By ERWIN CHLANDA
The new government’s alcohol strategies will be a home-brewed solution, driven by locals and not by Darwin.
While Minister for Central Australia Robyn Lambley (pictured), after today’s first “stakeholders” meeting on the issues, was surprisingly flexible about most issues, she’s adamant that any solutions will come from locals.
Asked in a media conference whether the Minister for Alcohol Policy, Dave Tollner, had been at the meeting, Ms Lambley said he was not there: “We prefer to make it a local representation.
“We’ve got five Ministers from Central Australia [in fact four Ministers with multiple portfolios, five MLAs], we’ve had over 10 years of Darwin instructing us on how we should proceed in terms of alcohol reform in Alice Springs.
“We want to make sure this is an Alice Springs driven initiative.”
Will Mr Tollner support this move?
“He will support whatever we decide. He’s fully respectful of our knowledge and expertise,” said Ms Lambley.
As diverse as the views may be in Alice Springs on what to do about grog, she says everyone is on the same page on alcohol being our biggest problem.
Apart from the Banned Drinkers Register (DDR), which is gone forever, most other ideas seem to be firmly on the table, including a floor price (“we’ll look at it more closely”). There is a view that it will line the pockets of retailers rather than fixing the problem.
Ms Lambley says the former government put its money on supply strategies, whereas the new government will address demand.
“Where we’ll end up, I think, will be a hybrid approach, an integrated approach where we address both supply and demand,” says the Minister.
Who or what will protect the public now that the people off the BDR are on the rantan again?
Ms Lambley says this isn’t a big problem as the banned drinkers were able to get booze from a “secondary market” anyway, as people at the meeting had observed.
Apart from the BDR no supply strategies in place will be rolled back for the time being, and if they are, “it will be in consultation with stakeholders,” says Ms Lambley.
It is an “absolute necessity” for traditional owners to be in on the reform process; they haven’t been for a long time, and “feel disengaged” from the process.
The meeting was attended by traditional owners who are the proprietors of the three IGA liquor stores and Milner Road.
“That’s a discussion we have to have,” says MsLambley.
“They have a conflict of interest when it comes to truly addressing the problems of alcohol consumption.
“It’s difficult to be an advocate for the reduction of supply and address the demand for alcohol at the same time. That’s something I will get to.”
What did these traditional owners say today?
“There was no discussion or acknowledgement of their role as owners of liquor outlets. They came with their hat on as the representatives of their organisations.”
Issues discussed were more sobering up facilities to take the pressure off the hospital emergency department; the encouragement of voluntary rehab and building on existing programs such as CAAAPU; the problems with staff recruitment and retention that may preclude the mandatory rehab facility in TiTree.
“Everything is negotiable to some extent,” says Ms Lambley.
There was clearly an element of weariness at the meeting about the often diametrically opposed views in the community: “You can present any evidence you like to support any argument you like,” says the Minister.
What have all the measures been worth in the light of an increase of 5000 patients a year over the past five years picked up by the St Johns Ambulance: “That’s 25,000 extra people.”
Why was the meeting moved from the Andy McNeill Room to the fortress-like Greatorex Building?
“There could have been a noise issue” in the Andy McNeill Room, says the Minister.
Why were the protesters not admitted into the meeting? Ms Lambley’s reply refers to her meeting with relatives of Kwementyaye Briscoe last night.
“It’s really up to the family to raise those sorts of issues [see video], and I fairly clearly remember it not being discussed last night. They have a right to take legal action if they so decide.”
And why were the media kept out?
When they are present at meetings “sometimes people are not as open and honest about their views”.