Monday, September 28, 2009

Alcohol – Australia’s Greatest Curse.

Australians have a tendency to be loud and obnoxious when they are beered up, which in my experience, is much of the time. They're descendants from pockets and cut purses, and as we all know, the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. Michael Carey – American

They [Australians] are not a nation of snobs like the English or of extravagant boasters like the Americans or of reckless profligates like the French, they are simply a nation of drunkards. Marcus Clark – English Historian

A man may be a tough, concentrated, successful money-maker and never contribute to his country anything more than a horrible example. Robert Menzies – Former Australian Prime minister

This is going to sound mighty hypocritical coming from an imbiber, but I urge you to hear me out. Anything overdone which leads to a negative outcome is bad for you, and many things can become negative addictions. Even eating to excess is unhealthy. Then there are runners so addicted to the endorphin highs induced by running long distances that they’ll neglect family and friends until it becomes an obsessive lifestyle. Running becomes almost their whole world, and without it life would have less meaning to them (former running addict speaking here; now an occasional walker). We all overindulge in something, don’t we?

What I am talking about is the negative social impact alcohol can have on society-at-large. Admittedly, my view of this has taken a dramatic and negative alteration since taking up cab driving again three years ago. Before that I never gave much thought to this (perhaps even contributed to the problem sometimes), but seeing the devastation firsthand has altered my feelings forever. A Saturday night going into Sunday morning can be a cab driver’s worst nightmare. I dread the Saturday nights, but unfortunately it’s where the most money is to be earned. So I just have to bear it and consider it an “occupational hazard”. I imagine being a police or ambulance officer on such nights is no different. I’ll make my case clearer by quoting Senator Steve Fielding:

I’m going to do something here that most pollies wouldn’t do and ask for help. Help in trying to address Australia’s $16bn alcohol toll. I want the readers of my blog to leave a comment and share their ideas on how governments can address Australia’s binge drinking culture and the violence which stems from it….As we know only too well, Kevin Rudd’s idea of fixing this nation’s binge drinking culture was to slap a tax on alcopops. Well Kevin, that’s done nothing to prevent the alcohol fuelled violence which has taken hold on our streets. It’s now almost 18 months since the tax was introduced and we’re still reading about alcohol related bashings and glassings in the paper every week….
Now I’m no wowser. I drink and most Australians drink, but something needs to be done to stop the $16bn a year in taxpayers’ money from being wasted on cleaning up after drunks. That’s not to mention the 40 percent of police work which is related to the excessive consumption of alcohol….
It’s no wonder people are getting beaten up around nightspots where there is the dangerous cocktail of 12 jager bombs and testosterone mixed together. We could always put more police on the streets but is that really going to address the core problem that we’ve got here?

Link: Our Drunk Nation

That will give you an idea of the sort of things I see on a Saturday, and even Sunday night to a lesser extent. Vandalism, street fights, people urinating in public, pub, club and hotel brawls. Last year at one hotel I witnessed nine police cars attend the scene of a brawl, and with the dog squad and detectives present, it took them half an hour to forty-five minutes to bring it under control. Officers were also assaulted. You would be shocked to realise how often this occurs. Every single weekend. Somewhere in our area it happens every single weekend. I think one solution is earlier closing hours for pubs and clubs, but I’m not banking my credibility on it. I’ve seen serious brawls at 8pm on a Saturday night. Sometimes it’s like working in a war zone. And let me also qualify here that contrary to a popular view, alcohol-related problems isn't an “Aboriginal problem”. Anglo-Aussies, generational Australians born and bred here, are among the worst offenders.

This seldom occurred 35 years ago. Pubs and clubs had curfews, and alcohol could not be sold after 6pm. Admittedly, social life then was limited to perhaps two or three main venues. Now there’s a nightclub on almost every block in the CBD. Glassing at nightclubs was unheard of. And the police are far, far outnumbered today.

If the charge of hypocrisy is levelled at me for pointing this out, I happily wear it just to point it out. My realisation has really only occurred in the last three years. Now I avoid clubs like the plague when I’m off work, except on rare occasions when I might go out with family. I don’t drink alcohol at all when I’m on working days/nights, not even when I know a drink or two may help me sleep better during the daylight hours when I’m on night-shift. So I join with Senator Fielding in saying, “I’m no wowser, I drink too”. But we do have a serious social problem on our hands, and many don’t realise how serious it is. Some of it is exacerbated by over-zealous nightclub security (in fact a lot of it is), and I’ve had more than one nightclub worker confess to me “we sometimes do the wrong thing; we fuel them up with too much alcohol, then you have to take them home, and it’s wrong”. Talk is cheap. Something more concrete needs to be done (such as greater enforcement of the RSA laws, that is Responsible Service of Alcohol), but I’m certainly not suggesting Singapore-style law enforcement. Maybe each of us can do our little to erase or lessen the problem. Behave responsibly, and when one of your mates steps out of line, male or female, call them to order. They may become aggressive or even violent if a security guard has to do this, as is often the case, but they may listen to you.

Making a better and safer society starts with individuals, not governments. First we have to have our own realisations, change our own attitudes, then we can start helping others to see the benefits. If your “mates” lead you into trouble all the time, and to do the wrong thing by others, then you really can’t call them your “mates”.


1. Australians threatening their health by downing 773 drinks a year

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