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The Australian Medical Association (AMA) does not support the Northern Territory Government's planned new alcohol laws. The Government wants to compel problem drinkers into compulsory three month rehabilitation programs, and would make it possible to fine or imprison those who run away.
AMA Territory branch president Dr Peter Beaumont says it is completely unacceptable that drinkers will be criminalised if they don't follow the rules. ‘We think it is wrong that people who are addicted and unwell can end up as criminals for breaching any orders in the system,' he said.
Territory AMA members met in Darwin recently to examine the mandatory rehabilitation legislation.
Dr Beaumont says there is not enough evidence that mandatory treatment works, and the proposed system should only be trialled in small programs because of its expense. ‘We believe that the cost of this is huge, and the outcomes are unproven,' he said.
The AMA is most concerned about provisions to fine or imprison problem drinkers for breaching their treatment orders. ‘The whole thing is meant to be a health pathway, and it's funny that the path leads to criminality if people don't abide by it,' Dr Beaumont said. ‘This is about illness and addiction; it's not about crimes, other than the fact that some people do commit crimes. But the ordinary courts of law can handle those; we already have laws for those.'
Late last month, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said there could be a legal challenge to the mandatory rehabilitation system.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has said the laws could lead to breaches of Australia's human rights obligations. ACOSS chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the system would effectively criminalise public drunkenness. ‘[It] will involve detention of people who have not committed a criminal offence,' she said.
Territory Attorney-General John Elferink has said he was confident the laws would survive any legal challenge. Alcohol Rehabilitation Minister Robyn Lambley says the Government is considering making changes to the proposed laws. She says the Government is trying to work out a way to ensure people put into mandatory rehabilitation stay there for three months.
‘We need to give people a message that they're there for the duration, and the only way we saw we could do that was by making it an offence,' she said. ‘But we are listening to people and we're trying to think of a way around it.'
The Opposition says it may support a trial of mandatory rehabilitation for problem drinkers.
Source: ABC news