Saturday, June 23, 2007

Impacts of new grog & porn policies on indigenous Australians

As I noted in an earlier post the Federal Government will ban alcohol and pornography in aboriginal towns and communities in the Northern Territory and deliver half of government welfare payments to Aboriginal parents in the form of vouchers to make sure the money is spent on food and essential items. Government payments will be made contingent on children attending school. Children under the age of 16 will have compulsory medical examinations and extra police, and perhaps even the military, will be seconded to enforce these regulations. The government will also compulsorily acquire – with fair compensation - land granted under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act for a period of 5 years, while these problems are dealt with. A proposal to introduce similar quarantining regulations on welfare payments to non-indigenous families with children considered at risk will be put to cabinet shortly.

The primary intent of these measures is to address the problem of child sex abuse.

I support these policies though I caution they will not work perfectly. A major issue is the extent of financial support given to them. In my view there are three primary objectives of such policies.

(i) By banning alcohol and pornography on aboriginal land a geographical distance is established between aboriginals who consume these products and those who don’t. Aboriginals can continue to consume grog and porn but they will need to do so at a distance from non-users. Aboriginals have high levels of alcohol abstinence – those who do drink often do so to considerable excess. My guess is this move will prove popular within most aboriginal communities. Those who criticize the policy on the grounds that aboriginals will continue to consume grog in non-aboriginal towns miss this point.
(ii) The bans on alcohol and pornography increase the user costs of such goods by making them less convenient to consume. This should reduce demand for them. There will also be less casual buying of alcohol based on ‘availability’. In urban centers it is known that levels of drinking and problem drinking are related to outlet numbers.
(iii) The decision to provide half of the value of social security payments as vouchers that cannot be used to purchase grog reduces the income available for purchasing alcohol or porn. Straightforward economic theory suggests that because alcohol is a ‘normal good’ – its demand depends positively on income – that this should substantially cut alcohol consumption.

Part of the hysteria of the ‘left’ blogs on these measures is based on the idea that alcohol consumption and child sexual abuse reflects social disadvantage. That is true but a socially disadvantaged aboriginal who does not have easy access to alcohol is better-off than one who does. Alcohol is an independent cause of aboriginal (and non-aboriginal) problems associated with social disadvantage.

Measures (i)-(iii) will have significant effects in reducing levels of drinking and the consumption of pornography. This is an important end in itself. But doing this will improve aboriginal health as well as reducing violence towards women and children.

My research into addiction suggests than to advantages (i)-(iii) one might add.

(iv) The policies cited will improve the welfare of heavy drinking aboriginals. People who drink vast amounts of alcohol until they are absolutely drunk on a regular basis are not rational consumers whose preferences need to be respected for reasons of ‘non-paternalism’. Those with an alcohol dependency and those who drink for ‘cue-related’ reasons may be better-off with policies that restrict their freedom.

The libertarian ideologues will froth at the mouth with this type of suggestion but in the drug and alcohol field this view is unexceptional. It makes very little sense to be obsessed with the issue of ‘free will’ in relation to people with a chemical dependency to ethyl alcohol or any other drug.

The image of young kids cowering in fear from adult sexual predators is one that, as a father, worries me. The thought too of women being bashed by drunken male partners is also one that makes me want to tell the devout libertarian paternalists to take their obsession with ‘freedom of choice’ and shove it.

Finally, giving kids medical examinations to test for sexual molestation in an environment where it is not uncommon is simple sense. It increases the chance that those carrying out these unspeakable acts will be detected and reduces their incentives to commit these acts.

Little Children are Sacred. This is true. Black and white kids are the hope of the world. Young kids are not racist, they have no cultural hang-ups and they offer the prospects for a better future. Aboriginal Australians have often received shocking, murderous treatment from the time of white settlement. They have lived in Australia for over 40,000 years and are one of the oldest cultures on earth. But that they have suffered horribly is no reason not to take action to deal with the grog and child-abuse problems that now beset them. We should not allow our own guilt to stand in the way of addressing this terrible problem that wrecks lives and destroys an ancient culture. Current policies (free money, access to booze) have failed miserably.

As Noel Pearson said:

‘We are dealing with children of the tenderest age who have been exposed to the
most terrible abuse…what matters more the constitutional niceties, or the care
and protection of young children.’
These policies are not going to work neatly. Improvements should be suggested and should be listened to. But the general thrust of the policies should be given bipartisan support. They should be given a chance. More than that, state governments should be encouraged to join in.

5 comments:

conrad said...

HC,

1) Apart from the fact there is basically no relationship between pornography and sex crimes, banning it is impossible in the internet age. Porn is also basically free in the modern age.

2)What evidence do you have, apart from an economic model that assumes rationality amongst those most likely to exhibit irrational behavior, that increased prices decrease usage amongst addicts? I assume there is very little change in behavior when the price of a drug is changed to an addict (versus the normal user). All you do is increase crime. Hence you are punishing the responsible user (and potentially good role model)and either shifting or increasing crime. Apart from in the very long term (in which case you need to worry more about substitution and so on -- a big worry in communities prone to petrol sniffing and so on), a lot of the decrease you see is not from addicts, but the casual user.

3) Taking away social security payments from people with no other source of income or ability to work increases crime, especially from addicts -- its not like these people are sitting there making rational decisions based on how to spend their money.

4) These sorts of crimes happen at very high rates in many places. Housing estates, for example, have crime rates 10 times higher than average. That is also public land. Why not suggest such rules for such places -- it is public land after all, and, furthermore, I'm sure a lot of the residents would think it good that you move their problems onto someone else.

Sir Henry said...

This does nothing to reduce outlets, as per your own point.

Problem of alcoholism and associated anti-social behaviour is not going to be solved by banning of alcohol on ex-missions. Already many such aboriginal lands are dry.

My point made earlier about biting the bullet on outlets stands.

It remains to be seen how resourceful hardened drinkers there are, and whether this will stimulate contraband alcohol running, hence spawning another industry.

Remember the Volstead Act? From wiki:
"The effects of Prohibition, like those of the so-called "War on Drugs", were largely unanticipated. Production, importation and distribution of alcoholic beverages -- once the province of legitimate business -- were taken over by criminal gangs,"

hc said...

Conrad,

(i) The report "little Chidren are Sacred' argued there was a relation between porn and child abuse. Basically porn is anti-female: it caricatures female sexuality. I would not be surprised if there is a general relation between porn and sexual violence.

(ii) The evidence that alcohol demands are reasonably price elastic is overwhelming - particularly for people on low incomes. I agree petrol suniffing and other substitute reactions are a real concern - it is vital these be monitored. Increased crime might not yield much income in these aboriginal settlements.

(iii) Those who lose social security payments need to be monitored. My guess is that if it is just a matter of people sending their kids back to school they will find this easier than crime. Crime itself as noted in (ii) might not yield large rewards.

(iv) My understanding is that a submission has been put to cabinet to extend these rules on social security eligibility to all communities in Australia. The point you make is reasonable.

Jack, Of course there will be illegal trade. 100% certain. But this will occur at higher prices and this should depress demand.

A concern is to make sure unhealthy bootleg liquors are not produced.

You are right that many settlements are dry and citizens on other settlements want their areas dry. This is a powerful argument that government policy will enjoy support and is on the right track.

Sir Henry said...

Both you and I know that hardened drinkers or indeed smackos can be very resourceful indeed. There is no mystery there and plenty of evidence for that.

The takeaway outlets are numerous and very profitable. There is nothing in the mooted course of action by cabinet that will interere with their god-given right to profit.

YOu do not have to be a clairvoyant to see that people who want alcohol will soon organise into group grog runs, whereby someone with a vehicle will be deputised to go and get x number slabs x dozen flagons or a bootful of cardonnay.

The people who will miss out will be only those who can't get their act together on a very, very basic level, if any.

I do not think moonshine will come into the equation because it requires a higher level of organisation than the group buy.

There is of course the "white lady" (wine extended with metho - the mix goes a curious milky colour). That could be easily dealt with by prohibition on metho.

Yes, supply interference of the very basic kind will cause some people to turn to petrol sniffing, but it remains to be seen if it gets any worse. This in turn can be dealt with by an expansion of vaporless petrol, see
http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/push-for-unsniffable-petrol-in-more-communities/2005/08/30/1125302570199.html

Unlike some of the more hysterical types at LP and Club Troppo, because of what I have experienced first-hand, I am not opposed in principle to many of the initiatives, heavy-handed and fascist as they may be. The situation is gross and has been for a very long time.

My main worry is that it will, in that phrase favoured by the Prime Minister, "send the wrong signal" to the racists in and around those areas, particularly ones in police uniform and we may yet see wholesale jailing and harassment of people of aboriginal appearance filling up the jails in the outback. Hence the cure may be not be much better than the disease.

I'll leave the issue of pornography for another time, perhaps within the ambit of a thread devoted to it.

Sarah said...

I disagree entirely that porn is 'anti-female', however common sense tells me that the aboriginal communities in question are not exactly living in the 'internet age'.