Good Reading : June 2016
GOOD READING JUNE 2016 47 In other countries I have been to, except for South Africa, I have found that people drink far less than Australians. There is also more shame associated with being drunk. In Australia, drinking is a pastime – an activity in itself rather than an accompaniment to other activities. We drink steadily to get drunk. What aspects of Australian culture contribute to our dangerous relationship with alcohol? Australians have an ingrained scepticism of wowsers and a desperate need not to be perceived as one. We are also not particularly extroverted, and it seems as if we rely on alcohol for courtship and communication. We also prize egalitarianism – I wonder if drinking and drunkenness is an act of rebellion against class structure and the ruling classes – and for this reason we’ve inherited a culture where drinkers are given licence and encouraged to be unruly. Bob Hawke’s drinking of a yard glass of beer, for instance, cemented his reputation as a regular bloke. Adulthood in Australia is associated with unfettered access to alcohol. Perhaps that’s why it’s considered an untouchable right and such a large part of our identity. Are the dangers of alcohol downplayed in comparison with other drugs? Yes. I looked up alcohol-related deaths and discovered in Australia that alcohol causes 5554 deaths per year. By comparison, there were only 170 methamphetamine-induced deaths in 2013. Are there changes we can make to reduce the incidence of alcohol-induced violence and sexual assault in the future? I have asked so many people the same thing and everybody has responded in kind: we need both legislative and cultural change. Legislative change can include volumetric alcohol taxation, lockout laws, restrictions on alcohol promotion and sponsorship, and restrictions on availability. Cultural change is slower, but organisations such as the hugely successful Hello Sunday Morning have been challenging Australians to try to change the way we drink. Having interviewed Paul Stanley, whose son Matthew was killed in a one-punch attack, what’s your stance on Sydney's lockout laws? I feel pretty wary about answering this question. On the one hand the lockout laws have been proven to cut down on alcohol-related incidents. On the other hand, many venues in Sydney’s lockout area have closed since the laws were introduced. Lockout laws are a high-profile way to quickly have an effect on alcohol-related violence, but they’re localised, and they unfairly target small businesses that don’t have the political clout or money of casinos or take-away liquor conglomerates. If the police raid a restaurant in Darlinghurst for having their drinks board too close to the window, then why aren’t they also raiding every Coles and Woolworths store for the cheap alcohol advertisements on their shopper dockets? But then I meet with someone like Paul, whose sadness and anger was still so raw even years after his son Matthew’s death, and it’s evident why people fight hard for any law that will help reduce violence. I have thought a lot about the lockout laws and remain conflicted. Ultimately, if people are dying something has to be done to stop that. Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane by Elspeth Muir is published by Text, rr p $29.99. UP CLOSE 2 Having whose son Matthew was killed in a one-punch attack, what’s your stance on I feel pretty wary about answering this question. On the one hand the lockout laws have been proven to cut down on alcohol-related incidents. On the other hand, many venues in Sydney’s lockout area have closed since the laws were introduced. Nobody had ever been so disgusted at my state of inebriation before.