The Use of Alcohol Management Plans in Indigenous Australia

Issues of problem deflation and politicisation

Alcohol Management Plans (AMPs) are generally employed in Indigenous contexts to provide an instrument to allow communities and governments to work in partnership to address the diverse range of problems arising from the misuse of alcohol.

Dr Kristen Smith

By giving local Indigenous people a degree of control over alcohol supply and the management of alcohol-related programs and measures, the aim is to bring together the agencies and resources to support place-based approaches to limit alcohol supply and the harms of excessive alcohol use.  However, researchers from the Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne have found that many challenges remain in relation to the development, implementation and ongoing management of AMPs.

In the immediate term, a critical issue to address is the processes by which AMPs are developed, especially regarding the lack of transparency in government funding and resource support. Further, multi-layered legislation and cross-sectoral policy responses need to be adapted to incorporate the spirit of cooperation intended, allowing logical cohesion across local, state/territory and federal levels.

Given the highly politicised nature of issues related to alcohol misuse in Aboriginal contexts, responses are too often based on reactive, popular politics rather than the body of evidence outlining the most effective mechanisms. Further, supply issues require more integrated regional approaches to minimise cyclical patterns of translocating chronic drinkers from place to place.

External stakeholders, including liquor industry representatives and local and state politicians, often unfairly criticise AMPs (and other alcohol restrictions in Indigenous contexts) for political or commercial purposes.

These criticisms include the claims that; (1) AMPs cause the unjust criminalisation of Indigenous people due to ‘sly-grogging’. This argument ignores the extreme harms caused by ‘sly-grog’, such as significant increases in levels of violence into small, vulnerable communities; and (2) AMPs violate human rights and are racist (i.e. the right to drink and the targeting of legislation).

This argument was dismissed in the High Court case of Maloney v The Queen [2013] HCA 28 (19 June 2013) and overlooks first order rights such as the safety of women and children. These claims are not made on the basis of evidence and have rarely been problematised or evaluated (qualitatively or quantitatively).

AMPs can be successful in reducing alcohol-related harms, but as a result of problem deflation, they are under-resourced and too vulnerable to political instabilities to ensure long-term change. Thus, their potential for better outcomes requires enhanced community control over their governance and better resourcing to enable the implementation of their most effective features.

Research Team: Professor Marcia Langton, Dr Kristen Smith, Dr Richard Chenhall

Researchers Affiliation: Centre for Health Equity, Melbourne School of Population & Global Health, University of Melbourne

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