Nov 22, 2012

Di Natale: we’re not wowsers for responding to booze abuse

Greens Senator Dr Richard Di Natale takes issue with Bernard Keane's analysis of "preventative health wowsers". He says our Canberra correspondent is being tricky with numbers.

I usually have a lot of time for Bernard Keane’s analysis. His is a voice of sanity in an otherwise dull, predictable and partisan public debate. But his critique on Monday of what he calls “preventative health wowsers” was way off the mark. It needs a response, not just because of this one article, but because vested interests and ideologues use many of the same facile arguments and too often are left unchallenged.

Bernard argues that the “the medical profession and the preventive health industry are engaged in a constant campaign against basic rights in the name of forcing Australians to become healthier”. He primarily draws on the responses to alcohol abuse, but also refers to smoking and gambling. He infers that the problem of alcohol abuse is overstated and that responses to health issue is “always to ban, to tax us and to use surveillance”. Bernard’s central thesis is that health professionals are simply social elites who want to control behaviours that they disapprove of.

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11 thoughts on “Di Natale: we’re not wowsers for responding to booze abuse

  1. Scott

    Where are you getting your figure for 30 billion in Social costs from Alcohol abuse? One study I have seen (Collins and Lapsley, 2008) put the cost at half that…15 billion (10 tangible, 5 intangible) in 2004/2005 dollars. In 2012 dollars, its still only 19 billion…a bit less than your $30 billion.
    As for Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the rate is tiny in Australia (0.06–0.68
    per 1000 live births overall) so hardly a reason to impose a tax on the poor, which is what a volumetric tax on alcohol will do.

  2. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    See my comments in the other article. I also believe that your analysis on the effectiveness of Price controls and advertising BS misses out on a few points:
    1. That price controls can be implemented effectively for a substance that is easily manufactured at home (unlike tobacco)
    2. The effectiveness of the Ban on smoking anywhere except on the street which may be very tricky to implement for alcohol.
    I think these are major factors which you have excluded from your analysis, the second being one of the only things I don’t miss since I stopped smoking 3 years ago. Sorry but the exorbitant prices and the horrible pictures didn’t really help me make a decision.

  3. Sean Baker

    Apart from quibles on numbers, this is an excellent riposte.

  4. Jenny McFarland

    There is far too much emphasis on the “right to drink” and far too little on the rights of drinker’s families to a peaceful life without violence, and without all available household resources being sucked up into alcohol addictions. A recent report indicated that 50% of children in Fitzroy crossing are affected by Foetal Alcohol Affect spectrum disorders. This means that they may not have the facial morphology that indicates full-blown Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, but they do have significant damage from alcohol – the first thing to be affected is the ability to learn, so this is a group of kids whose chances of ever being able to participate in community and family, benefit from education, or beng able to get and keep jobs is slim at best. This group of kids will grow to be the most at-risk group in Australia – risks include alcohol and substance misuse, being victims and perpetrators of violence, adverse contact with the criminal justice system, self-harm and suicide. The right to drink agenda doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

  5. sean

    Great response. Keane’s rant on this topic, complete with the usual hackneyed roll out of libertarian shiboleths (including frequent use of the phrase ‘taxpayers money’) is frankly embarressing.

  6. michael r james

    Strong echoes from a previous Bernard Keane piece being corrected by a pubic health professional (extract below). BK just doesn’t seem to understand the huge economic and societal costs that can be avoided by preventive health measures. Or at least, that, as Di Natale writes, can be addressed without draconian impositions on our freedoms. Smoking and alcohol are only two big issues. Next is diet/obesity.

    [Crikey Daily Mail, 30 July 2009.
    Health and prevention:
    Michael James writes: Re. “Actually, prevention has been a spectacular success” (yesterday, item 5). Yesterday, Simon Chapman was spot on in noting that Bernard Keane had a rush of blood to the head in an uncharacteristic piece filled with poor examples and less than rational conclusions. While Keane has built up large reserves of goodwill amongst his readers, most of whom will forgive occasional lapses, it is unfortunate that the topic was of such huge importance, not just to public health but to future budgets and lifestyles.

  7. mattsui

    Yes, Bernard goes a bit too hard on this particular subject. But it is, at least in part, to counterpoint arguements like those from Jenny McFarland (above).
    The suggestion that all drinkers are violent is unfair. Senator Di Natale’s statemnet that “In Australia almost half of all perpetrators of assault are intoxicated before the event…” also muddies the waters between fact and hysteria. The reference to Fitzroy Crossing’s children ignores the serious social context of that particular place. There’s very little that any tax increase could do to fix the problems there.
    Make all the rules you want. Our society cannot function without alcohol and the problems it causes are the trade off for the lubrication it provides.

  8. floorer

    I read BK’s original article as being about the continually developing infringement of individual’s rights by certain groups than about alcohol per se.

  9. tinman_au

    “I read BK’s original article as being about the continually developing infringement of individual’s rights by certain groups than about alcohol per se.”


    I think several people are missing BK’s point entirely. It’s not so much about any one particular group (such as anti-drinking or smoking), but more about combined effect of all those groups together. If the recommendations of all these groups were put into effect, we’d live in a pretty miserable place.

    The people with problems need to be the targets of these things (constantly heavy drinkers/drug addicts/heavy smokers/etc), not responsible adults doing things in moderation…

  10. Hamis Hill

    That terrible Mr Keane sure as hell has gotten lots of people discussing a subject that that was, previously, relatively ignored.
    Promoting the productive feedback that distinguishes the new media from the old.
    Just as it’s supposed to work?
    Agent provocateur!

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