NAAJA calls on the NT Government to shelve its plans for mandatory rehabilitation and work with all relevant stakeholders to get alcohol policy right for the Territory.

“In the last few weeks we have heard a growing chorus of experts and groups working in this area speaking against the Government’s plans to lock up people with a drinking problem,” said Priscilla Collins, CEO of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency.

We believe the Bill will indirectly criminalise public drunkenness and discriminates against Aboriginal people. We do not believe the Bill is based on the best evidence.

We believe the Bill introduces a scheme of unjustifiably high cost at the expense of voluntary, preventive and community-based measures.

We believe this Bill will also put substantial additional strain onto the court and criminal justice system due to minor offending likely to arise as a consequence of the scheme.

The following are our key concerns with the Bill. A copy of our Submission which details these concerns in full can be found here.

People can be detained for up to 144 hourswaiting for assessment (cll 14, 17). A person can then spendup to 7 extra daysin detentionwaiting for the Tribunal’s decision (cll 20, 24, 31).The scheme therefore permits someone to be detained for up to 13 days before it determined they are eligible for treatment.
There is no guarantee that a person is informed of their rights in their language (cl 15). There is no guarantee that interpreters or communication aids are used to ensure people understand the purpose of their assessment (cl 19).
There is no guarantee a person can speak with a lawyer when they are admitted (cl 16).There is no right to legal representation in the Local Court (cll 51, 113). We strongly oppose this in light of the complexity of these proceedings (appeals can only be on questions of law), and the vulnerability of these individuals.
Detained persons can be charged for food and medication in detention (cl 70).
It is an offence to leave the treatment centre or to permit someone to leave (cll 72, 73).
There are excessive powers to use force and to apprehend detained persons (cll 75, 79).
Non-doctors can be appointed as senior assessment clinicians (cl 131).
A mandatory treatment order must not be made if the person is charged with an offence (cl 9). We are concerned this creates a perverse incentive for people to commit a minor offence to avoid mandatory rehabilitation.
The criteria for who is required to complete treatment are vague and broad(cl 10).
It is unclear on the face of the legislation that community treatment is to be preferred over residential treatment (cll 11, 12).
The Bill does not clarify or specify what the ‘aftercare plan’ is (cl 65).
The complaints procedure for the treatment centres is not clear (cl 82).

Copy of the Bill and its Explanatory Statement

Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill 2013
Explanatory Statement – Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill 2013
Second Reading Speech – Alcohol Mandatory Treatment Bill 2013
Further information on the Bill can be found on the Northern Territory Government’s Department of Health website

NAAJA’s response to the Bill in the media

‘Time to Stop and Re-think our Approach to Alcohol Policy in the Territory’ Media release 6 June 2013


Submissions on the Bill

NTLAC, CAALAS, NAAJA – joint submission
Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory submission  and Appendix
Law Society Northern Territory submission
NTCOSS submission
People’s Alcohol Action Coalition submission
CAAAPU NT submission
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights submission
Australian Human Rights Commission submission
Australian Professional Society on Alcohol and Other Drugs submission
ANTaR submission
Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education submission
Jesuit Social Services submission
WANADA WACOSS submission

In the media

Lauren Day, ‘Groups return serve on Chief’s “p*ss off” comment’ ABC News (Online) 24 June 2013
Sally Bothroyd, ‘Draft grog rehab laws take turn to lighter brew’ ABC News (Online) 14 June 2013
‘Doctors slam mandatory grog rehab laws’ (7 pm TV News NT)
Alyssa Betts, ‘AMA attacks mandatory grog rehabilitation laws’ ABC News (Online) 12 June 2013
Michael Coggan and Anthony Stewart, ‘Mandatory alcohol rehab scheme under siege’ ABC News (Online) 29 May 2013
Michael Coggan, ‘ACOSS attacks mandatory alcohol rehabilitation’ ABC News (Online) 28 May 2013

Evidence based solutions to alcohol abuse issues in the NT

Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT), Alcohol Policy Position Paper (January 2008)