ADELAIDE – I am sure Arthur Williams (‘It was the Aussies who drove PNG to drink’) is right about the poor example set by expatriates drinking to excess in colonial times.
But I do not think Papua New Guinea’s alcohol problems can be blamed entirely upon Australia.
Until 1962, Papua New Guineans were banned from drinking alcohol in a well-meaning but rather desperate - and ultimately futile - attempt to protect them from exactly the problems the article mentioned.
Ultimately, access to alcohol became a human rights issue, with a number of prominent Papua New Guineans protesting loudly against what they saw as a paternalistic and racist restriction upon their rights.
So alcohol was duly made available and the human rights advocates got what they wished for at that time.
Whether they would now be so keen on the idea is, I suppose, a matter of conjecture.
While I’m no wowser and have drunk alcohol for much of my life, it is too often a social bane and curse.
In Australia, where 80% of the population drink alcohol and a minority, about 20%, drink three-quarters of all the alcohol consumed.
The statistics also show us that 4.4% of the population are either alcoholics or problem drinkers, with men twice as numerous as women in this group.
Alcohol provides tax revenue of well over the equivalent of K15 billion a year to the Australian federal government.
So it’s no surprise that the beer, wine and spirit industries are very influential in the halls of power.
The consequence is that serious efforts to deal with problems caused by excess alcohol consumption are not high on the political agenda.
Both of these drugs were introduced to Papua New Guinea during the colonial era.
Many unpleasant and dangerous conditions are associated with excessive consumption of alcohol.
As an example, when I was CEO of the Repatriation General Hospital in Adelaide, I was startled to learn that our surgeons removed one or two feet or legs almost every day to deal with the effects of Type 2 diabetes.
In many though far from all cases, this prevalent disease is strongly related to obesity which, in turn, is closely associated with excessive alcohol consumption.
The sinister effects of Type 2 diabetes are greatly underestimated by the public who appear to view it as a minor condition.
Arthur Williams also mentioned the problem of domestic violence, which is hugely worsened by alcohol use.
This problem is very serious in PNG and, as in Australia, little seems to be done about it beyond ritual political pontificating and hand wringing.
Anyway, PNG now has its own drinking culture and so people can fulfil their human right to get thoroughly pissed on a regular basis if that is their wish.
It’s a pity that the possible consequences of this behaviour are, as in Australia, either not understood or regarded as trivial.
Overall, alcohol in all its forms is not a colonial legacy of which Australia can be proud.