THE KATHERINE community held a pivotal meeting at the Town Council chambers last Thursday evening as the Katherine Region Action Group (KRAG) and members of the public came together to discuss the first draft of the revised Katherine Alcohol Management Plan (AMP).
Passionate views about the problem of alcohol abuse and its broader impact were exchanged between KRAG and a range of public figures and community members.
The action group drove home the importance of heavy community involvement to ensure that this latest draft becomes a comprehensively well developed plan for action, and one which will be heeded by the necessary Territory and Federal politicians.
The Menzies School of Health Research released its evaluation of Katherine’s initial 2007 AMP in December 2010, and former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Clare Martin was engaged through a joint initiative of the Charles Darwin University Northern Institute and the Menzies School of Health Research to address the recommendations in the evaluation and work alongside the action group.
Miss Martin, who is providing ongoing assistance in the redevelopment of the Katherine AMP, mediated proceedings on Thursday night.
A major theme of the meeting was the efficacy of the Banned Drinker Register and the high level of banned persons in Katherine.
KRAG member and Katherine Police Superintendent Brent Warren said there were both direct and discretionary actions which could place people on the register, and noted that as of March, 46 people in Katherine had accrued enough offences to become banned drinkers.
Another recurring discussion point was the lack of crisis accommodation and beds for people who have come in from outlying communities to visit family, or receive medical attention and are in need of a safe environment in which to recover from the effects of drinking.
Regional Manager of Mission Australia and KRAG member Scott Wassman said accommodation and accompanying care is an essential “circuit-breaker” in the cycle of anti-social alcohol use.
Many spoke of frustration with a lack of funding to tackle one of Katherine’s most pressing social problems.
Community members said the $11 million allocated in 2009 for the Alice Springs transformation plan contributed to a perceived disparity in funding for problem-areas, with the Katherine region largely neglected.
The action group said the revised draft would only succeed if the Katherine community is centrally involved in constructing and overseeing the new Alcohol Management Plan.
KRAG member and CEO of the Kalano Community Association Rick Fletcher said while Thursday’s meeting involved much positive discussion and community input, he would have liked to see more of the general public in attendance, not just business owners and people with a more obvious stake in the issue.
He said with nine beds just cut from the 24 Kalano could previously offer for alcohol treatment and recovery, and similar shortages across the board, the resources within Katherine to meet such a pervasive social issue were simply not adequate.
“We need more resources at the back end ... it’s frustrating when you can see a problem but you can’t fix it,” Mr Fletcher said.
Mr Wassman agreed: “We need government to acknowledge the need for crisis infrastructure and work on the ground here. Governments are traditionally good at answering the need for physical infrastructure, but are poor at the ‘flesh and blood’ stuff. In Katherine’s case, they’ve proved poor at both.
“We need counsellors properly trained, we need people to address the deep-seated problems of a drinking community.”