Australian children get their wish with plan to stem 'rivers of grog'

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The Independent Online

Whe the children of Halls Creek, a troubled town in Australia's remote Kimberley region, were asked their number one wish, they said an alcohol ban – ahead of a skate park, cinema or international airport.

Now that wish is to be granted, with the announcement of radical new measures to combat alcoholism not only in Halls Creek, but across the entire north of Western Australia, where half a dozen towns with large Aboriginal populations are blighted by despair and dysfunction.

The restrictions on takeaway alcohol sales – the toughest introduced anywhere in Australia – will also apply to Broome, a popular tourist destination on the coast, where local businesses reacted with dismay. But the state's authorities are convinced the crackdown is necessary, following reports blaming "rivers of grog" for an epidemic of domestic violence, child abuse, disease, premature deaths and suicides. The ban will apply to full-strength beer, wine casks and long-necked beer bottles known as "King Browns", after a deadly snake.

It follows similar steps taken 18 months ago in another Kimberley town, Fitzroy Crossing, where residents say life has improved immeasurably. There, the ban on takeaway sales, imposed after local women lobbied the state government, has led to a marked decrease in domestic assaults, hospital admissions, arrests and antisocial behaviour. The women say children are getting a good night's sleep for the first time in years, and as a result school attendance has improved.

Others claim the problem has merely migrated, with many Fitzroy people moving to other towns in search of unlimited alcohol. That theory will be tested when the regional measures come into effect.

In Broome the chamber of commerce claims that alcohol controls will be disastrous for the tourism industry. But Barry Sargeant, the state's liquor licensing director, told The Australian newspaper: "I believe that the possible social and health benefits these restrictions may bring to the broader community outweigh any negative impacts and inconveniences that may be experienced."

In Halls Creek, 76 children aged nine to 16 recently told a youth worker that, above all else, they wanted alcohol eliminated from their town and their parents given help to sober up. Their second wish was for child abuse to be wiped out.