By Ian Neubauer

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has taken a page out of former Prime Minister John Howard’s book and announced an indefinite suspension on the sale of alcohol on Mornington Island.

Located in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Mornington Island is home to a community of 1000 indigenous Australians living in conditions on par with thos of the Third World. The ban was sparked by a Christmas Eve rampage at the island’s Lelka Murrin Hotel that saw police attacked with rocks following a break in at the hotel and the subsequent arrest of 16 offenders.

“Every holder of a liquor license, whether they are in Brisbane or an Aboriginal community, has to meet certain standards,” Bligh told a news conference in the state’s capital last week. “Those standards are consistently not being met on Mornington Island.”

The hotel’s closure was followed with the implementation of voluntary restrictions on the sale of alcohol at the island’s second licensed premises, the Birri Resort, and the dispatch of additional police over fears the unavailability of grog could spark a riot on the island.

But the Mornington Island Council, which owns and operates the Lelka Murrin Hotel, claims the additional police presence is unwarranted. “There has been no violence since the closure of the tavern and it was very quiet before that,” said acting CEO Trevor Buising.

Yet information published by the Queensland Police media and public affairs branch suggests otherwise. Last year, a woman was pack-raped by a group of armed males on the island’s school grounds. A few months later a riot was narrowly avoided when a crowd of 60 people gathered at a street corner and began arguing with each other. The list of alcohol-related offences reported on the island is detailed and exhausting, culminating in the stabbing of a security guard posted outside the Lelka Murrin Hotel on January 15.

Premier Bligh’s office released a statement this week saying the suspension will only be lifted following the approval of a new nominee (the hotel’s publican resigned from his position on January 20); completion of repairs to the hotel required to ensure its safe operation; review and implementation of the house police ensuring the responsible service of alcohol; and an amendment of trading hours.

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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