August 17, 2016
Drinking is a huge part of our Bai holidays — but is it coming to an end? Picture: Agung Parameswara/Getty Images
A RADICAL change could be coming to our favourite party island — and Australians aren’t going to like it.
Indonesia is considering a new law that would ban the production, distribution and consumption of alcohol across the country, including in Bali.
And while booze makers and sellers warn the move would crush Bali’s tourism industry, it may also fuel sly-grogging on the island — a deadly problem that claims tourists among its victims.
A bill to ban the sale, distribution and consumption of drinks containing more than one per cent of alcohol was introduced by two Islamicist parties, the United Development Party and the Prosperous Justice Party, and is being deliberated by Indonesia’s House of Representatives.
If passed, the law would be the first of its kind in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
There may be some exceptions to the booze ban for travellers, customary activities and religious rituals.
But the introduction of the bill has sparked uproar within Indonesia’s tourism and hospitality industries, which warn tourism would be crippled if the law was passed.
“If the bill is passed, our business will be done,” Indonesian Hotel and Restaurant Association head Hariyadi Sukamdani told the Jakarta Post.
“The tourists … drink alcohol all the time. It will be very inconvenient for them if they can’t find alcohol.”
Indonesia has already made moves to restrict the availability of alcohol. Last year it outlawed the sale of alcohol in mini marts, despite an outcry from tourism and alcohol industries. Hariyadi said that alone had struck a blow to tourism, and travellers were already complaining about how difficult it was to find booze.
“No matter how beautiful the country is, if they can’t find alcohol, they won’t want to come here,” Hariyadi said.
In a desperate bid for compromise in the wake of the booze-ban bill, liquor sellers have begged the Indonesian government to consider tougher monitoring and control on the sale of alcohol, rather than full-blown prohibition.
Liquor sellers in West Java held an emergency meeting last week to discuss the new bill.
One woman, who said she made a living on selling beers, told the Post:“I don’t mind regulations. But don’t apply a total ban because it will kill my business. If you want to regulate selling, I would be ready to comply.”
Others have complained about raids on sellers who had liquor licenses that were difficult to obtain.
Indonesia’s beverage importers also warned their already ailing industry would be crippled if the law was passed.
Imported liquor contributes to up to 10 per cent of Indonesia’s liquor consumption and as many as 17 beverage importers and distributors are expected to collapse in the wake of a booze ban.
BUT THAT’S NOT THE WORST PART
Representatives for Indonesia’s tourism and hospitality industries warn prohibition would merely cause sales in bootlegged booze to skyrocket, with potentially deadly consequences.
Due in part to the increasing cost of importing liquor, Bali has seen a rise in the sale of home-brewed drinks laced with methanol, which have been linked to the deaths and serious illness of tourists, including Australians, on the party island.
Last month, Perth woman Jen Neilson was rushed to intensive care in a Bali hospital with suspected methanol poisoning after a night of drinking.
On New Year’s Eve in 2013, Perth teenager Liam Davies died after drinking alcohol cut with methanol in a Lombok bar. Perth woman Tess Mettam went blind for two days after drinking two cocktails at a Kuta Bar in December 2013, while Newcastle teenager Jackson Tuckwell also went blind after being poisoned while celebrating Schoolies in Bali in 2014.
The family of British backpacker Cheznye Emmons, who died in Bali from methanol poisoning, raised $20,000 to print and distribute educational posters around Indonesia warning revellers of the dangers of alcoholic drinks with potentially lethal amounts of methanol.
Dangerous levels of methanol in cheap drinks served throughout Bali has prompted the Australian Government to warn tourists to “consider the risks” of alcoholic drinks and avoid homemade brews.
“Cases have usually involved local spirits and spirit-based drinks, such as cocktails, but supposed brand name alcohol can also be adulterated,” the government’s Smartraveller website warns, adding that adulterated arak — a traditional rice-based spirit — was also linked to a number of tourist deaths, as well as a huge number of Indonesians every year.
Association of Beverage Importers and Distributors chairman Agus Silaban told the Jakarta Post last week the proposed law would trigger “rampant liquor smuggling practices and the illegal distribution of bootleg liquor”.
The nation’s beer sellers have argued that their product should be exempted from the ban as beer was not linked with poisoning cases.
Indonesia Institute president Ross Taylor told news.com.au moves to ban booze in Indonesia did have support, and not just from religious groups.
“There’s a lot of people in Indonesia right now taking the view — and they might not be wrong — that if you look at the Western world, and what alcohol is doing to young people, we don’t want that in Indonesia and we want to ban alcohol,” he said.
“There’s a lot of discussion in Indonesian society about the damage [alcohol] does to the wider community. The problem, of course, is if you ban it, you then create this enormous black market and it causes a whole lot of other problems.
“But in Bali, especially, there’s a very strong feeling that it’s the last thing you’d want to do, because if tourists can’t have a beer or wine on the beach, the potential consequences for tourism are going to be very severe indeed.”
Mr Taylor said a nationwide booze ban was unlikely but he wouldn’t be surprised if it went ahead in provinces with more hard line governments, such as East Java and North Sumatra.
“In my view, I think that nationally, the bill won’t get up. I don’t think in the Indonesian government there’s enough support for it,” he said.
“Moderation is a better way to go because they need tourists to go to Indonesia and tourists having a glass of wine or a Bintang [Beer] won’t do any harm.
“What I don’t feel that confident about is what will happen to individual provinces. Then it’s going to depend on where you are. In the more conservative provinces, not only might you see these bans coming in, some are actually going ahead with them now.
“What has to prevail in Indonesia is some kind of comprise, which only the Indonesians can do, where some provinces will do this, but then the national government will come in and say there will be some exempt zones, such as Bali.”