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Dry communities: the problems

6.1 The consequences of having completely dry, that is alcohol free, aboriginal communities are similar to the consequences of any drug prohibition. The people in these communities believe they should have the same rights as everyone else including the right to consume alcohol. The result is that some people come into town from these communities and binge drink. They often fall asleep in the streets or attempt to drive back while under the influence of alcohol.

6.2 In dealing with the problem of alcohol consumption there appear to be only two options. No drink at all or excessive drinking. Programs have now been implemented to educate people on the harms of binge drinking. There is fertile ground among the aboriginal communities for positive programs which attempt to modify the amount of alcohol that is consumed and to break down the effects of excessive drinking at an early age. The problem occurs in only a small proportion of people as many choose not to drink alcohol at all. But for those who do drink alcohol, problems can develop and these need to be addressed by education and sensible policies.

The effects of disempowerment

6.3 When the layers of the alcohol problem are peeled back, the real problems that emerge are disempowerment, loss of control people once had over their lives, unemployment, poor housing and health services and sometimes the Euro-centric educative material which is presented to aboriginal children in their schools. At least in some areas in the Northern Territory, a few communities still retain their own languages and a sense of their own identity but that is not the case within urban centres.

6.4 Aboriginal people, like all people, want to have control over their lives. They are keen to dispel the myth that alcohol runs their lives, to reduce alcohol-related violence, crimes and accidents and to be able to determine what is best for their own communities. The programs in the Northern Territory involve the police. This has brought the police closer to the communities which in turn has reduced the level of crime.

Mistrust of Government policies

6.5 Cultural minorities are eager to be separated from any associations which may validate the negative images which have been used to stereotype them by white, mainstream society. Therefore, to be successful, harm reduction programs must be presented in a culturally relevant format with culturally specific program design. These programs must be shown to have the ability to empower these people and not exacerbate their problems.


6.6 The Inquiry reached the following conclusions with respect to this contentious area:

1. Many of the problems associated with illicit drug use are symptoms of disempowerment due to dislocation from culture, lands, language and societal structures. Poverty and inequality of opportunity coupled with a mainstream stereotyping and scapegoating have added to these problems. Cultural specific harm reduction programs are called for which are conducted and controlled by these communities themselves.

2. Prohibiting alcohol has created similar problems in some communities to those created by prohibition of illicit drugs elsewhere. Harm reduction programs, which are shown to have positive outcomes, have more chance of success.
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