Pilbara Aboriginal corporation speaks out over gift cards

North West Telegraph
Police outside South Hedland Shopping Centre.
Camera IconPolice outside South Hedland Shopping Centre. Credit: North West Telegraph, Taylar Amonini

A Pilbara Aboriginal corporation has spoken out after criticism over the handing out of gift cards in Port Hedland which allowed recipients to buy liquor, food, toys and clothing for Christmas.

Gumala Aboriginal Corporation chairman Steven Dhu wrote an opinion piece about the issue this week after Hedland police brought the existence of the cards, and a spike in alcohol-related incidents they claimed were linked to them, to the public’s attention.

In the piece, Mr Dhu said the organisation had given out 882 $200 gift vouchers, redeemable at a range of outlets.

“In December, Gumala Aboriginal Corporation decided to make a goodwill gesture to ensure there was some festive cheer for our members, including food on the table, clothes on their backs and toys for their kids,” he said.

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“Let it be clear – Gumala Aboriginal Corporation does not condone or encourage alcoholism and anti-social behaviour in any form. These issues are a blight on society no matter where we live.

“Contrary to police comments, the gift cards distributed have not created this problem. Alcohol and drug abuse is a long-running and widespread issue fought by many Australian communities, both indigenous and non-indigenous.

“We will not be held accountable for a small minority who may have used gift cards to buy alcohol.

“Further, where are the cold hard facts that the release of these gift cards has contributed to this community problem? I challenge police to come good with some solid statistics that show a correlation.”

Sen-Sgt Snashall spoke to the North West Telegraph last week after officers attended 46 jobs on December 21, 33 of which he claimed were alcohol related.

The next day, Sen-Sgt Snashall advised takeaway alcohol outlets that they were only permitted to open between 3pm and 7pm under Section 114 of the Liquor Control Act and also placed officers at point-of-sale locations around the town.

Restrictions on sale of alcohol were placed several times on the run up to Christmas, including a total ban on takeaway alcohol sales, the first of its kind in the region, on December 16 after police officers were called out 68 times between December 13 and 15 and 19 call-outs for St John’s Ambulance.

“There were no offences reported on the Friday (December 16) and SJA were only called out 4 times, none of which were alcohol related. Police only attended 18 task on the Friday compared with 39 the previous night,” Sen-Sgt Snashall said.

“On Saturday, December 17, liquor stores operated as usual. Police responded to 41 calls for assistance, 17 of which were alcohol related. Eight offences were reported including three domestic assaults (alcohol related).”

Sen-Sgt Snashall said at the time: “I don’t think it takes rocket science to ascertain what the problem is here”.

“No alcohol for one day resulted in no offences being reported,” he said. “Placing tighter scrutiny at the point of sale significantly reduced offending as well as decreasing police and SJA call outs.

“Point-of-sale policing is however not sustainable in the long term which is why the community seriously needs to embrace and consider harm minimisation strategies in the longer term.”

Mr Dhu said the issue boiled down to education about alcohol and drug use and abuse.

“Gift cards are also about financial literacy – empowering people to make their own financial decisions,” he said.

“We are not living in the ‘ration days’ like our forefathers, lining up for food, and I do not advocate going back to those days.

“At the end of the day, Gumala is about self-determination, not micro-managing our members.

“We cannot parent grown men and women.

“We cannot be accountable for how members choose to spend their money, just like mining giants are not responsible for how its employees and executives spend their bonuses.

“In the aftermath of the media coverage, we have seen keyboard warriors saturate social media with disgusting and hurtful racial remarks.

“It’s time for police to stop passing blame and for us to accept responsibility as a united community. It’s time to move forward collaboratively to make a change.

“If there is true community concern, I invite WA Police, government agencies and other Aboriginal corporations to meet and work collaboratively to address the multitude of issues in the Pilbara.”

Town of Port Hedland Mayor Camilo Blanco last week promised to “up the ante” on solving alcohol-related issues and antisocial behaviour in South Hedland.

“Our community, Port Hedland, has had enough,” he said. “If we have to put up with this ... week after week, the country will have to see the footage as well.

“I am pressuring the police to apply Liquor Control Act section 64 ... there’s a lot of talk about restrictions but no action.”

Section 64 allows licensing officials to impose extra conditions on the sale of alcohol.

Gumala Aboriginal Corporation, created in 1996, is the second-largest in Australia and serves the Banyjima, Innawonga and Nyiyaparlie people of the Pilbara region.

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