POWERFUL VESTED INTERESTS PREVENT ACTION ON ALCOHOL

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Nightclubs slam liquor licence rules

June 17th 2011 Sydney Morning Herald

“NIGHTCLUBS have become the latest industry group to turn to advertising in their battle against government regulation, using a revolving billboard opposite the MCG to push their message.

The billboard, on Punt Road close to Richmond Station, reads on one side, ”Alcohol does not cause violence” and on the other ”Blame and punish the individual”. It first appeared about two weeks ago, shortly after the strip club Showgirls Bar 20 lost its liquor licence over assaults, drunkenness and antisocial behaviour associated with the venue. The venue has since won a legal bid to hold on to its liquor licence pending a Supreme Court appeal, which began this week.

Although the billboard is owned by the Nightclub Owners Forum, there is no indication on the sign as to who is behind the messages. The stark print-only ad has replaced what is usually an ad for Bar 20 or another ”men’s club” featuring photos of the entertainment on offer. The Nightclub Owners Forum says on its website that its mission is to ”promote awareness of community concerns over attempts by the Victorian government to destroy the late night entertainment industry and protect your rights to socialise.”

But the billboard may not be in the public eye much longer, with the Advertising Standards Board to consider complaints against it next week. An association spokeswoman said complaints had been received arguing that the ad was against the community’s prevailing health and safety standards. If the complaints are upheld by the association’s board, they would be expected to ask the forum to withdraw the ad.

The forum also lists as its main challenges ”a vendetta by the tabloid media”, ”an unco-operative bureaucracy which does not understand the dynamics of the industry” and ”excessive and ever increasing regulation and restrictions imposed by a poorly advised and hostile state government”.
Although the forum’s website does not list its members, it says it has been launched by well-known nightclub owner Peter Iwaniuk.”

I had noticed the above sign for about a year before the above article appeared in The Age and SMH and had been disturbed by its false message. The billboard remained in place at one of the most heavily trafficked sites in Melbourne, where it was seen by hundreds of thousands of people each week. Once I discovered that the Nightclub Owners’ Forum were behind the billboard, I searched for and found their website and discovered that the forum was run by a notorious nightclub owner and an even more notorious owner of the largest hotel and nightclub security companies in Victoria, an employer of some 450 bouncers and door staff, too many of whom had made the headlines following various notorious incidents of alcohol fuelled violence in Melbourne’s party precincts. I decided in early 2012, to write to the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB) to complain about the billboard still being there and to point out that the advertiser’s website contained numerous pseudo-scientific articles claiming that excessive alcohol consumption and increased availability of alcohol, did not contribute to the alarming increase in violence seen on our late-night streets. I received NO RESPONSE to my complaint, not even an acknowledgement of receipt. On researching further, I discovered that the AARB had no power whatsoever, beyond politely requesting that inappropriate alcohol advertising or that which breached the self-regulated alcohol industry’s advertising code, be removed or modified. So weak and toothless is the AARB, that those called to account for breaches of the code have recently taken to refusing to even appear before it or to answer to the community complaints received by the Board. In March 2013, I wrote again to the AARB, enquiring as to why they had not replied to my letter of complaint regarding the Punt Rd billboard.

This is a copy of my letter:

Tuesday, 26 March 2013
Professor Fiona Stanley AC
Chair, Alcohol Advertising Review Board

Dear Prof Stanley,

Last year, I used your online form to lodge a complaint about a motorised, rotating billboard at the intersection of Brunton Avenue & Punt Rd, Richmond that declares that alcohol does not cause violent behaviour, rather violent people are responsible. I explained that the ad had been there for at least 12 months & that it had been placed by the Nightclub Owners’ Association of Victoria, a dubious organisation headed by a convicted criminal, who was relieved by another criminal whilst the first was in jail!

The website of this Association masquerades as a public resource for scientific research papers on the links between alcohol & violence but the papers present on the site are predominantly opinion pieces rather than peer reviewed journal papers & frankly, they are utter garbage, better characterised as propaganda. They repeatedly deny any link between excessive alcohol consumption & violence & denigrate those claiming the opposite.

I received no response to my submitted complaint, despite including a photograph of the billboard. Of course, I noted that the AARB has no statutory authority whatsoever & is essentially ignored by the all powerful Alcohol/Hotel industry, who don’t even seem to desire to create the illusion that they care about the adverse societal impact of their constant breaching of the alcohol advertising code of conduct. In my opinion, the formality & seriousness of your organisation’s quarterly reports is highly likely to mislead the public into assuming that you do have some clout but are treading lightly, rather than the outrageous reality of an industry escaping the long overdue regulation & oversight it requires, via a well established strategy of large political donations to co-operative governments & constant repetition of a mantra of lies & distortions regarding the extremely harmful drug, from whose sale they are legally entitled to amass huge profits.

I believe that the AARB should be naming & loudly shaming both the advertisers & the governments that accept the industry’s bribes. The AARB should demand that the government apply the same strategies that have succeeded with cigarettes, namely smart regulatory measures with a long term goal of steady reduction in consumption via community education. Australia’s Drug & Alcohol Policy is a dismal failure, criminalising a generation of young Australians by the long proven disastrous strategy of prohibition of arbitrarily proscribed substances that when combined, cause around 1% of the total substance related morbidity & mortality of Alcohol!

I want to hear the AARB clamouring for statutory powers to force the alcohol industry to comply with tough advertising regulations, rather than continue operating as a limp-wristed mirage that blows smoke at the alcohol industry juggernaut, provides cover for disingenuous governments and is as effective as being hit with a feather duster.

No wonder clinicians like me, dealing with the human costs of alcohol every day, are so cynical and so frustrated – hence my passion – in stark contrast to the AARB’s bland reports!

Yours Sincerely,

DR JEROME GELB
PSYCHIATRIST


To date, I am yet to receive a reply from Professor Fiona Stanley and the AARB.

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