John Menadue. Alcohol and violence on the streets — the tip of the iceberg.

In recent weeks public attention has been focused on alcohol fuelled violence in Sydney streets and the very slow response of the NSW government. But the response when it did come really only addressed the ugly tip of the iceberg. the violence on the streets. The government response was superficial – minimum mandatory sentencing, greater powers for the police, special licence conditions and lockouts and closures.

Very little attention was given to prevention and remedial action – the widespread social and economic cost of alcohol misuse across Australia as revealed in our workplaces, roads, and criminal justice and health systems.

We focus on cannabis, but compared with alcohol, it is a much less potent and dangerous drug. Only a week or so ago, President Obama said ‘I don’t think that cannabis is more dangerous than alcohol’. He was right.

The long-term effects of alcohol are well-known as outlined by the University of NSW Drug and Alcohol Research Centre– cancer of the mouth, brain injury, high blood pressure, weakness and loss of muscle tissue, inflamed stomach lining, increased risk of lung infections, severe swelling of the liver, inflamed pancreas, and other dangerous consequences. Street violence in Kings Cross is really only a small part of a much larger problem.

The Australian Institute of Criminology, in April 2013, set out the cost of alcohol misuse in 2010.  The costs were estimated at $14.4 billion which is about double the revenue the Commonwealth government receives from alcohol taxes. That estimated $14.4 billion cost four years ago was made up as follows:

  • Criminal justice system- $3 billion, police, courts, prisons, child-protection, etc.
  • Health system – $1.7 billion in hospital, nursing home, ambulance and other areas.
  • Productivity – $6 billion, mainly losses of production through impaired work and imprisonment of large numbers of people.
  • Traffic accidents – $3.7 billion.

This study commented that its finding of about $14.4 billion of alcohol costs in 2010 was conservative. Furthermore the figure does not include the negative effects of alcohol on others, estimated to be $6.8 billion in 2010.

There is clearly an enormous problem just below the surface of street violence. We are concentrating our attention on the streets when there are other major problems below the surface.

The study of the Australian Institute of Criminology points to the need for prevention and diversion strategies. That really means breaking the booze culture.

I suggest a major diversion strategy should be the review alcohol advertising in association with sport. It is surely an obvious contradiction to be promoting a healthy life style through sport and promoting alcohol at the same time. In my blog of January 4 ‘Cricket – junk food and alcohol’, I drew attention to the saturation advertising of alcohol during the Ashes Tests. It now continues in the One Day Series. It is unremitting. The alcohol advertising is on the scoreboard, the ground, the shirt fronts, the sleeves the caps, boundary fences, stumps and sight-boards. So far the ‘baggy green’ cap does not carry alcohol advertising but surely it won’t be long before it is carrying a beer logo!. With almost all points covered with alcohol advertising how about Carlton Mid tattoos!  The victorious Australian team poured Victorian Bitter all over each other in the dressing room after the series win. The Australian coach and captain, with one arm around each other and holding beers aloft meandered around the Sydney Cricket Ground. It was tacky. It sent a poor message to young people.

To protect children, the advertising of alcohol on television is banned before 8.30 pm. But because of the power of the alcohol lobby, advertising is on full display almost all day at most of our major sporting events.  To start winding back the enormous cost of alcohol abuse, we should start by prohibiting alcohol advertising on television and radio at all sporting events, just as we did years ago with tobacco advertising. For the sake of young sports fans our major sporting bodies need to break free from the grip of the alcohol lobby.  Our sporting heroes, the role models for the young should also think carefully about filling their pockets with money from the promotion of alcohol. Who will be the first to make a stand? Australian young people would be particularly well served by such leadership.

Violence in Kings Cross after midnight is just the tip of the iceberg.


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