Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Carl D’Souza and Jacqui Houston
The New South Wales (‘NSW’) Alcohol Summit (‘the Summit’) was held at Parliament House in Sydney from 26–29 August 2003. The Summit brought together experts, industry representatives, community members and other interested groups to consider strategies to address alcohol abuse in NSW. Prior to the commencement of the Summit, the NSW Department for Aboriginal Affairs hosted a one-day forum called Talking About Grog (‘the Forum’) to discuss strategies to address alcohol abuse in Indigenous communities, and make recommendations to the Summit. Sixty Aboriginal people from all over NSW attended the Forum, including many elders and community leaders. They all had a personal understanding about the devastating effects of grog through their own experiences and the experience of their families and communities.
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Andrew Refshauge, who attended the Forum, noted that 30 percent of Aboriginal people do not drink. This is a much higher proportion than in the non-Aboriginal population. However, many Aboriginal people drink to excess and this leads to problems. Linda Burney MP chaired the Forum and summarised its outcomes in a speech to the Summit. She informed the Summit that alcohol abuse is symptomatic of the grief, loss and trauma associated with dispossession. This has lead to cultural breakdown, family and community dysfunction, and intergenerational trauma. It also contributes to the ongoing disadvantage and suffering that confronts Aboriginal people today, and thus a dangerous cycle is perpetuating itself. She said that ‘grog is used to replace the pain and loss and to escape the ongoing trauma within our communities. It has become endemic’. Linda observed that the problem of alcohol abuse within Aboriginal communities cannot be addressed in isolation because it is linked with other problems such as domestic violence, bad health and low life expectancy.
A number of principles for addressing alcohol abuse in Aboriginal communities were laid down by the delegates to the Forum, including:
Aboriginal people are best placed to determine local solutions. Aboriginal community leadership must be validated. This Summit cannot override the need to address unfinished business ... A long-term approach to this problem is necessary. [There is a] need for a whole-of-government approach ... [T]he family is the key to rebuilding Aboriginal communities. Communities need support in strengthening and enhancing their capacity ... Aboriginal people have inequitable access to services and Aboriginal services are under-resourced.
In addition, the Forum made 50 recommendations to the Summit on what action should be taken to address Aboriginal alcohol abuse. These included that:
For more comprehensive information on the outcomes of the NSW alcohol summit see the NSW Parliament website and click the link to the NSW Alcohol Summit: www.parliament.nsw.gov.au
 Linda Burney, Speech to the Alcohol Summit, Alcohol Summit: Report of Proceedings – First Day, 26 August 2003, <www.parliament.nsw.gov.au>