$17m for new NT war on grog sales

The Northern Territory Government will spend more than $17 million to bring back the Banned Drinker Register and rehabilitate problem drinkers.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles today said the BDR will turn off the tap of take away alcohol to problem drinkers.

“The rates of crime, violence and harm associated with take away alcohol and problem drinkers are staggering. It has to stop,” Ms Fyles said.

The reintroduction of the BDR was a key Labor election promise although many community leaders and police fear any “tinkering” with existing grog laws may lead to a rise in crime.

“We’ve listened to concerns from the community and frontline services and we’re taking action,” Ms Fyles said.

“The new BDR will cut off supply to problem drinkers – making our community safer.

“From September 1 more than 1000 problem drinkers will be automatically included on the BDR and banned from buying takeaway alcohol.

“That figure is expected to grow by 500 a month, tapering off as the bulk of problem drinkers are identified.

“We know that 2500 problem drinkers were given access to alcohol when the former CLP government scrapped the BDR in 2012.

“What resulted was an increase in alcohol related crime, violence and anti-social behaviour.

“It was a Labor Government that first introduced the BDR in 2011 and we have been working efficiently across agencies to bring it back and improve the model.

“From September 1 problem drinkers will be banned from buying take away alcohol if they:

•         Have any combination of three protective custodies or alcohol infringement notices in 2 years

•         Have two low range drink driving offences or a single mid-range or high-range drink driving offence

•         Are the defendant on an alcohol-related domestic violence order

•         Have an alcohol prohibition condition on a court order (including child protection orders), bail or parole order

•         Are placed on the BDR by a decision of the BDR Registrar after being referred by an authorised person such as a doctor, nurse or child protection worker, or a family member or carer

•         Self-refer for any reason 

“An initial BDR ban is three months long. Breaches will see the ban increase to 6 months and then a year,” Ms Fyles said.

“For people with bans of 6 months or more, an assessment will be offered and recommendations made by a specialist clinician about suitable therapeutic supports. Completing the recommended rehabilitation could see the ban reduced. 

“Where someone believes they have been placed on the BDR in error, decisions made by police and by the BDR Registrar will be reviewable by the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NTCAT).

“Every Territorian has the right to feel safe and expect their homes and property to be secure.

“That’s why the Territory Labor Government is addressing crime, harm and dysfunction, by reducing the supply of alcohol to problem drinkers and investing in rehabilitation.

“The $17.2 million for the BDR has been announced as part of Budget 2017 - with funding for the Department of Health and Department of Attorney-General and Justice.

“Budget 2017 is a fair plan for our future that delivers on our election promises, allowing us to reduce the costs of alcohol related harm that research shows is more than $642 million for the Territory every year.,” 

“The Department of Health will use $15.5 million dollars to:

•         Develop specialist assessment and withdrawal services

•         Create integrated pathways to treatment services and follow up services

•         Expand capacity for rehabilitation services

•         Establish a BDR Registrar and employ specialist clinicians

“The Department of Attorney-General and Justice will use $1.7 million dollars to: 

•          Establish a BDR system

•          Roll out technology

“Alcohol Mandatory Treatment will cease as the new BDR comes into full operation.

“Temporary Beat Locations, also known as TBL’s and POSI’s will continue as a resource for police even after the BDR has been reinstated.

“Draft Legislation will be introduced to parliament next month, with the bill expected to be passed in August.”

Police fear crime will rise in Katherine by two thirds if grog laws are changed. 

Police commissioner Reece Kershaw has told Katherine Town Council there would likely be a “65 per cent increase in crime in three months should they (Point of Sale Interventions) be removed”. 

The information was included in chief executive Robert Jennings’ recent report to council.

Community leaders, including Katherine Mayor Fay Miller, have warned the government from tinkering with the grog laws which Mayor Miller said had “cleaned up” Katherine.

“The commissioner indicated that is what the reduction (65 per cent) had been since the point of sale interventions or temporary beat locations were introduced,” Mayor Miller said. 

“He also said it would be a big disadvantage to Katherine if they were removed.”

In July, NT Commissioner of Police Reece Kershaw said the intervention, which began in December 18, 2014 had decreased incidents of domestic violence alone by half in the first six months of operation.

Mr Kershaw also said the TBLs in Katherine had improved the town’s amenity.

Katherine MLA Sandra Nelson said the banned drinkers register would be rolled out on September 1 as part of an election promise.

“We have always maintained that the temporary beat locations or point of sale interventions would be the responsibility of the police as opposed to the government as it is now,” Ms Nelson said. 

“I support the banned drinkers register and I'm confident that the Katherine police will continue to do what they feel is best for the Katherine community."

In a poll run by Katherine Times last month almost 70 per cent said they did not wish to see any changes to current alcohol selling laws.

Back in August,  Mayor Miller spoke out against the Labor Party plan of leaving the current grog laws to the discretion of police.

Mayor Miller has spoken at many public forums since August on her belief that TBLs need to be left alone.

“This has cleaned up the town and helped bring the tourists back,” she has said.

During the election campaign, Ms Nelson said the party was not suggesting that TBLs be done away with completely, but a mix of the two would do the same job without tying up precious police resources.

The Government’s review into alcohol policy will begin this month to be completed in late September.