February 20, 2008 | Graham

Kevin’s war on everything, including booze

Government is in the solution business, which means to be rated a success a government needs problems – no problems, nothing to solve. Rudd’s ambitious, so he’s adding problems to the list of those he inherited like inflation, but are some of the problems real?
One of his first moves was to send Labor members out to view homelessness first hand. The problem was apparently getting worse. But the figure he was quoting – 100,000 homeless – is exactly the same as it was 6 years ago.
Today we find that “Rudd takes aim at binge drinking ‘epidemic'”. The ABC puts “epidemic” in quotes, suggesting a degree of scepticism, and well might they be sceptical.
My figures on alcohol consumption are 5 years old, but let’s assume, as with homelessness, nothing much has changed. In 2003 WHO reported on the alcohol consumption of 181 countrie. Australians over the age of 15 drank 9 litres of alcohol on average that year. Sounds like a lot, but there were 31 countries that consumed more, including most OECD countries. The USA was just behind on 8.6, Canada scored 7.8 and Japan 7.6. New Zealanders drank 9.7 litres, Brits 11.8, French 11.4 and the Irish 13.7.
There seems to be a certain relationship between prosperity and alcohol consumption, and those with the lowest consumption were all Islamic. I have no idea why Uganda tops the list at 17.6.
But wait, there’s more. These figures from WHO show that in some of these countries there has been a dramatic decline over the last 38 years. In 1970 the French consumed 23.2 litres, the Italians 21.2, Spanish 16.1 and the Swiss 14.3. Those figures have declined by up to 100% and now fall in a range between 7.9 and 10.9 and suggesst that given income and culture, somewhere around 9 litres per annum per head is about where alcohol consumption is likely to sit.
Since 1961 Australia has had remarkably stable alcohol consumption. According to this WHO publication we consumed around 9 litres per head per annnum then, just like we do now. Our biggest drinking years look like they might have been in the 70s, but they were still well short of the French and comparable to Irish current consumption at around 13 litres.
All of which suggests that Rudd has a lot of work to do to prove that there is a binge drinking “epidemic” and that this isn’t just a government “make work” program.

Posted by Graham at 10:01 pm | Comments (11) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. 9.0 litres per annum is a fair amount, Graham.
    The WHO report states that this is 9 litres of pure alcohol. That is equivalent to 188 litres of beer at 4.8% alcohol, or precisely five-hundred 375 ml stubbies in one year.

    Comment by evan — February 21, 2008 @ 5:53 am

  2. That’s within the national guidelines for healthy drinking. Less than three standard drinks per day.

    Comment by Graham Young — February 21, 2008 @ 9:12 am

  3. And the emphasis appears to be on binge drinking, that is consuming large amounts at one sitting. Not necessarily bad for health but can lead to all sorts of anti-social behaviour. I do agree that “epidemic” is a rather overused phrase these days, along with “hero”.

    Comment by Patrick B — February 21, 2008 @ 9:44 am

  4. The problem with using averages is that is doesn’t really tell you what is happening on the ground. Some people might be drinking a lot more – the epidemic – and others drinking a lot less (me for example) and the average would stay the same. As long as the focus is on those who are drinking more then there may be merit in addressing this issue. My impression, not backed by any evidence, is that young people ie The problem with using averages is that is doesn’t really tell you what is happening on the ground. Some people might be drinking a lot more – the epidemic – and others drinking a lot less (me for example) and the average would stay the same. As long as the focus is on those who are drinking more then there may be merit in addressing this issue. My impression, not backed by any evidence, is that young people ie <30, are drinking more and harder liquor, and many don't handle it well.

    Comment by rossco — February 21, 2008 @ 12:48 pm

  5. That’s true Rossco, but I’m having trouble finding any statistics that show there has been an increase in “binge drinking”, and the averages suggest that drinking has been decreasing in the population.
    You suggest that some people are drinking less, but the figures say this is not significant across the population – http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/index.cfm/title/10122 has a longitudinal table looking at consumption by age and gender. It’s remarkably stable.
    I did come across one study that claimed to find it, but it was a survey by Roy Morgan, quoted by an unidentified journal on the UQ Journalism school’s website at http://upload.sjc.uq.edu.au/2005/PDFs/August2005/x08TIM_007m.pdf. The survey was done for the Salvos, and it claimed that drinking had doubled between 1993 and 2002 when the WHO statistics, based on actual figures, not self-reported perceptions show that if anything it was decreasing in the same period of time.
    Rudd may be right, but he should be offering some evidence. Radio National had an interview with Nick Davies this morning who has just written a book Flat Earth News. He’s critical of the failure of journalists to question what they’re told. I agree. I’m just trying to do my job. You can hear the Davies interview at http://www.abc.net.au/cgi-bin/common/player_launch.pl?s=rn/mediareport&d=rn/mediareport/audio&r=mrt_21022008_2856.ram&w=mrt_21022008_28M.asx&t=21%20February%202008&p=1

    Comment by Graham Young — February 21, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

  6. The issue of an alcohol problem is much more complex than consumption per person. The problem goes to who is drinking, where it is being drunk and why people are drinking. It also goes to the “culture” of alcohol consumption and the bahaviours that accopmpany it. It also involves the links to domestic violence and violence in general.
    Re homelessness. Just because the number of homeless hasn’t changes from 100,000 in 6 years does not mean that there isn’t a crisis. That’s 100,000 of our fellow citizens!!
    Also it’s a typo but i think you mean a 50% reduction not 100%.

    Comment by barney — February 22, 2008 @ 8:29 am

  7. Rudd is an hero and doesn’t afraid of anything!

    Comment by Benno — February 22, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  8. Just an update. This arrived in my email this morning. It makes for sobering reading.

    Comment by barney — February 25, 2008 @ 10:41 am

  9. Graham
    Does this report by the Australian National Council on Drugs
    satisfy your concerns about lack of evidence about an epidemic of binge drinking?

    Comment by rossco — February 25, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  10. Not really Rossco. It appears to say that youth drinking levels are similar in Australia to those overseas. It provides time-period figures for 1999 to 2005 which show that while there has been no general increase in binge drinking amongst the whole population of people under 25, those who drink harmfully are drinking some more.
    Their definition of binge drinking means that if you take a six pack to a party and drink all six stubbies, you are a binge drinker.
    While I think there is some behaviour that is concerning, I don’t think you can characterise this as an epidemic, or that there has been some sort of dramatic increase. I also know plenty of people who drink to that level and beyond regularly who are upstanding members of the community without any alcohol related health problems.
    There are other health issues, like obesity, where there is a demonstrably greater increase than this, and where the health problems appear to be more real.
    But even there the major issue is the same – can you intervene to effect a change, and is the cost of intervening worth it, or is this just more special pleading to solve a problem that is not soluble?

    Comment by Graham Young — February 25, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  11. The socialists are silently and methodicly weaving their web of entrapment.Do a study on our social woes of alcohol,housing affordability,income inequalities,then they can justify an increase in the GST,tax on the family home and yes even bring back death duties.
    Govt taxes and charges account for 37% of a house/land package.That would send anyone to drink.

    Comment by Arjay — February 27, 2008 @ 9:16 pm

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