I was shown a photo recently of me giving a leaving certificate to one of my students. The photo moved me greatly because the boy is now dead. His name was Thomas Kelly and he was killed last year when someone hit him from behind when he was strolling in King’s Cross with his girlfriend. No motive has yet been established for the attack. A reason has been suggested. The alleged killer was drunk. Evidently, this is meant to explain things.
When answers to alcohol fuelled violence are suggested, the hackneyed solution of more education is invariably trotted out. It was at the recent NSW
Alcohol Summit. This is going to sound strange coming from a headmaster, but I don’t think education helps much with this sort of PROBLEM. People know that when they gamble, the odds are they will lose their money. People know that if they smoke, they may die of cancer. People know that if they have unprotected sex, they may end up with a sexually transmitted disease. But, many still do it.
It is not a lack of knowledge that causes a person to get drunk. It is a lack of judgement. It is a lack of consequence. It is a lack of an understanding of what it means to be a member of society.
Zealots will come out and say we should not consume more than two standard drinks a day and that, shock, horror, 7.2% of Australians drink daily. Without wanting to trivialise the risks associated with any form of drinking, these sorts of figures do not win the average Aussie to the cause of moderation.
What should worry us are figures that suggest that many young Aussies are drinking in order to get drunk, that ten million Australians are adversely affected by someone else’s drinking habits and that $ 1.4 billion is spent paying for the consequences of alcohol fuelled violence every year.
Reform is not going to happen unless it targets the main problem which is not so much drinking as excessive drinking. 10% of our heaviest drinkers consume about 50% of our alcohol. The alcohol industry relies heavily on big drinkers for their profit. Therefore, society needs to target those times and those places that lend themselves to heavy drinking.
The various initiatives used to cut down on alcohol related violence in Newcastle need to be introduced state-wide. No double shots after a certain hour, bars closed at 3 AM, plastic glasses after Cinderella loses her shoe…this is sensible stuff. Yes, it will hit the heavy drinkers who want to make a night and then a day of it – but they need to harden up. The price society is paying for their freedom is too high. Go home. What are the hours after 3am going to bring other than a headache, some vomit and a fight for a cab?
Of course, these measures bring no guarantees. Thomas was killed just after 10 pm. But the 37% reduction in alcohol related misbehaviour in Newcastle is not to be sniffed at.
The Alcohol industry spends over $1 million a day in Australia promoting its products. There is no way a government can counter this. That said, some thought should be given to restricting alcohol promotion. Given the carnage on our roads, a good place to start might be at our major car races. The poor lads at Bathurst were restricted to a slab of beer per person a day last year. And this was supposed to be progress! It is worth remembering that fast cars plus loose alcohol can equal a body on a slab.
Decreased availability can help, but not prohibition. Liquor outlets that contribute to violence should be closed. Full stop. The current penalties and compliance checks are a joke. We also need to try and move pubs from high volume, low margin establishments to low volume, high margin establishments. Cheap swill halls out. Classy bars in. This might have the happy effect of making many establishments more female friendly.
We may also need to be prepared to pay more for alcohol. Unpopular? Yes – but there is an undeniable link between increased price and decreased consumption. Great Britain whacked a 2% increase per year for five years, and this appears to have helped.
More than anything, we need politicians with guts. The mealy-mouthed words from some at the recent 2013 NSW Alcohol Summit confirm a lack of leadership in this area. Now is the time for bipartisan support for the Newcastle initiatives. Now is the time to declare war on heavy drinking. Now is the time to stop any more weeping over photos of those killed by alcohol-fuelled violence.