Dire funding shortfalls are hampering efforts to curb alcoholism in Central Australia, according to the drug and alcohol sector’s peak body, which says some treatment services have received so little attention that their buildings cannot safely be occupied.
- The NT’s peak drug and alcohol body says chronic under-funding has left some buildings in unsafe condition
- A report has called for urgent liquor restrictions and needs-based funding to curb alcohol-related harm
- The government is expected to respond some time next week
Rising rates of alcohol-related harm have remained in the political spotlight since snap liquor restrictions were introduced to Alice Springs in response to spiraling law-and-order issues last week.
A report handed to the federal and Northern Territory governments yesterday recommended urgent new restrictions as well as needs-based funding to properly resource the justice system and remote services.
But Peter Burnheim from peak body Association of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies said meeting demand in the drug and alcohol sector alone would require enormous commitments for infrastructure, treatment programs and workforce development.
He told the ABC one residential rehabilitation service in Alice Springs had to move clients to another facility because some of its buildings were falling apart.
“We’re constantly told there’s no money for the sector. It can’t continue,” he said.
“We need some serious investment to bring some of that up to scratch, including in some of the Alice Springs services that have buildings that are closed, both because parts of them are condemned and because they have major insect infestations.
“To really address and circuit-break the situation we’re seeing, we really need to be working with people who are using alcohol in harmful ways and helping them to change the trajectories they’re on.”
Indigenous leaders and health organizations have urged the government to formulate a response that acknowledges the underlying drivers of alcoholism in the NT, which has the nation’s highest per capita rate of alcohol consumption.
Olga Havnen, the former head of the Danila Dilba Health Service, said the Aboriginal health sector had been advocating for needs-based funding for decades.
“Most of the Aboriginal population live out bush in remote communities where there has been a backlog of unmet need — particularly in housing, but also in other services — that simply has not been addressed by any government,” she said.
“It’s high time now we got together and did some long-term planning about the long-term future of the Northern Territory, most importantly the long-term future of Aboriginal communities.
“But they shouldn’t rush into coming up with hasty solutions and simply scattering money around like confetti.”
‘They have two backflips’
Both levels of government have yet to reveal the recommendations of the report by bureaucrat Dorelle Anderson, with key details only revealed in leaks to the media.
NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said they would discuss its contents next week with their respective cabinets, before releasing the report to the public.
Long-standing alcohol bans in some areas — particularly town camps around Alice Springs — lifted in July last year under an NT government policy intended to let communities decide their own alcohol settings once intervention-era bans lapsed.
Independent Alice Springs politician Robyn Lambley yesterday blamed the issues facing Alice Springs on the Northern Territory government for allowing the bans to be lifted.
“They’re now in a position where they have to apologize. They have to backflip,” she told Sky News.
“They have to take responsibility for the fact that they were responsible for one of the most destructive decisions I’ve ever seen in my time in the territory, and that’s almost 30 years.
“Allowing the rivers of grog to run freely for the first time in more than 15 years in all these Aboriginal living areas, including these town camps has been a disaster.”
The Northern Territory government says it has demonstrated a long commitment to reducing alcohol-related harm with measures like a minimum floor price and its banned drinker register.
Frontline services reported a drop in policing call-outs and domestic violence incidents in the first two days takeaway alcohol sales were banned under the current restrictions in Alice Springs this week.