For more than a month now, Minister Mal has been touring the country, wearing his sternest face and talking in tones of deepest concern about the “rivers of grog” which threaten remote Indigenous communities.
At the June 21 “national emergency” press conference, the Prime Minister reached new heights of hyperbole as he attempted to arrest his plummeting popularity with a barbecue stopper.
He was variously “sickened”, “horrified” and “unhappy” at the findings of the Little Children are Sacred report, and the inadequate response of the Northern Territory government. But his “resolve was firm”.
The PM was imbued with pre-election purposefulness as he stressed the crucial importance of the intervention. After sitting on his hands for 12 years, watching the circumstances in many remote Indigenous communities continue to deteriorate, he had finally decided on decisive, unilateral action.
But now we have a Brough backdown which casts doubt on the whole enchilada.
The Minister has announced the watering down of his booze ban, which was intended to further restrict the carriage and consumption of alcohol in Indigenous communities. What matter of state, you may wonder, was of such significance that it required the minister to modify restrictions previously deemed integral to improving the lives of black Australians?
Well, what’s at stake is the fundamental right of whitefellas on fishing trips to be able to sip on a coldie while they battle the barra under an unforgiving tropical sun.
The Minister has now announced that his new rules will allow the anglers to have an ale, even in the midst of the dry area prohibitions. And the Territory government is going along for the ride.
This simply beggars belief. How will the system be monitored? Is a “tinny” tied to a tree a metre offshore a legal drinking place? Is it kosher to have a sherbet on a surfboard? Presumably these exemptions are intended for decent law-abiding whitefellas. After all, it’s widely recognised that all drinking done on fishing trips is absolutely discreet and responsible. But it’s not just very poor form to legislate on the basis of race - it’s also against the law. This is, in short, a truly staggering policy brain-fade.
I suspect that the Minister may have consulted his off-sider, federal Community Services Minister, Nigel Scullion, who is currently in hot water following a recent Country Liberal Party “booze cruise” to the Tiwi Islands, where consumption of alcohol is tightly monitored.
Scullion and his alleged drinking partner, federal member for Solomon, Dave Tollner, may be guilty of nothing more than a stunning show of disrespect (they may not even be guilty of that) - the police will decide in due course. But you have to wonder what it is about boys and boats and beers.
Making rule changes simply to protect Fosters-fuelled fishing trips invites hard questions about the genuineness of the government’s intentions. Meanwhile, other aspects of the much-vaunted intervention package are also beginning to unravel.
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