What explains Ballarat’s car fires? Victims speak out

BATTLER: Brave Wendouree resident Diana Allie is speaking out after crooks broke into her home while she slept and drove off in her only car in the early hours of June 5.

BATTLER: Brave Wendouree resident Diana Allie is speaking out after crooks broke into her home while she slept and drove off in her only car in the early hours of June 5.

The first thing Diana Allie heard was the sound of her car skidding on gravel outside her bedroom before it vanished.

Thugs had broken into her Wendouree home and snatched the keys to her 2008 Mazda 3 while she slept metres away about 5am on June 5. 

They even cut wiring to her DVD player, thinking it was linked to CCTV.

Already diagnosed with complex PTSD, the aggravated burglary has compounded Ms Allie’s mental health battle.

“This just triggered it again, I didn’t leave the house for two weeks,” she said. “I’ve lived in Penrith, which can be rough, and it wasn’t like this.”

Ms Allie praised Ballarat police, who she said focused on her mental health well-being before dealing with the theft.

Brickie Ashley Wilson, whose car was torched in May, said the buck had to stop somewhere.

Ashley Wilson.

Ashley Wilson.

“The guy who got his car stolen at gunpoint at Black Hill is my friend,” he said. “It’s happening about every night, it’s getting worse.”

A torched vehicle is found almost every week now in Ballarat, with firefighters rushing to a car fire in a pine plantation east of Invermay about 9.30pm on Thursday.

BLACKENED: A burnt hatchback sits idly after it was set alight in a remote pine plantation east of Invermay off White Swan Road about 9.30pm on Thursday.

BLACKENED: A burnt hatchback sits idly after it was set alight in a remote pine plantation east of Invermay off White Swan Road about 9.30pm on Thursday.

But what motivates the offenders who are responsible for this year’s spate of brazen car thefts across the city?

Writing in a metropolitan paper this week, Victoria Police’s Assistant Commissioner Robert Hill said stolen cars were often used as getaway vehicles in commercial robberies.

But he also said cars were sometimes stolen just for the thrill of it.

“The majority of recovered stolen vehicles have been used for short periods of time, often by young offenders who engage in high-risk behaviours such as hoon driving or evading police,” he said.

This has left many in Ballarat questioning what has been driving young people to flout the law.

Last year, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton put it down to the “Grand Theft Auto generation”, alluding to a violent video game that centres around carjacking.

"We're not actually dealing with more youth offenders but the youth offenders we've got are committing more and more offences," Chief Commissioner Ashton told radio station 3AW.

But University of NSW evolutionary biologist Michael Kasumovic has questioned the link between violent video games and youth crime.

Writing on academic website The Conversation last year, Mr Kasumovic said the root of the problem went deeper.

“Blaming video games is a pathetic attempt to steer the public’s eyes away from larger problems: disparity in wealth, youth unemployment, lack of decent schooling and general societal detachment,” he said.

“But understanding the relationships between poverty, family relationships, education and crime is much more complicated.

“And more importantly, it requires more serious solutions such as the reorganisation of social and educational systems.

“It’s far easier and simpler to blame the so-called “Grand Theft Auto Generation”.