Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Collateral damage in the war against grog

Tonight's news featured a grinning WA Police Commissioner announcing, with great pride, that domestic violence rates have risen dramatically over the last 12 months.

Ok, so that's not exactly what he said. He was bragging that in the past year, our state has seen a significant drop in street violence and public displays of anti-social behaviour. Then the Premier joins in, praising the tireless work of the WA police. Then Attorney-General Christian Porter chimes in with what a raging success our over-zealous, Gestapo-style anti-violence legislation has been. All of them, proud as punch.

Halfway through the report, for just a few short seconds, a crime statistics graphic pops up on the screen, with all violent crimes showing a decrease...except the last one, which shows a significant rise. The voiceover says "Police don't know why there has been an increase in domestic violence". Then straight back to police and pollies congratulating themselves on their 'success'.

None of them were asked, on camera, about the domestic violence increase and the truth of the matter is that they couldn't care less. The Barnett Government is all about public perception. They rely on the sheep vote. They know that the idiots who vote for them only care about their own health, their own safety, their own lives. These NIMBYs don't care what happens to other people, so long as they don't have to witness it.

Which is why, when WAPOL gloated about the decrease in street violence, they may as well have been patting themselves on the back for the increase in domestic violence. They know they can't solve the problem of alcohol and drugs-related violence...the best they can hope for is to keep it out of the public eye. Sweeping crime off the streets and into family homes is a huge win for them. Women and children are just collateral damage.

In any other state, under any other Government, that news story would have focused on the increase in domestic violence. People would be asking why, in this day and age, women are being subjected to higher levels of violence in their homes. But, no... we can't do that either, because the state (and federal) legislation that they're so proud of, actually caused the increase.

You see, I have a theory. Actually, I came up with this theory a number of years ago and over the past two years, it's beginning to prove itself. It's not a very original or complex theory, but it's one that our Government will never come up with itself, because a) they're tee-totalling fundamentalists who don't understand the nature of addiction, b) they have absolutely NO IDEA what it's like to be poor, and c) they don't appear to have ever experienced domestic violence. Me and most of my friends, however...we have a very good grasp on all three.

It all started a few years ago, when the state Government banned smoking in pubs and clubs. We have a high number of smokers in my town and our pub wasn't prepared for the changes - the smokers, who constituted about three quarters of pub patrons, were forced to stand out in the carpark in the rain or heat; sans drinks because the carpark wasn't licensed. For a few people, it was uncomfortable enough to stop them going to the pub.

At around the same time, our local police decided to crack down on drink driving. Ok, so police have a job to do and drunk driving is against the law. I get it. But where I live, the pub is the only social outlet the area has to offer and people have to drive for miles to get there. We don't have buses or trains or taxis. For this reason, our local police have traditionally been pretty tolerant about people driving after a few beers (I don't mean pissed out of their brain. Just a few beers). Not so any more. Policing became less about saving lives and more about revenue raising, and police were given monthly targets to meet. All of a sudden, people from surrounding towns (including me) couldn't drive out of the pub without being stopped for an RBT. More people stopped going to the pub.

Some people started using drugs so they could have a good night out, without being nabbed for drink driving. This also coincided with the introduction of compulsory breath-tests at the local mine, where alcohol from the previous night would show up on the tests, but illicit drugs didn't. For passing the tests, and for staying awake after long hours at work, amphetamines became the drug of choice. Violence and anti-social behaviour, which had NEVER been a problem in my area, began to occur on a regular basis. Even more people stopped going to the pub.

Then came the massive federal tax increase on beer and spirits. Now, for the price of six beers in the pub, you could buy a whole carton in the bottle shop. For the price of three glasses of spirits, you could buy a whole bottle. Combined with the non-smoking venue, the violence and the increased police attention, almost everyone stopped going to the pub.

This is how it worked in my town and I believe it's also what happened across the rest of the state. Nobody goes out any more, so yeah, there is less public anti-social behaviour, less street violence, less drunk drivers...  But what police and Government don't seem to understand is that it didn't actually go away. It just moved premises.

In the 'good old days', people would go to the pub. They would automatically limit their alcohol consumption, because they had to drive home and/or because drinks over the bar cost a fortune. If they only had fifty dollars, for example, they might buy five or six drinks. If they had to drive home, they would have even less. They would go home to their families at the end of the night with the giggles and wake up with a slight headache in the morning.

Nowadays, they don't go to the pub. They drink at home. With their fifty bucks, they can buy a carton of 24 beers, six bottles of cheap wine, or a whole bottle of spirits. They don't have to drive home, they don't have to watch their wallet. They drink to get drunk. They're also missing out on vital social interaction, which (particularly in country towns) leads to feelings of isolation and depression. Domestic violence is just a natural progression. I've seen it. I've experienced it. This is real.

Our Governments, state and federal, are naive enough to to think that raising the cost of alcohol and over-policing our behaviour will stop us doing things that they consider to be 'bad' for us. Instead, they are bringing out the worst in us. They are oblivious to the nature of drug and alcohol addiction, which can't just be stopped because the price gets too high. They are oblivious to the financial pressure that this puts people under - the more our addictions cost, the more money we spend - the more money we spend, the more debt we accumulate - the more debt we accumulate, the more we rely on our addictions to help us cope with the stress. They are oblivious to the fact that their 'anti-alcohol' measures are actually doubling or tripling the amount that people drink.

My advice? Stop relying on police, publicans, alcohol manufacturers, etc to tell you how to deal with alcohol and drug-related violence. Ask the people who are experiencing it. Think about what your bandaid measures are doing to our communities. And stop brushing this shit under the carpet. 'Out of sight, out of mind' is NOT solving the problem.