Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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More must be done to restrict the flow of alcohol to those who abuse it, says Chief Justice

The Supreme Court in Alice Springs sees a ‘seemingly never-ending stream of violence’
Chief Justice of the Northern Territory Trevor Riley (pictured) today added his voice to the recent calls for more to be done to “restrict the flow of alcohol to those who abuse it”. He made his comments when sentencing 41 year old Errol Nelson for a violent assault on his wife in March this year. The couple had been together for about a year, were living at Areyonga but had come in to Alice Springs. Both had been drinking.
Ever harsher sentences would do nothing to stem the “seemingly never-ending stream of violence” coming before the Supreme Court in Alice Springs, said the Chief Justice – “other measures must be taken”.
“There is one violent case after another and each case bears a remarkable and disturbing similarity to the one that preceded it. In this case, as in many others, a drunken Aboriginal man has assaulted his drunken Aboriginal wife, in circumstances where there has been no real reason for the attack.  The assault is violent in nature and the level of violence is out of all proportion to the surrounding circumstances.  In nearly all cases, the violence includes the use of a weapon which, generally speaking, is whatever happens to be at hand.  In your case it was a knife.
“On each occasion, the court makes the same or similar observations.  Experience has made it plain that the answer to the problem is not in the courts imposing ever-increasing sentences.  The sentences imposed are already significant.  The courts must continue to impose sentences designed to deter but it would serve no purpose to make those sentences even harsher.
“Other measures must be taken to address the underlying causes.  Given that the abuse of alcohol is almost inevitably a factor in such offending, it seems to me an obvious starting point is to endeavour to restrict the flow of alcohol to those who abuse it.
“Your case is an example where a relationship can survive quite satisfactorily until alcohol is introduced into the equation.  Had you not had the access to alcohol which has been available to you here in Alice Springs, I am confident you would not have offended.”
Following a verbal argument, the victim was stabbed in the abdomen and in the left thigh, injuries constituting “serious harm” and for which she had to undergo surgery.
Further, the attack contravened a domestic violence order, and Mr Nelson was in breach of bail conditions which required him not to come to Alice Springs and not to drink alcohol. His criminal history consists largely of alcohol-related offending, including driving offences. He was also sentenced in May to two months’ imprisonment for a subsequent aggravated assault upon his wife, hitting her with a stick and punching her.
After he was arrested for the March assault he told police he had stabbed his wife “to get her attention”. He acknowledged that when he drinks too much he gets angry and that he needed anger management. When there’s no alcohol around his relationship with his wife is not violent.
Mr Nelson was raised in Yuendumu, went to school until Year 9, reads and writes English quite well and speaks five other languages.  He aspires to be an interpreter – a goal which the Chief Justice encouraged him to pursue when he’s released from gaol. He has had a reasonable work history, including working as a Centrelink officer. He was also a principal actor on the second series of Bush Mechanics.
He moved away from Yuendumu in 2010 when there was trouble there,  living in Katherine where he worked on the CDEP and also spending time in Western Australia.
Mr Nelson was sentenced to three years with a non-parole period of 20 months. He received a discount of one year for entering a guilty plea at the first available opportunity.
The Chief Justice told him that his prospects for rehabilitation will depend on him addressing his alcohol, cannabis and anger management problems:  “It really is up to you to address those problems although help will be available in the prison and I am sure that the Parole Board will impose conditions to encourage you to address those problems when you are released.”


  1. This offence occurred in March this year during which time the BDR was in operation. If the BDR was such a success as hailed by some why did it not stop this violent assault? Both were still able to freely access alcohol. The BDR was ineffective and this proves it. If the offender had been in rehabilitation as I have suggested should occur, this incident could not have happened. And as I have stated if rehabilitation takes ten years then so be it, better than having them on the streets endangering the rest of us as evidenced by his drink driving record as well.
    The comment made by the Chief Justice that harsh sentences are not working? Please show me where the word “harsh” applies in this sentencing? Three years for a violent assault including stabbing with parole available before two years is up? And that’s after a string of offences beforehand? Get real. A harsh sentence would have been 15 years with non-parole 12 years. That would then be a deterrent. All said and done, he should not be in gaol but mandatory rehab and only out once sober, however long that takes.

  2. The real people on the ground know the truth Rex. It appears to me the courts have failed to protect victims of crimes and now want to avoid their participation of the increase in violence on the streets by blaming the grog. The real reason for increased violence as I stated is the inability of the courts to protect victims. If the judges want to stop the crime and criminal behaviour then they make sure the protect the victims. Old saying: “Don’t want to do the time? Don’t do the crime.” The courts are at fault for increased violent crime not the grog.

  3. Rex, one case does not prove anything one way or the other about the BDR. If it did Richmond would be premiers! Don’t let emotion / ideology overcome logic and reason. Look for the trend over time, that is what PAAC has attempted to do in their submission (see elsewhere on this site).
    There is evidence that assaults / hospital presentations have fallen. That is likely to be the result of a combination of factors, including the BDR.
    Don’t fall into the trap of jumping to conclusions, let Janet be be our object lesson there.

  4. I think focusing on alcohol misuse is not the issue here. The issue as I see it is violence against women. This is a cross cultural issue, nothing however the devastatingly high incidence of domestic violence in the NT. Whatever supports the women in question states she needs to continue her ability to survive domestic violence, that is what society should do to assist her.

  5. @ Kate … read some of the articles on this site recently. there is a direct correlation between alcohol supply and violence. Do you actually have an argument to counter the judge’s comments?

  6. Along with his other comments, the Judge said that a drunken Aboriginal man had assaulted his drunken Aboriginal wife.
    Not to blame the victim, but if the woman wants to put a stop to being assaulted, she might consider not getting on the grog with a known violent offender.

  7. Hal, did you really think about what you just wrote? It sounds like the comment she wore a short skirt and asked to be raped.

  8. @Janet
    Yes, Janet, I did think abut what I wrote. Nothing to do with wearing a short skirt and getting raped – everything to do with sitting down with a known violent offender and getting on the grog.
    From the story, it sounds like similar assaults have happened before. If true, why put oneself in the way of it happening again?
    Also from the story, it sounds like without grog the couples’ relationship is not violent. So, again, why put oneself in the way of becoming part of a violent incident when history shows what is likely to happen when grog enters the picture.
    It’s not too hard to see how to avoid it – don’t go drinking with known violent offenders.
    Self-preservation. Personal responsibility. They count, but they are in no way meant to be taken as a mitigating factor in the man’s violent behaviour.

  9. So Hal. The grog and the victim are to blame. Not the drunk bloke with the knife. You mentioned self-preservation, personal responsibility. What about the bloke. He is the person in this event who used a knife with the intent to get her attention if the written reference is correct. I’d love you talk to the domestic violence unit with you victim analogy. Domestic violence victims like the alcoholics and drug addicts are caught in a psychological turmoil.
    They need rehabilitation facilities to assist with the healing process and the support to over come and deal with issues. Not all alcoholics are violent not all drug addicts are violent but in domestic violence there is always violence. And there is a lot of domestic violence happening without drug and alcohol excuses. But in all of that I ask again why is it that there is still the old and outdated blame everything and anyone except the person who committed the criminal assault. Hence my use of the girl with the short skirt. This type of outdated thinking out loud has to stop. And you used the right terminology. Self responsibility.
    Why should everyone in the community change their behaviour. We are expected to do this for a very small group who are not required to change their lives and behaviour. When the alcoholics change their life styles to help themselves, I like many other decent people will assist their recovery in many varied ways. Lead by example and please, Hal, the reason victims are given that reference is due to the fact they are victims of a criminal act. So decent people with empathy do not attract the victims they attack the person/s who committed the assaults or criminal act.

  10. @Janet
    Please read my comment to the end. You will see that I said: “Self-preservation. Personal responsibility. They count, but they are in no way meant to be taken as a mitigating factor in the man’s violent behaviour.”
    I’ll say it again. They are in no way meant to be taken as a mitigating factor in the man’s violent behaviour.
    The man in this story used a knife on another person. Not good. He is now locked up. Good.
    About the victim, and to repeat – I do not blame her for being assaulted. I do question her choice of drinking partner.
    Why sit down with someone who you know from past experience will hammer you? Why bother?

  11. In the current issue of The Weekend Australian [Sorry Erwin, I do read other publications] there are at least six articles relating to the connection of alcohol abuse to Aboriginal violence. Noel Pearson has a column as do doctors and other commentators. The articles were generated by comments made by the Queensland Premier to allow wet canteens on Aboriginal communities again.
    In fact the lead article states that the LNP lost votes and seats because the communities didn’t want the alcohol-fueled violence back and voted accordingly. A study done by, I forget who, [name supplied in article] proved conclusively that alcohol abuse was connected to murders, rapes, bashings, poor health, malnourished children, poor school attendance and shortened life expectancy. Fairly important outcomes, I would have thought.
    Pearson talks about why Indigenous people can’t and will never be able to handle alcohol, for cultural reasons. It is worth a read. But it was the medical doctor’s comments that resonated most with me. In this forum we argue back and forth about “rights”, “responsibilities” and whose to blame … blah, blah, and more blah.
    The doctor in this article, points out that there two “freedoms”: One, the freedom to and the other, the freedom from. All adults have the freedom TO drink alcohol BUT and this is the MOST important; women and especially children should have the freedom FROM abuse.
    Janet, our whole society is geared to deal with the “minority”. The majority of people are law abiding citizens but we have a police force to deal with the minority. The majority of businesses are law abiding organisations but we have consumer laws for the minority.
    Most drivers do the right thing on the road but we have road signs for the minority. I could go on and on. Society has to deal with the lowest common denominator and we have done a fairly good job up til now. Now we have to deal with alcohol misuse. Even though you don’t have the problem [neither do I!] other people do and a lot of those people are powerless.
    I want some protection for those innocents. If it means I can only buy alcohol at certain times or whatever – then so be it. I can cope, lots of other people in abusive situations can not.

  12. From Leigh’s comments in reference to Noel Pearson it seems there is a simple solution. We just ban Aboriginal people from drinking as was the case originally. But then that would be racist wouldn’t it?

  13. Rex, Pearson advocates an inter-Aboriginal discussion about cultural obligation and alcohol. If this is allowed to bear fruit and governments listen, then perhaps there is hope for the vulnerable. Clearly, it is a problem for some Aboriginal leaders who have the safety of women and children in mind.


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