Alice Springs and Alcohol: A Simple Explainer of a Complex Issue

Warning: This article deals with the topics of substance abuse and alcohol and may be triggering for some readers.

This article also deals with the topic of domestic violence and could be triggering for some readers.

In July of 2022, the Northern Territory’s alcohol ban came to a close. This change in legislation allowed folks in Alice Springs and other dry communities to purchase and consume liquor for the first time in ages. In some cases, the first time in 15 years.

Around this time, this concerned the likes of Peter Burnheim. This man is the CEO of the Association of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies NT. He also believed that the Federal Government didn’t properly consult the territory’s remote and First Nations communities before abolishing the state’s alcohol bans.

As Burnheim said, “Little to no preparatory work has been done to help communities to develop effective alcohol management strategies or to provide additional resources to respond to this change.”

Moreover, since these bans came to a close, a number of issues have arisen. Since 2022, the Alice Springs Hospital has experienced a 50% spike in alcohol-related emergencies. There has also been a 54% increase in the town’s domestic-related assaults.

The Government Reacts

In response to this situation, the Federal Government has stepped in. They’ve done this by creating some temporary liquor store restrictions for Alice Springs. These restrictions include alcohol-free Mondays, alcohol-free Tuesdays, and reduced trading hours on other days. Furthermore, Alice Springs customers are now only allowed to make one liquor store transaction once every 24 hours.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said, “These are complex problems, and they require a full solution, which won’t be immediate, which require different levels of government to work together to that end.”

However, it’s worth noting that some First Nations individuals aren’t happy with these new restrictions. 

“It’s a Band-Aid,” said Shirleen Campbell, Tangentyere Women’s Safety Group’s Coordinator. “I’ve seen this before.”

“It’s going to create more problematic racism. There was no consultation and collaboration with people on the ground who actually gonna live and see this and experience it. People are just coming in and making up and creating all these assumptions.”

Campbell also has some nuanced thoughts about how alcohol intersects with domestic violence in Alice Springs’ Indigenous communities.

As Campbell explained, “Alcohol is not the driver of domestic violence, it often numbs people from the intergenerational trauma which we carry that every day, these problems come from the colonisation, we need to unpack that as well, and that involves education.”

“It’s still ongoing today, the impact of colonisation. We have racism, the removals of our children. We have incarceration in the prisons of men and women.”

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This Is What Happens Next

The Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government have commissioned a report into Central Australia’s alcohol difficulties. It’s understood that this unreleased report says that stricter alcohol restrictions will be needed in the region, and stat.

On February 6, this was all but confirmed as the Northern Territory Government said that it’ll reinstate a total alcohol ban across Central Australia. 

As Natasha Fyles, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, stated, “We’ve heard loudly and clearly that the matter and decision of alcohol on community needs to be one that is made by the entire community.”

“That is why we’re creating a circuit breaker and implementing temporary dry zones until communities can develop and vote on the alcohol management plans.”

It’s worth noting that these new restrictions won’t be used to target just those living in Alice Springs.

At a separate press conference, Fyles said, The measure has to be for all Territorians. You cannot pick and choose based on someone’s race or their address, which again is another race-based policy.

Meanwhile, Albanese has confirmed that he also wants the Federal Government to act on the recommendations of the unreleased report “as soon as possible.”

“I want not to delay, but I also understand that some of these issues are intergenerational,” said Albanese. “There aren’t easy off-the-shelf solutions. It’s not just about alcohol. It’s about employment. It’s about service delivery. It’s about getting staff on the ground.”

As of now, the Federal Government will give some of Central Australia’s support services an extra $250 million worth of funding.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if drugs or alcohol are becoming a problem, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14) or download Sobriety App – I am Sober, an addiction buddy useful for quitting any activity or substance.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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