News from the Gold Coast Bulletin on Alcohol...
A COURTROOM shout against the indigenous thirst for grog is a potent heart-starter for Parliament's imminent report on liquor violence.
If the councils at Aurukun and Kowanyama way up north could not find a legal way to reopen their liquor canteens it should be possible to ensure there is less grog harm in the rest of Queensland.
Publicans and bottle shop managers insist that the Rudd Government's so-called 'alcopops tax' on ready-to-drink spirits mixes is not working.
"Males under 24 simply switched to buying 700ml bottles of cheap spirits for themselves or something fizzy for the girls. Rarely do they buy a carton of beer.
"The drinking culture did not change one bit with the alcopops. The younger drinkers stay home and tank up with our grog first before going out after 10pm," said one bottle shop boss in Southport.
The quaintly named Law, Safety and Justice Committee has been working on the alcohol-violence problem since last July. Their report will be tabled in Parliament any day. Use of pub glasses and bottles in serious assaults is expected to feature prominently. Already there are widespread restrictions on liquor service with glass at certain venues.
The bipartisan committee of seven visited the Gold Coast during their investigation. The Surfers Paradise Licensed Venues Association was keen to lobby the committee liquor violence inquiry.
With a bit of luck the committee also would have noted that a government-sponsored under-age drinking festival called Schoolies is the state's annual launching pad for immature drunkenness and mayhem, including violence.
The committee may have noticed what happens when young, would-be-partygoers congregate around the Cavill/Orchid avenues area at midnight when they have had a skinful at home. Or the overly aggressive young males the police in uniforms encounter when they enter bars and pubs.
A pity that Prime Minister Rudd's move on alcopops fell flat everywhere except with the tax collections. Some politician had to start somewhere. The PM's latest suggestion to lower the drinking age was not exactly toasted all around. But the PM's campaign for more responsible drinking was backed by police. The cops joined Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman and the Australasian Royal College of Surgeons in appealing for reduced trading hours for bars, nightclubs and pubs.
Violence decreased in Newcastle's city centre when 1am drinking lockouts were introduced in 2008. When more Gold Coast pubs wanted 3am closing last year there was plenty of community, police and political resistance.
Up to 65,000 Australians are hospitalised each year for alcohol excess. Deaths total 3500. News Limited papers are forced to publish survival guides on 'How to stay safe on a night out'.
The Court of Appeal heard the Aurukun and Kowanyama appeals last August. The councils for mostly indigenous locals wanted liquor licences restored, citing the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
Submissions did not pull punches, if you will pardon the expression. Domestic violence up there was directly related to grog. If you stuck 1200 or so people of European descent on Mornington Island close to a pub with little to do there would have been similar outcomes with grog and violence.
The Government's policy rationale was: "The alcohol restrictions, and the measures to enforce them, are therefore only part of the broader plan to address alcohol-related harm, in particular to reduce alcohol-related violence."
One judge saw it this way when the court released its findings on March 1: "The opportunity for an individual to have access to and use a local supplier of alcohol is not a human right or fundamental freedom."
The Bligh Government has introduced smaller, 'laneway' bars in Queensland in a bid to reduce the problems linked to crowds swarming at larger licensed venues. Whether operators can make a go of bars catering for a maximum of 60 persons remains to be seen.
Coles (First Choice) and Woolworths (Dan Murphy's) have led the charge to sell more grog at lower prices through the takeaway barns. Checkout signs warning against supplying minors or drinking to excess fall flat against pledges to undercut rivals' prices, sell wine which is cheaper by the half dozen and beer bargains if you buy two cartons. Don't forget the regular discounts on large bottles of spirits or 'bundle buys' of cartons of beer and wine. Hangovers? What hangovers?
The small bar licensees must be curious to know why they are prohibited from (a) selling takeaway liquor (b) advertising 'Happy Hour' with cut-price drinks and (c) other promotions that might lead to irresponsible service of alcohol.
The locals at Aurukun consistently voted against a grog canteen at their public meetings. Ditto when they held a local referendum.
The late Russ Hinze obviously had good intentions when he was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. He saw it the opposite way to the courts. The Hinze view was that denying locals legal access to liquor was discriminatory. And better than the sly grog trade.
Alas it all went haywire. The Aurukun canteen was built in the park next to the kids' playground. During school holidays children were down there downing glasses of beer in the middle of the day. A primitive style of Schoolies in the tropics.
It will be interesting to see if the Law, Safety and Justice Committee has any reference to the 96-page court judgment on Aurukun and Kowanyama. These residents are Queenslanders as well.