28 Feb 2011

Alice Violence Has One Cause: Alcohol

By Russell Goldflam
How do we stem the violence in Alice Springs? We address its root cause, writes senior legal aid lawyer, Russell Goldflam
The front bar at Alice Springs' most famous drinking hole, the Todd Tavern, has long been called the Animal Bar. Along with a couple of other outlets, it operates from 10am until 2pm, when it shuts. 2pm is the opening time of the takeaway bottleshop next door.

Across the road is the dry Todd River bed, where most of Alice's many murders and many of our many rapes are committed. Almost every one of the people who commit those shocking crimes, and almost every one of their victims, was very drunk at the time, and an awful lot of them got their grog across the road at the Todd Tavern.

In Alice Springs we drink about 20 litres of pure alcohol per person per year, twice the national average, and four times the planet's average. Police records show that between 70 and 90 per cent of our assaults are alcohol related. Most of the victims are women, and almost all of them are Aboriginal.

In Alice Springs the risk of a woman being assaulted is 24 times higher if she is indigenous than if she is non-indigenous. In the first seven years of this decade — in a town of only 27,000 — surgeons at the Alice Springs Hospital treated a stabbing on average every two days. Our imprisonment rates are not only almost four times the national average, but are growing faster than any other jurisdiction.

Nationally, the annual cost of alcohol-related harm is about $15 billion, which works out at a little under $1,000 a year per Australian adult. In the Territory, the equivalent figure is well over $4,000.

So last week I nearly choked on my Wheeties when I heard the local Country Liberal Party MP, Adam Giles, say on ABC Radio National, "I don't think alcohol is the problem". The very next morning, his parliamentary colleague and shadow Alcohol Policy minister Peter Stiles issued a press release claiming "the links between community violence and alcohol consumption are negligible".

This is a perfect example of that old adage in alcohol policy circles: what works isn't popular, and what's popular doesn't work. Politicians think that if they're not popular, they'll soon be out of work. And people in Alice Springs are sick of being told what and when and where they can't drink.

Indeed, there have been no fewer than 16 separate policy and legislative initiatives taken by governments of all persuasions and at all levels over the last five years to dam the rivers of grog which are drowning my town. Some of these measures have done more harm than good.

The 2007 "Dry Town" declaration (obtained by the Alice Springs Town Council pursuant to legislation passed by the Northern Territory government) effectively re-criminalised public drinking. The Commonwealth Intervention prohibited the drinking, possession, supply and transport of liquor in town camps. The combined effect of these two measures has been to force many Aboriginal drinkers to drink on the outskirts of town in improvised, hidden, unsupervised, unserviced and, most importantly, unsafe locations.

But other measures have worked well. Since 1 October 2006, sales of four- and five-litre cask wine has been banned in the Alice, and the takeaway purchase of two-litre casks, or bottles of fortified wine, has been limited to one per person per day, after 6pm.

Enforcement of these supply restrictions was facilitated by the introduction of a system which requires all purchasers of takeaway alcohol to produce photographic identification. This is scanned and transmitted to a centralised database that then informs the retailer if the purchase is legitimate. By mid-2010, illegitimate attempted purchases had been detected and refused over 13,000 times in Alice Springs. (These measures, by the way, are now being rolled out right across the Territory.)

The results have been heartening. Consumption decreased 18 per cent in the two years after the restrictions commenced. In the same period, there were 10 homicides, down from 17 in the previous two years, although these numbers are considered to be too low to be statistically significant.

The Northern Territory Department of Justice also compiled data for violent non-fatal incidents serious enough to be confident that they were consistently reported and recorded throughout the sample period, and numerous enough to reliably assess trends. The results demonstrate that the incidence of serious assaults has closely tracked drinking levels.

One might have expected records of minor assaults to show a similar trend over this period, but they don't — they have gone up. However, police attribute this to improved detection, reporting, recording and investigation, as a result of more staff and resources, a stronger emphasis on policing domestic violence, better data management systems, and mandatory reporting laws.

In 2009, consumption began to creep up again (and so did serious assaults), as drinkers took advantage of bargain-basement prices for bottled wines, which gave them a bigger bang for their buck (40 cents a standard drink for a $3 cleanskin, compared to $1.20 a standard drink for a slab of beer). Encouragingly, most Alice Springs supermarkets have now removed those ultra-cheap wine products from their shelves of their own accord.

There is a simple, cost-free solution to this. In Alice Springs, and indeed throughout Australia, there should be a minimum floor price for alcohol. This wouldn't affect the price of beer or spirits, but it would prevent product substitution being used to undermine effective supply restrictions.

Refreshingly, just a couple of months ago, both the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, and the president of the NT branch of the Australian Hotels Association, Mick Burns, indicated their openness to this approach.

We have this readily available substance that causes untold harm. So what do we do about it? We make it less readily available. This may not be popular, but it works. Shorter hours. Fewer outlets. A dollar a drink. A grog-free welfare payday. We did it with cigarettes, by making them so expensive it turned people off smoking. And here, in Alice Springs, we've at long last started to do it with grog. To its credit, the NT government has also announced a raft of radical new measures aimed at preventing problem drinkers from obtaining grog, and getting them into rehab. This won't be popular either, but it might just work.

And we've got to do more. Unless of course we're prepared to let the carnage continue.

Because if we don't fix up this grog business, whatever else we do to stop the violence, whatever else we do to address my town's social problems, however much money we spend, whatever laws we pass, or jails sentences we impose, or programs we deliver, or houses we build, or theories we devise, or prayers we offer, I can tell you one thing: if we don't take the hard decisions and fix up this grog business first, whatever else we try, will fail.


Like this article? Register as a New Matilda user here. It's free! We'll send you a bi-weekly email keeping you up to date with new stories on the site.

Want more independent media? New Matilda stays online thanks to reader donations. To become a financial supporter, click here.

Log in or register to post comments

Discuss this article

To control your subscriptions to discussions you participate in go to your Account Settings preferences and click the Subscriptions tab.

Enter your comments here

David Grayling
Posted Monday, February 28, 2011 - 18:43

What an intractable problem, Russell. A race of people who can't handle alcohol who are hooked on it.

It reminds me of the 'fire-water' that so decimated the Red Indians (along with the violent white European invaders).

I guess the only real solution is to take the alcohol out of the scene altogether or heavily restrict its availability say to one day a week.

That would be opposed strongly by the Liquor Industry of course but who cares? The survival of the Aborigines is more important.


Black Pepper
Posted Monday, February 28, 2011 - 23:48

Thanks for the article Russell, it gave yet another perspective on a seemingly intractable problem.

I was sipping on a glass of port wine when reading your article, which induced me to reach for the calculator and do a bit of arithmetic. To my horror I found that, at a conservative estimate, I drink rather more than double the 20 litres of pure alcohol each year that you quote, and have done so for many years! Now I guess your figure includes babies and youngsters, but even so, I have never felt any compunction to go around stabbing anybody, or raping them, and in fact I never even get drunk to any discernable degree.

Now, I have no trouble in accepting that alcohol is a trigger for violence, but I rather suspect that there are deeper problems.

First and foremost is a lack of self discipline displayed by individuals and the peer groups within which they operate. And as I have hypothesised recently, I think that this may often stem from a rejection of white society and its values based on resentment at being over-run and largely disenfranchised. Some have developed a determination not to conform to reasonable standards, even if it results in harm to themselves and their families.

This hypothesis provides a plausible explanation for not only the violence, but rejection of education, rejection of respect for housing and other property provided by the government, rejection of personal hygiene etc.

While working on the alcohol trigger may help a bit, it is worth remembering that prohibition did't work in America last century, and it won't work in Australia this century.

Self respect and self discipline are what are required. And my guess is that only other aboriginals have any hope of engendering it.

David Skidmore
Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 08:40

Two thoughts crossed my mind when I read this article. Firstly, thank goodness I don't have to drink anymore and secondly, there for the grace of God go I.

Alcohol (and tobacco) is clearly killing the Aboriginal population of Central Australia. These are two legal drugs and the first of which is considered an integral part of the Australian Way of Life.

Maybe prohibition hasn't worked but keep these points in mind: A) Does anyone seriously want to legalise crystal meth so it's easily available to already dysfunctional communities and B) Why can't we work towards the eradication of alcohol as we are trying with cigarettes?

In other words, policymakers have no problem with prohibition of other drugs but go soft on alcohol. What is needed is greater consistency when it comes to the effects of drugs on seriously affected communities.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 13:34

As Black Pepper says, do the arithmetic. This is about 2 standard drinks per day. 54mls of alcohol that is. You can't even get drunk on that, so I'm inclined to think the alcohol is a symptom, not a cause.

Correlation does not imply causation.

Attempting to set up a system that restricts use will likely set up a blackmarket scenario, with all the unhappy results that led to in the US with prohibition.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 13:43

David, your argument for the eradication on Alcohol assumes that alcohol is a drug to be cast in the same catagory as Crystal Meth and Tobacco.

The difference here is that while Tobacco and Crystal Meth are dangerous and a health risk in ANY quantity, alcohol is not.

ANY consumption of Ice and Tobacco is harmful but a moderated consumption of some alcohol has been show to provide some health benefits. The problem in the case of alcohol is EXCESSIVE consumption, and it is the excessive consumption that needs to be tackled.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 14:03

I have done the arithmetic.

A standard Australian drink contains 10 grams of alcohol (or to use its chemical name, ethanol): http://www.health.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/standard

The volume of 10 grams of ethanol is about 12.7 ml. This means that the volume of 2 standard drinks is about 25 ml, not 54 ml of alcohol, meski1.

Accordingly, 20 litres in 365 days works out at about 4.3 standard drinks per day. That's 7 days a week.

Four standard drinks per day is <b>double</b> the level that the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines recommend as a safe daily dose of ethanol. That's what they say, here:


Of course, the figure of 20 litres is the average over the whole (adult) population. Many Alice Springs adults never drink at all. Many others only drink moderately. The amount actually drunk daily by problem drinkers in Alice Springs is far, far higher.

By the way, my attempt to post a link above to the far more detailed paper from which my article above has been adapted failed, so here it is again:


Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 14:05

Why violent 'white' European invaders David G - is this an example of your self loathing

Just had to throw a colour into the rant

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 14:07

Good sensible article. It certainly gives perspective and substance to the whole issue.
There appears a strong prima facea (so I failed Latin) case that alcohol is the trigger and as such your suggestions need careful consideration as A FIRST STEP and in concert with strategies to deal with the causes.
Given human psychology and the specific gaining popularity of gunja... (marijuana) i.e. substitution or worse bootlegging and associated variations. The term gunja alone seem to indicate the real sources of the causes for substance abuse . In that the term is Rasta a psychological association with poor Jamaican.

Your figures confirm that there is an unhealthy disproportional cultural attitude towards drugs in the NT (alcohol/tobacco being the most obvious) by both Caucasian and indigenous.
I think Black Pepper is a little unfair to lump the problem totally on the aborigines lacking self control etc while ignoring the above substance abuse, prejudices etc. amongst the Caucasians. I think that his attitude of not wanting to stab someone is more a function of his relative contentment as opposed to the utter despair etc amongst the indigenous.
Overall I have to agree with David Skidmore. I would posit that the reasons things haven't progressed faster are many and varied. The apparent political intransigence 'fear of doing what should be done' comes back to the electors

BTW Black Pepper I suspect your calculations are wrong or you misspoke +40 litres of PURE alcohol per year is equivalent to 500+ litres (667 bottles) of beer per year (4.9%).
equating to 8 -10 standard drinks per day.. you are unlikely to be ever fully sober. God help your kidneys and liver. As for your brain..... the long term effects well !

David Skidmore
Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 14:29

It's also not just an issue of individual responsibility. Responsible individuals be they teetotallers or moderate drinkers are still affected by alcohol through the violence of others, drink drivers and deaths by alcohol poisoning of loved ones - not to mention less serious but still irritating problems of drunks lurching at you as you walk by or having to sidestep vomit on the footpath.

It must be a nightmare for sober people in places like Alice Springs because unlike Sydney or other large cities, alcoholism is harder to avoid.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 14:34

Good onya Russell. An article that sets out the facts and suggest possible actions to improve the situation. No blame laying, no generalisations, no sterotyping, just the facts.

Unlike some of the comments....

"A race of people who can’t handle alcohol who are hooked on it....."

I happen to live amongs the race of people referred to. Whilst I don't deny that alcohol consumption is a very serious problem amongs too many of my friends and neighbours, I don't subscribe to the "who can't handle alcohol...." bit, such generalisations fall within the discredited field of eugenics. Excessive drinking is not as simple as all that. I suspect that stigmatising and disempowering whole societies might have something to do with it. This might explain the high incidence of alcoholism in Russia or amongst marginalised whites in Australia.
It is a moot point, but amongst my friends and neighbours there are very many people that don't touch alcohol or have stopped doing so.
How is this for a generalisation: The biggest drinkers on Yuendumu are white people that continue to be issued with drinking permits despite the NTER's (Intervention) complete alcohol ban on Restricted Areas.

But I digress- I concurr with Russell Goldflam. In Alice Springs it is essential that alcohol availability be reduced, if the spiral of violence and mutual racial antagonism is to be reversed.
The article itself contains the proof that it works.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 14:40

I am not surprised that a lawyer would confuse a symptom with the cause of the disease - he is utterly out of his expertise domain.

Homicides "go down" - but statistically "not significant": meaning that it is indistinguishable from pure chance that the figures have changed, and hence so far not attributable to intervention.

Assaults "go up" - significantly in that case, but ah, it has got to be the better detection and reporting for sure, or ... - where actually is the evidence for that bold statement?

A blanket discriminatory prohibition like that has never worked in any country at any point in history. As a doctor struggling to cope with a plethora of patients with drug and alcohol problems (in a community as "white" as they get!) I would be overjoyed to learn differently, alas I am pretty sure I am familiar with all available evidence.

We have to wake up to the fact that grossly discriminating between parts of the population hasn't worked in the past, isn't working right now, so it is a reasonable assumption that it won't work in the future. If those people can get out of a socially destructive environment, move from an artificially created welfare dependence towards standing on their own feet regardless how unpleasant and difficult the transition period may well be, the alcohol problem will evaporate all by itself to the same level as prevailing in the average Australian population (which is still frightfully high despite its draconic restrictions by international standards)

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 15:06

Using your figures of 4.3 standard drinks a day, unless I take them in a short space of time[1], they won't make me violently drunk. They won't put me over .05 BAC (in a day)[2] What they will do is cause health issues (liver, etc) if I sustain them day on day.

[1] examine BAC levels that produce violent behaviour
[2] if you spread 5 standard drinks over 5 hours


Suggests that BAC of .06 or higher is responsible for violent behaviour.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 15:07

Not wishing to be pedantic but recent research shows that the health(?) benefits are some what dubious in that while it may have minor statistical value on some organs the effect on others isn't so crash hot.
Additionally, there those 'benefits' are not universal and there is some evidence that genetically some people should not drink at all. That being said the excess (substance abuse ) is A problem.
There is also research that shows that drinking is primarily cultural and excess has many causal factors. There is a link with destitution, depression and despair i.e. areas of low socio economic areas tend to have more substance caused violence that others.
NB many of the problems experienced in the Alice and NT have equivalents in European Aussie suburbs in cities too.

since when is acknowledging the demonstrable truth "self loathing"?
Remember what Dr Johnson said " Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"
By that he meant that if the only justification of an idea is patriotism then it's subterfuge for something else.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 15:31

It's sad that hherb sees fit to denigrate the author's qualifications to make comment. This is the kind of attitude that polarises debate and leads to unproductive invective. While few would argue that excessive consumption of alcohol may be a symptom of underlying social patholgy and needs to be addressed, a multi pronged solution which includes reduction of alcohol intake would seem to be a logical first step. This can be done quite quickly relative to other more difficult changes which might involve education and employment opportunities. It's not rocket surgery.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 16:10

Russell has got some of his facts wrong, and his conclusion wrong.
He talks about murders going down, but the numbers for all other assaults, including grievous bodily harm have not.
Grievous bodily harm in ALice Springs has not gone down... ...2005/6:114, 2006/7: 87, 2007/8: 84, 2008/9: 94, 2009/10: 92. Total assaults have gone up. Crime has gone up.
Major alcohol related incidents have gone up; 2005/6: 1,955, 2006/7: 4,135, 2007/8: 7,299, 2008/9: 6,168, 2009/10: 6,426.

It's not only alcohol restrictions impacting on people's behaviour. It's government policy. In the last 3 years theres been the intervention, imposition of the shires, homeland policy, bilingual education policy, dismantling of CDEP... all of these dramatically curtailing people's self-determination and control over their lives. Maybe this is what is causing an increase in violence...

Most assaults do have alcohol involved.
It's essential that alcohol harm minimisation and other strategies are put into place.
However, I would swap around Russell's conclusion... (so. paraphrased...)
Because if we don’t fix up this town’s social problems, I can tell you one thing: if we don’t take the hard decisions and fix up this racism and poverty and disempowerment, then no alcohol restrictions will ever work.

Bob Karmin
Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 16:37

When offered a drink, common sense dictates that we ask ourselves "why not"? It would seem strange if we, when offered, were to ask ourselves "why"?

I find the suggestion that indigenous people and alcohol simply don't mix, deeply offensive.

Prohibition, no matter how well intentioned, is motivated by a deeply disturbing parochialism

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 17:11

Hilda, thanks for your comments. I stand by the facts I have cited, which were provided to me by the senior statistican in the Research and Statistics Unit of the Northern Territory Department of Justice. The category of 'serious assaults' I referred to in my article does not correspond to any single offence category, but is a hybrid developed by the Research and Statistics Unit which includes both cases of 'serious harm', and cases of significant - but less serious - injury.

Even on the figures you cite, however, there was a substantial decline in what you refer to as 'grievous bodily harm' in the first two years after the alcohol restrictions were introduced, which correlate very closely with the 18% decline in consumption in that period. In 2009, these assaults went up by about 10%, which is the same rate as alcohol consumption increased in that year.

I go into more detail about this in the lengthy paper from which my article has been adapted, to which I have placed a link in a previous comment.

I agree with you that there all sorts of confounding and compounding factors which contribute to drinking, and to violence. I am a little embarrassed that our esteemed NM editor headlined my article "Alice Violence Has One Cause: Alcohol", because that's not my view, and it's not what I say.

Like you, I am a committed opponent of racism, poverty and disempowerment. And like you, I agree that alcohol restrictions will not work unless we also make headway in combatting racism, poverty and disempowerment. However, I don't know what the hard decisions required to fix racism, poverty and disempowerment are, precisely. Do you?

One reason I focus on grog in my campaigning is that it is one area in which strong, simple measures have been demonstrated to yield immediate, strong, positive results. Another reason is that I have seen the efforts and indeed the lives of so many of my students, clients, friends, colleagues and comrades ruined by grog.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 17:41

No one can deny that alcohol is a problem.
But it usely is when people are denied their rights, disriminated against, dispossessed and made feel outcasts in their own world.

Unfortunately most wealthy socities try to overcome such situations by spending time, energy and resources focusing on the symptoms and ignoring the real causes.

There is no doubt a need to take action on the alcohol issue BUT unless we face up to the real causes as Hilda says; "if we don’t take the hard decisions and fix up this racism and poverty and disempowerment, then no alcohol restrictions will ever work."

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 17:47

How about the Little Children are Sacred report. A well regarded publication. Lets look after the children!

97 recommendations. All evidence based from academic literature, and from community consultations... None taken up fully. Take your pick...
All about community driven solutions, respecting culture and traditional law, putting resources into infrastructure such as housing, education, employment...



lets be radical (!) and ensure that all policy is driven by adherance to the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, which the Australian federal government has pledged support for in its entirety.

There's 2 suggestions to start with...

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 20:27

Aboriginals are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol, but it is we (whites) who have destroyed their society. They don't choose to not have an education or a job - we have denied so many of them the opportunity. Further restrictions on alcohol sales will surely go down badly with those who appreciate the income, increasing the division in the community. Without giving Aborigines a future, what hope is there of having a real impact on the problem?

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 21:08

Hilda, Most of the 9 Little Children Are Sacred report recommendations under the heading 'Alcohol' focus on tighter regulation of supply.

For example, here is Rec 63.

That, as a matter of urgency, the government makes
greater efforts to reduce access to takeaway liquor
in the Northern Territory, enhance the responsible
use of takeaway liquor, restrict the flow of alcohol
into Aboriginal communities and support Aboriginal
community efforts to deal with issues relating
to alcohol.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. rozmarden
Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 21:53

When I drink and get a bit unsteady on my feet and my speech is slurring, I consider myself drunk.

In a paper written in 1990, Pamela Lyon recorded an aboriginal man's view of drunkenness. He said, that even if he was unsteady on his feet and slurring his speech, if he could still stand up, he was "still a little bit sober".

Maybe this vastly different perception of drinking somehow explains the capacity of some aboriginal people to drink themselves to distress, and the consequent problems that follow, including the removal of inhibitions and the attempt of the men to take their conjugal rights in what the women in Pamela Lyons report called "bullshit traditional".

I remember Doug Abbott, an aboriginal painter and remarkable lyrical speaker, saying in the same report, 21 years ago, that he used to drink a slab of green cans before going to work. One day he turned up at work drunk and Geoffrey Shaw sacked him. He said it was the best thing anyone had done for him. He drank to be sociable with his people. Then he gave up and was instrumental in starting CAAPU.

But even CAAPU, an aboriginal solution, hasn't been consistently supported by successive governments over the years. One thing I have learned in 22 years in Alice is that you must ask the aboriginal people themselves what will work and what will not. They must "own" the solution or it won't work.

Listen to them, and get behind them, and maybe like Doug they will find their own way out of this morass. They at least don't have to prove that they can survive. They've done that every day of every millenia and are still here to prove it, albeit somewhat damaged by us along the way.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 22:47


Thank you, Russell, for a rational, dispassionate analysis.

As a passing observation, I note my experience in much of the NT, particularly including the Alice: white/euro/anglo friends and acquaintances, mostly quite well-to-do, who all drank excessively as a social norm and at home. The alcohol culture was not restricted to aboriginal people, though their socio-economic circumstances were vastly dissimilar.

What I found especially galling was the frequency with which these pillars of NT society stood around, drinking heavily and doing little or no work, while commenting loudly about what lazy, drunken bastards the aboriginals were.

Posted Tuesday, March 1, 2011 - 23:05

There are what I can only describe as rather odd comments here that either assume without evidence that this is a race issue or a matter of self respect/discipline. Maggie Brady has done excellent work on this subject and if you click on book one in the link below it briefly discusses many of the myths mentioned.


From a Public Health perspective I think the evidence is pretty clear that alcohol restrictions, which is completely separate from prohibition is an effective strategy. Basic things already discussed like a floor price for alcohol, restricted trading hours, reducing density of alcohol outlets will all help reduce alcohol related harm. To argue otherwise is to disagree with the vast majority of published literature. I have posted a link below which goes into the literature in some detail and has a section on the NT and Alice Springs. I do not doubt that the NTER, homeland policy, bilingual education policy, CDEP and the Shires have contributed to this problem, but in the end alcohol becomes its own self perpetuating problem and must be addressed.


Black Pepper
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 00:02

Hello Examinator, you are right, my estimate of alcohol consumption was a bit astray. Before reading your contribution I did some measuring, and checked the labels of my favourite tipples, and I now confess to consumption of about 30 litres of pure alcohol a year. Thank you for your concern but my liver and kidneys seem just fine. As for my brain though, people have questioned that for decades!

I think it is fair to say that all of us, even though we may sometimes have conflicting views, have the best interests of aboriginal communities at heart. When Nicholas Rothwell wrote his frightening article in the Weekend Australian about 10 days ago it elevated a long standing debate to a new level. The exchange of ideas has intensified, and it is to be hoped that the authorities can cherry pick any gems which may be uncovered.

Whatever we may currently think, it is clear that whatever we once thought hasn't worked. New approaches are called for, but it would be unrealistic to expect that any new approach would be immediately successful (if at all).

So, first things first, and the first thing is the safety of all citizens, and I re-iterate that this means that citizens must receive the full protection afforded by the law. Addressing trigger mechanisms such as alcohol will take time, and deeper underlying issues will take a lot more time.

While it may offend "do-gooders", a zero tolerance approach to transgressors will at least help protect to some extent the innocent people who are the victims. Once the rule of law is properly established there is a much better chance of any new approaches being successful.

Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 00:41

Yes, the Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association (AIDA) in their review of the intervention in 2010 said:
To prevent and reduce harm associated with alcohol misuse it is recommended that:
• comprehensive approaches to addressing alcohol-related concerns in Aboriginal communities be community-driven, based on evidence of effective interventions, comprehensive in scope, and be sustainably and recurrently funded;
• the approaches address not only the supply of alcohol, but also alcohol use, treatment, management and harm reduction.

It's clear that strategies like these work.

AIDA's primary conclusion however was that the loss of external leadership,
governance, and control is having
-- Profound long-term negative impacts on psychological health, social health and wellbeing and cultural integrity.
-- Profound long term negative impacts on ability of government to work with Aboriginal communities to achieve shared objectives.

As always, the solution is multifactorial.

David Skidmore
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 08:02

It's interesting how an author suddenly becomes unqualified to speak when s/he disagrees with you. It's also interesting how logic goes out the window when you're talking about one's own drug of choice (other people's drugs are bad without question). And it's amazing how alcohol seems to affect only other people adversely.

Prohibition doesn't work so it is said many, many times. But only concerning alcohol. Prohibition seems to work regarding ecstasy or cocaine usage. I also notice not too many people are calling for the laws against burglary to be dropped on the basis that they don't work because break-ins still happen.

I think the starting point with alcohol has to be that like glue-sniffing or tobacco, this is a scourge we have to deal with and not an overall positive thing with a few negative consequences. After that, any strategy that has proven to reduce alcohol intake should be considered.

David Grayling
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 10:05

Alcohol is a scourge! What a silly thing to say.

Life for many humans is made tolerable via alcohol. I can't imagine a meal without some red wine. I have often lifted a depressed feeling with a few beers. In winter, a touch of brandy in front of the fire is a fitting end to the day.

The secret is to control the alcohol and not to let it control you. If it does, give it away entirely.

Alcohol is a blessing for most. The person who discovered it should be worshiped! Let's drink a toast to him or her.


Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 10:14

Yet again David's observations are sound, measured and appropriate.

Sadly in what passes as a Democracy, the laws reflect both the myopic selfish interests of "powers to be" and to a lesser extent the emotionally motivated and manipulated sheeple (bulk public) who encourage them.

Given this flawed underpinning the flawed outcome is hardly surprising. as we are dealing in what Machiavelli called "the art of the possible", it is apposite that we deal with the substance ABUSE in a consistent way.
What I find concerning is the notions that:
- alcohol abuse is THE problem,
- the problem in NT/ Alice is only an aboriginal one
- that is someone else's problem (the blame game)
- denial of self culpability.
- that it isn't symptomatic of a greater whole community malaise.
- Viewed overly simplistically.

The latter point infers that in all probability there will be a knee jerk, heavy handed political response and once the crisis has faded from the holey writ (lame stream media) the solution imperative with fade along with meaningful, longterm action/results.

Adam Giles
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 11:15

Russell. Thank you very much for your article and thank you to all those who have responded. I hope you are over choking on your Wheeties. I am a person who recognises that people who abuse substance are substance abusers. Prohibition doesn't work and the last thing I want to see is a tranistion off one substance to another for example from petrol, to alcohol to heroin speed or ice. Alcoholism is a downstream affect of many other issues. Yuwalk and Hilda raised some good points particularly in relation to shire and homeland policy. While much reform is required across a multitude of fields we cannot allow individuals to abuse substance and self harm. It is of utmost importance that these abusers are protected from themselves, their family and society otherwise everyone is harmed and no good comes form that.

David Skidmore
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 11:21

"Life for many humans is made tolerable via alcohol". And David, that describes drug addiction to the letter. The same could be said of heroin, marijuana and any other drug you care to name. The trouble is you can never know when it controls you. That's the nature of drugs.

Alcohol obviously is a scourge otherwise we wouldn't be having this discussion. I doubt if it is a blessing to those killed by drink drivers or assaulted by drunks. But like I said, alcohol is only a problem for other people.

David Grayling
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 12:15

So, because drugs control some people, we then make the claim that all drugs are a scourge, do we, David S?

Cars kill people so why don't we ban all cars. Airplanes kill some people so they should be banned too, I guess. Surgical operations kills some people so let's ban them as well.

Where does your line of reasoning stop?


David Skidmore
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 13:05

David, if you actually read my posts correctly you would find nothing where I say alcohol should be banned. This is what I said previously:

"I think the starting point with alcohol has to be that like glue-sniffing or tobacco, this is a scourge we have to deal with and not an overall positive thing with a few negative consequences. After that, any strategy that has proven to reduce alcohol intake should be considered."

Incidentally, it's the people driving the cars, flying the planes and carrying out the operations who are doing the killing (and often on drugs).

Black Pepper
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 14:33

Yuwalk, you seem to imply that self discipline is not an important issue in combating the problem of alcohol abuse, and you give a link to AER Foundation and work by Maggie Brady to support this. I followed the link and discovered that AER (whatever that stands for) has spent some $115 million (presumably taxpayers' money) but still wants to be paid before I can access Maggie's work, with a 10 day wait. Not overly helpful unfortunately.

I suggest that common sense dictates that self discipline is fundamental to combating abuse. From my own experience when giving up smoking many years ago self discipline was what got me through (just).

Self discipline and self respect go pretty much hand in hand. If you can discipline yourself to conform to good behaviours, you automatically raise your level of self respect.

As a layperson I don't know much, but I have read nothing compelling in the comments so far to refute my thoughts that lack of self discipline is a major contributor to excessive alcohol consumption and other anti-social behaviours, and that this lack of self discipline stems from deeper psychological issues.

By all means work on obtaining better understanding of the underlying issues and developing appropriate strategies (remembering that something different has to be unearthed because nothing has worked so far). And by all means work on reducing the "trigger" of alcohol abuse. But in the meantime lock up or otherwise deter those who refuse to conform to acceptable standards.

Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 15:12

Black Pepper

I am on my lunch break so I have to be quick. Go to the link and have another look you just need to click on book 1 and it comes up immediately. I am not that involved in alcohol policy, but I have some interest and I believe Maggie Brady is one of or if not the leading expert in this field. How much money has or has not been spent has no bearing on this so I have no idea why you bring it up.

The problem I have with the self discipline comment is that it implies that the problem is individual to each Indigenous person in Alice Springs and if each person could be disciplined then the problem would go away. It might sound okay in common sense, but it has very little value practically. How on earth do you go about instilling discipline?

Besides that it implies that somehow all the fault lies with the person with no discipline and because this is largely (not entirely) an Indigenous problem that it is an innate problem of being Indigenous. That might not be what you meant, but it is how I took your comment.

Lastly this is a Public Health issue and Public Health deals with populations not individuals. Taking things from one perspective and applying it to a whole population has very little value in public health.

Sorry if anything is not clear, but the post is very rushed I can expand later if you don't understand.

Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - 19:09


So what was it in essence that Russell Goldflam said?

When grog was made less available, consumption decreased 18% in a two year period. Violence levels also (with some statistical reservations) went down.

Russell has also since mentioned that the heading given to his article was not of his own doing and that it was unfortunate in that it did not accurately reflect what he was trying to say. For example Russell was not "preaching prohibition", nor was he being as simplistic as the headline implied.

All our to-ing and fro-ing (including my own) about what causes what and what people should or shouldn't do and whose fault it is and what might or won't work, and to what extent race is a factor and on and on, doesn't detract from Russell's sensible suggestion:

"decreasing the availability of alcohol seems to have been beneficial in the past, so why not make it less available?"

So what is our problem?

Black Pepper
Posted Thursday, March 3, 2011 - 01:26

Sorry Yuwalk, as far as I can tell Maggie's work is not available online (apart from the barest precis) and must be purchased in book form.

I brought up the question of money because, if we taxpayers have already paid for Maggie's work via AER Foundation, then the results should be freely available for us all to read.

You appear to have a different interpretation of "self discipline" to me. I mean it in the sense that a person uses their own internal thought processes to achieve some desired result. I am only saying that external discipline (eg policing) should be applied if the individual fails to exercise restraint and acts in an anti-social way.

How do we instill self discipline you ask? Well, I'm no expert, but examples of it happening abound in our community. Take the case of people whose life is in a mess, some manage to turn things right around by "finding" religion, resulting in drunks, wife beaters, gamblers etc being reformed. A sudden crisis in family circumstances is another instance I have seen effect beneficial change by motivating people to face up to responsibility.

The key to instilling self discipline seems to be bound up with some strong belief that an individual holds. As another example, many years ago I believed that smoking was doing me damage, and I used that belief to over-ride the very considerable desire to continue smoking.

As you say, alcoholism is undoubtedly a public health issue, but it is also a very personal issue for every individual too. So, it is unlikely that one formula will exactly fit all. What may motivate one person may not motivate someone else. Even so, it would seem likely that there is some degree of commonality in the cause, and as I have suggested previously I think that it may well go back to resentment and disenfranchisement. Establishing major underlying causalities for current behaviour would surely help in working out strategies to change beliefs. And strong beliefs lead to self discipline.

Posted Friday, March 4, 2011 - 01:28

Black Pepper the book is there online I don't understand how you can't see it. I also didn't ask for individual motivational stories, but ways to take practical action. Your idea of self motivation provides none. Saying work out the root cause is a brilliant idea if you can either tell us that route cause and then give a possible solution, but you do neither.

I might frame this a different way for you. You quit smoking because you believed it wasn't good for your health. You did this because of considerable effort from a number of Public Health and other groups to prove that smoking was harmful while facing great resistance from big tobacco. In addition to health advice price signals have been sent through taxation, places you can smoke have been restricted and as the number of people who smoke drops away and marketing is restricted social norms about smoking changed. It would have been much harder for you to stop smoking if you didn't think smoking was that bad for you, if smoking was cheap and if you had a social network that supported smoking. In other words a Public Health campaign not that different to the one suggested in Alice Springs helped you to quit smoking. I don't understand how you can argue against those same strategies being applied in Alice Springs.

You could even say a Public Health campaign around alcohol aims to support the discipline of all people in Alice Springs to overcome their desire to continue drinking. That actually sounds a bit like what you are suggesting to me.

Black Pepper
Posted Saturday, March 5, 2011 - 00:29

Hello Yuwalk, Yes, I have seen the book on the screen a number of times, but the point which you don't seem to get is that I cannot open it. As far as I have been able to find, it is unavailable except in hardcopy form, for which there is both a price and a time delay. If you know some trick (greater than double clicking) as to how to open the book online please let me know - I am willing to learn.

As for my personal wrestle with smoking, you assume things which are quite wrong. I gave up smoking 38 years ago. There was no public health issue then, no health warnings, no tax incentives, and so on. Smoking was cheap, and my "social network" supported smoking. I was pretty much on my own mate. I do not mean to imply that I have some special strength of will power - many many people have perfomed acts of resolve that dwarf this particular one. What I am trying to show is that an individual, if motivated, can overcome unwanted behaviour, even if addicted as I was. Another name for this is self discipline. A key to it is to find the driver of the unwanted behaviour, and/or identify a worthwhile benefit, so that motivation can be activated.

In my view alcoholism in the Alice is not a key driver of anti-social behaviour. Alcoholism is the expression of deeper problems (just like rejection of education, rejection of personal hygiene, rejection of respect for property etc). By all means treat the alcoholism, but expect continual outbreaks of it, or substance substitution. And that's exactly what we have been getting for decade after decade!

Posted Saturday, March 5, 2011 - 15:16

Black Pepper,
Your assertion that it's a matter of self control discipline very conditional.
Having worked with addicts of substance abuse I can attest that in many the addiction is a combination of physical (chemical)and or genetic predispositions(plural).

If I learned anything from my experiences is that it is NOT clear cut.
True some , including me, have great won't power and giving up (in my case twenty years of pipe and cigars and very heavy drinking) with relative (comparative) ease using little more than the above WON'T power. Those people are extremely fortunate, a minority of those with 'real addictions' (monkeys on their back).

It would have been folly for me to assume because I did everyone else can.
Think of like bipolar depression (previously called manic depression) simply saying "Buck up" or "you'll get over it" use will power. they simply can't there is a chemical difference in the brain that needs medication to combat it. Even that doesn't null it merely reduce its intensity SOMETIMES. To complicate the issue Bipolar is due in part to a genetic potentiality that may or may not be triggered. Hence some sufferers go through life before an event triggers it while other puberty or drugs (including alcohol) can start a life of episodic depression or events of psychotic 'elation' invincibility extreme risk taking or lack of consequential reasoning.
All this is well documented.
Now back to Grog/ drug abuse, many if its sufferers are very similar. There is a few well documented differences. The most obvious that comes to mind is.
- Tobacco generally doesn't permanently alter the brain's physical structure in the cognitive areas (other organs definitely) therefore recovery from addiction is very probable
Conversely Alcohol drug abuse does. ergo depending on the level of damage so to is cure is conditional. Biopsies of comparative brains clearly and constantly demonstrates this.
The above is considered medical fact not just my opinion.

Any program to discourage this addiction of behaviour leading to addiction is only valid to those in this window.

The issue I tried to outline were some of the causes that prompt individuals to play risk attracting Aussie roulette of drink and substance abuse. i.e. address the disillusion, hopelessness, prejudice, lack of cultural identity (self in the cosmos) and despair. Clearly these need more than a public awareness campaign it need leadership of the NT population as a whole the active changing of obsolete and recalcitrant attitudes. This also requires a mindset and behavioural change by the Euro/Australian majority. What is not for me to prescribe that is better left to NT who have to adopt and live within an agreed upon strategy

I hope this helps put the whole issue in perspective from whence many peoples reasoning springs.

Posted Sunday, March 6, 2011 - 18:39

Black Pepper

To read the book by chapter. You simply click on the picture of the book or on the hyperlink next to it. For example click on book one and it takes you to:

They load as Jpegs for each page so unless you have your browser set to not download images you should be able to see it. Debating the funding arrangements of a non for profit organisation seems to be a great way to take a conversation OT rather than addressing the information provided.

In your own words "As another example, many years ago I believed that smoking was doing me damage, and I used that belief to over-ride the very considerable desire to continue smoking."

The belief that smoking was doing you damage was supported as part of a broader public health campaign. If you gave up smoking 38 years ago that was 1973 and there was a lots of things happening to support you to quit.

A famous example would be the Surgeon General in America stating a link between smoking and cancer way back in 1957:

In Australia a quick google search reveals lots of things were happening in Australia to support your choice of quitting smoking in 1973. A good pdf is below:

So Black Pepper I will ask again how can you oppose the very same Public Health interventions that helped you quit smoking in regards to alcohol? Particluarly when there is very good evidence in the published literature that they work and no evidence for your own theory of personal willpower?

What you said is very interesting thanks.

Black Pepper
Posted Monday, March 7, 2011 - 02:30

Yes, thank you Examinator. I take your point that people who destroy themselves sufficiently are virtually incapable of rational thought and self discipline. I learnt rather more from your post than that of Yuwalk, who continues to aggressively assert that he or she knows rather more than I do about my own experience. This may come as a surprise to you YW, but I was at the time, and am still now, quite unaware of what the US Surgeon General said in 1957! To try and equate the public health efforts re smoking in 1973 with those available today is laughable. And it's irrelevant anyway, because I was unaware of whatever assistance may have been available.

It occurs to me, if we have had such concentrated public health policies re smoking for so long, and they are as useful as you seem to suggest, how is it that smoking is still being taken up by the young in large numbers, particularly by females? And while there may have been an overall decline in the proportion of smokers , what have you got to say about the epedemic substance substitution that has taken place over the period?

Public health policy re alcoholism to date has clearly failed dismally with a large proportion of our aboriginal population. Likewise parallel policies with education, hygiene, housing etc have also failed - for decade after decade after decade. It's time for a completely new approach. I never started my posts proclaiming to have answers, just suggestions which may or may not be worth considering. It's pretty clear that any new policies are highly unlikely to result in a worse scenario than we have today. Let go of yesteryear Yuwalk, it hasn't worked, and it's time to start again with a clean slate.

Posted Monday, March 7, 2011 - 11:15

Russell has a conflict of interest here. He works as a lawyer and should be aware that alcohol is not an illegal substance. He is also aware as others in the territory that those in need of rehab are less than 300 in an territory of more than 200,000 persons. This again is this tiny voice screaming out for mass monies to assist this tiny group. I am not saying do not assist them. what I am saying is supply the communities of the territory what monies are currently spent in assisting these people. And I can assure everyone reading this that the employment level for those assisting these addiction persons is almost in the 1000 level. So if this figure is sort of accurate why!!!! can they not support the 300 approx. then costs to support this group. WOW.......It is time to remove this stupidity from the forum of public interest. Lets talk and move public discussion in the area of land release. affordable housing by increasing Territory housing stock to assist first home buyers and renters. And the removal from public funding of all organisations that operate under the banner of segregation. This is Australia. Heritage is history and this is the now. No one has the excuse to claim ownership over any part of Australia. I purchased my land and home. So it is mine and my husbands. This is how it works in a democracy. And do I need to remind you Russell this is a democracy not a dictatorship that you appear to wish it was. We all live in a free country that allows us all to have a voice. If you want to believe in a communist country move to one. To all those out there who believe we are in a free country.... Say no to further restrictions And demand the end of all restrictions that are designed by a dictorship government. We are free people and we will not be controlled by minority voices.

Posted Monday, March 7, 2011 - 11:27

I forgot in law being really drunk is an exuse under law. Russell let us all know how often you have got someone off a violent or murder charge and used booze as an exuse to get a lighter sentence for your client. Also reminder every one that illegal drugs are oh my gosh illegal........and yet anyone can obtain them.......booze is legal........

Posted Monday, March 7, 2011 - 13:40

In order to have a meaningful discussion one needs to be meaningfully informed. I doubt that you have any real knowledge on what those 1000 staff do nor do you understand that the 300 is only the worst case KNOWN examples.
Russell and others are focusing on a very much larger issue than those in official detox.
you really should spend some time on the night shift of the emergency or crisis intervention services to understand the real level of crisis in the Australian community and especially the NT. Just because a person isn't in rehab that doesn't mean they, their family, neighbours, wider community don't need help to deal with the consequences of Substance abuse.
BTW I don't work for or use those services. I do however, claim personal knowledge and long term activity in Crisis intervention activities.
My experience in 3 states is that the indigenous are simply the most VISIBLE examples of the issue of Substance abuse go to any Aus Capital cities' western suburban hospital emergency centre on any Friday/Saturday night and head count the substance abuse caused admittances, knows/favours no race. Then consider the non-admitted victims. What do you think causes more vehicle accidents/fights during those times?

Sorry to be harsh but you really need more detail before you aim at destroying an under-manned, under-funded overloaded vital service.

Posted Monday, March 7, 2011 - 22:47

Black Pepper

I don't pretend to know your own experience, however when you want to extrapolate the entire problems of Indigenous health from your own personal experience with addiction, you should expect to be challenged. If I was too aggressive for you I apologise although I am not really sure where I have been aggressive?

I have never equated the Public Health efforts of today with the Public Health efforts of 1973 it was you who did that. All I did was demonstrate that there were many Public Health campaigns going on at the time you quit to prevent smoking. These efforts have been building up to what is in place today. Its not like 2011 came around and wham it was all in place. It was a gradual build up, even if you don't personally remember it. It was you who stated:
"As for my personal wrestle with smoking, you assume things which are quite wrong. I gave up smoking 38 years ago. There was no public health issue then, no health warnings, no tax incentives, and so on. Smoking was cheap, and my “social network” supported smoking. I was pretty much on my own mate."

As I showed in the link above some if not all of the things you said were not happening were already implemented, being implemented or being considered. The only one I have no knowledge of is what your friends/family and people you looked up to where doing at the time. If they were all smoking and hassling you about quitting then what you did was quite remarkable, but to try and pretend that nothing else was going on is to be ignorant of the truth.

In regards to the stuff about female smokers, you could have a point if it where true, but it is not. Rates of smoking in young females is declining. I am unaware of any evidence that declining rates of tobacco use have lead to hard drug/alcohol substitution. If you have some information on this I would love to see it.

About the only thing I can agree with is that policies involving our Indigenous brothers and sisters have been done poorly. Although we pretty much did wipe the plate clean with the NTER and I think that is what largely got Alice Springs into the mess it is in now.

Posted Friday, March 11, 2011 - 21:16

At a more fundamental level, and as has been pointed out in this article, it has become increasingly evident that community and peer behaviours play a vital role in promotion of violence in any culture. The parallels of such can be easily spotted in the black Australian community as the white. It'll be best to control the violence in both circles by methods draconian or otherwise, but the problem becomes "intractable", as has been often suggested in these comments, when either their origins are obscure or there is a strategic benefit at the policy level.

Origins, evidently, for white Australians who want to truly address the issue appears to begin with a skepticism of their own understanding of the Indigenous mindset and their approach hence entails flipping their own minds pretty much downside up to figure out how would one cope with an invasion as brutal and bloody as faced by the original Australians. Such an approach is increasingly prominent in the contemporary alternative communications within academia and student circles at the unis, as well as in historical literature of the country.

If the pattern of stats is to be believed, the aboriginal prison rates continue to remain high, pointing at a strategic intent behind a problem which a "first world" country with immense resources and almost peaking HDI fails to curb. This part is baffling. The extremes are incomprehensible and the fear of some of the leading aboriginal activists, that the intention is to wait till the entire population is wiped out as in the case of the Red Indians, is very palpable.

Hope remains in active participation of the community, at both local and wider level, in such discussions at such forums. It remains imperative to keep an open mind while tracking the intractable.