Umoona Community Council is the Aboriginal organisation representing the Aboriginal people of Coober Pedy and the greater opal fields, it is also the largest supplier of services meeting the needs of the Aboriginal community in the region. UCC strongly believes that there are unintended consequences arising from the NT Intervention, and this is supported by statistics we keep on the programs and services that UCC delivers. The intervention has led to large and prolonged influxes of people from the NT and APY lands to Coober Pedy.
Under the Coober Pedy Alcohol Strategy we provide a Sobering up Centre and a Mobile Assisted Patrol Service. We collect statistics on the number of clients serviced and we report quarterly on this data to the relevant funding body. UCC also administers a housing rental program and a repairs and maintenance program on 49 dwellings, we also collect statistics on the costs of repairs and maintenance and report on that to the relevant funding body.
The table below shows comparative statistics on transient clients using our Mobile Assisted Patrol Service for the 2006/07 and 2007/08 financial years and the percentage increase in numbers for each month compared to the same month in the previous financial year.
The second table below shows comparative statistics on transient clients using our sobering up centre.
The data in both tables shows a large and statistically significant increase in transient clients since the intervention began. For the period September 1 2007 to February 28 2008 the data for admissions in our sobering up centre show a total number of 1,521 bed stays by a total of 100 transients who identified their home community as being in the NT. Of these 18 were in Coober Pedy for a period of 10 or more days, 11 had stays of longer than a month and 5 had stays of more than two months. Note the data in the tables and in the report at Appendix A only captures information on people from the NT and APY lands who use our services. Many of those who come to Coober Pedy do not access these services so the figures I provide here significantly understate the actual numbers coming to Coober Pedy.
Our evidence is that transients from the APY lands would otherwise have travelled to Alice Springs to enjoy the ‘bright lights’ and access to alcohol but since the intervention now come to Coober Pedy or alcohol outlets further south. Their coming to Coober Pedy is a direct result of the NT Intervention. The Charts on pages 5 and 6 provide data on the influx of transients graphically. The attached fourth quarter report at Appendix A provides further analysis on our activities under the Coober Pedy Alcohol Strategy and on the influx of transients to Coober Pedy.
The increase in demand for these services is not the only indicator of the increase. Our costs of Housing repairs and maintenance increased dramatically after the NT Intervention commenced. For the period September 2006 to February 2007 UCC the costs of repairs and maintenance to UCC’s housing stock was $67,757. For the same period in the 2007/08 financial year the cost was $100,234 – a 48% increase. The increase in the costs for repairs and maintenance has been caused by transients from communities in the NT and in the APY lands to the north of Coober Pedy breaking down doors in forced entries, trashing houses and in two instances attempting to burn houses down.
We do not have data on the costs to families of the transients who live in Coober Pedy but understand it to be high. For example the numbers of families living without power because they have been unable to pay excessively high power bills through overcrowding caused by transients staying with them has increased.
UCC believes that there are also costs to communities in the NT and in the APY Lands to the North of Coober Pedy. For example:
- The communities lose, for weeks or months at a time, too many of their economically productive members. Children also lose for weeks or months at a time their mothers or fathers or both. This has a severe economic and social impact on the communities and the people who remain there. It is also likely to have a detrimental effect on the safety and wellbeing of the children.
- For the same reason the communities suffer a significant reduction in community income because the transfer payments of those living away are spent off community;
- Too many people from the communities come to places like Coober Pedy to make bulk purchases of take away alcohol and do ‘grog runs’ back to their home communities. Some die in alcohol caused road accidents on their return journey, there were two such deaths in the last six months of people doing grog runs from Coober Pedy and SAPOL have interdicted large quantities of alcohol on the way back to the home communities. Other grog runners succeed in getting back home where the illicit alcohol is sold at very high prices, $50 or more for a cask of wine and $200 or more for a carton of beer. This diverts expenditure away from food, clothing, power and other necessities and is a significant driver of binge drinking.
The NPY women’s council became so concerned over the numbers of people, from the communities they represent, coming to Coober Pedy to drink and to buy alcohol for grog runs back to their home communities that the NPY Executive came to Coober Pedy over the period 17 to 19 June 2008 to meet with lead agencies and to hold a protest march down the main street of Coober Pedy.
UCC has supported their action and will continue to support their efforts in this matter.
UCC recommends that the Commonwealth fund a review of dry area declarations which incorporates a full cost benefit analysis including consideration of the costs to communities and to towns in the adjacent jurisdictions of SA, WA and Qld.
A direct result of the intervention in the NT has been the transfer of problems arising due to problem drinkers from NT towns to Coober Pedy and points further South. The Commonwealth did not take this into account and has not funded organisations such as UCC to meet the extra workload and extra costs caused by the NT Intervention.
Service organisations in Coober Pedy are experiencing an unfunded surge in costs incurred due to the anti-social behaviour that accompanies those coming to Coober Pedy to access alcohol.
Aboriginal families likewise suffer severe overcrowding in their homes and disruptive anti-social behaviour from transients. The families’ already overstretched budgets are placed under severe stress through transients raiding their food stores and running up high power and telephone bills. Their lives are disrupted by constant partying and this has serious negative effects on their children, an immediate impact is non-attendance at school and hunger. The longer term impact is the perpetuation of the current social and economic condition of the community and the people in it.
Houses that are trashed are removed from the available housing stock for weeks or months while undergoing repairs and this exacerbates the overcrowding of housing suffered by the community. The higher costs of repairs and maintenance for UCC removes the possibility of savings which every three or four years could finance new builds.
There are other indirect impacts of the Intervention. The costs to the Commonwealth of the intervention, estimated in June 2007 to be more than five billion dollars, have diverted much needed funding from other areas into the NT. The costs of income management are reported to be more that $31,500,000 per year. The wages, travel and accommodation allowances bill to the Commonwealth for the additional 810 Commonwealth employees posted into the NT is in excess of $90,000,000 per annum. The result is less funding available to Aboriginal Communities elsewhere including to communities such as Umoona Community on the outskirts of Coober Pedy. This is a double whammy, we face significantly higher costs and higher demand on the services we offer and have to operate on less funding.
I trust this submission is useful to you in your considerations.
CEO - Umoona Community Council Inc