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Jun 16, 2008

Bingeing on a ute full of alcopops

One can only despair at the possibility of having an intelligent debate about alcohol consumption, writes Bernard Keane.

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of the new guidelines, given his hostility to the industry and suggestions the guidelines are based on his own unpublished research.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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6 thoughts on “Bingeing on a ute full of alcopops

  1. Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Hey four middies of beer or three glasses of wine a day, as an upper limit of safe drinking till now may have been considered safe but with the new scientific measuring talents being developed this ain’t true.
    ‘Safe’ in the NHMRC purpose interpreted scientifically means the amount of brain and other organ damage is small and you are able to survive to a ripe old age seemingly unbothered with this not yet known how much damage attributed in terms of function loss (especially brain) that will be unnoticeably absent in later stages of the long life that will be called healthy.
    So with more sophisticated definitions of ‘safe’ the NHMRC ‘safe limit’ is wrong and as now we know the safety limit is scientifically very low. One interpretation is that the NHMRC is saying that it is acceptable to be life long an alcoholic with little noticeable harm depending on how stringently you define harm, whether there’s acceptable harm because its minor and unnoticeable for most indulgers of the daily safe level in their life time which may not be shortened by sticking to this safe limit of drinking.
    To me binge drinking is ‘drinking’ for the express purpose of getting drunk now not later by accident or stealth. ‘Drunk’ and ‘now’ means like ‘just a little bit’ over the speed limit officer or as in ‘different strokes for different folks’.
    In this drug savvy young persons world similarly marked by the ancient ever present human desire for mind altering substances of some kind, binge is using alcohol as a (heroin) hit as opposed to passing the joint around. To the NHMRC ‘binge’ merely means to excess ‘cos you’ll get drunk by some definition and you must have wanted to ‘cos you are and ‘Safe Drinking’ means unnoticeably drunk (so slightly tiddly that not even I or me has to admit to it) as in ‘unnoticeable’ harm above. The science is however
    – that the safe level will make a large proportion of partakers tiddly at least;
    – that you risk infringement if you drive
    – that 2 thirds of the safe limit partaken daily over 10 to 20 years turns an adult into an alcoholic with, at best, maybe no noticeable evidence of the fact to ordinary observation;
    -that same amount administered daily to a pre or just teen over 2 years creates a raving alcoholic with measurable brain damage
    – that like with smoking or asbestos the safe limit is far less than understood if there is one.
    We normal folk find ‘binge drinking’ abhorrent, associating the term with extreme and ugly drunkenness so medical experts should leave the term for that.
    But hey, there’s a RIGHT involved here, THE RIGHT TO HAVE A GOOD TIME.
    If I drink either four middies of beer or three glasses of wine over a period with a meal I am drunk, telling you I don’t drink except very occasionally. And I do love it.
    A CURIOUS FACT – safe driving studies in NYC found the those with the apparent safest driving record were the regular daily moderate drinkers.
    HARM is deliberately risked by absolutely every sober adult driving, but we don’t think that way mostly.

  2. JamesK

    Sorry to deflate your earth shattering revelation David but my view is that every man has a right to drink and good luck to him. Society has an obligation to educate (not brainwash or dictate) its members of the dangers. Alcohol and nicotine are the two most dangerous drugs in Australia and by a country mile. Many suffer and society foots a costly bill for their abuse(and not just financial). Moderate alcohol consumption unlike nicotine is probably good for your health. That is less than 2-3 standard drinks a day and less than 9-12 per week.

  3. david

    JamesK your contribution smells of a self interest push for an anti drinking organisation!!!! Now I wonder which one????

  4. Venise Alstegren

    Ah ha! Ah ha! This afternoon on the car radio I happened to hear someone interviewing a specialist medico. She said “But if you drink more than four drinks a day you’re a binge drinker”. The bl*ody sanctimonius tone of her voice made me wish I’d had a bottle of Scotch with me, ready to throw at her.

  5. JamesK

    Having 4 or more standard drinks has been for a long time recognised as risky drinking. There’s nothing new except calling it “binge” drinking. The impact of risky drinking is greatly underestimated. Part of the problem of education is the culture and beliefs protecting our inherent right to have a few ‘cleansing ales’. However so many deaths, injury and violence have alcohol as a cofactor at least. The NHMRC, if not wise, are quite correct. The alcopop tax rise and the very significant revenue return plays into the hands of the perception of an interventionist and patronising old style left wing government which is unfortunate. As our beloved alcoholic reporter (tautology?) says at the outset: “One can only despair at the possibility of having an intelligent debate about alcohol consumption”

  6. Connor Moran

    4 standard drinks per day is alcoholism plain and simple.