Last week’s announcement of new minimum standards for alcohol in remote Indigenous Australia show that Jenny Macklin simply doesn’t get the grog battle which rages in our nation’s centre.

Her ideas, as reported last Thursday in The Australian, are neither tough nor new. For decades, state licensing authorities have had “tough processes” including public interest assessments and lodging of objections.

In NSW and Queensland, community impact statements assess the health and social impact of approving or varying a liquor license. But however tough the language, problems arise when processes become a “tick and flick” or conditions laid down fall upon the local copper for enforcement.

Minister Macklin’s standards are no less prone to a similar fate.

These federal standards betray what is not important to Labor; engaging Aboriginal Australia in the real economy. The standards, fixated on harm-minimisation and service delivery, are all about how to manage the damage.

Macklin’s wordy standards include “detoxification, treatment of dependent drinkers, harm reduction activities such as community patrols, sobering-up facilities, women’s shelters and sobriety groups.”

Life should be about opportunity and capability, not guaranteeing that every drunk is detoxed. Wherever it happens, dangerous drinking destroys economic opportunity long before it threatens community safety.

The other omission in Labor’s war on untreated alcoholism is that there isn’t a single red cent left in Treasury to fund even a fraction of these services they propose across central Australia.

The problem with a lower floor for Aboriginal Australia is that it quickly becomes their ceiling. Palm Island is right to object to the fifty-plus conditions on their liquor license, but wrong about the solution.

Rather than remove the conditions, their leaders should unapologetically connect every young person into the real economy.

The ludicrous endpoint of Macklin’s approach is that endemic alcohol is ok, so long as everyone consulted is happy, the sick get detoxed and no children are harmed. Truth is, drunks find a way to silence the sober, most don’t get rehabilitated in time and kids always end up getting hurt.

Someone needs to remind Jenny Macklin that it is better not to need a night patrol than pride yourself on how many are scooped up every morning.

Dangerous drinking undermines employability. It increases welfare, health and carer costs. It aggravates truancy, rental arrears and damage to public housing. It increases absenteeism and unreliability of a workforce and most important of all, reduces productivity of those who do turn up.

Pidd’s 2006 study of alcohol-related absenteeism identified direct annual economic costs in Australia of $437 million rising to $1.2 billion when indirect impacts of short-term and binge drinking was included.

In the same year, Norstrom found that a 1-litre increase in total alcohol consumption increased sick leave by 13 per cent.

Then in 2008, Collins and Lapsley reported that the $357 million cost of alcohol-related absenteeism was only 12 per cent of the $3.2 billion in alcohol-related productivity losses.

Anderson in 2010 found a linear relationship between mean alcohol consumption and getting to work late, leaving early and doing less work in between.

That is why Macklin’s time should be up if she isn’t serious about remote Aboriginal employment.

Young adults living in remote communities worldwide have to move to complete schooling, training or to get a job. That honest conversation should not be anathema in central Australia.

The solution must come from the top, from a Minister focussed on supporting those positive social norms which underpin safe alcohol consumption in every other corner of the world. Communities where three-quarters of adults are working are far more likely to manage alcohol than those where three quarters do not.

Take Alice Springs from 10am on any day where working-age adults queue for grog. Whether Newstart recipients should be there at all during working hours is a valid moral question.

Taxpayers funding welfare genuinely expect recipients to contribute where they can. A genuine search for work each day can’t begin with intoxication.

In the seminal 1989 Journal of American Medical Association paper “taxes of sin”, Manning, Keeler and Newhouse found that drinkers do not pay their way - that excise taxes on alcohol cover only about half the costs imposed on others. To fund support services needed for dangerous alcohol consumption, someone needs to be working.

If a community has no real economy, it is hard to see how the case for alcohol reintroduction can be sustained.

Minister Macklin may have the right intentions when she tries to protect children, but it’s close to impossible without economic self-fulfilment. If a driver has lost control of their car and it’s heading for a cliff, it’s pointless then worrying about the bald tyre on the back wheel.

When school leavers have dreams to fulfil and a family sober enough to help, grog mixed with world-class sobering-up shelters come a pretty distant second. The latter must never become a substitute for economic fulfilment and financial independence.

Comments on this post close at 8pm AEST.

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    • PJ says:

      06:05am | 14/11/12

      I loved the way the Gillard Government quickly threw the plastic Benefits cards out to a white community, once they realised people were waking up to how unfair it was to have the system only for Indigenous people’s.

      Amnesty International had been scathing of the Governments insistence on providing services only through selected Hub towns, which forced Indigenous people’s onto the hot dusty roads, because they wouldn’t give up living on traditional lands. References made to Ethnic Cleansing. Tut tut.

    • Fiddler says:

      08:18am | 14/11/12

      why should the government fund an unsustainable way of life which contributes nothing to the rest of the world? If they want to live on “traditional lands” good on them, BUT they receive no free health care, no money etc…....

      PS, no-one gives a toss what Amnesty International thinks anymore, they started off noble but are now as extreme as PETA

    • Bruno says:

      11:39am | 14/11/12

      how are you contributing to the world oh great fiddler, please enlighten us, what have you done that is so great

    • morrgo says:

      12:32pm | 14/11/12

      The fact remains that remote communities are not viable.  No government can provide services there approaching the national standards: even if we could fully fund them, there would not be enough qualified people who would want to provide them on them there.

      Neither is there any scope of employment beyond sweeping the street on dole money, unless there is a nearby mine.

      So, what do you propose in the way of solution?

    • Rose says:

      12:45pm | 14/11/12

      I give a toss about Australia’s International reputation and so I give a toss about what Amnesty thinks!

    • Rabbit Flat Honky says:

      06:29am | 14/11/12

      “Rather than remove the conditions, their leaders should unapologetically connect every young person into the real economy.”
      And the Coalition proposes to do this how? Oh, that’s right you have no solution.
      Or was this your solution?
      “Young adults living in remote communities worldwide have to move to complete schooling, training or to get a job. That honest conversation should not be anathema in central Australia.”
      Do tell us Mr opposition spokesman, have you ever been to a remote aboriginal community? BTW Alice Springs isn’t a remote community.  If you had, you would have noticed that there is no school, no training and no jobs. You are talking out your arse and it’s not a good look.
      If you had been to a remote community, perhaps you would have noticed the refuge that was built for the women and children behind high fences and barbed wire to protect them from the drunks that invade the community like the walking dead at night.

      Dry communities are the first step. Your diatribe just shows you and your coalition mates haven’t got a clue.

    • Fiddler says:

      08:48am | 14/11/12

      wow, you have quite a background Dr Laming. TIp of my hat to you

    • Figjam says:

      08:51am | 14/11/12

      ooooh! a wikipedia bio.
      Well done, did you make it up and post it yourself?

      I see you don’t dispute the comment.

    • skoz says:

      08:56am | 14/11/12

      LOL, sorry Mr Laming but your wiki page which you provided as a rebuttal to Rabbit Flat Honky is simply not. It states that you worked in Lajamanu in 1995 doing opthalmic surgery training and public health. Having lived in the central desert region for five years, that’s a crock. Oh I have no doubt you worked in Lajamanu - however a five day FIFO does not exactly count as having experienced life in a remote community.

      Why do I assume it was only a few days? Well it’s not like a remote community has much by way of health facilities for performing surgery. They tend to be limited to providing basic or routine healthcare, and provide emergency care whilst waiting for the RFDS. On the rare occasion, specialists do tours around the NT including eyes and ears and undertake simple procedures on-site. That’s it.

      So all you’ve done is show that you are a true politician whereby you sprinkle the truth, and allow people to assume more of it without actually committing yourself.

    • ZSRenn says:

      11:38am | 14/11/12

      @ Rabbit Flat Honkey, I have lived in remote Aboriginal communities for nearly 5 years I never once saw a refuge built to protect the women and Children from the drunks.

      What I did see was the women getting drunk with the men and everybody passing out and then toddlers who were thirsty drinking the remains of the cheap wine the adults had failed to consume.

      This was in many dry communities!

      This whole problem was made worse when Gough Whitlam introduced legislation ensuring Aboriginal cattlemen were given the same wages as whites. Until that time the Aboriginals lived on the stations in large extended family groups. They were able to take cattle to meet their food requirements at no cost.

      When equal pay was introduced the Cocky could no longer afford both and the extended families moved into communities. The workers on the stations, lonely for their families, soon quit their jobs and moved into the communities as well.

      With no employment and little other skills they soon found alcohol as a remedy for their boredom and we have now created a society which does nothing more than plan the next journey to town to purchase alcohol to bring back into the dry community

    • SS says:

      11:55am | 14/11/12

      sounds like your part of the Aboriginal industry, you would be on the dole if Aboriginal communitys were allowed to better their situation, its not in the governments intrest to let them work it out for themselfs, their has been non Aborignal intervention in Aborignal affairs for almost two centurys without giving them the freedom of choice, so all the blame lays with those who design and implement these lazy policys, we continually hear about employment but name a nation that has jobs for everyone? white Australia would never even consider having all Aboriginal people employed and a 5%white Australia unemployment rate, the buck stops with the (so called) leaders in power,

    • Not the messiah says:

      01:16pm | 14/11/12

      RFH, you asked “Do tell us Mr opposition spokesman, have you ever been to a remote aboriginal community?”
      Answer: yes.
      You should apologise for your belligerent tone.

    • ZSRenn says:

      01:18pm | 14/11/12


      Aboriginal communities can do a good job if allowed too. You are correct. It’s the so called leaders that live in the city who are a major problem in not allowing this to happen. Why I could not tell you but it goes back to equal pay as well.

      In a town called Doomagee near the gulf a young man who was educated in university returned to the community. He worked hard gained the council and started up one of the first Community Development and Education Programs (CDEP) The scheme developed in the community itself held dole payments. If you worked 1 day you got 1/10th of your dole if you worked ten you got the whole thing. Buildings were being repaired new ones built Streets kept in order. All was good!

      The scheme ran well until Michael Mansell turned up spreading the word that this man should be paid this for that job and that man should be paid that for another.

      Of course the scheme could not afford these wages and the community then voted to end it as they had been informed it was unfair. The workers returned to the dole as normal and back to their drinking.

    • Fiddler says:

      06:29am | 14/11/12

      a lot of valid criticisms, but what are you proposing as the answer? I’m not sure there really are any ways of fixing it.

    • Rose says:

      09:15am | 14/11/12

      We need to get away from the paternalistic ‘solutions’ that are continually tried and which continually fail. We need to approach the problems from a ‘life first’ rather than Laming’s “work first’ solution. Work first just entrenches disadvantage as it does not address barriers to employment and does not provide opportunity, just punishment for not taking up non-existent ‘opportunities”.
      To fix it would mean taking a completely new approach than ever taken before, everything we have ever done has failed. Yet, when significant research is done, and possible solutions and recommendations are given, the Government ignores them (as in “The Little Children are Sacred” report), and continues on with a reincarnation of racist and discriminatory practices already proven to not only fail but to make matters worse.

    • Warwick says:

      11:13am | 14/11/12

      Rose, you condemn “paternalistic” approaches. The fact is that the Aborigines, particularly in remote areas, are a broken people. They are like a failed state within a state, only worse.
      No Australian government should allow the existence of huge areas within the country where its law does not apply; nor should it accept that there are large areas and populations for which it accepts no responsibility.

      All this would be obvious if we looked at the situation from the viewpoint of the black children. While the black adults and black politicians might moan about their “human rights” being betrayed, the fact is that they are neglecting and abusing and betraying their children. Even if their children are not sexually or otherwise physically abused, they will in the great majority of case grow up without an education and without the training and skills necessary to live successfully in the world. The state and federal governments must take action to provide for the welfare and training of the children, even if the adults are hell bent on living a life of violence and drukenness

    • Rose says:

      12:53pm | 14/11/12

      You say no Australian Government should ‘allow’ the situation as it is, you neglect to mention that successive governments, State and Federal CAUSED the current situation.
      I agree we cannot allow the situation to remain as it is, but I think the governments should stop reincarnating failed paternalistic policies and should instead take a chance on the recommendations which have been delivered by numerous studies into the communities, most notably the “Little Children are Sacred” report.
      The solutions must come in partnership with the communities, and there have been communities which have been achieving some success, at least until Governments step in and mess stuff up again!!

    • SS says:

      01:52pm | 14/11/12

      @ Warwick

      I not sure you understand the invasion of Australia, the English were under strict orders to make a treaty and to pay for any land they aquired, they were not to use violence to gain any land and were to pay for it, To wage war apon another peoples

    • Trevor says:

      02:50pm | 14/11/12

      Legalise cannabis.

    • wakeuppls says:

      08:13am | 14/11/12

      The solution is, let them deal with their own communities in the way they see fit. Stop throwing taxpayer dollars at them. If they want to go back to spearing each other in the leg for slight transgressions go ahead. It seems that’s the “multicultural” way to handle it.

    • Borderer says:

      08:53am | 14/11/12

      I agree, though not entirely. I would suggest a push towards self determination where they rule themselves. I would temper this with moving away from things that cause harm (such as spearing, under age sex etc.)

    • wakeuppls says:

      09:01am | 14/11/12

      Any land that is listed as traditional should be Aboriginals to do as they see fit with, with whatever legal system they see fit. I personally see it lasting about 5 minutes. They will be out of there and back into White civilisation like a shot.

      Then they’ll just have to adapt.

    • Kev says:

      08:46am | 14/11/12

      What’s the point? Any solution that is seen as too heavy handed will be branded racist and discriminatory by Aboriginal elders anyway.

    • Rose says:

      09:17am | 14/11/12

      Usually because they are racist and discriminatory!!

    • TheRealDave says:

      09:14am | 14/11/12

      Is this for Urban Aboriginals or only those ‘with culture’ ??

    • Wandjina says:

      11:04am | 14/11/12

      This is for aboriginals that live in the city where there is healthcare, education and employment available.
      This self serving politician know nothing about living in bush communities

      Might as well have been written by Mirabella. Or maybe he got his information from Tony after one of his quad bike tours of the bush.

    • Fiddler says:

      12:34pm | 14/11/12

      go on then Wandjina, provide some answers that will provide a real solution, and not involve costing more money that is already an utter black hole for resources??

    • Mick says:

      10:46am | 14/11/12

      “Do you know what guerrillas often say? They claim that their rebellions are invulnerable to economic warfare because they have no economy, that they are parasitic on those they would overthrow. The fools merely fail to assess the coin in which they must inevitably pay. The pattern is inexorable in its degenerative failures. You see it repeated in the systems of slavery, of welfare states, of caste-ridden religions, of socializing bureaucracies-in any system which creates and maintains dependencies. Too long a parasite and you cannot exist without a host.” - Frank Herbert

    • Swampy says:

      11:48am | 14/11/12

      Most of the focus has been on supply reduction with minimal attention to harm reduction (>50% of children with FASD in some areas is testiment to this) & virtually none on demand reduction. Supply reduction simply doesn’t work unless it is part of a balanced approach with demand reduction.

    • Fiddler says:

      12:37pm | 14/11/12

      I think we should get Nancy Reagan to do some “just say no” ads on tv. They worked so well to stop drugs in the 80’s.

      If you have ever been out west you will see on “imparja” the tv channel designed for aboriginal communities every second ad is telling them to wash their hands after going to the toilet, the life skills in these communities has to be seen to be believed.

    • willie says:

      12:55pm | 14/11/12

      How about regional tax regimes.
      It seems pretty obvious these people don’t want to move to get work, so why not move work to them. If the government can make it worth a companies money to set up in the bush then people might have jobs.

      The same strategy cold be used to encourage decentralisation.

    • Rose says:

      01:28pm | 14/11/12

      At least some one is starting to actually do some thinking!!

    • SS says:

      02:24pm | 14/11/12

      Government are the sole cause, they are not the solution, let Aborignal people fail before you derail them, if government have controlled all policy and programs then whos accountable, to me the best solution I can see is education for the ignorant society Australia was built on, I want to know how many people are employed in Aborignal programs, or should I say who has contributed to this onging failure, Aborignal people are worse off since non Aboriginal people came here, that refects badly western ways, if anyone believes Aboriginals were simple and backwards I recommend some futher studys, or read a book or two, try Bill Gammage’s book ‘The Biggest Estate On Earth’ - will explain why there are constant referals to “a gentlemens park.” Aboriginals have so much to teach the world, although it requires an open mind without predjudice, the simple fact that after genocidal acts (read the definition) and government failure after failure they now dont live as long is proof in its self, their is so much information out there it is lazy to assume without any effort to research, no wonder they dont teach history or politics as schools, the children may actually think objectively instead of believing everything a profit driven media say, no treaty, terra nullius debunked in our highest court, no declared war and the fact Aborignials were never counted or protected under English common law, leaves alot of questions, even under international law of the times it wasnt a legal occupation, Please explain where on earth ignoring the past has worked? think gaza strip, our previous and current leaders are doing all Australias a diservice by avoiding dealing with it, try reading a book that was published this year, I see alot repeating sterotypes of 30 years ago, it seems Aborignal people gain more power and control due to the ignorance, while Aborignals deal with the harsh realities and the general public stay ignorant to whats happened/happening, Aboriginals are gaining a foot hold, hope your children enjoy the disgusting truths about their people when history is taught in schools, cant believe its 2012 and im saying when they teach history


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