• Noel Pearson says alcohol management plans can help empower communities to take control over their own lives. (AAP)Source: AAP
Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson addresses a public hearing in Brisbane that seeks to reduce imprisonment and recidivism.
Ella Archibald-Binge

10 May 2019 - 1:19 PM  UPDATED 10 May 2019 - 1:19 PM

Alcohol management plans (AMPs) are critical to reduce violence and crime in remote Indigenous communities, Cape York lawyer Noel Pearson has told an inquiry in Brisbane. 

Mr Pearson was one of several speakers at today's final public hearing in the Queensland Productivity Commission's inquiry into imprisonment and reoffending. 

He says while high rates of offending are rooted in historical and structural injustices towards First Nations people, the immediate influence of alcohol and drugs cannot be ignored.

"We are not a criminal people. We are not criminals. And yet how come we’re 27 per cent of the jail population in this state?" he said at the inquiry on Friday.

"We’ve got to focus on the proximate drivers – alcohol, and the high rates of offending that alcohol gives rise to."

The Cape York Institute Director says substance abuse issues began in 1985, when the state government opened alcohol canteens in remote Indigenous communities. 

"The funding of local government in Aurukun from 1985 was through the livers and the kidneys and the bodies of the people of Aurukun," he said. 

Mr Pearson said the problem "raged" for 20 years, producing a generation of children born into violence, before the canteens were shut down and alcohol management plans were introduced in the early 2000s. 

The Queensland government is currently reviewing AMPs, which operate in 19 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the state. 

Mr Pearson says communities should have moral ownership of the plans. 

He also suggested that local Indigenous councils should receive incentive payments, based on their ability to reduce harm in their communities.

"They should be funded on the basis of their performance in reducing harm – school attendance, hospital presentations, court appearances, breaches of alcohol management plans," he said.

"Incentive payments should be generous, should be flexible… and really get the mindset away from just managing the harm in the community - and exacerbating it in my view, in a lot of ways - to one of actually, our fate as a council is dependent on us bringing those numbers down."

'Rack and stack' model in overcrowded Queensland prisons

The union for correctional staff also addressed the inquiry, lifting the lid on the "pressure cooker environment" inside Queensland prisons as a result of overcrowding. 

Together Queensland's Director, Michael Thomas, says any attempt at rehabilitation is "fundamentally undermined" by overcrowding. 

"Corrections is in crisis," he said. "We have every male centre in the state overcrowded by 130 per cent-plus."

Mr Thomas said prisoner-on-prisoner assaults were "through the roof", multiple prisoners were forced to share single-person cells, and there weren't enough tables and chairs for inmates to sit during meal times. 

He said the system had gone from a rehabilitation model to a "rack and stack" model, which was essentially creating criminals. 

"We are locking up more people than we are able to safely and properly house and rehabilitate," he said.

"Engagement is down, assaults are up, they are constantly worried that they’re going to be the next victim.

"So we’re sending them out into the community where there has been no rehabilitation.

"We're brutalising people."

The Queensland Productivity Commission will submit its final report to the state government in August. 

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