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A relic of NT Intervention is being lifted, but peak Aboriginal groups are furious

Tom Zaunmayr -
A coalition of peak Aboriginal and community bodies have ramped up their attack on the NT Government over its decision to allow booze to be sold in remote communities again for the first time in 15 years. The NT Government on Tuesday passed amendments to the Liquor Act allowing the sale of takeaway booze into hundreds of alcohol protected areas from mid-July. The government has argued the move was necessary to end the final hangover of the Commonwealth Intervention introduced by the Howard government in 2007. More than 200 remote communities and homelands will be able to decide for themselves whether they remain dry. About 100 will revert to old restrictions.

NT Remote Housing and Town Camps Minister Chansey Paech told parliament the NT government was cleaning up the Federal Coalition's "mess".

Chansey Paech Federal Indigenous Australians Minster Ken Wyatt told the ABC this claim was spurious and driven by the looming election. Aboriginal health, housing and justice organisations have panned the government's lack of consultation before implementing the changes, arguing the move risked opening the floodgates to booze in remote communities. And now the Territory's police union and council of social services have added their voices to the chorus of criticism, urging immediate consultation to avoid a looming booze-fueled disaster. Northern Territory Police Association president Paul McCue said frontline police held "significant" concern about the reforms. “The passing of this legislation goes completely against what the Government claims to be achieving in relation to reducing alcohol-related harm," he said. “Our already stretched resources will now undoubtedly suffer further strain, not to mention the risk to them, other frontline workers and the wider community as a result of alcohol related harm.
“Residents in communities and town camps will now likely be subject to an increase of violence and isolation."
NT Council of Social Services chief executive Deborah Di Natale said the legislation was rushed and done against the advice of Aboriginal community controlled organisations. The coalition is calling for a moratorium on takeaway alcohol sales until transparent negotiations have taken place, and for more funding for alcohol harm programs to manage increased needs. Concerns have also been raised about the impact of the policy on already-stretched Aboriginal medical services. Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT chief executive John Paterson said the legislation's process was shameful. “We’re calling on the NT Government to ensure that no take-away alcohol can be newly accessed until there is an open transparent negotiation process, that involves key community stakeholders, including women’s groups and youth groups," he said. "We want a commitment from the Northern Territory Government to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the development of any future legislation that impacts our communities. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be consulted on the laws affecting us.” Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said her government needed to prepare for the end of Commonwealth intervention. “This Government will not support continuing the mandatory restrictions and obligations of the Intervention," she said. “This Bill empowers affected communities with a choice to decide what is best for their community, and we will continue to support them in making that choice.” The concerns have also been backed by North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Association of Alocohol and other Drug Agencies NT, Danila Dilba Health Service, Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and People's Alcohol Action Coalition.


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