FROM LEFT: Look familiar? Candidates Steve Brown, Dale Wakefield, Dalton Dupuy, Eli Melky, Robyn Lambley, Phil Walcott and PAAC’s John Boffa. BELOW LEFT: Russell Goldflam makes a point. Behind him Dr Keshan Satharasinghe and at right, Janet Brown.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
People arriving at last night’s forum to give their views about dealing with alcohol harm found that the organisers had already made up their mind.
On the chairs were copies of a flyer from the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) with nine “priority areas for urgent action” which had been made public earlier in the day.
As it turned out, most people in the audience of about 60 were sympathisers or members of the group, and the thrust of their questioning was to what extent the current and intending politicians on the panel agreed with PAAC’s agenda.
The handful of people likely to disagree left early without challenging PAAC’s demands, which would affect all drinkers of alcohol, irrespective of whether they are a burden on society or not.
Ray Loechel, who is the part-owner of the Gapview Hotel, was in the audience for part of the evening, with his wife, Dianne, who is a member of the Alcohol Reference Group. He says they were there as observers.
A representative from a major supermarket was also there, the News has been told.
Chief Minister Adam Giles and 1Territory president Braedon Earley were scheduled to be on the panel but both had cancelled.
Araluen candidate Steve Brown, who represented Mr Giles, explained that as someone who is not in Parliament, let alone in Cabinet, he would confine himself mostly to expressing his own views, rather than the government’s.
Independent candidate for Braitling Eli Melky took Mr Earley’s place.
The other panel members were Labor candidate for Braitling Dale Wakefield, Greens candidate for Braitling Dalton Dupuy, incumbent Independent in Araluen, Robyn Lambley, and Independent for Braitling, Phil Walcott.
Mr Dupuy said he was in agreement with “almost all” of the PAAC agenda.
Both Ms Lambley (at right, with Mr Melky), a former Health Minister in the CLP Government, and Mr Brown, her rival in Araluen, spoke against giving Licensing NT the power to set prices and the introduction of floor prices.
Problem drinkers “will pay whatever it costs” and responsible drinkers deserve a bargain, Ms Lambley said.
Mr Brown said for most people having a drink is an enjoyable experience, and a floor price “does not stop alcoholics”.
Given the at times aggressive questioning, most panel members gave replies that left their options open.
Mr Brown said the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR), stopped by the CLP as soon as it came to power, had been “out of control” under Labor.
The Point of Sale Intervention (POSI) – cops at bottleshops – brought in by the CLP was a successful, “zero tolerance” measure that had reduced supply. Labor, Mr Brown claimed, would use POSIs only on special occasions.
Alcohol Protection Orders (APO) are in place which if breached, can result in a fine of $600 or three months in prison.
Orders of Mandatory Treatment are a further option. And expanding CCTV networks, Infringement Notices and more police rounded off the government initiatives. “Vote Labor and you’ll lose the war on grog,” Mr Brown ended his opening address, mostly reading from notes.
Ms Wakefield said measures need to involve the community, need to be evidence-based and transparent, but she gave few details.
There may need to be a cap on take-away licenses, she said. An ALP government would bring back the BDR but keep POSIs in place during a change-over period.
She had said during the Chamber of Commerce forum the previous night that officers at bottleshops would be fully professional police, not “second rate” personnel, an apparent reference to the government’s plans to deploy auxiliaries.
The former manager of the women’s shelter described the “tsunami” of violence against Indigenous women in Alice Springs as probably the highest in the world, especially at the time when there was no alcohol policy in place: “It was chaos. In human costs it was incredible. Unacceptable.”
Ms Wakefield described mandatory treatment as the most expensive measure. Mr Walcott agreed. He had also given details at the Chamber forum.
Ms Lambley described alcohol as the “greatest problem in the NT, followed by housing”.
It had been a big mistake to dump the BDR.
While mandatory treatment is “hideously expensive” it has saved some people’s lives. There should be no new licences, but no reduction is needed. Trading hours may need to be “tweaked” to become more consistent.
She described POSIs as the most successful strategy and says alcohol courts have worked.
“There will be a change of government,” said Ms Lambley – applause from the audience.
Some of the well-worn arguments got a re-run: People didn’t like the seatbelt legislation, and the ever increasing cost of cigarettes is reducing smoking.
But Ms Lambley said alcohol is not seen in the same light as cigarettes, and Mr Brown agreed.
A doctor from the Alice Springs hospital, Keshan Satharasinghe, who had worked in WA, presented dramatic details about children in the Kimberleys affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
He said 120 per 1000 are affected in Kimberleys, and “it gets worse, generation to generation”.
He said initially 90% of pregnant mothers were drinking. Education has now reduced this to 50% and it is hoped it will go down to 10%.
“It will take a generation to sort this out,” said Dr Satharasinghe.
“We don’t do enough in this area,” said Mr Brown.
Ms Lambley said she hopes the Royal Commission arising from the recent Four Corners report on juvenile detention in the NT will deal with FASD.
Mr Walcott says campaigns should run in schools, sporting groups, and young women’s groups: “We need positive messages.”
Ms Wakefield (at left, with Mr Brown) says while there are strategies aimed at young men, through football, for example, there are few similar campaigns to engage young women.
Brain injuries are not necessarily apparent – we need a change of culture and practice. Community policing should play a role: “They have a better lens on those issues,” she said.
It’s better than law and order chest thumping. The election is an opportunity to change; it will cost a lot of money, and the NT will need to collaborate with the Federal Government.
Mr Walcott said the public purse should not have to carry the whole burden – part should come from business and philanthropic sources.
Mr Melky said men need to be part of the FASD campaign, “families, relations and friends”.
DASA CEO Carole Taylor said her NGO’s budget has remained the same – which amounts to a reduction, taking into account inflation – but every year wages go up “and Ice addicts are now coming into the system. We can’t even get a clinician”.
Michelle Mayes (at left), representing CAAAPU, said there are just two NGOs in town dealing with alcohol and drug abuse – hers and DASA.
Addressing the panel she said: “If we can agree on a plan of action, why can’t you?”
Russell Goldflam, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of the NT, said in 2006 the price of alcohol increased by 30%, alcohol consumption went down and alcohol related harm and crime “was decreased very substantially”. There had been similar experiences in Canada and Great Britain.
Ms Lambley responded: “If the evidence is so compelling why don’t we have a floor price across Australia?
“I am not going to denigrate the evidence you may have, but if this is PAAC’s position, it will need to work with people like me, people in the community, to convince them that a floor price is going to work.
“I am not sold and I don’t think most people across Australia, across the Northern Territory and indeed Alice Springs are sold.”
Mr Goldflam to Mr Brown: “Are you ignoring the evidence because your biggest donor is the alcohol industry?”
Mr Brown replied in 2006 he (and Alice Action which he helped found) were “in the streets of Alice Springs” seeking measures against drunken behaviour. “I didn’t see any reduction.”
Relief came when the POSIs were brought in, after a period of ups and downs, Mr Brown said.
PAAC has always been “playing politics … putting their policies over what the community wants” including the removal of the BDR.
“You have to get the population to agree with you,” said Mr Brown.
Mr Lambley and Mr Melky left no doubt about campaign donations they are expecting: “From Robyn Lambley and from Craig Lambley,” she said. “I will not be bought and not be sold.” Applause from the audience.
“My wife and I” chimed in Mr Melky, and Mr Dupuy referred to the Greens’ stringent conditions.
In an evening short on witty one-liners, Ms Lambley, the ex-CLP front-bencher, created a moment of mirth: “The Henderson Government built a half billion dollar gaol and we filled it up.”
And Mr Melky, getting frustrated with the POSI discussion, quipped: “Do you want a tank at every pub?”
PAAC, releasing its 2016 election platform in collaboration with the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education yesterday morning, says alcohol is responsible for two deaths, 52 hospitalisations and 69 assaults every week in the Northern Territory.
“The Northern Territory has the highest proportion of people in Australia who drink daily and the lowest proportion of non-drinkers,” says PAAC spokesperson John Boffa.
“The NT is the booziest jurisdiction in Australia and, as a direct result, we have the highest proportion of alcohol-attributable deaths and hospitalisations.
“Our drivers are 20 times more likely to return a breath test above the legal limit; alcohol’s a factor in at least 42% of road deaths, in 53% of all assaults and in up to 65% of all family violence reported to police,” says Dr Boffa.
The main points of the platform are:-
• Reintroduce a Banned Drinkers’ Register and associated measures, including ID scanning for all customers.
• Retain point-of-sale interventions, including Temporary Beat Locations POSI), as needed, based on police operational decision making.
• Reintroduce therapeutic specialist courts for problem drinkers who commit offences.
• A moratorium on new, transferred, and reactivated liquor licences for all licensed premises, with no excemptions.
• A buy-back scheme for liquor licences.
• Three-yearly liquor licences.
• Midnight last drinks and a 1am closing.
• Review trading hours.
• A takeaway sales free day each week in locations where a need is identified.
• A minimum price for alcohol.
• Increase the capacity of treatment services.
• Reduce the number of liquor outlets.
• Prevent, diagnose, and manage FASD.
• Introduce a risk-based licensing scheme.
• Increase community involvement in liquor licence regulation.
• Ban political donations from the alcohol industry.