Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Alcohol management plans, harm caused by alcohol abuse, Alice Springs press conference

JENNY MACKLIN: Thanks very much everyone joining us today. I’m very pleased to be here in Alice Springs with my colleague, the Minister for Indigenous Health and also the local Member, the Member for Lingiari, to discuss the issues of alcohol management and in particular concerns that people have here in Alice Springs about the harm being done from the abuse of alcohol and the serious violence related to alcohol abuse.

We’ve just been meeting with the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition and they of course are a group of people who’ve come together, to work together, to make sure that Alice Springs is a safe place for children to grow up. A place where we see a reduction in alcohol abuse and alcohol related violence.

As you’d all be aware, we have been calling from the Commonwealth for the reintroduction of the Banned Drinkers Register and I am very disappointed that the Chief Minister has said that the Northern Territory Government will not do that.

We will continue to consider the best way forward in this regard. But the second issue which we’ve been raising with the Northern Territory Government which I discussed with the Chief Minister last night, and we’ve discussed in the meeting again this morning, is the introduction of assessors in two venues here in Alice Springs.

We have had considerable input from people here in Alice Springs about the harm being done from these venues. We want to make sure that this is pursued in the proper way. We want an assessment done of these two venues here in Alice Springs to assess the damage that is being done, or the harm that is being done to the community.

We want that done with the Northern Territory Government, with the people here in Alice Springs to look at the best way that we can together reduce harm. That is what we want to see done here in Alice Springs to make sure we can reduce the harm that is being experienced throughout the whole related violence.

JOURNALIST: Do you want to see those bars shut down?

JENNY MACKLIN: We want the proper assessment done. So let’s look at the harm that’s being done, we have far too many reports and we’ve received more again today from the people we’ve just met with. There’s too much harm being done. Let’s get a proper assessment carried out. Let’s actually consider the best way to reduce that harm.

JOURNALIST: What evidence does the Federal Government have that these bars are causing alcohol related harm in the community?

JENNY MACKLIN: We have a number of people here in Alice Springs telling us about the harm that is being done. And of course you would know that as well as I do. I think it’s very important that we take notice of those local concerns, the concerns coming from people who live here in Alice Springs who can tell us the very serious harm that is being done each and every day.

JOURNALIST: What more are you planning to do to address the problem of alcohol? Obviously you’ve noted the two murders that happened in town last week, and the growing concern that it is again spiralling out of control. What more needs to be done?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well, that’s exactly why we’re here because we do understand that if there’s one area we need to do more it’s in the area of controlling access to alcohol. We know that alcohol is behind a lot of the harm, a lot of the damage that’s been done to Aboriginal people and non-Indigenous people here in Alice Springs. That’s why we want to put these assessors in to assess the damage that’s been done in these two venues. It’s also why yesterday we released the Alcohol Management Plan Minimum Standards. We want to see alcohol management plans developed in communities across the Northern Territory, including here in Alice Springs, to make sure that we reduce the harm that is coming about as a result of alcohol abuse.

JOURNALIST: Minister have you met with the two venues yet?

JENNY MACKLIN: No I haven’t.

JOURNALIST: If the local town camp’s Association, Tangentyere Council, came out today and said that residents are living in a perpetual state of fear because of alcohol fuelled violence, doesn’t that mean that you need to act very quickly?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think we do need to act very quickly. It’s why I’m here. It’s why we have decided to use the powers that I have under the Stronger Futures Legislation to call on the Northern Territory Government to put assessors in to deal with the harm that is being done in these two venues.

So I want to act as quickly as possible. I need to do it with the Northern Territory Government, but it is time that we did that. I think you have seen over the recent football weekend that there are ways in which both the licensing commission, the police, can come together with the community in a very productive way. And I’ve certainly had a very positive response from the people I’ve just been meeting with who certainly demonstrated that when the controls were put in place over this weekend, we did see less alcohol related violence.

So let’s work together to make sure that we can reduce the violence that comes from alcohol abuse.

JOURNALIST: Last year the Federal Government committed extra resources to the Northern Territory Police Force to fund the management of detention centres. Do you think a similar scenario needs to be played out in Alice Springs where there’s clearly an out of control rate of violence?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Northern Territory Government is in fact receiving additional funding from the Federal Government as part of our Stronger Futures Investments to see extra police employed in the Territory.

We do understand how important it is to make sure that we have enough police, not just in Alice Springs, but also in remote communities. Police play a very important role and I have no doubt the community very much appreciates their influence to deal with the alcohol related violence.

JOURNALIST: If the Northern Territory Government doesn’t appoint assessors will they face repercussions from the Federal Government over that decision?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well there is a process to go through under the Stronger Futures Legislation, so we will obviously look at what we can do. But I hope the Northern Territory Government like you, recognises that alcohol related violence is a serious problem.

They did recognise it in the recent weekend where they supported the restrictions that were put in place and they obviously from the reports I’ve had, had a positive effect. So let’s work together to make sure that we can put in place the restrictions that will mean that people can live safely.

JOURNALIST: There’s obviously an emergency summit on today, will you be attending it and talking with those people who are (inaudible)?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve only just heard about and I already have a very full program so I don’t want to let down the people I have already agreed to meet with. So I will be sending a Senior Official to that meeting.

JOURNALIST: Many town camps, or some town camps in Alice Springs are already working towards having alcohol management plans, and indeed have had alcohol restrictions since the 70’s. What additional sort of capacity to alcohol management plans provide to communities to manage alcohol problems?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think that demonstrates how important it is to have an alcohol management plan across the whole of Alice Springs, not just in individual town camps. Most of, if not all of the alcohol is sold outside of the town camps and so we want to make sure that we can see the whole community working together with the objective of reducing harm from alcohol.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Governments have failed Indigenous people in Central Australia for decades because of the ongoing problems associated with alcohol?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well plainly our Government has recognised over the last five years how important it is to take very strong action here in Alice Springs and particularly in the town camps.

Never before have you seen the level of investment from a Government, a Federal Government, in transforming the town camps here in Alice Springs. We’ve put more than $150 million into a huge range of additional services. We’ve built 86 new homes for people. There’s additional transitional housing so that people have places to stay when they come to visit.

You know the investment that’s been put into the town camps to make sure that people have got decent living conditions. We’ve also provided additional funding for services so I’m just about to go and meet with the people at Congress who run the Safe and Sober Program. You’d know that we’re running Early Intervention Programs for children, and so the list goes on of all the additional services that do now exist here in Alice Springs as a result of this Government’s very significant investment and that is because we know how important it is that people have a decent place to live in, that their children get a decent education, that we work with people who have alcohol related addictions.

All of these measures have been put in place by this Federal Government. The previous Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, came to Alice Springs, saw the problems in the town camps, said this is too hard and walked away.

We have never walked away from these problems. We’re here, we’re investing…(inaudible)