Liquor pledge good sportsmanship

In certain circles there has been a bit of a backlash against the Law Commission's report, Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, but not at the Athletic Marist Rugby Football Club in Oamaru.

There, members of the premier team have signed an innovative contract aimed at reducing alcohol-related harm to themselves and other members of the club.

The release of the commission's report and its various recommendations a week or so ago, and the rugby club pledge, which came to light on Monday, both arrive following prolonged debate about the place and consumption of alcohol in our society - and the laws surrounding it.

It is a safe bet that the senior club members are acting partly in response to social pressures which arise out of such debates, and as a result of their own experience of the havoc that the misuse and abuse of alcohol can wreak on small communities. Excessive drinking, and the often-related driving, have led to just too many accidents, many of them fatal, for responsible members of the community to continue to ignore.

So they have drawn up a list of pledges.

Each member of the premier team has agreed not to take part in activities which might lead to excessive alcohol consumption such as player-of-the-day "sculling".

They have agreed not to supply alcohol to club members under 18, and not to drink excessively at after-match functions.

They have agreed never to drive under the influence of alcohol; and they promised to look after their team-mates.

Any premier player convicted of drink-driving will pay a fine of $1000 to the Waitaki District Council to be used for road-safety projects.

Good on them! Were they a little bit closer to home, I might be turning out on the sideline on a Saturday afternoon and cheering the team on.

The Athletic Marist pledge is just one example of the ways in which addressing social issues in a prominent and public manner, complete with well-publicised consultation, through a body such as the commission - can contribute to attitudinal change.

Not everybody agrees that such change is required or that public money should be spent endorsing it.

To some of them - who would probably get a swift clip across the scone if they dared suggest as much to the rugby players' faces - the Athletic Marist men are a prime example of a species called the "new wowsers".

Like a lot of us they have supposedly been duped - by a well-organised group of mostly publicly funded anti-liquor campaigners in the universities and public health organisations - into believing that we're a nation of helpless binge-drinkers.

Erecting straw men in order to tear them down is a time-honoured feature of political rhetoric.

On this occasion such sentiments have been aired in blogs and columns and conform to the libertarian philosophical notion that much of government action and expenditure constitutes an infringement of individual freedoms, and is unwelcome and unnecessary.

While the well-publicised figure of $5.296 billion - being the estimated annual social cost of alcohol abuse - has been questioned, and can be argued over, there is no doubt that the cost to the taxpayer is enormous.

It defies common sense to suggest that public funding should somehow not be applied to seeking the solutions and drastically reducing such imposts - and if the promoters of some of those solutions happen to be employed in the universities and the health sector, then that is probably because they are either closely involved in the study of the effects of alcohol abuse, or are regularly dealing with the consequences.

While it is true that in certain sectors of society the liberalisation of liquor laws has had benefits, it is equally true that for other sectors, the problem has grown to untenable proportions.

It is now up to Parliament to draw conclusions and adopt appropriate strictures, having studied the exhaustive evidence presented by the commission, rather than the insistent lobbying of alcohol industry bodies; or the perverse logic of the free-for-all brigade which seems tacitly to accept that while the taxpayer bears the huge and disastrous cost of problem boozing, it should not deploy its best-qualified resources in an attempt to reduce the bill.

Simon Cunliffe is assistant editor at the Otago Daily Times.


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