SUBMISSION TO THE SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS
INQUIRY INTO THE HARMFUL USE OF ALCOHOL IN ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER COMMUNITIES
The Intervention Rollback Action Group in Alice Springs formed in 2007 to support people affected by the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER) and campaign against these discriminatory laws. IRAG is made up of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Alice Springs and has close working relationships with leaders in Aboriginal communities right across Central Australia.
This submission will provide a synopsis of how alcohol restrictions targeting Aboriginal people have operated in Alice Springs since the Intervention in 2007. It will then draw on testimony from speakers at a protest rally against these restrictions, held on March 28, 2014. The lead slogan of this rally was “stop racist laws and racist policing” and it was one of the largest rallies in the history of Alice Springs.
IRAG is opposed to all racially based alcohol restrictions. Anyone that is serious about dealing with the issue of alcohol-related harm in Indigenous communities needs to listen to the clear, passionate voices of the Aboriginal leaders who addressed the crowds marching on the streets of Alice Springs and are now planning further protests. Ultimately the only thing that will work to deal with acute social problems facing Aboriginal people in the region, including alcohol abuse, is self-determination. There is an urgent need for government to provide resources and control to Aboriginal people to create employment opportunities, lift people out of poverty and build a positive future.
The racist alcohol regime in Alice Springs
The current alcohol regime being imposed on Aboriginal people in Alice Springs is racist and is doing nothing to deal with the acute problem of alcohol related harm which exists throughout the region.
This regime began with the NTER in 2007, which suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to, amongst other measures, prohibit alcohol on “prescribed areas” – all Aboriginal lands in the NT.
This regime replaced a patchwork of voluntary dry-areas across Aboriginal lands, that had been lobbied for, over many years, by Aboriginal communities using dry area provisions in the NT Liquor Act, provisions that had nothing to do with race.
According to Closing the Gap in the NT Monitoring Reports, alcohol-related domestic violence incidents reported by police in “prescribed areas” jumped from 387 in 2007 to 1109 in 2011. While some of this increase can be attributed to the greatly increased police presence in remote areas, the statistics clearly show that this regime is doing nothing whatsoever to ameliorate the serious problem of alcohol-related harm in Indigenous communities.
Despite this failure, the same discriminatory alcohol regulations were continued under Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory legislation, which came into effect in 2012.
Stronger Futures distinguished itself from the NTER by including provisions for the development of Alcohol Management Plans (AMPs) on a community by community basis. However, despite extensive efforts from Aboriginal people to negotiate such plans, there has been no movement on AMPs for town camps in Alice Springs by either the Federal or NT governments and a blanket prohibition on all Aboriginal lands remains in force.
How AMPs would eventually look is unclear. Even if they were implemented, indications from former Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin were that the Commonwealth would not accept any plans that alter the reality of blanket prohibition.
From the beginning of the Intervention, Aboriginal people have protested against the draconian policing regime that has accompanied prohibition. In particular, police powers to enter Aboriginal homes without a warrant, on the suspicion that there is alcohol inside, have been used to facilitate police raids on town camps that have terrified residents and compounded feelings of social alienation.
In February 2014, the Northern Territory government launched a police operation in Alice Springs known as Operation Leyland. This marked a new and particularly draconian period in the imposition of Stronger Futures laws. Police have been stationed outside the ten alcohol take-away outlets in town, many of which are adjacent to supermarkets, to enforce these laws.
Section 95 of the NT Liquor Act allows police to stop people, search them and confiscate alcohol if they have a reasonable suspicion that the alcohol will be taken to a restricted area.
Police carrying out Operation Leyland are relying on the skin colour of shoppers to form a “reasonable suspicion” about whether or not they will be taking their alcohol to an Aboriginal town camp. Aboriginal people are routinely stopped by police, even when entering supermarkets adjacent to bottle shops, asked to produce ID and questioned about their intention to buy alcohol and where they will be taking it to consume it.
If Aboriginal people produce identification showing they do not live on a town camp, this may not be enough to satisfy police, who often pursue a line of questioning about their family connections. This is done in an attempt to link them in some way to a town camp and either stop them from entering the bottle shop or to confiscate alcohol that has already been purchased.
Occasionally non-Aboriginal people are also stopped, but they are only asked to show identification and never interrogated in the same manner about their intentions. Further, a license showing an address outside of Alice Springs causes no problems for non-Aboriginal people, whereas Aboriginal people from out of town are told they must have ID showing a residential address in Alice Springs before being allowed to purchase alcohol.
Operation Leyland has brought out the systemic racism of Stronger Futures, long experienced by people in town camps through police raids, out into display in front of the broader community. All Aboriginal people, regardless of where they live, are being humiliated and treated as second class citizens in front of fellow shoppers.
This has produced deep feelings of hurt, shame and anger in the Aboriginal community. Many non-Aboriginal people are also deeply distressed by the open segregation on display. Consequently, a rally which IRAG helped to organise on March 28 was extremely well attended. Those present expressed a determination to continue campaigning until these racist restrictions are lifted.
The remainder of this submission will provide excerpts from Aboriginal speakers who addressed the rally on March 28, in order to demonstrate the destructive impact of the current regime.
Two broad themes should be noted by policy makers concerned about alcohol related harm in Indigenous communities.
Firstly, many speakers did not oppose the idea of alcohol restrictions in general, and supported measures such as the Banned Drinkers’ Register which had previously operated in Alice Springs. However, the imposition of race-based restrictions such as those contained in Stronger Futures is viewed, not as evidence of government concern about alcohol related harm, but as a desire by government to isolate, demonise and control Aboriginal people. The segregation and humiliation caused by such restrictions compounds broader feelings of social marginalisation and disempowerment, which in turn feed into the anger and despair which underlie the acute problem of alcohol related harm.
Secondly, Aboriginal people are desperate to be given the resources and control needed to seriously address the problem of alcohol-related harm in their own communities. The consistent refusal to seriously engage with Aboriginal leadership and empower communities to drive their own solutions is also part of the broader, destructive process of disempowerment.
Extracts from speeches at the “Say no to racist laws and racist policing” Rally in Alice Springs
March 28, 2014
Aboriginal people can come up with their own solutions for their own problems, that’s why we [Mt Nancy town camp] worked on our Alcohol Management Plan. This has never been supported by the NT government and it has never been supported by the federal government. Our time and effort has been wasted, money has been wasted to recreate the wheel. We know that there are social issues and we know that there is violence. We try very hard to do what we can to stop these.
Not every Aboriginal person is the same, we are all different in many ways. We come from different backgrounds, different countries.
Police are supposed to be working together to protect and serve our communities. We cannot let the government keep pushing them aside and telling them that they have to treat us this way, we are not animals! That’s why you changed the constitution so we can no longer be flora and fauna of this country. We are human beings, we bleed, one red blood just like you.
I have monitored the police outside the bottle shops I see the difference [in the way they treat Aboriginal people]. I do not want my grandchildren to grow up in a country like this.
Bring back the Banned Drinker’s Register (BDR) system, because that way we are all equal, we have produce ID and we have to get our name scanned.
We also call on the police to act within the law. Aboriginal people are being refused alcohol if they are from interstate, such as visiting family from Mt Isa. There are families in Darwin who get refused alcohol that want to come down and visit their families.
Minster Dave Tollner came on radio the other day and said everyone’s got a right to drink, but I tell you what – not me or my people. How’s that for a slap in the face for you.
Walter Shaw [recently charged for having alcohol in a prescribed area] is the only CEO in Australia that cannot drink in his own home because of these laws that target Aboriginal people. My father is the only Vietnam veteran that fought for this country – two tours of Vietnam, one in Borneo and another in Malaysia – now he’s [almost] seventy years old and cannot drink in his own home. He was a leader of his own platoon. This is how far racists laws go in the Territory and in Australia.
Helen Kantawarra (much of this speech is translated from Arrernte):
Morning – werte. This probably happen to you mob too…look here.. Going into IGA… The policeman will ask “you buying alcohol today?”
So bloody what, it’s none of his business. When you do, I get refused because I have strong family ties to Trucking Yards [town camp]. I got refused, I work hard, pay taxes, my taxes probably pay his wages to stand in front of the IGA to tell me I can’t buy alcohol. Tell me how many have you mob got ties to a town camp? One or the other? I reckon just about all of us. How many white fellas have ties and families living in a town camp? Nothing… So this is a racist law. Who gave that policeman the right to question me and tell me I couldn’t buy alcohol because I got family, not only Trucking Yards, few other town camps too. So I’m calling on each and every one of you Aboriginal people we should boycott the next elections in protest of the racist laws.
Over the last few weeks I have been speaking to old men, about life in the town camps. I ask them if things are better today than they were six years ago prior to the intervention, they all say that things are much worse. How is it that a government policy, that has burnt up billions of taxpayers’ money and which was launched to improve the lives and safety of Aboriginal people, has made our lives worse and our people are less safe than they were six years ago?
The targeting of Aboriginal people in Alice Springs is now so overt that no one even tries to hide it. Every hour of every day, police in this community watch and wait for their Aboriginal prey. They us move on from public spaces, they search us, they chase us down. They arrest us, they place us in protective custody.
Alice Springs police recently put up signs at all bottleshops, casting a picture of crow, it’s an official police poster, and it is supposed to remind us that in Alice Springs some people have rights and some people do not have rights. Police use the image of a crow, because crows are scavengers and hang around waiting for the scraps, that is how police in this town view Aboriginal people.
MK Turner (much of this speech is translated from Arrernte):
Hello everyone, hey, it’s really good to see everyone coming together. And people coming together as one to speak, to listen. Everybody. You all remember, there is that shop at Flynn drive, IGA Tangantgere shop or whatever they call it there and east side…all the IGA stores are Aboriginal owned. Lhere Arthepe bought it all and they hunting all of youse away from buying grog. I mean ingwala [alcohol] is a bad thing but people need to drink it responsibly.
I’m not a drinker, I have never had a drink in my life. But I feel sorry for the people who do work hard.
One day there was film crew Flynn drive-way, one day and then they went and the police knew straight away there was a film crew there. They stepped back – they was too scared because of the people filming them, to take grog off them… I think that was really good. They scared of cameras, I mean they got the best badge, the crown of Alice Springs to speak for, but they were real scared from those cameras.
But I think, racism here in town is very very bad. You know we got white friends, why don’t they come up and say something? I need somebody, a lot of non-Aboriginal people [to come] up and saying good things about other Aboriginal people.
I’ve got a lot of non-Aboriginal people and a lot of Aboriginal people [friends] that don’t drink, like myself. And we talk to our people to drink sensibly, for their life, tell our children to grow up well. The grog is not ours, the grog been bought in the non-Aboriginal people and the government people. That’s why a lot of people are drinking, a lot of people are dying.
All the white people just sit on that seat in parliament they are nothing, just empty shells, those people in parliament, all the ones we voted for. [They say] “Oh all good good good” and when they get up there [elected], “oh, I can’t say anymore…” and they run and do other things, not things [we want them] to do.
Hello, my name is Acacia Lewis and I was born and grow up in Alice Springs. I’d just wanted to say that we’ve heard a lot from older people and we haven’t really heard from young people and what about the youth in Alice, are they gonna grow up fearing the police? When they go with their families to the shops and their parents are getting questioned for no reason, what does that message send to the youth? And young people? This is government is telling us to go to school and get a job and what we can’t celebrate? There that is all I wanted to day, what about the youth, stop putting fear into the youth.
All the powers, all the police enforcement, it’s like we are in a police state down here is the Centre. You can go to Darwin, you can walk the streets, you can have a beer in the park, you can just walk into any place without being confronted by police in your face, asking you where you live.
When you got the bottleos here, they are not just asking for your ID and where you live, they are doing a criminal history check on everybody, getting on the radio back to the police station, “Has this man got a warrant, has this woman got a warrant”, like they tar us all with the one brush, we are not all criminals.
We are not taking racism anymore. We have been living it here for 225 years, it’s got to stop, it has to stop right now! The police are using the situation, the grog situation that is just a racist act, it is not about alcohol.
We have the right to have a drink after work, the people at town camps have a right to have a drink after work. Most of the people at town camps work, they are taxpayers. So we pay our taxes for the police to be loitering outside the grog shop, outside the supermarkets. We are paying our taxes for them to loiter! Our people get picked up for loitering. We can’t sit on the lawns, we can’t stand around the town – “Move on, move on, you’re loitering”. Yet the police are doing exactly that! They are loitering, they are loitering from 2 o’clock to 9 o’clock every night!
We have grandchildren, we have children, are our children going to be under the same policy. This policy has been organised to control our people, put them down, put them down, put them down! The policies are been around because they want us to be under their feet. We have to organise as one people, we have to stand up now, we can not take on these racist policies anymore. We have the people of Canberra, they are organising our life, they are telling us when to breath, when to eat and sleep!
We don’t need Canberra to tell us what to do, we can do our own problem solving, we have a lot of people who have the skills. All our people have skills here in this town, we don’t need to be controlled by Canberra every single day of our life… this is the reason why we are marching today. It’s not about alcohol, its about racism. Thank-you.
We’re all here for a reason and that’s for human rights. We’re not here just to fight for alcohol. Yes we pay taxes, and we do deserve to have a few drinks. But, going to the bottle shops and being told; “Where are you from? What are you buying?” I am just sick and tired of being asked that by the police.
Everyone here gets picked on by the pigs. It has to stop. Now’s the time that we all need to stand up together as one people. This has got to stop. Stop your stereotyping. This racism has to stop before it gets out of hand.
Stacia Chester (Furber):
This government is absolute control freaks and we’ve had enough. We do not have to bow down to racist laws and racist policies. We are original tribal sovereign people of this land. We will stand up – stand up and fight.
Hello everyone, I just wanted to say that, that since coming back from South Australia, I have never experienced or seen or witnessed so much racism in this town, it is disgusting!
All we want and all we’re asking for is the basic human rights for our people.
We must unite as one! And stand as one! To change these laws. We have survived we will continue to survive. And they can’t take that way from us.
I’m representing my bush people, who are out bush working hard, and sitting around a few of us here. And it is true that we need to be counted as human beings but then again we are denied as human being, by the police who are human themselves with flesh and blood. We got nowhere to breath fresh air.
Speaking up for my people from out bush, they have the rights as any one else who is working out in the bush in the heat, day by day, week by week, year by year, month by month, to come in to town and quench their thirst. All are hardworking. Whenever my people come in, they say “Oh there is a yellow uniform there, there is a paddy wagon stopping there”. Now they have to go past and look around in town, for the black market. And maybe they have the only dollars there in the pocket to fill the fuel up and go back home. They spend a lot, just for one carton of thirty pack – hundred dollars. Because there is no way to get a cheaper grog!
We can’t even walk up the bottle shop, without: “Oh where you going?” Or “What you doing?”
Who put the signs up in the town camp and everything? Hey? We are not allowed to drink in our town camp. Our own camp. They call it camp. Yes, we’re not allowed to drink there, where we gonna drink in Alice Springs, hey, you mob tell me? Down the creek? Get run over by a 4WD with the big mag wheels on it. Where you gonna drink in Alice Springs? In your own town camp you not allowed to. They got big damn signs up there saying, “No alcohol”. Can’t we go to someone’s place and have a drink? No. Not allowed to. We got no rights in this town.
I am one of the stolen generations. I was taken from my mother when I was five years old, and about this racist thing I know, since I was born I know since I was taken away from my mother. The racist stuff, it didn’t start yesterday, it didn’t start when John Howard came in with his Intervention, it started long before that, before I was even born… and it is still going on, it is getting worse. Now we are just living behind it, we were living in front of the wood heap at one part, but now we’re behind the wood heap. Black fella he doesn’t have anywhere to go these days, he can’t even sit under the tree. He get pushed out… these people haven’t got no where to go.
I am tired seeing my people at the shops, and the shopping centres and the IGAs with sad faces when they come up to me and say “Policeman took my grog”. “How much money did you spend?”, “I don’t know – seventy dollars, they took my grog”, I am tired of going to Coles everyday, it happens everyday because I am well known by my people here, I go to Coles, I have to walk into the supermarket fast because my people come up to me and say, “Can you buy me grog, can you buy me ingwala?” and I said “I don’t really want to do that, I don’t really want to do that”, but it’s not about that, it’s not about the grog, it’s about the policies. It’s about the by-laws, it’s about all the conditions they make up.
The other thing, the 18 plus card, when you go to purchase alcohol for young 20 year olds, you only you have your name, there is no address, so the police who are stationed at these alcohol outlets first of all they say “Have you got your ID?” You’ve got to pull out your ID, you’ve got make sure your picture’s on there, your name and most importantly your address has got be there. So what’s up with the 18-plus card, a lot of young people don’t have licences, so how are they going to purchase their alcohol when they have a right to?
SUBMITTED TO THE SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE INQUIRY 17th APRIL 2014