Grog stats may be useless as they do not include online and mail orders


The volatile debate on alcohol reform turns largely on the volume of consumption and how various measures affect it.
Trouble is, the stats are seen to present an incomplete picture as they do not capture the apparently growing online and mail-order purchases that come to the consumer direct from interstate.
Said Deputy Mayor Brendan Heenan during the recent local government election campaign: “There are statistics that less alcohol is being sold now. I don’t believe them. Go to the post office and watch how much alcohol comes in, pallets and pallets of mail orders from south now, tonnes of the stuff, every day.”
The Alice Springs News Online requested information from the NT Justice Department at about noon yesterday. It has not yet been provided. When it comes to hand we will update this report.
Blair McFarland, manager of CAYLUS (Central Australian Youth Link Up Service) which campaigns strongly on substance abuse issues , says so far as he knows, figures about alcohol obtained from interstate by mail order and online are not included in the NT consumption statistics, which – again, so far as he knows – represent wholesale trade in the NT.
Mr McFarland says, relying on figures interstate, the online and mail order proportion is around one percent of the total.
Prominent alcohol activist and medical doctor, John Boffa says: “The short answer is that only some of the sales are included when the wine company or other company is registered in the NT.
“[The government does] not have a way of monitoring all of the internet sales.”
This trade is partly a result of people having a gutful of jumping through hoops to buy their booze and the increasingly unpleasant atmosphere in bottle shops.
The post office will not disclose quantities it handles, which may significantly skew the figures: it is argued a drop in consumption may well not be because the latest initiatives are working but because more people have gone online.
Australia Post  – functionally a grog outlet in this context – is basically refusing to comment although it does keeps tabs on its business with alcohol because it has a requirement to ensure no deliveries to minors are made.
This is the answer the Alice Springs News Online received from a PR person after weeks of enquiries:-
“Wine delivery is an integral part of the service Australia Post provides to our customers.
“Our alcohol delivery procedures include requesting proof of age identification as required to ensure we provide a safe and professional delivery service and meet our legal and community obligations in preventing the delivery of alcohol product to minors.
And: “In terms of requesting proof of age, when delivering a parcel marked as containing alcohol, delivery staff request proof of age if the person at the address looks to be less than 25 years of age.
“If they can’t provide suitable ID the parcel will be taken back to the nearest post office for later collection by someone who can present appropriate ID.
“This requirement is not something that directly correlates to how much alcohol is delivered.”
That seems most improbable: they know what’s in the parcels or else they wouldn’t demand proof of age.
And: “Australia Post is committed to working collaboratively with local, state and federal authorities on the distribution of alcohol to restricted communities and I suggest you would be better placed to contact them in this instance.”
In what way do they collaborate?
“I’m really sorry I can’t assist further but we keep track of parcel volumes (which are commercial in confidence), not what’s inside the parcels.”
Alice Springs is a restricted community (see the blue signs at the entrances to town and the 2km law, for example), but the authorities are not told how much grog the post office handles.
PHOTO: The yard of the Alice Springs post office which, some claim, transports large quantities of alcohol not accounted for in NT consumption statistics.
UPDATE May 10, 12:40pm: The NT Department of Justice has now provided a partial response to our questions.
They were: Does the department have figures of alcohol obtained via mail order or online, and delivered via Post Australia?
If you do please supply them to me.
Are mail order or online purchases of alcohol from interstate and delivered to the buyer direct captured in the NTG stats made public?
Answer: DoJ is aware of small amounts of alcohol being purchased over the Internet.  These amounts are insignificant in comparison to the 2.73 million litres of pure alcohol sold in 2010.
Online retailers can use the Banned Drinkers Register online and since its launch on 26 March, three interstate licensees have adopted the system with the first sale recorded on 8 May 2012.
Follow-up questions to the department: That clearly means that the government does not know the quantities and they are not reflected in the NT alcohol statistics; is that so? How many mail order and online retailers from interstate are supplying the NT?
UPDATE May 10, 4:20pm:
The department replies: Whilst we don’t know specific quantities, from discussions with cartage agents, especially in Alice Springs, quality bottled wine is being purchased in very low quantities in comparison to what is sold in the Territory.
The majority of online liquor sellers don’t sell into the NT.  Coles and Woolworths despatch their online liquor sale products from the NT and so already use the BDR. In developing the BDR online, we wrote to 10 organisations that offer online liquor sales into the Territory – including Coles and Woolworths, letting them know that the BDR was available online.


  1. What an excellent idea, never thought of mail ordering my booze!
    Wonder if the interstate suppliers will be as much of a pain as it is in this town to buy booze and insist on seeing my license.
    Might be easier to by pass local suppliers and order in!

  2. We often read how many L of booze the police have washed down the drain … or wherever it goes which also confuses the figures. As has already been said, sales and consumption are two different things.
    A friend told me she went to the railway station to pick up some booze and was surprised at the quantity waiting for collection that was addressed to fellow employees of her NTG Department.
    The statistics are bullshit. Just take a walk around town and see if anything has decreased, improved, been rectified, deodorised, sanitized ….

  3. It is real simple to purchase on the i’net, have not bought grog locally for three years. It is delivered to your door by courier or pick up from the post office when a card is in your box, depending on the supplier you use. Usually a week to 10 days. Watch the specials on the regular emails, some are even freight free.
    I believe in buying locally where possible but the hassles of what you can buy, how much you can buy, when you can buy it are all too hard.
    Just see the pallets at the post office and the back of the courier truck when deliveries are on.
    The stats are well and truly stacked!

  4. Not bad. Two out of three without the courage of their convictions and the third finds it “all too hard” to buy his grog in Alice. One wonders how he’d go trying to do something difficult, like turn down the tap. Perhaps, it’s time we all retired to Port Augusta.

  5. Hi Erwin, please do not get sucked into calling the stats “consumption” stats these are “sales” stats only, nothing at all to do with consumption. They have no way of recording consumption, only sales.
    Just an additional note on interstate grog. You are also forgetting the people who travel interstate and bring it back themselves. I know people who travel interstate and have brought back with them almost a whole pallet of grog. How many others are doing this as well?
    There has been talk on another thread of a meeting to be held possibly to be chaired by yourself. Dr Boffa has also called for a meeting to which I have already agreed to attend. I would suggest we only have one meeting. Could this be arranged?
    [ED – Hi Rex. Eli Melky has asked the Alice Springs News Online to moderate a meeting he is proposing to call. We agreed – under conditions, see the same post, but I suggest contact Eli.]

  6. All this online buying of grog is beginning to tell an interesting story.
    To buy online, a credit card is necessary, something not so easy to get and even less easy to keep without more-or-less permanent employment. It seems more and more of Alice’s residents are using this procedure to access their alcohol.
    This change in retail buying then seems to mean that the bottle shops are increasingly catering to those riding the dole train – cue in urban drifters and public drinkers.
    Now if that progression is accurate, then if becomes increasingly difficult to mount a good argument against turning down the tap. A good place to start would be one day a week without access to the bottle shops. And if that closure were to extend from the SA/NT border north to Elliott, central Australia just might get a weekly reprieve from the daily trauma of loud and violent public drunkenness.
    To those still unconvinced, I ask why not try it? Given the obvious state of our streets and public spaces, why are you so scared to try a different approach? Clearly what we are doing just isn’t working.
    Or at least it isn’t working if we want to continue (?) to be known (and let’s face it – this assumption is under real threat) as a civilised town.

  7. Some have stated that it is time that we adopted policies that work rather than those which are popular. It seems clear from evidence based results that reductions in consumption and policies like a floor price do work in terms of reducing consumption and, hence, reducing the harm of excessive consumption.
    No one could argue with this. It works.
    It would also “work” to simply line up the problem drinkers and shoot them.
    Why do we not take this option?
    We examine the philosophical underpinning of the idea of shooting problem drinkers and reject it.
    If we examine the philosophical underpinning of alcohol restrictions or a floor price we would accept or reject these on the basis of our rational examination of the philosophical underpinnings.
    It may be that we accept that there is a utilitarian notion of the greater good which would justify restrictions.
    It is also possible that we might find that there is no justification for alcohol restrictions.
    It is clearly not enough to say that because something works it is justified.
    It is not acceptable to say that if people do not accept that alcohol restrictions are justified that this means that they do not care about the issue of problem drinking or the plight of the individual problem drinker – sometimes lost in the debate.
    I am interrupted by a knock on the door from five men from Balgo, a remote Aboriginal Community in Western Australia who are visiting Alice Springs. This brings to mind the memory of Balgo. At one point the Catholic Church built a beautiful Church and Monastery from local stone. The Monastery building was particularly appealing and was open to all who would choose to wander around its main lounge area and grounds.
    Over time Balgo became an environment where there was a fair degree of anti-social behaviour including break-ins. I guess that there were attempts to deal with the issues but, for whatever reason, one approach involved encasing the Monastery building in a kind of iron cage.
    At one time in Balgo a funding agency purchased three trucks. It was predictable that the trucks would go to Halls Creek and that there would be trouble. This occurred. What happened? The funding agency – rather than dealing with the issue involved – the differing ways in which people see the use of trucks – decided to impound the trucks and put them in jail behind a locked fence.
    This is what was described as the control method of self-determination.
    It seems that one way our country has of dealing with the issues involved here is to build these defences to protect ourselves in a situation where we are unwilling or unable to deal with the underlying issues.
    I can see little difference between the caged Monastery in Balgo and the fence around Braitling School, the proposed closure of the Northside alcohol outlet, alcohol restrictions or even the idea of turning off the tap. These are all interventions designed to avoid facing the enormous task of dealing with the underlying issues and accepting that we are not very good at dealing with the issues Alice Springs faces.
    To pretend – if you like – that we are dealing with things when we are not.
    The one thing that Alice Springs needs is to avoid the pretence.
    This newspaper is correct to suggest that the alcohol debate is volatile.
    Volatility need not mean that we cannot appreciate the fact that there are differing views represent a diversity that gives this place life.
    Maybe we are losing sight of that.
    I remember the day Woolworths decided to stop selling two liter casks of wine. Cellarmasters, owned by Woolworths, had a freight free offer if you paid by PayPal. This enabled you to get bottled wine to Alice Springs at prices less than cask wine.
    The arguments here are interesting because we all know that not everyone in Alice Springs can take advantage of the Cellarmasters type offers.
    The fact that I can makes me feel vaguely disconcerted.
    I am not afraid to say that I used to enjoy drinking cask wine. (The suggestion that cheap wine is qualitatively inferior to non-cheap wine is debatable.)
    Anonymity is defensible in this situation but more importantly is recognition of the fact that the debate is volatile – we cannot pretend that it is not.
    What we must try and avoid is not being willing to listen and learn and accept that the future of Alice Springs is in the hands of its people.
    It takes courage to live with diversity and avoid the anger that comes from becoming welded to a particular and fixed position.

  8. It is astonishing how an unsubstantiated rumour about massive amounts of alcoholic beverages allegedly moving surreptitiously through the parcel delivery systems of the town without the knowledge of the Licensing Commission and Justice Dept can be given so much credence. Now it has led to a series of convenient statements from the usual, mostly anonymous anti-regulation sources.
    It is entirely predictable how seriously this is being taken by those with a political and ideological interest in such speculation.
    Our household was for many years in a wine club, and I know of others. This is nothing new. I have no doubt that the trade could have increased over time, but not to the extent that Rex and Brendan allege, at least not without the authorities becoming aware of such.
    What is more surprising is how little trust gets placed on the professional opinions and assessments of those public servants whose jobs depend on them maintaining their credibility on this type of issue.
    As Erwin points out, the mail-order supplies sold by the biggest-advertising major retailers are included in the NT wholesale figures. These deliveries almost certainly account for the bulk of any alcohol sent via the post office and road couriers, and so do not undermine the credibility of other available statistics.
    It appears that there is no evidence to contradict the opinions of the DoJ officials, that internet orders from interstate are a negligible part of the town’s alcohol problem.
    The pallets that Brendan Heenan has heard about most likely consist mainly of the hugely increased sales of a very wide range of products now being bought over the net.
    Why am I not surprised?
    Perhaps PAAC’s efforts to motivate Alice Springs’ population to start thinking seriously about a logical, evidence-based approach to problem solving are beginning to hit home, and some vested interests and their friends are lashing about looking for scapegoats and diversions.

  9. As we all argue and wring our hands, another generation has to deal with being cheated of a decent life because their parents simply don’t care about themselves or their children.
    Seriously, what can be done today? More alcohol restrictions may indeed chip away at the stats and make those above us feel they have achieved something.
    I think our political system (and those in it) are so bogged down with their desire to win power, hang on to power or be today’s hero that they are totally ineffective.
    What is power? Who has it? Perhaps the abusers…

  10. For the umpteenth time, how many members are there in the PAAC and why is the organization never willing to provide even a rough idea of its true representation or size??

  11. Yes Russell, Port “Auguta” is looking better but Alice is still the best. You say “One wonders how he’d go trying to do something difficult, like turn down the tap.”
    Ask people in Broome about turning down the tap in Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. Ask people in Isa, Katherine and Tennant Creek about when they ‘turned down the tap’ and closed the pub in Borroloola.
    Thirsty Thursday turned down the tap to an extent in Tennant and some of the best ‘blues’ ever witnessed in the main street were on Thursday afternoons. Nothing short of a total disgrace.
    In their wisdom they cut out casks in Tennant and at the time I was quoted in the Australian, “aircraft flying over Tennant don’t need directional finding, just look for the glint from the broken glass”.
    What else do we ‘try’ before someone gets serious?? There are times when you need to be cruel to be kind!!!
    I can suggest a solution but it is certainly not politically correct nor politically acceptable.

  12. @ Jane Clark May 11, 2012, 8:20 am
    Power comes from having consistency and credibility especially at the street level.
    That is the simple reason our family chose a street level, lo-tech approach to the CAMECO-angela pamela fight.
    Commissioner McRoberts needs power by the bucket full; he has yet to learn that Bearcats and power are mutually exclusive i.e. they do not go hand in hand in any democratic land.
    The kids that run the streets of the Alice have power by default and ipso facto, can do what ever they choose; we are not talking minor incidents here Bob but the commission of major criminal acts.
    David Chewings

  13. After waiting over three weeks for a parcel that I had been assured had been sent, and after e-mailing the company who had sent it to double check, I asked at the post office hatch if perhaps the notification card had gone missing. I was told they were a fortnight behind in their deliveries, but they were doing all they could to clear the backlog.
    Then in today’s newspaper I read a letter from another Name Withheld telling of a similar plight.
    So here’s my question: Is Australia Post suffering from a staff shortage, has there been an unusually heavy influx of normal parcels or is the delay down to grog deliveries?
    Just how much booze is coming in on the mail plane? Tons of the stuff as Cr Heenan asserts, or negligible as Bob Durnan seems to think?
    And is there anyone left who still thinks we don’t have a grog problem?
    There are no mail deliveries on Sundays, so let’s close the bottle shops on that day to give ourselves a day off. It won’t cost a cent. Too easy.

  14. This post has become a surreal mindscape of collected reflections, where points made are made again and again as if pitched into an echo machine. Nothing comes back, except the past.

  15. Chris Carey (posted May 11, 2012 at 7:57am) puts up several straw men in his cynical discussion of a “philosophical” approach to setting policy on preventing the social, legal, economic and health harms arising from excessive use of alcohol.
    Chris, nobody is saying that we should adopt a floor price purely and simply because it “works”.
    If you think this is the case then I suggest that you may not have been paying serious attention to the details of the arguments.
    Similarly, I am not aware of anybody arguing “that if people do not accept that alcohol restrictions are justified that this means that they do not care about the issue of problem drinking or the plight of the individual problem drinker”.
    Most importantly, I do not know of anybody seriously proposing that a floor price should replace the need to “deal with the [other] underlying issues.”
    But what really gives away the fact that Chris is either unable or unprepared to listen is his reference to “the idea of turning off the tap” (i.e. prohibition). Nobody in the local alcohol reform movement has proposed “the idea of turning off the tap” Chris.
    For several years, alcohol regulation reformers in Alice have espoused the slogan “turn down the grog tap”. It is printed on bumper stickers, fridge magnets and posters. Nowhere does it state “turn off the grog tap”.
    If you can see no difference between putting a cage around the Balgo monastery and introducing a floor price Chris, then I think you may need a couple of lessons in basic logic.
    However, the caged monastery approach, and those approaches advocated by Lockemup Melky, Nobble’em Neindorf, Punishem Brown and Prisoncamps Mills (not to forget Gavin “Too Cruel to Say It” Carpenter), are not so conceptually different to the Balgo solution.
    It is somewhat ironic that you end your contribution with a lecture about people “not being willing to listen and learn”, when this appears to be a hallmark of your own approach.
    From the evidence above, it is clear that you would much rather make assumptions, form broad generalisations and criticise people unfairly, rather than take the trouble to listen carefully and try to understand your opponents.

  16. @ Russell Guy, posted May 11 at 11:04 pm.
    You say “This post has become a surreal mindscape of collected reflections, where points are made again and again as if pitched into an echo machine…”
    Russell I do admire your turn of phrase but it looks like you are showing signs of fatigue.
    This particular post, in my humble opinion, is a vibrant and thoughtful contribution to the current debates.
    What you have is fifteen fascinating contributions with only four or five repeats.

  17. Two points from news reports of this week.
    “According to the last Census, rents in Alice Springs were nearly 9 per cent higher than the national average.” And this one, from a certain Real Estate agency’s advertising of a very modest, brick, two-unit complex “investment property” that can “reel in up to $830/week in rent.”
    When businesses in town encourage disproportionate return on accommodation, is it any wonder that we see disadvantaged members of the community acting with a lack of concern for themselves and others?
    House prices doubled in less than ten years from 2002 in Alice. One of the main reasons why politicians don’t want to act on sensible measures to restrict the economically unsustainable alcohol epidemic in the NT, is because it’s electorally unpopular and supposedly “hurts” those businesses who are acting “responsibly” in peddling alcohol.
    How the Police Commissioner is going to win against greed, or how the replacement CDEP promgram on new job creation for remote Australians is going to work while income remains not means tested, providing the means for sly and legal grog merchants to make a motza is, I happily admit, beyond me.
    Living in, or wishing to return to the political past, is a marginal excuse for dealing with the present and in terms of the future, it reminds me of that old saying, “we get the government we deserve”.
    After thirty odd years, and three months of sustained research and posting into this issue, I am coming to the view that, as the Police Commissioner has requested time to make a difference, though appreciating his input, nothing is going to halt the grog and its contribution to the social malaise consuming Australia.

  18. Hi all, just doing some sorting of old files at home, came across a copy of a Bulletin article “Ringbarked in the Alice”, 5 pages … so a major feature story, by Lenore Nicklin, published July 10, 1984. On the very issues being canvassed on this website. Two km law had just been introduced, Lesley Oldfield (RIP) was Mayor, and Bob Durnan’s beard was still red!
    Worth a read, for those interested?

  19. @Ian Sharp posted May 14, 2012 at 1:02 pm.
    Thanks for the Lenore Nicklin tip Ian.
    The NT government would love your words Ian especially with the election nearing but to me, it is just quaint spin.
    I prefer to recommend readers another read of Destroyed In Alice, The Australian, 19/02/2011. This was written by Nicholas Rothwell well after the new police regime was installed (or imported!!) by Police and Chief Minister Paul Henderson promising so much at the time.
    The John, Shayne and Paul show has been an expensive flop.
    It is time to face the reality of life in the NT before it is too late.
    Thank you.
    David Chewings.

  20. Readers interested in the debate about the appropriate regulation of alcohol may be interested in these comments by the NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. Essentially he’s saying that cheap take-away alcohol’s easy availability is the weak link in his state’s considerable efforts to reduce the rates of alcohol-related crime, and domestic violence in particular.
    See .
    Scipione is coming from the same kind of perspective that PAAC and other local reform campaigners share: that prevention is far better than cure or punishment, and that the best compromise (in terms of minimising impacts on liberties, convenience and cost) in pursuit of prevention is to implement ways that DV and other harms can be reduced via cutting back on both supply and availability, but only so far as does not lead to too many other harms developing in the process. That is, Scipione, like us, wants to see an effective but balanced approach, suitable to the context of the problems.

  21. In reply to David Chewings. Quaint spin? the 1984 article is interesting background, not sure it is spin for today’s NT Govt.
    As for the Rothwell article you refer to, that was a very one sided piece of journalism … as I recall he described Damien Ryan as ‘hapless’, Adam Giles as ‘cerebral’, only quoted people from one side of the debate, and failed to disclose his relationship with one of the persons whose views were given prominence. I don’t put much credence in that article. Cerebral? Crikey, fair suck of the sauce bottle!

  22. A bit cheeky attacking others for non-disclosure Jason Newman? Will you disclose your affiliations at all I wonder, in the interests of course of full and open disclosure in this debate?

  23. @Melaine – I’m a little confused by your comment, I’m very open about my affiliations and who I am. I make multiple public comment on many issues, via many outlets and have never shirked any debate. In fact I think public debate is one of the most positive things a community can undertake.
    I will happily make a full disclosure.
    I own both the Eldorado Motor Inn in Tennant Creek and the Heritage Caravan Park in Alice Springs. I am a supporter and member of many sporting and community organisations in both Alice and Tennant. I am a Telstra Small Business Award Winner and last year’s Tourism Central Australia’s Industry Achiever. I donate constantly to the local community (especially the Barkly).
    My Partner is Rebecca Healy who is the Country Liberals Candidate for Barkly, and one of the country’s premier youth workers. While I myself am the Country Liberal Deputy Treasurer and Barkly Branch Chairman. Again I have never attempted to hide any aspect of my beliefs or affiliation. Perhaps we haven’t crossed the same circles, but I’ve been a vocal community member for multiple years.
    The frustration that is starting to grow for me is with what I believe to be significant misinformation being used by the People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) at times to support and back up their ideals. While I wholly support and acknowledge that their cause and desire for alcohol reform is noble they must be honest and forthright.
    As a licensee myself in both the NT and Victoria, I have huge concerns with the way in which the PAAC is attempting to construct its argument. And my continual question of how many members the organisation has is a valid one.
    Even the name itself would lead people to believe that it is a widely supported and well patronised organisation yet thus far I have only been able to find a handful of academics that claim membership. Its membership base or lack of is a clear indication of just how representative it actually is.
    If it has 500 members, fantastic! And we should take even more notice. If it only has 10 then people should be afforded that information.
    Can you advise how many members it has?

  24. @15 PAAC is unincorporated, and there is no formal procedure for becoming a member, although members must (naturally) support the aims of the group. These can be found on the website:
    PAAC maintains a list of approximately 75 supporters with whom we are in frequent contact. About 30 of these people are actively involved in PAAC activities, most of them representing local non-government organisations including churches, unions, health services, service providers and community groups.
    PAAC conducts monthly ninety-minute meetings, the details, agenda and minutes of which are circulated to our mailing list members.
    Vicki Gillick, PAAC Policy Co-ordinator (part-time)


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