Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin refuses to say whether she'll intervene to reinstate grog restrictions in the Top End if the NT government refuses to.
Canberra has called on the NT government to reinstate its Banned Drinkers Register (BDR), but the Country Liberal Party (CLP) says the federal government should mind its own business.
The CLP says statistics show the BDR failed to curb alcohol-fuelled violence, but Ms Macklin believes it's had a positive effect.
"Is it going to fix everything? Of course not. But was it useful and should it be reinstated because it's useful? Yes it should," she told ABC television on Wednesday.
Ms Macklin said she had written the NT's chief minister seeking agreement to appoint an expert to assess two troublesome Alice Springs pubs, as a first step.
Asked if she would intervene if the NT ultimately refused to reintroduce the BDR, Ms Macklin pointed out she does have some powers under Labor's Stronger Futures legislation.
But she did not commit to using them.
"What we may or may not do after that remains to be seen," she said.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard used her annual Closing the Gap speech on indigenous disadvantage on Wednesday to declare that she feared the "rivers of grog" that wreaked havoc among indigenous communities were beginning to flow again.
She said her government would "take action in response to any irresponsible policy changes" that could forfeit hard-won gains.