The CEO of a Western Australian Indigenous business has agreed with the Northern Territory Police Commissioner that alcohol restrictions in remote communities need to be re-examined.

NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker has called the Territory’s model of alcohol restrictions “paternalistic”, and said there is a need to re-evaluate the alcohol controls in remote Indigenous communities.

“We’ve been in a place where we’ve had restricted areas and a particularly paternalistic approach to how Aboriginal people in particular are allowed to consume alcohol. I think we have to challenge that conversation,” Commissioner Chalker said.

Speaking at the Annual General Meeting of the Northern Territory Police Association, the Commissioner said stronger emphasis on education around alcohol use would be essential to a new model.

“We have a number of communities now that operate with licenced premises in those localities, and the conversation has to be had … what does that model look like into the future?”

During the NT Election Leadership Debate, Chief Minister Michael Gunner agreed with the Commissioner that a new approach was needed and said he is open to the idea of community clubs.

“I do agree that with the Police Commissioner about a paternalistic approach,” Chief Minister Gunner said.

“I’ve got access to alcohol here in Darwin; why can’t people make that same choice on their Country about whether they have or haven’t got community clubs?” Gunner said.

Chief Minister Gunner said emphasis should be placed on what each community itself wants.

“We believe that through local decision making—so every voice in the community is heard—we can make the decision around community clubs back in communities,” Gunner said.

John Rodrigues is the CEO at Leedal, an Indigenous corporation that operates five outlets in Fitzroy Crossing, WA, including the Crossing Inn, one of the oldest licenced venues in the Kimberley.

He agrees change needs to happen.

Rodrigues said the black market is bringing more sly grog than ever before into the Fitzroy Crossing community.

WA Police defines ‘sly grogging’ as selling liquor without a licence or carrying liquor for the purpose of sale.

“I believe there’s more alcohol coming in through the black market than we used to sell through the regulated agency,” Rodrigues said.

The Crossing Inn is restricted from selling full strength takeaway alcohol. Patrons can only purchase packaged beer of less than 2.7 per cent alcohol.

Rodrigues said sly groggers will drive to Broome or Derby to buy takeaway alcohol at retail prices and re-sell it in the community for a 300-400 per cent mark-up.

“There’s so many people doing it because it’s easy money,” he said.

Rodrigues believes more education is needed to teach people about the harms associated with binge drinking.

“I think initially when all this started, the schools were getting pamphlets regarding alcohol, [telling kids] ‘don’t drink until you get to a certain age, or if you’re pregnant’,” he said.

“This education, I’ve noticed in the last few years, has slowed down or stopped.”

Rodrigues said he doesn’t want to see restrictions removed altogether, but that there is a need for more services to help problem drinkers get off the booze.

“For the people [that] have the underlying issues with alcohol, there isn’t the services in town to help them,” he said.

NIT contacted WA Police however they were unable to provide a comment.

By Sarah Smit