Drink Tank

Sunshine State or Moonshine State?

A scathing report released by the Queensland Auditor-General today on the effectiveness of Queensland’s $10 million Drink Safe Precinct program, has sent a strong message to the Queensland Government that to seriously tackle alcohol related harms, the government must do more than introduce ineffective and compromised solutions.

Of concern,  the report comes as the Queensland Government, under the guise of removing red tape, examines measures that would further weaken Queensland’s liquor laws.

Today on Drink Tank, the chairman of the Newcastle Community Drug Action Team, Tony Brown warns that the Government’s push toward further deregulation will transform the Sunshine State into the Moonshine State.

The Queensland Government has recently proposed laws allowing the supply of alcohol without a liquor licence in nursing homes, hospitals, Parliament House and hairdressing salons as an apparent benign first step in its “red-tape reduction” agenda.

The deregulation approach advocated in the supporting government discussion paper on removing red tape in the Queensland liquor and gaming industry, released on February 15, will arguably transform the Sunshine State into the Moonshine State.

The paper claims not to be government policy. However, to ensure a predictable outcome, the so-called “expert” discussion panel is stacked with private industry representatives and excludes any recognised independent public health experts with experience inalcohol harm minimisation research.

This has resulted in the production of a very ordinary and superficial discussion paper that has selectively picked and misrepresented limited amounts of research evidence and given unjustified legitimacy to inaccurate and misleading alcohol industry assertions.

The red tape report is circulating at a time when alcohol has never been so freely available, heavily promoted and cheap. Bulk discount outlets sell alcohol cheaper than bottled water and young bingers are still served alcohol until 5am in late trading “entertainment” precincts throughout Queensland.

Sensible regulation is seen by the alcohol industry as bad for its business based, as it is, on maximising the volume and strength of alcohol supplied to too willing vulnerable drinkers.

However, the development and application of effective laws and controls that will significantly reduce the very costly harms associated with the current dangerous oversupply and promotion of alcohol in Queensland must be the people’s and Premier Campbell Newman’s first priority.

Public and police safety must be put ahead of pub and pokie profits.

Both can only effectively co-exist with sensible and effective government controls based on the best available independent evidence that supports modest reductions in the availability and supply of alcohol and the effective enforcement of Responsible Service of Alcohol laws. This has not been provided in the discussion paper.

The paper gives credence to the Australian Hotel Association’s assertion that a small and debatable reduction in the nation’s overall volumetric consumption of alcohol justifies a reduction in its regulation.

These broad-based estimates mask the reality of the man-made toxic epidemic in binge drinking among young people that, in Victoria, has seen about a 100 per cent increase in the rate of children under 18 admitted to hospital for acute alcohol poisoning over a six-year period and totally unacceptable (but primarily preventable) rates of alcohol-fuelled domestic and street violence. Similar results were repeated in NSW.

There is no reason to believe young Queenslanders are immune from the same catastrophe from which only the alcohol industry and their political acolytes profit.

A key objective of the discussion paper is to maintain and promote so called late night/early morning “vibrancy”.

Any sober observer – including local residents, front-line police, ambulance officers and emergency department medical staff – would strongly disagree that crowded Fortitude Valley, Surfers Paradise and large northern cities after 2am on Saturday and Sunday, with their rivers of grog, urine, vomit and violence, could be honestly described as “vibrant”.

Newman would have you believe everyone benefits from cutting red tape; that removing the burden of unnecessary bureaucratic demands in the interest of increased efficiency and cost savings is a “win” for the people of Queensland.

But that’s simply not the case.

Far from lessening the red tape, the Newman Government needs to unequivocally demonstrate that it’s not afraid to stand up to the powerful alcohol and gambling industry and is ready, willing and able to put the safety, health and welfare of all the people of Queensland first.

Real heroes are too afraid to walk away.

Tony Brown is the chairman of the Newcastle Community Drug Action Team and a solicitor.

This article was first published in the Courier Mail on 22 April 2013

Photograph by Andre & Anita Nieuwland

Tony Brown

Tony Brown is a PhD (Law) Scholar, Conjoint Fellow School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle. He is the Chairperson of the Newcastle and Hunter Region Multicultural Drug Action Teams. He voluntarily led and represented around 150 local residents, small businesses and concerned citizens in the complex legal proceedings initiated by the Police that led to the “Newcastle conditions”.

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