Indigenous Call for a Return of Alcohol Bans


The Northern Territory government’s refusal to maintain Intervention-era grog bans is undermining one of its own best measures for stopping alcohol-fuelled violence, say experts who have urged the government to rethink.

The scheme has been credited with a swift drop in alcohol fuelled and domestic violence in places such as Alice Springs.

Allowing grog bans to lapse in about 400 communities and outstations means people living there can buy booze again.

Donna Ah Chee, head of the health service Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, says her organisation’s clinics have been struggling to cope with more intoxicated patients on top of an already-crippling pandemic burden, since the alcohol rules changed on July 17.

The emergency response (dubbed the Intervention) was opposed by many Indigenous groups that were concerned about discriminatory policy. Ironically, some of those groups are at the forefront of arguing for the Intervention-era grog bans to be reinstated.

A coalition including Aboriginal Medical Alliance Services NT, National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency wrote to Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney on June 9.

In their six-page letter, they argued the provisions were “not …racist or negative discrimination”. “Rather, they are … positive and beneficial special measures in keeping with the High Court’s latest definition,” they wrote.

NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles insisted in parliament this week that her government’s decision to scrap the grog bans was based on consultation with “hundreds” of communities.

Sources in the Aboriginal community service sector denied this and said they believed the government acted on an incorrect legal interpretation.

Ms Fyles spokeswoman said her government “cannot extend a commonwealth law, nor will we support paternalistic policies which criminalise Aboriginal communities”. The government has not answered requests to provide evidence about its consultation process or to show the changes are not causing harm.

Opposition domestic violence spokesman Steve Edgington said levels of domestic violence were “unacceptably high”, up 42 per cent since 2016.

“The catastrophic increase in domestic violence across the Territory under Labor’s watch has got to stop,” he said. “Unlike Labor, we will always put the rights of victims above those of offenders. The Fyles government has failed Territorians and failed to keep them safe. In Alice Springs last week, police  reported 54 cases of domestic violence over a 48-hour period.”

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This is our voice: tackle grog and violence


Remote Australia’s Aboriginal female MPs have united to demand the nation tackle domestic violence and alcoholism ravaging Indigenous communities, with Labor’s Marion

Scrymgour likening the removal of grog bans to “pulling forces out of Afghanistan”.

…Senator Price and Ms Scrymgour – who are both based in Alice Springs – were united on a tough approach to alcohol fuelled violence affecting Indigenous women in the red centre.

Ms Scrymgour, who was elected to the Northern Territory seat of Lingiari in May, said grog ban measures in place for 14 years since John Howard’s Intervention could not suddenly be

revoked with no plan on how to manage the fallout. 

“When a government puts a protective regime of that kind in place, and leaves it in place for that long, you can’t just suddenly pull the pin on it without any protection, sanctuary or plan for the vulnerable women and children whom the original measure was supposed to protect,” she said in her maiden speech to the lower house.

“To do that is more than negligent – at the level of impact on actual lives it is tantamount to causing injury by omission. It’s like pulling your forces out of Afghanistan but leaving your local workers and their dependants in harm’s way on the ground without an escape plan.”

The speech came as the Territory government decided not to extend alcohol bans covering about 400 Aboriginal outstations and communities, prompting concern over a “massive”

increase in rates of violence and abuse fuelled by the abuse of alcohol. Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney is urgently seeking a meeting with Chief Minister Natasha Fyles amid concern over the lifting of the grog bans.

Senator Price began her day with her grandfather’s sister, Tess Napaljarri Ross, who has spent all week with her at parliament, with the pair participating in a traditional ceremony in the grounds of Parliament House before the maiden speech.

As she spoke emotionally of the recent murder-suicide of a young woman and her baby at the hands of the woman’s male partner in Alice Springs last week, Senator Price slammed the end of alcohol bans and said it was one of the most “appalling examples of legislation”. 

She also criticised the federal government’s moves to abolish the cashless debit card.

“We see two clear examples this week over failure to listen. The news grog bans will be lifted on dry communities, allowing the scourge of alcoholism and the violence that  accompanies it free reign,” she said. “Couple this with the removal of the cashless debit card that allowed countless families on welfare to feed their children rather than seeing their money claimed by kinship demands from alcoholics, substance abusers and gamblers in their own family group.”

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