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Alcohol creates havoc in Indigenous communities

Andrea Mason is an Aboriginal woman who has devoted her career to promoting just and fair access for Indigenous people and provides support for families across the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Lands – the central tri-state region of the Northern Territory, South Australia, and Western Australia.

She was recently named the 2016 Telstra Northern Territory Business Women of the Year and winner of the For Purpose and Social Enterprise Award. The following is an edited extract of her speech at the Telstra Awards evening held in Darwin earlier this month.

Andrea will be attending the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) National Summit on reducing violence against women and their children in Brisbane this week to further discuss these issues and advocate for change.

A low expectation accepts the worst elements of our two cultures, such as domestic violence, welfare dependency, financial abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, child neglect and child sexual abuse, and youth suicide.

From the non-Indigenous community, which makes up 97 per cent of the Australian population, Aboriginal people need your support to change the thinking from ‘me’ to ‘us’. To an ‘us’ that is inclusive of the cultural and economic prosperity of Aboriginal Australians.

We also need the 97 per cent to be generous patrons and leaders to create a safer and more secure society. Particularly when many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people struggle to create this for themselves.

One area where a ‘me’ entitlement has created havoc in communities is that of alcohol-fuelled violence, often at the very serious end of the scale – or indeed the most serious.

In 2008, when I arrived in Alice Springs, I was told that 15 women from the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council membership region had been killed as a result of domestic violence between 2000 and 2008. And in every case, the accused partner had been under the influence of alcohol.

Since 2009, another two women from the NPY region have been killed as a result of domestic violence. There are a lot of factors behind this but it is a figure worth mentioning.

In the Northern Territory over the past three years, 23 women have been killed by someone with whom they were in a domestic relationship. And all of these partners were heavily intoxicated with alcohol, they were at least three times over the legal driving limit of 0.05.

At NPY Women’s Council, we know that alcohol isn’t the only trigger for violence, but it does escalate that violence. If we are to stop these domestic partner deaths, the excessive drinking in our community must be curbed. It’s estimated that if drinking were to be reduced to a level equivalent to the national average, there would be a 50 per cent drop in violence across the Northern Territory.

As a strategic business leader, I believe it would be an absolute tragedy if in 2020 the number of women killed by their partner as a result of alcohol-fuelled violence were to continue on this trajectory, which would see 51 women killed in seven years in the Northern Territory. This would be shocking and a disgrace, so change must happen today.

In regard to this, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Northern Territory Government for the leadership it is taking on this issue.

When I talk about a shared responsibility, reducing the number of women killed due to alcohol-fuelled violent attacks is one of many areas. Reducing Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is another. Reducing suicide is a third.

All these major health concerns will be significantly improved by addressing alcohol with evidence-based policies that we know will work.

At NPY Women’s Council, we have worked with victims of domestic violence since 1994. Today, we are also working to gather a critical mass of men who in time will become leaders, to advocate to others to change their violent behaviours and to seek better lives for themselves and their families.

It is of interest to me that even though NPY started its domestic violence service in 1994, the NPY region’s men cross-border program, set up to work with men to change their behaviour as part of the sentencing process, only began in 2007. Why haven’t we seen a community wide men’s initiative in the NPY Lands to stop the violence and – more importantly – what if a such a men’s movement to stop domestic violence had started in 1994? Women have had no choice but to lead the way for their own safety.

Our Aboriginal women, and now men, are doing their part. It is time for the whole Australian community to implement key policies on alcohol that will benefit everyone but especially the most marginalised people in our community.

It is Aboriginal people who suffer disproportionally because mainstream Australia cannot accept the need to turn down the tap a little for the benefit of everyone.

Andrea Mason

Andrea Mason

Andrea Mason is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council and 2016 Telstra Northern Territory Business Women of the Year.

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