Aboriginal community controlled medical group wants politics taken out of alcohol debate


Interview with AMSANT CEO John Paterson

Listen to ABC radio interview full story

TONY EASTLEY: The peak body for Aboriginal-run health services in the Northern Territory wants governments to take the political point scoring out of Indigenous affairs.

Yesterday the Prime Minister said she feared the rivers of grog were returning in the Northern Territory, partly because the Country Liberals Government there had scrapped a policy for alcohol offenders.

The chief executive of the medical services group says too often Indigenous affairs are only mentioned in the lead-up to elections.

Sara Everingham reports from Darwin.

SARA EVERINGHAM: John Paterson is the chief executive of the group which represents Aboriginal-controlled medical services in the Northern Territory.

He welcomes the national attention on alcohol-related harm in the territory but hopes it’s not short-lived.

JOHN PATERSON: It’s unfortunate that these sorts of issues tend to get more attention in the lead-up of elections. Within our sector and the people at the coal face, governments need to be reminded that these people deal with these sorts of issues, alcohol-related and other issues, on a day to day basis. They don’t come around every election cycle.

SARA EVERINGHAM: What were health workers in the Northern Territory telling you about the Banned Drinker Register?

JOHN PATERSON: The feedback we’ve been getting from our clinicians and general people in the community is that there has been an increase of humbug again. I’ve had representation to me personally by mums with kiddies saying since the dismantling of the Banned Drinkers Register it’s back to what it was prior to the introduction of the BDR in that money was being used to purchase alcohol and kids left hungry and going to school with no school lunch.

SARA EVERINGHAM: Under the Banned Drinker Register anyone buying take-away alcohol had to show photo ID so retailers could check whether customers were on a banned drinker list.

When the Country Liberals came to power last August they fulfilled their election promise of scrapping the scheme. The Territory Government argues the register did not stop alcohol offenders getting access to grog.

John Paterson says the Banned Drinker Register should have been evaluated before it was dropped.

JOHN PATERSON: Unfortunately there wasn’t a review, an evaluation undertaken during the implementation of the Banned Drinkers Register so we can only go on anecdotal evidence that we’ve received and some of the statistics that we’ve been able to get from other service providing agencies including hospitals and other organisations.

And I think there’s some element of truth there when I was approached by families saying, you know, that the clock’s been turned back.

SARA EVERINGHAM: John Paterson says the Banned Drinker Register should be reinstated but is not a silver bullet.

He’s repeated his call for the federal and territory governments to commit to a minimum price on alcohol and he wants more funding for long term programs such as rehabilitation for alcohol addicts.

JOHN PATERSON: We also need to ensure that there’s appropriate services and programs funded and governments’ commitment to ensuring that those programs and services are funded on a realistic basis, not six month, 12 month piecemeal timelines.

These are long term social problems that we all face and we all have a responsibility for.

TONY EASTLEY: John Paterson from the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the Northern Territory ending Sara Everingham’s

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