Alice Springs town camp residents consider impact of alcohol bans following PM’s crisis visit

As a decision looms as to whether Northern Territory Intervention-era alcohol bans should be reinstated, residents who could be impacted by the potential changes are considering their options.

Until last July, town camps and remote communities were designated “dry zones” under the controversial Stronger Futures laws, with liquor banned from being brought in and residents not allowed to purchase grog from bottle shops.

Now, following an emergency visit to Alice Springs by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and a raft of immediate alcohol measures being announced, a return to a blanket alcohol ban is being considered.

The prime minister stopped short of reinstating the bans for town camps and remote communities, but a senior bureaucrat has been given one week to advise as to whether they should be reimposed.

An Indigenous woman with shoulder-length hair, wearing a dark T-shirt and faintly smiling.
Janelle Driver supports the measures, which she says help to give people a break from drinking every day.(ABC Alice Springs: Lee Robinson)

Janelle Driver resides in the Hidden Valley town camp, one of more than a dozen communities on the outskirts of town previously subjected to a long-term grog ban.

She said imposing alcohol-free days, a measure put in place for a three-month trial, was “a good idea” for the community.

“That way some people can have a break from drinking, instead of drinking every day,” she said.

“Alcohol can make the community look bad.”

The young mother said there needed to be greater investment in children to help bring about positive change.

“The focus should be on kids,” she said.

“The youth are going around doing bad things, and they haven’t got a role model to look up to.

“We need more support, especially for the young blokes doing the wrong things, and then maybe they’ll change.”

An Indigenous woman with her hair tied back, wearing a dark T-shirt, stands outside.
Esther Bruno has called on community members to speak up about their concerns.(ABC Alice Springs: Lee Robinson)

‘Kids are going wild’

Pressure on the government to take urgent action has intensified in recent weeks, in the face of surging crime and alcohol-fueled violence in the outback town.

When the Northern Territory government introduced its own legislation to replace the federal bans last year, it had maintained the Stronger Futures laws were a “race-based policy that disempowered Aboriginal Territorians”.

On Tuesday, the Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles said it was “now clear” that change of some kind was needed.

For Esther Bruno, who is visiting the Hidden Valley town camp to care for a relative, the level of alcohol consumption she sees in Alice Springs is far too high.

“There’s been a lot of trouble here,” she said.

“Kids are going wild because parents are not looking after their kids.

“Some parents are using their money to go to the pub, and also people come in from the bush to get alcohol and they don’t respect Alice Springs and they run amok.”

A few chairs and a table on a large patch of dirt in a rural community.
Until July 17, 2022, alcohol was not permitted in any of the town camps on the outskirts of Alice Springs.(ABC Alice Springs: Lee Robinson)

Ms Bruno’s hometown of Kintore, a community 500 kilometers west of Alice Springs, does not allow alcohol to be brought in and consumed.

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