What they don’t tell you about grog and crime

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By ERWIN CHLANDA

Supporters of alcohol control, including Natasha Fyles, the Chief Minister until recently, are misleading the public by omission: They attribute the recent substantial reduction in some crimes to restrictions including the barring of take-away sales on Mondays, Tuesdays and what amounts to most of Wednesdays.

Ms Fyles, to justify her decision to bring in the measures, claimed that domestic violence has halved since they were introduced.

But the supporters of these drastic regulations don’t point out that the drop in crimes followed the catastrophic situation created by the end of Stronger Futures in mid 2022, sending crime through the roof. It brought Prime Minister Anthony Albanese into town.

And before that, when take-away trade had been permitted seven days a week, the level of crime was much the same as it is now. The anti grog activists are not giving that much airplay.

In fact there was less crime in some important categories, according to the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the region’s most vocal activist for restrictions, apparently contradicting its own arguments.

The controls of the local alcohol trade, baffling to most visitors, is a concern for Tourism Central Australia. It is seeking a seven day bottle shop trading in the high tourist season, starting soon, and a return to five days in the crime high season – summer.

So far there has been no reply to TCA from the government.

A Congress document, with apparently limited circulation, obtained by the News, shows that between October 2015 and June 2022 – when bottle shops were open seven days a week – alcohol related domestic violence was less frequent than now, under the five days a week regime.

And there are far more property offences.

The Congress paper does not take into account the mayhem when Stronger Futures came to an end. It takes advantage – misleadingly – of the uncharacteristic peak.

Under “Key Findings” the paper quotes “significant reductions in domestic violence presentations at the Alice Springs Hospital Emergency Department (monthly DV presentations down 39%) … a considerable reduction in crime, including domestic and family violence (alcohol-related Domestic Violence Assaults are down by 43%; alcohol-related Assaults by 42%; and Property Offences by 15%).

“Comparing the 12 month period February 2023 to January 2024 (when the regulations were in place) with February 2022 to January 2023 (when they were not), there have been 406 fewer alcohol-related DV assaults; 521 fewer alcohol-related assaults; and 996 fewer property offences.”

It makes no comment about the current situation, in some respects more serious than before June 2022.

In 2022/23 Congress received $67m from funding bodies, plus $11m for capital projects, and spent $49.5m on employee costs.

We asked Congress and the government whether the organisation’s involvement and advocacy in alcohol issues had been examined by independent experts. We received no reply. 

The government appointed Liquor Commission, which has nine members, and is an independent statutory authority with extensive powers to regulate licensing of an expensive and frequently lethal substance, would not comment nor agree to provide information.

The quantity of alcohol consumed is not known with certainty. Says the Liquor Act: A registered wholesaler must lodge returns “about all sales of liquor made … during the quarter”.

There is a requirement for a licence “to sell liquor from a place outside the Territory for delivery to a person or place in the Territory”.

However, it does not appear that holders of an interstate retailer’s licence need to provide returns (they are not wholesalers) and so the quantity obtained by online orders is not known and that makes the total consumption figure worthless.

We asked the government but got no reply.

Meanwhile the convoluted system under which the grog business operates is causing confusion even with the big players.

Jessica Tancred, Media Manager, Corporate & Indigenous Affairs for Coles, responded to an enquiry from the News: I can confirm on the record that no Coles Liquor retailer – Liquorland, First Choice Liquor Market or Vintage Cellars – offers online delivery in the NT.

“In the NT, there is a banned drinker register (BDR) in place and therefore no one can purchase retail liquor without first having their ID processed through the BDR scanner, and this is not possible for online liquor delivery.”

She had not heard about the interstate retailer’s licence, which saves people waiting, queuing and answering questions about where they will be drinking their alcohol.

AT TOP: The long queue on Wednesday afternoons.

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