LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – Since October last year, Police Auxiliary Licence Inspectors – PALIs – are standing in or outside every bottle shop in Alice Springs during opening hours.
The presence of law enforcement personnel outside the stores has generally been welcomed in Alice Springs, as it discourages humbugging and anti-social behaviour.
However, the PALIs have been given surprisingly wide-ranging powers which in some cases go well beyond the normal powers of regular police officers. What we regard as fundamental human rights are being diluted and altered.
For example, in normal circumstances a citizen can go about their lawful business without interference from law enforcement officers.
Normally, the public cannot be questioned unless there is reasonable suspicion that an offence has been or will be committed. And of course, there is the right to silence and the right not to incriminate yourself.
A PALI, however, can demand that a person states their name, address, whether they intend to buy alcohol, where they intend to drink it and with whom, and a host of other matters simply because of what the PALI personally thinks about the person’s intentions. The PALI doesn’t need to show reasonable suspicion of an offence.
These powers are regularly being used and in many cases, overstepped.
People who are going about their lawful business are being interrogated and harassed when there is no evidence that an offence has been or is about to be committed. Some of the examples would astound you.
Is this because of inadequate training PALIs receive before being given a gun and taser to stand out in front of bottle shops and challenge people who are doing nothing wrong? Or is it because PALIs are deliberately abusing the power with which they have been entrusted?
There have been many complaints about PALIs lodged with the Minister for Police, the Attorney General, the police themselves, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, and a variety of Aboriginal organisations.
The main problem appears to be that nothing has been published to inform the public about these very wide powers, and what a person can do if challenged by a PALI.
Another basic right that is being ignored here is racial equality. There is consistent evidence from the community that Aboriginal people are being targeted. Some people are calling it racial profiling.
The government says that the new liquor laws apply equally to everybody. That may be how the new laws read, but it is not how they are working in practice.
The government’s position is that it is acceptable for these basic rights to be diluted and ignored in pursuit of the goal of reducing alcohol-fueled harm in the community.
To a limited extent, that is right. There will always be a cost to policies like this. But it is the government’s obligation to make sure that cost is worth it, and basic to this is to make sure that the policy does not cause more problems than it solves.
In any event, there is no reliable evidence that by putting the community through this, the government is actually achieving its goal.
It has been reported that not only is the government refusing access to the raw data but that the government is publishing incomplete or even biased statistics to support its position that its policy is working.
The time has come for the Attorney General to publish a clear and simple code of conduct for the PALIs that outlines what they can and cannot do in the line of their duties and the rights of members of the public when dealing with the PALIs or being challenged by them.
The PALIs are driving people away from their local grocery stores into the arms of the big supermarkets.
If things keep going the way they are, where legitimate concerns are being ignored by Government, it won’t be long before Alice Springs wakes up one morning to find that one or more of these stores has closed for good.
And then it will be too late. I’m not joking.
Chair, Lhere Artepe Supermarkets
[ED – Acting Commissioner of Police Michael Murphy yesterday released a statement about “the unfortunate recent commentary about PALIs in Alice Springs [which] does not reflect the tireless efforts of the men and women of the Northern Territory Police Force to address the harm that alcohol causes within our community”.
The Acting Commissioner claims as “undeniable” statistics that show massive drops in alcohol related police work, including protective custody in the Alice Springs and Tennant Creek region dropping 55.8% in July.
On June 4 the Alice Springs News requested access to the raw police and health data underpinning those statistics on the condition that privacy is not breached.
We have not been given that access, but continue to request it.