Sunday Territorian

Time to change the culture around grog

- Nicola Coalter

Drain“ing the rivers of grog might make it harder for us to get what we want but supply control doesn’t change our desire for alcohol

Undoubtedl­y, our love affair with grog must change but controllin­g the supply won’t alter our desires. It has been stated by many that alcohol is central to human culture. Some of the earliest known bevvies date back about 9000 years.

And some have said there is no other drug on Earth that our species has carried further or invested more creativity into than alcohol.

In the Territory, there’s no doubt we love a drink. We easily drink more than our southern counterpar­ts, and if we were a country all on our own, we’d be among the top drinkers in the world.

So, what’s the attraction to grog? Alcohol is a mind-altering drink that makes us feel good (in the short term).

Fermented grain, fruit and honey have been used to make alcohol for thousands of years. The telltale scent of fermentati­on was an easy way for our ancestors to know when food was most caloric.

And humans aren’t the only species with an appreciati­on for alcohol.

Look around when the mango trees are heavy with fruit; you’ll see the fruit bats swarm in a cauldron during the dark of night, screeching and squealing and fighting for their bites to get drunk off the cocktail of alcohol that stews inside the ripening fruit.

We also know humans aren’t the only ones who tend to take the love of grog too far. In 2002 in a village in Assam, India, a young male pack of elephants stole a bunch of wine and went on a violent, drunken bender with six people dying. In 2010, a 70strong herd of elephants found and drank some rice beer and ploughed through villages in West Bengal, killing three people and damaging 60 homes. To name a few.

Humans have had a long and complex relationsh­ip with alcohol. We primarily use it to change how we feel, think, and behave. Sometimes we might drink to forget, escape, numb our feelings, and help us cope. And while the usual argument is that most of us drink most of the time responsibl­y, we have all been paying the high price of high alcohol-related harm in some way.

Since the NT Liquor Act was created in 1978, we’ve tried many policies to address alcohol harm. What tends to work isn’t popular, and what is popular isn’t usually effective. Alcohol is no ordinary commodity, and many vested interests influence how we live with it.

Having a drink is deeply embedded into the Territory’s way of life.

Draining the rivers of grog might make it harder for us to get what we want but supply control doesn’t change our desire for alcohol. And many have and will continue to argue that we cannot arrest and incarcerat­e our way out of this health and social problem.

We know that a quick and effective policy lever for controllin­g alcohol is to reduce supply. It’s what is currently happening across the Territory.

We’ve got the Banned Drinker Register, restrictio­ns in Alice Springs and across remote communitie­s and most recently, the government announced a voluntary buyback of corner store liquor licences too.

But more supply control will not solve our problems.

Picture a three-legged stool; as you know, for the seat to be useful, each leg is equally important and must be steady. Harm minimisati­on, this country’s policy response to alcohol and other drugs since 1985, can be considered a three-legged stool; its three pillars of supply, harm, and demand reduction are fundamenta­l to minimising harm. The stool is shaky when we predominan­tly invest in only one or two legs.

The Territory is no stranger to innovation and world-leading initiative­s. We have led the way with care, culture, and control of alcohol before, and we can again.

It’s time to invest in more than supply and harm reduction. There is no silver bullet, it will take a longterm bipartisan whole of community approach. But the time to change the culture around grog in the Territory is now.


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