“We brought the diseases, the alcohol,” Paul Keating declared in his landmark “Redfern” speech on reconciliation in 1992. Around a decade later took the booze was taken away in some Queensland Aboriginal communities, part of alcohol management plans designed to end its abuse and the violence and social destruction it can cause. Now a new Queensland government is considering bringing it back.

It is paternalism to make your head spin, social engineering that breaks hearts no matter the outcome.

This morning Palm Island woman Joan Maloney won the right to challenge the booze bans in the High Court, arguing they placed a “discriminate burden or prohibition” on her. And of course they do. Crikey talked to mayors and community leaders yesterday who said much the same thing.

But some people — including some black people — fear what Campbell Newman’s review could do. Academic Peter d’Abbs points to research today showing evidence that alcohol bans do reduce violence and injuries (and those injuries are often not suffered by the drinkers themselves). And Warren Mundine wasn’t speaking for his Labor Party but for his people when he told The Australian:

“We know the history, the domestic violence, the r-pe, the murder, all caused by alcohol. “Has he [Newman] ever been into these communities? There are no jobs, there’s no work. As soon as someone gets beaten up because of alcohol, there is blood on his hands.”

More blood: the cost of equality? There are no easy answers. Keating said:

“With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask — how would I feel if this were done to me?”

That’s the question Newman must ask. Ask it of men denied the same rights as their countrymen, ask it of women and children who drown in these deep “rivers of grog”. And then let communities review their own plans and empower them to make their own decisions.

Peter Fray

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