Alcohol and race in Australia

from Market Design at on March 24, 2023 at 12:25PM

 In the U.S. we certainly have a complicated history around both race and alcohol, but in Australia there may be even more complications, as a recent (limited) ban on alcohol and aborigines is reinstated.

The NY Times has the story

Authorities Reinstate Alcohol Ban for Aboriginal Australians. The reaction to a rise in crime has renewed hard questions about race and control, and about the open wounds of discrimination. By Yan Zhuang

"Mr. Shaw lives in what the government has deemed a “prescribed area,” an Aboriginal town camp where from 2007 until last year it was illegal to possess alcohol, part of a set of extraordinary raced-based interventions into the lives of Indigenous Australians.

"Last July, the Northern Territory let the alcohol ban expire for hundreds of Aboriginal communities, calling it racist. But little had been done in the intervening years to address the communities’ severe underlying disadvantage. Once alcohol flowed again, there was an explosion of crime in Alice Springs widely attributed to Aboriginal people. Local and federal politicians reinstated the ban late last month. 

"For those who believe that the country’s largely white leadership should not dictate the decisions of Aboriginal people, the alcohol ban’s return replicates the effects of colonialism and disempowers communities. Others argue that the benefits, like reducing domestic violence and other harms to the most vulnerable, can outweigh the discriminatory effects.

"According to the Northern Territory police, commercial breaks-ins, property damage, assaults related to domestic violence and alcohol-related assaults all rose by about or by more than 50 percent from 2021 to 2022. Australia does not break down crime data by race, but politicians and Aboriginal groups themselves have attributed the increase largely to Indigenous people.

"This was a preventable situation,” said Donna Ah Chee, the chief executive of one of these organizations, the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress. “It was Aboriginal women, families and children that were actually paying the price,” she added.

"The organization was among those that called for a resumption of the ban as an immediate step while long-term solutions were developed to address the underlying drivers of destructive drinking. Ms. Ah Chee said she considered the policy to be “positive discrimination” in protecting those most vulnerable."


Of course bans in one jurisdiction can have spillovers into others. Here’s a story from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Katherine reports rise in transient visitors since return of Alice Springs alcohol restrictions  By Matt Garrick and Max Rowley

"An outback town struggling with crime and homelessness is seeing an influx of transient visitors, which some believe is a direct impact of new alcohol restrictions in Alice Springs."