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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1550


Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (18:54): I rise today to talk about the appalling levels of domestic violence in the Northern Territory and the clear links to alcohol. Let me state for the record that I do support the responsible use of alcohol. Like most Australians, I too enjoy a social drink on occasions, but I stand here tonight to remind some of you—and perhaps inform others—that alcohol-related violence and crime is one of the biggest issues in the Northern Territory, and has been for decades.

The approach by the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory to tackle alcohol abuse is simply not effective at addressing the devastating antisocial aspects of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse in the Northern Territory is causing untold grief and despair. It is ripping families apart. Sadly the victims of this abuse are mainly women, and tragically mainly Aboriginal women. Our women, my sisters, are being bashed and killed at an alarming rate. It is getting worse, and the links to alcohol have never been clearer.

I'll briefly outline some of the shocking statistics before I discuss ideas that may help address the problem. In the last year there were 7,674 assaults in the Northern Territory, and 4,627 of them were domestic violence assaults. Around the same number, 4,631, were linked to alcohol abuse. These are only the assaults that are reported to police, and, as we all know, many go unreported. A recent report on domestic violence in the Northern Territory by KPMG found that only 18 per cent of domestic violence cases in the Northern Territory are not related to alcohol and drugs. That means four out of five domestic violence cases involve alcohol and drugs. That statistic should indicate just how serious a problem this is in the Northern Territory.

On a population basis, these rates of assault and violence are by far the highest of anywhere in the country. The Northern Territory Children's Commissioner, Howard Bath, has revealed statistics that show that Aboriginal women are 80 per cent more likely to be hospitalised for assault than a non-Indigenous woman. I'm going to repeat that: an Aboriginal woman is 80 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of assault than any other woman. This is shocking, and Howard Bath makes it clear where the blame lies. He said, 'Alcohol is the worst factor by a country mile'.

Things are not improving; they are getting worse. The previous Labor government in the Northern Territory, with Paul Henderson as Chief Minister, undertook a vast array of initiatives in relation to domestic violence and alcohol. The two most courageous—and most effective, I believe—were the mandatory reporting of domestic violence and the Banned Drinker Register, commonly known as the BDR. Mandatory reporting of domestic violence may not sound courageous and it may sound obvious, but the requirement for doctors and nurses to report suspected domestic violence does have the potential for women to avoid, or be prevented from, seeking medical attention for domestic violence related assaults.

It was not a decision made lightly, but it was the right decision because we need people to speak out. We need domestic violence to be reported, and reporting rates have increased in recent years, which has been a good thing. Mandatory reporting of domestic violence was supported by both side of politics in the Northern Territory, and I am glad that the CLP government has kept it in place. But I am not glad that they have scrapped the Banned Drinker Register. In a rare show of unity, the BDR brought the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and Mr Abbott together when earlier this year they both opposed the CLP government's decision to scrap it.

The BDR was innovative and courageous. People convicted of alcohol related offences were placed on the BDR, and every takeaway alcohol point of sale in the Territory was electronically linked to the register to prevent these people from purchasing alcohol. Police describe the BDR as the best tool they had to fight violent crime. But, in coming to government in August last year, the CLP government went against the advice of the Northern Territory Police and so many others and scrapped the register completely. The CLP said that the requirement for everyone to show ID was too great a burden. The Northern Territory's Deputy Chief Minister, Dave Tollner, said that having to show ID treated all Territorians like criminals. He completely disregarded the point that it actually protected people by preventing criminals from purchasing alcohol. He completely ignored the fact that most people were already voluntarily handing over ID when using their credit cards or loyalty cards when purchasing alcohol. Around 2,500 problem drinkers were on the BDR when it was scrapped—all free to drink again. Of course, the BDR did not absolutely guarantee that they did not have any access to alcohol. But it absolutely made it harder. Now we will have no definitive statistics on whether the BDR actually reduced consumption of alcohol because, without explanation, the Northern Territory government has refused to release alcohol wholesale data. And for the same reason we do not know if alcohol sales have increased since it was scrapped. But there is a great belief in the sector that the reason the government will not release the data is that it will show the effectiveness of the BDR in reducing alcohol sales.

What we do know is that the Northern Territory Police said it was best tool that they had for tackling alcohol related violence and crime. What we do know is that alcohol related assaults have increased by 11 per cent since it was scrapped and domestic violence has gone up by 15 per cent since it was scrapped, and admissions of drunks to our emergency departments in hospitals have greatly increased as a result.

But the increase has not been uniform across the Northern Territory. In fact, there is a tale of two towns, Nhulunbuy and Tennant Creek, both Territory towns with similar characteristics. They both have roughly the same population, they are remote and both serve as regional centres for outlying communities. But there is one key difference. Tennant Creek has eight times the rate of domestic violence of Nhulunbuy, so two similar towns but one has eight times as many women being bashed. In the last year there were 496 cases of domestic violence in Tennant Creek. There were only 61 in Nhulunbuy. A dramatic difference, but why? Nhulunbuy still effectively has the BDR; Tennant Creek does not. You cannot buy takeaway alcohol in Nhulunbuy without showing ID. And problem drinkers are banned. But in Tennant Creek there is nothing to stop anyone purchasing as much alcohol as they want whenever they like. The tap is back on and the rivers of grog are flowing again. And in just the first 12 months since the BDR was scrapped domestic violence in Tennant Creek increased by 47 per cent. I am not sure what more evidence is needed to prove that access to alcohol and domestic violence are clearly linked. The Northern Territory government have confirmed that they will keep the restrictions in place in Nhulunbuy. It defies common sense that they would not consider doing the same in Tennant Creek and other areas of the Territory where alcohol is causing such devastation.

The importance of the BDR is that it made it physically more difficult for a banned drinker to have access to alcohol. For years people have been legally banned from drinking alcohol via domestic violence orders and bail conditions but the evidence shows that when alcohol is freely available then these legislative bans have little effect. If we are to be serious about tackling domestic violence in the Northern Territory, then alcohol must be controlled at the point of purchase. While we are not doing this we are not taking the bashings and the deaths seriously. We have the technology to do this. But we are not using it.

By no means is domestic violence just an Indigenous issue. Non-Indigenous domestic violence tends to occur more behind closed doors and out of sight. And the violence in the Territory has not just been confined to domestic violence. Recently in Darwin we have seen the violent deaths of two men in our premier entertainment precinct and our most popular shopping centre. This is why I have advocated the need for us to look at the Newcastle lock-out model. Any model that reduces violence must be looked at.

Vince Kelly, who is not only the head of the Northern Territory Police Association but also the President of the Police Federation of Australia, supports the Newcastle model. When the man who speaks on behalf of the nation's 56,000 police officers says that something is working to cut crime then I believe it should be looked at. Vince Kelly has also spoken against the scrapping of the BDR. He should be listened to. And I know many Aboriginal men who are extremely concerned about the rates of domestic violence; they are embarrassed by it—a shame job, as we call it in the Northern Territory. There is a great willingness to tackle domestic violence. But until we tackle alcohol properly we are not taking it seriously. Women are being bashed and killed. Let's use the tools we have to try and stop it. Let's do what works.