Booze probes must deal with passive welfare: Elferink


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.


  1. In reply to John Elferink: Why don’t you come clean and tell the voters how much the liquor industry contributes to the CLP campaign funds … no don’t want to!
    You talk about treatment programs but never speak about one of the pillars of the national harm minimisation strategy for alcohol and drugs: RESTRICTION OF SUPPLY. But then that would mean you would have to upset your liquor industry buddies.
    The reality is that very little will happen in dealing with the grog problem until such times as governments have the guts to restrict supply and ban advertising of alcohol.
    By the way, let’s not worry about world wide research into mandatory alcohol treatment programs … they don’t work so why would you and your CLP buddies think it will … stop wasting tax payers’ dollars.

  2. Supply is only one factor. Taking a step back from the Territorian situation, in any major city, bottled cleanskin wine can be purchased for $2-4 a bottle.
    Yet, the public face of violence associated with alcohol is on a Friday and Saturday night.
    Cheap bottled wine doesn’t seem to be a major player in weekend pub street mayhem, yet it is dirt cheap.
    This suggests other factors are at play.
    You can’t make the same rule for Hobart as for Yuendumu as they are chalk and cheese. Clearly, factors other than cheap grog are influential on the target behaviour.
    Politicians need to grasp the nettle they know to be true and acknowledge that Aboriginal culture and Anglo-celtic culture differ and their respective influences upon alcohol consumption differ.

  3. @ Nimby. Posted January 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm
    “In any major city, bottled cleanskin wine can be purchased for $2-4 a bottle.” Cheap wine is available throughout Australia and is best dealt with under a floor price. This will be covered in further detail in Alcohol Watch #8.
    “Cheap bottled wine doesn’t seem to be a major player in weekend pub street mayhem, yet it is dirt cheap.” Cheap wine is used in “pre-loading.” The rest of your post is completely unsubstantiated.

  4. If a one-size-fits-all (OSFA) “Canberra to Papunya” approach isn’t going to work, how does the Minister expect a “Hobart to Yuendumu” one to work?
    Why does the current NTG refuse to embrace the evidence around limiting supply while it is happy to assert (not prove) that their policies are working?
    When will the current administration accept that there is a suite of measures required that adopt all reasonable strategies irrespective of where they evolved?
    Playing politics with people’s lives is NOT their mandate or charter.

  5. A classic Elf attempt to cloud the real issue of alcohol abuse in the NT and what it costs our community socially and economically.
    Instead he wants to turn grog into a debate about something he calls ‘passive’ welfare. What is this ‘passive’ welfare Mr Elferink bangs on about?
    Is there an ‘active’ welfare? Is alcohol abuse only an issue if it’s paid for by social security benefits? Is it OK for someone to beat their wife and kids, cause havoc on the roads and clog up our hospital system if they are spending ‘job’ dollars not ‘welfare’ dollars on grog? Mr Elferink, you just aren’t making sense.

  6. @Melanie. I would have thought that “active welfare” is the allowance paid to people to tide them over if they have lost their job, supporting them until they find a new job.
    I would imagine “passive welfare” would be the type where benefits are paid but there is no requirement to actively seek employment. Just my thoughts.

  7. Goodness, doesn’t a discussion like this bring the politics to the fore.
    Pity we can’t discuss the issues without the confluence with (socialist) politics. As I see it all governments are on a drip of $$ from the liquor industry via the GST receipts.
    To turn this into a ‘mates of the liquor industry’ argument is pathetic. Were it that simple Hendo and Martin would have fixed it in eleven years. They did not. The Banned Drinking Register was not a fix but a band-aid.
    Yes, Melanie, there is passive welfare. Ray is correct. It is welfare designed to keep people off the unemployment lists and data. You would be surprised that Alice Springs unemployment rate is very, very low! It’s because the passive welfare recipients are excluded from the data. It’s politicians of BOTH persuasions massaging the data. It’s not a CLP conspiracy! Both sides use the trickery.
    Finally I must agree with John Elferink. Passive welfare is killing people. Black and White. The second and third generations in public housing slums in our cities prove this. All people: black and white should work within their capacity two FULL WORKING DAYS a week doing suitable volunteer work and another two days in formal education. If they don’t comply fully they lose the welfare for the period contributed by those who DO turn up 5 days a week to work. Seems fair and generous to me.

  8. Mark Wilson Re: Posted January 20, 2014 at 8:04 am
    The Banned Drinking Register was not a “band-aid,” rather a simple useful tool IF allowed to be used, and followed up, to reduce reported and related issues involving “drunks”.

  9. The Banned Drinking Register was always a very blunt instrument introduced at massive expense, administrative overheads with limited ( yes, real) success.
    It did not – either on its own, or in conjunction with other measures – turn off the “rivers of grog”. No one I spoke to saw any noticeable changes to antisocial behavior. I am losing faith with either police or hospital statistics.
    Statistics are massaged to reflect whatever position is desired. Governments are notorious at giving us expensive controls. This was in that league.
    It appeared to do much but in reality caused huge inconvenience to residents and tourists alike. Governments need to be seen to be doing something, anything … restricted trading hours is in this league.
    Rarely will they embrace the solutions that will produce real results as they are too difficult and unpalatable to a number of interests (yes, including the liquor industry) and communities.
    Yes, the issues are difficult but while our huge policing resources get used to control crowds outside liquor outlets and acting as a taxi service for drunks instead of taking real measures there will be only minimal change.
    This is the reason why I feel the BDR is a mere band-aid solution.

  10. @ Mark Wilson. Jan. 21st. 6:13AM.
    “The Banned Drinking Register was always a very blunt instrument introduced at massive expense, administrative overheads with limited ( yes, real) success.”
    Figures released at the time reveal that approximately $2.5m was the set up cost of the BDR machinery. The real expense was its dismantling by the NTG, although, it’s success in Nhulunbuy is apparently endorsed by Minister Lambley.
    Senior NT police officials are on record as saying that it was not given enough time to be the success that it can be and in that regard, the many-pronged approach to alcohol-abuse gives a real place for the BDR.
    This has been the approach of the WA government and those who advocate that there is no silver bullet to contain the problem. The BDR was a supply reduction measure and these are what are required.
    What you are telling us has been known for a long time. It was never intended to be a silver bullet and neither, for that matter, should AMT and lately, APOs.
    Others have declared that many people are outraged over alcohol-abuse and the increasingly dangerous intoxigenic streets, but they don’t want change to affect their own consumption habits.
    Showing ID at a BDR is a small price to pay when you look at the overall cost in taxpayer’s funds, unsustainable welfare (1 in 5 Australians. Australian, 21/1/14), etc.

  11. Russell you are clearly a committed warrior for alcohol reform in The Alice (and beyond, no doubt) and I do not question your sincerity, concern and work in this regard. Alcohol abuse is one of the scourges in our community and country. It has no respect for race, gender and age though clearly discriminates heavily in certain demographics. I disagree with very little in your reasoned ‘Alcohol Watch’ series of Reports.
    However Russell, all your well researched evidence based findings will come to little unless you can carry the people with you. Ultimately it is people (not pressure groups) who elect the politicians who listen more to public sentiment (right or wrong) than groups like the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) and the like.
    I believe that this has been the fate of the Banned Drinker Register (BDR). I get a real sense that people are just tired of constantly giving ground for yet more alcohol restrictions that seem to go nowhere. We endure significantly reduced (and ever changing) trading hours, banning of cask wine that had the consequence of increasing port sales, and more recently no discounting on drinks that give a ‘bigger bang for the buck’.
    Now we have (or have they changed again?) different trading hours for the different classes of beer, wine and spirits. More recently the show-piece CLP policy: hugely expensive rehab. programs have commenced.
    All these measures by the NTG and Liquor Commission have and will either mostly, or completely fail, even worsened (in the port example) to address the problems of self harm and anti-social behaviour. Now some of the poorer who can regulate consumption pay more for alcohol through the minimum floor price after long advocacy by John Boffa.
    The BDR was yet the latest in a proliferation of measures that for many, including myself, was ‘a bridge too far’. In principle it offered many advantages. In execution it was crudely executed as government cannot finesse a program but draws all into its web. I strongly opposed it on privacy concerns along with concerns of gross inconvenience to our tourist trade.
    Fundamentally it is Nanny Canberra that funds the purchase of the ‘rivers of grog’ in Alice and ultimately the solution lies in Canberra’s hands. Nanny NT can achieve little; the ASTC even less.
    Everything else will simply be as I said, a band-aid on a nasty sore and blight in our town and beyond. Here I believe the evidence supports my hypothesis.
    What disappoints me the most is the apparent indifference and lack of leadership by the Indigenous organisations in town. In my mind there are too many such organisations more concerned with maintaining control and power and managing their financial resources (including income sourced directly from grog and indigenous misery!) in “their patch” than in taking a very active lead in modifying the behaviours of their cohort.

  12. Minister do you recall a visit to Papunya in May 2001 when you accompanied Dennis Bourke at a community meeting hosted by Steve Hanley the acting CEO at that time.
    You announced that the police would no longer be implementing the alcohol restrictions, several reasons were given-lack of policing capacity, the rights of aboriginal people to have access to alcohol, someone even stated the right of people to “sniff or drink themselves to death if they wished.” A message was also given to pass this message on to surrounding communities.
    Denis Bourke’s role at this time was focused on closing the bilingual program and removing the principal, stating that teachers at the school were not teaching properly.
    Both of these statements shocked the students, families, elders and school staff. And the cost and consequences are evident.


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