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Indigenous leader says coronavirus cash splash is being wasted on ‘grog and gambling’

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson has claimed coronavirus payments such as JobSeeker are being used on ‘grog chaos and gambling’ in remote communities. 

Mr Pearson also said Indigenous leaders’ repeated calls for the supply of alcohol to be limited in their communities have been ignored by political leaders.  

‘There is grog chaos all over the country, from Cape York to the Pilbara. With JobSeeker and superannuation withdrawals, the normal level of grog and gambling has gone through the roof,’ Mr Pearson told The Australian. 

In the Northern Territory, the principal of one school in the remote town of Wadeye south of Darwin, said student attendance had dropped by 30 per cent since increased COVID-19 welfare payments began. 

On Monday, the West Australian government went against the advice of police and community leaders in the state’s Pilbara region by imposing a banned drinker list instead of blanket restrictions on alcohol sales. 

The move prompted Mr Pearson, who founded the Cape York Institute, to question whether state and territory governments were committed to the ‘shared decision making’ they agreed to with the Closing the Gap initiative. 

‘These state and territory governments are harlots to the Australian Hotels Association. The banned drinkers register will do nothing,’ Mr Pearson said. 

But the CEO of the Australian Hotel Association, Bradley Woods, who pushed for the banned drinker register option, said Mr Pearson’s comments were inflammatory and unhelpful. 

Mr Woods said targeted measures were needed to better focus the government’s resources to those in need rather than across the board restrictions. 

Mr Pearson argued that alcohol revenue was a factor in the decision, saying the government had failed to ‘stop people from profiteering from misery, violence and hunger.’ 

A banned drinker list would involve police being able to add names to a register for people who have been involved in incidents connected with alcohol. 

People can also voluntarily go on the list if they are concerned about being forced to buy alcohol for someone else. 

A similar program in the Northern Territory is enforced by police officers stationed outside bottle shops who check identification. 

In WA’s Pilbara, police have been pushing for blanket alcohol sale restrictions since 2017 when they presented the WA government with CCTV footage of alcohol fueled violence in Port Hedland. 

One of the clips shows a man staggering next to a teenage girl before stomping on her outstretched leg, which was later revealed to be broken, while another clip shows a teenage boy punching a teenage girl in a shopping centre carpark. 

About 12,000 of the Pilbara region’s 60,000 residents are Indigenous with another large portion fly-in-fly-out workers for the large mining industry.  

Health officials have stated the introduction of a ‘floor price’ for alcohol in the Northern Territory had been shown to be more effective than the banned drinkers register. 

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