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Fears NT Govt bill will open booze floodgates in dry communities

Emma Ruben -

Three Indigenous bodies are calling on the Northern Territory government to immediately shelve legislation which could allow take-away alcohol into more than 430 communities from mid-July.

The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory, the Northern Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency and Aboriginal Housing NT have proposed the bill be dismissed.

Under the 2007 Federal Intervention, these communities in NT became Alcohol Protected Areas, which continued under the Stronger Futures legislation.

AMSANT executive officer John Patterson said consultations for the proposed change have not begun.

"There has been no proper consultation, and there simply cannot be any in the short time available," he said.

"Aboriginal health organisations and peak bodies did not know about the Bill.

"This Government has introduced many excellent alcohol reforms, and this sudden and puzzling change is a backward step that has not been explained properly to anyone.

Why not move to an opt-out system instead which would ensure all communities make an active decision about what they want to do rather than simply have the current protections taken away."

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency executive officer Priscilla Atkins said the mixture of dry and unrestricted communities would be impossible to monitor.

"The biggest issue we've got is a lot of criminal matters that come before the court are alcohol related," she said.

"You're going to have alcohol coming into the remote communities there'll be more violence, more pressure on the courts, more pressure on the police...and it's disappointing that we're talking about this now and the legislation expires on the 30th of June.

"The government needs to get their act together and actually start going out to remote communities as it's really up to the elders in the community to make a decision on whether they want alcohol in their community or not."

NT Alcohol Policy Minister Natasha Fyles said the proposed Bill met obligations under the NT Anti-Discrimination Act and the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act.

"The Stronger Futures law is one of the last living remnants of the Intervention," she said.

"The Territory Labor Government will not be continuing the Intervention.

"Our Bill provides communities with a choice to decide what is best for their community and we will continue to support them in making that choice.

"The Department of the Chief Minister and Cabinet... has been engaging with and will continue consultations with stakeholder groups on whether they wish to opt-in to restrictions and their alcohol aspirations moving forward."

This legislation will expire on July 16 and APA communities will have to apply to stay alcohol-free.

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