“Oh, they’ve got some bloody good drinkers in the Northern Territory,” sang Ted Egan, a folk musician whom the governor-general appointed in 2003 to be the Territory’s administrator. His lyrics – as many Australians have known for a long time, and studies are beginning to affirm – are spot on. For nearly 30 years, the money spent per capita on alcohol in the Territory has been between 50% and 100% higher than in the rest of Australia. Similarly, while the national annual cost of alcohol-related harm is about $15 billion (which works out to be a little less than $1000 per adult), the figure for the Territory is more than $4000 per adult. The National Alcohol Beverage Industries Council counters these statistics. This body of alcohol manufacturers and sellers claims its own commissioned study shows more costs are borne by the individual, with national public costs at $3.8 billion. But whatever the overall cost, the Territory government figures are brutal. Alcohol-related crime and illness costs the region’s public purse $642 million per year. Booze Territory – The Monthly
Alcohol related deaths are 31 times higher in the Northern Territory than in the rest of Australia. It’s a crisis.
Just last week was the first ‘Grog in the Territory’ Summit, convened by Land Councils and various Aboriginal organisations. The ‘rivers of grog’ are becoming ‘road trains of beer‘, said one community leader.
Read about the summit here.
The summit was sparked by the newly elected Country Liberals government’s decision to axe the banned drinkers register in the NT. The register had around 2,500 names on it. People with drinking problems or repeat drink divers were banned from purchasing alcohol. It meant that everyone needed to get their ID scanned on buying alcohol to check if their name was on the list. The Country Liberals’ election promise was to scrap the banned drinkers register and instead build giant prison farms for problem drinkers.
It’s unclear how successful the register was. Obviously it’s possible for someone to simply ask a friend to buy their grog for them, obviously some people would be pressured into buying alcohol. But for a few, it would help them manage their drinking problem.
There are various stats. Some say that alcohol related assaults in Alice Springs by 16% (banned drinkers register successful in reducing assault) while a banned drinker register was in operation. Another source said 15% (banned drinkers laws cut assaults) across the Territory, while another said a 6% (drop in assaults) drop in alcohol related assaults (if domestic violence is excluded). The Alice Springs Mayor has reported increased glass rubbish in parks since the register was axed. (on the other hand – crime figures which came out today indicated that violence in the NT increased in the last year – leading the Country Liberals to say the register wasn’t working)
Whatever the stats, its seems it was a simple programme which meant fewer people were being harmed. Then there’s the things they didn’t measure – medical impact, cases of fetal alcohol syndrome, effect on children’s eduction, crime, suicides etc. Of course the register wasn’t the whole answer, but it was a start.
Nonetheless, the banned register was unpopular enough for promises of its eradication to help a new government to victory.
It seems to me that only a society without a vision of the common good could oppose such a programme. Yes, it’s inconvenient for those of us who don’t have a drinking problem to scan our ID at the counter. ‘Why should I worry about someone else’s problem?’ we ask.
But it’s not ‘someone else’s problem.’ We’re not ‘all individuals.’ Alcoholism affects not only the individual, but their family, their friends, their communities, all of us.
I wish we could be a little more prepared to make small sacrifices for each other – for more communities (even mining towns!) to dry for the sake of others, for retailers to forgo the extra profit, for people to be willing to put up with the hassle of a simple register. In a functioning society, other people’s problems are everyone’s problems. That would be a society which believes in the common good.