Editorial Opinion: October 2012

NATIONAL: Recently I was reading a story published by the Australian Associated Press. It was about the controversial Stronger Futures laws, the Gillard government’s 10-year extension of the NT intervention.

According to the report, the Howard era intervention was launched to “address abuse and drunkenness”.

This, of course, is wrong. The intervention was launched in an election year, by a government looking to wedge an increasingly appealing Kevin Rudd-led opposition.

The use of the word “drunkenness”, however, stood out to me.

Why is it ok to use these words when talking about the devastating effect alcohol abuse can have on Aboriginal communities?

Terms like “rivers of grog” only serve to demonise many communities who are deeply concerned and want to take an active stand against the impacts of excessive alcohol use.

The use of these terms leading up to and following the intervention was ironic.

Many communities had already declared themselves voluntarily dry long beforehand, but were slapped with blanket alcohol bans regardless.

Just how we slow the “rivers of grog” has been the subject of heavy debate in the media of late, thanks to Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s pre-election promise to review and cut the controversial Alcohol Management Plans in Aboriginal communities.

So far the debate has been mired down in politics, with little focus on evidence.

There have been several international and national studies that cast severe doubt on the effectiveness of alcohol bans, especially when bans have been slapped on a communities with little or no input.

Blanket alcohol bans in Cape York, for example, have had little impact on alcohol-fuelled assault rates, as this month’s main feature shows.

In it, Chris Graham reports that assault rates in these communities were already dropping in line with other mainstream communities across Queensland.

The real impact of the AMPs was instead on policing– there was an increase in good order offences, like public drunkenness.

“Alcohol management plans have had no real affect on lowering assault rates in Aboriginal communities,” Graham writes.

“But the criminalisation of Aboriginal drinkers has been bloody effective.”

The solution to reducing alcohol abuse is to place control back in the hands of Aboriginal communities themselves.

I would also like to wish our readers an early Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

This will be the last edition of Tracker for the year.

We hope to make several changes over the next couple of months. Your feedback is always welcome.

Amy McQuire, editor

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