Fines cripple disadvantaged
By Margaret Wenham – Feb 08, 2007
HUNDREDS of impoverished indigenous people in remote communities have been hit with fines totalling nearly $600,000 for breaking Queensland’s controversial alcohol management laws.
The figures, released this week by the Justice Department, also show that seven people have been jailed and six vehicles confiscated since December 2002 when alcohol management plans (AMPs) were phased in to the state’s 19 discrete indigenous communities.
Reports of the penalty tally was greeted with dismay by Aboriginal leaders who said most people could not pay the fines and the AMPs were not working to curb violence.
Townsville-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Legal Service chief executive Randal Ross said the AMPs – which stipulate dry areas within communities and limit the amount of alcohol people can take into a restricted area – were compounding the criminalisation of Aboriginal people.
“The majority of people charged with breaching a community’s alcohol management plan are not in a financial position to pay the fines,” he said.
“And if they’re not able to pay fines, then warrants are issued for their arrest and so another charge is added to the breach charges. And so you’ve got charges after charges being racked up unnecessarily.”
Mr Ross said the laws also were encouraging a black market in alcohol and the abuse of other substances.
Very few communities had diversionary or detoxification facilities to complement the laws.
The figures – as at August 31, 2006 – show that between December 31, 2002, when the first AMP was introduced in the Cape York community of Aurukun and June 12, 2006, when the last plan came into force on Palm Island, 1563 people have faced 2094 charges resulting in convictions.
More than 1400 fines totalling $571,556.75 had been levied against people charged with single AMP breaches under the Liquor Act.
Fines meted out to a further 357 people facing multiple charges were not included in the figures supplied to The Courier Mail, but would bring the total to close to $600,000.
A spokesman for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships, Communities Minister Warren Pitt, said the Government remained committed to AMPs as “one of a number of measures to address issues of health and safety in Aboriginal communities”.
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