Community leaders in a remote Aboriginal community in Central Australia have limited the sale of petrol over Christmas to stop people leaving town and bringing in alcohol.
Residents of the community of Papunya, 240 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, can only buy up to $20 worth of fuel at a time.
At $2.20 a litre, that equates to just over nine litres.
Community leaders have implemented the fuel restriction in an effort to stop “grog running” and drug trafficking in the community, but not everyone supports the idea.
It’s a controversial initiative but was needed to stop the problem before it got “too out of control”, said Papunya coordinator for MacDonnell Regional Council, Clint Healey.
“We’re trying to stop the grog running that’s been coming into the community, it’s getting a bit out of hand,” he said.
“You used to see bottles outside the community, but now you’re seeing empty wine bottles in front yards of houses.
“They end up going into town [Alice Springs], getting on the grog, they end up in jail or lost, so the best thing we’re trying to do is keep our local people in communities.
“They bring alcohol back into the community and it causes a lot of domestic violence and we want to stop that because the children are seeing stuff they think is normal.”
Mr Healey said there were alternative transport options available for people who needed to travel to Alice Springs for medical or other valid reasons.
“We’ve got the bush bus services that run out here if they need medical, the clinic organises to get them on the bush bus and bring them back in and out of town,” he said.
“And there’s always a reason we can get them more fuel if they’ve got a genuine reason.”
But with regular activities and services closing over the festive season, there is not a lot to do in Papunya, and that’s often when the trouble starts.
It’s also the time of year when community members want to travel to neighbouring communities or interstate to visit families.
The decision to limit fuel sales was made in consultation with community leaders and traditional owners, police, the church pastor, and the shire council, said community leader Sammy Butcher said.
It will be in place for the duration of the Christmas holidays.
“Twenty dollars is saving lives,” he said.
“We just want to make sure that people feel safe to go around the community… we’re trying to help people have a good holiday.
“During Christmas time, you’ll always hear about bad accidents, people cry, sorry business.”
Mr Butcher said it was not the first time Papunya had limited the amount of fuel people could buy, and he believed it was effective.
The community pastor, Graham Boulson, said he also supported the move.
“I see people in the community doing a lot of bad things like grog, ganja, and all [that] stuff,” he said.
“Families and children, they have no food.
“I see that this way works OK, making safe, better than them going into town somewhere and making trouble.”
But Mr Healey noted that not everyone in the community supported the idea.
“It’s a little bit unfair in some ways if people want to get into town to do shopping,” he said.
“And people who aren’t doing the wrong thing, it’s punishing them as well, which is not really right.
“But our main concern is the grog running and the welfare of the children and the women.”