GROG: MORE MEETINGS. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
Liquor restrictions in Alice are unlikely to be introduced this year. Yet another working group on alcohol measures has been formed after an all-day meeting called by Minister for Central Australia Richard Lim. The group must come to agreement over complimentary measures to work alongside restrictions, which are "still on the table". Their first meeting is set for August 10, and no time frame has been set for a final decision.Some people see this as an "all talk, no action" deal (see interview this issue with CAAAPU’s Pam Summers) but Licensing Commissioner Peter Allen disagrees. He says the group is made up of people who "have had a lot of experience". "There's a lot groundwork already done and I doubt there will be much time wasted in background debate. I think people will get on with the task."According to Mr Allen the task is this: "We've got a series of proposed restrictions which are still on the table until such time as there are some complimentary measures to support those, that have a realistic chance of working and of being mutually supportive of any other measures and the restrictions. "However, the proposed restrictions can't stay on the table indefinitely. "If the opportunity isn't taken up in the near future, they will fall off the table."Whether restrictions are put in place, "depends on the worthiness of the complimentary measures". "The people of Alice Springs, many of them, said restrictions alone will not work, there need to be other things. "The commission needs to be satisfied that those other measures are sufficiently worthy to keep faith with the community before it implements any restrictions." Mr Allen declared his confidence in Nick Gill's leadership of this working group. Mr Gill is manager of DASA, and a member of two national alcohol and other drugs bodies, and chairs the Alice in 10 Substance Misuse Working Group. At last week's forum, Mr Gill stated the Alice in 10 group's " unequivocal support" for approaching Alice's alcohol problems within the framework of the National Drug Strategy, part of which is to reduce supply. Mr Allen also expressed his pleasure at seeing the involvement of Aboriginal organisations and people at last week's meeting, and his confidence "that the licensees will contribute in a whole-hearted way". "They've always done so, they've always been willing to join in these committees." Dianne Loechel, Todd Tavern licensee and chair of the Liquor Licensees' Association – one of three liquor trade bodies to be represented on the new working group – says the new group makes a change from individual interest groups all working separately. Says Mrs Loechel: "Alice in 10 have formulated strategies that most people feel could work in some way, or possibly be amended. "It's probably a good groundwork, it's something that everybody at that meeting felt they could take a little bit of ownership of and make things a little bit different." Are licensees prepared to give ground in their opposition to restrictions?"Licensees wouldn't like to see restrictions, not a restriction of hours, nor a restriction of product. "Targeting a specific product can become detrimental in itself, forcing people to make choices that aren't necessarily the best choices for them. STOP?"And if [targeting] this product doesn't work, we then look at another product and another product. Where do we say stop?"I think you can easily flood the market with other products that can be equally detrimental, that can create another range of problems. "I think it gives companies the opportunity to put out a similar sort of wine in a smaller cask, perhaps reduce the price, hence it doesn't really become any more expensive for those people to buy the same quantities as they did before, and I think that will be a real concern." Mr Gill says he is still expecting strong opposition from the liquor traders to restrictions. "They made it very clear [last Thursday] that they continue to oppose them. "Nonetheless, the commissioner is required by the Liquor Act to have regard not simply to the wishes, but also to the needs of the community. "What we have been given the opportunity to do is to state in detail how complimentary measures are being achieved and the timelines for them. "I'm confident that the commissioner will respond by saying yes, that's swung the balance, we will have restrictions as a trial." Thus far the working group is made up of representatives of the Alice Springs Town Council , the ATSIC Regional Council, Arrernte traditional owners, CAAAPU, the liquor licensees, the hotel licensees, the club licensees, CATIA, PAAC, CLC, the Central Australian Division of Primary Health Care, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Arrernte Council. Other stakeholders may nominate to join the group.Dr Lim says, "The stakeholders are really, truly representative of Alice Springs, so I believe their opinions will be significantly heard by the Licensing Commissioner as input from the community. "I believe that in previous times there have been expressions of desire, but no means of achieving an outcome. "I believe through the Substance Misuse Working Group there will be a means to achieve an outcome." Will he give a package that contains restrictions his support?Dr Lim: "I consider restrictions to have some degree of value in this town. "Remember it's not my decision to bring in whatever measures. "It's up to the Licensing Commission. "I'll give my support or otherwise depending on what I see."While there is as yet no timetable Mr Allen says he expects things to happen sooner rather than later:"This group is pretty focussed. "Previous committees have been examining the problem, defining it."This committee's task is more specific – doing something about the problem. That will probably help."
FLYING IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY.
The Alice Springs Aero Club is down but not out: its charter company was recently grounded by CASA despite 23 years of accident free operations, but the training operation is, well, very much still up in the air. But that's good news for the 50 odd members, many of them new, undergoing flying training in some of the nation's best conditions. Last Saturday trainees were kept on their toes, first on the ground when they had to spot mock defects during a "daily inspection" contest. Later in the day instructor Glenn Currey simulated engine failures during approach, and contestants had to perform "dead stick" landings, gliding the Cessna 172s to the runway, ideally for a spot landing on the 1000 foot marker. The old hands, club president Brian Eather, followed by Stan Anderson and Richard Button, took top placings, but the students gained valuable experience.
GROG DEBATE: DON'T PEOPLE HAVE SHAME?
"Everyone can see grog is a problem in Alice Springs, it's been on the news – physical violence, stabbings, women lying in the mall drunk, very undignified, poor souls, but it's because of the alcohol. "Don't people have shame? "When the licensees have their family and their visitors coming up here, do they like seeing things like that? ‘Come to my home town, it's better than going to the movies.' Don't they have shame, because Aboriginal people do." Pam Summers, director of CAAAPU, the Central Australian Aboriginal Alcohol Programs Unit, the only rehabilitation program in the Territory's southern region, is frustrated. Attending last week's meeting on Alice's alcohol problem was for her "a waste of time": "I would have expected a stronger outcome. At the end of the day they came up with one recommendation, a working group!! "My God! What have they been doing all this time? Let's hope the process speeds up." CAAAPU's position is simple: there is simply too much grog out there and they want a cutback in trading hours. Says Mrs Summers: "I explained to the meeting that in the olden days here in Alice Springs, pubs never opened till ten o'clock and closed at six in the evenings, half a day on Saturday and never on a Sunday. "And you never bought a packet of nappies and saw a bottle of plonk beside it. "Hardly any of the shops had alcohol in them, but now every shop you go to has alcohol in it. The caravan park down the road has got alcohol, where else are they going to sell alcohol?" She says the liquor traders have to meet the people half way: "I felt that the liquor traders wanted to put up a barrier to any suggestion of restrictions on hours. It's a sales thing to them. "I said we appreciate you have got to make a living, but it has gone overboard. "They used to survive in the olden days, the pubs in Alice Springs. "And the only real, honest reason that people don't want to cut back on hours is money. The bottom line is greed. "I cannot understand anybody in this town saying, let's keep the outlets as they are, because you can see the problems out there. "Not only see it, people deal with the problems, not only Aboriginal organisations, but the hospital, Centrelink. "The traders themselves say they get nuisance drunks at their shops. They said to me, if you cut the hours back you're still going to have people hanging around the shops until whatever hour they open and in the meantime they are going to bludge. "And I said well, beggars have been on this earth for years, at least you would have a beggar who is sober and not a drunken one. "I was sitting there thinking to myself, all this talk and no action. Everyone has been talking about grog for years, and I'm thinking why isn't this in place already? "Why aren't the people who are selling grog meeting the townsfolk half way?" Mrs Summers also takes the Liquor Commission to task: "The Liquor Commission stated to us that they had to see we had to put a good argument across on cutting back the hours. "Why would you have to put a ‘good argument'? There's people dying all the time from alcohol! It's killing the people. "I told them I'm tired of talking, negotiating. Even my own mother died of cirrhosis of the liver. I told all the people that. "How many times do we have to go to funerals nowadays? We go to one or two funerals a month. Years ago it was one in six months, if that." Mrs Summers says the Territory Government is not sincere about "clearing up the grog problem": "We get people close to death at CAAAPU and we are the only rehabilitation program set up in the central region, including the Barkly, that's a big region. "I pointed out at the meeting that alcohol is not racist. Even though we are an Aboriginal organisation, we never close our doors, we also have white clientele here. "We get a shoestring budget. For our 24 hour residential treatment program we only get from Aboriginal Hostels [federally funded] three dollars a day for meals per client, that works out at one dollar per meal. "If a staff member goes on holidays we have no money to replace them. "We haven't even got a linguist here to translate. "We haven't got enough money to advertise – our treatment program is full but we could have more people in the daycare programs. "CAAAPU would like to do programs on the communities but where are the funds? "We don't get enough from Aboriginal Hostels, I'll admit that, but my question is where is the Territory Government helping us?" Mrs Summers says CAAAPU has a place on the working group but she doesn't think they'll stay on it for long. "It shouldn't be a tug of war game between Aboriginal organisations and licensees, it should be mediation about cutting back the hours."
CLP HAS FORGOTTEN US, SAYS BOHNING. By KIERAN FINNANE
"I believe the CLP have lost direction, they've forgotten about us," says former CLP branch president and candidate in three elections, Tony Bohning, who has announced he will stand as an independent in Araluen. His candidacy will make for a four-legged race, with Meredith Campbell standing also as an independent, Jodeen Carney for the CLP and Mike Bowden for Labor. Mr Bohning says he resigned from the CLP and from his former position with the Chief Minister's office in Alice Springs about a fortnight ago. He says he is "dissatisfied with the level of service we're getting from government", a "fantastic" example being the state of Ilparpa Road. After months of being under water pumped out from the swamp which is in turn being fed by the overflowing sewerage ponds, the road is now damaged and partially closed, allowing only one lane of traffic. "That's absolutely scandalous," says Mr Bohning (pictured at right). "If that was in Darwin or Katherine, it would probably go on for about two weeks. Here we are pushing the railway project and the first sight you get of the town is a toxic sign saying, ‘Don't go in the water'. "We're putting the Old Timers at risk, St Mary's, the Birthing Centre, anyone who drives in or out of town is put at risk. And where else is there a town that markets tourism as one of its major income agencies, and you drive past the sewerage ponds AND the local dump to get into the town?" He says the CLP has become Darwin-centred: "I don't believe that we're getting what we are entitled to, other than at election time of course. We'll get some glossy brochures, a few promises and then nothing really eventuates. I believe they've become very,very complacent." Other areas that need attention but are not getting it, in Mr Bohning's view, are flooding of the Todd River, and "our social problems". On the latter he says: "I believe they can be addressed compassionately and with a bit of sensitivity, providing people are prepared to sit down and talk to one another. "But let's address the problem, let's not move to legislation first. "The root of the problem is alcohol. "I'm quite sure if the government moved to bring in a buy-back system for licences, a number of people would be quite prepared to hand their licences back. "I believe there are too many licences, too many outlets in the town." If people want an independent voice in Araluen why would they chose him rather than Meredith Campbell? Mr Bohning: "I'm absolutely passionate about the Territory and Alice Springs. I've been here all my life. My children and grandchildren were born here. "In 1929 my grandparents trucked cattle on the first Ghan out of Alice Springs. So my roots are actually here. "I've a very, very large extended family, throughout the Territory, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. "I personally have the knowledge and the contacts to bridge between groups because I'm accepted in most groups within and around Alice." How effective can he be as an independent anyway? "I would give people an alternative, I wouldn't be locked into party guidelines. "As has been demonstrated, if you step outside the boundaries of a major party then you're history, irrespective of whether you want to represent your constituents or not. "If you represent what people want, you can actually make a difference. "With the number of independents running in this particular election, some of them will get up and they will make a difference." But despite some strident criticism, Mr Bohning is careful not to distance himself too greatly from the CLP. He says if anyone wants to belong to a political party, "the CLP in the Territory is probably the best party for them to belong to". And, although they've "forgotten" about the people, "don't get me wrong, the Government hasn't done a bad job". "They've actually got into nation building and really great things and that's to be commended." On improving the quality of life in Alice Springs which "comes down to addressing anti-social behaviour", the CLP has the better outlook than Labor: "They've done some very positive things with their quality of life programs. And they're addressing the alcohol problems." In past elections, people with an association with the CLP have stood as independent candidates and it's been seen as a strategy by the CLP to split the vote, with preferences favouring their own candidate. Could his candidacy act like that in Araluen? Mr Bohning: "That would be up to the voters, it's certainly not up to me. "It's certainly not a ploy for me." Will he distribute preferences? "I'll be telling people on my how to vote card, you distribute your preferences how you see fit." Is he aligned with independents Loraine Braham and David Mortimer? "Very loosely, at this stage", says Mr Bohning, who is believed to have missed out on CLP pre-selection for MacDonnell on "the night of the long knives" when then Minister for Central Australia Mrs Braham also lost her pre-selection. Mr Bohning: "We have common views and common concerns. I had some discussion with Loraine Braham a few weeks ago. "I would say it's a matter of formality for me to align myself with them."
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