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Doctors Urge 5-Year Alcohol Ban to Stop Violence in Outback Australian Town


FILE - Members of the Australian Aboriginal community of Ramingining can be seen near their homes in East Arnhem Land, located east of the Northern Territory city of Darwin. Doctors urge that alcohol be banned in the troubled town of Tennant Creek for five years.

Doctors are urging that alcohol be banned in the troubled Central Australian town of Tennant Creek for five years. The Northern Territory government has imposed two weeks of emergency alcohol restrictions in the town following a sharp increase in alcohol-fueled violence, but medical professionals believe stricter measures are needed.

Demands for sweeping changes to alcohol laws in the northern Australian town of Tennant Creek followed the alleged rape of a 2-year-old Aboriginal girl and a series of suicides.

Doctors discussed at a public meeting how they treat an "endless stream" of pregnant women who are drunk and other Aboriginal people who have been attacked or attempted suicide while intoxicated. They also treat children with fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that can cause mental and physical birth defects and is brought about by excessive alcohol consumption by an expectant mother.

Tennant Creek has a population of about 3,000 people. About half are indigenous Australians, and they have high rates of unemployment, ill-health and over-crowded housing, while the community is also blighted by alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

Nationally, Australia's original inhabitants make up about 3 percent of the population, yet they are disproportionately represented in crime figures.

Authorities in northern Australia say a recent two-week period in which alcohol sales were restricted has made Tennant Creek safer. During that time, limits were placed on the hours alcohol could be sold, as well as the amount of beer, wine or spirits that could be purchased.

The mayor of Tennant Creek, Steve Edgington, says opinion is divided in the local community.

"The local police are telling me that the restrictions have been very effective -- the three hours per day has certainly reduced the supply and the consumption of alcohol. There is other members that think that the restrictions should be even wider and some people are saying that being able to purchase one carton of beer a day is still too much and they would like to see further restrictions in place. So, look, I am hearing different opinions from different parts of the community," he said.

Doctors warn, however, that a long-term solution to reduce alcohol-fueled violence is needed. The medical professionals insist that a five-year ban on alcohol in the town 1,000 kilometers south of Darwin would help its residents to recover.

Alcohol is banned in dozens of Aboriginal communities, usually with the full support of tribal leaders. Smuggling alcohol into these so-called "dry areas" can attract large fines.

For the two-week period, alcohol was restricted for the entire population of Tennant Creek.

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