Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough’s plan to impose restrictions designed to stem the flow of alcohol into remote Indigenous communities is all well and good. But the vast majority of communities in the Territory are already dry, for Indigenous folk anyway (see Bob Gosford’s piece from yesterday).

Which is not to say that they are immune from residents arriving back from distant pubs and roadhouses with a bellyful of beer and bad intentions. But it will take some pretty clever legislation to combat this modus operandi.

If Minister Brough is really serious about his pledge, a good start would be to go much closer to the source of the “rivers”. Much of the serious drinking by the serious drinkers – black and white alike — is done in towns like Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, an Alice Springs-based Indigenous health organisation, does not mince words:

Alcohol supply must be addressed in the regional centres and roadhouses in a decisive manner, and not through incremental reforms. This must include a minimum price benchmark, no “take-aways” on Thursdays and the buy-back of take-away licenses from petrol stations and corner stores.

Alexis Wright’s 1997 book Grog War describes a battle fought by the Aboriginal people of Tennant Creek through their Julalikari Council to impose restrictions on the consumption of alcohol for just one day a week.

They eventually overcame the objections of the whitefellas who ran the licensed premises, and a so-called “thirsty Thursday” was introduced. These restrictions have only recently been lifted, a decision that Mr John Boffa from the Alice Springs organisation People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) has described as “ill-considered”.

Late last month, Northern Territory Labor member for the seat of Arnhem, Barbara McCarthy, issued a powerful “put up or shut-up” challenge to the Minister’s rhetorical flourishes, suggesting that he ban grog in EVERY outlet across the Northern Territory for six months. 

In this time of “national emergency” a short-term ban on all alcohol sales in the Territory might be just what the doctor ordered. What say you Minister?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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