Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 14 February 2007
Parliamentary Record 12
Debates for 10th Assembly 2005 - 2008; 10th Assembly 2005 - 2008; Parliamentary Record; ParliamentNT
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory
DEBATES Wednesday 14 February 2007 3856 comprehensive way. The majority of Territorians are responsible drinkers, and an enjoyable drink is an important part of our great Territory lifestyle. There is nothing wrong with sensible drinking. It is, however, unfortunate that a significant proportion of Territorians engage in excessive alcohol consumption. This has a negative impact on not only those closest to them, but the community at large. Apart from the obvious human toll, alcohol abuse also puts massive pressure on services like our health agencies, law enforcement authorities, and the justice system. The statistics underscore the significance of the challenge confronting the Territory. The Territory spends millions of dollars on dealing with alcohol-related harm. For example, nearly $7m is committed to treatment services. This year, $2.36m has been committed to sobering-up shelters alone. In 2005-06, per capita consumption in the Territory was calculated at 17.3 litres of pure alcohol per person. This is some 70% higher than for Australia as a whole. As I mentioned, Territorians drink in ways that place them at greater risk of harm than other Australians. We all know about the dangers of drink driving. Territorians are nearly 50% more likely than other Australians to suffer short-term harm such as injury or illness as a result of drinking. Our harmful drinking patterns mean we are almost 80% more likely than other Australians to suffer long-term harm through chronic disease and permanent ill health. On that basis, it is probably not surprising then that 24 927 people in the Territory were placed into protective custody in 2005-06. More than 6800 Territorians were hospitalised for alcohol-related conditions over that same period. Fifty-eight percent of assaults were alcohol-related and 65% of prisoners were gaoled for an alcohol-elated offence. Alcohol was involved in 71% of police incidents across the Territory. Alcohol was the main reason for people accessing treatment services; alcohol is the primary drug for 61% of clients admitted to substance treatment programs. Alcohol accounts for only 37% of admissions to the same services across Australia as a whole. Then, of course, there is the tragic impact of harmful drinking on Aboriginal Territorians. This weeks release of the latest edition of National Health Indicators paints a grim picture of the disproportionately high toll alcohol is extracting on Aboriginal people right across Australia, including the Northern Territory. The National Health Indicators Bulletin 11 shows the NT central region has Australias highest incidence of alcohol-related Aboriginal deaths at 14 deaths per 10 000. The national average of alcohol-related deaths for all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, is 4.17 per 10 000. It is obvious from the statistics and what we in this House all know through our own experience that as a community, we drink too much. The challenge is not only to address our high and harmful levels of alcohol consumption, but also to attack the culture of alcohol that has existed in the Territory since its settlement by Europeans. Governments over the years have recognised the problems and I pay particular tribute to former Chief Minister, Marshall Perron, in that regard. His well-intentioned Living with Alcohol program, unfortunately, foundered when a High Court ruling determined that the Territory did not have the capacity to impose a tax on alcohol that funded the initiative. It is unfortunate that, after this ruling stripped the Living with Alcohol program of its funding base, the CLP dropped the ball on alcohol and alcohol management throughout the Territory. It is against this backdrop that the Martin government initiated its Alcohol Framework consultations, and in late 2004 adopted a new and innovative approach to the issues involved. I outline to members of the House some of the work that has occurred over the past two years in our efforts to address the pressing issues surrounding alcohol misuse and abuse. These problems are long-standing, complex and multifaceted. There is no magic bullet, no simple solution or single answer to the problems associated with alcohol. The government is intent on finding the best mix of strategies to make a difference whilst also not detracting from our great Territory lifestyle. Key to our approach is a whole-of-government perspective and the engagement of communities to find local solutions for the problems they face. We are conscious that the problems confronting communities differ across the Territory and that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. The whole-of-government emphasis is critical to ensuring success, although there are some agencies like Racing, Gaming and Licensing, Police and Health, which are going to be more directly involved than others. An example of the cooperative strategies being undertaken by different departments is the joint approach from Police and Racing, Gaming and Licensing to address liquor and antisocial behaviour problems around suburban supermarkets. Sadly, this is a problem of which we all are well aware. The strategy involves intensive surveillance, engagement with drinkers and residents in the neighbourhood, training for supermarket staff in responsible service of alcohol, and increased public awareness of intervention and complaint processes.