April 21st 2001

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Articles from this issue:

INTERVIEW: Refugees - what should we do?

EDITORIAL: Defence - the way forward

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Costello's future linked to Howard's fate

INDONESIA : Can Wahid survive IMF demands and army intrigue?

TRADE : Why US trade deal won't fly

ENVIRONMENT: Kyoto greenhouse Protocol "dead in the water"

New Voluntary Euthanasia Bill in SA

Grain farmers tackle crisis in agriculture

Straws in the Wind



COMMENT: How modern culture erodes family ties

DRUGS: Guarded optimism after Melbourne summit

ECONOMICS: Victims of the "new economy"

EDUCATION: "Educational Left" - how it failed schools

BOOKS: "How many divisions ... ?"

BOOKS: Business ethics: 'NO LOGO', by Naomi Klein

Books promotion page

Straws in the Wind

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, April 21, 2001
Stepping out with John Barleycorn

Events seem to be advancing with an almost suspicious velocity - in the general direction of forcing the Howard Government to a poll, before they are required, earlier then they desire, and at a moment of maximum electoral disadvantage to them.

The scribblers have taken to writing as though a Beazley Government is a foregone conclusion. Whereas before it seemed like trying to produce the bandwagon effect, as they had attempted to do with a Republic, now its appears as though they knew things we perhaps didn't.

The strange coup whereby Meg Lees, still supported by most of her Senate colleagues, has been rolled, by a vote of 2,500 Party members, which is all the members the Party has nationwide (a vote preceded by some massive anti-Meg Lees media propaganda), has set the scene.

The new Democrat leader, Natasha Stott Despoja, is talking to Kim Beazley, not the Government, and one assumes it concerns the forthcoming Budget, and the future of all projected Government legislation, as well as that already in passage.

From every indication Despoja is going to follow Chipp's cry (Herald Sun, April 8): "They [the Democrats] must continue their primary function of 'keeping the bastards honest' by threatening to block its [the Government's] entire legislative program, unless the following demands are met."

What then follows is predictable. Things Labor had a chance to do but wouldn't dream of doing, e.g. stop tax evasion by the wealthy, which only started on a large scale under Hawke and Keating, where rich non-payers became a protected species, and off-shore tax havens, sacred sites. Take on the oil companies; yeah, yeah. Then, some stuff about the GST which is quite difficult to decipher. And, of course, be kinder to the environment, and worry more, and talk more - even more - about global warming.

Its seems like the same old empty vessel, except the first bit - about blocking the Government's legislative program. Despoja doesn't need any urging on this front. A nervous or prudent PM would fast-forward the announced appointment of the next Governor-General.

The Budget which Howard and Costello had hoped would turn things around is being savaged even before its has taken final shape. The first two successful attacks on the planned Budget surplus, viz., those on petrol prices, and the cost of beer to our drinkers, involve the philosophies of the Democrats (and the Greens), as well as whoever was backing the Democrats. Let's look at these.

To quote Annabel Crabb of the The Age: "The brewers hired Armon Hicks as their lobbyist - a former Democrats staff member, who is also married to Karin Sowada, a former Democrat Senator and political mentor to Natasha Stott Despoja."

The Australian Hotels' Association reportedly sponsored the Democrats' annual conference, and laid on a cocktail party, and the brewers and hotelliers bought costly business tickets to the event.

The hotels' association, "led by CEO Richard Mulcahy, has had a close relationship with the Democrats for many years - a relationship which paid off this week."

Over the past 10 years the market for full-strength beer has gone from flat to decline, according to Fleur Anderson in the Herald Sun (April 5). Many drinkers have moved to wine - many others have become worried about health, and drink-driving. As well they might. Something had to be done. And it was. Brewery shares immediately jumped: Fosters going to its highest ever. Lion Nathan also rose. They are now concentrating on "attracting the 18-25 [year-old] youth market".

Before proceeding any further, some moral and social observations are in place. Alcoholism has long been recognised as a major problem in Australian society. Thus, there is its outstanding contribution to car accidents and deaths; to industrial accidents; to health problems, which put such a strain on our medical structures; to family break-ups, often accompanied or triggered by domestic violence. Probably only the police can dispassionately testify as to how many crimes are caused, or exacerbated by alcohol - for they usually just observe and infer - leaving the moral agendas and social theories and legal and ecclesiastical acrobatics to others. I could continue listing other malign consequences, but these may be sufficient. I'll just say that I am not a teetotaller - far from it.

The emergence of the drug culture in Australia and its appalling consequences, are obscuring the extent of alcoholism, and its spread into classes and age groups where it had scarcely existed before. Thus, teenage alcoholic consumption, much of it excessive - regular binge drinking, with the age of young imbibers steadily falling, as it has with narcotics - is now upon us.

This is the Permissive Society so many people advocated and still work for - it is also the Unhappy Society, the Lonely Society, and hence the Addictive, Self-destructive Society.

Alcohol rehabilitation programs, media campaigns against drink driving, domestic violence and industrial accidents connected with alcohol; surveys and horror stories about teenage bingeing regularly fill our screens, and provide journalists with agony stories and special exclusive reports on some drunken school child delinquency. (Preferably from an exclusive private school.)

There was always an aura of tokenism about all this, and considerable hypocrisy - for under-age people could always get grog from pubs and other outlets - despite the law (just as visibly drunk customers get served - despite the law). And police are not encouraged to appear outside pubs and clubs near closing time. Bad for business.

But now we have been transported to the world of farce and hypocrisy, with the reformers and their programs turned into sad jokes. With the compliments of the Democrats, the ALP and the brewers. Cheered on by our media, who salivate about "Howard's back-flip", and the reduction of the Budget surplus. Yes but the back-flip was a moral one, Beazley's and the Democrats'. But it was a famous victory, "a democratic right paid for by Big Business", as the managing director of Carlton and United said on April 5. Is there a new Human Right - to cheap beer? And to cheaper petrol?

We all know the Democrats' and Greens' views on cars vs. public transport, on freeways, on the massive contribution of gasoline to pollution, and quite possibly, to global warming. We remember how Greens and Democrats rejoiced that at least one good thing coming out of the oil price hike of the 1970s was that it was forcing manufacturers to make smaller cars, guzzling less petrol, and even, bringing people back to public transport.

But not a word now from our misty-eyed lifestyle revolutionaries. And, as Peter Walsh pointed out in April's Adelaide Review, the Government's abolition of biennial indexation of petroleum excise had already "punched an $800 million hole in the next year's Budget" - with worse to come in following years. Yet I thought we were short of money for hospitals, schools, aid, etc. Not so?

In a London tavern in the 19th century there was a banner, "Drunk for a penny. Dead drunk for twopence". It was slogans like these and their consequences and implications that led to the founding of the Salvation Army. Do you think we could get the price down to that, with the aid of the Democrats?

We have spoken of the Democrats as a party - whereas it has only 2,500 members, less than 20 per electorate. And these, as Michael Harvey pointed out in the Herald Sun, determine the nation's electoral balance of power. To repeat, it breaks down to 20 members per electorate. Who does the letter-boxing, the door knocking, handing out how-to-vote cards, the scrutineering? And where does the money come from? I think we know the answers to that, don't we? Unknown bastards - but all honest of course.

I may mention some other unknown bastards soon. And would anyone like to start questioning the Greens? Because the media won't.

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