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.’