By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
CANBERRA, Australia — Queensland and Northern Territories both said on Wednesday that they would move forward with their plans to deal with alcohol bans in indigenous communities, despite federal pressure to keep the policies in place.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said his state has no intention of backing down from a planned review of what he calls the “discriminatory” booze bans, while acting Chief Minister of the Northern Territories Robyn Lambley rejected a call to reinstate the bans that she helped lift last year.
“I simply say the policy of discrimination against Aboriginal people is not appropriate,” Newman told reporters on Wednesday in Ipswich, a community about 40 km outside the state capital of Brisbane.
The ban prohibits possession and selling of alcohol in indigenous communities, including the 19 in Queensland. Violators face penalties including jail time.
Queensland’s review of the alcohol bans, a campaign promise in Newman’s election last March, would allow individual communities within the state to determine whether to keep the restrictions. The review is expected to last 18 months.
In the Northern Territories, state leaders dismissed calls to reinstate its Banned Drinkers Register law. Eliminated last year, the ban required indigenous alcohol buyers to have a photo ID scanned and checked against a list of repeat drunks. A match would prevent the purchase.
Both states’ decisions come after a warning from Prime Minister Julia Gillard to reconsider. During her annual Closing the Gap Address, aimed at improving opportunities for indigenous Australians, Gillard said the federal government would act against any state or territory alcohol policy that she deems irresponsible.
“I have a real fear that the rivers of grog that wreaked such havoc among indigenous communities are starting to flow once again,” she said. Big Pond News reported that Gillard was referencing, in part, the Northern Territories lifting its BDR and five recent alcohol-related deaths in Alice Springs.
But leaders from both states dismissed the Prime Minister’s comments.
“For Julia Gillard to start dictating from Canberra how we should implement alcohol policies and what they should be is an absolute nonsense, Lambley told ABC radio. “I think that she should be listening to us more than we should be listening to [her].”
Newman said Australia as a whole needed to reconsider how to best address the problems related to alcohol because they are not limited to the indigenous populations.
“We need to tackle alcohol abuse issues across the board,” he said. Newman added that the laws have not worked in reducing alcohol-related violence.
But Queensland’s minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Glen Elmes disputed that claim, saying the bans were effective in reducing crime and improving school attendance. Elmes added that under the review, any community wanting to lift the ban will have to show it can ensure public safety and not reverse the school attendance rates.
For further information, please see:
The Australian — Abbott, Gillard United on Grog Bans — 6 February 2013
Big Pond News — Butt Out of NT Grog Decisions – CLP — 6 February 2013
Brisbane Times — Alcohol Bans Discriminatory: Newman — 6 February 2013
Townsville Bulletin — Alcohol Bans Discriminatory: Newman — 6 February 2013
Herald Sun — Aboriginal Alcohol Ban Not Solution, Says Member for Cook David Kempton — 10 October 2012
Courier Mail — Indigenous Councils to Rule on Liquor Bans — 3 October 2012