POLICE, Fire and Emergency Services Minister Peter Chandler has confirmed officers will not be removed from Katherine bottle shops when the current temporary beat location trial ends in June.
Public pressure has been mounting on the Northern Territory government to keep the TBLs after the overwhelming success of the six-month trial, and Mr Chandler said on Thursday they would become a permanent fixture in the town’s battle against alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour.
The confirmation followed comments by Treasurer Dave Tollner that the government was “absolutely” committed to the continuation of TBLs .
“We’re not backing away from TBLs at all,” Mr Tollner told the Katherine Times before a Chamber of Commerce NT budget briefing in Katherine on April 29.
“It’s a key measure in our fight against crime.”
No additional funding has been allocated in the 2015-16 Territory budget for TBLs, with Mr Chandler admitting that the cost of their operation would be sourced from existing NT Police resources.
“It will be able to be covered,” Mr Chandler said.
He added that, despite coming at a “pretty high cost”, having police officers in bottle shops would ultimately save the government money.
In mid-April, the government shelved a plan to build a $6.1 million alcohol treatment facility in Katherine, because only 1.3 people per month in the region now qualify for mandatory alcohol rehabilitation since the TBL trial began.
When asked what lifespan the “permanent beat locations” would have, Mr Chandler hinted that they would remain as long as they continued to produce positive outcomes for the community.
“How long’s a piece of string?” he asked.
“As long as we’re getting results like we’re getting, we’re not going to walk away from a successful program.”
The decision to continue the TBLs has been criticised as a poor use of police resources by NT Police Association acting president Chris Wilson.
“We don’t see it as being a permanent solution to what the underlying problem is,” he said.
However, the announcement has been welcomed in Katherine.
Katherine Town Council mayor Fay Miller, who has been one of the most vocal advocates of the TBLs, said she was “ecstatic”.
“I’m very, very happy that they’ve decided to continue supporting something that’s proved to work so well,” she said.
“There will be plenty of other things that need to be addressed [to combat alcohol abuse] but I can’t see that we can do away with TBLs.”
Ms Miller said she believed that the dramatic reduction in antisocial behaviour would attract more tourists to Katherine and boost the local economy, a sentiment echoed by Chamber of Commerce NT Katherine branch chair Kevin Grey.
“It’s been 20 years trying to get this result,” he said.
“Long-term, we would think the dynamic is going to change and make Katherine a much more attractive place for visitors and people to live.”