Friday, October 05, 2012

alcohol in aboriginal communities

UPDATE (10th October): Noel Pearson (see full article at the bottom):
The cultural dimension of Aboriginal people and alcohol - and by this I mean the way alcohol distorts the kinship system and vice versa - means it isn't as simple as envisioning the guy on the porch having a beer after a hard day's work. I have yet to see kinship and grog become friends anywhere in indigenous Australia.
In view of the problems of dangerous homebrew and sly grog the Queensland Aboriginal Affairs Minister Glen Elmes has decided to review and possibly relax alcohol management plans.

Where do people stand for and against lifting alcohol bans in aboriginal communities?

The Mayor of Hopevale, Greg McLean is FOR
Hopevale Mayor Greg McLean insists that a majority of the 850 residents favour easing the restrictions that allow drinkers a single carton of mid-strength beer or one 750ml bottle of table wine at a time, while banning spirits and fortified wine
- Noel Pearson's hometown of Hopevale divided over grog bans
The Mayor of Aurukun, Derek Walpo, is AGAINST
... local hospital admissions for assault-related injury fell dramatically from 22 per 1000 persons in 2002-03, when its plan was established, to 7.4 persons in 2010-11. School attendance has increased from 37.9 per cent in 2008 to 70.9 per cent this year
- Too early to relax alcohol bans
Mal Brough, is cautiously FOR
"I think we need to recognise that nothing ever stands still in society and the alcohol management plan saw a reduction in violence and abuse," he said.

"We need to work with communities about normalising now. What I would caution against is that any changes made need to be monitored and they shouldn't be afraid of instigating immediate change and withdrawal of alcohol if it isn't working.
- Mal Brough backs end to remote alcohol ban
Jenny Macklin is AGAINST
any changes would need to be based on "robust evidence" and must not be made at the expense of "vulnerable women and children".
- Too early to relax alcohol bans
Noel Pearson is AGAINST, he hasn't changed his 2007 opinion:
"Ask the terrified kid huddling in the corner when there's a binge drinking party going on down the hall. Ask them if they want a bit of paternalism. Ask them if they want a bit of intervention because these people who continue to bleat on without looking at the facts, without facing up to the terrible things that are going on in our remote communities, these people are prescribing no intervention, they are prescribing a perpetual hell for our children."
- Too early to relax alcohol bans
Warren Mundine is AGAINST
"We know the history, the domestic violence, the rape, the murder, all caused by alcohol,"

"Has he (Mr Newman) ever been into these communities? There are no jobs, there's no work. As soon as someone gets beaten up because of alcohol, there is blood on his hands."
- Mal Brough backs end to remote alcohol ban
UPDATE (10th October)

Marcia Langton is AGAINST
"I just think this is unacceptable

"I know that everybody who has ever done any research in the field, and I'm working with several of the best, will tell Australians that this is wrong.

"This is causing severe endangerment to women and children in these communities.

"This is a cheap electoral trick for the big men in Aboriginal communities who want their cases and their slabs of beer, their cases of spirits.

"They want the unfettered right to drink, without regard for the victims."
- Northern push to lift grog controls draws fire
Sue Gordon, former Northern Territory intervention chairwoman, is AGAINST
"People are just not ready to have to face the onslaught of alcohol again"

"The effects that come out of it, the damage to women and children, to re-introduce alcohol is just disastrous. It's just ignoring the wishes of the people."

"My experience in the Territory is that only the louder voices are going to be heard and it's going to be the women and children and old people who suffer as a consequence"

"The extra part of it is that it's ok for the people who don't live in the community to say let people make their own decisions but if you live in a community and you don't have police you don't have a choice anymore, you don't get a decision, you are a victim.

"It's frightening actually because so much work has gone in, and it's not from outside people. It's Aboriginal people themselves.

"I've been up to Hopevale in the Cape and I've seen the difference there. The kids were healthy. They were happy. If alcohol is brought in it will take away the potential money that is going to buy food and all the other necessities of life for children and women in the communities.

"It's a disaster to bring it back now because there's been so many gains made."
- Return to grog 'a disaster for children'
Noel Pearson's 2001 article I believe is still very relevant to understanding this issue. I still remember clearly how it helped me overcome my liberal inclinations when I first read it years ago now.


1.1 The symptom theory is wrong

1.2 Addiction is a learnt behaviour that makes us powerless

1.3 Five factors involved in the outbreak of substance abuse epidemics

1.4 Grog and drug addiction is a psychosocial epidemic in our communities

1.5 Almost all of our other social and health problems are derivative of our grog and drug problem: we solve grog and drugs, we will solve everything else


2.1 Our people need to first properly understand the problem – the individual addiction, and the social problem

2.2 The fallacy of trying to “normalise” drinking when confronted with an epidemic

2.3 AA method as a starting point for a social as well as individual strategy

2.4 Development of a community grog and drug plan including an Aboriginal law and order strategy

2.5 Completely eradicate illicit drugs
UPDATE: Noel Pearson's piece from The Weekend Australian is excellent
Situation far from normal in communities
BY: NOEL PEARSON From: The Australian October 06, 2012

IF you hang around long enough in indigenous affairs not only will you think you are Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, recycling old policies every five years, you will experience a genuine repeat of history. One such episode is under way with the Newman government beginning a review of alcohol management plans in Queensland communities.

During the April election campaign Campbell Newman announced the Liberal National Party's policy, saying: "Why is it that an Aboriginal worker cannot come home to a home they own and have a beer on their front porch and watch the TV news with their family? Why shouldn't they have that opportunity, sooner rather than later?"

Though the then opposition leader had made the point at a doorstop interview that his vision was for the longer term, and there would be no rollback of AMPs in the immediate term, I must say I shivered with concern.

This week Queensland Minister Glen Elmes started the review process with the mayors of Aboriginal shire councils in Cairns. The outcry from indigenous leaders across the country was immediate. University of Melbourne professor Marcia Langton told this newspaper, "It would be tragic to lose the momentum built up over 20 years in Aboriginal communities to tackle problems, such as violence inflamed and exacerbated by grog abuse."

Langton should know; as a Queensland government official she worked with women of Aurukun 20 years ago when they sought to arrest a spiralling grog problem.

Former ALP national president Warren Mundine said, "I've been up to some of these communities. If you look at the difference since before alcohol was banned to now, it is enormous they want to bring the nightmare back. It's a disgrace. We are on the threshold of actually starting to get commercial activity in some of these towns; we are on the cusp of moving ahead. This would be a retrograde step and a disaster for these communities, quite frankly. You would have to have a hole in your head to even consider it."

Perhaps most significant was the response of community leaders. Aurukun Mayor Derek Walpo was one of several who refused to join those seeking to lift the restrictions. He told this newspaper: "We don't want to uplift our AMP. If we have more people working then eventually the AMP will fall away. We want to implement our law and order."

That there is now leadership by people such as Walpo is an important development. A decade ago there was none. While many supported restrictions, their voices were muted. It shows that ownership and responsibility for these problems has increased at the grassroots.

There is now grave danger this progress will be jeopardised. An episode of Queensland's parlous political history concerning black fellas may be about to be repeated.

When the Bjelke-Petersen government took over Aurukun and Mornington Island from the Uniting Church in 1978, they were transformed into shires under then local government minister Russ Hinze. Aurukun was dry, with male drinking of contraband limited, and hardly any women drank. The missionaries had bequeathed a socially and culturally vibrant community that was soon to be wrecked with the Queensland government takeover.

Hinze used the new shire council to push for a canteen. Without a rate base he saw canteens as a source of revenue for local government. It was a way of converting social security payments from the commonwealth to individuals into operational funds for the shire. Aboriginal livers across Queensland became funding laundries. However, Aurukun people strongly resisted the canteen. Numerous petitions and community meetings consistently voted against it. But the push finally succeeded and a canteen opened in 1985.

The ethnographer of the Wik peoples, Peter Sutton, laid out this miserable history in his book Politics of Suffering.

David McKnight, the ethnographer of Mornington Island, told of similar tragedy in his book From Hunting to Drinking.

Those proposing to unwind alcohol management should first be obliged to read these books. Sutton points out before 1985 there was only one suicide and one homicide at Aurukun. Following the establishment of the canteen scores of each of these tragedies started to happen.

Within five years of the canteen opening, David Marr's classic Four Corners report Six Pack Politics on the grog chaos gripping Aurukun aired in 1990. Langton featured with the women of Aurukun in Marr's report.

The legacy of these two decades of degradation will take more than a generation to subside. Too many young people were damaged in this period, and too many traumatic cycles started turning. The problems of imprisonment, neglect and abuse of children, juvenile crime and detention, removal of children into state care, the wreckage of health and the scars of violence will reverberate for a long time. Aurukun and other like communities are far from normalised but have made progress in recent years. Alcohol management has been key.

The editorial writers of this newspaper got the simple truth right: it is too early to relax alcohol bans. Harm levels are still off the charts compared with Queensland averages. The violence, the arrests, the convictions, the hospital injury presentations and the school absences are nowhere near normal. Compare Weipa north with Weipa south, Hope Vale with Cooktown, Yarrabah with Gordonvale. The gaps are gaping wide.

Former Howard government minister Mal Brough endorsed the relaxation of alcohol plans on the basis that the situation has been normalised, and provided that restrictions are reinstated if violence levels increase. As if the tap can be turned off and on at will. Brough's position has more to do with LNP solidarity than any wisdom he has gained. He is either not on top of the data, which shows the situation is far from normalised, or he has an uninformed view the gains can be improved by turning the tap back on.

My view is there are two drivers behind the strange thinking of too many conservative politicians on grog supply to black fellas.

First is the malignant motivation. There are those pushing the agenda of the liquor outlets who just don't care about the obvious misery. This is most pronounced in the Northern Territory but is not absent in Queensland.

Second is the benign but naive motivation, where people with no idea of indigenous culture and society think black fellas will suddenly adopt the mainstream culture of having a beer after a hard day's work. Yarrabah Mayor Errol Neal echoed Newman's vision but was honest about the problem when he told The Cairns Post, "We want to be able to have a beer, listen to music and go home to our family. But we accept alcohol is no good for our culture and, when a mayoral candidate ran on a platform of reopening the canteen and TAB, she got very few votes."

The cultural dimension of Aboriginal people and alcohol - and by this I mean the way alcohol distorts the kinship system and vice versa - means it isn't as simple as envisioning the guy on the porch having a beer after a hard day's work. I have yet to see kinship and grog become friends anywhere in indigenous Australia.

The tragedy of what the Newman government is doing with its first indigenous policy initiative is to focus on grog instead of the real priorities. Walpo had this week's best line: "We need to wake up and go to work. Not wake up and think about where we are going to get our next drink."

Noel Pearson is director of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mayors and Councils in these situations have a conflict of interest because it was the Councils who ran the taverns in these towns.

It's a bit like asking the Pub Owner what they think of the idea of an alcohol ban.