OPINION PIECE : by Shanna Whan
You don’t have to be anti-alcohol or a raging prohibitionist to ask some very basic, fundamental questions around Prime Minister Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt’s choice to endorse ‘’free-booze-for-jabs’’ as a positive or ethical step around a critical health issue, surely?
While it's safe to say that every Australian wants nothing more than to see an end to lockdowns and harm from the pandemic, what the average Australian might not know (and certainly isn’t being informed of through such blatant populist politicking) is that there have been serious spikes in alcohol use, abuse and indeed addiction during the pandemic.
This has been thanks partly to Big Alcohol using COVID as a vehicle to promote ''surviving lockdown with booze'' ... along with grog being delivered almost instantly to the doors of potentially vulnerable people, with inadequate checks in place.
Oh - and that's not to mention the associated rise in domestic violence and secondary health issues caused.
So on balance, this seems a pretty UN-health-minister and leadership position to take, surely?
At the very least, those of us who work on the frontlines would no doubt all love to see a little more care and professionalism taken with messaging next time.
As an Australian who almost died from alcohol addiction while in ‘’permanent isolation’’ (I live in remote Australia) I can assure you, it’s a ‘’thing,’’ it’s real, and it’s bloody hard to overcome, let alone when you have booze being shoved at you 24-7 and almost no support or services in place. But I digress….
If you’re into facts and truth, it might be pertinent for you to know that COVID has claimed over 900 lives. Which is unspeakably tragic. Meanwhile, alcohol related-harm, illness and injuries kill around 6,000 Aussies every single year.
It puts around 160,000 of us in hospital annually, too.
Ever stopped to ask yourself the correlation between that and bottle-shops being declared an ‘’essential service’’ last year? If that doesn’t tell you all that you need to know about the serious side to our national obsession (addiction) with grog, then not much will.
You might also be interested to know that grog sales net a casual $6 billion in taxes.
In summary, while I am most certainly not comparing COVID & alcohol deaths (I am well aware it isn’t as simplistic as that) - surely as an educated society - we can do this so, so much better.
We can support our hospitality sector in other, smarter ways.
Alcohol should not headline this cheap campaign, though.
It makes a literal mockery of so much.
If you’re a social drinker who can enjoy a bevvie in moderation, then cheers to you! Meanwhile - I’d beg you (on behalf of all of us who work in this space) to take a second to remember that a horrifying number of Australians are trapped in a silent and terrible fight against an ''invisible pandemic'' that remains overlooked, trivialised, and grossly under-funded as the national health crisis which, incidentally, costs us about $35 billion per year in tax.
I'd respectfully urge our leaders to rethink this strategy.
Shanna Whan is a rural Australian, winner of the ProBono Australia ‘’Impact 25’’ award, and the CEO & founder of national rural not-for-profit Sober in the Country Ltd.
She is also a survivor of alcoholism and has been sober since 2015 and now works tirelessly dedicating her life and experience to advocate for rural and remote Australians who cannot get help when they reach out for it. (watch our ABC Australian Story episode here)
She can be contacted for live TV or radio interviews
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