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Rev Gordon Moyes


The Australian Federation WCTU luncheon.
26th of March, 2001

I have always held deep appreciation for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. As a child, suffering from serious speech impediments that required years of speech therapy, I was encouraged to enter the WCTU speech competitions in Melbourne. Over the years I won some money which motivated me to try harder. I remember winning an essay competition when I was sixteen, writing on the subject of the referendum on hotel closing hours, entitled, "Stick To Six In Fifty Six."

But the WCTU for years arranged attractively dressed party tables and provided non-alcoholic drinks for demonstrations and talks I gave in my churches to young people of the importance of abstaining from drinking alcohol. Beverley and I have four children, all now married, and we are pleased that neither they nor their spouses drink alcohol as a mater of personal choice.

Over the past two decades the churches however, have been sucked in by very clever trendies within society and have changed their attitude on the question of alcohol. At the very time when society has begun to realise the enormous economic, social and personal cost of alcohol, the church has become silent on the issue. The great Methodist tradition of opposition to alcohol distribution and the advocacy of personal total abstinence, was laid to rest in the Sydney Town Hall on our day of Church Union. 

It saddens my heart that within the Uniting Church today there are very few voices speaking on the issue of alcohol and its ravages in the community. The church as a whole continues to be silent on what the Senate Select Standing Committee on Social Welfare has described it as the number one drug problem in Australia. The greatest drug problem in Australia is not marijuana, heroin and medications, the most expensive drug in the community is alcohol drunk by respectable citizens. 

Alcoholism, as many of you know from personal experience, is a deadly disease. It is the third greatest killer in the world after cancer and heart disease, yet it is the only disease we joke about and try to ignore. 

It is the only disease that we bottle, label, distribute and sell and raise government revenue on. At an age of eight, I found my father dead in the gutter one night, near our home. He had died of alcoholic poisoning, although the death certificate said, "Cirrhosis of the liver."

There is nothing that the white man has introduced to the indigenous Australian which has debased and deprived him more than alcohol. It has robbed him of self respect, personal dignity and his tribal lands. One of the aboriginal leaders recently called their number one problem as grog. 

Alcohol every single year kills more people in Australia than all the Australians who were killed or injured in ten years of the Vietnam War. In the past ten years 30,000 Australians have been killed in accidents in which the primary cause was alcohol. And yet where are the protesters against that? It is time for the facts to be told. 

It really troubles me that young people grow up in a community where they have learnt to be careful of the deceivers and pushers of hard drugs, and they can spot someone in a city street or a school yard, but they also have to learn that drug pushers advertise on television, promote sport and create jingles that we can all sing. We must tell this fact. Alcohol is the main drug of addiction in Australia today. It is a mind-altering, behaviour-affecting, psychologically addictive drug. 

There are not two kinds of drinkers as many people would have you believe. There is not the heavy drinking, alcoholic who lives in the gutter, and then the decent law-abiding moderate social drinker. All drinkers are dangerous drinkers. 

I find the person who causes me the greatest amount of grief is the Christian who wants to hold high the standards of Jesus Christ and also is a drinker. I do not believe that the Christian who is a drinker has anything to say, or any contribution to make to the rest of society. I do not believe that being a total abstainer makes you a good Christian. But I do believe that being a good Christian should make you a total abstainer. 

We have to be careful on this matter because the same theological trendies and secular humanists who deceive the church on the question of alcohol also have the same argument on the issues of abortion, acceptance of homosexuality as a valid lifestyle, the same arguments on the question of vulgarity in speech and behaviour and indecency in all kinds of forms. 

The Apostle Paul warned us: "Do not let anyone deceive you with foolish words; it is because of those very things that God's anger will come upon those who do not obey him. So have nothing at all to do with such people. You yourselves used to be in darkness, but since you have become the Lord's people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light, for it is the light that brings a rich harvest of every kind of goodness, righteousness and truth." (Ephesians 5: 6-9)

The WCTU has a continuing task to alert the community to the impact of alcohol and other drugs. 

A survey of New South Wales secondary school students by the Department of Health found a dramatic increase in the use of hallucinogens, sedatives and amphetamines, particularly in the 13-17 year old age group. Hallucinogens are a walk on the wild side. The use of mind-altering drugs has enormous potential for damage. At the same time, they are regarded by most young people as harmless. Their use comes from a belief that you can get away from the stresses of life into beautiful feelings. Hallucinogenic drugs have the potential to bring out latent psychosis, particularly schizophrenia, within those who partake of them. Ecstasy can be laced with heroin producing deadly side effects. 

The use of these designer drugs are part of a new life-style among young people. This brings together rave parties, designer style drugs, mobile phones, and the celebration of disposable income. You may wonder why mobile phones are part of the scene? These very large dance parties at which drugs like ecstasy are widely used are carefully planned, but the location and time are kept secret until the day itself. Mobile phones are used for instant communication of where the party is going to be - often in some old warehouse - and at what time. To miss the communication is to miss the fun, the party, the dance and the drugs. 

This is very much part of a high income, middle and upper class, teenage celebration. It is in effect the celebration of disposable income. Ecstasy, amphetamines and other similar drugs are available for $50 to $60 each and it is not unusual over a weekend for a young person to have several. That is why this whole scene is a celebration of disposable income. One young man, 25 years old, has sold over one thousand Ecstasy pills at $50 each to his friends and acquaintances. 

These young people despise drinking alcohol in the traditional beer, spirits, and even rum-and-cola formats. However, the use of such drugs is de-hydrating as is the heat generated by a thousand or so constantly gyrating dancing bodies. Hence the ever present clear bottle of fluid to replace body fluids. 

It is quite customary to see young people in this age group carrying with them clear bottles of liquid. It is mostly assumed by adults that they are drinking mineral water or spring water. 

The fact is there is a new general of alcoholic drinks now coming in clear glass or plastic bottles. They are fashionable in clear glass, and fashionable as clear drinks. There are alcoholic ciders, alcoholic sodas, alcoholic lemonades, alcoholic colas and alcoholic spring water. More than three-million cases last year were drunk by Generation X-ers. 

Some names of these new alcoholic drinks are:

  • LXR8 an alcoholic cola which has been launched across Australia at a series of big dance parties, the first being a waterfront warehouse party in Sydney.
  • Sub-Zero: Carlton & United produce Sub-Zero which is an alcoholic soda with an alcoholic content of 5.5%.
  • e33: Orlando Wine Company has e33, which is an alcoholic cider and soda.
  • Vault: Lion Nathan produce Vault, an alcoholic soda. 
  • Two Dogs Lemonade is made in Adelaide and exported not only nationally but internationally, as is DNA alcoholic Spring Water.

These drinks, which look like clear spring water and are sold in clear bottles or in plastic bottles, are often assumed by parents to be nothing else than mineral water. But Mad Dog 20/20 is at 13.5% alcohol content, more than three times the strength of beer. 

Along with these clear drinks there are alcoholic fruit juices including the titles Orange Jubilee, Kiwi Lemon, Hawiaiin Blue, and Cherry Banana. These titles sound as if they are fruit drinks that could be found in the school bag of any student in secondary school. The trouble is that that is where they are being found and people are not aware that they are more potent alcoholically than beer. 

Youth treat them like soft drinks: they drink a lot quickly even before they go out to the party. These are mainly drunk by thirteen to sixteen year old children. 

Twice as many young people die of alcohol than heroin. More than a thousand youths die annually because of alcohol abuse. Alcohol is responsible for more than seven thousand deaths in Australia per annum. We are seeing a new generation of very young people becoming addicted to alcohol through the drinks previously mentioned and the binge beer drinking among young men. 

Wesley Mission developed StreetSmart outreach to reach and assist those young kids in our society who are using and abusing both legal and illegal drugs. 

Our aim is to make contact, identify, assist, refer disadvantaged youth and assist young people towards a healthier lifestyle and more appropriate use of time. Trained volunteers accompany each street van providing counselling, basic first aid, non-alcoholic drinks, refreshments and suitable guidance to further help. Each of the street vans works at night in areas where young people are known to gather to abuse drugs and alcohol. 

Our counsellors provide information and referral assistance, transport to appropriate institutions and homes, legal advocacy and court support. Our volunteers can provide a mobile information base to disseminate literature including government brochures as well as Christian literature and reference material to current support programs and agencies both government and non-government. 

Wesley Mission has several hundred trained volunteers working with nine street vans in the worst areas of Sydney, the Central Coast, the Hunter and the Gold Coast of Queensland. The volunteers build rapport with kids at risk and assisting with immediate physical matters, counselling and practical help. These youth show at-risk behaviour. We have noticed that over 75% of these young people are intoxicated, abusing drugs, are sexually promiscuous, and are either homeless and/or involved in criminal activity. 

More than 65% of client contact come from single-parent families and express concern about the lack of parental support, about sibling rivalry, and social hardship. 

We have recorded in twelve months a 400% increase in amphetamine use among juveniles under the age of seventeen, as well as an ever-increasing number of very young juveniles regularly involved in the binge drinking of alcohol. 

The majority of those contacts made on the street are young people who are Wards of the State. The majority of these clients are under a Care and Control order, while the remainder have a Care and Protection order. However, no-one has the faintest idea where they are at the time of our StreetSmart contact. There is much that the Church and temperance groups could do to help in this problem of youth and alcohol and drug abuse.

(a) The Church should call upon the government to raise the tax and excise on all alcoholic drinks, especially those that masquerade in clear bottles as lemonade or fruit juices. Alcohol costs the government more than it earns from taxes and excise. The costs exceed the income by more than $300-million per annum. In a user pays era, we call upon the government to increase excise to pay for the costs of alcohol abuse. Experience from the United States of America and Scotland where there has been dramatic increases in the tax on alcohol indicates that increased liquor tax reduces alcohol consumption and alcohol related problems. Back in 1986 2.5% of government revenue came from alcohol taxes, but in 1992 only 1% of government income came from alcohol taxes. We can affort to increase excise and tax on alcoholic beverages. 

(b) The Church should call upon advertisers, brewers and retailers to be named as drug pushers. It is respectable businesses which create the product, advertise the product, and retail the product, which are responsible for the enormous toll brought by the product upon the community. The time has come for a national campaign against brewers, advertisers and retailers in the same way as the community rose up against the tobacco companies and defeated the tobacco lobby. The alcohol industry is a defeatable minority even as were the tobacco growers, advertisers, producers and retailers. 

(c) The Church must affirm its anti-alcohol stance. The churches must change their attitudes towards alcohol consumption. Mainline denominations which once had a strong stand against the abuse of alcohol must again make a stand for voluntary abstinence. Those who have argued for the community to quit smoking must now argue for the community to quit drinking. The Church must clearly point to the moderate drinker as being the cause of most of society's drinking problems. It is the moderate drinker who supports the system, the supermarket and the social image. Social acceptance of alcohol equates with spiritual apathy. All drinkers are irresponsible. The Church must hold the line. Recent statistics from within the church show that our youth are not that much different from youths of other religious background or of none at all. There is a generation in crisis with the Church failing its own youth in leading them to a healthy lifestyle. 

(d) The time has come for abstinence from partaking of alcohol to be seen as normal, responsible behaviour and as part of a healthy lifestyle. We don't need to drink for our troubles, our pleasure, or for our business. We can't affort to drink for our body, our family and our society cannot pay the price. We choose not to drink as an act of social responsibility and Christian witness. The tide has turned in our favour as it did on the issue of smoking. 

EIG-Ansvar Insurance Company hires a reputable poll taking company to survey people's attitudes towards drinking alcohol every couple of years. Their latest poll indicates a continuation of the continuous increase now seen for almost two decades in the percentage of Australians who choose not to drink alcohol. The time has come for the Church to vigorously maintain its position. If we do not learn these lessons from the past we will not be equipped to provide adequate directions to young people for the future. 

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes