Chief Minister Michael Gunner says he has no immediate plans to roll out the Banned Drinker Register (BDR) to pubs across the Northern Territory, but wouldn’t rule it out completely ahead of a public hearing in Tennant Creek on Tuesday.
The independent NT Liquor Commission was in the Barkly region town to hear the community’s position on plans to implement the BDR on three pubs in Tennant Creek that some say is just for show, after Mr Gunner caused confusion by telling the ABC the decision had already been made.
“My understanding is in Tennant Creek or the Barkly Region, the independent Liquor Commission has done a review of the existing conditions down there and added a condition to three pubs there for on-premise BDR, so that’s basically evidence and what’s happening in those three pubs,” he said on ABC Radio Darwin shortly before the public hearing.
“So that’s what’s happened.”
However, the commission was only beginning to hear public submissions about the proposal when Mr Gunner made the comments, which caused concerns for industry, Hospitality NT chief executive Alex Bruce said, with publicans fearful the BDR could be expanded to other pubs in the near future if approved in the Barkly.
“The Chief Minister appears to have already backed it in,” Mr Bruce said. “From his comments, he wasn’t up to speed on where it was or he was looking to defend a future Liquor Commission decision that wasn’t made yet.
“Our country pubs are not buying that if the BDR comes into Tennant Creek pubs that it won’t be expanded further afield.
“We are going through the process respectively with the Liquor Commission but we maintain our position that the Chief Minister and Health and Alcohol Policy Minister Natasha Fyles need to state the government’s policy on this one – do they support BDR on-premise throughout the Territory, yes or no?
“He didn’t seem to be aware of where the process was.”
Mr Gunner would not rule out expanding the BDR to include other pubs, but said it was not an “immediate priority”.
“There’s no plan to go beyond (Tennant Creek),” he told ABC Radio. “That was the decision of the independent Liquor Commission in reviewing the existing conditions there.
“So it might be something we look at, but it’s not an immediate priority, also not what we’re currently working on.”
The hearings kicked off on a rocky start as organisers were forced to find a larger venue to hold residents who showed up concerned about the proposal. According to local media, the public were not given enough notice of the hearing and frustrations mounted.
Earlier this year, locals from the Barkly region were put under strict grog restrictions including limiting takeaway alcohol purchases to three transactions per household per day and limited opening hours.
The community has a long history of alcohol-fuelled violence that received national attention in 2018 when a two-year-old was sexually assaulted in the town, sparking a visit from then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Under the Liquor Commission’s recommendations, patrons would be barred from buying drinks from three licensed premises — the Goldfields Hotel, the Tennant Creek Hotel and the Elliott Hotel — if an ID check shows they are on the Banned Drinker Register (BDR) – which currently only applies to takeaway alcohol sales. Patrons would have to show their ID for every drink they order.
The hearing heard of unresolved issues connected to implementing the proposal, including the costs to monitor BDR requirements, who would police it and concerns it could lead to a “secondary supply” of grog in the community.
Publicans potentially affected by the BDR have previously decried the commission’s recommendations as “bordering on racist” with one suggesting the measures are “a bit of a farce”.