ABOVE: The grounds of the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programs Unit.
Mandatory confinement for alcohol rehabilitation will soon start for at least some problem drunks at the moment they are taken into protective custody for the third time in two months.
They will be under constant supervision while they are being assessed, and possibly spend three months locked up in a special facility.
If they abscond the police will be chasing them, and – a matter still under consideration – they may finish up in gaol.
Once they complete the rehab, 70% of their income from welfare payments is likely to be managed, for at least a year.
So much for the stick. On the carrot side, they will get after-care, helping them to find and adjust to work, and assistance to cope with temptations “outside” to get back on the booze.
It’s a ‘lite’ version of the touted programs that got the CLP into power in August last year, which promised expensive prison farms where people would spend a great deal more time than just three months.
Alice Springs News Online editor ERWIN CHLANDA spoke with Health Minister Robyn Lambley (pictured) who has carriage of mandatory alcohol rehabilitation.
NEWS: Do you agree that getting off the grog is easier for people who want to get off the grog, which makes mandatory rehabilitation a contradiction in terms?
LAMBLEY: Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they volunteer for restrictions placed upon them. People affected by alcohol generally do not make good decisions. Part of our mandatory rehabilitation program is to give them an opportunity of getting off the grog.
NEWS: It’s not just an invitation. You’re saying to them, like it or not, you’re in there for three months.
LAMBLEY: That’s right.
NEWS: And you think that works?
LAMBLEY: Yes. We have residential rehabilitation centres across the Territory. The NT Government spends a fortune on rehab programs already. Most people are there under a court order. They are mandatory clients. This is nothing new.
NEWS: How well has this worked in the past?
LAMBLEY: The success rate in not particularly great. It’s about 20%. It depends how you measure success. To me a success story would be getting people severely affected by alcohol into treatment, giving them 12 weeks of care, assistance and therapeutic treatment to change their lives. The ultimate success, I suppose, is people abstaining or developing drinking behaviour that is not harmful. That sits at around 20%.
NEWS: You say in your release drunks will be assessed for a placement of up to 12 weeks in mandatory rehabilitation.
LAMBLEY: The tribunal will determine whether someone is suitable for residential rehabilitation. If they are not they will be referred to options which will include income management and to programs that exist in the community.
NEWS: You will spend $100m over three years on this program. That is $33m a year which is a little more than one half of one percent of the Territory budget. Given that getting tough with drunks was the major plank in your platform, is that an adequate amount, when locals think the drunks are killing this town?
LAMBLEY: Well over $100m over three years, in operational funding, and it’s all new money And then we’ll be spending a large amount on capital works, purpose built facilities across the NT, over the next year or two.
NEWS: How much of that will be in Central Australia?
LAMBLEY: To start with we’re aiming at 200 beds Territory wide. From July 1 we’ll have a minimum of 140 beds.
NEWS: How many down here – just CAAAPU?
LAMBLEY: We have 20 in Alice Springs identified now and I’m hoping by July 1 we’ll have 40 beds.
NEWS: John Paterson, of the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance, says your initiative is a very expensive white elephant and evidence tells us that 12 weeks is nowhere near enough.
LAMBLEY: I did a lot of research in Opposition because we’ve been thinking and planning this for almost two years. It hasn’t just popped up over night. The evidence says these programs do work. They exist already throughout our community. 12 weeks or less is recognised as the minimum and is best practice of most programs throughout the NT. I’ve been to most of them. John Paterson may need to do a bit more research, because if he is right, everyone is making a lot of mistakes.
NEWS: Let me put to you a report on our website right now. A man, Alvin Riley, was released last year on parole after serving time for aggravated assault. He was given several orders, including rehabilitation, in a system similar to what you are setting up now. He ignored them all. Corrections obtained an arrest warrant. The police obviously did nothing to find him for six months. This month Mr Riley was found guilty again of three fresh aggravated assaults, in extreme states of intoxication, on two women. How does that augur for your scheme?
LAMBLEY: The difference will be, once the person has been brought into protective custody for the third time in two months, by the police, he will not be able to leave protective custody. He will be handed over by the police to an assessment service. Then he will be brought before a tribunal and – if it sees fit – he will be taken to the rehabilitation service. There will be no opportunity for that person to choose to attend or not to attend. He will be fully supervised throughout that process. Once he gets into rehabilitation and he chooses to abscond, he will become the responsibility of the police which will attempt to find that person. If the rehab place won’t take him back then he will go before a court which may sentence him to prison.
NEWS: It was the police action that was found to be wanted in the case or Mr Riley. We asked the police how many outstanding warrants they have. They gave us no answer. They said, ‘Lodge an FOI request’.
LAMBLEY: We haven’t absolutely defined yet how we will deal with people absconding.
NEWS: If you don’t fix that the whole system isn’t going to work.
LAMBLEY: Exactly. And that is a concern. Regretfully, we’ll have to use the police to bring these people back. Whether we allow people back in when they abscond once, or twice, or whether we have zero tolerance, and absconding becomes an offence, all that we have yet to determine. We don’t want to bring punishment into any of this but in terms of absconding we may be forced into that position, to strengthen the system.
NEWS: You say after care is important. What will it consist of and what’s the budget for it?
LAMBLEY: It’s just as important as the rehabilitation itself. People in residential rehabilitation become quite anxious in the last four weeks. They feel they have achieved a lot, they know what they are about to face when they go home, the temptation to drink will be enormous, and there is a high likelihood of a relapse. All programs I know have this after care component. In Tennant Creek, for example, they have transitional accommodation, they are helped to find work. They assist people by skilling them up for work and in doing so help them to stay off the grog. Work readiness training will start while they are in rehab. Existing services we are funding are available to help with after care follow-up and case management. We will be focussing on connecting these services much closer with each-other, making it a tighter alcohol support and rehabilitation system in each community. It is regionalized approach we are implementing. We haven’t yet nutted the additional funding we may be spending on these complementary services.
NEWS: Work seems to a key to all of this. Would you involve Centrelink? If there is a job for someone coming out of successful rehabilitation, should he be obliged to take the job and lose the dole?
LAMBLEY: We will be negotiating with the Federal Government and Centrelink around putting most if not all of these people who come before the tribunal on income management. There will be 70% income management across the board, most definitely for a period of time, we think 12 months to begin with. That will be a major deterrent. Work is recognised as an integral part of most rehabilitation programs. We want to see these people coming out with some sort of skill, some sort of experience of working every day.