NT's dry zone laws come to an end

·3-min read

Northern Territory communities that have been dry for more than a decade will have greater power over alcohol restrictions as intervention-era bans come to an end.

Commonwealth laws banning booze in remote Aboriginal communities will expire at midnight on Saturday, meaning liquor may be legally available for the first time in 15 years in some places.

The NT Government amended its own liquor laws in preparation to the ban ending, but the process in which an "opt in" system was created raised significant concern.

Under the laws passed in May, individual communities can choose if they want alcohol restrictions, but there was a lack of meaningful consultation, the NT Council of Social Service says.

"At best the government's process around these significant liquor changes lacks integrity," chief executive Deborah Di Natale said when the laws were passed.

The apparent failure in communication as Territory laws replaced the commonwealth system highlights the importance of an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, author Thomas Mayor says.

"The deficiency in the way that the Northern Territory government has consulted, that can be addressed with a strong voice, to be able to say to the government ... this is how you need to consult in the future," he said

An advocate for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Mr Mayor said the blanket commonwealth policy had been a failure.

"One of the effects was that people just moved out of community to to access alcohol (and were) on the roads putting themselves and others in danger," he told AAP on Saturday.

"It just created more opportunities for Indigenous people to be incarcerated ... and basically was in ignorance to the real causes of alcohol problems in communities."

The Association of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies NT says the changes "will allow alcohol to freely flow back into communities that have been dry for the past 15 years".

"Little to no preparatory work has been done to help communities to develop effective alcohol management strategies or to provide additional resources to respond to this change," executive officer Peter Burnheim said in May.

The commonwealth laws were one of the last remnants of the race-based intervention targeting Aboriginal Territorians, Chief Minister Nicole Fyles says.

The NT government says any person or entity that wishes to sell alcohol in a remote community must apply to the NT Liquor Commission for a licence.

"This is a robust statutory process governed by the Liquor Act 2019 requiring strict criteria to be met, and is subject to any condition placed on it by the Liquor Commission," a spokesman told AAP in May.

It was also contacting communities to educate them about the law change and help them opt-in if they want restrictions to continue.

"The (government) will be providing additional resourcing to support stakeholder groups and community organisations to lead consultations," the spokesman said.

About 100 communities which were already under other NT liquor restrictions before the commonwealth law came into force in 2007 will revert to the previous controls.

The Howard government's intervention in 2007 was an attempt to address violence, abuse and poverty in Indigenous communities.

The alcohol ban it introduced was continued by the Gillard government in 2012 with the Stronger Futures Act.

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