The scheme has been criticised by the Opposition and a number of bodies, including the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service and the Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory. These bodies consider the scheme will put additional pressure and expense on the courts and the prisons. Independent Member for Nelson, Gerry Wood, has also spoken out about the scheme, calling it ‘gammon’ — a Territory colloquialism meaning ‘fake’.
The main criticism of the scheme is that it will effectively criminalise alcoholism and fail to treat the root of the problem, which is access to alcohol. In contrast, the Banned Drinkers Register (‘BDR’), which came into force on 1 July 2011, prevented persons who were the subject of a ‘Banning Alcohol and Treatment notice’ under the Alcohol Reform (Prevention of Alcohol-related Crime and Substance Misuse Act from purchasing alcohol at licensed premises. A ‘Banning Alcohol and Treatment notice’ could be given to a person for a number of reasons, including to a person who had, within the previous three months, been held in alcohol-related protective custody at least three times. It was not an offence for a person to breach a notice. The BDR was abolished by the Country Liberal Party immediately after winning the general election on 25 August 2012.
The government has defended the new scheme, arguing that the BDR put the responsibility on the licensee instead of the person who was the subject of the notice. The government also consider the BDR was an inconvenience for the general public because of the need for each person who purchased alcohol to provide photo ID for scanning to check whether or not that person was on the BDR. The new scheme will put the responsibility back on the person who is the subject of the order, without creating an inconvenience for the general public, and the high penalty for breaching the order will act as a deterrent for persons who may commit crimes under the influence of alcohol.
SUE ERICKSON is an Assistant Parliamentary counsel at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in Darwin.