Tuesday, July 7, 2009

More on rural substance abuse (this time from Australia) with a local autonomy twist

Norimitsu Onishi reported in Sunday's New York Times about efforts in Western Australia to curb alcohol abuse by Aboriginals. It is an interesting tale of local autonomy following the lead of federalist intervention in responding to a serious social and public health problem. The headline is "Facing a Crisis, Aborigines Stage Interventions of Their Own." The dateline is Halls Creek, population 3,100, with about another thousand in surrounding villages.

Here's an excerpt:

Four decades after a constitutional amendment guaranteed equal rights for Australia’s Aborigines, including the right to legally drink, an increasing number of indigenous towns and smaller communities deep in the outback are curtailing the sale of alcohol. Many Aboriginal leaders say the restrictions are necessary to reverse the effects of a drinking culture that has led to widespread alcoholism, violence and child abuse.

The self-restrictions here in Western Australia and other states reflect a tougher approach toward Aboriginal communities taken by the federal government in the past two years in the Northern Territory, a federal region with the country’s highest concentration of Aborigines. Called “the intervention,” it has angered many Aboriginal people nationwide, especially older ones with direct experience of Australia’s colonial-like policies toward its indigenous people.

The federal government's Northern Territory "intervention," as it is known, has spurred Aboriginal leaders elsewhere to seek curbs on alcohol, and four towns and smaller communities have achieved restrictions or outright bans on alcohol in the last year and a half. Four others have requested such bans. One Aboriginal woman who led the campaign in Fitzroy Crossing, 180 miles west of Halls Creek is quoted as saying, “What we saw happening in the Northern Territory made us think, ‘Well, we need to do something about our situation as well.’”

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