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Make mine freedom

By Greg Barns - posted Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The nanny state is back. A sense of moral panic is being constantly created and fuelled by opportunistic and knee-jerk politicians, churches and vigilante morals campaigners.

The great rollback of the state in the form of deregulation, free market economics, liberal social policies and laws reflecting the fact that government has no right to control every aspect of people's lives and choices is being undone.

The anti-drinking lobby is at the forefront of this renewed attack on individual freedoms. And why? Because they are creating a climate of moral panic, scaring the living daylights out of parents, kids and politicians. And unfortunately, now every time a bunch of young people gets hammered on a Saturday night, we think the world is coming to an end.


This is the so-called binge drinking problem.

I say "so-called" because there is no real evidence to support the attempts by wowsers and meddling pubic health regulators to tell us we are drinking too much if we have more than four standard drinks a day.

As federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, a former medico, rightly noted last week: "To say that someone drinking four middies is binge drinking or having a couple of glasses of wine and a glass of champagne ... I mean it flies in the face of the posters in the pubs, apart from anything else, about how much you can drink before you get in your car and drive."

There is in fact no binge drinking problem today in Australia - any more than there was two decades ago. And nightclub and bar violence, now favourite front page scare stories for media outlets, is no worse or better over the same period.

The reality is that people drink, and sometimes they drink to excess. And young people, in particular, because they have a devil-may-care attitude in some cases, and a natural enthusiasm for life in others, party hard and get drunk. They always have and they always will.

Alcohol is not inherently harmful in the way that cigarettes are. There is good reason for banning cigarette smoking: It causes cancer and other illnesses and it is addictive. But in the case of alcohol, most Australians, even if they drink more than four standard glasses each day of the week, are not addicted. Add to this the fact that only 11 per cent of men and 6 per cent of women drink daily in Australia and one gets a sense of the small scale of the issue.


There is also, as is generally the case with those who create a sense of moral panic, intellectual dishonesty in the claim that there is a binge drinking problem in Australia. The Commonwealth's own Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest survey on drug usage in Australia, released on April 27, confirms that this is the case.

The AIHW data shows that the "proportions of Australians aged 14 years or older abstaining from alcohol (never had a full serve of alcohol) increased significantly between 2004 (9.3 per cent) and 2007 (10.1 per cent), with a greater change seen among males than females, proportionately and absolutely". And the survey found that the proportion of Australians aged 14 years or older that has never had a full serve of alcohol has generally increased since 1998 with a significant increase between 2004 and 2007, from 9.3 per cent to 10.1 per cent.

And what of younger drinkers? The number of drinkers between the ages of 14 and 19 who are at the medium or high end of risk of harm in the long term from excessive alcohol consumption, according to the AIHW, is only 8.8 per cent.

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First published in the Hobart Mercury on June 23, 2008.

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About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

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