June 16, 2008 | Graham

Putting the Wowser into Rudd

The NHMRC is about to change its definition of what constitutes “binge drinking” and Kevin Rudd is getting the blame. When I started this piece earlier today that was unfair, because the NHMRC is an independent body that the Prime Minister has no control over. By this afternoon, Kevin deserved the blame as he suggested that the Opposition’s criticism was because they were “in denial” about the binge drinking epidemic.
It is easy to see this as a psycho-drama where Kevin, scarred by the fact that alcohol had a part in his father’s death, acts out his internal traumas on a national audience. I don’t think that is the case. We know that Kevin is a binge drinker on occasion, and that a fair proportion of his cabinet must be, under this definition, so the policy is unlikely to be caused by deeply held teetotal convictions.
Furthermore, with these guidelines “binge” is so broadly defined that just about everyone has been a “binge drinker” at some time, and probably most of us “binge” regularly. It’s almost a unique medical usage of the term rather than being one with a practical English language application! So you’re stigmatising commonly accepted human behaviour.
A more realistic scenario is that there are thought to be votes in beating-up on alcohol consumption, and there probably are. But the political benefits are about to get eaten-up when you define most of us individually as being in the grip of a drinking epidemic. Particularly when we all know intuitively, and this is borne out by the stats, that we drink less now than we did 30 years ago.
Most people will find this almost as bizarre as the thought that Tony Abbott, who calls this a moral panic, might actually be speaking for most of us!
Not that the tactic hasn’t worked in the past. Memories of the days when Mum and Dad always took us for afternoon tea at the Temperance Union tea shop at the Brisbane Royal National Association show came flooding back to me yesterday listening to this Rear Vision broadcast about the temperance movement in Australia. That was only 30 or so years ago and temperance was on the last legs of that phase, but Kevin Rudd appears to be betting that it’s time is about to come around again.

Posted by Graham at 3:06 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. George Orwell (and many others) recognised that it was possible to change thought and attitudes by changing the language. By taking a word that was useful to your opponents and changing the meaning of that word, you take away the tools of your opponents. Equally if you want to move society in a particular direction you can subtlety alter the meaning of some words to facilitate that move.
    Not so long ago the deed was done in regards to “overweight” when the definitions according to BMI were ‘refined’ such that now the majority of superfit athletes would be technically ‘overweight’. Additionally we now have a confusion between the terms overweight and obese to try to make the ‘weight problem’ appear even more in need of intervention. Now, even though the evidence that weights have been rising is equivocal and that there is a health issue even less convincing, we barely hear a whimper when we are told that food policy/taxes/availability has to be controlled for our own good.
    Thus ‘binge drinking’, which is, in common usage a social evil, is now officially redefined. Once done, we’ll find the social do-gooders legitimately telling us that there is an epidemic of binge drinking, even though there is no change in actual levels of drinking. And since there is an epidemic of this social evil, well who could argue with honest efforts to alleviate the problem. And so before we know it we are being saved from a problem that we didn’t even know existed.

    Comment by Mark — June 17, 2008 @ 4:57 pm

  2. It is an epidemic in social ill-displine and poor manners.You cannot legislate against that.
    The Cliche Kid is all about symbolism and feel good gestures.Boring Julia Gillard is looking better by the moment.

    Comment by Arjay — June 18, 2008 @ 12:36 am

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