Indigenous organisations have called for effective community consultation as the federal government launches a new inquiry into alcohol consumption in Indigenous communities. 
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19 Feb 2014 - 2:56 PM  UPDATED 19 Feb 2014 - 6:51 PM

(Transcript from World News Radio)

Indigenous organisations have called for effective community consultation as the federal government launches a new inquiry into alcohol consumption in Indigenous communities.

The parliamentary inquiry was initially intended to look at alcohol-related violence across the country but has now been narrowed to deal specifically with Indigenous communities.

Some Indigenous health groups are hopeful the inquiry could lead to more effective strategies to tackle alcohol abuse, providing Indigenous communities are properly engaged as part of the process.

Michael Kenny reports.

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The inquiry is to be conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, chaired by Liberal MP Sharman Stone.

 

It will look at the patterns of supply and demand for alcohol in Indigenous communities and the incidence of alcohol-fuelled violence.

 

The inquiry will also examine how alcohol impacts upon unborn and newborn babies and what approaches have worked in other countries to combat alcohol abuse.

 

The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Senator Nigel Scullion, has told NITV the government is not trying to single out Indigenous Australians as the only group that has problems with alcohol.

 

"This is about poverty, not ethnicity. But I acknowledge that there have always been and we have never really seen a break, particularly in reports of domestic violence, defence injuries, alcohol, deaths through alcohol.... through cars....and violence."

 

Senator Scullion says the inquiry will also look at how socio-economic background could be linked to alcohol abuse.

 

The opposition Labor Party in the Northern Territory is critical of the inquiry, saying it's "insulting" towards Indigenous Australians.

 

However, some Indigenous organisations believe it could be a step in the right direction towards tackling alcohol abuse.

 

Dr John Boffa is the medical officer with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and has worked in the Indigenous health field for over 20 years.

 

He has told NITV he believes an investigation into Indigenous alcohol abuse is long overdue.

 

"This is a useful inquiry. Alcohol problems are obviously very prevalent in Aboriginal communities. But I think if the inquiry is done well, it's got the potential to provide some solutions that will address alcohol misuse, not just amidst Aboriginal people but amongst the broader population as well."

 

That's a view shared by the chairman of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation Justin Mohamed.

 

Mr Mohamed believes the inquiry is a good opportunity to examine what policy approaches have worked or haven't worked at combating alcohol abuse in Indigenous communities.

 

Alcohol restrictions have been in place in remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, parts of the Kimberley region in Western Australia and in Cape York in Queensland for a number of years.

 

However Mr Mohamed believes it is critical to ensure that any scrutiny around these policies is underpinned by consultation and engagement with the Indigenous communities themselves.

 

"You need to look at the community. You need to engage the community in the initiatives and the things that can work have to be owned and obviously embraced and I think once you achieve that, the more successful things that I've seen, heard about and read about have been ones where there's been some real leadership from within the community and from the leaders and organisations that are obviously providing services and looking after their community interests."

 

Mr Mohamed says while previous government inquiries have looked at social problems like domestic violence in Indigenous communities, it is the first time an inquiry has focused specifically on alcohol abuse.

 

He says it is pleasing to see that the inquiry will look at what strategies have worked in Indigenous communities in other countries, saying Australia could learn a lot from that.

 

"Like Canada and New Zealand- obviously there would be things happening around alcohol and how they can manage that and make sure that the community is not affected at levels that are unacceptable. You would have to look internationally as well to make sure that you get a really good idea on what is out there and what does work and how that has worked over the years."

 

The inquiry has called for public submissions to be made by April 17.