Queensland Aboriginal councils are pushing for a relaxation of decade-old alcohol restrictions through a Palaszczuk government review, as grog-related violence jumps in the communities.
All 19 remote Queensland indigenous councils last month met a deadline for formal submissions to a review of the laws, which were rolled out in 2002 and toughened in the ensuring three years.
Just a handful of communities intend to stay dry.
The state’s Indigenous Affairs Minister, Curtis Pitt, said the process had started in earnest at a November meeting of indigenous mayors where he also raised concerns about increased violence in the past three years.
Former premier Campbell Newman in 2012 initiated the review of Aboriginal Management Plans that span from limiting the sale of takeaway alcohol in certain communities to total bans. The plans were introduced by the Beattie government to stem rising violence and dysfunction.
Mr Pitt said the government was committed to the changes, and new measures needed to be introduced to help stem violence.
“While alcohol is a significant contributor of misery in communities, I have said to the mayors that we can’t look at it in isolation and expect to achieve the results we want,’’ he said.
“The fact remains that alcohol-related harm rates are at unacceptable levels across Queensland’s 19 discrete communities.
“In fact, it increased over the past three years so we need to see that turn around soon.
“I have met with indigenous mayors multiple times (last) year and I have confirmed the Palaszczuk government’s commitment to these reforms
“But I have consistently stressed that the safety of all people — especially children, women and the elderly — must be able to be guaranteed.’’
The Cape York communities of Aurukun, which has experienced several outbreaks of street violence in recent months, and Wujal Wujal, near Cooktown, are among the few communities who want the bans to stay. Napranum, Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw and the five communities of the Northern Peninsula Area — all on Cape York — as well as Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Palm Island, off Townsville, have sought a relaxation of their restrictions.
Palm Island Mayor Alf Lacey said the council had lodged an application for the island’s management plan to be more flexible.
At present, residents can bring only a 30-can carton of light or mid-strength beer on to the island from the mainland.
Some alcohol can be purchased and consumed at the island’s sole licensed venue, the Coolgaree Bay Sports Bar and Bistro, and a limited amount can be bought and taken away.
Mr Lacey said the residents wanted the freedom to buy mid-strength spirits and wine on the mainland and to bring those drinks back to their island home.
The mayor — who pleaded guilty to a sly-grogging charge in 2013 and was fined $100 after being a passenger on a dinghy carrying illegal alcohol — said Palm Island was not advocating a return to “open slather”.
“The community wants a steady approach … with choice comes responsibility,” he said.
“I’d like to have a glass of wine on my back porch. It costs me an arm and a leg to enjoy what other mainland mayors can do.”
He said a relaxation of the management plan would help combat sly-grogging and stop the drug ice from finding a foothold in the community.
“We’ve got to find a balance (with the management plan) so people don’t opt to use other substances to damage families and communities.”
Palm Island resident Onslow Tanner, who has lived on the island all his life, told The Australian that he was not a big drinker, but he thought the management plan should be relaxed.
“I reckon everybody should at least be able to have a glass of wine on their own veranda,” Mr Tanner said.
He said there was a problem with sly-grogging, particularly with Palm Island residents making the dangerous trip in a dinghy loaded with alcohol from coastal Ingham at night.
The management plans were progressively introduced to mixed reactions in indigenous communities after a landmark report by corruption-fighter Tony Fitzgerald found that alcohol-fuelled violence, child abuse and neglect had been allowed to fester while local councils ran canteens.
Queensland government data from the communities from 2002-13 shows reported violence and hospitalisations decreased significantly in many, with child abuse notifications more than halving in parts of Cape York.
Opponents of the restrictions claim that the figures are not uniform and that in some townships, such as Cape York’s Mapoon, the number of hospitalisations through assault had actually risen during the period.