One can only despair at the possibility of having an intelligent debate about alcohol consumption given the efforts of the National Health and Medical Research Council and Independent Distillers Australia over the weekend.

The NHMRC’s new binge drinking guidelines have already drawn predictable and quite appropriate derision . You don’t have to be a reactionary lightweight like Janet Albrechtsen to find the notion that four standard drinks a day constitutes binge drinking is not merely asinine but downright counter-productive for any serious effort to reduce alcohol abuse. Particularly coming from the same mob who claim that more than two standard drinks a day constitutes “risky drinking”.

If this is the best our premier health research body can do then we’re getting a pretty poor return on the $500m+ we’re giving it to administer. The alcohol industry has particularly objected to the role of Professor Robin Room in the development of the new guidelines, given his hostility to the industry and suggestions the guidelines are based on his own unpublished research.

Still, if health academics and professional handwringers can convince governments the mere act of consuming alcohol is innately unhealthy, they’ll have taxpayer funding for life, so good luck to them.

But the Gippsland by-election ad produced by Independent Distillers Australia – spruiked by Andrew Bolt and Glenn Milne yesterday and given a free airing on Insiders – is just as risible. Kev! Wayne! I’m angry that the stout yeomen of Gippsland are being portrayed as rum’n’coke quaffin’, ute-drivin’ hicks with a Keanu-like inability to stress the right words in a sentence. Not to mention a poorly-disguised eagerness to take an axe to the Prime Minister.

 

Times have evidently changed. Back in my day, if you asked for a rum’n’coke in a country pub you’d get beaten to a pulp and told to p-ss off back to yer poofter mates in the city. God help us if we had to send the likes of these ute men off to war. Unless we’re up against those tree people from Lord of the Rings , in which case we might stand a chance.

The elevation of ute-driving male alcopop drinkers to victimhood status in this debate – something started by Brendan Nelson in full Emo Man mode back during the Budget – is an insidious form of sexism. It is predicated on the notion that protecting teenage girls from alcohol consumption is fine but an outrage if adult males are subjected to the same strictures.

Meantime, the Senate Community Affairs Committee held hearings last week for its inquiry into “Ready-to-Drink Alcohol Beverages”. The hearings were more or less split across the two days between pro- and anti-alcopop excise groups. On Wednesday, the committee heard from groups who were nearly all strongly in support of the excise increase: the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council, the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, Public Health Association of Australia, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Australian Drug Foundation, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. On Thursday, the committee heard mostly from the anti-side: the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia, the Australian Liquor Stores Association, Independent Distillers, the Australian Wine Research Institute and the Australian Hotels Association.

Of course you may not have known about this because it barely attracted a mention in the print media. Only Ben Packham at the Herald-Sun covered the hearings properly.

Admittedly it wasn’t all sober (pun intended) analysis and reasoned debate at the Senate inquiry. Distilled Spirits Industry Council spokesman Gordon Broderick took the opportunity to make lurid claims  about the tax leading to an increase in drink spiking. “Young girls are facing the real risk of being victims of drink spiking,” Broderick warned. Not, one hopes, from proper Aussie ute men.

Full disclosure: under the new NHMRC guidelines, Bernard Keane engages in risky or binge drinking pretty much every day.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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