Parts of the Northern Territory have been hit by a crime wave after an Intervention-era booze ban expired in many remote Aboriginal communities, a central Australian politician says.
The NT government replaced the federal law with controversial opt-in alcohol restrictions on July 17, with social service groups warning it was a “recipe for disaster” to allow alcohol back into communities that had been dry for 15 years.
Independent MLA Robyn Lambley on Wednesday called for the NT’s Fyles government to “pause” the new laws and reinstate the blanket booze ban.
She said only seven out of 400 communities, outstations and town camps had opted for restrictions and it was already having a devastating impact.
“We have seen a wave of of lawlessness and problems in central Australia like we have never seen before,” the member for Araluen in Alice Springs told parliament.
Ms Lambley said there had been a 300 per cent increase in takeaway alcohol sales at three Alice Springs bottle shops in the first three days of the NT law.
“We are in for a hell of a ride, and everyone seems to get it apart from the government members over there,” she said addressing the NT’s Labor parliamentarians.
“Many esteemed Aboriginal leaders and advocates across the NT have talked about the fact that this is crazy what the NT has done and that it is wrong and it is irresponsible.”
Chief Minister Natasha Fyles has defended the opt-in system, saying it was transitional legislation that gave communities the ability to choose to continue the booze ban while they develop alcohol management plans.
She also said an opt-out model, which many in the community are calling for, would have conflicted with the Anti-Discrimination Act and may have led to the legislation being legally challenged.
Ms Lambley questioned the legal advice and said it would be positive discrimination to protect vulnerable people.
“We have countless pieces of legislation that target the special interests and needs of Aboriginal people and this is just one more that should be included in that list,’ she said.
Ms Lambley moved a motion requesting the NT government reinstate the alcohol restrictions that expired on July 17. It was denied.
Meanwhile, federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney will meet with the NT government to discuss its liquor laws in the coming days.
The territory has the highest per capita alcohol consumption and rate of alcohol-attributable deaths in Australia, according to the NT Council of Social Service.
The Howard government’s intervention in 2007 was an attempt to address violence, abuse and poverty in Indigenous communities.
The alcohol ban it introduced was continued by the Gillard government in 2012 with the Stronger Futures Act.