GEMCO’s plan a Gem

An alcohol management system that was initiated more than eight years ago by government agencies, local people and manganese miner, BHP Billiton’s Groote Eylandt Mining Company (GEMCO), has led to significant reductions on alcohol-related harm and crime activity on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory.

According to the latest figures from the Northern Territory Government, aggravated assaults and anti-social behaviour incidents on the island decreased by 68 per cent and 74 per cent respectively in the five years from 2004 to 2009.

Property crime and commercial break-ins decreased by 68 per cent and 79 per cent respectively.

The Plan, which was initiated in 2002 and eventually passed as law under the Northern Territory Act in 2005, is based on a liquor permit system that enables the members of two licensed clubs in the mining town of Alyangula to purchase and consume alcohol.

There are two main Aboriginal communities on Groote Eylandt in addition to Alyangula; Angurugu and Umbakumba.

According to the latest figures from the Remote Area Health Corps, around 42 per cent of the population of Groote Eylandt are Indigenous Australians.

While the Liquor Management Plan was originally launched as a result of concerns about alcohol-related harm in Aboriginal communities, Richard Preece, chief executive officer of the Anindilyakwa Land Council – which represents Groote Eylandt’s traditional owners – says the Plan applies to all residents and workers, regardless of their racial background.

"[The Plan] was a very strong decision by the community taken over a number of years," Preece told Australian Mining.

"The Plan is about physical location – there’s no racial attachment to it at all," he said.

If you’re living in Alyangula you can become a member of a club, if you’re from one of the other three communities – you can only become a member [of a club in Alyangula] if you are brought into Groote Eylandt to work – regardless whether you’re Indigenous or non-Indigenous."

Currently, around one-third of the population of Groote Eylandt work at GEMCO, according to Scott Perkins, the mining company’s manager of community relations.

Perkins says that while the permit system was not originally intended to impact the mining community, it has led to positive changes across all the communities on Groote Eylandt.

According to a 2007 report conducted by researchers from Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, James Cook University, the University of Sydney, and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, regular access to alcohol by the communities on Groote Eylandt was not available until the opening of the GEMCO in the 1960s.

According to BHP Billiton, co-owner of GEMCO with Anglo American Corporation, the increasing level of alcohol consumption on the island following the development of the manganese mines "strained the relationship between the two parties" for some 40 years.

A year following the implementation of the Liquor Management Plan, the number of break-ins on the island fell a staggering 86 per cent and aggravated assaults fell by 67 per cent – the lowest level for the previous four years, according to figures <[lb]>in the 2007 report.

The number of adults admitted to correctional centres was reduced by 23 per cent.

"[The Plan] has had a very positive impact on everyone," Preece says. "All communities are much more functional, families are happier and kids are now in a better environment… It’s more peaceful for everyone."

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