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Preventive health saves big bucks — and lives

Crikey readers weigh in on the big issues of the day.

Tobacco and alcohol control

Margaret Beavis GP writes: Re. “Dear preventative health wowsers: stop taking the piss” (Monday). Often I agree with Bernard Keane. But he shows he just doesn’t get it when he talks about the preventive health lobby as “just another sector of the economy looking to make a buck”.

Preventive health saves money. Lots of money. It just takes time to do so. We know that for every dollar spent on tobacco measures, over $50 has been saved in health costs alone — this astounding figure does not factor in the savings in productivity and plain old-fashioned human misery. Slowly suffocating to death with emphysema, or dying of lung cancer is not a great look. Australia is a world leader in tobacco control. Why should taxpayers have to pay for the damage the cigarette companies do in our society?

The problem is it has taken over 30 years for these savings to become evident, and at the beginning, we had no idea how effective the measures were going to be, nor what the change in behaviours would be over time. Similarly measures to reduce the road toll have been very cost effective.

So now it’s time to look at the evidence around alcohol. Alcohol that can be sold more cheaply than bottled water is a problem. Foetal alcohol syndrome, either in indigenous communities or in the wider community, is one manifestation. This will leave us with a generation of damaged individuals likely to need life-long support.

Binge drinking is another. If you want to take a lot of pressure off the police force and the ambulance services, both of whom are overburdened by alcohol related events, then we need to look at alcohol.

Why is it not taxed by volume evenly across the board? Why do we still advertise it? The taxpayer is footing the bill for all the alcohol-related harms — not just liver disease, but car accidents, domestic violence, family breakups, unplanned pregnancies, assaults … the list goes on and on.

Alcohol is part of our society — but currently the alcohol industry is costing taxpayers a lot of money, and causing a lot of damage. It is time to recognise that like tobacco, alcohol is very expensive at a societal level. Nobody is arguing prohibition — just a little common sense. If he wants to save the taxpayers of this world he is barking up the wrong tree altogether.

GST

David Thackrah writes: Re. (comments, yesterday). Further to Andrew Bartlett’s comments about the Australian Democrats’ GST deal with the Howard Coalition government: it remains a fact the GST was proposed by the Liberal government of the day. The Dems sought to soften the cost for low income families in particular, but with the way food prices have developed since, it may be time to tax everything.

In return the suicidal idea of taxing land remains in dusty basement files. Such a tax would work like council rates and do away with the negative imposts on property purchase and things like insurance which gets jacked up consistently.

The stability of government collections would be apparent and the GST could be held into a 10-12% range. If you are in the EU you pay 20% VAT which is highway robbery in motion. However the constituents would have to maintain an eagle eye on the budget considerations, whereas presently it is apparent doing away with “innocent until proven guilty” which means the Department of Police is a big earner!

Child abuse royal commission

Michael Byrne writes: Re. “Royal commission will make churches pray for parishioners” (yesterday). I fear your intern, David Donaldson, displays an ignorance in matters religious.

Besides categorising the Catholic Church as a “major sect”, he is totally unaware of the great commission with his seemingly delicious anticipation of great attrition after the royal commission.

Mother Church lives history for the greater good, notwithstanding the deeds of some of her servants are too often not matching her message, and indeed betraying it. There have been greater threats throughout her direct history of 1700 years since Constantine, when began her alignment with worldly power beyond her “commission” and its message. Yet she still lives and thrives, and one must wonder how else could  it have been given our tendency to follow rather than imitate Jesus.

The larger threat at hand for our society is associated with the growing ignorance of Christendom, and the Christian story that underpins our social and political freedoms and our personal wellbeing.

Society can survive empty pews in churches, but an emptying of our narrative will see human plans supplant the promises of God from which true and lasting hope flows in the human task. The 20th century provided a display of the human plan at work with the evil empires of Hitler, Mao, Stalin et al.

Asylum seekers

Donald McLean writes: Re. “Deterrence goal locks us onto a path of cruelty” (yesterday). Let’s drop the euphemism of “border protection” and use the more honest term “refugee harassment”.

On the subject of politicians lying, Tony Abbott said: ‘The people who have come illegally to this country need to know that they are breaking our laws, that they are, if I may say so, taking advantage, unfair advantage of our decency as a people.”

Surely he knows that it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia.

Borneo dams

Chris Sheehan writes: I am an admirer of Crikey but sometimes a little accuracy a good thing. In “Flooding Borneo villages, with Australian help, rallies locals” (yesterday), a mention is made of the Dateline program and the links between Hydro Tasmania and the projects.

I think you need to take a look at the following link and the response from SBS Ombudsman which in part says: “On balance I find that the report breached Code 2.2 in respect of accuracy, balance and impartiality. The relationship between Hydro Tasmania and with Sarawak Energy Berhad was misreported and misrepresented.”

Holy questions

Matt Davis writes: Re. (comments, yesterday). Musings on the birth of our Lord and saviour skirt around the core and most important question: was he really the son of God, or just a very naughty boy?

15
  • 1
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Friday, 23 November 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Mother Church lives history for the greater good

    and

    Christian story that underpins our social and political freedoms

    What a deft use of irony!

  • 2
    sebster
    Posted Friday, 23 November 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Michael Byrne. I haven’t laughed so much in a very long time!

  • 3
    secondsoprano
    Posted Friday, 23 November 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Give it a rest Michael. No-one believes that bs any more. You just come across sounding desperate and silly. Ask Cardinal Pell.

  • 4
    CML
    Posted Friday, 23 November 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    @ Margaret Beavis - It never ceases to amaze me that people like you do not connect the reduction in smoking with the epidemic of mental health disease in our community. Over a long life working in the health industry, I certainly observed those who had stopped smoking slowly looking for other avenues to cope with the stressful situations they encountered every day in life. And no doubt, this behaviour was NOT confined to just my workplace. Consumption of alcohol increased certainly, but there was also the “pill popping”, both legal and illegal which began around that time, and I believe, still continues (I am now retired).
    It is my contention that while you and others in preventative health are congratulating yourselves over the reduction in smoking that has taken place, all that has really happened is that people who are stressed out of their mind, turned to other avenues (substances) to cope. Those who didn’t/don’t make it become mentally ill as a result of the pressure to “do the right thing” as far as their physical health is concerned.
    What happens next is the breakdown of marriages/families, the inability to work and the social stigma of mental illness. I have seen it all! Now you want to make a “guilt-trip” out of having a drink or two in the evening!! And then it will be something else needing to be “removed”.
    And all because it will save money and people will live longer! Well, I’ve got news for you - some of us would rather smoke, drink, enjoy a shorter life, and stay sane!! It is not up to you to decide what choices people make for themselves - especially when those choices do not harm anyone else.
    BTW, the cost of dealing with the resultant physical conditions caused by alcohol, nicotine and obesity, is probably about the same as treating mental illness!

  • 5
    drsmithy
    Posted Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    So now it’s time to look at the evidence around alcohol. Alcohol that can be sold more cheaply than bottled water is a problem.

    No, the problem is that people apparently pay more for bottled water than they do for alcohol.

    Binge drinking is another. If you want to take a lot of pressure off the police force and the ambulance services, both of whom are overburdened by alcohol related events, then we need to look at alcohol.

    No, we need to look at why people are binge drinking. We need to look at why people get addicted to alcohol. We need to look at why people get violent for no apparent reason.

    Why is it not taxed by volume evenly across the board? Why do we still advertise it? The taxpayer is footing the bill for all the alcohol-related harms — not just liver disease, but car accidents, domestic violence, family breakups, unplanned pregnancies, assaults … the list goes on and on.

    Stunning as this revelation may be, people drinking alcohol are paying tax as well. Lots of it.

    Nobody is arguing prohibition — just a little common sense.

    Common sense is that we already have some of the tightest restrictions around, and highest prices of, alcohol in the developed world. Common sense is that many countries have cheaper, easier to access alcohol without our binge drinking problems.

    Common sense is that alcohol abuse is a symptom, not a cause.

  • 6
    David Hand
    Posted Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 2:32 am | Permalink

    Mike,
    The problem the Catholic Church faces today is unprecedented in its history. It now exists in a post christian society ruled by secular law. People’s non attendance of church is not a fad.

    On top of this, the systematic institutional protection of criminals has given secular governments the mandate to permanently establish supremacy over canon law. It’s not impossible to contemplate the possibility of Pell doing time for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

  • 7
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    drsmithy, you suggest:
    “..No, we need to look at why people are binge drinking. We need to look at why people get addicted to alcohol. We need to look at why people get violent for no apparent reason.”

    And when we are done with looking, because we have pretty much found the answers to those questions, should we take action or should we embark on more research to try to find more convenient answers? Because there’s plenty of evidence that if alcohol was simply not advertised, if professional sport was not sponsored by alcohol producers, if some tiny restrictions were put on late night/early morning pub venues and if some (not all, just some) of the lessons of alcohol restrictions in various north Australian Indigenous communities were put into practice throughout the whole community, there would be a big impact on domestic violence, on traffic accidents, on hospital admissions and on antisocial behaviour - with very little impact on people’s ‘right’ to access and consume alcohol.

  • 8
    Posted Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    … the Christian story that underpins our social and political freedoms …’ such as freedom of speech (the suppression of ‘heresy’), freedom of religion (the Inquisition), liberty (invasion and occupation of other peoples’ countries in the Crusades) and tolerance (Northern Ireland).

  • 9
    drsmithy
    Posted Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Because there’s plenty of evidence that if alcohol was simply not advertised, if professional sport was not sponsored by alcohol producers, if some tiny restrictions were put on late night/early morning pub venues […]

    So how does this “evidence” explain all those countries that have easier, cheaper and more common access to alcohol without the problems of violence and binge drinking ? Because there’s no shortage of them, as anyone who has spent time in Europe can attest.

  • 10
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Sunday, 25 November 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    drsmithy, try comparing apples with apples. Australia has a completely different history and culture of alcohol management. Europe’s ‘sophisticated’ culture never, ever included six o’clock closing. I don’t know of another culture like Australia in the 1960s where a woman would sit in the car with the kids, outside the pub, while the old man sat at the bar. Where women could not enter a public bar. Where blacks were barred from licensed venues.
    We can’t have what they’re having. We are working our way towards something else because it is not possible to build a ‘European’ model over the top of a messy and ill-conceived Australian foundation.

  • 11
    drsmithy
    Posted Sunday, 25 November 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    So your argument is that we are condemned to our lot because of how things were half a century ago ?

    I like to aim a little higher, myself.

  • 12
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Sunday, 25 November 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    No drsmithy, I was countering your contention that (paraphrasing here) we should be able to have something like ‘Europeans’ have because we are sort of Europeans. I don’t think that’s the place to start. You say that your European experience is that they have easier, cheaper and more common access to alcohol without the problems of violence and binge drinking. All of them? All the time? You have heard of the Swedes, the Russians? All have different models with completely different outcomes, not all of which are pretty.
    Australia has some issues. Some of them arise from our recent history - which is not the same as anywhere else. We can research the outcomes of trials of various strategies from both here and abroad and we can implement some of them here. Some will work and some won’t - not necessarily in the way they worked or failed in their original iteration. But we can’t just do nothing and whinge when we know there are things which might improve things. Surely we don’t have to argue that there is no alcohol problem anywhere in Australia? So you want to aim higher. You want to find what is the cause of the symptoms (violence, binge drinking etc) showing themselves on our streets. Great. Start tomorrow.

  • 13
    drsmithy
    Posted Sunday, 25 November 2012 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    No drsmithy, I was countering your contention that (paraphrasing here) we should be able to have something like ‘Europeans’ have because we are sort of Europeans.

    No, my point was that we should be able to have sane and balanced attitudes (socially and economically) towards alcohol like some European countries do. I didn’t say all European countries. I didn’t even imply it.

    Alcohol abuse is a symptom, not a cause.

  • 14
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Monday, 26 November 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    drsmithy, I believe we already have sane and balanced attitudes in Australia. We are an educated society, we are able to rationally investigate our flaws and objectively record and report them. However, we also have problems with alcohol. That’s probably because some of the policy settings we have for alcohol marketing, consumption, rehabilitation, education etc don’t match the sane and balanced attitudes we otherwise hold and espouse. We need to find ways to line up the ducks - ways which expressly take account of the “causes” of our human condition, the causes which lead us to abuse the drink to perhaps find ways to lessen that tendency. It would be great if we could just ‘grow up’ and be sensible but it’s pretty clear that as a society, humans don’t do that real well with drugs and alcohol. So we have to regulate, create rules and penalties. They never work perfectly and always need reviewing. I think that’s what we need some more of now.

  • 15
    karenmellis
    Posted Monday, 26 November 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    how to pay for the royal commission into child sexual abuse is the current bleating from Canberra. Here’s a thought.. the absurd policy of allowing religions of all shapes and flavours to run multi-million dollar businesses including substantial land aquisition without paying taxes exists - should be overturned and the monies collected into fund expressly for the royal commission. If the commission finds that the (for illustrative purposes lest I be accused of my own ‘witch hunt’) Catholic Church is responsible for say 80% of the crimes that can be proven….make them pay for 80% of the cost of the commission whatever that may be and return the rest to the institutions not found quilty in the enquiry. Surely the ‘proceeds of crime’ laws could be applied here ?!

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