In May 2013, Northern Territory Business Minister David Tollner announced the government will introduce tough new alcohol protection orders to reduce crime across the Territory. The orders will be introduced under the Liquor Act and will support the government’s target of a 10 per cent reduction in crime and further strengthen the tools available to NT Police in responding to alcohol-related offences, including domestic violence, Mr Tollner said.

An Alcohol Protection Order will prevent a person from possessing or consuming alcohol or attending licensed premises, other than for work or for place of residence. It can be issued to any person who is charged with an offence carrying a minimum penalty of six months imprisonment or more, where alcohol was a factor (including offences under the Traffic Act). These orders can be issued for three, six or 12 months – three months for the first offence, six months for a second offence and 12 months for a third or subsequent offence.

The Government has said they are looking at requiring persons subject to Alcohol Protection Orders to wear GPS bracelets so they can be tracked to see if they go to a licenced premises.

The Alcohol Protection Orders Bill is to be introduced in the NT Parliament on 28 November 2013. You can read the Bill here.

The Chief Minister was reported in the NT News on 6 November to say that there were no plans to amend the legislation before it is passed. This could well happen given the Government’s Parliamentary majority.

The Government has no consultation process in place.

NAAJA is calling for the Bill to be scrapped, or at the least, to be subject to rigorous community consultation and expert consideration before being passed.

NAAJA has a number of concerns about the Bill. Locking up people with an addiction is not the way to do it. The bill is contrary to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 and would re-criminalise public drunkenness.

We are also concerned that the Bill will disproportionately affect Aboriginal people in the NT who are already far more likely to have encounters with the justice system, and to be targeted by police.

Our concerns include that the Bill:

  • ignores what health experts say about alcoholism. An alcoholic will not stop drinking because they are placed on an APO: all it will do is send more people to jail
  • gives Police far-reaching powers usually reserved for courts. Police will be able to ban people from drinking if they have charged them with an offence involving alcohol.
  • covers not just serious offences, but almost all criminal offending. Qualifying offences include loitering, disorderly behavior in a public place, or high and medium range drink driving
  • applies where a police officer believes the person was ‘affected by alcohol’ at the time of the alleged offence. ‘Affected by alcohol’ sets a very low threshold – is a person who has had a few drinks ‘affected by alcohol’?
  • allows a police officer who reasonable believes that an adult is subject to an APO to search the person without a warrant. This is an unacceptably broad power.
  • The process for reconsideration and review of decisions to make an APO are inadequate. The 3 day timeframe to make an application for is far too short, particularly given that the application must be made in writing.

Concerns have also been raised about unintended consequences of the Bill. An alcohol protection order prohibits a person from possessing or consuming alcohol, or from entering or being in licensed premises. Many local supermarkets in the Northern Territory are licensed premises because they sell take-away alcohol. In some cases, the Bill means that those subject to orders will not be able to go to their local supermarket to do their shopping. The Government has said that they “do not care” if that’s the consequence for a person having an order against them.

NAAJA and CAALAS wrote on 30 October 2013  to the Government and others to raise our concerns about the Bill. We issued this media release.

Others have also raised concerns about the Bill, including the Criminal Lawyers Association of the NT and the Aboriginal Peak Organisations of the Northern Territory.

On 19 November 2013, the Australian National Council on Drugs’ National Alcohol Action Plan. The Plan draws on numerous expert reports and gives evidence-based recommendations on how to reduce alcohol related harm in Australia. You can read the Plan here.

NAAJA has produced a clause-by-clause analysis of the APO Bill and sent it to Government MLAs, the Opposition and the Independent Member, Gerry Wood.