Price, My bill is to keep people safe from exposure to alcohol harm and violence

 Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price

Senator Jacinta Price: The Northern Territory Safe Measures Bill 2023, which has been introduced into the Senate, is a bill that aims to keep all people in the Northern Territory safe in relation to the consumption of alcohol and exposure to alcohol related harm and violence. My bill was drafted in response to calls from vulnerable community members across the Northern Territory and a letter that was dated 9 June, representing nine separate Aboriginal organisations, seeking urgent support from the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians after failed attempts at communicating these concerns with the Northern Territory Fyles government. The Northern Territory government's response to community cries was followed by neglect and inaction, all justified by accusations that alcohol restrictions were nothing more than race based policies. It was only when the Prime Minister was shamed by a Sydney based radio program that he was prompted to make a fly-in fly-out visit to my home town, which has now resulted in Chief Minister Natasha Fyles having to take back her race-baiting words and backflip on her vehemently held position, forcing her to create half-baked policy on the run.

Senators, I plead with you to help me save the lives of those I love and those I'm democratically elected to represent and whose lives we are all responsible for. I seek your bipartisan support to make my hometown community and vulnerable communities throughout the Northern Territory safer. If we can save one woman from becoming the next domestic violence or homicide statistic, we are winning. If we can prevent one child from being sexually abused and left with a venereal disease or internal physical and psychological scarring for life, that is one child. But I know we can do better than this.

The last few months have been distressing and traumatising for so very many, not just within my own family but for families throughout the Northern Territory. In the lead-up to Christmas, I was grateful to have the opportunity to spend the last few days of my cousin Regina Napaljarri France's life by her side in the palliative care unit of Alice Springs. My cousin, only one year older than I am, who never bore children of her own, loved and nurtured other children in our family whose own parents could not care for them because they were either dead, incarcerated or suffering from alcohol or substance abuse. My cousin lived her entire life in a town camp, and it is my firm belief that this life lived in a hellhole contributed to her bad health. But it was in the last few months, when alcohol was reintroduced in her town camp, that her health took a steep decline ending in her early death. She was no drinker, and nor did she smoke. Before the Intervention, she witnessed the early death of my uncle, her father, when one morning he failed to wake up after a long night of drinking. My uncle was not violent but a man who loved us all very deeply. He was, however, an alcoholic. My cousin's brother was the same. He was a quietly spoken man who always carried an affectionate, warm smile, but she witnessed his life end far too early because he too was powerless to the bottle.

My cousin's mother, left with heartbreak and ill health and regularly undergoing renal dialysis, now has the responsibility of raising the adopted granddaughter left behind. My cousin's adopted daughter, also my niece, had already lost three of her mothers, including her biological mother, before losing my cousin. In our Warlpiri kinship structure, your mother's sisters are also regarded as your own mothers. Her biological mother was killed in her mid-30s when she was mown down in an alcohol fuelled domestic violence attack by her father. One of her mother's sisters died of alcohol abuse at the age of 28. She simply drank herself to death in the same town camp, before the intervention. Another of her mothers was killed, as a passenger, in an alcohol related car crash. The driver crashed the car after her drunken husband punched her in the back of her head while she was driving. My cousin was the only one to die in that crash. My husband accompanied me while I identified her body in the morgue.

Our family remember all too clearly the horrific conditions in town camps before alcohol restrictions. So I could understand when my 42-year-old cousin told me on Christmas Day that she was at peace and happy to say goodbye to the world of the living. I could not be angry at her for wanting to leave us all behind. Life in her town camp had become absolutely unbearable again with alcohol flowing back in. So, when I speak to this bill and stand here as an Indigenous voice in parliament, I am deeply offended when it is suggested by others in this chamber that my actions are nothing more than political grandstanding. My cousin is now at peace, and my family is heartbroken, but my family is not the only family that is. The uncle of Alena Kukla, whose life was taken at the hands of her violent partner, along with her baby, told me he marks the day alcohol was introduced to the very same day that she was killed. So, again, I ask your support, in a bipartisan manner, my colleagues, to protect our most vulnerable Australians.

The bill will introduce elements specific to reducing alcohol consumption and related harm, applied in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012, which ceased in 2022. The bill will put in place alcohol restrictions that will include declaration of alcohol protected areas and the development of alcohol management plans, which will provide that supply of alcohol is regulated, mitigating illegal alcohol supply and providing a legal framework for prosecution.

When dealing with addiction, the first step to management and recovery is acknowledging there is a problem. And those that are subject to the effects of addiction in the Northern Territory—the whole community—have been crying out that we have a problem since the cessation of the measures and the lifting of alcohol restrictions in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act.

The bill makes provision for equitable consultation to take place in relation to alcohol protection measures to ensure that men, women, consumers of alcohol, nonconsumers of alcohol, addiction experts and the Northern Territory Liquor Commission are all involved. The introduction of a requirement for an expert committee to support the development of each alcohol management plan will provide that measures designed to reduce alcohol related harm and to improve the quality of life are realised, such as monitoring school attendance and rates of alcohol related assaults.

The need for the introduction of the bill has been demonstrated through the increased rates of crime, alcohol related domestic violence and alcohol related assaults. Alcohol related assaults in Alice Springs alone have risen from December 2021 to December 2022 by 54.6 per cent, and property damage has increased by 59.6 per cent.

The removal of income management measures of the cashless debit card has increased the availability of obtaining alcohol to those vulnerable to alcoholism, and there has not been sufficient analysis of the impact of the removal of this important measure, but we can see it through our own eyes.

The Australian government has a responsibility to ensure that the Northern Territory has consistency in law and order, and that punitive approaches are not taken by the Northern Territory government that do not address the broader context of addiction and alcohol related harm.

For a decade the Australian government has intensely invested in the Northern Territory to address significant levels of need, specifically to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal Territorians. The management of alcohol consumption and the reduction of alcohol related harm were not realised within this period of time. This bill will set a framework of accountability for alcohol management plans to be developed, with alcohol restrictions in place to protect our vulnerable communities.

I have developed this bill over several months in conjunction with community consultation with relevant stakeholders that include drug and alcohol services, Aboriginal health services, legal services, education institutions, businesspeople, community members both remote and in major towns, and town camp residents. Chief Minister Natasha Fyles sent me a letter just yesterday claiming that I had not consulted her. I reminded her of my letter dated from October outlining my intentions in the draft of this bill and extending an invitation to sit with me and to understand what this might entail. I've had no response to that correspondence.

My bill seeks to establish a federal and Territory government partnership to address alcohol-related harm. The Territory government, which is predominantly dependent on federal funding, will have a role in overseeing the process of developing alcohol management plans, while the federal government will be responsible for approving those management plans and reviewing the measures through the Senate committee process and will have the power to revoke approvals of alcohol management plans should they demonstrate that they are not ensuring the safety of Territorians.

It is not good enough that the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory requires the Prime Minister to step in, for them to realise that they got it dreadfully wrong—at the cost of lives lost and the devastation that addiction has unleashed on our communities. We are hurting, and it is disingenuous to provide ad hoc approaches and not take full responsibility for the sake of every Territorian. Senate colleagues, I'm asking you to take full responsibility with me.


Northern Territory Safe Measures Bill 2023

Speaker: Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price

Attribution: Parliament of Australia website



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