This speech was delivered by Congress CEO, Donna Ah Chee, at the public rally held on Monday 13 May 2013 at the Alice Springs Town Council Lawns.
The rally was called by the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition and called on the NT government to address the alcohol crisis through sensible alcohol policy, including supply reduction.
I would like to acknowledge the Central Arrernte Traditional owners of the land where we are meeting today, as well as their native title organisation – Lhere Artepe.
One reason we are here today is because the NT Government has taken a backward step by removing the Banned Drinkers’ Register and the photo ID system. We had the ID system for a couple of years and the Banned Drinkers’ Register for just a year before the government got rid of them.
We know the BDR and Photo ID system were helping prevent a lot of alcohol-related harm. It is very wrong that they have been removed without a proper evaluation. Congress believes the BDR should be brought back immediately and properly evaluated over time.
We need to go back to the Photo ID system so we can keep problem drinkers out of bottle shops, and prevent underage kids buying take-away alcohol. The photo also supports the effectiveness of court or tribunal alcohol banning orders for people who can’t control their drinking, as they can be monitored through ID checking.
There is no point making these orders if you can’t enforce them. It was just stupid to get rid of the BDR and ID system.
Drinking is not a right – it is a privilege that should only be allowed to individuals if it is not abused. When someone cannot drink without hurting themselves, their family and their community, that privilege should be taken away for a while – as part of a treatment plan.
Congress supports personal and social consequences for people who have a serious alcohol problem. But we do not support criminal penalties for people just because they have a grog problem. Congress does not think people should be locked up when they have not committed a criminal offence – there are already far too many Aboriginal people in gaols in the Territory.
Congress has been trying to address alcohol abuse in our community for almost forty years. In 1990, Congress and Tangentyere pioneered a joint alcohol plan.
This plan contained three central parts: supply reduction, demand reduction and harm minimisation.
The approach has not changed. It has become even more urgent as we have all seen the alcohol-related harm that we know can be prevented, but not the action needed to deal with it.
There is no simple, single answer, but there are better ways to deal with it and we cannot continue with the level of illness, injury and despair that grog causes in central Australia.
In 1995, after a public meeting called by the late Mr. Perkins, Congress became one of the founding members of the People’s Alcohol Action Group – now the Coalition.
Congress knew back then that it was only through collective action that we would get useful alcohol policy changes. Now, more than ever, we need collective action on alcohol. We have been encouraged by the success of the price-based alcohol restrictions that have been in place in Alice Springs since 2006. These restrictions led to a drop in the overall consumption rate for alcohol in Alice.
But grog is still a huge problem and we have a lot to do. Wouldn’t it be better to use the hundred million dollars that’s on offer for the Gonski education reforms in the Territory than to spend the same amount setting up a Mandatory Treatment system to hold people against their will just because they are alcohol dependant – people who have not committed any crime? Doesn’t this Government care about the Territory’s kids?
This is what Congress wants:
A new Alcohol Management Plan for the whole of Alice Springs.
A floor price on take-away alcohol set at the price of beer.
A take-away free day linked to Centrelink payments.
The return of the Banned Drinkers Register and the Photo ID for take-away sales.
Keep the SMART Court and the Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal with both to have the power to use non-criminal sanctions like Income Management and alcohol banning orders.
Throw out the expensive and unjust Mandatory Treatment proposal and put the money into the education system, with the NT signed up to the Gonski reforms and new funding put into the most needy schools.
Bring in an ongoing, independent evaluation system for all alcohol policy measures so we can get away from reactionary responses to alcohol policy that have no evidence base.