Seeking to address issues of alcohol-related harm, the Northern Territory Government has introduced initiatives such as business security funding and the extension of an alcohol reduction trial in the Gove Peninsula.

On Wednesday, Chief Minister Eva Lawler announced that the NT Government will commit $8m to the Business Growth, Resilience and Security package, aimed at improving security for and reducing the impact of crime on Territory businesses.

Businesses can access Bizsecure grants to fund security items such as bollards, lockable fencing, security screens, stronger locks, trespasser alarms, sensor lighting, and secure window replacements. Free safety audits are also available, which can recommend other safety improvements such as CCTV or access fobs. The $8m in funding will be delivered over two years and will be included in this year’s Budget.

“I’m focused on delivering a comprehensive and common-sense plan to lower crime – that means investing in initiatives to prevent crime and also providing more support to Territory police than ever before,” Lawler said.

“The Business Growth, Resilience and Security package provides Territory businesses with a comprehensive suite of resources, support, and solutions to lower the impact of crime. We’re supporting businesses across the Territory to help them reduce the impact of crime and improve safety for their workers and customers.”

Retail Drinks Australia CEO Michael Waters was pleased to hear the NT government’s announcement.

“As part of our Safe to Serve industry responsibility initiative, we directly advocated for further funding to be given to BizSecure which was originally due to run out in June this year and we are pleased that the NT Government has taken this feedback on board.

“While this is a positive step, we would also urge the NT Government to allow businesses to make use of the funding in a way which best meets the security challenges of their individual businesses. In this way, it is important to ensure that there is flexibility involved in determining the appropriate security measures which are eligible for funding, such as the provision of security guards where needed,” he said.

The announcement follows a period of unrest in Alice Springs, with the curfew ending earlier in the week. Many groups concerned about alcohol abuse and alcohol-related violence in the area, such as the Hon. Marion Scrymgour, Minister for Lingiari, who renewed calls for a liquor license buy-back in Alice Springs last week, according to reports by the ABC. This followed a standstill in negotiations between the NT Government and Lhere Artepe Enterprises regarding the buy-back of its three take-away liquor licenses.

The liquor license buy-back scheme was first announced in March last year and was supported by organisations such as the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliances Northern Territory (AMSANT), People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

At the time of the announcement, AMSANT Acting CEO Dr Donna Ah Chee said that reducing the availability of alcohol would help protect the Aboriginal community.

“We hope to see many operators of these businesses sign up to the scheme. We need to be doing all we can to prevent our families and communities from the many harms from alcohol and companies and retailers need to also take responsibility for their role in driving this harm.

“Reducing the number and density of places where alcohol is sold is an evidence-based measure to reduce alcohol harm and we welcome this action by the Territory Government,” she said.

NAAJA CEO Dr John Paterson said that the amount of alcohol available in the Northern Territory was excessive.

“We welcome this effort by the Territory Government to address the substantial harm caused by the inappropriate density of liquor outlets. We also think that more needs to be done to ensure that we’re tackling the obscene amounts of liquor licences that exist across the Territory which are driving this harm,” he said.

While supportive of any retailers wishing to sell their liquor license back to the government, Retail Drinks’ Waters is sceptical that a license buy-back would solve issues of unrest in Alice Springs.

“The causes of the unrest in Alice Springs are extremely complex and no liquor licence buy-back, regardless of licence category, will ultimately solve these ongoing issues. While alcohol is one contributing factor, it is not the causal factor so the focus must be on the underlying, multi-faceted problems across the region.

“The vast majority of licensed businesses continue to sell alcohol responsibly and in strict accordance with all local laws and regulations, and Retail Drinks supports their right to retail responsibly. Any decision for one of these businesses to sell their licence back to the government is entirely at the prerogative of the individual business owner and we would encourage the NT Government to enter these negotiations in good faith.

“Retail Drinks is focused on continuing to ensure that liquor policy decisions are sensible, balanced, and evidence based,” he said.

Additionally, the NT Government has announced a further 12-month extension of an alcohol reduction trial managed by the Gove Peninsula community, following six months of initial success.

Introduced in October last year, the trial aims to reduce secondary supply of alcohol (purchased from non-licensed persons), as well as address rising rates of alcohol-related crime and domestic and family violence across the Gove Peninsula.

The announcement has been met with support from Aboriginal community leaders, including Rirratjingu leader, Mandaka Marika and Gumatj leader, Djawa Yunupingu.

“Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation supports extending the trial for a further 12 months and setting a maximum take-away limit to reduce secondary supply of alcohol,” Marika said.

“We are supportive of extending the permit system trial for better local alcohol management as we have seen the damages alcohol causes too often. We are taking actions to build a better future for this region, and we hope all community members understand the role they have to play in this challenging enterprise,” Yunupingu said.

The trial sets a daily limit on the amount of takeaway alcohol able to be purchased, with volumes varying by the permit holder’s tier and location within the Gove Peninsula. The trial was initially intended to end in March of this year.

Initial data indicates a drop in the sale of spirits, fewer alcohol-related assaults, and a reduction in alcohol-related presentation at the Gove District Hospital Emergency Department. The trial’s extension will not only allow these harm reduction strategies to stay in place but will also enable the collection of further data to determine the effectiveness and broader applicability of the trial.

Minister for Alcohol Policy Brent Potter spoke positively about the trial’s initial results.

“Curbing alcohol related harm is essential to building a better future for communities. The Territory Labor Government is optimistic with the results recorded over the first six months of this trial and we hope the next 12 months continue on an upwards trajectory.

“Well done to the Gove Peninsula Harmony Group who have been leading this trial, this is the exact partnership required with communities to make real long-term change,” he said.

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