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Alcohol Issues in Alice Springs

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 21 Mar 2011

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (3.29 pm)—I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Develop-ment, Minister for Sport and Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness (Senator Arbib) to a question without notice asked by me today, relating to alcohol related issues in Alice Springs.

I note that Senator Arbib did not answer my question about the issue of a floor price or minimum price for alcohol in Alice Springs or in fact answer my questions about reducing access to takeaway alcohol.

The Menzies School of Health Research, which has been looking at this, shows that alcohol related harm in the Northern Territory is more than four times the na-tional average. It clearly indicates that attention is needed for alcohol consumption in the Northern Terri-tory and in Alice Springs. This has been a consistent issue and call from the community in Alice Springs for a long time. What they got in 2007 was a top-down intervention that actually did not really address alcohol consumption other than banning it in prescribed com-munities. Many of those communities were in fact al-ready dry. But it has focused attention on Alice Springs, and there has been movement from communi-ties into Alice Springs.

Some work has been done in Alice Springs to reduce the supply of alcohol. In fact, alcohol related harm in-cidents have in fact gone down overall by 14.4 per cent. They had gone down by 18 per cent, but alcohol suppliers started bringing in cheaper alcohol, which has undermined the effectiveness of the alcohol restric-tion measures, so we have seen a slight increase in al-cohol related harm, but it is not as high as pre-2006 issues.

One wonders why Mr Abbott has jumped on the bandwagon and called for another intervention. For a start, the word ‗intervention‘ is a dirty word in the Northern Territory. It implies exactly what he means it to mean, which is another top-down approach to deal-ing with these community related issues. The govern-ment has not grabbed the bull by the horns; it has not stood up to the alcohol industry; it has not introduced floor pricing; it has not brought in controls on the number of takeaway outlets. I got some figures from the library today showing that there are still 134 liquor licences in the Alice Springs area. That is an exorbitant number of alcohol outlets in Alice Springs.

The usual approach is to call for more police. I have done some numbers on police in the Northern Terri-tory. In the Northern Territory there are 716 police for every 1,000 people. This compares to an Australia-wide rate of 297 police per 1,000 people. In other words, we already have significant police numbers in the Northern Territory. And, by the way, the number of Aboriginal people in our prison system is absolutely disgraceful as it is far too high. Instead of just taking the usual law and order approach, which is to bring in more police and lock people up, why don‘t we start addressing this issue at its fundamental cause, which is access to alcohol? Actually, there are other underlying issues, but one of the prime issues we need to deal with is access to alcohol.

For a start, we need to be using the price mecha-nism, which all the research shows will work, in com-bination with other measures such as reducing access to takeaway, so that we do not get the animal bars that operate in the Northern Territory. In those bars you can drink in the morning in Alice Springs and then, when you get kicked out of there after lunch, the taxis will line up and take you around to the takeaway, where you can buy the takeaway alcohol. This is not good enough. We need to be standing up to the alcohol in-dustry here. We need to be restricting access to alcohol. We need to make sure that there is a minimum price for alcohol. We also need to be providing rehab services. We need to fund night-time meal services in Alice Springs, which I understand there is very limited ac-cess to at this stage. Some of the services, one particu-larly, has only about six months of funding and does not know if it will be able to continue.

Another issue in the Northern Territory is the short-term funding cycles where just when you are getting a good program up and running the funding cuts out and somebody thinks it is a bright idea to fund something else, thereby taking away funding from effective ser-vices. We need a sensible approach, not knee-jerk reac-tions and sensationalising of very serious issues that need to be properly dealt with so that we do not get a cycle like we have seen in Alice Springs, where we started to have a reduction in alcohol consumption and alcohol related violence but that has gone up again as the measures have been undermined.

A top-down, knee-jerk approach of just putting more cops on the street is not going to solve this problem in the Northern Territory and in Alice Springs. We need a much more thoughtful response, but in particular we need a government to stand up to the alcohol industry and turn off the tap, as the community has been calling for. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.

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