New legislation rushed through parliament on a fortnight ago, primarily to expedite a decision on Darwin's proposed Dan Murphy's megastore, will also potentially fast-track decisions about the liquor license of two bottle shops in Palmerston.
Both the Palmerston applications, which include a Coles Group-owned Liquorland, will use existing licenses to open new bottle shops.
The applications were previously opposed by the Northern Territory Police and the City of Palmerston Council before being formally refused by the NT’s Independent Liquor Commission in 2019.
The CEO of Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance Northern Territory, John Paterson, told NITV News that it was the new legislation will impact Indigenous communities beyond just Bagot and Palmerston.
"We all know that the liquor consumption in the NT is a major problem, for the government to implement new legislation which rushes through decision making without any community vetting makes a mockery of the entire process. It's extremely disappointing," he said.
The introduction of the legislation will take the decision out of the hands of the Independent Liquor Commission, which was established as a decision-maker after the 2017 Riley Review called for greater transparency in the granting of liquor licenses in the NT.
The Commission previously rejected the Dan Murphy's store application in 2019, on the grounds that its location was inappropriate given its close proximity to several ‘dry’ Aboriginal communities.
Under the impending new legislation, there is no need for the decision-maker –the director of liquor licensing – to consider the community impact of the liquor store applications.
Sustained opposition from peak Indigenous health bodies and community leaders prompted the Woolworth’s Endeavour Group to announce last week – on the same day the bill was passed through parliament – that it would relocate its controversial Dan Murphy's megastore 1.6km further down the road to an alternate site.
Initially, the bill was only applicable to the Dan Murphy's application and the reinstatement of takeaway alcohol sales in the Tiwi Islands community of Pirlangimpi.
However, a last minute amendment before the Bill went before NT Parliment added the two additional controversial liquor license applications affecting Palmerston.
The Senior Policy Officer of Danila Dilba Health Service, Joy McLaughlin, told NITV News the primary concern around the new legislation was that an increase in alcohol supply anywhere in the NT would exacerbate the "existing high level of harm" caused by alcohol, particularly alcohol-related domestic violence.
"What is obvious is that we have achieved some early reductions in the Territory through implementations from the Riley Review. If these applications are rushed through …. we risk undoing these," Ms McLaughlin said.
At the time, more than 20 residents lodged formal objections to the proposed Palmerston liquor stores with the Independent Liquor Commission, citing concerns over the risk of public drunkenness and other unwanted related behaviour.
This was noted by the Independent Liquor Commission in its decision to reject the applications at the time. The Commission said the application would provide a convenient source of liquor for "problem drinkers" and increase "anti-social behaviour".
Mr Paterson said a decision to green-light the applications would undo good work and degrade public trust.
"The government ought to be ashamed of the decision they have made to speed this bill through parliament,” he said.
“The Labor government went to the last election promising honesty, transparency, and openness in the way they go about doing business. This makes a mockery out of that. Rushing through this new bill has instilled a great level of mistrust amongst the community who now have no say in the outcomes of these applications.”