Instead of More Restrictions, Governments Must Invest in ACCHS to Develop Comprehensive Community-Supported Approaches to Alcohol Problems

The Aboriginal Health Council of Western Australia stands against the State Government’s further liquor restrictions announced this week for Broome and Derby without simultaneous investment in comprehensive alcohol and other drugs services, planning and infrastructure.

AHCWA Chair Vicki O’Donnell OAM said liquor restrictions alone were not the answer.

“We’re not objecting to restrictions. We recognise the devastating impact of alcohol but governments must invest in Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to develop comprehensive, effective approaches to alcohol problems which span regional health planning, services, capital infrastructure and workforce; and include alternatives to criminalisation,” Ms O’Donnell she said.

In February, WA Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector called on the State Government to immediately invest in alcohol and other drug services in the Kimberley, including a Wellness Centre for the Derby community providing wraparound services for Aboriginal people and their families. We also called for funding for Milliya Rumurra’s successful and long-standing Aboriginal-led service model through provision of additional residential rehabilitation beds and a new withdrawal and detox service. The State Government has not supported funding for these initiatives.

“The ACCHS sector provides more than half of primary health care services in the Kimberley, “ Ms O’Donnell said. “But we are not adequately resourced to respond to the level of harm that alcohol and other drugs are causing in the region. Funding is needed for both service provision and infrastructure.”

Without adequate support, increased restrictions could unintentionally harm individuals and communities, potentially leading to punitive outcomes rather than health improvements. Restrictions can lead to a black market for alcohol and more use of illegal drugs such as methamphetamine. We do not want to see more Aboriginal people engaging with the criminal justice system, and increased criminalisation is unlikely to bring meaningful change.

“Reform requires collaboration between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, governments, and communities,” Ms O’Donnell said. “We feel that the WA Government has not listened to the voices of Kimberley people, who have been crying out for years for increased investment in health, social and diversionary approaches that will support our communities to respond to the harm caused by alcohol. We are disappointed that they did not take on board our call to action.”

We need a holistic approach including alternatives to restrictions. Our sector’s Model of Care can be applied, which integrates community, family, culture, spirituality, language, Country, emotions, and the physical as essential elements for health.

The Kimberley ACCHS and ACCO sector are at the forefront in providing a range of health and wellbeing services that directly contribute to effective health outcomes. Our sector must be supported with robust, regional health-driven alcohol and other drug planning, guided by the four Priority Reforms of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.