According to today’s press:
Mr Howard said the Government’s intention was to “introduce widespread alcohol restrictions on Northern Territory Aboriginal land for six months”.
The government is clearly right in noting that alcohol is a major contributor to Indigenous disadvantage. But I’m not sure that banning it is the best policy response. An alternative would be to allow local communities to set their own alcohol taxes. We made a proposal along these lines in Imagining Australia.
A major cause of health and violence problems in Indigenous communities is excessive consumption of alcohol. At present the only way community leaders can deal with the problem is to ban alcohol. While some communities have chosen this path, gaining support for prohibition is often difficult, and once implemented, prohibition is hard to enforce. We believe that Indigenous leaders should be given an alternative for dealing with this problem, in the form of the power to tax alcohol in their communities, with the revenues returned to the local bodies themselves. Armed with an additional power to control alcohol consumption, some communities may find taxation to be more effective than an outright ban, and may choose to devote the additional revenue to after-school sports, community policing or other programs to strengthen community bonds.
Of course, you can regard alcohol bans as a form of tax, in which the tax rate is the cost of getting a ute, driving to the next town, buying alcohol there, and bringing it back while avoiding the authorities. The difference is that under the Imagining Australia proposal, the local community gets the extra revenue.