Public in the dark about significant facts in the grog debate


At tomorrow’s meeting of stakeholders about alcohol issues in Alice Springs, we can expect that all the facts will be on the table. But the public will be in the dark about at least one of them: the number of protective custodies this year compared to last. That will become public knowledge later this month, when the NT Police Annual Report is tabled, but until then NT Police are declining to release the figures.
It is also clear that one of the major stakeholders  invited to the meeting, the Alice Springs Town Council, has had no time to formulate a position on the issues. Mayor Damien Ryan said this morning he was still awaiting an agenda for the meeting. His first knowledge of the meeting was a media release by Ms Lambley on Wednesday last week – two days after the most recent council meeting.
Meanwhile, the Alice Springs News Online asked for protective custodies statistics following a reader’s post which suggested that they had halved this winter compared to last, evidence that the Banned Drinkers Register (rolled out from July last year and with 2491 people on it as at June 30, 2012) was taking effect. However, we have been fobbed off, with a police spokesperson saying that the information would take “some time to compile” even though it will be in the shortly-to-be-released annual report.
If protective custodies have indeed been halved, it could be worth having a rethink about the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR). There should be no room for policy-making according to anecdote and articles of faith in this area.
The sheer volume of protective custodies in Alice Springs was emphasised by Coroner Greg Cavanagh in his Briscoe Inquest findings, with Alice Springs accounting for nearly half of the NT’s protective custodies in the 12 months ending April 30 2012. Mr Cavanagh described the statistics as “one of the boldest indicators of the resource drain caused by excess consumption”. He described as “simply unacceptable”  the situation where “Police Officers in Alice Springs spend half their time on duty picking up ‘protective custodies'”. This was the demoralising, depressing backdrop to the events leading to the death of Kwementyaye Briscoe.
If there have indeed been significantly fewer protective custodies this winter, it could be that the BDR was starting to constrain heavy drinking, with a “critical mass” (as our reader suggested) of problem drinkers finding it difficult to obtain their grog. Apart from the benefits to them and their friends and families, that would leave room for the Police to be getting on with their other duties.
We’ll know more “between the third and fourth week of October”, according to the time advised by the police spokesperson for the tabling of the annual report.


  1. How many of the numerous taken into “Protective Custody” are repeat offenders? Are the numbers, individuals needing protection or multiples of the same couple of hundred drunks? How many are indigenous? Are non indigenous offered the same protective custody at DASA?

  2. Dave, On the numbers of repeat incidents of protective custody, this is also a question that I put to NT Police this week but which they have declined to answer.
    As I understand it, protective custodies are taken by preference to the sobering-up shelter at DASA, with the overflow taken to the Watch House. Non-Aboriginal people are certainly taken into protective custody, but I can’t help you at this point on their proportion of the total.

  3. Warren Mundine has said in today’s Australian, in reference to the Queensland government’s review of Alcohol Management Plans in formerly troubled Cape York Aboriginal communities that “quite frankly, you’d need to have a hole in your head to even consider it”.
    Gathering stats about who has been taken into protective custody, how many times, etc is valid, but we are dealing with a national alcohol-abuse problem of epidemic proportion.
    The stats on that have been presented in the Alice Springs News Online all year. We have to get real and deal with the supply issue by taking on the alcohol industry in the same way as the tobacco companies were mandated into displaying health warnings on their product. The alcohol industry is still resisting this while Chief Minister Mills continues to focus on the demand side.
    As if we don’t have enough social problems in Australia, by removing the BDR, the NT Government has opened the alcohol supply door and let the horses bolt again in an act of social vandalism which looks as if it’s about to be repeated in Queensland. Once again, the full force of this is felt by the most disadvantaged Australians in a specious argument about equal access to this drug.

  4. Reply to Dave Anderson (Posted October 4, 2012 at 1:31 pm):
    Although there are quite a few “repeat offenders”, and a few (like the deceased Mr Briscoe) who repeat many times, the total number of individuals placed in “protective custody” each year consists of thousands in Alice Springs. Nearly all are Indigenous. Over 800 of these individuals were on the banned drinkers Register when it was precipitously abandoned without investigation or evaluation by Terry Mills in the days following his election. Non-Indigenous people are offered the same service at DASA.

  5. NO MORE!!! Why does the community have to pay more out of their pockets that are shallow with high rents and living expenses. If all these drunks are on welfare payments then government has to deal with that. I am fed up with being forced to pay more for supply because a bunch of drunks are not willing to do anything for themselves. Enough about the rivers of grog. They want to swim in there go ahead. I stand on dry ground that is my choice. I work for a wage. I am sick of changes to my living choices because some find welfare a life choice for them and continue to blame the working class for their misery in life. ENOUGH!!! We used the grog as an excuse for bad behaviour and now we all sing that tune. Time to stop and treat criminals as criminals. Assaults as assaults, domestic violence as assaults. Let’s stop the blame game and deal with the behaviours. Stop the excuses and then we will stop the unacceptable behaviours. Oh my, that would just be too easy a solution. Time for mature voices and remove the petulant whining of of a few who find excuses for all unacceptable social discord. Stop the blame game and we all take personal responsibility for our own actions.

  6. @Janet Brown
    We already pay collectively out of our pockets for the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption: isn’t it better to reduce the alcohol-fuelled violence than pay for the hospital medical and welfare bills that result?
    What proportion of elective surgical operations have been cancelled at Alice Springs Hospital this year because of emergency surgery for alcohol related injuries, and bed block from alcohol-related admissions?
    How much will it cost the taxpayer to run two 400 bed rehabilitation camps in the NT?
    There is no magic bullet for this issue. Chipping away at the use of that other legal yet anti-social drug – tobacco – over 30 years or more, has shown what can be done with a sustained approach.
    Alice Springs shares its grog problem with Kings Cross, Brunswick St, Hindley St, and many other places.
    We need a national campaign to roll back our drinking culture everywhere, with a variety of different approaches to suit local circumstances.
    Ultimately a long-term multi-pronged attack on both supply and demand will not only leave a little more in all our pockets, but reduce human suffering as well.

  7. This same agreement you use Alex is a constant brain washed tune played by minority groups for decades. We in Australia pay more tax than any other western world economy and our welfare spending is over the top. No I don’t agree with a floor price that impacts on the working population of the territory. 99% of the grog related cost in medical are by welfare recipients. Make them pay. I work pay for private health and now minority groups want me to pay more. How about those in need of hospitalisation pay their own bills. And stop expecting workers to pay for their life choices. I will say it again why should I pay more for grog because some drunk on welfare cannot change his lifestyle to help him or herself.

  8. I have an idea how many are on royalty monies. How about they pay out of that money. The same money that is not means tested by Centrelink for them to receive welfare payments. Yet our age pensioners who worked all their lives are means tested to the nearest dollar. Another question for an answer but I am sure you Alex like so many who demand the people pay more would be against royalty payments being means tested or being used to assist the drunks’ medical bills.

  9. Janet Brown (Posted October 7, 2012 at 11:32 am) mistakenly believes “We in Australia pay more tax than any other western world economy and our welfare spending is over the top.”
    In fact, several reports recently reveal that Australian tax collections and welfare expenditures are near the bottom of the list of tax takes and welfare provisions in developed nations; taxation sits around the 24% of GDP level, which is about half the rate applying in several European countries.
    In 2005 the average OECD tax take was 36.2%. See Chart 5.1 in which reveals that in 2005 Australia was #23 in a list of the OECD countries’ taxation takes.
    In 2007, the OECD showed Government spending in Australia was the third lowest of all OECD countries (Chart 5.2), ahead of only Switzerland and South Korea.
    By 2009, Australia had reduced its take even more, and was 29th on the list of 34 OECD tax takes: “Australia is one of the lowest taxing economies in the developed world. In 2009 [see ], Australia had the sixth lowest tax-to-GDP ratio out of 34 OECD countries (Chart 1). Australia’s tax-to-GDP ratio is also on par with developed economies in our region.”
    This report also states (below Chart 1) the following: “The tax to GDP ratio fell 4.2 percentage points to 20.1 per cent in 2010-11, compared to the all-time peak of 24.2 per cent under the former government in 2004-05 and 2005-06 (see Chart 2).”

  10. Hark! Whence comes this petulant whining? Clearly J Brown (Posted October 7, 2012 at 11:45 am) is clairvoyant, else how can she be so sure that royalty recipients are also welfare recipients and/or are not being means tested, and/or are tax avoiders?

  11. @ Kieran I very rarely find reason to question your articles however on this occasion your use of the term BDR in what appears to be an assumption that if the statistics for protective custody were down for that term that the register was in some way responsible for that down turn. OK. How? What is the mechanism that made it work? Why are you attributing the downturn to the register as opposed to the massively increased level in front line policing, the thing that we have all been screaming about for years. Get Out! Get on the Beat! Be seen! And since the Commissioner’s storming visit to the town and the beginning of Operation Marathon which I like to call “Operation Policing all the Time” since the beginning of that campaign there has been a huge decrease in reported crime. As far As I can see this is directly attributable to cold weather and good preventive policing for the first time apart from a few off and on moments, in years. Well done Police! But the BDR? How So? Let’s just have a little look at the mechanics of that register.
    So Joe Blow confirmed alcoholic is on the register he has just been drinking for four hours with his mates in the pub, perfectly permissible under the register. He exits the pub, bit tiddly, but given the premises watches their licencing requirements he is certainly not drunk when leaving, just had a nice time socialising with his mates who all exit together. Bit of laughter, bit of frivolity and those who are not on the register are off to the bottlo to grab some drinks for the afternoon session in the river. No-one invites Joe Blow along as they are aware he’s on the register. Joe Blow confirmed alcoholic looks at his mates shrugs gives a bit of a sigh and says “see ya Blokes”, “I’m off home, cant stay for a takeaway drink because I’m on the BDR”!
    His mates give a laugh and say come on mate, what can happen? Joe answers: “They can ask me to go to court again and maybe give me another ban”!
    There is a general sharp in-drawing of breath and a few “OOhs”, everybody looks at Joe then all sadly nod their heads in sympathy. A disconsolate still sober Joe Blow wanders off homewards studiously avoiding the drinking circles around him where he sleeps in the river.
    “Bloody Scary thing, that BDR”, Joe thinks, his hands shaking violently “I’d rather face the Horrors any day”.
    Now is it just me or doesn’t the preceding scenario seem just a little unlikely??
    Well, that’s what your being asked to believe apparently some, mostly from the Loopy Left I hasten to add, actually do believe the BDR worked! I heard one bloke describe it as a “No Brainer”. Well all I can say is that the “No Brainer” is actually quite correct: nobody with even the tiniest amount of brain power at their disposal could or would possibly believe there was anything of value in the BDR other than what it was, another piece of Labor Party propaganda put about in a desperate attempt to cover their sheer and utter blind stupid incompetence: “Yeh” BDR working! Responsible for downturn!!
    You still haven’t been bye to photograph the fairies in the bottom of my garden either, Erwin. They wont wait forever, to much Snow.

  12. Steve, My main point in the article is that we don’t know all the facts. And unfortunately with your arguments you don’t supply them either. You are simply reiterating your beliefs, based on what you can imagine to be the case.

  13. Steve
    The flaw in your scenario is that five public bars in Alice Springs, including those most often frequented by many of those with drinking problems, did not allow Joe Blow, or anybody else who was on the BDR, to enter, let alone drink in, their premises. This was because the Licensing Commission, as part of the BDR arrangements, required these five bars to have ID machines and to check everybody before they entered the bars. The result was that the 800 locals who were on the register no longer had the choice to start drinking alcohol early in the day, couldn’t even enter their habitual drinking places, and found it much harder than previously to obtain access to take-away alcohol after 2pm on weekdays (or after 10am and 12 noon on Saturday and Sundays respectively).
    What we do know is that following the lifting of the enforcement of the banning orders, in Alice Springs at least, public and problem drinking suddenly flared back up after several months of unusual and increasing absence of these behaviours.
    Police in mid-August had told Alice Springs civic leaders very definitely that the BDR measures, together with Operation Marathon, had lead to a significant decrease in offences and protective custody counts, compared to the previous winter. The representative of the licensees told the civic leaders that her profits had been greatly reduced by the impacts of the BDR and Operation Marathon, and specifically demanded that the requirement to check IDs before people entered the bars, and exclude people who were on the BDR, should be rescinded (which is what Terry Mills immediately organised as soon as he was elected).
    In retrospect, it appears that the BDR was reaching a “critical mass” of numbers banned around the time that Operation Marathon was introduced, and that together the measures were able to produce a remarkable degree of efficacy. The lowering of drinking numbers which the BDR ennabled, led to decreasing numbers of drunks, and this in turn probably freed up more police to further decrease the remaining illegal drinking and other illegal activities.
    The evidence that something along these lines was occurring (a synergy between the two sets of measures) is attested by the evidence of an immediate increase in riverbed drinking, to which there are many witnesses, and by social workers and others who deal with newly debanned drinkers and their family members.

  14. Steve, given the choice, I’d rather be a member of the loopy left than a no-brainer. The lunatic fringe isn’t bad either, you should try it sometime. We could do the hokey-pokey together.


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