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Indigenous Health

Rachel Siewert 21 Mar 2011

Senator SIEWERT (2.32 pm)—My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Senator Arbib. I ask today about alcohol related harm and abuse in Alice Springs. Firstly, is it true that there has in fact been a decrease in the incidence of violent crime in Alice Springs since the introduction of alcohol supply reduction measures in 2006? Secondly, what changes have there been in alcohol related hospital admissions since the introduction of those initial alco-hol supply reduction measures?

Senator ARBIB—I thank Senator Siewert for her question on alcohol in Alice Springs. As this chamber would be aware, the government is working extremely hard in terms of closing the gap and a great deal of work has been undertaken in reducing the harm from alcohol, which is a significant issue amongst numerous Indigenous communities. The government has been working with the Territory government and is leading work on an alcohol management plan as another key component of the Alice Springs transformation plan. New funding is being allocated by the Australian government to strengthen local alcohol support services for Aboriginal people in key areas of alcohol rehabilita-tion. This includes an additional $5.4 million to the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Safe and Sober support service to help address harmful alcohol use. In partnership with the Territory government, the Austra-lian government is also providing $1.5 million to ex-pand ID card technology to help enforce alcohol re-strictions in Alice Springs and elsewhere. In regards to the issues Senator Siewert has raised, I will seek fur-ther information.

Senator SIEWERT—Mr President, I ask a supple-mentary question. Is it not true that alcohol usage rates in the Northern Territory remain the highest in the country and leading figures in the world? I understand that the figures slightly increased after 2006 when ma-jor retailers in Alice Springs sought to undermine the measures by introducing and making available cheaper alcohol—sometimes to the point of $2 cleanskins. Did this have an impact on alcohol related harm in Alice Springs, and what action did the government take to address the issue of cheaper alcohol becoming avail-able in Alice Springs and undermining the measures? (Time expired)

Senator ARBIB—There has certainly been an out-break of some antisocial behaviour in Alice Springs. There have been visitors from outside Alice Springs community who have entered. The issue of alcohol is certainly an issue that the government has concerns about. We are currently working with the Northern Ter-ritory government and today Paul Anderson, the Chief Minister, issued a statement concerning the steps they are undertaking, some of the toughest measures possi-ble being implemented in terms of alcohol use in Alice Springs but also the surrounding areas. At the same time I would note that the CLP from the Territory are opposing those measures that are being undertaken by Mr Anderson and the Northern Territory government. I would urge Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, if he is committed to bipartisanship to back the Chief Minister in what he is undertaking to fight the scourge of alcoholism.

Senator SIEWERT—Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The Alice Springs community has been calling for years for a floor price on the price of alcohol and to further restrict the availability of takeaway—in fact, they are suggesting takeaway-free days. Will the federal government back community calls to introduce a floor price on alcohol and imple-ment takeaway-free days, which have been shown to be very effective in controlling the consumption of alcohol?

Senator ARBIB—In the letter of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, today, one thing that he did raise and admit was that, in terms of the NTER, there had been a lack of consultation between the then fed-eral government and the Territory Indigenous commu-nities. We accept that and we think it is good that the Leader of the Opposition has admitted that, because what the government is doing is working closely with communities. Minister Macklin has visited Alice Springs on a large number of occasions and the trans-formation plan is well underway. While we are work-ing with the Territory authorities—

The PRESIDENT—Senator Arbib, please resume your seat because Senator Siewert is on her feet.

Senator Siewert—With all due respect to the minis-ter, I would appreciate it if he would answer my ques-tion, not a question that was shouted out by the opposi-tion—

The PRESIDENT—Is this a point of order?

Senator Siewert—Yes. Will he answer my question, not the opposition‘s question?

The PRESIDENT—The minister has 20 seconds remaining to answer the question that has been asked. I draw the minister‘s attention to the question.

Senator ARBIB—Thank you, Mr President. As I did say earlier, there is a new alcohol management plan in place. We are working closely with the Northern Territory government, whose responsibility it is to im-plement and enforce that. We are also working closely with the Northern Territory Police, including the added numbers and night patrols that they have in place. (Time expired)

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