Tackling alcohol misuse in indigenous communities is to be the focus of a new federal inquiry, despite early indications it would have a national focus.
Indigenous affairs minister Senator Nigel Scullion told ABC radio on Wednesday morning the federal government was planning a wide-ranging inquiry into alcohol-fuelled violence across the country – from downtown Sydney to remote outback communities.
“This sort of inquiry that can look at alcohol management measures in all its shapes and forms,” he told the ABC.
“[It] can inform us to make sure that the regulators and lawmakers across all the jurisdictions of Australia have the very best evidence under which to ensure that all our management plans in the future are effective and really change those negative aspects of alcohol consumption.”
However, the government later said there had been a misunderstanding, with a spokesman for Senator Scullion saying the inquiry would only look into alcohol misuse in indigenous communities.
Several high-profile incidents in metropolitan Australia, including the alleged assault on Daniel Christie in Sydney, have sparked debate about community safety and the extent to which alcohol causes violence.
Senator Scullion is in early talks with the chair of the House of Representatives’ standing committee on indigenous affairs Dr Sharman Stone, with alcohol-fuelled violence in indigenous communities to be considered for the inquiry’s terms of reference.
He says it will look at problems ranging from an evaluation of whether the Northern Territory’s scrapped Banned Drinker Register reduced harm from takeaway alcohol sales to reducing violence outside Sydney pubs.
Senator Scullion says the Commonwealth inquiry will try to take the heated politics out of how to tackle alcohol problems.
He says alcohol abuse is now so severe nationally that it is time for politicians to abandon one-eyed solutions.
“We become welded to one end of the spectrum and we have a polarised argument,” he said. “This [bipartisan inquiry] is the only way.”
In the Northern Territory, the Country Liberals Government and the Labor Opposition have been at each others’ throats defending their different approaches to tackling alcohol problems ranging from Indigenous communities to Darwin’s nightclub strip.
The Country Liberals are defending their mandatory rehabilitation policy, Labor, its now defunct Banned Drinker Register.
Meanwhile politicians in Sydney are also struggling to find solutions to worsening pub violence.
Two men recently became the first to be banned from dozens of venues in Sydney’s Kings Cross as part of a bid to reduce alcohol-fuelled violence.
A 34-year-old from Lakemba and a 43-year-old from Double Bay will be barred from Friday from 35 Kings Cross venues designated as high risk.
If they breach the 12-month orders the men face a fine of up to $5,500.
The orders can be made when a person is charged with or found guilty of an alcohol-related violent offence or is issued with three temporary banning orders within 12 months.
Lifetime bans in Qld
Late last year, the Queensland Government mooted lifetime bans for violent pub patrons.
Queensland’s Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said he “suspects” measures to crack down on alcohol-fuelled violence will be introduced early this year.
Along with the lifetime bans for patrons who become violent, the Attorney-General is considering identity scans for everyone entering licensed venues.
He said no decision had been made on the proposal but was confident they would would win public support.