Dear Mr Rudd,

Australia is a nation of drinkers, and, indeed, has been ever since the first boatload of raggedy, starving convicts and their bored, resentful gaolers landed on the pristine beaches of Sydney-to-be and realised, somewhat belatedly, that their only form of viable entertainment for the next hundred years was distilled from sugar. The fact of historical precedence does not make alcoholism palatable, nor should we accept drunken violence as an unfortunate cultural side-effect. I am happy, Mr Rudd, to endorse social policies the like of which, had they been implemented a century past, would have seen Brumby Innes locked up, sent to AA and anger management sessions, served with a spousal restraining order and generally kept off the streets. However, I am not happy to pretend that alcohol  – or, more specifically, its effects – are all bad.

Which brings me, firstly, to your new anti binge-drinking campaign, examples of which already seek to instil youngsters with a healthy fear of government-issue puns, and, secondly, to the resigned conclusion of at least one educated commentator, who doesn’t believe it will work. As both a card-carrying member of the targeted demographic – that is, a young Australian fond of a tipple – and someone who voted Labor at the last election, I feel moved to point out that the latter pundit is, in fact, correct, although he doesn’t quite seem to understand why.

Allow me to elaborate:

We know you are lying to us. No rational-thinking drinker – and these not only exist, but constitute the majority – buys the government’s theory that having more than two standard drinks per day is bingeing. This is because the word ‘bingeing’ itself, while certainly implying destructive behaviour, does not differentiate abuse from normalcy through so naively simple as a means as scaling. More importantly, we as consumers recognise, even if the government cannot, that the simple act of drinking regularly does not make one an alcoholic, any more than the act of taking drugs regularly is synonymous with addiction. In both instances, what makes a user one or t’other is choice: their ability to control consumption such that, even where it occurs frequently, it is not a frequency born of need. Nor should it impinge on an individual’s ability to function socially: to pay rent, maintain domestic stability, hold down a job and enjoy healthy relationships. Within those astonishingly reasonable bounds, there is easily room enough for a little – dare I say it – friendly hedonism. By itself, a hangover does not signal delinquency.

Yes, there is a dark side to liquor. Drinkers can behave rudely, badly, violently and get sick in public places. Often (if not primarily) they are young, sometimes under eighteen. Bad things can happen, but neither are they all that happens – which means, Mr Rudd, that your scare campaigns are lying by omission. Perhaps you view this as lies-to-children, and therefore harmless, conscionable in service to a Greater Good. But we are not children. We, Gen Y, are self-aware teens and adults. We recognise condescension when we see it. We do not like to be patronised.  And we know, from experience, that drinking can be fun. 

Much like abstinence-only sex education, trying to scare young folk off alcohol doesn’t work, because – Lordy! – they’re just going to try it anyway. But teaching damage control – how to drink in moderation, how to tell if you’ve had too much, how to eat first and look after your friends – is life-saving. The best advice I ever received on liquor consumption was to call it a night when I started to hiccup, have a glass of water every second or third drink, and to eat plenty of carbs beforehand, none of which vital information was forthcoming either through school or government propagandising. And yet, if the aim is not to stop people from drinking altogether but rather to ensure a culture of responsible joviality, this is exactly what needs to be done.

In short, Mr Rudd, you are looking at things from entirely the wrong perspective. I understand you abstain from having a drop yourself, which is all fine and fair enough, but if Australia really wanted a leadership under which the new broom swept dry, we’d move to Saudi Arabia.

Yrs hopefully,

Foz

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