Thursday, 13 September 2007
Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Bill 2007
Before I speak on the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Bill 2007, I would like to congratulate the member for Fremantle on her contribution to public life in Western Australia and in the national parliament. I have not had a great deal of personal contact with the member for Fremantle, but I have been a member of the people with disabilities committee that she has co-chaired, and I do thank her and wish her well in her future life.
I was not going to speak on this amending bill, but I listened quite closely to the member for Lingiari and I thought his contribution on the practical application of this legislation to be something that we should all take some notice of. I will highlight in a moment some of those issues that the member for Lingiari raised. Most of us in this parliament do not come from the Northern Territory, and this legislation is about particularly the Aboriginal communities but also others in the Northern Territory and the service, provision and supply of alcohol to those people within the boundaries of the Northern Territory. Over the last 15 to 20 years I have spent my holidays in inland Australia and, as a consequence, I have travelled many dusty tracks and visited many Aboriginal communities and other communities and beautiful spots that inland Australia presents. So I have probably a little bit of a snapshot. I would not pretend to have the knowledge of the member for Lingiari or others in the parliament, but being a traveller, in a sense, and stopping in some of those communities from time to time and enjoying the beauty of the outback one gets to see a variety of pictures of some of the towns and some of the town camps and communities.
I did not support the original legislation; I believed there were many flaws in it. Part of the reason I did not support it was that I think it puts all Aboriginal people in a particular box. As the member for Lingiari and others in this chamber would recognise, there are many good Aboriginal communities. There are many communities that, of their own volition, have been dry for many years. There are many communities that still have respect for their elders and for the way in which their systems have evolved. They will never be like us—and in my view they should not aim to be like us if they do not want to. I have seen a number of those communities. I have stayed in communities where I have been the only one with grog, and they have quite rightly asked that that alcohol not be brought out of our vehicles; I understand that. I have seen some of those communities where the rivers of grog, as the minister describes it in his speech, are atrocious and the related problems of sexual abuse, pornography, violence et cetera have been on display for all to see.
This bill addresses what we are seeing in those communities. In my view, the original legislation did not address the real problem. The real problem is that a percentage of our population—and the Northern Territory is a good example—are disaffected, essentially downtrodden and despairing. I think if any citizen—black, white or brindle—is in a position where they feel they are not regarded, are not part of the community, are not part of any societal development and are made to feel as if they are part of the problem, obviously they will despair and alcohol, drugs and other activities will become part of the mainstream in some of those people’s lives.
I return to the member for Lingiari’s comments. The minister may not have heard what he had to say. He made some very important points with regard to the legislation—the supply of alcohol and the border issues. I have been to some of those towns: Camooweal; one he did not mention—Urandangi, just over the border; on the other side, Kununurra and various places. I remember during the original debate the minister talked about some of the communities in the north of Western Australia where massive amounts of alcohol were being transported, and a whole range of sexual and other problems were being fuelled by alcohol. Truckloads of the stuff are being peddled around the place.
The member for Lingiari said—and I agree with him—that this bill will not stop that. It will go on because the Northern Territory is still in Australia, and there will be a market in terms of the rivers of grog. One would like to think that it would have an effect, but I think we will reflect on this in five years time and see that it had no effect. It was essentially a response that we had to have to follow up on the original response so that those of use who do not live there could feel better for attempting to do something about this problem.
What can we do about the problem? We have done nothing for many decades. We are attempting to do something in the parliament now, in the eyes of some. Many good things have been happening in parts of the Northern Territory. The minister would be aware that economic development could occur within some of the areas where people live. I have mentioned to him privately, and I have raised it in this place, that water resources in parts of the Northern Territory—the groundwater resources—could be developed; they have been developed at Ti Tree, Aileron and in other communities south of Tennant Creek.
One of the great problems in the Northern Territory—and I had meetings there in July with various people—with economic development is that if you or your community are not into the Aboriginal art game or you are not near a mine you have to go somewhere else to get work. If you do not want to go away you become quite despairing in terms of your outlook, if economic activity is not available. But there are vast areas where water resources could be developed. I am pleased that the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources is in the chamber today because it is something the government should be having a much closer look at and encouraging. There are schemes afoot—and the minister would be aware of them—to develop some of these resources in communities to give these people some hope. Sure, it will take time and there has to be a change of attitude, because some family members may not have worked. There might a chain of unemployment in communities because they have not had opportunities and did not want to go somewhere else to work. It will take time, but if we are serious about addressing the issue we have to walk the walk and take the time.
The member for Lingiari spoke about the supply issues in this particular piece of legislation. He spoke about the national park issues, the grey nomads. I reflected in my office to one of my staffers: ‘He’s not a grey nomad; he’s a deserthead’—as I would be too. But there is a problem, and it will cause angst. The $99.90 issue will cause angst. Essentially, I see this piece of legislation—and I will be condemned for it; it does not particularly worry me—in not such a different light as the Murray-Darling legislation. Someone dreamt up an idea and thought, ‘We’ve got to do something, so let’s go down this path.’ But we are not addressing the very real issue that is causing a lot of these problems in either the substantive legislation or this amendment.
We have not engaged with the people who have wanted to engage and we have not engaged with the people who have been doing a lot of good. There are a lot of good people working out there and the minister would know about them—they are black, white and brindle. These people have been working in good programs. There are people in Alice Springs who, for a number of years now, have had young girls come in from various communities with their grandmother or an older woman from the community to assist with their education. When I was there I was told that the Commonwealth was cutting back on the funding of the program—a successful program that has been in place and helping people for years—but perhaps that has been reversed since then.
People know of the problem and have tried to address it. Nothing has really been achieved in the last few months. I do not think that this excuses any of us; I think we are all guilty. Not many of us live there but we produce an essentially city-centric piece of legislation that looks good because we probably will not go there—unless we are a grey nomad in a national park and we are going to be treated differently from a group of other grey nomads on a tourist bus! Maybe then people will pay some attention.
I will not take up all of my time. Earlier on I did not even realise that I was on the speaking list. The points made by the member for Lingiari about the legislation are very real. When the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs replies, I would like him to address them. I do not think anybody is being blamed for trying to do something. Unless some of these issues are addressed this amending bill will fail to deliver on the indicated promises, which is the reason for it being introduced. If you extend the circumstance, why not ban alcohol in Australia? We know that will not work. The minister’s body language is there—‘That won’t work. What an idiot for even suggesting it.’ He is quite right; it will not work. But this bill is trying to sell the simple message that you can, in a specific area of the Territory, essentially limit the sale of a product that is legitimately available in Australia. This bill will not achieve that outcome unless you add to the access limits on the borders. The member for Lingiari talked about the supply of alcohol from a number of distribution outlets. Those sorts of issues are not linked. If we were really serious about this, we would have to address those issues.