A Win for Wowsers

A win for the wowsers as Victoria cracks down on family dinners...

The wowser brigade of Victoria has done it again. Ever high on the potent endorphins of their own smugness, they keep finding creative ways to control our lives. They’ve now come for another time-honoured Aussie institution — enjoying a glass of wine as a teenager with your parents. They claim of course, that this vital and extremely important restriction will combat that ever-prevalent scourge of underage drinking. Not only is this harebrained, self-aggrandising idea another intrusion into our family lives, the evidence also shows that it’s more likely to do harm than good.

Contrary to what public health bureaucrats or the imam at your local mosque might tell you, we know that drinking itself isn’t a major problem. In fact, a broad range of scientific scholarship shows that moderate drinkers live longer on average than teetotallers do and a glass of red wine before bed is proven to lower the risk of heart attacks — as your baby boomer aunt has probably reminded you on a few occasions. Irresponsible or immoderate drinking is the problem. The binge-drinking culture of Australia, the US and the UK is well known. Not only does this promote the value of drinking to excess, it drives the perception of alcohol as a social “licence to transgress” from accepted norms of behaviour and diminishes the role of personal responsibility and accountability. This has been confirmed by research from the Social Issues Research Centre which found that the correlation between drinking and anti-social behaviour, while prevalent in the UK and Australia, is far less prevalent in Latin America and the Mediterranean countries where drinking is seen less as a taboo practice that promotes poor behaviour, and more as an integrated part of daily life. Those countries enjoy far lower rates of drinking-linked anti-social behaviour despite higher per-capita alcohol consumption. Unlike Australia, those countries emphasise that the individual is responsible for their poor decision to drink to excess or engage in antisocial behaviours under the influence of alcohol.

Ironically, Australia’s nanny state restrictions on alcohol — including excessive taxes and NSW’s lockout laws — only serve to heighten the message that drinking, rather than an individual’s irresponsible decisions, are to blame for causing anti-social behaviour. Victoria’s upcoming decision to prevent bars from serving a single glass of wine to older teenagers dining with their parents might seem like a relatively small encroachment on our freedoms. But each encroachment is part of a wider pattern of restrictive measures zealously lobbied for by taxpayer funded bureaucrats within NGOs and government departments. Parents are responsible for setting a good example for their children as they transition to adulthood. The opportunity to share your first drink with Mum and Dad in a family-friendly setting is a great way to teach teenagers that they don’t need to get wasted and make fools of themselves to have a good time. Without this opportunity, they are more likely to derive their drinking related mores from reckless mates driven by social pressure to demonstrate how much of a “loose unit” they are.

This won’t be the first time that nanny statists have pushed laws that have not only failed but have made problems worse. In the 1930s, the American prohibition forced drinkers to engage the black market. Many were driven blind or killed by poorly produced and unregulated “moonshine” and the pockets of crime figures like Al Capone remained well greased with funds for other illegal activities. The “alcopop” tax, intended to discourage teens from consuming sweet pre-mixed alcoholic beverages by making them more expensive, instead directly resulted in many young drinkers substituting alcohol for ecstasy and other hard drugs, according to studies from the University of Queensland and Deakin University. While the consumption of premixed drinks did fall 31 per cent over three years after the tax was introduced, it also produced a 20 per cent spike in the consumption of pure spirits, with many young adults pre-drinking before heading out to licensed venues using self-mixed cocktails. With such high prices for drinking responsibly in a regulated environment, why wouldn’t they? The tax also failed to make any significant impact on alcoholrelated visits to hospitals. These are lessons that our wowser politicians and wellmuscled and funded nanny brigade have failed to learn. Instead, we continue to pay through the nose with our taxes for more poor and counterintuitive advice from public health activists that only hurt those of us who do the right thing and drink responsibly. Working Australians and our families deserve so much better than this.

Satyajeet Marar is Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers' Alliance


[This article first appeared in the Geelong Advertiser]

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