For the past six years, a white tent has been erected in the city centre on certain nights to keep Canberrans out on the town safe.
But the future of that service is unclear, with the government accused of dragging its feet on a procurement process for funding.
St John Ambulance ACT has provided the CBR NightCrew service since 2017, first forming in partnership with the AFP before formalising the program with the Territory government.
Its current contract through the Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS) began in March 2019 and ran for three years with two one-year extensions. The total cost over the five years came to almost $1.3 million.
St John Ambulance ACT CEO Adrian Watts said he was advised in the middle of last year that a tender would be put out for their contract, which expires by the end of June.
He hasn’t heard anything since.
“What will the government do? Maybe it’s another three-month extension, maybe it’s a 12-month extension, maybe the ACT public are left guessing,” Mr Watts said.
He said the CBR NightCrew had been providing a valuable service to the community, with first aid-trained volunteers available to provide water and safety, as well as escort people home or step in when incidents appeared to be escalating.
“Over these last six years we have prevented and decreased ambulance and AFP presentations by up to 67 per cent,” Mr Watts said.
“So that’s two out of every three incidents that we come across, where otherwise you would have had to call police or an ambulance, we’re there.”
Statistics provided by St John Ambulance ACT detailed volunteers had helped more than 30,000 Canberrans, handing out more than 40,000 water bottles to help people sober up, de-escalating more than 700 instances of violence and preventing more than 1000 ambulance trips and more than 700 police interventions.
The government funding would help ensure they had the equipment and training supplies to continue providing the best help possible.
Mr Watts called on the government to offer some assurance and security about future arrangements.
“I think the ACT Government needs to come out and strongly support community organisations who are actually making a difference,” he said.
“Say, let’s actually back these organisations to keep doing these things, let’s not make an organisation that already buries millions into the community, drag them through a procurement process, just to tell them their the best to deliver [their own] program.”
Mr Watts said if their contract ran out before a new one had been signed, or if a new organisation was procured to provide the service, the CBR NightCrew would still be there to help vulnerable Canberrans.
“St John will be there on the street,” he said. “We might not have a single dollar from the government in funding, but we’ll be there.
“I guess we’re going to have to go around and carry a can and say, ‘can you please start funding this service?’, something the government should be doing.
“That would be pretty embarrassing I think.”
It’s not just our emergency services that benefit from CBR NightCrew’s existence.
Mooseheads general manager Ryan Dyson said the volunteers made up an integral part of the city’s late-night economy.
“For us, as well as other late-night venues, we rely on them to be able to assist vulnerable people when we’re unable to do so,” he said.
“They provide an amazing service … whether it be charging phones, providing some shoes, offering some water or just being a friendly person to talk to while you’re out in the city.”
A JACS spokesperson confirmed the directorate had advised St John Ambulance ACT in 2022 that a public tender was needed for a new contract beyond 30 June 2023.
“The Government Procurement Act 2001 and Government Procurement Regulation 2007 requires the government to invite public tenders for the procurement of services where the total estimated value of the procurement is $200,000 or more,” they said.
“It is expected that the CBR NightCrew contract will exceed this threshold.”
They said the organisation was encouraged to register to receive a notification when the new request for tender was published on the Tenders ACT website.
“The government has not yet advertised a new request for tender to provide the service from 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2026,” the JACS spokesperson said.
“The value of the contract will be determined through the tendering process. The government allocated ongoing funding for CBR NightCrew in the 2018-19 Budget.”