House debates

Thursday, 28 October 2010



12:30 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Roads and Regional Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to raise my concerns with the excessive consumption of alcohol and the harm that is being caused in our homes and on our streets. According to the Department of Health and Ageing’s National Drug Strategy, the total social cost of alcohol abuse in 2004-05 was $15.3 billion, which takes into account everything from workforce impacts, premature death, road accidents and health care to crime. It is a staggering figure.

There is no simple solution to this problem, and certainly not the government’s flawed tax on ready-to-drink products which, I warned at the time it was debated, would lead to substituting other illicit substances for alcohol. I note the recent media coverage of studies which reveal that that appears to be the case.

The House would be interested in the result of an upcoming two-year study which will investigate the link between alcohol prices and the consumption of illicit drugs such as ecstasy and marijuana. The study will be conducted by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, and I certainly look forward to the results. I do not seek to pre-empt the results, but the anecdotes I have received from parents and young people themselves are alarming.

By forcing the price of ready-to-drink products upwards, the government has done nothing to keep young people safer or to reduce binge drinking. Spirit bottles have been discounted by the major chains. Young people are often mixing their own drinks, with no knowledge of the right measure. Others are simply substituting ecstasy, which has been made more price competitive, for alcohol. The government’s policy and legislation were more spin than substance, and have not worked.

As I said, there are no simple answers to the problems of excessive consumption of alcohol, but there are some good initiatives which should be investigated and supported further. One such initiative is an invention known as the Big Bottle, which is an automatic measured-pour wine dispenser. This is an Australian invention and provides for a standard drink to be automatically poured once the wine glass has been placed on the dispenser tray. I have seen the invention in action, and I was impressed by its potential to solve the problem of overpouring in relation to wine products. Overpouring is a problem on several fronts. From a purely economic basis, clubs, pubs and bar owners do themselves out of money when staff members unknowingly serve more alcohol in a glass than customers have paid for. But, more importantly, it allows drinkers to know exactly how much they have had to drink. Each glass of wine is a standard drink—not more, not less. Right now, people are being misled, and are perhaps misleading themselves, about the number of drinks they have had. They may make the mistake of thinking they are under the legal limit to drive, or the excessive consumption of alcohol could be having negative health consequences.

This is an issue for governments at both state and federal levels. We have extensive liquor licensing laws and we have tight restrictions on responsible service of alcohol in this nation, but we have not tackled the issue of overpouring or, as it is sometimes described, ‘overdosing on alcohol’.

As I said, I have seen the autopour or Big Bottle system in operation, and recognise its potential for wider distribution. It has been patented by an Australian company and provides an opportunity for the Australian wine industry to ensure that it is our products that are sold to the world in these bottles. The owners of the patent can specify which products are used in the dispensers, and the Big Bottles are specifically required to fit the system, and all Australian wines can be used under licensing arrangements. You cannot just supply any wine into the system. It is a genuine export opportunity for our wine industry.

I understand that some of the larger hotel groups in Australia are showing an interest in this product, with close to 300 hotels currently fitting the system. It would be good to see the system also trialled here in Parliament House. There has certainly been some international interest, as governments grapple with the wide range of challenges presented by the excessive consumption of alcohol. I will be writing to the Prime Minister in relation to this issue, and inviting the government to work with the company to develop strategies which can assist in reducing the harmful effects of excessive consumption of alcohol. It is not a silver bullet, but I have no doubt that the Big Bottle autopour system can provide benefits to our community.

In closing, I would like to reiterate my concerns over community safety more generally and the need for a national approach to cleaning up our streets. Right now, we have a lot of young people about to finish their year 12 exams, and their attention no doubt will turn to celebration and schoolies week throughout the nation. I would be the last person to stand in this place and tell young people they should not be allowed to let off a bit of steam and celebrate with their mates, but I do call on them to act responsibly and to look after their friends. I also call on the entertainment venues to act responsibly and extend a duty of care to all of their patrons.

Issues surrounding violence, street crime and antisocial behaviour are not restricted to schoolies week; in fact, I believe that school leavers are often better behaved than the older people who gatecrash the celebrations. But you cannot open the newspapers in any of our major cities today without another report of a cowardly attack or a gang bashing on our streets. In Victoria, the situation has become out of control over the past decade, and I am very critical of the Bracks and Brumby governments for their failure to address the issue of street violence in a timely and efficient manner. We talk about a lot of issues in this place, and quite frankly many of them are less important than this. It is time that governments at all levels got serious about reclaiming our streets and protecting the law-abiding citizens from the minority of idiots and thugs who cannot go out at night without causing trouble.