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Alcoholism among Aboriginals

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1 The Government and its various agencies, including the Department of . Aboriginal Affairs, is not underestimating the magnitude of the problem of alcoholism in Aboriginal communities'-, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Viner, said today. .

Mr Viner said the inference in the press that his Department was inactive and underrated the seriousness of the situation was due to part of. a submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs being inadequately quoted.

The Submission on which the.assumption of disinterest was made was on the subject of Aboriginal health in which a short general reference was made to alcohol. The paragraph, in full, reads: ·

'Alcohol related illnesses have been the subject of a detailed field study by the Committee and extensive additional comment is not therefore warranted. Alcohol problems amongst -

Aboriginals are highly visible and Aboriginals suffer certain disadvantages before the law in relation to alcohol consumption--" as an offence. We view with caution more extreme claims about . the.extent of Aboriginal alcoholism. Consumption is often

associated with only intermittent residence on the edge: of towns. Treatment of alcohol abuse symptoms may frequently prove ineffective because of the probable relationship of this problem to psycho-social factors such as those arising from dis-possession and dispersal. There is an urgent need to promote Aboriginal measures for alcohol control.*

It is important that extreme criticisms of Aboriginal drinking be treated with caution to counter inferences so often drawn that Aboriginals are natural alcoholics.

The Department's concern is to properly identify specific situations and treat them with well planned and properly mounted programs.

The Minister said the Commonwealth Department of Health considered alcohol and drug abuse as one of the major health problems facing Australia today. In Aboriginal situations, he said, the problem was compounded by the very serious social disintegration which alcoholism caused.

Western society, he said, vzas at least aware, through its history and culture, of the dangers of excessive drinking.. Aboriginal society on the other hand was vulnerable because alcohol had played no part in traditional, culture or lifestyle. Drinking had not been part of their world and in * * ; traditional society there were no social guidelines to cope with it. .


Nevertheless, Mr Viner said, Aboriginal people throughout Australia had shown remarkable resolve in rehabilitating themselves and · kicking the drink habit. Supportive services, run by Aboriginals and founded on their own initiatives, had been receiving solid .

financial support from the Government to sustain the work among their own people. This support would continue to enable Aboriginals to develop their own voluntary controls and preventative and remedial measures. This, he said, was where the hope lay - in the Aboriginal people’s demonstrated ability to help themselves. He added:

"The introduction of a policy of prohibition in communities which desire it, as recommended by the Standing Committee, is one which requires more careful consideration of the depth and spread of the problem.

"Changes would have to be made to Commonwealth and Northern Territory legislation before such action could be implemented." .

The Minister said that eight other recommendations of the Standing Committee had been endorsed in principle, three others are awaiting advice from Attorney-General's Department on legal aspects and another had been overtaken by referral of certain questions of Aboriginal customary law to the Law Reform Commission. .

The Minister said that whatever decisions were finally made, the rights of Aboriginals as Australian citizens with freedom to choose their way of life, would not be forgotten. He foresaw the problems of alcoholism being eventually overcome by Aboriginal communities _/ themselves by whatever means they chose. In this regard they would" get the fullest support possible from the Government which recognised that alcohol abuse could not be isolated from the generally depressed

socio-economic conditions of Aboriginals.

2 November 1977 Canberra, ACT