There’s a joke going around Alice Springs and Darwin that the local bottle shops will soon start advertising grog sales of “one short of a Brough”.

That is, grog specials will be marketed in packages of $99. That’s because, come Saturday, anyone who buys takeaway p-ss retailing for over $100 will have to produce photo ID, and sign a register stating the name and address of the purchaser, and declaring where the booze will be drunk.

It’s designed, so says Mal Brough and his junior minister Senator Nigel Scullion, to halt the “rivers of grog” as part of the National Emergency Response in the Northern Territory.

Actually, it’s not so much been designed, but desperately cobbled together to cover the a-ses not only of the federal ministers, but more importantly the hapless “Dopey” Dave Tollner, Darwin-based coalition backbencher who is facing a local backlash over what is increasingly been seen as Canberra’s grog laws.

Amendments will go through federal parliament today on urgency to fix up some equally dopey aspects of the anti-rivers-of-grog component of the National Emergency laws, and more importantly to protect the rights of whitefellas to drink in general, and the powerful local tourist industry in particular.

The $100 benchmark was set as a direct result of a submission to the one day Senate Inquiry into the National Emergency legislation from Woolworths, which operates 10 grog outlets in the Territory. Originally the anti-rivers-of-grog law had stated the photo ID and various declarations were to be set at purchases in excess of 1,350 millilitres of pure alcohol.

A slightly plaintive submission from Shane Tremble of the Woolworths Liquor Group [Submission 41, Woolworths here] asked that while “we are obviously ready to work within the legal frame-work provided (we) require some guidance as to how we might practically comply with the proposed legislation”. Facing corporate fines of $37,000 a pop, and $6,600 for each employee offence, Tremble pointed out:

The alcohol content of beer varies between 2% alcohol by volume and 7% alcohol by volume (some beers are lower and higher but this range would catch 99% of transactions). Liquid volume in a full case of beer varies from just under 4 litres (24x250ml) to 11.25 litres (30x375ml) consequently the pure alcohol content of a case of beer varies between 120ml to 540ml. This ignores other possible permutations caused by different alcohol volumes and pack sizes.

The alcohol content of a bottle of wine varies between 5% and 20%, although most bottles are 750ml our stores stock sizes varying between 187ml and 2000ml. In any given 750ml bottle of wine, pure alcohol content can vary between 37.5ml and 150ml. In addition to this the alcohol content of the same brand and variety of wine can vary from vintage to vintage. This ignores other possible permutations caused by different alcohol volumes and pack sizes.

In the case of spirits, alcohol content can vary between 20% and 57% for commonly stocked brands. Common bottle sizes range from 50ml to 1125ml, although a number would fall outside this range. The pure alcohol content of a standard 700ml bottle of spirit could vary between140ml to 400ml. This ignores other possible permutations caused by different alcohol volumes and pack sizes.

A typical supermarket liquor store would stock approximately 1,300 different products. We understand that there is a proposal to produce some kind of “ready reckoner” to calculate the potential alcohol content in any transaction. The number of possible combinations of products in any given transaction makes it difficult to contemplate how this could be achieved.

For all intents and purposes, the Woolworths submission to the Senate was the only one acted on by the Howard Government—but other anomalies have been turning up.

The total ban on grog on Aboriginal land (except for licensed social clubs, and for carriage of grog “in transit”), threatened drinks at such famed spots as the sunset viewing area at Uluru, not to mention Aboriginal investments in such enterprises as the twilight sunset cruise in Katherine Gorge by Jawoyn-owned Nitmiluk Tours.

So there are now to be legislative exemptions for people on “organised tours”. “Disorganised” tourists such as backpackers and caravaners will just have to go dry on Aboriginal land.

Brough also says he has fixed up the legislation to allow anglers to get onto rivers on Aboriginal land, so they can down a few tinnies in their tinnies. The Northern Territory government claims legal advice that the amendment to this effect would still not allow people to take alcohol from the land to their boats, and the only way to legally drink and fish would be to bring their grog from the mouth of, say, the popular Daly River—a few hundred kilometres down stream in the Timor Sea.

Meanwhile blackfellas and other visitors, whether they have a substance abuse problem or not, can be fined $1100 for drinking alcohol on Aboriginal land. Two bottles of plonk could bring a charge of trafficking, $74,000 in fines or 18 months jail.

According to Scullion, “You can buy as much as you like, but we are simply taking some details of you and so, if there is a pattern that appears, we can ensure that traffickers, which we know still occurs, can be apprehended”.

He has remained silent how that will affect those who buy multiple orders of “one short of a Brough” as part of a grog runner’s scam.