*** Updates to this article were added on 25 January ***
Policy failures that have led to an “alcohol-fuelled crisis” in Mparntwe/Alice Springs could have been prevented if there had been a Voice to Parliament structure to ensure politicians were better advised, according to a senior public health expert.
Dr John Boffa, spokesperson for the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC), said a Voice to Parliament could have advised the Federal Government on the public health problems that would follow changes to alcohol regulation in the Northern Territory.
His comments, during a Sky News interview, followed the release of PAAC statement yesterday urging the NT Government to “face up to the human rights breaches caused by its decision to allow take-away alcohol to flood into the community overnight last July”.
Boffa said many Aboriginal leaders and organisations had opposed the easing of restrictions on take-away sales, and that he believed the Federal Government had assumed the NT Government would continue the measures after the federal legislation expired.
“If the Indigenous Voice to Parliament had’ve existed,” Boffa said, “it would have enabled Aboriginal leaders to say to the Federal Government at the time, ‘don’t remove this policy until you’ve got a guarantee that it’s going to be continued by the NT Government; otherwise it needs to stay in place with Commonwealth legislation’.”
Boffa said “there are practical implications of a structure like the Voice that could have prevented what we are seeing now”.
The PAAC statement says the rights of Aboriginal women to be safe from violence, and for their children to be free from neglect and harm and not to live in fear, “have been thrown in the bin”. It calls for either the NT Assembly or the Federal Parliament to re-instate the Alcohol Protected Areas legislation.
For updates on related developments, check the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory (AMSANT) Facebook page, which includes a link to an interview with Dr Donna Ah Chee, CEO of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, about confronting burglars in her home, with details to come of announcements by the Prime Minister and NT Government following meetings today.
Below, we publish statements from Aboriginal organisations dating back to early last year urging governments to ensure communities were protected after the alcohol-related Stronger Futures provisions expired last July, and raising concerns about a lack of appropriate consultation.
Joint statement in April 2022
In April last year, AMSANT, the Northern Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and the Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT) issued a statement calling on the Northern Territory Government to immediately shelve legislation that could allow take-away alcohol into more than 430 Community Living Areas, town camps and other small communities from mid-July
Titled, ‘NT Government must withdraw Stronger Futures Alcohol Bill’, the statement said if the Government’s amendments to the Liquor Act Bill passed in May, it would open the floodgates to take-away alcohol unless communities ask the Director of Licensing to declare them ‘dry.’
“There has been no proper consultation, and there simply cannot be any in the short time available. Aboriginal health organisations and peak bodies did not know about the Bill,” said Mr Paterson, CEO of AMSANT. “We call on the Chief Minister in the strongest terms to cease playing with Aboriginal people’s lives. High levels of alcohol consumption continue to lead to serious health and social problems in the Territory. This Bill must be withdrawn now, or the Federal Government must act.”
Leeanne Caton from Aboriginal Housing NT predicted the legislation would lead to an increase in alcohol-related harm, including illness, injury and offending.
The statement said the NT Government has negotiated continued Federal funding, including for children’s services, mental health and alcohol treatment services in the NT with the cessation of Stronger Futures in July. It should not turn around and simultaneously let alcohol flow into these communities, and the Federal Government should not stand by and let it happen.
Joint statement in May 2022
In May, the groups issued another statement after the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly passed new Liquor Act amendments.
It said that without proper consultation, new laws passed by the NT Parliament will see free access to take-away alcohol for people living in more than 400 APAs [alcohol protected areas] as of the 17th July 2022.
AMSANT, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS), Danila Dilba Health Service (DDHS), Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC), Alcohol and Association of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies NT (AADANT), NT Police Association and the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) are calling for urgent consultation, so Aboriginal Communities aren’t blindsided by these new laws.
NAAJA CEO Priscilla Atkins said: “You need to ask: ‘Who benefits from this?’ It’s not your Territory, and it’s not our community, it’s the people selling alcohol! So why has this legislation gone through?
“What the NT Government has done now is opened up the floodgates. There should have been genuine consultation on this over the past two years, speaking to the elders in the community. Some communities might want to have alcohol, but they’ve got to have strong alcohol management plans in place.
“The impact this will have on Territorians will be absolutely devastating. We already have so many problems related to alcohol. Our hospitals are full, our domestic violence rates are the highest in the nation and rising, and the justice system is clogging up.
AMSANT CEO Professor John Paterson said: “What the NT Government has just done will add to that harm. It’s absolutely disgusting.”
“We’re calling on the NT Government to ensure that no take-away alcohol can be newly accessed until there is an open transparent negotiation process, that involves key community stakeholders, including women’s groups and youth groups. There must be genuine consultation.
“This is disappointing legislation from the NT Government and the process around it has been shameful. We want a commitment from the Northern Territory Government to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the development of any future legislation that impacts our communities.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be consulted on the laws affecting us.”
NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale said: “The rushed passage of this legislation, before adequate consultation with Aboriginal communities and against the advice of Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in the NT, is disgraceful.
“The NT Government must begin genuine consultation with Aboriginal people as a matter of urgency. The Fyles Government also need to provide more funding for the prevention and response to alcohol related harm and resource the NGO sector to manage the increase in need predicted.”
Further reading and links
Statement by Prime Minister. This includes details of:
“The Northern Territory Government will introduce immediate temporary restrictions on alcohol sales as a circuit-breaker measure to improve community safety in Central Australia.
The Northern Territory and Australian Governments have also agreed to appoint a Central Australian Regional Controller, Dorrelle Anderson, to lead consultation with communities regarding the reintroduction of alcohol restrictions and an opt out system for individual communities. This consultation will conclude by February 1st.
The Australian Government will invest $48.8m over two years in Alice Springs to tackle crime, keep women and children safe and provide support to young people in communities.
The plan to improve community safety in Alice Springs includes:
- $14.2 in additional funding for extra high visibility Police and law enforcement operations including targeting grog running, and increasing liquor licensing compliance inspectors and boosting security guards in public places.
- A $2m investment to improve CCTV, lighting and safety measures throughout Alice Springs.
- $5.6m for additional emergency accommodation and safe spaces to give young people a place to go to at night and boost the effectiveness of the night patrol program which starts in February and will help get young people off the streets.
- $2m for the Tangentyre Women’s Council to boost Domestic Violence services.
- Providing $25m to extend funding for safety and community services which are currently scheduled to end in June 2023 to provide certainty to providers and their employees and ensure this work continues.”
The statement also includes details from the 2022-23 Budget of investments in justice, health, community safety, infrastructure and housing.
ABC Radio National Interview with Dr Donna Ah Chee, who welcomes the new measures but says Federal and NT Governments were too slow to respond to the concerns about alcohol-related harm. She rejects assertions that the new measures are a “Band-Aid measure”, saying “the evidence shows that if you reduce supply [of alcohol], you reduce harm”. Ah Chee also describes the harrowing personal impact of experiencing two break-ins within the space of a week.
ABC report: NT senator Malarndirri McCarthy urges alcohol industry to ‘step up’ and help reduce crime and violent behaviour
See also submissions to a Federal Parliamentary inquiry into the end of the Safer Futures legislation.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on alcohol and public health