ALICE SPRINGS NEWS,
March 29, 2000

IF THE COMMUNITY WANTES THEM, WE WON'T OPPOSE BOOZE BANS, SAYS WOOLWORTHS. KIERAN FINNANE REPORTS.

An Adelaide-based spokesman for Woolworths says his company's response to proposed take-away alcohol restrictions "will be guided by the wishes of the broader community".This follows last week's community meeting on alcohol in Alice Springs, which Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen says clearly put some form of liquor restrictions on the table. Woolworths vigorously contested the trial variations to liquor licenses which came into effect in Katherine at the beginning of this year. The Alice News asked the spokesman if his statement could be read as Woolworths saying they would not fight trial restrictions in Alice Springs (which could only be introduced with community backing)?The spokesman would only reiterate his statement that Woolworths will be guided by the wishes of the broader community.Adelaide-based State Manager for Liquorland, Peter Hampson, whose company operates liquor outlets at the Coles complex and adjacent to the Bi-Lo supermarket in Alice Springs, says he is being kept informed of developments by local staff. He says Liquorland has yet to formulate a stance, and that, ultimately, will be done at headquarters in Sydney. Neither of these major traders in take-away liquor were invited to last week's meeting, although some other take-away licensees were invited. Peter Toyne of the Alcohol Reference Group (ARC), which initiated last week's meeting, says organisers wanted a broad cross-section of people and organisations to attend the meeting, and wanted to avoid domination of discussion by any one block.He says the liquor industry and licensees will be able to comprehensively air their views at their focus group meeting scheduled for April 5. MLA John Elferink, also of ARC, said the invited licensees were those "with an interest in Alice Springs, who return the money they make to this community"."There is not a lot of evidence to demonstrate that much of the money made by the big supermarket chains goes back into Alice Springs," says Mr Elferink.Meanwhile, if last week's meeting, the first of Alice's latest round of community consultations on alcohol availability, reflects the general mood, the town could soon have a number of trial restrictions limiting sales of certain types of alcohol, and take-away sales, including a total ban on Sundays, but there will be no "Thirsty Thursday".The meeting of representatives of a broad range of community groups including the Town Council, CATIA, the Chamber of Commerce, churches, Aboriginal organisations, and the police lent overwhelming support to the introduction of trial alcohol restrictions in some form in Alice Springs.Although separate from the alcohol availability survey being funded by the Town Council and conducted by the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee (AARC), the meeting, by agreement with AARC, will be seen as the first step in community consultation on alcohol problems in Alice Springs.There was no opposition to a motion put early in the course of the meeting that availability restrictions be put in place, although there were some abstentions when the motion was put to a vote.The meeting then went on to discuss what type of restrictions could be considered.Doug Abbott, for Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, was one of the first to his feet to propose a grog free Sunday and morning only take-away sales on Saturday, but said these restrictions should not apply to tourists."This is a tourist town and I'm an artist, I like to see tourists come to town," he said.Ultimately his wish for a grog free Sunday (that is, no take-away) was backed by the meeting, but there was little support for his proposed ban on Saturday afternoon sales.Manager of DASA, Nick Gill, pointed out that the alcohol "hot spots" are Thursdays and Fridays, when DASA's sobering up shelter fills. Sundays, even at present with take-away sales available from two outlets, are much quieter and the shelter does not even open on that day.Licensee of the Eastside Foodland liquor outlet, Tony Phillips, earnt murmurs of approval when he spoke out against cosmetic efforts to curb the grog problem."I'm a licensee but I'm also a member of this community and I love this town with a passion," he said.He said previous efforts like the banning of flagons and no sales of casks greater than two litres before 4pm had only seen problem drinkers turn to fortified wines."We've got to be long-sighted and if it burns pockets, that's bad luck. If we're going to fix this problem, let's fix it properly," said Mr Phillips.A spokesperson for Central Land Council Director David Ross called for reduced take-away sales on Thursdays and Fridays, and for confinement of benefit and pension paydays to Thursday, a reversion of Centre-link's current policy to pay on any day of the week. A local Centrelink officer commented that it would be hard to modify Centrelink's national policy in this regard.The CLC spokesperson also supported restrictions on wine in casks greater than two litres and on fortified wines, proposed by Bob Durnan, Substance Misuse Project Officer for the Regional Indigenous Health Planning Committee.Mr Durnan told the meeting that research to date shows that restricting the sale of cask wine is the single most effective measure in reducing alcohol-related harm, but it needs to be accompanied by measures to prevent a shift to fortified wines (which has been experienced in Tennant Creek). He suggested imposing a quota on sales of fortified wines and other high strength drinks, holding them to their present level.After a lot of discussion, and some second-guessing of public reaction, the spirit of these suggestions was backed by the meeting.Liquor Coordinator of the Foodland Group, Michael Pawelski, proposed the following 12 month trial program of restrictions on take-away sales from all outlets including clubs, and received overwhelming support:
* sales on Monday to Wednesday and Saturday, from 1pm to 8pm;
* sales on Thursday and Friday, from 3pm to 8pm; and
* no sales from any outlet on Sundays.
A number of people had expressed concern that a program of restrictions be seen by the public as too prescriptive, and that it would "frighten people off".However, Frank Ansell from Congress, followed by Mr Pawelski, protested that there had been too much talk and not enough action on grog in Alice for far too long.Mr Pawelski galvanised a general mood of determination, saying he would like to see trial restrictions in place by July 1, this year.The meeting then moved fairly quickly to put a range of options to the vote.As well as the restrictions mentioned above, the meeting overwhelmingly backed a ban on the sale of wine in casks greater than two litres; a ban on the sale of fortified wines in containers greater than 750ml; and on sales of the latter before 5pm on any day.There was less support, though still backing by a majority, for a ban on sales of wine in glass containers greater than one litre. This option was put to the meeting as a way of preventing the sale of cheap wine in flagons, however Mr Pawelski was concerned that upmarket products like magnums of quality wines would be caught in the same net.PUBLIC HEALTHThe meeting also backed a motion put by ATSIC Regional Manager Richard Preece that the Liquor Act be reviewed with a view to it becoming part of a public health strategy."At present the Act is all about sales of a product," commented Mr Preece.Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen told the meeting that a review of the Liquor Act is currently underway, and that many submissions have sought to put harm minimisation at "the front end of the Act".Mr Allen also said the commission acknowledged the meeting as one of a "significant and diverse" group of people, and would take its deliberations into account as part of the process of community consultations.There was little support for other options from the floor, including total bans on take-away sales on Thursdays and Fridays, and banning liquor outlets from supermarkets and shopping centres (it was argued that restricted trading hours should take care of the concern).However, the meeting did carry a motion that petrol stations in town should not operate a liquor licence. Front bar sales were not raised in the discussion. It was stated by a number of speakers that on-premises sales were not of concern, nor to be targeted by restrictive measures.All of the measures supported by the meeting were prefaced by a statement of "deep concern for the quality of life of the people of Alice Springs, for healthy family life, for the health and well-being of individuals, and for the respect of property" and of encouragement to the community "to be actively involved in the consultations".The outcomes of the meeting are now in the public arena for further discussion and debate, says Mr Elferink: "It will be the public who decides."

GROG TRADE FIGURES 'COMMERCIALLY IN CONFIDENCE'

The Liquor Commission has figures which tell it which outlet sells how much of what type of alcohol, but those figures are not available to the public.Liquor Commissioner Peter Allen (pictured) says the figures are "commercial in confidence".The Alice News asked Mr Allen how the community can be expected to have an informed discussion, particularly with respect to targeting the sale of wine in casks greater than two litres, without all the relevant information before it?He said: "The needs and wishes of the community are potentially perceptual."The commission has to take into account the reality of what's on the community's mind, but in a move to a form of restrictions we would study the data as part of our decision-making process."How quickly could a move to restrictions come about? There were calls at last week's community meeting to have trial restrictions in place by July 1.Mr Allen: "It's all if, if, if at the moment."It would be premature of me to assume which way the community's thinking will go."It would be premature to assume that it will be clear-cut in one direction or another."It might even be that the community's views are so evenly divided, that we have to look inside those views to see if we can find any common ground."I can say, after last week's meeting, that some form of restrictions is on the table. I have never gone that far before."I'm looking forward to seeing the community survey. I can't assume that the community at large will reflect the views heard the other night."Mr Allen says the commission has set aside one week from July 10 to consider the results of the community survey. However, if the results of the survey come in early, it is possible that the commission will consider them at its meeting in the week of June 12.The commission is required to give licensees one month's notice of a variation to licences.If no licensee then seeks a hearing before the commission, which they have a right to, Mr Allen says trial restrictions could be in place before the end of the year.In Katherine, from the time a program of restrictions was crafted by a meeting of community representatives on March 24 last year, it took until January 1 this year for trial restrictions to come into effect. Four licensees in Katherine, including Woolworths, sought hearings before the commission. The process took four weeks, and subsequently there was also a challenge by Woolworths in the Supreme Court, which Mr Allen says the court found to be "preemptive and presumptuous".

THE MERCHANT WHO WANTS RESTRICTIONS!
Two years ago, when Michael Pawelski started his job as Liquor Coordinator for Alice Springs's three Foodland stores, alcohol restrictions were already on the agenda.They had been trialled and introduced in Tennant Creek, and were periodically the subject of controversy in Alice.Mr Pawelski's background was in restaurants and he says he was at first naive about the problems in merchandising take-away liquor here.He has since become a strong believer in the need to address the problem of excessive consumption and has participated in the Alice Alcohol Representative Committee since it was formed.At the same time Mr Pawelski has directed the Foodland outlets in a market shift, increasing their turnover."I could foresee the day when businesses relying heavily on a few products with high volume turnover would need to refocus their marketing strategy. We refocussed our business particularly into the area of bottled wine sales."If the sale of five litre casks of wine stopped tomorrow our outlets would not feel too great an impact."At last week's community meeting, Mr Pawelski gave vocal backing to restricted take-away trading hours and to the banning of wine in casks greater than two litres.A cynic might suggest that he was advocating action in an area where his business is relatively safe.Mr Pawelski strongly rejects such a suggestion: "There has been a mood change among licensees in this town over the last 12 months, especially the independents who make the town their home."We are sick of being involved in bandaid solutions and of being expected to be the babysitters of the town's problem drinkers."We want to be responsible in the way we do business and be part of a solution that gets real results."My experience of the industry leads me to believe that the key to success in curbing excessive consumption is to get the high litrage casks off the shelf and to start trading later in the day, by which time hopefully people have spent a good part of their disposable income on necessities like food and clothing."Restrictions like the ones being discussed are going to affect all liquor outlets. If 18 hours are trimmed off trading, some jobs may be on the line, but I know my boys on the floor will be happy if they can just come into work and get on with it like in any other business, if there's something in place other than their personal responsibility to stop problem drinking."None of us can profess to have the magic solution but we shouldn't be chastised for trying. "Let's see what happens with trial restrictions and hopefully we will achieve something for this community. The hospital, ambulance service and the police might be able to take a breather, there might be less domestic violence, less property damage and more kids going to school."

MANDATORY SENTENCING MAY NOT BE A VOTE WINNER FOR THE CLP. COMMENT by Prof. DAVID CARMENT.

Northern Territory politics are receiving sustained national attention. The debate on mandatory sentencing has resulted in a strong focus on the Territory that in some respects seems quite disproportionate. It is not, however, the first time that the Territory issues have received such attention. Another example was the national response to the Territory's voluntary euthanasia legislation. Some observers have in both instances seriously questioned whether the Territory has sufficient political and social maturity to deserve self-government. One journalist even suggested in The Australian that responsibility for the Territory be returned to South Australia. Numerous federal politicians clearly believe that by its actions the Territory government has delayed indefinitely any prospect of statehood for the Territory.A key issue obviously concerns Territory rights. Chief Minister Burke and his colleagues frequently assert that mandatory sentencing has the clear support of most Territorians and do gooders from interstate and overseas should leave the Territory alone. They claim that the CLP government's policies on mandatory sentencing were endorsed at both the last Territory general election and the recent Port Darwin by-election. As a self-governing entity, they further contend, the Territory has an undoubted constitutional right to deal with mandatory sentencing.The Port Darwin by-election, nevertheless, was not a straightforward endorsement of mandatory sentencing. There was a significant decline in the CLP's primary vote. Most disaffected CLP supporters appear to have voted for an independent candidate whose views on mandatory sentencing were confusing. A large number of electors did not vote at all despite the enormous publicity the by-election received. The Labor, Green and independent candidates all campaigned on a range of local issues and there is evidence that these were at least as important for Port Darwin residents as mandatory sentencing. While the CLP government frequently berates do gooders for their lack of understanding of mandatory sentencing, some of those being attacked include prominent national and international figures the Territory can ill afford to offend. The Commonwealth parliament is under strong pressure from such individuals to intervene in the Territory as it did regarding voluntary euthanasia. It has, moreover, the legal right to do so. There is no need, as with the states, to justify such intervention by reference to an international convention and the Commonwealth Constitution's external affairs power. Some Liberal members of the federal parliament are putting whatever pressure they can on their party to change its stance on intervention. At the very least, the Territory government is reinforcing a widespread view that the Territory is a place where respect for human rights, especially those of indigenous Australians, is more limited than in other parts of the country.The Territory's position here is especially vulnerable, given its financial dependence on the rest of Australia. The Premier of New South Wales believes that the Territory receives far more Commonwealth revenue than it really deserves. The great bulk of money spent by the Territory government comes from taxpayers outside the Territory. Chief Minister Burke's statements that his government should be able to do as it wishes on matters like mandatory sentencing would be much more easily sustained if the Territory's economic position was stronger. The Territory Labor Party's stance on mandatory sentencing is also open to criticism. Its candidate in the Port Darwin by-election often gave the impression of wanting to avoid the issue. The Labor leader, Clare Martin, has certainly attacked the mandatory sentencing legislation quite frequently and with considerable force, but her opposition to federal intervention on the issue is puzzling. She says that the legislation should only be altered in the Territory parliament yet knows that in the short term at least this cannot happen. The strongest opposition to mandatory sentencing in the Territory has come from members of the legal profession. Leaders of that profession point to what they see as the many deficiencies in the mandatory sentencing legislation and object to the way in which it deprives judges and magistrates of the normally fundamental right of discretion in sentencing. While, as happened very recently in New South Wales, no Territory judge has so far openly criticised mandatory sentencing, several make no secret of their discomfort about it. The Territory government obviously believes that opposition from the legal profession is only to be expected and can be largely discounted. Whatever the Chief Minister meant when he described the Territory court system as corrupt, he reflected a widespread view in his party that the system was overdue for reform. The previous Chief Minister, Shane Stone, had, after all, clashed with members of his own former profession on a number of occasions. There can now be little doubt, following disclosure of the Territory's Chief Magistrate's contract, that Stone was keen to make courts more responsive to CLP policies. Chief Justice Brian Martin, long regarded as close to the CLP, found it necessary to take unprecedented protest action against Burke's use of the word corrupt. Yet the Chief Minister's reluctant apology did not convey genuine contrition. On a wider level, the government's attitudes towards critics of mandatory sentencing in the Territory reflect the long CLP domination of political power in the Territory and the extraordinary extent to which it has succeeded in weakening its opponents. Many Territorians feel uneasy about criticising the CLP, worrying about the affects this might have on their jobs. This is particularly the case if they are employed as public servants but is also so with some business and professional people who provide services for the government. Territory Labor's problems are, as the party's recent review found, frequently of its own making. Even strong critics of the CLP often find Territory Labor inadequate. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the Territory's mandatory sentencing legislation, its more powerful opponents may well decide that federal intervention is the only way in which the legislation can be significantly altered. In other words, the Territory political system could be again deemed as seriously deficient.
[David Carment is Professor of History at the Northern Territory University and the author of many publications on the Territory's political history.]

THE BUCK STOPS WITH ALDERMEN, SAYS ALICASTRO.

Alderman Tony Alicastro, who resigns from the Town Council at the end of this term after eight years in the job, says it can be indeed frustrating to achieve a particular end on council, but the responsibility for this rests with the individual alderman.He says he has "no problem" with officers "being pushy" about particular issues."They are only doing their job, and if we, the elected members disagree with them, all we have to do is say no."He takes as an example the proposed redevelopment of the Civic Centre.He says three times a simple facelift of the centre has been before council, and three times the officers have proposed in its place the redevelopment."Myself and Alderman Harris have been very vocal in our opposition to the big plan, but the majority of aldermen have agreed to it."If the majority disagreed, and said all we want is to have the carpet replaced and gave a simple direction to do it by the end of this month, then the officers couldn't very well say no."Ald Alicastro respects Ald Geoff Harris for "speaking his mind" and "having the guts to put things on the table", but says the sort of "Yes, Minister" experience Ald Harris describes (see Alice News issues of March 8 and 15) has not happened to him."If I want something I scream until I get it."I agree it should not be like that but it happens at every level of government. There's always a strong power game between the bureaucracy and the government. It gets down to the ability and strength of elected members to assert their position."If we don't, then we are not doing our job."Ald Alicastro says he is concerned that the current administration has been the particular target of criticism, when he thinks that many of council's problems were left behind by the previous administration."Anyone can tell you of my spectacular disagreements with Nick Scarvelis [council CEO], but the fact is that the previous administration left a lot of things up in the air, and he came into the job having to face the situation and fix it."That "situation", according to Ald Alicastro, is one of the council dreaming beyond its means.He says council is currently involved in dozens of programs, none of which is resourced sufficiently to make a real impact.He says the achievement of the current council of aldermen and officers alike is to rethink such an approach to local government and to "fix" the budget process.He says the deficit that council has in their current expenditure is at root no different from the surplus (in the order of $700,000) that they had for each of his previous seven years on council."Either way it means that we are not doing the budget properly. A surplus achieved with a five per cent rate increase means that the rate increase was completely unnecessary."Unless we have a clear assessment of our financial capabilities then we can spend the next 10 years making promises and developing corporate and business plans, and at the end of the day not have enough money to do any of it properly."Ald Alicastro says it would be a shame if people now get the impression that to be on council is a hopeless cause."Programs should work as a result of general effort and understanding, and not because of one strong person driving them."If there is only one person behind a particular policy, that means it is not a good policy."When an alderman has an issue he or she wants to pursue, it is up to them to convince the other aldermen that that is the way to go."He says it took him six very frustrating years to convince other aldermen to embrace some of his proposals concerning the budget process.He says he had the satisfaction in his first term of seeing council form an economic development committee with a substantial $400,000 budget , something he had pushed very hard for.However, in his second term that budget was slashed to $100,000, which he considers to not be enough to make a significant impact."But I was unable to convince others. I take responsibility for that."He says for a long time council philosophy has been "a little bit for everybody", but he thinks they are now prepared to take the hard decisions and streamline programs: there will be fewer but they will be adequately resourced. There is a will now to make serious changes. It would be a pity if was all spoiled in a bun fight of criticism."Ald Alicastro also takes issue with criticism of council made by Gerry Baddock (see last week's News, letter to the editor, page two).He says her reference to his "partner" having received a grant of $20,000 from council suggests impropriety and conflict of interest, both of which he strongly refutes.He says the person who received the grant is not his partner and that while he knows her, and her business premises are next door to his own, he has no financial dealings with her, beyond the fact that her food distribution company distributes one of his products."I suggested to this person that she should apply for a grant. In doing that I was simply doing my job as an alderman. I also suggested to a hydroponic lettuce grower that he apply for a grant."What is the point of having a program to assist the development of small businesses, if you don't tell people about it?"Ald Alicastro says because he knew the person and had made the suggestion that they apply for the grant, he absented himself from chambers on each occasion that the matter was discussed, even though that was not strictly necessary."Mrs Baddock should check her facts before making strong allegations."He says further that, as business people pay a large slice (some 60 per cent, he suggested) of council rates (for their business premises and their residence), there is reason why they should get something back."If we give $100,000 to the arts, and spend half a million on upgrading the town pool, what's wrong with putting $100,000 into developing businesses?"Council should be praised for involving itself in this activity."

Return to Alice Springs News Webpage.