Cheap booze causes mountain of problems


The morning after, Alice Springs style: a mountain of wine casks in the dry Todd River, collected within just 200 metres of the footbridge (top left in the photo), put on display by the local alcohol control pressure group, People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC).
The group wants a “floor price” for alcohol pegged at the cost of the cheapest full strength beer, $1.20 per standard drink.
The booze sold by the Todd Tavern bottle shop (in the background of the photo), on the banks of the Todd, in these Renmano wine casks works out at 71 cents per drink, according to PAAC spokesman John Boffa.
But the manager of the Todd Tavern, Leonie Leach, says the correct price per standard drink for the Renmano cask wine is 90 cents.
Only the Todd Tavern and the Gapview Hotel are selling cheap cask wine. All other outlets in the town have voluntarily withdrawn the product from sale.
Alcohol restrictions are a major issue for the upcoming local government and legislative assembly elections.
Says Dr Boffa: “The Gapview also currently stocks four types of cheap McWilliams Sherry  and a McWilliams Port.
“The sherry is 81 cents a standard  drink, and the port is 90 cents.
“The two pubs, unlike the supermarkets,  are allowed to trade on Sundays.”
PAAC says in supermarkets cask and fortified wine, maximum one litre, generally 750 ml bottles only, are sold one per person per day and not before 6pm.
Dr. Boffa appeared before the Senate Community Affairs Committee in Alice Springs today. His submission (number 253) also argues for “a take-away alcohol-free day preferably tied to a set welfare benefits payment day, but in any event to have one day a week on which take-away alcohol is not sold”.
The Alice Springs News Online has offered a right of reply to the Todd Tavern and the Gapview Hotel.
THIS POLICE MEDIA RELEASE, an addition, for good measure to yesterday’s story:-
A woman will face multiple charges after police allegedly found her drink driving and driving whilst disqualified while she had a two-day-old baby and a two-year-old child unrestrained in the back seat.
Alice Springs Sergeant Conan Robertson said Northern Territory Police continue to save people from themselves.
“The likely result of these circumstances was a serious crash,” Sergeant Robertson said.
Sergeant Robertson said the 20-year-old woman was pulled over for a random breath test at around 1pm today.
“The woman, who was disqualified from driving, returned a positive result and was arrested for a breath analysis at the Alice Springs Police Station where she was found to have a breath alcohol level of 0.167 per cent.
“If this isn’t bad enough, this offender was also on bail for another matter, one of the conditions being that she is not to consume alcohol.”
Sergeant Robertson said the two day old baby was being held by a rear seat passenger while the two-year-old was also in the back seat, unrestrained, along with another adult.
“The two day old baby does not even have a name yet and her life was in the hands of a 20-year-old drunken, disqualified driver,” Sgt Roberson said.
“Luckily we were there to protect this little girl.”
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23: Media release from Opposition Leader, Terry Mills:
Despite introducing laws that mean anybody who buys alcohol must produce a driver’s license, Labor’s grog bans have seen no decrease in violent assaults in the Northern Territory.
The Chief Minister is conning Territorians that his grog bans are having a significant impact on alcohol-related crime.
In July to December 2010 there were 3373 violent assaults in the Northern Territory. A year later there were 3384.
During today’s Question Time, the Chief Minister repeatedly refused to answer my question about the number of assaults in the Territory for the September and December quarters last year.
The reason for this refusal became evident with the release of the Alcohol Reform Report from July to December 2011 which showed the lack of improvement in levels of violent crime.


  1. It would be good and very convenient if it was merely cheap booze that was the problem.
    So we eliminate the cheap booze and the problem disappears!
    Unfortunately, this will not happen.
    And the many people that expect it would, or even discuss it, are, living in the Dream-Time.
    Increasing the price of booze in Alice Springs will not impact one iota on the problems that alcohol abuse is causing. Prohibition in America didn’t work.
    And as has happened many times over many years all around this Country, cost is no deterrent to alcohol abuse.
    The cartons of VB and of rum and coke the bottles of Jim Beam and Bundaberg will simply be exchanged for and converted to, cask wine and flagons.
    And if they become to expensive? Well, many of the very, determined, committed and chronic drinkers in and around Alice Springs (as elsewhere) will revert back to old faithful – Metho!
    And lead the way. Then the circle (circus?) will begin all over again re. the price and availability.
    And people may well say, what a joke.
    Only it won’t be a joke, but a continuing tragedy.
    And all will continue to suffer, Black, White and Brindle.

  2. Looks like the wheel has done the full cycle. Back to metho, like in the 70s.
    Why not stop the people that drink. Putting the price up has not stopped the drinkers, only changed the type of drink they drink.
    Anything will do to drink, for a drunk. Just look at the rubbish around the town every single day.
    All these dogooders, why penalize the public for misbehaviour of a regular few?
    We all know the problem, why do we all cringe and do nothing, because we get called racist, to the facts that we all know are true.

  3. Meddling with prices, changing grog hours or anything else that has been tried over the last 30 years hasn’t worked. When I called in at the Gap Drive-in a few months back to buy one 2L cask of red wine, it was fifteen minutes to six pm and I was told I couldn’t buy it until 6 pm. Outside were two lanes of vehicles, all occupied by our indigenous neighbours and as I watched, an astonishing amount of Rum and Coke pre-mix moved out the doors, a carton of which would no doubt contain much more alcohol than the piddling 2 L carton I had intended to buy. When will the people meddling with purchasing hours, prices, types of alcohol that can be bought when and where, wake up to the fact that the key to resolution is to tackle the people who are the problem? Fiddling about with consumption has never worked in any time or place.

  4. Not forgetting the internet. There are a number of online sales. You can buy 4 litre casks. One site offers free shipping for orders over $300. Online shopping reducing sales to a certain type of business in Alice rubber stamped by NT Govt. Oh yeah, pick up in three days from order date. So if ten people order on line that is $3000 not spent in Alice. So if 30 do this. You do the Maths. Not good for our town. But I am not happy about a govt that forces people to spend in other states removing big money from our town. There are no winners in this, as we the realists in town know. If you cannot afford it steal it. The real people hurting here are places like clubs and pubs. Where is their protection? They have none. This govt is based on no care no responsibility.

  5. Until Alice Springs is prepared to stand up and say, “My name is Alice and I am an alcoholic” drinking isn’t going to stop, and the drinkers won’t go away.
    So I’m not arguing for or against a floor price, tinkering with what and when products can be sold, daily trading hours or the physical and mental health or otherwise of chronic drinkers.
    What I am arguing for is a day off, a once-a-week time-out for the residents of Alice springs. Close all take-away outlets on at least one day a week so we can have a break.
    Sundays are almost there already. It would be so easy to finish that job, even if some would howl like mashed cats.

  6. In 1967 Australians passed a referendum recognising the equality of Aboriginal Australians. Sadly however there are those amongst us who work tirelessly against that recognition of equality with a never ending campaign to remove the rights of Aboriginal Australians to make decisions for themselves.
    Yes, even tiny little decision such as what and when to drink. This campaign is disguised as caring but in reality is paternalistic based on underlying doubt in the equal ability of Aboriginal Australians to be able to make their own life choices. As a result of this fawning paternalism, efforts to address alcohol abuse is never aimed at the individual, never aimed at the behaviour, but instead the product.
    The supplier and the community at large are held responsible once again in the paternal belief that they should be prepared to take some pain some loss of freedoms in attempt to help their brothers who of course cannot be held responsible for their own actions.
    The general community may well have accepted these backwards steps, if there had been some desirable results, however the results of restriction manipulation has been a disaster! Let’s look back, just at the last six years of social experimentation. We have had the Two Kilometre Law converted into the Dry Town. We have suspended the sale of four litre casks. We’ve made it more difficult to buy many products including mouth wash. We’ve introduced the requirement of photo ID on purchase. We changed the hours of availability we’ve created the alcohol court. We’ve banned drinking on communities, in the town camps in 90% of housing commission homes and in public spaces.
    We’ve labelled popular bars animal bars and tried to close them down. We’ve tried to ban two litre casks. We’ve tried to force up the price. We’ve given the police the right to pour out legally purchased alcohol, if you attempt to consume it pretty near anywhere at all, and if you happen to be Aboriginal.
    What have we actually achieved? Over that six year period our crime statistics for home break-ins club and pub break-ins, bashings, theft, ram raids have all escalated enormously, anywhere from 30% up to 80% per quarter. Over that period the cumulative effect is almost beyond belief!
    What effect has it had on our town? It’s more divided on racial grounds than ever, the level of tension and hostility is higher than ever, the levels of isolation, social division are higher than ever.
    Our feelings of well being, of safety and security are gone. Our tourist trade is in tatters, our business is declining, our level of comfort, the town’s friendly ambiance is declining.
    People are leaving in ever increasing numbers. Our jails and youth programs are bursting to a level that is in danger of bringing our entire system of justice to a grinding halt!
    Restrictions have not stopped or even slowed alcohol abuse they’ve simply resulted in criminalizing a large number of people who would not have otherwise run foul of the law. It is time to take another approach, one that concentrates its energies on the small minority who create this havoc and rewards the good behaviour of the vast majority of the community who do not!
    It is absolutely beyond time that policies of any kind or any purpose that single out groups of people for special attention, be it good, or be it bad, on the basis of their race, is gone from this community forever!
    The answer is pretty damn simple, those who drink and get out of hand will be dealt with in a zero tolerance manner and subjected to mandatory rehabilitation.
    Those who drink and behave are left to mind their own damn business.
    And those who think it’s their God given right to interfere in the life choices of others are ignored.

  7. Steve, your comments on what was passed in the 1967 Referendum are ignorant. Indigenous don’t have equality yet – read the Constitutional Reform Report.
    “We’ve banned drinking on communities”, well, actually, Steve, some communities requested that the Liquor Commission declare them Dry. No paternalism there. You can’t win, can you? Every way you turn, you reveal your own racist paternalism because, fundamentally, that’s what you are. That must come as a surprise, but I’d suggest you talk to a psychologist who might be able to explain the concept of imagio dei.
    Your royal use of the word “we” includes the notion that you had something to do with creating some of the historical attempts to manage the privilege of consuming alcohol, when “we” all know that you oppose them, but a Right’s based bloke like you thinks that the law should agree with every thing he says. That’s why you’re so big on law and order solutions. Even some of the local constabulary are in favour of moving right along to take-away alcohol free days, as they were in Tennant Creek. Some of them couldn’t believe it when Thirsty Thursday was abandoned.
    You talk as if you’ve never been into an animal bar – ever seen the drug dealing that occurs there? Talk to a knowledgeable cop and wise-up. Stand outside and observe who comes out and where they go – not all black either, brother.
    The one thing you neglect to mention in your tirade about alcohol restrictions is take-away alcohol free days. It hasn’t been tried in Alice, but you’re certain it won’t, or can’t work. One of the reasons why this town is, according to you, “more divided on racial grounds than ever” is because you’re blind to supply reduction solutions. So much for the old Brown “can do.”
    “Social divisions,” you say? Talk to the locals who bumped up the price of their houses (doubled in ten years) in order to make a killing in collaboration with local real estate agents. Are these the kind of business practices you’re asking us to vote for in your “business confidence is declining” mantra?
    Now you’re even using those “idiotic” statistics – what will Janet say about you being “a good stats provider”?
    You damn and curse “God given right” in the same sentence. It must be tough trying to reconcile Janet’s declaration of being “a woman of strong Christian faith” with that kind of theology.
    Please see my article and subsequent post at “Central Australia is perishing for a drink” for some answers to the rest of your post.

  8. Arthur (Arthur Bell, @ Posted February 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm) please consider that none of us in the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition, aka PAAC, are claiming that “cheap booze” is the whole problem; nor are we advocating anything remotely similar to prohibition. We do advocate for better rules about access to and consumption of alcohol, and more rigorous application of alcohol regulation in order to minimise its harms.
    We know that alcohol problems are not going to disappear altogether, but we also know about very convincing scientific evidence that some forms of regulation are much more likely to reduce harmful levels of alcohol consumption than others.
    Reduction of availability of cheap alcohol since 2006 in Alice Springs has led to a sustained drop in total consumption of alcohol (as measured in the pure alcohol content of wholesale supplies to retailers). It is also associated with sustained reduction in rates of serious alcohol-related injuries (broken bones, serious stabbings) and homicides in Central Australia. Although incidents of violence have not reduced, the seriousness of a large proportion of incidents is less than prior to the introduction of these regulations.
    However, as new cheap products were brought onto the market, in the form of cleanskin and discounted wines, the effectiveness of the regulations was lessened. This has led us to logically focus on the need for a “floor price” on pure alcohol content – the preferred position of PAAC for many years. Under PAAC’s formula, no product whose pure alcohol content is effectively cheaper than the pure alcohol content in a can obtained at the average standard price within a carton of beer would be permitted. That is, cheap wine would still be available, but it would have no pricing advantage relative to full-strength beer, in terms of their levels of pure alcohol.
    Your concern that “many of the very, determined, committed and chronic drinkers in and around Alice Springs (as elsewhere)” will try to find cheap alternatives is partly true, and PAAC has always understood this. As on Mornington Island, some, but not many, will probably try home-brewing, internet purchases, and grog running over very long distances. However in the context of Alice Springs, our past experience is that most people simply shift to the cheaper readily available alternatives – which in 2006 meant a 70% shift to beer. This is because the PAAC strategy is to achieve a shift to beer, with its much lower alcohol content, and not to home-brew or other alternatives, and by and large this is what happens. Even though a small number of people may shift to more harmful alternatives than beer the problems created will be more manageable and are likely to cause much less harm than the present situation in which many products, including cask wine with much higher alcohol content, are freely available from pub bottleshops at much lower prices than beer.
    Your concern that desperate drinkers will simply revert to imbibing metho is wrong for most drinkers. However, for those that do try to obtain metho, CAYLUS (the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service, which is one of PAAC’s constituent member organisations) has had major success over a number of years in persuading Alice Springs retailers to strictly govern the sales of metho and other alcohol substitutes (mouth washes, essences etc), as well as sniffable petrol and other volatile inhalants. Occasional outbreaks of metho and listerine misuse have been dealt with and contained.
    Any retailer or member of the public who has knowledge about misuse of metho or other products is strongly encouraged to phone Blair McFarland or other CAYLUS workers on 08 8951 4236 and report the problem immediately upon witnessing or hearing about the incident. Such substitutions can be relatively easily dealt with and do not anywhere near negate the positive impact of removing cheap grog from the market.
    Kathy Fritz, @ Posted February 23, 2012 at 4:15 pm: Note my comments to Arthur Bell about prohibition and metho. Beer cans may make more litter, but they contain less harmful levels of alcohol, and beer currently costs the misusers almost 50% more per unit of pure alcohol than they pay for the wines in the casks and cheap bottles. The recycling system has already started to overcome the problem of litter from beer cans, and this will continue to grow. A floor price would mean less broken glass, which comes mainly from the cheap wine bottles: it has been proven in previous trials that the very great majority of Central Australian cheap wine drinkers will shift en masse to beer if there is a price incentive to do so. As for your question “why penalize the public for misbehaviour of a regular few?”, just use your brain to figure it out: we do so in order to reduce the levels of harm to the children and other victims of the alcohol misusers, and to conserve the resources of the taxpayers and governments so they can be better spent on addressing other problems.

  9. Equality of opportunity is available to all who reach for it. Equality of results depends upon our choices and other factors.
    In 1967 the acknowledged aim of Australian people was to eliminate, to extinguish, to outlaw, ALL legislation discriminating between Australians using race as measure.
    Commonwealth claims the 1967 referendum widened its ability to discriminate between Australians using race as a measure.
    Interpreting the 1967 referendum, whose purpose counts – Parliament’s or the People’s?

  10. Some misunderstanding of the purpose of the 67 referendum? It was essentially to allow the Commonwealth to legislate in areas to do with Aboriginal people. The Commonwealth was no longer prepared to leave indigenous issues to the States. It sought the power to make laws to tackle indigenous disadvantage, after neglecting the issue since federation. The intent was to enable federal intervention into what had been a preserve of the States.

  11. Hi Bob,
    what I post on various forums is mainly a message and advise to the broader population of Australia and probably highlighting or emphasising the extreme or, worst-case scenario most times, and probably for effect. As the problems of alcohol abuse in Aboriginal communities is an issue in most of this country with Aboriginal people being over-represented in all the worst aspects of the statistics. This particular post is not to, or in regard to PAAC’s activities as such. I am sure there is a lot of good and well intentioned people involved and I wish you well.
    The effects of this alcohol abuse is of great concern to me and I have a lot of experience and knowledge in this area. And have I written a lot on the subject, via posts on forums and on my website. There certainly is a difference in the NT though, with many problem drinkers having a traditional background. I certainly have an appreciation of these circumstances.
    Thanks Bob, and more soon.

  12. Arthur, with respect, there are many of us who have quite a deal of experience similar to yours, but if you live in Alice Springs and your letter suggests that you don’t, you would soon agree that the inference that it’s only indigenous who are problem drinkers leaves us underwhelmed.


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