LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – A series of amendments to the Territory’s Alcohol Mandatory Treatment legislation will strengthen and re-enforce the Government’s ground-breaking measures to help problem drinkers fight addiction.
The maximum time a client can be detained for assessment is reduced and there will be a graded response for those who abscond from Alcohol Mandatory Treatment.
The Government believes that alcoholics have a right to medical treatment to help them get control of their addiction and their lives, and we also believe the families and communities fed up with drunkenness and anti-social behaviour deserve respite.
Under the Government’s plan, problem drinkers placed in Police Protective Custody three times in two months will face clinical assessment for Alcohol Mandatory Treatment. Once assessed, a Tribunal made of a legal, medical and community representatives will determine whether the client should undertake up to 12 weeks of Alcohol Mandatory Treatment in a prescribed treatment centre.
It is expected up to 800 problem drinkers will be treated every year.
Since taking responsibility for the Alcohol Rehabilitation portfolio in March, I have met with dozens of stakeholders to discuss our plans for treating problem drinkers and I have also been in active discussion with relevant parties since the legislation was tabled last month.
I have listened to all legitimate concerns and, where appropriate, have moved to amend perceived problems with the legislation.
The key changes focus on the amount of time a problem drinker can be held before assessment and treatment and provisions around absconding from Alcohol Mandatory Treatment.
Under the proposed amendments a client must have a clinical assessment within four days of a third protective custody incident – down from the six originally proposed. The Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Tribunal must make its decision within four days of clinical assessment – down from the original seven.
A client will only have committed an offence if absconding from an Alcohol Mandatory Treatment facility three times during the 12 week treatment phase.
It is not and never has been the intention of our legislation to criminalise alcoholism and the proposed amendments around this show very clearly that our number one priority is treating problem drinkers.
The total maximum time before a determination is now down from 13 days to eight.
In coming weeks I will again speak with stakeholders to update them on the proposed changes and I will also brief the Independent Member, Gerry Wood and the Opposition.
Minister for Alcohol Rehabilitation