There’s times when it’s no consolation to say that you read it in Crikey first. There’s some things you just don’t want to be right about.

It’s only two weeks since Prime Minister Howard announced banning alcohol from all Northern Territory communities—other than a handful of regulated “wet canteens”. He would, he said sternly, stop the “rivers of grog” and prevent the sale, possession or transport of alcohol to Aboriginal communities.

On ABC television news last night Malcolm Brough—increasingly looking like a Ken Doll in his natty jeans and jacket—gestured dramatically across the desert near the small community of Santa Teresa towards piles of empty beer cans.

He announced the latest strategy in the fight against alcohol: open pubs on hitherto dry communities. According to the ABC transcript:

“If you actually have a place where people can drink safely and within limits, then you actually don’t deny people, but you get the balance right,” he said.
“That is why we’ve said all along they’re the sort of things we want to work with communities.”

And yes, you did read it in Crikey (Monday 25 June):

So it’s an even money bet that one result of the Brough brigadistas’ occupation of the Aboriginal domain in the Territory will be a recommendation leading to the establishment of new “wet canteens” on key towns and communities. So they can “learn” how to drink properly.

The whole idea would be seen as silly and bizarre, if it were not so serious.

“Wider Australia needs to understand that the time for political correctness is well and truly over,” according to Brough.

So the way to avoid political correctness is to supply alcohol to people who have opted not to have alcohol. Go figure.

Over 100 communities in the Northern Territory have, over the last couple of decades or so, successfully been able to apply to the Liquor Commission to have their communities declared legally dry. It’s a movement that has in large part been led by women—worried about the effects of the grog on the lives of their children. It is on these “dry” communities that Brough now wants to set up “wet canteens”.

Let’s get this right. John Howard said he would ban grog from all communities. Malcolm Brough says it’s cool, though, to establish pubs on communities where grog has hitherto been banned.

And, presumably, whether they want to or not. Those women who have succeeded in getting their communities declared dry very often did it in the face of the drinkers—often powerful local men. The same local powerbrokers whose rule Brough, in other contexts, wants to break.

As was pointed out in Crikey, there is a none too pleasant reason for it. The Country Liberal Party for many years has had a policy of pushing for drinking to happen in clubs out on the communities. To keep blackfellas out of town, out of sight, and leave the consequences of “the rivers of grog” well out of mind.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey