By ERWIN CHLANDA
Any inquiry into alcohol problems needs to look at the effects of passive welfare and be specific to the conditions in the Northern Territory, says NT Justice Minister John Elferink (pictured).
“We can build massive institutions to deal with alcoholism but while the Federal Government pours free money into our jurisdiction, spending millions of dollars every fortnight, we as a government are going to be spending millions of dollars every fortnight cleaning up the mess,” he says.
“One of the things I am doing, and I know [Stuart MLA] Bess Price is also doing, is getting into communication with the new Federal Minister for Human Services, Marise Payne – she who dishes out the dole – telling her that the passive welfare approach is a corrosive approach.
“I’d like to put to Senator Payne how that can be fixed, and Bess is also working very hard in this area.”
How does that relate to the nation-wide inquiry into alcohol problems announced by Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion?
Says Mr Elferink: “What I’m saying about alcohol abuse and the Federal Government’s perspective, it will try and make a rule about what it thinks will work in Hobart as well as in Yuendumu.
“That is the nature of the way services are delivered in Australia by the Australian Government. You’ll end up having generalisations operating throughout Federal policy.
“One of the great shortcomings of the former Labor Government was the belief that you could run something like the Intervention from Canberra, to fix what was happening in Papunya, by making a determination from behind a desk in Canberra.
“If you really want to deal with alcohol issues in remote communities as well as in Alice Springs, there has to be a capacity for local decisions to drive local solutions, that include Papunya and Yuendumu, and that’s what I’ll be suggesting to Marise Payne when I get to speak with her.”
Is there a case for the Territory to have its own investigation into alcohol issues?
“These things have been investigated to death. All sorts of recommendations have been made.
“But there has not yet been a public inquiry into the effects of passive welfare in the Territory.
“There is much that could be laid at the feet of the passive welfare system which degrades people and strips them of their dignity.”
Should there be a Northern Territory Government inquiry into these issues?
“We know people drink too much, they bash their wives and each-other while they are under the influence of alcohol.
“What I’m saying is there should be a Federal Government response that meets the needs of the communities that are affected by a passive welfare system, in an effective way, so that you have policing responses and health responses that match, rather than compete with Commonwealth expenditure in the Northern Territory.”
Mr Elferink says liquor has been a topical issue “for as long as we’ve kept a Hansard Parliamentary record in the Territory” and asserts that the current government is on the right track with Mandatory Treatment Programs and the Alcohol Protection Orders.
By ERWIN CHLANDA