Dazed and Confused in the NT.

Major Gen. Brough has been touring several Central Australian communities this week. Santa Teresa was on the itinerary, and the issue of alcohol came up. Santa Teresa is a dry community (like most remote Indigenous communities), meaning that it is illegal to possess or drink alcohol in the community itself. The practice is for drinkers to access their alcohol elsewhere and then drink on the town boundary, before rolling on home.

Let’s just revisit the initial announcement on this topic,

Firstly in relation to alcohol the intention is to introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land for six months. We’ll ban the sale, the possession, the transportation, the consumption and (introduce the) broader monitoring of takeaway sales across the Northern Territory.

I thought that this meant a proposal to reduce the availability of alcohol across Aboriginal lands in the NT.

Yet, after Mal’s adventures in Central Australia yesterday, he said this ,

We are looking at having canteens where there is an amount of alcohol…. where [there are] no takeaways, where people don’t go home and get drunk.

Despite the call for alcohol restrictions, the idea of “wet canteens” is to make alcohol more widely available on Aboriginal lands. This shows two things, one good and one not. On the good side, that Mal is talking to people and isn’t blindly sticking to the original plan. On the other hand, it just demonstrates again the vast distance between the June 22nd announcements and reality, and the confusion within the Government on how to achieve its’ stated aims.

Even where “canteens” (known as ‘Clubs’ in the NT) do exist, the problem of alcohol abuse does not go away. In fact, where there are Clubs, there tends to be a strong feeling, especially amongst the women within those communities, that they should be shut down. The Clubs were introduced to as an idea to encourage controlled drinking. However, it was always a partial response. Treatment services for addiction are a necessary adjunct to make this a realistic strategy, and they have never existed . To this point, Mal Brough hasn’t addressed that issue, strengthening the view that he is a well-meaning and enthusiastic proponent of a flawed approach.

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