This morning, the Northern Territory’s Liquor Licensing Commission endorsed a proposal from the Alice Springs Town Council to ban public drinking across large areas of the municipality.

Currently, police are empowered under the Northern Territory’s ‘two-kilometre law’ only to tip out or confiscate alcohol being consumed within two kilometres of licensed premises.

Today’s decision, which will take effect from 1 August 2007, will enable police to issue a $100 on-the-spot fine to public drinkers, and gives them the discretion to issue a contravention notice for a fine of up to $500.

Commission chairman Richard O’Sullivan noted that the application had been approved “on the basis that satisfactory complementary measures will be in place from the outset”. These measures will include an effective communication and education program involving radio and television advertisements in community languages, adequate policing of town camps, and practical assistance to town-campers and public-housing tenants who want small residential areas to be declared ‘dry’.

Crikey spoke to Alice Springs Mayor Fran Kilgariff who said she was relieved about the decision. “We have always understood that this is not going to reduce alcohol intake within the town. What it will do is provide safety and a feeling of security and give back the public areas of the town to the residents.”

Crikey spoke also to William Tilmouth, executive director of Tangentyere Council, the peak organisation for the 18 housing associations that run the town camps. Tilmouth was less sanguine, saying that he was “very concerned that this will ultimately mean that the town campers will have to bear the pressure of drinkers within their homes”.

Territorians drink more grog, more often, than any other Australians — and alcohol consumption in Alice Springs is twice the national average. A 1990 report entitled What Everybody Knows About Alice noted that “European alcohol abuse and its effects remain mostly hidden, but the effects of dysfunctional Aboriginal drinking are plain for all to see”.

The commission will review the decision after 12 months, but has reserved the right to revisit the decision earlier if it deems this necessary.