New grog bans for Coober Pedy


Alcohol bans which could possibly be the toughest in the country are being imposed at Coober Pedy, to tackle what's been described as a grog crisis.  

The tiny South Australian mining town 850 kilometres north west of Adelaide has a small population, but a big drinking problem, with almost 40,000 casks and bottles sold there in 11 months.


Normally home to just 1700 people, Coober Pedy has become a magnet for drinkers escaping alcohol bans across the border in Northern Territory and Western Australia .


It's prompted a crackdown by Liquor and Gambling Commissioner Paul White.


From next Monday it's going to be a lot harder to get a drink in Coober Pedy.


"I've imposed a condition that says if you reside at one of the prescribed lands, which roughly speaking is the APY Lands, or some of the Northern Territory communities close to the South Australian border or Western Australia, then you cannot purchase take away alcohol from the outlets in Coober Pedy."


Liquor and Gambling Commissioner Paul White says while the focus is mainly on people from prescribed areas, they're not the only ones who'll be affected.


"Anyone suspected of travelling to those lands, those prescribed lands, cannot be sold liquor. Photographic identification is going to be required, there'll be a limit on the hours for take away from 11am to 8pm each day, and the sale of liquor such as wine, port wine and spirits will be limited to one 750 ml bottle per person per day."


And Mr White says the most popular drink in town will be forbidden.


"Cask wine will be banned. That is referred to in Coober Pedy as the drink of choice by a lot of people that come to Coober Pedy to buy take-away. So there'll be no sales of cask wine."


It's taken 18 months of consultations to get to this point, and while Paul White acknowledges liquor retailers weren't exactly happy with the changes, he says the community's social needs were the priority.


"I'm hopeful that these conditions will go towards making for a much safer environment for Coober Pedy and for the APY Lands and those other communities. Clearly the reason for the conditions is the overwhelming evidence that I've received that public safety, public order is a major, major concern within the communities and that something needs to be done to stem the supply of alcohol to these communities. They were seeking my support, if you like, to assist in reducing the inflow of grog into these communities."


Coober Pedy Mayor Steve Baines says the sheer scale of alcohol abuse has been taking a toll on health agencies, police and social services, struggling to deal with fighting, domestic violence, car accidents and illness.


"In the last 11 months there's been 18,200 casks of wine sold. Now we've got a population of 1700 people. That's 500 casks of wine per week, on top of 18,400 bottles."


Aboriginal leader George Cooley say the changes are courageous and potentially lifesaving.


As chairman of the Umoona Aboriginal Council, Mr Cooley is concerned services that are intended for locals are being stretched beyond capacity by outsiders.


"As the restrictions for the purchase and take away of alcohol that has happened in the Norther Territory, say from Alice Springs all the way down to the border and down to Marla, it sort of moved a lot of the people coming off the communities further north from us or even west of us, coming more and more into Coober Pedy to purchase alcohol. It caused an influx and overflow of people and we've spent years developing the community, building the infrastructure, building houses, building all our facilities and it's got more and more overused by other people."


Christopher Charles from the state's Aboriginal Legal service, thinks a statewide approach to alcohol management in indigenous communities is needed.


He's coordinating a summit, hopefully before the end of the year.


"The illnesses that people get, the alcohol related violence that flows from liquor getting into dry communities is really very severe and a very serious problem, and we think that an important impulse to stop this is to get a summit of all communities, get them all together at the same table and talking to government authorities about more effective rule to stop the liquor getting into dry communities because that's what they want."


However, there are also concerns that bans alone won't solve the cause of drinking, nor help those with addiction to kick the habit.


Greens MP Tammy Franks is concerned there is still no indigenous rehabilitation facility in the state, despite federal funding being allocated in 2007.


"This is almost literally like putting an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff. We need to have proper supports for people to not have problems with alcohol. Whether that's rehabilitation services, and we don't not have a single rehabilitation service specifically for Aboriginal people in this state, and whether that's all the other health and allied services that we need. We cannot fix the problem simply by these sort of bans - they are part of the solution, they are not the solution."


Commissioner White, a former Territory police officer who's seen the devastation alcohol brings, acknowledges some people might be concerned that the changes target indigenous people.


But he argues that's the point.


He says he will revisit the changes in six months, to gauge their effectiveness.


"Nobody would suggest there is a silver bullet answer to any of the conditions affecting some of these communities, and the unsafe environment in which they find themselves, however I believe that the conditions taken together will have an effect - we'll wait and see."


Two officers from the liquor licensing commission will be in Coober Pedy next week for the introduction of the new restrictions.


Posters in English and Pitjantjatjara are also on their way to the printer.




Source: World News Australia