Booze and parties: August 25 crunch time

COMMENT by RUSSELL GUY

 

With the death of Kwementyaye Briscoe in the Alice Springs police watchhouse in January (the image at right was produced in evidence at the inquest), and the recent death of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross, there is a rapidly increasing public awareness of the fact that Australians have allowed a national drinking culture to escalate into unacceptable levels of alcohol-related violence and self-harm.
This week, the Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) said: “There has been an explosion in the supply of cheap alcohol, which has made ‘loading-up’ at home before heading out to clubs and bars acceptable.”
In WA, the McCuster Centre For Action on Alcohol and Youth (MCAAY) has just released several reports on the alcohol industry and its effect on young people.
A new report on alcohol product labeling was released today by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) as it increases pressure on governments to enforce the abysmal failure of the alcohol industry to self-regulate.  Meanwhile, a plan to introduce liquor restrictions across the Pilbara has raised the ire of local businesses, supermarket chains and powerful industry groups.

Last year, I was surprised to read in the NT News that the alcohol industry contributes to the political campaign funds of the two parties contesting the forthcoming NT election. I asked the leaders of these parties if this was correct, but to date, I have received no reply.

Campaign donation figures available to the public are often from companies or donors whose connections to the liquor industry are not clear, but neither Opposition Leader Terry Mills nor Chief Minister Paul Henderson will provide explanations.
The MCAAY says the UK based, Altria Group has revenues of US$28,311million p.a.
One of its key brands is VB, the “green cans” often the choice of problem drinkers, which proclaims its sporting sponsorship as “Proudly supporting Cricket Australia, Surfing Australia and NRL.”
As further evidence for the expanding alcohol industry, I was also surprised to learn of the recent agreement between Coca-Cola and the alcohol industry, as distributors for Jim Beam, other bourbons and Galliano.
The list of major liquor merchants headquartered in Australia is also extensive, including Wesfarmers (owner of Coles and 93 hotels), Woolworths (with 37% of liquor retailing market share) and Metcash, Australia’s leading wholesale distributor, supplying over 15,000 hotels, liquor stores and restaurants, including online outlets.
Liquorland, Cellarbrations and 450 Thirsty Camels are included in outlets controlled by these three Australian suppliers.  Woolworths (1250 stores), Coles (785 stores) and IGA compete for the burgeoning alcohol dollar.
Take-away is where the money is (70% of alcohol sold in the NT is take-away). Agitating for take-away sales-free days is asking for a trade-off in lives over profit. Unsurprisingly, restricting this supply is not a popular call.
However, research-based organizations, including the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) are networking with nationally placed, community-based organizations like Alice Springs’ People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) and many others, to expose the activities of the alcohol industry and their vested interests.
In relation to young people, the MCAAY says: “The brain is still developing until the early 20s and is more sensitive to the effect of alcohol on structural and functional development as the prefrontal cortex is still developing.”
But in formulating the NT Country Liberals’ alcohol policy, Terry Mills, the Leader of the NT Opposition makes the prima facie claim “It’s behavior that’s the problem, not the substance.”
According to MCAAY, over the last 10 years about 15% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds were due to risky / high risk drinking.  On average, five Australians under 25 die from injury or disease caused by hazardous drinking each week and Indigenous people are more than twice as likely to die.
Why is that?  Evidence produced by MCAAY is captured in the quotes “Drinking is the best way of relaxing” and “One of the main reasons I drink is to get drunk” (50.1% and 43.3% of 16-17 year old WA school students respectively), a figure which shows a significant increase.  Up to 70% of police responses are alcohol-related and increasing, as are annual budgets for alcohol-abuse.
The alcohol industry is multi-tentacled, stretching across continents, allegedly into the campaigns of the NT political parties, supermarkets, service stations and expanding, but when an intoxicated Indigenous woman holds up her hand and stops a train besides the now ironically named, Little Sisters Town Camp, it could be that she’s saying “Stop!” to the free market grog trade decimating her community.
The tragedy is that it doesn’t stop there.  If this woman is pregnant, the unborn child is likely to suffer Foetal Alcohol Sprectrum Disorder.
Terry Mills faces the Australian Christian Lobby’s Make it Count Election Forum at CDU, Darwin next Thursday, August 9 at 7:30pm. The webcast will be streamed live to the Baptist Church, cnr Crispe and Brown St, Alice Springs.
Paul Henderson, NT Chief Minister declined to participate.

Photo above: No, it isn’t. The new 30 can VB pack declares itself “Proudly Australian” when it’s owned by UK-based Altria Group, parent company of US tobacco giant Philip Morris.’

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7 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Russell Guy
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Anonymous Steve @ August 3.
    Your first assertion needs qualification.
    Sydney and Melbourne police backed each other in calling for alcohol restrictions in the week after the murder of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross. I saw them on ABC TV Breakfast News. You can verify this by calling ABC News, Sydney.
    Your second “half a brain” assertion defies the organisational evidence listed in my comment (MCAAY, FARE, ADF, NAAC, etc), all of whom are led by respected individuals in their field. If you care to Google them, you can read their reports for yourself. It takes some time.
    Your “causation and correlation” statement is not upheld by the information supplied by sources quoted.
    I can’t help your sensibilities being offended by my argument, but perhaps if you correlated the human statistics in terms of self-harm caused by free-trade alcohol supply, e.g., the growing concern about Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, youth binge drinking on brain development and domestic violence,etc, you would know what it means to be offended by the alcohol industry’s profit motive and its causation of misery by addiction to what is a legally sanctioned drug. It’s a privilege to consume it, not a right, nor is it unimpeachable. You make the correlation between my argument and prohibition. Not me.
    Please give me some of those countries where you say “temperance and prohibition movements” have become public policy and we’ll attempt some social analysis, but first, do the math suggested above at Google.
    I haven’t ever said that alcohol is “truly the root of all evil”. I believe you are confusing this with the Scripture about the love of money, when you could be looking at that in terms of alcohol derived profit and displaced positive outcomes. The body of statistics is hardly all spurious.
    Which Middle Eastern countries have “complete prohibition”?
    Utopian ideals are a fantasy.
    Thanks for your interest in this debate.

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  2. Steve
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    If alcohol regulations are the solution to the problem, then why do all other major Australian cities with less alcohol regulation have fewer problems per capita than Alice?
    Russ, call your numbers “evidence-based” all you want, but know that anyone with half a brain could produce reputable statistics to dispute any numbers you provide. Statistics in and of themselves aren’t omnipotent. You can’t seem to grasp the distinction between correlation and causation.
    As someone with experience in social research, your arguments offend basic sensibilities. In addition to citing useless numbers, you refuse to consider historical precedent in countries where temperance and prohibition movements have become public policy. If alcohol was truly the root of all evil, as you spend your time preaching, shouldn’t the Middle Eastern countries with complete prohibition be a utopia?

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  3. Russell Guy
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Ahh.. Steve. You’ve dropped yourself in it again. Here I was trying to go gentle on you, but you’ve come out swinging again.
    I was going to say how good it is to see you finally coming around to “science-based” arguments at the “radioactive spillage” story after your labeling of evidence-based data “idiotic” during your anti-alcohol reform postings earlier this year.
    I was going to over-look your publicly expressed comment that you wanted “PAAC to go” for expressing its concerns about alcohol-abuse in “our” community.
    I tried to forget that you wrote that discussion on alcohol had “risen to ridiculous levels” when more and more national organisations, including police in four states, are raising the alert that Australia has a massive drinking problem.
    It all makes you look a little over-reactive, but we know that you never let evidence get in the way of politics. Your continual use of the term “Loopy Left” identifies you as a strictly ad hominem hawk, leaving others to clean up your mess, e.g. the Port Augusta affair.
    Like the Leader of the Oppostion, the Country Liberals’ Terry Mills, of whom I have written above, you focus on “behavior rather than substance” as the problem in the alcohol debate. In fact, it’s both, but, like Terry, you resolve into fundamentalist paranoia, which translates into protecting yourself at all costs.
    During the Cold War, the British statesman E. P. Thompson countered the government slogan “Protect and Survive” with “Protest and Survive.” I protest, rather than be bullied by the alcohol industry and its mates protecting their interests.

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  4. Hal Duell
    Posted August 4, 2012 at 8:10 am

    @Steve Brown
    While I think it is by now clear to anyone following this debate that you and I will probably never agree on how best to address the issue of alcohol in Alice, I have always respected your position and respected you for clearly stating it.
    During the recent election I was criticised in this forum for asking candidates to state their views on this and other issues, a criticism I though then, and still think now, to be particularly ignorant. As a councillor on the Town Council you enjoy a public profile, and while it may not be in your immediate brief to alter, or not, alcohol policy in Alice, your views carry weight. It helps us all that you share them with us.
    My concern with alcohol, distilled into my interest in having a day off, is not so much to help individuals with their alcohol problem as it is to help Alice Springs with its alcohol problem.
    To be honest, I don’t really have much time for the individual binge drinker. Living as I do right amongst them both in Alice Springs and in the Gap, I mostly find drunks an offensive nuisance and wish they would just piss off.
    But the damage alcohol is doing to Alice Springs itself (and Australia if the truth be known) has reached a point where referencing an Ayn Rand type individual ethos is to deny the obvious. Like in the WWI trenches where they kept sending troops over the top into certain machine gun fire and death, we are doing something similar by repeatedly selling, selling, selling alcohol all the time. It’s our own version of going over the top, and it, too, is clearly not working.
    The damage we are doing to Alice Springs is no longer debatable. Tourists are leaving, and why would they stay? Children with foetal alcohol syndrome are about to start school in numbers, and I shudder when I think what that will do to our public school system. There are other effects, but I am running out of space.
    None of these symptoms will be stopped in its tracks by giving us a day off. But it would give us a day off, and I suggest we could all use one. The pubs and clubs will still be open for anyone wanting a drink, but the outlets responsible for 70% of alcohol sales would not.
    Contrary to what you seem to be saying, I don’t think most of our problem drinking comes from desperate alcoholics who need a drink. I think most of it comes from opportunistic binge drinkers who just want one.
    And I hope Erwin follows up on his search for an answer to the question of donations by the alcohol industry to political parties in the NT.

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  5. Leigh Childs
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Returning home from Queensland recently, we were talking to a couple at a road side stop, who very pointedly told us that they left Alice in a hurry, appalled at the drunken behaviour of the locals and the high prices at the caravan parks. They had planned on staying a number of days but quite quickly changed their minds.

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  6. Steve Brown
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    It’s not Comment we get from this bloke Ed its a continual barrage of evangelistic propaganda and if the woman in the article was screaming out at the train it was much more likely she was screaming out something like “get out of my face you white *****”
    The Socialist response that has held sway the last eight years, that of attacking the community, making them responsible for an individual’s choices. It has been an utter failure, a complete disaster in fact. It is not Mr Guy’s or any other person’s role to decide what life choices an individual may make, and when we attempt to do so it simply causes people to react violently against it, they rebel like the woman above.
    The answer, and one I am delighted to say Terry Mills is pushing, is to set sensible trading hours something like 8.30 to 7.30 seven days a week. You do this because shortening hours let alone taking out days, triggers the addicts’ response to threatened supply – binging. It’s like putting out lollies for kids: you put them out occasionally they’ll eat till they’re sick. If they are out all the time they’ll eat them occasionally, when they feel like it.
    Go with your day off idea, Hal, drunks will buy up extra on the day before but won’t be able to resist drinking the lot the first night, which means far too much that night, nothing left the next day, which by the next afternoon will lead to more bashings and break-ins.
    The next night, as drunks are going through the horrors, they try to find another supply. All this mayhem finally results in another enormous binging session the day the pub opens again to make up for the extremes of the past few nights.
    Yeh, Hal, days off as you put it trigger brawls, big parties, break-ins and just plain mayhem. As for you wanting a day off, Hal, well mate, just because the pubs open you don’t have to go there. You can have a day off any time you want, just like the rest of us. The answer to our alcohol abuse problem lies in dealing with the bad behaviour of the individual, not in penalising the community. Unlike the preachings and rantings of the Loopy Left, you, the individual, really are responsible for what you put in your mouth, not the CEO of Coles, or any other company. They are simply catering to your demands. Roll on election day, there’s a change a coming. Yipeeee!

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  7. Hal Duell
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    “Agitating for take-away sales-free days is asking for a trade-off in lives over profit. Unsurprisingly, restricting this supply is not a popular call.”
    And right there is the nub of it all. Why is it unsurprising that a call to deny by only one day the sale of take-away alcohol remains so unpopular.
    The impact on tourism is often mentioned, and yet no one makes the connection between public drunks and the loss of tourism. Those tourists, and there are reportedly many, who come to central Australia for an indigenous experience do not come to watch people stumbling down the streets while carrying on like pork chops.
    The unconnected dots out there are looming as large as our many roundabouts.

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