Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion first suggested local communities should regulate Vegemite purchases after reports from Aboriginal health organizations that the yeast-based spread was being bought in bulk to make homemade alcohol in some remote indigenous communities in the northeastern state of Queensland, where alcohol is banned.
Scullion described the spread as a "precursor to misery" in local newspaper the Courier Mail
on Saturday, saying children in some communities were too unwell from excess consumption of the Vegemite-based home-brew to attend school.
"Businesses in these communities also have a responsibility to report any purchase that may raise their own suspicions," he later added.
"This is a deregulatory Government and the last thing I want to do is to have a Vegemite watch ... because Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches," he said, when asked whether sales of Vegemite should be monitored.
Aboriginal alcohol bans
Various forms of alcohol control have long been imposed on Indigenous Australians and alcohol is presently banned in 19 Indigenous communities in Queensland, according to the state government.
However, governments in Queensland and the Northern Territory, which also imposes alcohol bans in some of its remote Indigenous areas, have started to question the effectiveness of banning alcohol outright. They argue the controls have created additional problems that can't be regulated -- like home brewing -- and were not effective in preventing alcohol-related problems.
Scott Wilson, director of the Aboriginal Drug and Alcohol Council (ADAC
) in South Australia told CNN that the most effective way of managing excess alcohol consumption in these Indigenous areas was when the whole community agrees to controls, which has historically been the case in some places.
"Whenever you have a ban that is imposed from outside these communities you are always going to get people who either seek to manufacture their own alcohol using fruit or other ingredients, or try to smuggle it in from outside the area," he said.
Vegemite is not the only culprit, with local Indigenous health groups previously reporting the use of cordials and other fruits in the manufacture of backyard alcohol in these dry, remote Australian communities.
The social cost of alcohol abuse
Although the rate of alcohol consumption among Indigenous Australians is below that of the non-Indigenous population, the health and social problems attributed to alcohol abuse among Indigenous Australians is almost double that of the general population, according to Australian government's HealthInfoNet
Social problems include higher rates of domestic violence, assault, family breakdown, child neglect and suicide, according to the website.
Many people claim these problems relate to Australia's history of racial discrimination against its Indigenous population.. Until 1965, Indigenous Australians weren't allowed to vote in federal elections.
The rates of alcohol-related deaths in Indigenous Australians are estimated to be between five and 19 times higher than the non-Indigenous population. Alcohol was also associated with 40% of male and 30% of female Indigenous suicides in Australia, according to research
from the ADAC.