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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs - 01/04/2014 - Harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

JENKINS, Mr Jordan, Licensees Alcohol Accord Tennant Creek

[11:26]

CHAIR: We welcome you, Mr Jenkins, as a representative of the Licensees Alcohol Accord Tennant Creek. Sorry, you have had a little wait. You are, of course, aware of our terms of reference for this inquiry: we are trying to come up with a better way to reduce harmful alcohol use amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; to see what support can better be given but also to look at the determinants of high-risk drinking and the impacts of high-risk drinking on Indigenous communities, and also the trends—are we seeing more, or less, or a similar trend, of drinking at high-risk levels over time?

We appreciate you coming to give evidence to the committee. As part of the alcohol accord in Tennant Creek, you are coming up with a particular strategy. Would like to begin by describing to us that particular strategy?

Mr Jenkins : Sure. Basically, the Tennant Creek liquor accord is a monthly meeting between all the licensees in town. Licensing and police come along, and the chamber of commerce. Basically we just discuss relevant issues, and we come up with what we view as some solutions to some of the issues that the town is facing. For example, at the moment we have restrictions on wine. We have cut down on the bottle shop hours and we have also restricted the sale of spirits, in conjunction with the police TBLs, or police on the bottle shops. So that is the current one. We have our monthly meeting coming up this Thursday. We're getting to the end of that three-month trial, and then the chamber of business will bring along the relevant stats at the end of that three months; police will present stats; the health department will present stats; licensing will discuss the issues, and then we will decide whether that three-month trial was successful. If it was, we will most likely continue on with it. If wasn't, we will work with the relevant parties to come up with new solutions.

CHAIR: So will those stats look at accident and emergency admittances to the hospital that are related to alcohol?

Mr Naylor : Yes. The hospital will bring along their statistics, mainly admittance rates, and with the police, it is more the stats on alcohol-associated violence.

CHAIR: Right. Do you have a prepared opening statement for us, Mr Jenkins, or would you like us to move straight to questions?

Mr Jenkins : No, I believe it is just questions.

Mr PERRETT: Mr Jenkins, how many licensed premises are there in Tennant Creek?

Mr Jenkins : There are five main licensed premises, but if you include restaurants and others there would be over 10.

Mr PERRETT: And are supermarkets a part of the group that meets?

Mr Jenkins : No. The supermarket in town doesn't have a liquor licence.

Mr PERRETT: Okay. So they don't sell it. I was wondering if the hospital data includes information about where somebody was drinking before they came to the hospital. Have they presented on people drinking in camps, at home, at licensed premises, in public spaces; do we have that sort of data?

Mr Jenkins : No. It has never been broken down like that. We are completely reliant on what data other people bring. No, it has not been broken down like that before.

Mr PERRETT: So theoretically there could be one of your collective that has a steady stream of people but the others would be a part of strategies. Would that be right?

Mr Jenkins : Yes, that would be right.

Mr PERRETT: Do you think it would be useful for people to provide data about where they were before they presented at the emergency department?

Mr Jenkins : Certainly. The more information that is available, the better it is.

Mr PERRETT: It might not be anything to do with your premises; it might be another premises or somewhere completely different.

Mr Jenkins : Yes.

Mr VAN MANEN: Given that you are coming towards the end of the three months of the trial, I know not all the figures have been collated, but do you personally have some anecdotal evidence of what you have seen on the ground over the last three months and what the impact of the trial has been?

Mr Jenkins : Certainly. In terms of crime, I would not exactly know. But this is a predominantly Aboriginal town, and what they are drinking is changing, which is probably one of the biggest issues we faced last year. There was an influx of cheap wine that came into Tennant Creek, Alice Springs and Katherine. The access to wine was one of the main issues that we wanted to restrict—and spirits. If we can get people away from buying those cheap drinks—because when an Aboriginal person, or any person that has a drinking problem, buys a bottle of wine, they tend to walk out the back and just scull it down, whereas, if they buy a 30-pack of beer, that is not possible. The main thing that I have noticed is that what they are drinking is changing, which is very important, because spirits and wine, from my point of view, are the main association drinks with what then relates in after-hours violence and crimes in the community.

Mr VAN MANEN: Would you say that their moving to drinking beer as against cheap wine and spirits is reducing the incidence of alcohol related violence, because they are not drinking as much?

Mr Jenkins : From my point of view, it would. Like I said, if a person comes in and buys a 30-pack and takes it home, that is going to get consumed a lot slower than spirits or wine. It is also going to tend to get split up between people, whereas last year we were facing people just coming in and buying three or four wine bottles at a time, plus a bottle of spirits, and how quick that was consumed and what it would have caused I assume had a contribution to the rising crime rates we saw last year. Having said that, it is very difficult to know, with the stats that are going to come out at the moment, how much our voluntary restrictions have had to do with it and how much TBLs have had to do with it. As we started the stats, police have also been down at the bottle shops every day doing their TBLs. So it would be a combination.

CHAIR: What does TBL stand for?

Mr Jenkins : Temporary beat location.

Mr VAN MANEN: So the police are physically out on the street there?

Mr Jenkins : Yes. It is just when police are out the front of the bottle shops. They are there checking for APOs, checking whether people are going to drink at approved premises and things like that.

Mr SNOWDON: Can you detail what the current restrictions are and how they impact upon you?

Mr Jenkins : The current restrictions are: we took away an hour of takeaway sales, so, instead of opening at two, it opens at three. Wine is now a restricted item, so we utilise the old BDR. When people come in to purchase wine, they can only purchase once a day and, once they have purchased wine, they cannot purchase spirits or cask wine. Spirits are the same: it is one per person per day. And, if you come in and purchase spirits, you cannot purchase wine casks. For heavy beer and mid-strength beer and things like that, you do not need ID. They are open any hours.

Mr SNOWDON: I will come to the BDR in a moment, but where did this cheap wine come from last year?

Mr Jenkins : It came in from a company down in South Australia.

Mr SNOWDON: A wine distributor?

Mr Jenkins : Yes. They have also taken some proactive steps. They were the ones that came in in glass and now they are putting them in plastic. A major issue when it started was that we were selling a pallet of wine a week just at our premises, and similar around at others, and the amount of glass around town was just building up. So they put them in plastic. Aside from that, it was causing issues just because it was cheap and easy to drink.

Mr SNOWDON: Was it in litre bottles?

Mr Jenkins : No, it was in 750 millilitre bottles and it was $10 a bottle.

CHAIR: Clean skins, presumably.

Mr Jenkins : No, it had a label.

Mr SNOWDON: But cheap. You have talked about how you are limiting access to spirits and wine. What is your view about a floor price?

Mr Jenkins : In Tennant Creek there is pretty much already natural floor pricing. Our alcohol is a lot more expensive than anywhere else. We face several issues just getting it here and what we buy it for is probably more than people pay for it in Darwin anyway. So I think in Tennant Creek there is already natural floor pricing. If you buy a 30 pack of VB, you will pay $75 to $80. Even if a floor price did come in throughout the Territory it probably would not affect prices in Tennant Creek very much.

Mr SNOWDON: You said you are using an element of the BDR in that, if I wanted to buy a bottle of scotch, I would have to show my ID. Do you have a list of people who should not be allowed to buy?

Mr Jenkins : No. It does not distinguish people who used to be on the Banned Drinkers Register.

Mr SNOWDON: Just the process.

Mr Jenkins : It scans your ID. If you come back to the premises, or to another premises in town, it will come up as red—no sale.

Mr SNOWDON: So for this purpose you are using the same software that was there for the BDR?

Mr Jenkins : Yes.

CHAIR: And is that system for Indigenous people and for non-Indigenous people?

Mr Jenkins : Yes, it is for everyone. The BDR was not removed when the government changed. So we have pretty much utilised it the whole time for various things—other voluntary restrictions and stuff.

Mr SNOWDON: Do you think it has been an effective tool?

Mr Jenkins : Yes. It is definitely very handy to use at the moment. And previously I felt it was probably achieving more than what the APOs are going to achieve.

Mr SNOWDON: What has the impact been on the turnover in your own businesses as a result of these changes?

Mr Jenkins : There has been a significant downturn since TBL started—purely from a takeaway point of view. At our premises the majority of drinking is on premises. But I know through our bottle shop that there has been a significant downturn.

Mr Jenkins : What—15 per cent, 20 per cent?

Mr Jenkins : It would be more than that. In some months it is 30 per cent and in some months it is 40 per cent.

CHAIR: Because of these restrictions?

Mr Jenkins : Because of, mainly, the TBLs.

Mr SNOWDON: Are you getting more people inside, as opposed to takeaway? Is that part of your business improving?

Mr Jenkins : Not really. We have had more in these three-month trials because we are trying to promote more on premises drinking. But previous to this, no. Once the bottle shop opens, people go no matter what, whether they can get served or not. So we have not really had an increase in on premises sales.

Mr SNOWDON: What has been the general reaction of the community to the restrictions that have been put in place voluntarily?

Mr Jenkins : It is a mixture. The majority of it is positive—once people understand what the restrictions are and what they are for. For example, now we do not have any issues with the restrictions. People know what the restrictions are and when they can purchase certain things. That is from the accord restrictions. In terms of the TBLs, that is a completely different story.

Mr SNOWDON: Why is it a different story?

Mr Jenkins : Well, it depends on who you speak to. It is not really a coincidence that there are protests in Alice Springs, petitions in Tennant Creek and various news articles. The TBLs are very good in one way but in other ways they are dividing a lot of the community.

CHAIR: I will ask this question quickly: because Indigenous people think they are being targeted?

Mr Jenkins : Yes, they certainly feel targeted, and it is forcing some Indigenous people to leave Tennant Creek. I know numerous people who have gone to live in Mount Isa. The Mount Isa mayor last month complained that numerous people from Tennant Creek have gone and lived rough in Mount Isa now. It is not only that: to come through a bottle shop, particularly if you are an Aboriginal person, you have to go through a lot of questions to be able to get through that shop. It is forcing them to go drink out in the scrub, do whatever they can to really keep drinking. Instead of them drinking in town and being around family and maybe a house or something, they are either leaving town or they are out in the bush drinking.

Mr SNOWDON: Is there much black market grog?

Mr Jenkins : That is the other thing: it has increased grog running from my point of view. I wouldn't have the stats but I certainly know of cars that go to Mount Isa, load up and come back. That effect on the town alone—the economy is going out of the town but the issues are still coming back to the town.

Mr SNOWDON: In terms of your client base, is it changing? One of the issues we are trying to confront is the number of younger people who are trying to access alcohol. Has that been an issue for you?

Mr Jenkins : No, the majority of our clients would be 30-plus, so we don't really have an issue with young people drinking.

CHAIR: And men and women—what is the gender mix typically?

Mr Jenkins : It is probably reasonably can close to fifty-fifty.

Mr VAN MANEN: Is that different though for some of the licensees around town? Do they have a different clientele to you?

Mr Jenkins : Tennant Creek Hotel is predominantly Aboriginal clientele so, Memo, the Sporties and Goldfields are probably going to have completely different.

Mr SNOWDON: Can I ask how long you have been in the business?

Mr Jenkins : About three years.

Mr SNOWDON: Over that period, how would you see the changes—positively or negatively?

Mr Jenkins : It is a very strange environment at the moment with the TBLs. I think something is going to come to a head: either they are going to stop or I am not too sure. It is a very difficult environment and difficult to be running a licensed premises at the moment. When I first got here I was just worried about the business; now we get pressure from licensing police, government, public. We are very scrutinised at the moment running a licensed premise.

Mr SNOWDON: So if you were to go back to the BDR, would you see that as a positive or a negative thing?

Mr Jenkins : I would see it as a positive. I liked the BDR. I think it had a lot more scope to do more than what it was doing. I think the APOs are bit of a—we don't know who is on the APOs. Nobody does except police—

Mr SNOWDON: You can't restrict people.

Mr Jenkins : so if someone is on an APO comes to my premises—

Mr SNOWDON: You don't know them.

Mr Jenkins : I wouldn't know, so we would serve them.

CHAIR: There is reference to bomb threats in some of your core issues. Is that since—

Mr Jenkins : I saw that yesterday. I would never talk about bomb threats.

CHAIR: So that is not something that happens every day.

Mr Jenkins : No, it is certainly not.

CHAIR: How many police are actually involved in the TBLs?

Mr Jenkins : There will be one police officer at three of the takeaway venues.

CHAIR: So three police officers are involved all up?

Mr Jenkins : Yes. Sometimes on the busier days there might be two police officers at certain premises plus a van going around.

Mr VAN MANEN: The police haven't made any comment as to what impact that has had on crime or other antisocial behaviour around town.

Mr Jenkins : No, not as yet, but the TBLs pretty much ran in Alice Springs all of last year and they started mid-last year in Tennant Creek. With some of the issues they are causing, I don't think they are having enough effect on crime from my point of view.

Mr VAN MANEN: So is that going to be part of the reporting for the reference group?

Mr Jenkins : I am not too sure on the reference group. We have not had our first meeting yet.

Mr VAN MANEN: Through you, Chair, I would be interested to get a report on the results from the reference group.

Mr Jenkins : The accord and reference group are two different things.

CHAIR: The reference group has not got going yet.

Mr Jenkins : No. I think our first meeting is at the mid mark of this month.

Mr VAN MANEN: So the accord has been the one that has been doing the three months.

Mr Jenkins : The accord has been the one that has always done the voluntary stuff. The reference group has just started being formed.

Mr VAN MANEN: It would be interesting to get the results of the accord project.

CHAIR: Following on from that, who is on your accord? We know it is the people who are the licence holders. Do you have any Indigenous reference individuals or groups like the town camp leaders or something like that to bounce off in terms of your ideas?

Mr Jenkins : We have had various Indigenous groups come down. Basically the main point is just for the licensees to go along and have meetings but we do invite certain parties, like we have had Tjallallakurri and various other groups come down. Every few months we will invite someone to come down and make a presentation or speak to the accord about whatever they want to talk about.

CHAIR: So at the beginning when you decided on these various restrictions you did not bounce the idea off any of the Indigenous leaders see what they thought about it.

Mr Jenkins : No, it was just between the licensees, police and licensing.

Mr PERRETT: I am particularly interested in the 18- to 30-year-old group. You said you seem to be catering for an older group of drinkers. I am interested in where the 18 to 30s are drinking and where the under-18s are drinking, not that it is on safe premises obviously. From other inquiries we have heard that people are drinking younger and drinking more and drinking to excess. It is obviously not a controlled premises like a licensed premises. Would you like to make comment? It might be what you have heard.

Mr Jenkins : On a daily basis we will find that our clientele is 30-plus but on a Friday night, which is the only late trading night we have, we will find more young people come down. I think a big thing in Aboriginal culture is that sometimes even when they are 18, 19 or 20 they do not come down and mingle with the older heads of the families and stuff, so they tend to stay away. I know house parties and so on in Tennant Creek are probably a big thing.

Mr PERRETT: With takeaway alcohol at the premises.

Mr Jenkins : Yes. So we do see a lot of cars of younger people come through our bottle shop and I assume they are most likely drinking at home.

CHAIR: That is permissible in the town camps, it is not illegal to drink at home in the camps?

Mr Jenkins : I think the town camps are dry. There are certain homes also that have the no drinking signs.

CHAIR: So it is not actually lawful to drink in your home, in fact.

Mr Jenkins : No. I would say the majority of homes have the no drinking policy.

Mr PERRETT: Self-declared.

Mr Jenkins : Yes. So the homes that do not have them tend to be the party homes.

Mr SNOWDON: I am interested more in the consumption behaviour. People are moving from spirits and wine to full strength beer, presumably. What is your view of a volumetric tax, where you price by unit of alcohol, and how that might impact upon consumption patterns? The higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax.

CHAIR: Spirits would be taxed like mad and beer would not be so much.

Mr Jenkins : So similar to floor pricing.

Mr SNOWDON: A floor price is where you might declare the cost of a standard drink like beer. What is a pot worth?

Mr Jenkins : Seven dollars.

Mr SNOWDON: That is what it would be, $1.50 or whatever the price is. So you make the price—that is the equivalent, but you set that as a floor price: nothing would be lower than it. But a volumetric tax says, 'You may have a floor price but, in addition, the amount of alcohol in the drink will be taxed as per the unit of alcohol.' So if there is one unit of alcohol in a beer and there are four in a standard spirit drink, that will be four times the cost.

Mr Jenkins : Yes, it is very difficult. I am not too sure; I have not read enough about it. I know there are certain people that are big fans of these things. People are still going to drink, so it just depends how much money they have to spend on it.

Mr SNOWDON: I think the evidence, from when they had the wine cask levy here in the Northern Territory and subsequently where this work has been done, is that people's consumption behaviour has shifted: they have gone from spirits and strong wine to beer. So it has a similar impact to what you are doing but it is based not on restricting—well, they could have this other restriction, but it is based on the price of a unit of alcohol not on anything else. So people, because they have limited income or a limited budget for the purchase of alcohol, find they can buy more beer than they can—

Mr Jenkins : Last year, at the Tennant Creek hotel and in other premises, we agreed to just become a mid-strength-takeaway town. Unfortunately, not everyone on the accord agreed to it, so we could not implement that. I do see benefit. It is hard to get information from Borroloola—I know they are mid-strength—but I have seen reports from other towns in Western Australia on mid-strength. We do not want to force people to leave their homelands. I do not think mid-strength drives people out of town as long as they have still got controlled environments on premises where they can come and drink, and then if they want to get some takeaway they can get some mid-strength. So I would view that as being a good solution for Tennant Creek if it were implemented correctly. But I am not too sure about floor pricing and taxes; I have not really read enough about them.

Mr VAN MANEN: Mr Jenkins, one of the objectives of the accord is to discourage antisocial behaviour in and around licensed premises. In your view, how has that been achieved over the past three months? Have you seen that being achieved?

Mr Jenkins : Basically, not in the last three months, but we used to have banning notices: between all the licensed venues in town, any person who behaved inappropriately was put up for banning from all of the premises. Last year and the year before, at each meeting we would have maybe two to five people put up from various premises for banning notices, and they would get banned from all the licensed premises for three months to three years. But they have become sort of pointless with APOs and whatnot, because really we are just going to be doubly penalising people for no reason. So we have sort of stopped doing that. That was our own policing of antisocial behaviour around our premises, but now we are taking a backward step and we have left it to police with the APOs.

CHAIR: The ADO is the apprehended domestic violence order, isn't it?

Mr Jenkins : Sorry—the APO: it is the alcohol protection order.

Mr VAN MANEN: When all the licensed premises were doing this voluntarily, how was that working?

Mr Jenkins : It was very good. We still do our own banning on our own premises, but it was always a really good threat to use to someone to say, 'Listen, if you keep playing up you're going to get banned for a few years from every premises in town, so you need to pull your head in.' And most people did, though there might still be a person that needed to be, just because of what they did.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Jenkins. You will be given the transcript to correct if there are wrong spellings or facts, or places where we have misheard you in the transcript. So feel very free to change those. We do thank you most sincerely for coming along.

Mr Jenkins : No problem. Thank you.