‘Big box’ liquor is the last thing NT needs

There is a horrendous cost to cheap booze and the people of the Northern Territory (NT) already pay too high a price.

We boast the highest proportion of deaths and hospitalisations attributable to alcohol in Australia.

When it comes to risky drinking, we lead the nation.

Four in ten Territorians aged 14 and over drink at a level that puts them at risk of short-term harm at least once a month, compared with the national average of 26 per cent. And almost one in three drinkers (30 per cent) in the Northern Territory consumes alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of long-term harm.

It is, therefore, baffling to see the NT Chamber of Commerce championing a proposed Dan Murphy’s development and, together with Dan Murphy’s, attempting to position the big box liquor store as the people’s saviour.

In a statement yesterday announcing Dan Murphy’s will challenge the Gunner Government’s decision to not budge on the 400 square metre floor space restriction, Shane Tremble, Head of Corporate Services with Dan Murphy’s claimed they did so “on our customer’s behalf”.

It would be a grave error to confuse Woolworths’ corporate interests with the interests of the people of the Northern Territory.

It is a disappointing but all too predictable response from Woolworths. The Chamber of Commerce’s acting CEO, Brian O’Gallagher (Territory consumers are capable of deciding how they purchase alcohol, 19 February 2017) should also know better.

He tries to tell us Dan Murphy’s interests line up squarely with those of hard-working parents and families, and that our economic sustainability lies at the bottom of a barrel of really cheap takeaway alcohol.

O’Gallagher is mistaken.

And both the Chamber and Woolworths are disingenuous when they attempt to frame this debate as the right of consumers to stroll unimpeded, through a liquor barn stocked with cheap booze. The High Court of Australia has determined that access to alcohol is not a right but a privilege regulated in the interests of the community.

Fundamental rights worth fighting for include the right not to be assaulted or killed in an alcohol-related incident and the right of children to grow up free from the fear of violence.

It’s common knowledge that alcohol is associated with 56 per cent of domestic assaults and more than half of all assaults reported to NT police. In some areas of the Territory, these alarming statistics are much higher.

Territory drivers are 20 times more likely to return a breath test above the legal limit (0.05) than drivers in other jurisdictions.

And here’s the kicker. Making cheap grog more available is a sure-fire way of ensuring we have even greater levels of alcohol harm in the Territory.

That would mean even more lifelong harm to young children, preventable hospitalisations, injuries, and deaths.

And while O’Gallagher spoke of the economic contribution of the construction of a big box liquor barn it is, in fact, their very real and very significant contribution to alcohol harm of which we must be very wary.

Liquor from these cheap retailers is associated with assaults, domestic violence, chronic disease, binge drinking, child maltreatment, and motor vehicle accidents.

Any suggestion that the introduction of a Dan Murphy’s is in our best interest is misguided and dangerous.


An abridged version of this post was first published in NT News on 9 March 2017 as Dan Murphy’s should stay away from NT.

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John Boffa

Dr John Boffa is the Chief Medical Officer Public Health at Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Aboriginal Corporation, and spokesperson for the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC)

This article has 2 comments

  1. Bill Medley Reply

    Thank you John for a very timely article. Dan Murphy’s sole interest is market share and thus profits. There retail model relies on sales per square metre and guaranteeing the ‘cheapest prices in Darwin’. We have more than enough alcohol outlets in the NT and although the alcohol consumption has been trending down it has more to do with the rate of young people not drinking alcohol.
    Our current alcohol consumption rate equates to over 600 cans of full strength beer per person per annum over the age of 15 years. They don’t think 600 plus cans per annum is enough!! Any informed person knows that cheaper prices result in increased sales. As you have rightly stated, they do not have Territorians interests at heart they want the money. That’s the only reason they are in the alcohol industry.

  2. Ian Webster Reply

    Dear John,

    Your continuing advocacy for the harm from alcohol in the NT and especially amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is a credit to you and Central Australian Aboriginal Congress Aboriginal Corporation and the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition.

    Promoting the well-being of the community when alcohol industry interests have the resources and funds to promote harmful use is indeed a challenge which you have so assiduously prosecuted.

    Thanks for these efforts.

    Ian

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