Drink Tank

Tony on Tony

If Tony Abbott is elected as our next Prime Minister in September 2013, he has, unlike his predecessors and State counterparts, an unrivalled opportunity to exhibit statesmanship in achieving the effective prevention and reduction of alcohol-related harms.

With popular public support, Abbott’s mentor, John Howard successfully took on the gun lobby following the Port Arthur tragedy by introducing relatively effective firearm control laws.

What is unappreciated by our political leaders is that each week in Australia, four young people die as a primarily avoidable consequence of the dangerous oversupply, promotion and misuse of alcohol. Many more of course are irreparably injured with the ripple effect impacting the whole community.

The total annual cost to the Australian community is estimated be over $30b with less than a third recovered from the industry by taxes, levies etc.

To date, Tony Abbott’s response to the alcohol toll has unfortunately fallen significantly short of any meaningful evidence-based approach to tackle our national grog problem at its source.

Like his predecessors and State counterparts, Abbott, as PM will have two clear and distinct choices when selecting the path to achieve effective and sustainable prevention of, and reductions in, alcohol-related harms.

The first and easiest road is that painted and directed by the powerful alcohol lobby. Reaching the destination becomes far less important than journey.

The passenger is showered with gifts, support, scripts, connections and political donations. Coincidently, the Pubs and Clubs industry contributed over $500,000 to the Federal Liberal party in the last financial year.

The alternative path is less frequently travelled and far less glamorous and “vibrant” (to borrow a much abused favourite industry expression).

This path involves a deep and genuine passion and commitment to value the lives and safety of our younger people, families and community ahead of the price paid to retain the support of the alcohol industry. The two are mutually exclusive.

This road not yet taken is actually a cost saving route, focused as it is on dealing with the fundamental causes of the problems – effectively curbing excessive intoxication by reducing the dangerous oversupply, promotion and availability of alcohol as well as effective enforcement of the Responsible Service of Alcohol legal obligations.

This second path requires inoculations that build resistance and creates an effective immunity against powerful and virulent industry disinformation, propaganda and influence.

One of the worst features of this parasitic industry created virus is its primary capacity to take over all effective control of its hosts – affecting their executive functioning, hearing (selective), coordination (regulatory capture), speech (impaired) and vision (narrowed to one eye).

Witness the NSW State election when both the NSW Premier and Opposition leader (now Premier), rejected successful cost saving, evidence-based alcohol supply reduction measures claiming  they didn’t want to turn NSW into a “wowser state”.

More recent strains of the virus have been again detected in NSW with the AHA in the recent 4 Corners program “Punch Drunk” incredulously denying alcohol was the primary cause of the late night violence associated with highly intoxicated patrons.

And this myth that “alcohol isn’t the problem”, is symptomatically and predictably mirrored in NSW government policy where police drug detector dogs are now allowed to enter pubs and clubs, where primary blame is sheeted home to young impressionable individual patrons for their lack of “individual responsibility” despite persuasive industry promotions and marketing targeting children, and clearly failed Responsible Service of Alcohol.

We still suffer in NSW, the pathological consequences of a government shaping their alcohol harm minimisation and related crucial student education policies.effectively under the influence of the alcohol industry

In Queensland, the AHA is leading the charge to substantially reduce alcohol regulation under the spurious cover of stripping back “red tape”.

Both South Australian and NSW governments have recently succumbed to the “Small Bar” strain of the industry virus by removing resident/community’s sensible right to object about the proliferation of small bars in their neighbourhoods.

Tony Abbott’s latest $50m proposed “CCTV” solution to reduce crime suggests he and his Coalition are unfortunately inflicted with the same alcohol industry malaise.

Over 70% of valuable police time and resources is diverted to responding to preventable alcohol-related incidents (approximately half in private domestic settings) with the common denominator usually excessive intoxication. Similar substantial costs and delays are caused in our over – stretched health system.

Australian Institute of Criminology and other independent research evidence establishes that costly CCTV has no effective crime prevention value, with limited “detection” effectiveness.

The truth; Mr Abbott’s CCTV’s are incapable of both preventing and detecting the biggest crime of all.

Our political leaders’ (at all levels of government) lack of courage and statesmanship to choose the second, independent evidence – based pathway to genuinely minimise our alcohol toll – without a huge enforcement and health cost burden palmed off to taxpayers.

This alternative route will substantially and sustainably improving the health, welfare and safety, particularly of children, defenceless spouses and other, more disadvantaged, impressionable and vulnerable segments of our community.

These substantial improvements will be derived from the urgent adoption of a sensible and effective complementary package of urgent alcohol industry availability and supply reforms (hours, price, strength, advertising, outlet density, responsible service and enforcement) that already attract overwhelming community support.

Real leaders don’t walk away.

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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