Thursday, 13 September 2007
Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Bill 2007
That this bill be now read a second time.
This bill makes minor amendments to consolidate the alcohol measures that are a key part of the government’s recent legislation to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.
These adjustments will make the alcohol provisions as practical as possible, particularly for people in the industry working with the government in this vital area.
First, the trigger for licensees seeking and recording details of takeaway alcohol sales (currently a sale of 1,350 millilitres of pure alcohol) will be replaced with a trigger of a quantity of alcohol with a purchase price of $100 or more (including GST), or a quantity of either cask or flagon wine that exceeds five litres. The change was put forward by the liquor industry to simplify the way the threshold was calculated.
The new formulation will still capture the vast majority of larger purchases over 1,350 millilitres, but will be quicker and easier for takeaway staff to apply, and easier for customers to understand.
The intent and effect is the same—stemming the flow of alcohol into remote Aboriginal communities by tracking large purchases to help us locate and prosecute grog runners.
Second, the bill will allow more flexibility for liquor licensees required to store records of takeaway alcohol sales. The legislation currently requires a licensee to keep these records for at least three years, and produce them to an inspector upon demand made on or at the licensed premises.
As a practical solution to a simple onsite storage problem for some licensees, it will now be possible for a licensee to store these records at a location directed by the Northern Territory Licensing Commission and still be considered to meet their obligations under the legislation.
Third, the bill will add new defences to an offence applying under the alcohol bans. Visitors to national and Northern Territory parks will be able to take alcohol into a prescribed area in the park if it is to be consumed in a responsible way as part of recreational activities undertaken with a tourist operator, consistent with any management plan or similar document that may be in place for the park.
The bill also provides some incentives for communities to work towards their own sustainable alcohol management plans. It will allow the alcohol measures to be ‘turned off’ in relation to a particular prescribed area or part thereof. For example, if a particular community demonstrates that it has developed appropriate alcohol management measures, and is winning the battle with alcohol, it may be desirable to stop applying the alcohol bans in that area. The Commonwealth minister would make that decision after seeking advice from the Northern Territory emergency response taskforce.
These consolidation measures have been developed in consultation and in conjunction with industry and demonstrate our willingness to make adjustments while ensuring that the intent of the legislation, which is to protect these communities from violence, can be realised. I commend the bill to the House.
Federal Labor gave bipartisan support for measures to tackle child abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory when they were announced in late June. Our in-principle support was given because of the chronicle of abuse that Pat Anderson and Rex Wild detailed in their report into the protection of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory from sexual abuse. We knew that this compelled action, as did the litany of reports that preceded the Little children are sacred report. We believe that lamenting that action should have been taken sooner did not lessen the imperative to act now and nor is the reality that child abuse occurs in all communities a reason to sit on our hands in the face of this report.
Over the last decade, all sides of politics have failed to ensure children’s safety in Aboriginal communities. As I said before, in considering our response to the intervention, Labor articulated a simple test for assessing government proposals: will it improve the safety and security of our children in a practical way? We applied that test to the last legislative package and decided on balance to give our support. We noted after consideration of the details of those bills that they were deficient in many ways, so the opposition moved several amendments to strengthen the legislation. We moved amendments to make sure that just terms compensation is paid in instances of land acquisition; to enable access for traditional purposes to land acquired through the five-year township leasing arrangements; to protect children by retaining and strengthening the land permit system in the Northern Territory; to allow journalists and government agents such as doctors to enter Indigenous communities without permits; to introduce the capacity to review aspects of the legislation after 12 months, including the effectiveness of the township leases and the quarantining of welfare payments, which was specific to the Northern Territory; and, finally and very importantly, to clarify that these changes in the intervention are special measures under the Racial Discrimination Act and we sought to delete the exclusions of the Racial Discrimination Act. Unfortunately, the government did not accept any of these amendments and did not see any of them as useful to the legislation.
Just a few weeks later, we are now in the next sitting of the parliament and the government is treating the public and the opposition in the same arrogant way that it did with the first package of legislation. It is rushing the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Bill 2007 into the parliament with no time for proper consideration. Despite these incredibly short time frames, the opposition has, once again, applied the same test as to whether or not these amendments will help in a practical way to protect children from abuse. The amendments before us today are aimed at stopping sly grog runners—at stopping the flow of alcohol into communities—which is, as we know, critical to protecting children from alcohol-fuelled abuse. In this task of protecting children, the government has our support so we will support this bill. However, at this point I move the following second reading amendment:
That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that:
- the Little Children Are Sacred report highlighted the link between alcohol and child sexual abuse;
- measures must target the supply of alcohol, especially by grog runners, and do so in a way that is workable and effective;
- supply measures should not be arbitrary, nor penalise those who consume alcohol responsibly and they should not place unnecessary burdens on either retailers or consumers;
- measures dealing with consumption of alcohol in parks should not penalise responsible visitors who are there for legitimate recreational or tourism purposes;
- Commonwealth measures should work in conjunction with local community alcohol management plans including those declaring dry areas;
- the further development of agreed supply side measures with the Northern Territory Government, communities and the liquor industry in the Northern Territory are vital to reducing alcohol consumption and addressing alcohol abuse; and
- improved access to rehabilitation services is necessary to help individuals to overcome alcohol abuse”.
We hold reservations about the workability of the provisions before us today. The reason we have the bill in front of us today is that a number of the changes that the government sought to introduce in the intervention just a month or so ago have already been found to be unworkable. We continue to have concerns about workability and in essence that is what our second reading amendment addresses.
We strongly supported the measures in the intervention legislation, designed to stop the rivers of grog flowing into and around Aboriginal communities. We know that the scourge of grog is well documented. There have been so many inquiries conducted into family violence and child abuse that consistently identify alcohol as a major contributing factor to family violence. The Anderson-Wild report, for example, noted:
... there has been inadequate restriction of the ‘sly grog’ trade, where alcohol is brought in illegally to Indigenous communities by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, exacerbating the alcohol problem, and consequently violence in the communities ...
The report recommended:
That, as a matter of urgency, the government makes greater efforts to reduce access to takeaway liquor in the Northern Territory, enhance the responsible use of takeaway liquor, restrict the flow of alcohol into Aboriginal communities and support Aboriginal community efforts to deal with issues relating to alcohol.
Alcohol can facilitate or incite violence by providing a socially acceptable excuse for negative behaviour. It can also, and does, act as a disinhibitor, allowing people to do things that they would not normally do when sober. Grog cultures can and do develop a force of their own, perpetuating disastrous cycles for communities. Alcohol control is critical to achieving community stability. Many Aboriginal communities recognise this and have taken action in the past to declare their towns dry, but it is very clear from experience that these are not easy solutions.
I am sad to say that this experience has been brought home again to all of us around Australia today. Just two months after the national intervention into the Northern Territory, we are seeing one small community in the Northern Territory—and this is just one reported today; I fear that there are many others—demonstrating the terrible suffering that is going on. A report in today’s Australian reveals what is happening on the ground in Titjikala, a community which I visited just in July. The article is headed ‘Lack of police fuels grog violence’. Here we are two months after the intervention and Titjikala has no police—there is no police presence in Titjikala; the police are located some time away from that small community. As the article in the Australian today says:
In an unintended result of the Howard intervention in indigenous affairs, violence and alcohol abuse has been imported to the few aboriginal communities without police.
Titjikala, 120 km south of Alice Springs—
I think the member for Lingiari will tell me it is south-east—
has become the drinking centre of central Australia—
this is one of the effects of what is going on—
and the crime statistics of the past three weeks—
and we’re not talking about the past 10 years; we’re talking about the past three weeks—
have been dominated by violent acts from drunken visitors.
Centrelink was forced to remove it staff last week, and a senior woman artist was stabbed in the head, although the injuries were not life-threatening.
Obviously, that her injuries were not life-threatening is something we are very glad about. The article goes on:
The week before, the community’s nursing staff was attacked and a group of drunken women rolled their car, seriously injuring one of them.
Community chairwoman Lena Campbell said residents were living in a drunken tinderbox.
‘Other communities have police and we don’t, and we have more visitors out here,’ she said.
‘They know where to come and celebrate because we don’t have police.’
Because Titjikala is on less than 2sq km of land, unlike other communities with large alcohol exclusion areas, people can drink legally close to the community.
The article goes on to say that grog fuelled weekends disrupt children’s sleep and cause poor school attendance, and that what the community wants is a permanent police presence. Of course, that is what this government has promised to these communities. Yet, again, we have a demonstration that that is not being delivered. The Titjikala council’s chief executive officer, Harry Scott, told the Australian:
‘When the police are present, and stay overnight, everything quietens down. When the police leave, the cars are driving out behind them to purchase more grog’ ...
Stopping alcohol abuse and related violence needs a police presence as well as alcohol controls. And another area which has received far too little attention as part of this intervention is that we need significant investment in rehabilitation services.
The Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act, passed by the parliament just a month ago, set out a new liquor licensing regime for the Territory. The act created new offences with harsher penalties aimed at sly grog runners and new restrictions on takeaway sales of alcohol. The amendments presented here today change these new arrangements in several ways. Specifically, the bill changes the 1,350 millilitre trigger for seeking and recording details in relation to takeaway alcohol, and sets a new trigger of purchases of over $100 or the sale of wine exceeding five litres in a single container or two or more two-litre containers. The government have recognised that their previous position was unworkable. Requirements for storage of records of takeaway purchases are changed in this bill, so that the records can be stored at the direction of the licensing commission, with the implication being that the commission can regularly collect and store the records on the licensee’s behalf. Previously, the licensee had to store the records themselves.
The bill provides certain exemptions to the alcohol offences in relation to tourism operations in national parks, Northern Territory parks and other areas declared by the Commonwealth minister. There is now a defence if a person is engaged in recreational activities in a park that have been organised by a person in the tourist industry and that are consistent with any park management plan and the person is behaving in a responsible manner. The bill also provides that the alcohol measures can be determined not to apply in a particular area if warranted—for example, where comprehensive and effective alcohol management measures are implemented—and the bill makes clear that no past or future Northern Territory legislation undermines the emergency response alcohol measures.
The change from the volumetric alcohol measure to a dollar-value purchase, with an exception for wine casks, does make practical sense, because the potential problems of the government’s original proposal were highlighted almost immediately as unworkable. A submission to the Senate inquiry on the intervention from Woolworths expressed concern about the difficulty involved in calculating the volume of alcoholic beverages which equates to 1,350 millilitres of pure alcohol. The government members’ report from the inquiry noted this problem and recommended explanatory material to assist people to understand what is meant in practical terms by the phrase ‘a quantity of alcohol greater than 1,350 millilitres’.
Clearly, the government felt that, for the measures to succeed in stopping bulk purchasing of takeaway alcohol by problem drinkers and by grog runners, change was needed. Controls are absolutely meaningless unless they can be effectively administered. The proposed changes certainly make more sense than the completely unworkable 1,350 millilitres alcohol trigger that the government advocated just three weeks ago. Nevertheless, we remain concerned that the package of alcohol restriction measures will not work. We are concerned that we still have a number of measures that are unworkable and so we will be very carefully monitoring the impact of these changes. One hundred dollars in a single transaction is still a considerable sum of money, and multiple transactions at different outlets could get around this measure.
The NPY Women’s Council told the Senate inquiry that the availability of alcohol through outlets in Indigenous communities was only part of the problem. The supply of alcohol from the major towns in the Northern Territory also, of course, presents a significant issue. So the opposition certainly hopes that these measures will help to stop the sly grog runners but, as I said, we remain concerned about their workability.
The submission to the inquiry from the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation noted that the ready availability of alcohol in centres located close to Indigenous communities can undermine the effectiveness of prohibition measures and, to quote their submission:
The majority of illegal drugs and alcohol are brought in by road during the dry season. By opening the roads and townships, there is significant evidence to suggest that these problems will be exacerbated. Another impact of prohibition experienced by Maningrida was an outmigration of residents to Darwin. This had the effect of significantly disrupting local employment outcomes, family structures and also resulted in a number of alcohol related deaths in Darwin.
So we do remain concerned that a number of elements of the emergency response will undermine attempts at stopping sly groggers. In particular, as I noted when I spoke on the main legislation a few weeks ago, Labor was concerned, and remains concerned, that removing the permit system will increase the capacity for sly grog runners to enter communities.
In their submission to the Senate inquiry, the Police Federation of Australia said that:
Operational police on the ground in the Northern Territory believe that the permit system is a useful tool in policing the communities, particularly in policing alcohol and drug-related crime. It would be most unfortunate if by opening up the permit system in the larger public townships and the connecting road corridors as the Government intends, law enforcement efforts to address the ‘rivers of grog’, the distribution of pornography, and the drug running and petrol sniffing were made more difficult.
That is why Labor opposed the removal of the permit system in towns and roads in Aboriginal communities, because removing the permit system will make it harder to continue the task of protecting children.
The tourism industry in the Northern Territory does have the capacity to benefit local Aboriginal communities by being a very important catalyst for greater economic development. However, concern has been expressed that the alcohol controls could have adverse consequences for the tourism industry. The Northern Territory government has said that the restrictions will have a great impact on the Territory’s tourism industry, and that the measures were not addressing the intent of the legislation—dealing with problem drinkers. The Commonwealth government’s intervention into Aboriginal communities has targeted the supply of alcohol through sly grog runners, and this is what has Labor’s very strong support.
If we are successful at the coming election, Labor will work closely with the Northern Territory government to review the impact of these laws to make sure that they are effective in delivering the outcomes for which they were intended. We will also work with the Northern Territory government to review the impact of takeaway outlet hours and locations on problem drinking in many parts of the Territory. The Northern Territory government’s response to the Anderson-Wild report includes: recruiting additional alcohol compliance inspectors and court clinicians; implementing a licensing identification system across the Territory; implementing regional alcohol management strategies; and implementing an alcohol education program.
In addition to addressing alcohol supply, as I said before, more needs to be done on the demand side, such as alcohol rehabilitation and diversionary programs, particularly for young people. Sobering-up shelters are a safe and appropriate accommodation option for people when they are drunk. They reduce the immediate risk of harm, both to the people who are drunk and to others. Shelters can also help to mediate the impact of public drinking on families and the local community. There are about 20,000 admissions to sobering-up shelters in the Northern Territory each year, and there is significant demand for expansion.
In relation to alcohol rehabilitation, existing services need their capacity increased to cater for the many clients who need access to rehabilitation. They need to be open for more hours, including into the night. They must also have access to specialist drug and alcohol counsellors. Alcohol abuse is often a group activity and many of these rehabilitation services need to be conducted in family or peer groups to make them effective, not just with the individual alone.
We also know that halfway houses can help people after the rehabilitation phase to integrate back into normal life with stable work and a healthy place to live. These homes should work with peers and aim to replace group drinking culture with a culture of work and self-respect. To be effective, rehabilitation programs do need to be linked to transitional aftercare. It is counterproductive to have environments without activities for those completing rehabilitation.
The Katherine City Council told the Senate inquiry:
There are no activities there for those people, and when they are released from rehabilitation they are dumped in the main street of Katherine, where there are four liquor outlets.
This was a very succinct way of demonstrating the critical importance of rehabilitation and treatment services and then the follow-up activities that are needed. We also require rehabilitation programs for offenders of alcohol related crime. In 2005-06, 71 per cent of the total prison intake in the Territory was alcohol related, and a vast majority of those people were Aboriginal. Yet there is a clear absence of prison based and post-release programs to direct these individuals into training and work—and not back into alcohol. When they are released from prison, unfortunately many of these people fall back into their bad drinking habits.
Positive youth programs are another essential component to directing young people away from grog and drugs. Of course, that means we need to be able to offer them active and healthy alternatives. Youth diversionary programs were vital to the success of the petrol-sniffing program. We have seen the introduction of Opal, which has been very helpful, but the additional youth programs that have helped those addicted to petrol sniffing have helped those young people turn their lives around. The same applies to alcohol. Programs that reinforce positive culture are a particularly powerful way to re-engage at-risk youth and connect them to training and employment.
In the appropriations for the national intervention in the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth committed $16.2 million to child care, early childhood services and alcohol diversionary programs to support young people aged between 12 and 18 living in remote communities. Unfortunately, though, we have had a very low level of detail provided about the programs being rolled out. For example, we do not know and the public does not know how much of this money will be spent on alcohol diversionary programs. It would be very helpful if the minister could let people know how much will be spent specifically on alcohol diversionary programs as part of the intervention. It is very important for the success of the intervention.
In June 2006, during the Intergovernmental Summit on Family Violence in Indigenous Communities, the Commonwealth government committed $49.3 million for drug and alcohol services in regional and remote Indigenous communities across three states and the Northern Territory. Once again, we do not know how much of this money has been allocated to the Northern Territory. It would be helpful for that to be publicly known. We understand that this money, even though it was committed in 2006, was not released by the Commonwealth until August 2007. Once again I would ask the minister to let the parliament and the public know how much of this $49 million has now been spent. The delay is absolutely unacceptable, particularly when you look at the horrific circumstances happening in just one small community like Titjikala. We need this funding to be allocated urgently. We need additional police, additional rehabilitation services and youth programs to address the horrific level of alcohol abuse and violence that is still taking place.
Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory need a long-term commitment to their future from all levels of government and all sides of politics. So far, unfortunately, we have only seen the government commit funding to the Northern Territory emergency measures for one year. The Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs told the Senate inquiry that there is simply no money for any programs beyond the end of June next year. We do not know if that remains the case—whether all of these things that are about to be started will in fact end in June next year or whether the government does intend to make a long-term commitment. What Aboriginal children and their parents and extended families deserve to know is: what is the long-term commitment to their children’s education, to their health, to their safety, to alcohol treatment and control services and to police? What is the long-term commitment to additional police in the Northern Territory beyond June next year?
We on this side of the parliament have a long-term commitment to improving the lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and in other parts of Australia. There is no question that tackling the alcohol problem is a necessary initial step, but it is going to be an ongoing challenge; it is not going to be fixed by June next year. Much more is necessary. The Anderson-Wild report said that the cycle of alcohol dependency, of having the pursuit of alcohol as the reason for living, has to be broken. That is just so true. A resident in a western Top End community told the Anderson-Wild inquiry:
At present people are living to pursue grog so they can forget why they are living.
We need to give people more. We need to rebuild the social and economic infrastructure in Aboriginal communities, to change destructive behaviour and provide positive pathways. It is dehumanising for Indigenous people to be talked about as just a problem, instead of recognising their strengths. There are many Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and in other parts of Australia who are taking control of their lives and their communities. We see great strengths in many communities—in the arts, in schools, in sport and local businesses. We know that there are many resilient people who know that change is achievable.
That is why on this side of the parliament we do stand looking forward, wanting to work with Indigenous people to turn the fresh ideas that we have and that they have into real change and, in particular, economic development. Each and every one of us has to take responsibility for improving the lives of Indigenous Australians—to close the shocking health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, to provide the economic services to give children a real start in life and, most importantly in my view, to deliver employment and economic development. All of these things are necessary to enable Indigenous children to grow up safe, healthy and happy.
I am pleased to speak today to the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Bill 2007 because it addresses one of the central causes of violence in Aboriginal communities—alcohol abuse. Let me, for a moment, put the bill into context. On 21 June this year the Prime Minister and the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs announced national emergency measures to protect Aboriginal children in the Territory from abuse and give them a better and safer future. These measures are being introduced in response to the national emergency confronting the welfare of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory. The immediate nature of the response reflects the first recommendation of the Little children are sacred report from the NT Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse. The report recommended that Aboriginal child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory be designated as an issue of urgent national significance by both the Australian and Northern Territory governments.
The report made it clear that child abuse in the Territory’s Aboriginal community was at crisis levels. The Australian government announced immediate, broad-ranging measures to protect children, stabilise communities, normalise services and infrastructure and provide longer term support to build better communities. Central to this strategy are the new alcohol restrictions which will come into effect in the Northern Territory this Saturday, 15 September. They are part of the federal government’s response to child abuse in Aboriginal communities. But we are not imposing blanket bans across the Territory. Our approach is both focused and measured. The government has legislated to ban alcohol in prescribed areas of the Territory—on freehold land held by a land trust under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, community living areas, in all town camps and other designated areas. It will restrict the amount of alcohol brought into communities through new requirements for takeaway sales across the Top End and in Central Australia. These measures are essential if we are to stem the flow of alcohol that has been destroying Aboriginal communities and putting children at risk.
The bill before us today makes amendments to consolidate the alcohol measures in the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act. The bill changes the 1,350-millilitre trigger for seeking and recording details in relation to takeaway alcohol sales to reduce the complexity of that provision. It makes changes to clarify the storage of records of takeaway purchases. It provides certain exceptions to the alcohol offences in relation to tourism operations in parks and other areas if declared. It provides for the alcohol measures to be determined not to apply in a particular area if warranted, for example, where comprehensive and effective local alcohol management measures are implemented. And it makes it clear that no past or future Northern Territory legislation undermines the emergency response alcohol measures.
Under the new legislation, there will be penalties for anyone possessing, transporting or drinking alcohol in these areas, and heavier penalties if people are found to be running alcohol into these places. Fines imposed can range from $1,100 for personal infringements and up to $74,000 for trafficking. The new measures for alcohol takeaways across the Territory will not unduly inconvenience Territorians going about their business or engaging in leisure activities. They are aimed squarely at the grog runners who are profiting from the misery they inflict on Aboriginal communities.
We are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The bill reflects the recent discussions the federal government has had with the tourism and liquor industries and the concerns they expressed about the alcohol measures. On this note I would particularly like to thank Mick Burns and Doug Sallis of the Northern Territory Australian Hotels Association for the counsel they provided to me and for their assistance in refining this legislation.
The provisions of the bill do not apply if you drink, possess or transport alcohol while engaged in a recreational activity with a tourist operator in a national park or Northern Territory park, although special arrangements will be put in place at Uluru. Nor do the provisions affect people who are travelling through a prescribed area to a destination outside that area and who have unopened alcohol with them. But anyone who buys large amounts of takeaway alcohol will need to show photo identification, have their addresses recorded and declare where the alcohol will be consumed. While this may be inconvenient at times, it will assist the authorities to track down and prosecute grog runners. This will involve purchases of $100 or more or if more than five litres of cask or flagon wine is purchased.
The bill reflects some of these community concerns, and the changes made will make the law less complex and easier to understand while at the same time protecting children. The bill will help turn off the ‘rivers of grog’ that are destroying so many Aboriginal communities in the Territory. Alcohol abuse was identified as a major problem in the Little children are sacred report, where it was described as the ‘gravest and fastest growing threat to the safety of Aboriginal children’.
Under this bill some licensed premises or clubs in communities will be allowed to operate but only if they have strict local alcohol management rules and do not allow takeaways. In the prescribed areas covered by the emergency response, people will be banned from having, selling, transporting and drinking alcohol. But the toughest penalties are imposed on those selling alcohol. A licensee faces a maximum fine of $37,400 while employees of the licensee face a maximum fine of $6,600 for noncompliance with these new laws.
Of course, we should recognise that our long-term goal is to teach people to live responsibly with alcohol. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory should be treated the same as all Australians, and eventually that needs to happen. An important thing to remember is that the current legislation allows the minister to terminate the measures at any time. It is expected that measures may only be in place for some six months, subject to review. But they are there to help stabilise communities and give them a chance to recover.
Drug and alcohol teams will operate in regional centres across the Northern Territory to respond to community need as the alcohol bans are enforced. They will help with alcohol withdrawal, family support and linkages to healthcare services. I commend the work of the police, nurses, doctors and administrators, and that of the task force, but the job ahead—breaking the nexus between alcohol abuse, violence and the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in communities—will not be easy. The Australian government is spending $587 million this financial year as part of the emergency response to protect Indigenous children in the Territory. It is a huge task.
In relation to safety and security for children in the Territory, between 2001-02 and 2005-06 there was a 78 per cent increase in the number of notifications of abuse or neglect received by the Northern Territory Family and Children’s Services program, with an average growth in notifications of 14 per cent per year. Indigenous children in the Territory are 4.8 times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be the subject of a substantiation report, but the Anderson-Wild inquiry stated that sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is common, widespread and grossly underreported. Following intervention, a critical factor in underreporting will be addressed. Police officers are now visible and accessible in many remote Aboriginal communities. Child sex abuse is a crime and perpetrators must be punished with the full force of the law.
The many inquiries that have been conducted into family violence and child abuse consistently identify alcohol as a major contributing factor to family violence. Grog cultures develop a force of their own, producing disastrous cycles for communities. Alcohol control is critical to achieving community stability. Many Aboriginal communities recognise this and have taken action in the past to declare their own towns dry. There are no easy solutions. The measures in this bill will help to stop grog abuse and will particularly target the grog runners with new tough penalties.
The link between adequate housing and child safety has also been comprehensively made. Overcrowded housing is linked directly to children’s exposure to sexualised behaviour, family violence and vulnerability to abuse. The government’s intervention plan to reform housing arrangements by establishing market based rents for public housing with normalised tenancy requirements is welcome. It will improve infrastructure in communities and the level of available housing stock.
One of the critical issues in the Anderson-Wild report was the need to make sure that children go to school to guarantee both their safety and their future education. This, of course, is being addressed by the government. The federal intervention in Aboriginal communities and the supporting legislation will improve the safety and the security of Indigenous children in the Territory in a practical way. I commend the bill to the House because it directly makes the link between alcohol abuse and the protection of Indigenous children. It will further promote community safety and enable Aboriginal children the chance to grow up happy and healthy. This is what we want for our children, and we want nothing less for Indigenous children.
I am pleased to be able to contribute to this debate today and support the comments which have been made by the member for Jagajaga, the shadow spokesperson for these matters. I think it is worth reminding ourselves of what the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Amendment (Alcohol) Bill 2007 is about. It will amend the alcohol measures in the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007, a copy of which I sought this morning to remind myself of the complexity of some of it. It changes the 1,350 millilitre trigger for seeking and recording details in relation to takeaway alcohol sales to reduce the complexity of the provision—it makes it a $100 sale at the door; it makes changes to clarify the storage of records of takeaway purchases; it provides certain exemptions to the alcohol offences in relation to tourism operations in parks and other areas, if they are declared; it provides for the alcohol measures to be determined not to apply in a particular area, if warranted—for example, where comprehensive and effective local alcohol management measures are implemented; and it makes it clear that no past or future Northern Territory legislation undermines the emergency response alcohol measures.
As you would no doubt be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker—or, if you are not aware of it personally, you would imagine—this subject is cause for great discussion around the dinner tables in the Northern Territory. There is no doubt at all about the linkage between alcohol abuse, family violence and child abuse. There is no debate about that matter and no debate about the need to reduce alcohol consumption levels in the Northern Territory and in particular to provide rehabilitation and education programs for those people who are dependent upon alcohol. These matters are clear.
There has been a lot of debate in the Northern Territory over recent months about innovation and initiatives developed at a local level to address the issue of alcohol consumption. Alcohol management plans have been developed. The Groote Eylandt management plan has been spoken about in this parliament previously. The community came to a view about how alcohol should be treated within the community and they decided on developing a card system so that, if you were to purchase and consume alcohol in the community on Groote Eylandt, you would require a permit. That permit was reflected in an application and, once you received approval, you were given a card. If you abused that card by supplying alcohol or sharing alcohol with a noncardholder, you lost the card. Some might say that is a severe attitude, but it was developed by the local community in response to their concerns about alcohol abuse, family violence and crime. It has had a dramatic impact on reducing levels of family violence and crime on Groote Eylandt.
More recently, we have had the development of dry areas across the Northern Territory. Alice Springs is now declared a dry town as a result of dry area legislation being introduced by the Northern Territory parliament. There are some exempt areas at which people are able to consume alcohol for recreational purposes—for example, having a picnic with their family. That appears to work. Now we have proposals in the legislation which was previously introduced and which will come into effect on the 15 September 2007 for dry areas across the Northern Territory, including those already enumerated by the member for Jagajaga and the member for Solomon.
We need to understand that there are implications. The member for Jagajaga spoke about the situation at Titjikala. I am not certain about this, but I have had discussions with people over the recent week about the impact of the dry area legislation on Alice Springs once it has been declared dry. What we have seen, and it is apparent to all, is less visibility of people who are drinkers in the town area—a significant reduction in the number of problem drinkers. The problem is that we are not quite sure where they have gone. It might well be that we have part of the answer at Titjikala. As a result of the dry area legislation, people have relocated to drink in another place and, in this set of circumstances, they have chosen Titjikala. So while they have effectively been forced out of Alice Springs as drinkers, they have found another location which is unacceptable to the general community—and unacceptable to the community of Titjikala, I point out—nevertheless, it appears that they are there. We are not certain yet as to the implications it has had on the town camps in Alice Springs, such as whether there has been a higher incidence of violence or violent behaviour in the town camps as a result of the town area being declared dry. We will see the results of that emerge over the next period of time.
Last week I attended a hearing at the Katherine courthouse. The hearing was of the Northern Territory Liquor Commission about a proposal to declare the Katherine community dry. This hearing, as you would expect, received a lot of attention in Katherine. I went to the hearing for an hour or so in the morning and at that the hearing there were in excess of 100 people, a number of whom made contributions in the discussion with the Liquor Commission. We should not underestimate the feeling there is in the community about some of the measures which have either been introduced or proposed to be introduced by both the Northern Territory government and the Commonwealth government in response to the Little children are sacred report. We should not underestimate the impact, and nor should we underestimate the contention that has arisen as a result of the mooted proposals and the proposals which have been introduced, and indeed the proposals that we are debating here this morning.
We need to understand what the implications are. I go back to the point: there is absolutely no doubt in the world about the connection between the excessive use of alcohol and child abuse or indeed family violence more generally, especially the abuse of women. There is no doubt about that. We do need to find ways of limiting both the demand for alcohol through education and rehabilitation programs and the supply of alcohol. That is not a question. A little later I will come to a discussion about some supply-side measures for dealing with alcohol consumption. It is also important that we acknowledge that the bulk of the community drink responsibly. Whilst the amendments in this legislation are in part targeted towards grog runners—I have no truck for grog runners; I do not know any reasonable person who has truck for grog runners—I have to say that I am not certain that the proposals that have been put forward here, and that we are debating this morning, will be effective.
Let me make some observations. What we are being asked to do here is agree to legislation which will limit the amount of alcohol an individual person can purchase, as a takeaway item, in any single transaction at a liquor outlet to $100. Let us assume, for the purposes of discussion, that I am of a mind to buy 25 cartons of grog. How would I go about that in a city like Darwin? Fairly easily, really; I would just go to half a dozen different liquor outlets, or perhaps 10 different liquor outlets, and buy a couple of cartons at each. Not hard. Or, if I live over near the Western Australian border, I might just go into Kununurra and buy a truckload of grog and bring it across the border into the Northern Territory. Or, if I live near Camooweal on the eastern side of the Northern Territory, or if I live on the southern border of the Northern Territory, I might do a similar thing. There is nothing in this legislation which prevents people importing alcohol in substantial quantities from across the border in Western Australia, Queensland or South Australia—nothing. I just do not think it is workable. If we could find a way to absolutely guarantee that this was going to hit grog runners, I would say ‘Whoopee’. I suspect this legislation will not guarantee that, because there are so many ways you can get around it.
On the other hand, under this legislation—and this is a significant point of contention—people going about their everyday business, who may want to have a family barbecue or get-together with a dozen or so people and who go to a liquor outlet to purchase three cartons of beer or a couple of cartons of beer and half a dozen bottles of wine will have to have their names recorded and identify where they are going to drink that alcohol. Most people will say, ‘All right, I’m happy to do that.’ But you have to ask, I think, where the balance is. What evidence is there that the measures being proposed will actually have the outcome they are designed to achieve? Frankly and unfortunately, I do not think there is much evidence. I am concerned about the workability of this element of the proposals. I have no compunction at all in agreeing with the intention—that is, to stop large quantities of grog flowing into Aboriginal communities. That has my absolute, 100 per cent support. But these proposals will have an unfortunate side effect upon the general population. Some people may say, like me, ‘I’m happy to proceed down this course.’ But I can imagine circumstances where people who are ill-informed or do not understand what is happening could become very abusive if they front up to a liquor outlet, try to purchase a quantity of alcohol in excess of $100 and are told by the person at the counter, ‘You’re now required to provide me with your details and we’ll put them on record for a number of years.’ I can well imagine it. The sets of circumstances that could arise as a result of this need to be properly understood.
I am absolutely sympathetic to the view that we have to restrict alcohol into Aboriginal communities. I am just not certain that the proposals in the original legislation or as they are amended here will achieve that result. They will have unintended and, I think, unfortunate consequences on the broader population. I ask the minister to respond when he comes in to sum up. How does he expect to manage this if, let us say, a liquor outlet changes shifts at midday, four o’clock in the afternoon or six o’clock—it does not matter—and I walk into that liquor outlet in the morning and spend my $99.50c worth on alcohol and in the afternoon front up and spend another $99.90 on alcohol? The legislation stipulates single transactions, not multiple transactions. It does not ask for the monitoring of an individual’s purchase of alcohol over the period of a week or a day. It does not connect alcohol outlets. We are not talking about a smart card system where if you put the card down when you buy your alcohol it is recorded against the card and if you go next door to purchase another quantity of alcohol it is recorded against the same card so you have an absolute record of individual purchases. We do not have that here. I think that needs to be investigated as a potential way of dealing with the issue.
Another issue arises out of the question of who can consume alcohol in national parks or other prescribed areas under the legislation. Imagine you are a traveller—let us say you are a grey nomad, and there are a few of us about that vintage in this place—carting a caravan up the Stuart Highway and you decide to go into Nitmiluk National Park, which is Aboriginal land, or Twin Falls at Kakadu National Park. Right next to you there is a tour bus with a whole lot of people. They have the tablecloths out and they are having a sunset dinner with a bottle of champagne and a couple of reds. Under this legislation, you are not allowed to drink even though the purposes for which you are in that park are exactly the same as for those in an organised tour group. As an individual you are not allowed to have alcohol there. That is counterproductive.
There is another unintended consequence of this legislation. People who live in Darwin and fish on the Daly River often take a few beers. If you fish on the Daly River you will not be allowed to take alcohol, because the beds and banks of the Daly River are Aboriginal land. You will not be able to transmit alcohol across that land. If you are fishing on that river you will not be able to consume alcohol. That will happen across a large part of the Northern Territory. It means daytrippers out of Darwin who might go to one of these national parks with their family or friends to show them the sights of the Northern Territory will not be able to share a glass of wine at the camp site, because they are not on an organised tour.
One needs not to underestimate the impact this will have on the Northern Territory community or the implications it has for the Northern Territory tourism industry. I say to the minister again: I understand the intention of legislation, but it would be so simple to amend it to ensure that no-one who was there responsibly undertaking recreational tourism activities in a bona fide way would be penalised. This legislation penalises all of those people who are not on organised tours. That is not, I am sure, what the minister intends. If he does intend it, he should tell us about it. If he does intend it, the community needs to know about it. But I am sure that that is not what he intends. I say to him that it is not too late to amend this legislation further to ensure that the unintended consequences we have now identified in fact do not materialise. These are legitimate questions to be asked by the community. Again I stress that I do not know of an individual who does not believe that it is important that we hit the supply of alcohol in Aboriginal communities.
I now turn to some of those supply-side questions and point out the tremendous work that needs to be done. The Northern Territory, for all people, has the highest rate of alcohol consumption per capita in Australia: 15 litres of pure alcohol per person per year, which is 1,300 green cans per adult, as opposed to the national average, which is nine litres or 800 green cans. I do not know how many of you here in the chamber or in the galleries would consume 800 cans a year, but I am sure that I do not. Whoever is drinking our share is drinking a hell of a lot of alcohol. That is the problem. We have to find the problem drinkers and address their needs.
Across the Northern Territory, there are major regional variations. In the Katherine region, they doubled the national average in 2002 and 2003—doubled! They were consuming 1,600 green cans per head. I know a lot of people in Katherine. I do not know any who would consume that amount of alcohol, but someone clearly is. In terms of drinking patterns, 84 per cent of non-Aboriginal people have used alcohol, and 62 per cent of Aboriginal people are current drinkers compared with 72 per cent of non-Aboriginal people. We need to address the supply side. We need innovative proposals that will reduce the amount of alcohol that is sold, perhaps by restricting the sale of alcohol and the opening times of liquor outlets. There are a lot of ways in which we can do this. We ask—and our amendment reflects this—that the Commonwealth government work in conjunction with the Northern Territory government, the Northern Territory community and liquor retailers to address these issues in a constructive way. (Time expired)
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for occupying the chair at this moment. I appreciate that gesture. I first of all want to thank my constituents, the inimitable people of Fremantle. They are big-hearted, engaged, progressive, hardworking, creative and sometimes bolshie. They are wonderful people whom I have had the honour to represent. I want to convey my best wishes to Melissa Parke for the coming election. She has been preselected by the ALP. She is a fine young woman who, if she is successful, will serve the electorate and this parliament with distinction. I want to thank my family, who joined me on the rollercoaster ride that has been my political career. I especially want to thank my son, David. He has had to bear the slings and arrows of my fate while negotiating the journey to adulthood. He is a wonderful young man and I am very proud of him.
I also thank my supporters, especially the many kind people who backed and assisted me in meeting the substantial legal expenses forced on me by the Marks royal commission and the subsequent trial. It was a commission that I think everybody understands was borne of political malice and with the connivance of the Prime Minister, using what we now see as his classic modus operandi. He admitted that he had discussed setting up the commission with the Premier of the day, Richard Court, but refused to answer direct questions on whether he had actually urged Mr Court to set up the royal commission, something which I know from other sources that he did.
I want to thank my colleagues too, some of whom I have got to know better than others. I admire them all for their serious-minded dedication to improving the lives of Australians, something that is often not appreciated of members of parliament. I want to thank the members of the Australian Labor Party who have placed their confidence in me in the various positions that I have been privileged to occupy. I want to thank my staff, both past and present. They are loyal, hardworking, smart and resilient; a couple of them are in the gallery today. Lorena Di Sabato, Zita Pal, Josh Wilson, Helen Mills and Monica Jane are currently on my staff, and I know that they will continue to serve very well. Of course, this is an opportunity to thank the parliamentary and support staff who, very efficiently and effectively, ensure the smooth running of the parliament. I am grateful for that, although I think it is emblematic of this government that too much money is spent on security and not enough is spent on the library.
I am retiring not because I have lost interest in policy but because I desire to engage in the community in a different way. I hope I can continue to make a contribution to Australian life. Although I have been in politics for 21 years, I guess I have always believed that politics is not a career or a lifetime occupation; it is a privilege of representation.
You could not expect from me a dispassionate assessment of the Howard-Costello government’s achievements and flaws, but I know that my concerns—which I will enunciate—are shared by a great many Australians. I part company with them and with their views at an early stage of any political debate. I disagree with them not only about how to respond to the challenges we face as a nation but even about what those challenges are. I do not, for example, share the Prime Minister’s image of the ideal Australian—his Australian everyman with a cricket bat and Gallipoli nostalgia. It may be a useful political device but, apart from the fact that it excludes women, it hardly embodies the creativity, energy and vision needed for our times. It is a complacent and limited view of us.
I have been horrified over the time that we have been in opposition and the Howard-Costello government have occupied the opposite benches that they so blithely involved us in the illegal invasion of Iraq, sanctioning the deaths of many thousands of innocent bystanders. Over four years ago, the government joined with the United States and sent our soldiers to invade Iraq. They made a fateful decision while many of us said that they should desist. A lot of Australians protested, multitudes marched and the majority of us made our opposition clear. But we were ignored and derided by the government and their supporters, and the Howard government took us to war. I ask today: whose position has been vindicated? It gives me no pleasure to say it and some, like my mother, would say it is not polite, but we told you so. There is no joy in restating the many forthright and prescient warnings that the Bush administration was about to unleash a whirlwind of destruction, but it must be said since the government have not and apparently will not acknowledge that they were gravely mistaken.
As many anticipated, Iraq is at a stalemate. The war has not yet ended and it shows no sign of diminishing in intensity. The PM’s ‘months not years’ promise looks as foolish as Bush’s ‘mission accomplished’. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands have died, and the cycle of revenge killings has escalated. Bloody suicide bombings are daily events. More than a million people have been displaced within in Iraq, and double that number have fled to neighbouring countries. Ethnic strife is rampant. Children die in droves from preventable diseases, as basic services have been reduced to a primitive state. There are reports today of an outbreak of cholera which has already killed 10 people. The US’s own agencies agree that regional instability is worse and Iraq is now spawning a new generation of Islamic radicalism. As we told the Prime Minister at the time, war is not a solution. I say to the Prime Minister, his cabinet and his members today: you were wrong—appallingly, brutally wrong.
I have been dismayed, too, that on so many fronts the Howard-Costello government capriciously withdrew our support for good international citizenship; that they engineered and justified the brutal treatment of asylum seekers, including little children, and washed their hands of the deaths of over 300 people on the SIEVX; that they surreptitiously endorsed the Hanson agenda; and, I have to say, continue, as one editorial put it, ‘to hector minorities for political gain’. The Howard-Costello government knew which buttons to push and had no compunction about pushing them, despite the potentially damaging consequences to our social fabric. I have disagreed with the government too when they have systematically singled out Indigenous people for ‘special treatment’ to pressure them to assimilate into the mainstream. We have just witnessed in the Northern Territory and indeed have been debating another ‘instant solution’ devised without reference to Indigenous people and without enlisting their engagement. They are to be the objects of policy again rather than its subjects; their agency is denied.
Like many Australians, I have objected to the Howard-Costello government habitually construing disadvantage as resulting from individual moral failing and acting accordingly; that they have been relentless in their attacks on organised labour, so important to protecting the wellbeing of Australian workers; that they have systematically bullied critics into submission, narrowing the sources of advice to government, stacking boards and committees with fellow travellers, politicising the public service and misleading the public on so many occasions that we have lost count; that they have dramatically shifted the provision of health, education and social services toward private consumption and undermined the core of our egalitarianism; that they continue to pay lip service to the very real threats posed by global warming; and that, frankly, they could not give a stuff about the cultural life of the nation.
Reciting the full catalogue of my disaffection would be tedious, but I mentioned those things to give some sense of the scope of my disagreement with the Howard-Costello regime. Since I have a number of colleagues here today—and I thank them for attending—I will now proffer some gratuitous advice to my colleagues who remain and who I hope will be on the government benches after the next election. After a decade of conservative government, there is much to be done. First of all, we need to broaden our horizons about what is possible for our people. It is rare to hear this Prime Minister talk of anything but the state of the economy. He seems to think that Australians are only interested in stuff. I argue that we need a better balance between material goals and the quality of people’s lives. The economy is not all that matters in people’s lives.
Surely, we need a strong economy. But we also need a strong intellectual and creative life. We need the time and capacity to enjoy family, friends and recreation. We need to ensure the protection of and enjoyment of our natural environment. We need active engagement of all community members in the development of that community and the enjoyment of our cultural life and heritage. We should remember too, as the unlikely George Soros has warned, that an open society can be threatened by excessive individualism. He said:
Too much competition and too little cooperation can cause intolerable inequities and instability—
And I agree. The contemporary position of many governments, including this one, is that Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ should be allowed almost unfettered operation to allocate goods and services in our community, including health and education. What that view of the world fails to understand is that Adam Smith himself was a very strong proponent of the need for institutional controls and the insertion of humane values into the operation of the economy, because he recognised the limitations of market forces. The marketplace, competition, efficiency—such concepts underestimate the necessary human dimension to our lives. We continue to allow this agenda to dominate our policies at the cost of our humanity, our inventiveness and equality in our society.
Hopefully you will have the opportunity to rethink what constitutes ‘the good life’. I think that is overdue in a world on a fast track to self-inflicted ill health and planet-wide damage to forests, oceans, biodiversity, and other natural resources. It is fair to say that we are consuming the resources of this planet at a pace that far outweighs the planet’s ability to renew them and absorb the resultant wastes. Extraordinary energy and creativity will be required to halt and reverse environmental damage in this country, let alone in other parts of the world, and to make that contribution to the reduction in greenhouse gases. I think it requires no less a change than thinking about the meaning of progress and possibilities for the future. Denial and delay, which we have seen from this government, are simply no longer tolerable. There is a growing awareness amongst Australians that many of our practices are not sustainable: the degradation and loss of soils, air and water pollution, deforestation and global warming, depletion of our resource base and reduction in biodiversity. We need urgently to satisfy our needs, and perhaps to redefine them, with less impact on the earth’s natural environment.
It is clear to anyone who looks that the current pattern of energy use is not sustainable. There is no prospect of extending our pattern of supply and use to the entire human community; it is simply impossible. This will require changes in both personal and political commitment. Finding modes of human development and economic growth which are genuinely sustainable is, I know, a complex task and it requires understanding of the physical, chemical, biological, social, political and economic influences. It is difficult, so perhaps it is understandable—although it is not forgivable—that many have concluded that the task is well nigh impossible and they would rather bury their heads in the sand. The current government certainly behave as if they hope these problems would go away. As Ian Lowe has said: ‘We need to recognise that our society is totally contained within natural ecological systems. There’s no prospect of mass migration to another part of the cosmos if we make a mess of this planet, or a rescue by friendly aliens. We really should be behaving as if we intend to be permanent inhabitants of the earth, rather than temporary visitors with a mission to loot, rape and pillage.’
I am confident that a future Labor government will be a more compassionate administration and will help shape a more compassionate society. The Howard-Costello legacy is dangerous: you get what you deserve and deserve what you get. It is mean-minded and narrow and refuses to acknowledge the role that chance plays in all of our lives or to look at the benefits that are conferred by privilege or the barriers that are confronted by the marginalised. I know that a future Labor government will abandon the routinely punitive response to disadvantage that we have seen. I look forward, too, to a reduced emphasis on fear, threats and coercion which, I have to say in my view, was exemplified in the excessive security response and cost that we saw at APEC.
As the Chasers demonstrated, at one level it was an hilarious overreaction, although at great cost, and I think it made Australia a paranoid laughing stock in parts of the world. I am very keen to see in the future a reverse of the creeping authoritarianism which has been evident in policy, legislation and media commentary in this country. There has been an increasing tendency for our political climate to be dominated by those threats, by insecurity and division, for dissent to be depicted as un-Australian, for the range of opinions shaping government policy to be circumscribed and for public access to information about government actions to be limited. If coercion is to be the underpinning value in public policy, it is inevitable that it will fail.
I hope too—I am confident indeed—that a future Labor government will recognise that imposing policy from outside hardens resistance to it. It is always inferior to encouragement and engagement. Note the comments by Chris Sarra, whose success in the Cherbourg community has been regarded as best practice in Aboriginal education. He said that the federal government’s intervention in the Northern Territory and the punitive response to truancy would reinforce the idea of Aboriginal children as pitiable. He said that we should instead encourage children to be proud and strong, to ensure that schools are places that engage and interest them, that challenge teachers. As he said:
If the teacher believes the child will learn, then the child will learn.
I know too that, under a future Labor government, there will be a renewed commitment to a much more muscular form of egalitarianism in education and health in particular, reducing the gaps, intervening early, making major reforms to Medicare, which are needed if it is to be sustained as a genuinely universal system where quality health care is delivered to everyone regardless of means. Similarly in education: it is a great shame in this country that the educational gap due to socioeconomic status is amongst the widest in the OECD. That represents a terrible waste of talent. It also sells young people short. I think it is important, too, to remember that education is not just about employability. We need a wider set of objectives; we need to advance the expansive development of intellectual powers that go beyond the acquisition of fact and bare proficiency at skills that the labour market requires. We should view education as a public good which benefits everyone by adding skills and knowledge, which improve our society as well as the economy. If we have a well-educated, well-informed, highly trained population our collective benefits are immeasurable. Perhaps that is one reason why the concrete thinkers amongst politicians often fail to take account of them—they cannot run the ruler over them.
Labor will need a specific remedial focus on those who have either been ignored or received the blunt end of the government’s policies. Policy to assist Indigenous Australians in particular should receive the highest priority. The shameful neglect of people with disabilities and their families should be reversed. Assistance and rehabilitation of refugees damaged by incarceration will be needed, as will support rather than coercion of single parents attempting to improve their capacity to support themselves and their children. I would argue too that we need—and I hope Labor will adopt—a comprehensive program of parliamentary and electoral reform. We certainly need a greater engagement of the community in the process and less cynicism.
Finally, I know that a Rudd Labor government will renew our commitment to be good international citizens, to work energetically to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the use of violence to solve conflicts and to embark on a more than token commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the amelioration of poverty, especially in our region. I know, too, that Labor will resolve never again to have an Australian government engage in illegal, pre-emptive strikes as in Iraq, remembering that it is always better to prevent deadly conflict than deal with its consequences. Good luck!
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.
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.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Jagajaga has moved as an amendment that all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.