Here’s a thought experiment to conjure with:imagine the outcry that would occur if a drug was discovered to be connected to half of all the murders committed in Australia; imagine the response if that same drug was found to provoke child abuse, sexual abuse, attacks on strangers in the street, and other forms of anti-social behaviour (Laslett et al. 2015).
The media storm would be unending: front page exposes, editorial demands for politicians to take immediate action to protect the community, columnists calling for long jail sentences for anyone who sold or distributed the drug to others.
Many people would think that drug had already been identified as Ice –or crystal methamphetamine. Yet they would be mistaken.
It’s probable that few people would recognise, immediately, that our favourite recreational substance, alcohol, fits the description perfectly. And that is the problem –that serious violence produced by alcohol hides in plain sight. While boozy street conflict gets some attention because it is public, alcohol related violence within families goes unnoticed and unreported.
Perhaps we don’t want to recognise it because so many of us enjoy drinking alcohol in so many situations. We should be able to distinguish between low risk drinking – which most drinkers do most of the time – and the excessive, high level drinking that leads intoxicated people to make life difficult or horrible for themselves and others.
We make that sort of distinction in the case of driving motor cars: people who drive safely are not inhibited from criticising drivers who take unnecessary risks and they don’t think they have to defend them, or else be accused of wowserism.
It’s time we smartened up and called out the terrible contribution excessive drinking makes to violence within families and domestic situations as well as on the street. Let’s be clear: being drunk is no excuse for bad behaviour, but let’s be completely clear: people are at their worst when they are intoxicated because alcohol reduces judgement and control. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is holding an inquiry into alcohol violence and what national approach can be taken. The terms of reference focus on licensed venues,’ lockouts’, and thereby street violence. These are important issues, but the committee also needs to take account of alcohol’s role in family and domestic violence.
The solution to alcohol inspired violence is to reduce intoxicated drinking. Even heavy drinkers moderate their consumption when the price of alcohol goes up and the national government can influence price by the level of taxation. As Grogwatch has noted previously, a volumetric tax on alcohol would raise the price of the cheapest drinks and reduce excessive drinking. At state level governments have the power to place controls on the number of licensed premises and their hours of trading, both of which help to determine levels of drinking and related problems.
We urge all Grogwatch readers to make their opinions known to the Inquiry. Laslett, A.-M. (2010). The range and magnitude of alcohol’s harm to others. Canberra: Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation.