During campaigning in 2012 I said we should not have to suffer humbugging in our parks. At the time I was channelling the community frustration I was hearing.
One of the most enduring and frustrating issues I have faced in my term as Lord Mayor is antisocial behaviour. And that frustration continues.
It is well known what a major impact alcohol misuse has in our community. Not just the City Centre but across the Territory and nation.
There is no easy fix. No magic bullet.
Currently, no agency or organisation has the mandate or resources to respond to all of the issues in isolation.
As a local government, the most effective thing we can do, and continue to do, is advocate for policy change, increased services and to maintain the resolve, patience and energy to work strongly together.
A community is judged by how we treat our most vulnerable. It is well documented that the NT has the highest rate of homelessness in the nation. Safe shelter facilities and social housing are critical. We have a way to go as a region to provide what is most needed.
It’s essential we continue to work with all levels of Government and the broader community to deliver humanitarian responses that include shelter, health and support.
What action have I taken?
No matter how much I may personally want to effect change, it is not a problem that I alone can solve.
For the last 5 years, I have advocated strongly to successive NT Governments that they need to address the issue of safe shelters and accommodation; the need for 24 hour sobering up shelters that operate 7 days a week along with a well-resourced day and night patrol that is able to assist vulnerable people with whatever is needed.
I led Council’s work to set up a multi-pronged program to do all we can to respond to alcohol harm as best we can as one organisation.
Like many of you, I have long advocated for the Banned Drinker Register (BDR) to return and I welcome that recommencing.
Supply reduction is a key lever in reducing alcohol harm. We have the highest density allocation of liquor outlets in the country. For real change to happen, we need to address supply.
Some of my personal thoughts for solutions
I have given a great deal of consideration to this huge problem that continues to frustrate me.
My ideas for a solution include:
- A buy back of take away licences
- Safe shelters for visitors and people sleeping rough
- Operation of sobering up shelter(s) that, at minimum, align with the hours alcohol is available.
These of course, are not areas that local government can control. But they are things that I will advocate for.
What the City of Darwin is doing
City of Darwin has led the way with our Safer Vibrant Darwin 2016-2019 Plan. A landmark document developed from deep community consultation. This plan established the rationale for the Darwin Safer City program which saw Council invest $520,000 each year for 3 years.
Utilising the plan we are working in the areas where we have a role to play in a practical manner:
- Assertive Outreach Team links rough sleepers to existing services such as health, transportation and shelter.
- Community Safety which provides advice; utilising CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design); to businesses and residents on what actions they may take to make their premises safer.
- Strong collaborative working arrangements through the Public Places Services Collaboration Group.
- Public Place activation through the Faces in Spaces project.
- Supply reduction advocacy through liquor licence applications and federal and territory submissions.
We’ve invested over $500K per year for the past 3 years and with dedicated people on the ground have been able to create partnerships and work in a more coordinated way.
Our response has been solid but visible change will only come with policy and legislative change.
Despite the Council investing significantly in programs to deal with some of the causes of this behaviour, we continue as a community to experience these issues.
A Practical Approach
The Federal Government needs to recognise and review the impact of welfare reforms on our most vulnerable. This is not a case of what works in Redfern works in Wadeye.
I believe it is essential that we continue to work with all levels of government and the broader community to advocate for the delivery of reasonable and effective responses to the problem.
A Territory Wide Problem
We have a problem, not just in the CBD but across the Territory. Alcohol and drug abuse is a symptom of this despair.
All three levels of government and the community need to work together to address the issues, to restore self-esteem and pride. I applaud the work that NTG is doing in the regions to increase the housing stock.
I think it is great that the BDR (Banned Drinkers Register) is coming back. It is not enough.
The problems we face in our City, as a result of alcohol abuse, are not going away anytime soon. As a community, we must work together for a long term solution.
As Lord Mayor, I am committed to advocating and working with all levels of Government and our community to try to achieve better, practical, positive outcomes for everyone.
If you are interested in this issue, I urge you to visit the NT Government Alcohol Review consultation information page to learn more about what is being done.