A drunk costs the Territory 4.5 times the national average


ALCOHOL WATCH # 10 by Russell Guy
I began writing this column by summarising the bill for alcohol-abuse, but the costs keep getting bigger as the national taxpayer-funded expense climbs towards 20 billion dollars per annum.
The NT annual cost is $642 million, or $4000 per person and four and a half times the national average.
After a six year decline, per capita consumption is increasing, according to a full-page expose by the Australian, entitled ‘Top End’s Chronic Drinking Problem’ (6/2/14: 9).
In Central Australia, while some NT government social programs struggle to be effective and cuts are made to others, the cost of alcohol-abuse is supported by an electorate intolerant at having to show ID when purchasing liquor.
Vince Kelly, President of the NT Police Union notes that with the stationing of police outside bottle shops: “The (alcohol) industry is now being propped up by the Alice Springs police force.”
The Australian (6/2/14) reported that the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) “spent 14 times more per capita on political donations in the NT than in any jurisdiction at any time over the past decade.
The donations came just days before the 2012 election” when the BDR was being trialed and totaled $300,000, which was split between Labor and the CLP.
Chief Minister Adam Giles told an AHA meeting in Darwin last year that drinking was a “core social value” in the NT.  Mr Giles has denied that the AHA’s contribution had influenced CLP alcohol policy.
The BDR was dismantled at a cost of $2.5m., but the S. A. Police News (7/2/14) reports positive results from measures introduced in Coober Pedy last year, specifically directing licensees to demand ID for takeaway sales.
Max Allen writes in the Australian (8/2/14):  “The effects of that late 1990s, early 2000s greedy corporate push of commodity wine brands into deeply discounted markets overseas are still felt:  growers in many regions are still paid pathetically low grape prices, and struggling corporate wineries keep posting ‘catastrophic’ earnings downgrades.
“At the same time, the federal government persists with a taxation system that allows producers to sell cask wine for almost the same price as bottled water.  Hence, we have to live with the abuse of cheap, readily available wine and a consumer expectation that alcohol should be cheap and accessible – which in turn means that wineries and growers find it hard to make a profit. It can’t go on.
“Australia can’t continue to see itself as a ‘cheap’ wine country.  It’s simply not sustainable:  we’re not set up for it.”
When I was a dancehall impresario in Central Australia, which is a fancy way of saying you had to be there and working with a number of Aboriginal dance bands during the Eighties, I had a sign on the door that said ‘Adults $5.  Kids $2.  No Grog.’
Rarely did we have a problem inside, but on the occasion of gigs in Alice, there was often alcohol-induced bedlam outside and the police enforced the Two Kilometer law, but out bush, it was a different matter.
I longed to play those dances because there was no grog and no mayhem.  The windows would be open to the fresh air and by the end of the night we were happily, healthily, exhausted, thereby disputing alcohol industry advertising that you need grog to have a good time.
Some of the bands I worked with were employed by the NTG in ‘No Grog’, ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’, ‘I’ve Had Enough’ campaigns, but none of them made a difference against the liberal supply chain.
Dance halls that once existed in communities have been overtaken by pubs.  The legal age for drinking was 21 years about 40 years ago and youth binge drinking has since become a phenomenon.  The era of entitlement is supposedly coming to an end.
PHOTOS: A graffiti with the Ku Klux Klan acronym at a drinking camp in a disused quarry at the start of Ilparpa Road. Change of drinking habits or is the container deposit system doing its job? Empty hard liquor bottles in the same camp, but no cans which are now worth 10 cents.


  1. A “drunk” costs the Territory 4.5 times the national average. I began writing this column by summarising the bill for “alcohol-abuse”.
    This is the language that is needed. Throw in “habitual sot” there too.
    “The era of entitlement is supposedly coming to an end”.
    Forget “supposedly”.
    The era of entitlement is “certainly” coming to an end.
    And as in 1788, Aboriginal people will again be “totally unprepared”.

  2. @ Arthur Bell.
    Thank you for your comments. Whilst the Federal Committee of Audit reviews government spending and makes recommendations to the forthcoming Budget, the so-called ‘era of entitlement’ will prove to be a factor in the Treasurer’s cuts.
    This is seen in the SPC Ardmona Pear and Drought Relief actions undertaken by a government committed to reining in the debt at a time when resource investment is declining and the economy is soft.
    Welfare entitlement and its abuse is a primary target, but I refer also to the alcohol industry’s perceived entitlement to create a public health crisis through over-supply, product discount and irresponsible promotion.
    The taxpayer has to foot the bill for a national alcohol-abuse cost of $15b p.a. and rising. There are many things that governments, including the NTG can do and I hope that we start to see some more action, beginning with a volumetric tax per unit of alcohol, rather than a product-based tax.
    In 1809, Governor McQuarie began to liberalise an infant nation that had been ruled by a military autocracy.
    He instigated many innovations and benefits to the community, but in his liberal heart, I doubt that he would have foreseen seven days a week takeaway as a mainstay of Australian society, nor perhaps, would he have counseled the lowering of the drinking age from 21 years to 18, especially considering that binge drinking is responsible for a high proportion of ER admissions, resulting in liver damage and impaired brain development.
    Alcohol consumption is not an entitlement, it’s a privilege by law. Many see it as a right of lifestyle choice, drinking responsibly, if not healthily – a poor role model – choosing to sustain the soaring costs, rather than the savings benefit to the nation.
    Instead of focusing on personal responsibility exclusively, all responsible governments who profess to doing ‘the right thing’, need to convince the electorate that it’s time to introduce legislation based on responsible supply and alcohol reform.
    It does start with personal responsibility, but that includes the ballot box as well.
    As Rev. John Flynn of the Inland said in the early 20th century: “One person, one vote, but first a healthy mind and a healthy body.” There are too many Australians who have neither due to alcohol-abuse and self harm.

  3. To Russell Guy:
    When you quote a cost to the taxpayer of some $15 billion can you please also include a breakdown of how the taxpayers money is spent in this instance.
    Who is getting the $15 billion?
    Can I suggest that perhaps a significant portion of this money is spent in accommodating the lifestyles of those appointed to fix the problem. Look forward to your list.

  4. @ Paul.
    Thanks for your comments. The $15b. p.a. cost and its attribution is found in earlier Alcohol Watch articles. I suggest you check them out in the archive.
    The cost is derived from Health, Policing, Justice Department (including courts and prison costs). The latter is increasing (see recent Justice Riley article).
    The NTG figure is $642m. p.a. but is a couple of years old now and does not include the costs of Alcohol Mandatory Treatment which is adding to the overall cost by, at last count, 206 treatments at $43k per 12 week course, equally $9m, etc.
    These figures are costs to taxpayers, not in terms of the lives and family’s affected by various policies in place over the past 40 years of alcohol supply growth, something which Australian governments are now coming to grips with, specifically, the current Federal enquiry. As I am reporting in the next Alcohol Watch #12, the cost of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders – all of which makes the $15b p.a. national cost an increasingly expensive addiction, for which the profits are extracted. The $2.5m dismantling of the Banned Drinker’s Register could be thrown in too.
    You will find what you are looking for if you peruse those articles.


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