I sit at the direct face of violence caused by alcohol. Every Monday I at first see and then operate on young adults whose world has just changed. One totally unnecessary punch, most commonly thrown by someone who is just another normal young adult, has ruined two lives. If they had both met socially at a footy match or anywhere else they may have had a totally different interaction. The only common factor as to why he is with me and another is facing court is alcohol.
I started a bit late as a doctor. I saw life before Medical School. I was in my early thirties on graduation. I was married and had my first son to support. I never got to taste that silver spoon. I lived initially with my grandparents, parents and other relatives in a housing commission house. I attended State and then a secondary Catholic school. I grew up in one of the poorest areas in Brisbane. No one can say that I have never seen the social effects of poverty and alcohol.
I always knew that trauma (frequently as a result of an assault) was a part of maxillofacial surgery and that has always been my main focus. What I didn’t realise was that within a few years it would, by sheer necessity, be the only surgery that I would do.
As a surgeon, research is a large part of my life. I am an Adjunct Professor in research at the Queensland University of Technology. One just doesn’t start using a new drug or new procedure unless it is proven by research. It is the same with preventive measures – they must be backed by research.
I have witnessed first-hand this unprecedented rise in assaults. In 2012, Queensland hospital emergency departments saw 91,783 alcohol-related presentations – that’s an increase of 31 per cent in just five years¹. Nationally 70,000 assaults occur due to alcohol each year².
Here is my frustration. I have read widely, attended conferences forever, published data and I know what will work to protect young Queenslanders from alcohol-fuelled violence. I know that the Queensland Coalition for Action on Alcohol’s (QCAA) five point plan is well researched and will work. This plan is to:
- Wind back trading hours
- Control the number of licensed premises
- Stop the harmful discounting and promotion of alcohol
- Enforce responsible service of alcohol requirements
- Monitor the success of these measures by well-constructed databases and research
This plan is within reach.
As reported in the Courier Mail, late last year clubs, nightclubs, the AMA, the Police Union and a raft of community groups came together and publically supported a 3.00am closure. It was a non-political fix. It was at no cost to the government or the community. It was unprecedented.
But achieving this modest change will require political leadership.
We require a cooperative approach with government. We must strive to convince them to follow the direction of balanced research. We need a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one, where we tackle the issues before lives are ruined, not after. We require similar measures as in NSW – the Newcastle model.
I can’t help but feel that the voices of powerful groups motivated by self-interest, such as the alcohol industry, are gaining ascendancy and the voices of police, health workers, academics and victims are being lost in the noise of powerful (self) interests. Just as in NSW we are hearing gross distortions of the facts gained through Australian and world-wide research. I suspect that as in NSW these fraudulent mis-representations will be forced to stop.
If the response to alcohol-related violence is to bolster law and order, the result will be the expenditure of more tax dollars to clean up the mess, patch up the injured, and an associated reduction in public amenity; but profits will be unchanged.
What is needed is for the safety of young Queenslanders to be put ahead of alcohol industry interests.
So, do I just give up and train more surgeons and spend more of our health dollars fixing the broken faces or do I continue trying to stop our youth being damaged? It’s easier for me to do the former but my conscience won’t let me.
The Queensland Cabinet has before it the opportunity to make a decision to reduce this alcohol-fuelled violence. I know it is a complex problem and there are a range of preventative measures available. I know that within the government there are caring representatives of our community with a strong conscience able to stand up to lobbyists. I hope and pray that they make a decision that will finally protect Queensland’s children and young people.
We now await the Queensland government’s decision to back QCAA’s plan to reduce this toll, beginning with the introduction of our prosed plan that includes much more than just 3.00am last drinks.
I sincerely hope that our representatives place the safety of our children and the whole community above a few vested interests.
Stop alcohol-related violence now
The Queensland government is currently considering how best to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence and is asking the public to complete a survey to give their view. To support the QCAA plan complete the online survey now.
Dr Anthony Lynham is a maxillofacial surgeon at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Mater Private Hospitals and Sunnybank Hospital. He is also Adjunct Professor at the Queensland University of Technology and Senior Lecturer at the University Of Queensland School of Medicine.
1. Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), (2013) Alcohol Related Harms in Queensland, Canberra: Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.
2. Laslett, A.M., Catalano, P., Chikritzhs, T., Dale, C., Doran, C., Ferris, J., … Wilkinson, C. (2010) The range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others, Deakin West, ACT: Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, p.73.