COMMENT by RUSSELL GUY
The essence of the Christian faith is to see Jesus as the answer, but the Leader of the NT Opposition, Terry Mills gave a somewhat guarded response at the Australian Christian Lobby’s Make it Count forum in Darwin and relayed to Alice Springs recently.
It’s regrettable that the Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, declined to attend, because a cursory glance at political party advertising in the forthcoming NT Election reveals NT Labor favours “Moving in the Right Direction” while the Country Liberals descry “New Direction” with a caveat called “Real Action”.
Mr Mills spoke about the need for Christian voices to counter arguments so that he could have something to work with. In effect, he was calling for more citizens to involve themselves in the democratic process. This is to his credit, however, he has not responded to emails that I sent asking him about whether the CLP received campaign donations from the alcohol industry or its mates.
Questions put to him from the constituency at the ACL forum provoked a response that showed a protectionist stance towards free-market trade in land release and alcohol supply. He wants more land released for affordable housing, but implied that Aboriginal sacred sites and Native Title on Crown Land may inhibit this, justified by his statement that “everybody wants change, but not for it to happen to them.”
He is correct in identifying this as an issue, constantly reaffirming that “the ball” is in the people’s court, but ideology rears its ugly head at this juncture in a “Conservative versus the Left” contest, a spurious divide referred to by Mr Mills. It would be preferable if Mr Mills could conduct policy decisions based on evidence through the political process.
Mr Mills identified problems with this process in which he is, by vocational choice, entrapped, stating that “the public has no trust in government instrumentalities. I have a lot of work to do to build trust”. He has proposed a Planning Commission as a public interface in one policy area, but it was when a woman asked him about a floor price in relation to “grog and gunja” as serious problems in the community that Mr Mills began to reveal some of the confusion inherent in his ideology.
He failed to isolate marijuana as a substance from alcohol, but this is expected, given that he believes that “substance is not the problem, behaviour is”. This is the biggest mistake Mr Mills has made in his tilt for government and is a fundamental error which influences much of his manifesto, as alcohol-abuse does across portfolios.
He spoke about his mates’ binge drinking at the Drive-In when he was a youth, but not as if he has had direct experience of intoxication or narcosis, which is even more reason why he might avail himself of the statistical data. In formulating his alcohol policy, he appears to reject advice from police and health specialists relating to alcohol-abuse, preferring to move in his own ‘New Direction,’ penalising behaviour, but not the substance supplier, although I’m sure he’s not advocating marijuana be left on the street as he does with alcohol.
Herein lies contradiction and as the woman who asked the question concluded, he appears unconcerned with the “immature brain” or the development of the frontal cortex, which evidence states is still occurring up to people’s mid- 20’s.
His comments appeared to support NT Labor’s Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal while not naming it and slamming a key tool, the Banned Drinker’s Register as a failure. Both of which are linked to the rehabilitation issue. This is another expensive contradiction in an uncosted and almost totally unrevealed CLP alcohol policy.
Mr Mills continued to roll out his “it’s not the substance” line by saying that “it’s not the availability of alcohol,” followed by “why is there this destructive thirst?” He doesn’t know the answer, although he says “you’ve got to manage the substance, but you’ve got to ask the other question first.”
Sorry, Terry, but this is another contradiction. You have to manage the substance regardless and continue to ask the big question. In other words, Mr Mills cannot understand the need to “turn the tap down” and concluded the alcohol question by saying “don’t look at me to fix that, we’re all in it.”
Clearly, he is content to present a woeful understanding of alcohol management, despite evidence from around the world about the success of a floor price in reducing alcohol consumption. The NT Chief Magistrate describes alcohol as the single biggest problem the community is facing, as do the police and health officials. In light of this, NT Labor’s approach does seem to be moving generally in the right direction, while the Country Liberals are seen to be merely populist, with, at best, a simplistic and confused approach to this complex social policy.
As the Victorian Auditor General recently stated in reference to alcohol management, what’s popular doesn’t work, what’s unpopular does. That means politicians must gird themselves to manage alcohol by restricting supply, not refer to ideological blind or look for popular support.
This is the real action the community needs from its leaders. To be lost in complexity is one thing – but to subliminally design a simplistic election slogan, abetted by a “New Direction” economic growth policy, is another. It is aided by the largesse of Centrelink, some of whose programs, despite some Basics Card income management, foster alcoholism by default.
The CL stance is the essence of populist politics by a party that introduced voluntary euthanasia. Mr Mills made a big show of saying that people have “value” and should be “responsible” for their actions, but underlying this is a politician who rejects sensible evidence in favour of an ideological position.
There is a growing section of the populace who are petitioning Parliament for alcohol reform and one of the most effective can be found in the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) online petition to the Hon. Catherine King MP, Chair of the Australian and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council, which aims to hold the Commonwealth Government accountable for implementing a mandatory, evidence-based alcohol labelling regime in Australia, specifically, a pregnancy health warning, something which the alcohol industry has failed to do in the seven months since it was left to self-regulate.
Image: This postcard in June 2008 promoting the need of ID to buy booze is testimony to the protracted discussion of alcohol measures in the NT.