Drink Tank

It’s time to address the elephant in the room

New research showing that alcohol is involved in nearly half of all family violence cases in Victoria is shocking. It is also a loud wakeup call that requires serious and swift changes to Victoria’s 20 year old liquor licensing laws.

Despite overwhelming efforts by national and local organisations to stamp out this unacceptable behaviour, family violence is on the rise in our state. You might be asking yourself, how can this be the case? Well, it is – and the government has the power to make changes.

With alcohol being involved in 44.2 per cent of family violence cases, there is little doubt where the solution lies.

There is an indisputable link between the number of bottle shops in a neighbourhood and domestic violence. A 10-year-long Victorian study found that when the number of bottle shops increased by 10 per cent there was a 3.3 percent increase in domestic violence. Alcohol is also a significant contributor to child protection cases across Australia, with 10,000 children in the child protection sector because of the alcohol use of a carer.

Over the past 15 years the number of liquor outlets in Victoria has increased about 50 per cent – giving our state first place in the alcohol availability stakes.

The good news is that everyone is talking about domestic violence and the Victorian Government is taking action, but the problem is the role of alcohol in this violence hasn’t been addressed.

Victoria’s Royal Commission into Family Violence made 227 recommendations – all of which the Government has committed to take on, including a review of the state’s Liquor Act. The review of the Liquor Act has so far gone under the radar, but it is happening right now and the window of opportunity for reform is fast closing.

Under the current system, if someone wants to open a new alcohol outlet in an area which is already well-served by many other bottle shops, the application process does not take seriously community issues and concerns.

We saw a perfect example of this recently in the City of Casey which is a well-known “family violence hotspot”. Dan Murphy’s was given the green light to open a ‘big box’ outlet in the area despite there already being an existing 25 bottle shops in a 5 kilometre radius. Police and local council vehemently opposed the application based on family violence concerns.  However, their protest fell on deaf ears.

Priority is given by the Act to business interests over protecting the safety of vulnerable families and communities.

This clearly demonstrates the need for an overhaul of liquor licensing approvals.

The Victorian Government has gone on record saying it wants to reduce red-tape within the Liquor Act, which likely means a reduction in regulation. Yet, Victoria has already deregulated the liquor industry, leaving the community with little control over the number of bottle shops in its backyard. And we wonder why family violence is on the rise?

And the irony is, the Liquor Act’s first aim is to minimise harm arising from the misuse of alcohol.

If we are serious about preventing family violence we have to get serious about the role of alcohol. The longer we take to address the elephant in the room, the longer this issue will continue to play out and destroy people’s lives.

We need to change the way that we review and approve liquor licenses to properly consider the views of the community.

We need to be able to say that an area has far too many liquor licenses and that no more should be given.

We need to get serious about regulating reckless promotions that allow people to buy car loads of alcohol at bargain basement prices, without consideration for the risk to the community.

It’s imperative the Victorian Government conduct its Liquor Act review with family violence at the forefront. They have the power to make the change.

Regulating the use of alcohol is critical to reducing harm. Reducing red tape must not be at the expense of family safety, nor expose more Victorians to the horror of police stretching blue tape across the family home.

This post was originally published by the Alcohol & Drug Foundation.

John Rogerson

John Rogerson

John Rogerson was appointed Chief Executive of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation in 2008. John joined the Foundation in October, 1994 as General Manager – Operations and has been Deputy Chief Executive, and Director of Good Sports. Prior to this John worked in the agriculture industry for 10 years, was Director of Public Affairs in the Department of Primary Industries, and founding General Manager of Agmedia, a publishing and advertising company. He has post-graduate qualifications in Business Administration.

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