The Swinging Pendulum of Alcohol Policy in the Northern Territory
The Northern Territory (NT) of Australia has a long-standing reputation for enduring the highest rates of alcohol-related harm in the country, and possibly the world.
For a country which counts itself among the wealthiest of democracies, Australia’s status as a world leader for alcohol-related harm ought to be a cause of urgent ameliorative and restorative action at all levels of government. But, as the authors explore in this editorial, vested commercial interests appear to maintain a firm grip on how alcohol policy plays out in practice. And like most forms of preventable disease, disability and premature death, socially and economically vulnerable populations pay the highest price.
Alcohol pricing together with government controls on physical alcohol availability are recognised evidence-based components of a comprehensive approach to minimising harms from alcohol.
Legislation in Australia nearly always seeks to balance harm minimisation with allowing some degree of access to alcohol. That balance has been carefully adjusted in the NT over recent years with the introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) and associated reforms, but commercial pressures are already undermining progress, reducing transparency and pushing back the pendulum in favor of greater access. For example, the actions of the Woolworths-owned Endeavour Drinks Group and its five-year pursuit of a new ‘big-box’ Dan Murphy’s liquor store in Darwin, next to three ‘dry’ (alcohol-free) aboriginal communities.
Studies, such as the one by Wright and colleagues, confirm that if left unchecked, the cost of such pushback will be measurable in health and lives. It is fitting that it is the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT, the peak body for Aboriginal community-controlled health services in the territory, that is leading the community campaign to #StopDanmurphysinDarwin.