Chief Minister fails to answer critics of alcohol reform

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

 

Sir – The NT Chief Minister has again revealed his ideological rejection of evidence-based alcohol policy in the NT. Adam Giles’ failure on the ABC’s Lateline last Thursday to nominate a single expert who supports the CLP’s Alcohol Mandatory Treatment (AMT) Bill, particularly the criminalisation of drunkenness, shows an astonishing resistance to evidence.

 

He says he is worried about domestic violence and about kids who are hurt and neglected through grog abuse. So is PAAC and so are many others, such as the Congress Aboriginal health service and NPY Women’s Council.

 

They have campaigned on the issue over many years. Tragically, Mr. Giles’ only answer is expensive AMT for a very few, topped off with the criminalisation of drunkenness kicking in on the third breach of a detention order. The Chief Minister’s bare-faced claim on national television that that no-one has had anything to say about how to tackle our appalling record on grog abuse and domestic violence for eleven years shows just how out of touch he is with major initiatives that have made a difference in the NT.

 

He knows, and his Rehabilitation Minister Robyn Lambley admits, that about 90% of people under AMT orders won’t get off the grog as a result. The likely most effective single measure, an alcohol floor price per standard drink at the cost of beer, would cost nothing!

 

He stubbornly and irresponsibly ignores the evidence about what will reduce consumption. He refuses to re-introduce a Commonwealth-funded Photo ID system that costs virtually nil to run, and which would help to prevent sales to people who do abscond from rehabilitation or breach Tribunal banning orders.

 

It seems he’d rather they keep breaching orders and face a prison term the third time. Is this a good use of public money compared to other investments, especially early childhood and family intervention programs?

 

Ordering people to treatment on a trial basis with no criminal consequences may be effective with some addicts, provided there is good follow up and support. But even if we get all of this right, it will still be a very small contribution to addressing problem.

 

It is also wrong to detain people for up to eight days without any charge, as is now proposed, and to criminalise drunkenness by creating offences for absconding.

 

In case Adam Giles really believes no-one has any answers, we’d be happy to refer him – again – to credible research on what works: pricing adjustments to cheap liquor, and shorter take-away hours including a day without take-away sales.

 

It is very likely that for the first time in six years NT wide alcohol sales have increased since the election of the CLP Government and the removal of the Banned Drinkers’ Register. No wonder some have been calling the CLP the “Country Liquor Party” and that the alcohol industry is so happy.

 

It is not too late for the Chief Minister to listen to the evidence and implement what works. This would be the best way for him to act on his concern for women and children.

 

Dr. John Boffa (pictured)

People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC)

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7 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Paul Parker
    Posted June 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Commonwealth and other Parliaments need to legislate so income management becomes a tool available and used by the courts to influence and modify behavior.
    Include requirement for accurate statistics on usage and results to be published annually.

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  2. Ian Sharp
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Well said, Bob Durnan. Heard on the radio news today that Vince Kelly of the NT Police Association has slammed the Government for getting rid of the BDR. When Adam Giles was interviewed on the ABC TV Lateline program last week his responses (or lack of them) were excruciating and embarrassing. We deserve better but it looks as if the “bow-tie boys” are in hock to the liquor industry, the performance of Giles and Tollner was embarrassing that night too. We all need better leadership and policy than this.

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  3. Bob Durnan
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Robin (Posted June 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm): I am not sure why you would regard Terry Mills as a reliable informant about the impacts of the BDR. He pronounced it to be ineffective from the moment it was proposed in early 2010, and never attempted to carry out any objective evaluation of it; nor would he listen to the advice of those in front line services (police, health staff, welfare workers, alcohol treatment clinicians etc) who overwhelmingly advocated that the BDR should be given a fair go and a proper evaluation. Many of these attested to its actual benefits even before it was fully implemented (the introduction of Income Management as a tool which could be used by the Alcohol and Other Drugs Tribunal to pressure people who had been banned from drinking, to encourage them to seriously consider engaging with counselling and treatment, was due to commence on 4th October 2012; Terry Mills ceased the operations of the BDR on 28th August, just after he was elected).

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  4. Bob Durnan
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Additionally Robin (June 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm):
    A floor price does affect the consumption levels, offending rates and harms caused to self and others by most of these binge drinkers. It also affects some of the small number of (mainly town-dwelling) classic “alcoholics” in similar ways.
    Recent studies of floor prices applied in various Canadian provinces (published in peer-reviewed articles in highly reputable medical and scientific journals) clearly demonstrate the benefits for individuals, society and governments.
    Earlier comprehensive studies by UCLA academics, analysing alcohol restrictions and regulations throughout the USA, covering the period 1920 to 1990, show similar patterns.
    There are similar analyses of the regulatory regimes in various European countries, and they show the same lessons.
    Studies of the NT’s own regulations of supply show those which effectively reduced the supply and consumption of the cheapest alcohol during the period 2000 to 2010 indicate similar results.
    There is usually some shift by a percentage of drinkers to stealing or brewing alcohol, but on balance the benefits far outweigh the problems, and, over time, the problems can be addressed using the police time that is freed up by the reduction in other offences.

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  5. Bob Durnan
    Posted June 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Robin (June 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm): You are right. A “floor price” does reduce overall consumption, and not all alcoholics will reduce their consumption because of it.
    But it is not just “alcoholics” that are the problem. When the relevant harms are quantified, habitual and occasional binge drinkers cause much more serious alcohol-related harm, anti-social behaviour and preventable expense to tax payers – in toto – than is caused by “alcoholics”.
    Most of the problem drinkers in the NT are not “alcoholics”: they do not display symptoms such as “delirium tremens”, and they regularly experience days with access to little or no alcohol without serious physical reactions.
    Most of the people on the banned drinkers register would have been these regular non-“alcoholic” binge drinkers. Many of them were people residing mainly in remote mining camps, cattle stations, road-works camps and communities, but visiting Alice Springs occasionally for heavy binge drinking breakouts.

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  6. Posted June 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    While increasing the floor price, one of Dr Boffa’s long-standing “evidence-based” ideas may reduce overall grog consumption, it might not necessarily be the alcoholics most in need of reduction who reduce their consumption.
    Low income earners who aren’t alcoholics might find the additional cost prohibitive. Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence that when the problem drinkers are denied grog for one reason or other, they break into clubs, shops and houses and steal it.
    The problem simply moves from one sector of society to another. I had thought the banned drinker’s register may have had a chance, denying problem drinkers the ability to purchase, but the former (CLP) Chief Minister told me that it wasn’t working.
    Somehow we need to move the problem from the cause or the cause from the problem. Thus, mandatory rehabilitation is worth a trial and if nothing else, it will give those unfortunate enough to participate a chance to improve their hygiene, dry out a little and get a few days or weeks of decent food.
    The subsequent reduction in hospital and justice system costs should help pay for the mandatory detention costs.

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  7. Paul Parker
    Posted June 21, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Doubt most effective single measure will be an alcohol floor price per standard drink at the cost of beer, whilst certainly agree this shall help considerably, being around third best.
    Best single measure is legislate requirement persons with addiction linked behavior disorders be court decisions, with best advice courts can obtain.
    Persons with addiction linked behavior disorders regularly appear in the courts, for some their first court appearance.
    Second best measure is ensuring court decisions published (personal privacy maintained where courts decide appropriate), educating about these decisions in schools and through media the wider community.
    Legislators do need less restrict courts, ensure provide full range of choices courts may apply as orders, including appeal provisions available where decisions believed outside acceptable range.
    Whether a decision is outside acceptable range remain matters for public discussion.

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