Alcohol management plans; Stronger Futures
E & OE – Proof only
Subject: Alcohol management plans
INTERVIEWER: It’s no news in the Northern Territory that the rivers of grog that have flowed through Indigenous communities have sparked all manner of action including Federal interventions. The Little Children are Sacred Report kicked the whole thing off it seems.
There’s no doubt that alcohol abuse has been a scourge on not just remote communities, but the Territory’s society as a whole. Today, Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin is in Darwin to announce the latest measures to curb alcohol related harm, particularly in Indigenous communities.
A set of minimum standards, but will they work, and how much say will the communities have themselves in what grog restrictions they face?
The Minister joins me in the studio, Jenny Macklin good to see you.
JENNY MACKLIN: Good morning.
INTERVIEWER: It’s an important moment for you because this is the end of a consultation is it not? What I’m wondering is during the consultations, how much change between the proposed minimum standards and the minimum standards that are now released, in fact put up onto your website only a half an hour or so ago?
JENNY MACKLIN: We have just released these alcohol management plan minimum standards and they have been subject to around a hundred different meetings across the Northern Territory including remote parts of the Northern Territory.
Probably the biggest feedback we got was to make sure we expressed the minimum standards in a way that people could very clearly understand. And when you have a look at them you can see that it is about how the communities should go about making sure that everybody in the community has a say, including those people who often aren’t heard.
INTERVIEWER: Women, children, men…
JENNY MACKLIN: Exactly.
INTERVIEWER: Youth, the elderly, clan groups, traditional owners, and all residents including non-drinkers and drinkers, that’s what the management plans say.
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right. And I think as you would know it’s often those with the biggest voices are heard in these consultations. We want to make sure that especially those who can be subject to the violence that comes from alcohol abuse are heard, and that’s why we want to make sure that women and children and the elderly are heard because they’re the ones that carry the greatest damage.
INTERVIEWER: So does that mean that communities are able to decide, they want to serve full strength beer and that they have the capabilities to do so, socially and they are ready to put them in, they can actually decide as a community to put full strength beer back on to the communities?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well if you have a look at the alcohol management plan guidelines, the number one criteria is to reduce harm, so in putting forward an alcohol management plan the community will need to think about how it is they’re going to reduce harm, not how they’re going to increase harm. So I think you’ll see the vast majority of communities will say they want to look at how they can restrict access to alcohol because they understand the impact that it’s been having in the past.
INTERVIEWER: I know your Federal Government has tried to avoid the notion of an intervention, but when it comes down to the autonomy of the communities as they stand now, if they make the management plan and put it in place, they still have to rely on the Federal Government to actually sign off on that, and so where is the autonomy in that if the Federal Government are still eventually telling them what they can and can’t do?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well really because Aboriginal people have made it clear to me that alcohol abuse and the violence that comes with it is destroying their families. So many people have said that to me, and they expect the Federal Minister to stand up for them. Stand up for the people who are the most vulnerable and make sure that people get the protection that they deserve.
INTERVIEWER: If they are feeling that they are in a safe environment, that they are actually able to buy full strength grog like everybody else does around the country, including people who don’t have drinker registers and those sorts of things in remote communities in Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia, then shouldn’t the community be able to decide the way in which they want to approach the management of alcohol?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s exactly what the alcohol management plans are aimed to do. Allow people to have a say, but to make sure that the people who are having a say include those who are often the subject of violence that comes from alcohol abuse. So let’s make sure that this is not just about whether or not people can have full strength beer, that is not what this whole process is about. It’s about making sure that Aboriginal people on the ground in their communities have a say about what happens in their communities.
INTERVIEWER: How do you register? How do you actually go through the process? Do the community already have something that looks like an alcohol management plan?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s in the guidelines that we’ve produced so people can of course start the process of discussion, we’ll get engaged with them. Some of the money that we’ve made available is to assist in that process. We’ve got people on the ground in communities to work with individuals and groups so that they can have a say about what happens locally.
INTERVIEWER: A couple of questions, one that’s just come in on the text this morning. What evidence do you have that shows that the banned drinker register will improve outcomes in communities, particularly around remote areas of the top end?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well if you think about it, there was around 2,000 people on the banned drinkers register who weren’t able to get take-away grog. Those people are now able to get access to take-away in a way that they weren’t when the banned drinkers register operated.
Before the election you had the police saying that they thought the banned drinkers register was a useful tool. You’ve had a grog summit here at the end of last year with Aboriginal leaders calling for the reinstatement of the banned drinkers register. I think all of us know that by itself the banned drinkers register isn’t going to be a magic wand, but we also all know that you have to operate on many fronts. We need to deal with the supply of alcohol, the demand for it, and of course make sure that there are treatment facilities.
INTERVIEWER: And this is where the diversion comes between the Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government at the moment. It’s only a few days ago since Attorney General, John Elferink, released this press release which said that the Minister for Justice and Attorney General said the number of alcohol fuelled assaults dropped by 5.9% across the Territory in December 2012 when there was no BDR, compared to the 2011 quarter when there was a BDR. They are consistently saying there is no evidence to actually say that the BDR worked.
JENNY MACKLIN: And there are other people that say the reverse. And I’m inclined…
INTERVIEWER: But they’re the Government.
JENNY MACKLIN: I’m inclined to listen to what the police said before the election. I’m inclined to listen to the Aboriginal leaders who are the people who are subject to the violence that comes from alcohol abuse. Listen to the people who are actually suffering as a result of alcohol abuse.
INTERVIEWER: They were elected on a platform where they said they were going to reduce and they were going to take the BDR away. In remote and regional seats, they won those seats. Why aren’t they allowed to then inform the policy that people have elected them to bring?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think you do need to listen to those who are actually mostly affected and the people who are mostly affected are those Aboriginal people who actually say, we don’t want grog in our communities. We want the banned drinkers register to come back. We want to make sure that we have strong alcohol management plans that have at their heart the reduction of harm.
I’ll be meeting with people who were at the grog summit today. I’ll be meeting with the Aboriginal peak organisations. They’re calling for the reintroduction of the banned drinkers register, they think it was a useful tool. Let’s do everything we possibly can to help.
INTERVIEWER: If it was such a useful tool, and you believe that it to be true, why wouldn’t you see it in other parts of Australia, outside of the Northern Territory? If you watched Four Corners last night you saw urban Australians being caught up in drug and alcohol fuelled violence. Why wouldn’t you introduce banned drinkers registers right across the board, rather than just for the Northern Territory?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well, I’m trying to get the Northern Territory Government to reinstate what was a Northern Territory law. I’m talking with them about it. I’ll talk with the Chief Minister about it again today.
INTERVIEWER: Will you actually meet with the Chief Minister because he’s in Gove at the moment?
JENNY MACKLIN: He’ll be back.
INTERVIEWER: He’ll be back. Okay.
JENNY MACKLIN: So I’m told.
INTERVIEWER: So the alcohol policy Minister Dave Tollner is out bush at the moment, so..
JENNY MACKLIN: I’m not sure about Mr Tollner, but I’ll be meeting with the Chief Minister later today, and of course we have many issues. This is a very important one, but there are many other issues which we’ll discuss today.
We’re putting $3.4 billion into the Northern Territory, in education, health, of course increased policing. We want to make sure that we work with the Northern Territory Government, with Aboriginal people, to improve the lives of people here in the Territory.
INTERVIEWER: What’s the measurable, when it comes to this? When you’ve said this is the way we’re going to approach it, this is what we’ve done, we’ve consulted, we’re now employing the minimum standards for alcohol management. What’s the measure to say that it’s a success?
JENNY MACKLIN: The reduction of harm. And once again, if you look at the guidelines that have been distributed, people will need to actually describe how they want to measure it in their own communities. So the level of violence, we actually produced the number of people who’ve been affected by violent assaults in communities. We produce that data on six monthly basis. We’ll continue to do that with the Northern Territory Government because of course it’s not just the alcohol management plans, it’s the impact of having the extra police that the Commonwealth’s paying for, the additional housing, the extra teachers. All the different measures that go to making sure that people’s lives are improved.
INTERVIEWER: One of the things that took place in Katherine over the last week or so was Operation Thumper. It was directed at alcohol related offences in regional Northern Territory. Thirty eight arrests, seven for aggravated assault, eight for breaches of domestic violence orders, eight for drink driving, 510 litres of alcohol, 74 infringement notices for alcohol was tipped out. That’s from a police press release. Are you concerned that if you had alcohol management plans which reduces the availability of alcohol in communities that you will push the problem to places like Katherine where you will continually need to run those sorts of police operations.
JENNY MACKLIN: Well of course we need these alcohol management plans in the towns as well. I’ll be in Alice Springs tomorrow. These are serious issues in the towns, in Katherine, in Alice Springs, in Tennant Creek. I’m very aware of that and of course we’ve been doing a lot of work in different towns. Tomorrow I’ll be meeting with the people running the Safe and Sober program from Congress. We know that it’s important to work with organisations like Congress to help people get off the grog. But that’s also why we want to put assessors into two hotels in Alice Springs where there’s certainly evidence of alcohol related harm. I’ve written to the Northern Territory Government asking them to do this with us to make sure that we improve the operation of those hotels.
INTERVIEWER: And to wrap up, the meeting this afternoon is very important. You are, as you say, quite divergent in the approach to the banned drinkers register at the moment. Where’s the point of compromise do you think between what the Northern Territory Government currently want to achieve, that is to not reintroduce the BDR and what the Federal Government want to do and that is to see the BDR?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think the important thing is to have at your heart, the desire to reduce harm. To make sure that we address the seriousness of alcohol related violence and to operate on as many fronts as possible. The banned drinkers register is one, getting these assessors into these pubs in Alice Springs is another. Making sure that we do everything we can to make these alcohol management plans happen in communities right across the Territory. We have many different ways in which we are supporting the Territory Government, increased policing for example. There are so many different ways we can work together and that’s the way I’ll come to the meeting this afternoon.
INTERVIEWER: Jenny Macklin, September 14, is this a winner, this is a vote getter?
JENNY MACKLIN: I’m here really because this is what Aboriginal people have said is one of the biggest priorities for them. It is killing people. We are seeing Aboriginal people die because of alcohol induced violence. Let’s do everything we can to address it.
INTERVIEWER: Minister, thanks for your time.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you.