) through our internal Self Denial Appeal, child sponsorship, and other funds raised/donated for overseas development.”

So funds further to the AUD$305,852 are sent overseas and the amount lies somewhere between that “0.0728% of the overall total expenditure” for the territory, as further stated by Mr Stowe, and the 70 per cent alleged by their former contract worker.

CIRT Member 3 ia

After two weekdays of email exchanges with the Salvos, characterised on their part with a fair degree of double speak (as in the quote above), misdirection and obfuscation – all very polite – it is clear they are unwilling to be totally forthright in disclosure.

The Flagstaff Crisis Accommodation Centre building was constructed as the West Melbourne Primary School and was a child care centre for some years before falling prey to a mass sell-off of education assets under the Kennett Government in the late 1990s.

As stated in July 2005 by ABC 7:30 Report, the centre was then home to 64 men, with Salvation Army adult services employee Jane Barnes stating they had a turn-away rate of around about 30 people a day.

It was either gifted to the Salvos, or purchased by them, in a sweetheart deal in exchange for a move of the residents from the Gill Memorial Home, also run by the Salvation Army in the CBD, in what was then a neighbourhood of mostly office buildings.

Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett’s good mate, former Crown Casino operator Ron Walker, owned a large building near the former Gill Home, which he wanted to develop into residential apartments, so he also stood to gain somewhat in the deal.

And of course Mr Kennett, who continues to be hero worshipped with regular coverage and opinion pieces in Murdoch’s Melbourne Herald Sun, also sold off many facilities for the intellectually disabled, increasing the need for such accommodation. Yet perhaps a location with less ready access to alcohol and illicit drugs may be better suited, especially for parolees.

Banned in Victoria.

So you may want to think twice about the sincerity of the next television ad you hear saying “Thank God for the Salvos”, as God the mindset described by the great philosopher Hegel, certainly in West Melbourne, might not thank them much at all.

(Brett Quine is an independent contributor. While identified as “media outlaw” on the cover of Kill the Morans, banned in Victoria, he points out that descriptor only relates to the manner in which he left the Murdoch press empire in 1998. It’s all in the book.)

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West Melbourne Salvos rival Crusaders in mayhem?

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