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ACOSS calls on NT Government to scrap ‘discriminatory’ Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill

28 May 2013

The Australian Council of Social Service today called on the Northern Territory Government to rethink its proposed Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill that is currently before the NT parliament.

"We are extremely concerned about the introduction of the Bill, which we view as discriminatory against Aboriginal people in the NT. It's not based on any evidence and simply won't work," said ACOSS CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie.

"It's clear that there is an alcohol issue in the Northern Territory, but what is needed is a broader policy and community response, not a half-baked measure that only targets a small piece of the problem, and in such a discriminatory manner.

"Let's face it, detaining visible people for drunkenness and forcing them into rehab, is targeted at Aboriginal people in the Territory. This is obscene, and contrary to the clear findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991.

"The Bill will effectively criminalise public drunkenness, but only for some in the community, namely Aboriginal people, particularly those living remotely who are often more likely to drink in public places when they visit service centres or towns.

"We don't believe the Bill is based on any evidence. It will not be cost-effective and it's hard to see how it could be effective in reducing levels of intoxication or the issues associated with alcohol abuse in the Territory.

"We're also concerned that detaining problems drinkers will lead to unnecessary tensions between Aboriginal people and police, and is likely to result in more Aboriginal people entering the criminal justice system - at a time when prisons in the NT are already overflowing with Aboriginal people.

"We believe the Bill in its current form may also lead to breaches of Australia's human rights obligations, including the right to freedom from arbitrary detention; the right to freedom of movement; the right to life (as the bill is likely to lead to increased deaths in custody); and rights contained in the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture which seeks to prevent mistreatment of people who are held in detention.

"The NT Government needs to go back to the drawing board and work with communities and groups working on the ground with people to come up with a more comprehensive plan. We need solutions based on evidence of what actually works and will be effective in helping people and families with alcohol related issues," Dr Goldie concluded.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155

About the Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill

  • The bill introduces a scheme under which adults taken into police protective custody three or more times in two months when intoxicated in public will be subject to mandatory alcohol treatment.
  • After the requisite protective custody incidents, the person will be taken to an Assessment and Treatment Centre to be assessed.
  • They may wait up to 13 days for an independent tribunal to decide whether the person meet the criteria for the mandatory rehabilitation.
  • If a person meets the criteria they may be held for up to three months in a secure residential treatment facility, treated in a community residential treatment facility or treated in the community, including through income management.
  • There will be criminal penalties for absconding from a treatment facility whilst subject to a mandatory treatment order. Secondary supply of someone on a banning order is also an offence.
  • Further details can be found on the NT Department of Health website:http://health.nt.gov.au/Alcohol_Mandatory_Treatment/index.aspx.