Thursday, 13 September 2007
Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Bill 2007
I have achieved something; I got the member for New England to sit down. I challenge the members for New England and Lingiari: if you do not think that this will work and you are going to get a pallet load of grog and put it in the back of the ute and whiz across the border from Kununurra, Mount Isa or Camooweal, feel free. There is a $75,000 fine and potentially a year in jail. The big difference is that up until now there have not been any police there—you are right in that respect. But now there are. The Commonwealth has committed 66 police. If you think about the size of the area, this is for the first time real policing and real engagement. As you know, there have been grog bans in many of these communities but they have been a pointless activity.
I will give you an example of what happened only about a week ago. A small community in the Central Desert had police for the first time. They were from the Australian Federal Police. They did their changeover in Alice Springs and the night they were out people came into that town and were allegedly selling alcohol at $50 a six-pack. That is good money if you can get it. What was described as a riot occurred, but let us call it an all-night running brawl. A woman who tried to stop it was injured. Others were beaten up. These are very serious allegations. The difference is that more police in the communities gives people safety. It means that when you apply laws—such that we have—they mean something because you can enforce them. The member for Lingiari made a suggestion about buying a truckload of alcohol and bringing it across the border from Kununurra in Western Australia. I am not suggesting for a moment that he would do it, but take the challenge: the risk now is $75,000 and potentially 18 months in prison, and I want the people to be there to police that. We have also invested in sniffer dog teams, which have made more interdictions for drugs, alcohol and petrol throughout the top end of South Australia, Western Australia and the NT. They are making people safe.
I take your point about prohibition around Australia. I would be in all sorts of trouble if we banned alcohol everywhere on a personal level. You said that it does not work, but we have the proof that it does work. In Far North Queensland, former Premier Beattie brought in the alcohol management program. It was flawed for the very reason you mentioned—you can go into Cairns and get not a carton but literally a pallet and bring it back, and it does happen. If you look at evidence of the number of hospitalisations and incidents of domestic violence, you will see that they have dropped dramatically We have used the experience up there and we have built on it.
I do take the point—and I have asked this of the Premier of Western Australia—about listening to the women of the east Kimberley, who have pleaded for there to be alcohol management programs. I know that other members such as the Deputy Speaker, Mr Jenkins, know of the damage that alcohol has done in the far north of New South Wales. It is not isolated to the Territory. The difference is that I as the minister and we as the Commonwealth have the capacity to make laws for the Territory—and we will—in the interests of those people.
Why do I know this has the support on the ground? Because the women in particular have told me and told me, and they have told Magistrate Dr Sue Gordon, who chairs our task force. They have said that there are two things that they want more than anything else that will help with child abuse, child neglect, physical violence and domestic violence and destruction—that is, more police in communities and alcohol out of communities, though not just alcohol but it is the big one.
The reason we have this clean-up bill, if you like—and we have no qualms about calling it that—is that we need industry to work with us on this. The industry came to me and said that a young woman or young man at a checkout at Woolworths in Darwin who can sell alcohol has to calculate what is 1,350 millilitres of alcohol in the quantity of alcohol that someone has bought. As we all know, the alcohol in wine can vary from six per cent to 14 per cent alcohol, beers are all over the place and then there are the mixer drinks and the spirits. One thing is that those people would have had to stand there for ages working it out; the other thing, more than anything else, is that they were worried—not about the impost on them—about inadvertently being in breach of the law. So we have come up with something that is simpler.
I think the member for Lingiari made this point: what is stopping someone going in at 9 o’clock in the morning and getting $100 or $99 worth and another lot in the afternoon? There is nothing stopping them from doing that, but this is a further restriction. What people have forgotten is that this has not been put in in isolation. What will reduce the amount of money that can be consumed on drugs, alcohol and gambling, above all else, are the welfare reform measures. Instead of someone receiving, in round figures, $1,000 in welfare payments and transfer payments from the Commonwealth because they have four kids, now they will receive half of that amount in cash and half in what the Australian public understands to be food stamps—in other words, they cannot buy alcohol with it; it cannot happen. We will reduce the amount of money they receive, then there are practical measures in place to further do that and then there are penalties in place, and we will enforce the penalties. If you want to go and sell grog into an NT community, you will be found and you will cop big penalties. That has to underpin this.
The member for Jagajaga, the opposition spokesman on Indigenous affairs, referred to an article in today’s Australian about Titjikala and how they want police there. I could not agree with her more. I would like to be in the position to actually be responsible, in some respects—and I guess this is selfish on my behalf because I have no experience in the field—for the deployment of police. But I am not. Who has the responsibility for the deployment of the police? The Northern Territory Police Commissioner, under the auspices of the Northern Territory Police Minister, who is the Chief Minister. As these women out in Titjikala have said, ‘We have been demanding since 2000 that we need police.’ That is the typical cry we hear. We are giving them more resources, 66 more police—funded by the Howard government because we are trying to do something.
For once, though, the Australianand I applaud them at the Australianare out there actually listening to people and reporting it to the Australian public. They are saying to the Australian public: ‘Indigenous people are crying out to have this stopped. Children are unable to sleep at night because of the drunken parties.’ Why don’t they go to school? It is pretty obvious. This did not just happen in Titjikala in the past; this has happened in community after community because of the rivers of grog. We have not stopped the rivers of grog yet. We are in the early phases of stopping the rivers of grog and the drugs and the excessive gambling in a way that will ensure children can get decent food, decent hygiene, decent education and have a chance in life.
The member for Jagajaga also asked a couple of pertinent questions regarding alcohol diversionary programs. In the package that we have put together there is $11.4 million in 2007-08 for mobile outreach teams, rehabilitation and detox, and assistance response. Can I remind her what her Labor colleagues did in the Northern Territory when they banned alcohol in the town camps—and I applaud that. When asked by the opposition up there, ‘What additional detox resources will you bring to bear to help the members of the town camps get over alcohol?’, there was none. ‘How many additional police?’ Zero, none. I think that says it all and it brings home what the member for New England is saying. You do need to have resources. You do need to make these enforceable.
What we have attempted to do is to make the spirit of what we are trying to achieve more workable by having the hotel industry and the retail industry working with us. And we have recognised those people who call themselves grey nomads. I think the member for New England actually is very generous calling himself a grey nomad. He is probably more of a wannabe—and that includes the member for Lingiari; and I am trying to join them both. Grey nomads who want to have a champagne or a beer as they watch the sunset over Uluru are doing a great Australian thing—good on them. The difference is that we would hope that they do not have the same problems with domestic violence, child abuse or the troubles that come with alcohol abuse. There is one thing that people lament when they go to Uluru. They want to actually immerse themselves in Australia’s Indigenous culture. They lament, both Australians and non-Australians, ‘Where are all the Aboriginal people working here whom we can meet and engage with?’ I can assure you they are not going to be sitting next to a bunch of grey nomads sitting outside a caravan or a bus going, ‘Hey, let’s have a few beers together.’ That is not the issue, it really is not.
What we do not need is to put ridiculous and unnecessary barriers in the way of good Australians, who may be in retirement or who may be young families. What they are doing is adding to the economy out there. They are providing job opportunities. We hope that the first few people of Mutitjulu who have been taken up will become a flood and that they will actually start working there. That can only happen if we give those tourists a really good experience. I think that the most fulfilling thing for tourists, both domestic and international, when going to places like Uluru or Jabiluka would be for them to be able to say: ‘I met Australia’s first people and I was impressed. I learnt something about their culture. I feel enriched from the experience.’ They do not get that today. There is almost a separation. Part of it is because some of the people hidden behind fences there do not want others to see the way they live, and they desperately want to change the way they live. That is what the women of Mutitjulu have told me.
Some of the comments that have been made here today are well founded. This is a really difficult issue. If it were not, others would have done something more about it before. I can guarantee the member for New England that if I am re-elected and I am still in this position in two, three or four years time, you will see—not ‘you might see’; I will guarantee; I put my own reputation on it—major improvements in the quality of life and the cleanliness and hygiene of the conditions in which the children are living and you will see less domestic violence, less alcohol consumption and more opportunities. They will have a belief in their own culture, the richness of that culture, in finding it for the first time. They will be able to say, ‘We can do something for ourselves and we are no longer dependent on passive welfare, which has destroyed us.’ They are our aspirations and I am not going to rest until we fix it. I commend the bill to the House, and I thank those members who have contributed to the debate.