Mornington Island Doctor Berry Zondag has said the island’s current Alcohol Management Plan (AMP) is not working.
This comes as Mornington Shire Council aks for submissions on amendments to the plan, which has been in place since 2004 and includes a total ban on alcohol.
Dr Berry Zondag of the Junkuri Laka Wellesley Islands Aboriginal Law Justice and Governance Association has been vocal about the futility of prohibition.
There is nothing very positive to say about the current alcohol management program, it’s not achieving its objectives and it’s creating a lot of unwanted consequences.- Dr Berry Zondag
“We have a total prohibition and as with prohibition all over the world, it doesn't work. We’ve seen that here,” Dr Zondag said.
The steady rise of home brew production has caused significant health and social impacts, Dr Zondag said.
“The home brew problem is nothing new but it’s increasing all the time and it’s getting worse because you’ve got better strains of yeast available,” Dr Zondag said.
Health problems are rife, but only one aspect of home brew’s harm, said Dr Zondag.
“There’s a lot of sugar in this stuff so it aggravates the problems Indigenous people already have with kidney disease and diabetes.”
“The concoction that results is up to 20 per cent alcohol – it’s really strong stuff.
“It’s illegal so it’s made in unhygienic circumstances, it’s also consumed in unhygienic circumstances.
"You get the effects of alcohol on people’s behaviour; fighting, aggravation – and that all takes place underground because it is illegal.
We need a health intervention, not a criminal justice intervention.- Dr Berry Zondag, Junkuri Laka Wellesley Islands Aboriginal Law Justice and Governance Association.
“It is a very dysfunctional situation where, rather than managing alcohol, we’re not managing anything at all. It’s a free for all – it’s wild.
“We need a health intervention, not a criminal justice intervention,” Dr Zondag said.
Mornington Island Shire Council has asked North West Hospital and Health Service to help with an awareness campaign, said NWHHS CE Lisa Davies Jones.
“We’re in consultation with council and the community to deliver the best program possible, which would include key messages about home brew,” she said.
Ms Davies Jones said the NHHS would support changes to the AMP, which would give people access to legal, safe alcohol.
“We’re discussing a campaign which will provide education for the service providers in the community, events for the whole community, particularly targeting children and young people, some kind of creative project involving the children and young people, and follow up from hospital presentations from a clinical perspective.”
Ms Davies Jones said the NWHHS was interested in listening to the community and helping design and deliver a program that would strengthen the work already being done by the Mornington Island Shire Council and local organisations such as Jankuri Laka.
“We are all very concerned about the impact of home brew on the health of the Islanders, especially with reports children have been involved in drinking the mix which has a very high alcohol content and potentially other toxic substances, and can be very dangerous to anyone’s health.”
Aside from health and social detriment, Dr Zondag also wants people to know the economic consequences of prohibition.
“Because it is illegal, the product will become increasingly expensive and producers will try to make it as concentrated as possible to improve their profits.”
“So what we see is people paying ridiculous amounts of money, $200 to $300 for a 10 litre water container filled with home brew.
“That is money that people take away from their family budget so it is really the children that suffer from the parents’ addiction to this concoction.
“There are of course a number of scrupulous people on the island who are making big profit from this,” Dr Zondag said.
“In economic terms it’s a devastating situation. There is nothing very positive to say about the current alcohol management program, it’s not achieving its objectives and it’s creating a lot of unwanted consequences.
Dr Zondag has recommended amendments to the plan since 2012.
“When the government first started to talk about reviewing the AMP in 2012, we made submissions and created a plan here with local council after serious consultation with the community, where by we said, “it’s not working, but how do we create something that will allow us to control it in a positive way?”
“So we devised a carrot and stick approach where we were going to reintroduce legal alcohol but only for people who could comply with certain behavioural standards, i.e. an individualised license.
“Standards include; you are working or actively trying to find work, or you’re engaging with your work for the dole scheme, your kids go to school, you’re not before the courts for bashing your wife, your house is reasonably clean and tidy, and you behave in a general fashion.
“So if you comply with those criteria you will obtain a private license to purchase some alcohol so you can do exactly the same as what everybody else in this country is doing coming home from a hard day at work and having a cold beer on the veranda, or being with your family on the weekend, having a barbecue and drinking a box of beer.
“Of course it’s not the easiest approach because it also requires that you set the person to control the management of all of that, and have everybody work together.
“We also say it is one thing to make alcohol available again, but you cannot do that in isolation, so at the same time you need to improve the quality of your rehab facility.
“We don’t have a rehab facility here on the island but we do have 150 or 200 severely addicted people.