No silver bullet in the binge drinking debate
Australia’s binge drinking culture sure is a divisive issue. But to put it simply we have two options. Stand by and do nothing and risk the $16bn alcohol toll escalating further out of control, or do something to break the cycle and make us a safer country.
Last week, when I asked the readers of The Punch for a solution, there were some comments which suggested that I wanted to turn Australia into a nanny state.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. And just so we’re crystal clear I don’t want to or ever plan to introduce prohibition.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Alcohol is a legal product and like most Australians I like the odd drink here and there. What I’m against is the excessive consumption of alcohol which leads to the $16bn alcohol toll.
I personally think that the $16bn of taxpayers’ money which is wasted mopping up after drunks could be better used elsewhere. I also think that our police shouldn’t be wasting 40 per cent of their time dealing with alcohol-related issues because we have a cultural problem. All of this to me is just a total waste of time and money.
So with that explained I think state and federal governments need to act in some way to address our binge drinking culture.
I know some readers of The Punch are worried about alcohol restrictions infringing on our free society. To them I say sorry, but something needs to be done. We have laws for a reason, and that reason is to protect ourselves from venturing too far and doing too much harm to society.
At the end of the day those people who are doing the right thing end up paying. They either pay with their taxpayers’ dollars through the health system or with extra police numbers. Or they pay for it when some drunk kills a family member in a car crash. And quite frankly I think people are sick of paying in this way.
There were some suggestions left on The Punch last week which recommended that we should deregulate our alcohol restrictions and lower the drinking age. Readers suggested that this had worked well in other countries as it takes the gloss of drinking.
I’m not convinced this is a good idea and still believe its a cultural problem that needs actions that would lead to responsible drinking. But so far the Rudd government has decided to use a tax hike on alcopops as its main solution - this falls well short of addressing the cultural problem.
Many other suggestions were left as well, but sadly many will be hard to implement. I read time and time again the call for earlier closing times. This is an idea which I think on the surface has merit, but will be hard to implement given public concerns.
If they don’t like it, then it might not have the desired affect. However, it certainly is an idea both state and federal governments should consider when looking at addressing the alcohol toll.
I think Imogen had a good point with her approach of making drinking ugly. This is something which has worked well with smoking. The alcohol giants like to make their drinks look sexy and advertise them as such.
However, if there was a campaign which did the opposite it could break the cultural link between Australians and the need to binge drink. But the question which needs to be answered is what sort of campaign would work best? A positive campaign like Slip Slop Slap, or a negative one like that with the road toll. Both I believe are worth exploring further.
The suggestion the responsible service of alcohol laws aren’t enforced is something I’ve heard plenty of times. I have been told by many people that they have never seen anyone turned away from a bar for being too drunk. That’s despite the majority of people in a nightclub being well intoxicated at 3am.
So are we being too soft on nightclub and bar owners? Are the State Government’s doing enough to enforce the law? Would the alcohol toll be reduced if the law was enforced? It’s a possibility. The idea of tougher penalties is one that could be look at by both state and federal governments.
Jack from Perth wrote:
“Its soft sentencing and weak cops that cause violence. In Perth, on Murry Street, a police officer will gladly give you a $150 fine for having an open bottle of win on the street but once a fight breaks out he is no where to be seen.”
It’s an interesting point which Jack makes and one which should be looked at. On the surface there could be merit in tougher penalties. But when do restrictions become to much?
So where does all this leave us? One thing sure is clear - there is no silver bullet to solving our culture of binge drinking or alcohol-fuelled street violence. But that doesn’t mean governments should give up because it’s all too hard.
I think one program which could go a long way to helping solve some of the problems on our streets is the ‘Just Think’ program. It’s a program which was started by the Geelong Football Club and the Geelong Advertiser is one I hope to take to the Federal Government to get more funding.
It’s designed in a way which doesn’t stop people from drinking, but more getting them to think before they drink and think before they act. It’s a program which gets people talking and thinking about the consequences of binge drinking, not just for them but for the community. It now has the backing of the eight clubs involved in the AFL finals, and I think through them it can send a pretty positive message to our youth.
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