Swagman #4 – RSA and Me

Swagman #4 – RSA and Me
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

In an effort to minimize the misuse and abuse of alcohol and to curb underage drinking, any person who wishes to sell or serve alcohol is required by New South Wales law to be trained and certified in the Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA). The course, which lasts about seven hours and ends in a written exam, covers the NSW liquor laws and various strategies to prevent what it notes as excessive consumption, anti-social behavior, drink driving, and underage drinking.

And for good reason. A study by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research revealed that 60 percent of all incidents reported to police involved alcohol, with 91 percent of these incidents occuring in or near hotels and bars.

The liquor laws, which are regulated and enforced by at least ten key agencies, are very straightforward and can be summarized in the following basic requirements:

  1. No one should sell or supply liquor to anyone under the age of 18
  2. Licensees should not allow intoxication, indecent, violent or quarrelsome conduct on the premises
  3. No one should sell or supply liquor to anyone who is intoxicated

Each licensed venue is required by law to have about six different required Liquor Act signs posted at all times.

I attended the RSA course last week so I could bartend, a popular temporary vocation for backpackers passing through. The instructor simplified these three requirements even further for us – don’t serve anyone under 18, don’t serve anyone who is drunk, and if they are drunk they have to leave. The penalty for violating any of these laws is up to $5,500. If you ask the person to leave and they refuse, the penalty is then on them. But then, of course, there is the question of how they became intoxicated in the first place, and you could still wind up being hit with the fine.

Basically I am paid to serve alcohol to patrons, after checking IDs of course, but then must monitor their behavior throughout the night to ensure that they don’t become intoxicated, in which case I will have to ask them to leave. It seems to defy logic that I would serve something that causes intoxication, only to then expel that person when it occurs. But in the eyes of the law and the courts I am basically taking over any reason and rational thinking that person possesses by serving them alcohol.

A perfect example of this occurred in 1994, when a Queensland woman attended a champagne breakfast offered by a rugby league club. When the free champagne ran out after two hours, the woman and three friends purchased three more bottles, which they quickly drained. By 2:30 in the afternoon it was visible to all that she was extremely drunk, but it was not until 5:30 that she was asked to leave. The woman declined a taxi ride and set out on foot, and shortly after leaving the club was hit by a car. She sued both the driver and the club, stating for the court that she suffered long term physical and mental injuries after the accident, and had now developed an addiction to gambling on poker machines. She was eventually awarded more than $200,000, which I doubt helped with the gambling problem.

This of course adds to my responsibilities as a bartender. If a person somehow does manage to become intoxicated while I am working I have to deny them another drink, ask them to leave, and offer them transport. And there is always the other danger involved in this process. As our instructor told us during the course, an intoxicated person is extremely unpredictable. He then pointed out a series of scars, repeated it again, and stared off at the ceiling for a few uncomfortable seconds. Whatever incident he was remembering, I do not want to experience. It is difficult enough to imagine having to inform an intoxicated person that they are cut off, but to immediately follow that up with telling them to leave is a dangerous combination. Some will go quietly, dejected, and some will be holding heavy, empty glasses that they obviously have no more use for.

In the end, though, someone may have to pay $5,500 and I do not want it to be me. Although the fines seem a bit excessive, consider this: the NSW government makes around $2 billion a year on alcohol taxes and fines, but the costs of alcohol abuse and misuse have been estimated to be between $5 billion and $6 billion annually on healthcare, social security and economic loss.

All of this may prove that the image of the Australians as a rowdy group slamming down 22-ounce cans of Fosters is just a stereotype, similar to the fact that there are no kangaroos just bouncing through the city streets. Or it may support it, as an argument can be made on both sides. Personally I do not see it as any different from any other culture I have experienced. There will always be problems associated with alcohol, and there will always be laws as boundaries.

On the night I became certified Joe and I went out to Quarrymans, a local pub, to have dinner and a beer. Beside me at the bar were two Aussie fishermen who immediately took an interest in us and our meals. I could understand the younger man, maybe in his mid-30s, very well but the older man, who must have been in his 60s, had a very thick accent that was made worse by the Victoria Bitter he was drinking. At one point the older man yelled out something profane as he was speaking to the timid British bartender. She glanced over at the bouncer, who was obviously hungry for some action. He moved quickly around the bar, pulled the poor old man right off of the stool and threw him out of the pub. Even the bartenders looked shocked. When the younger man tried to resist he was greeted with a right hook that sent him tumbling against the bar. Joe and I jumped off of our stools as everyone in the pub came under the hypnotizing affect of a sudden barfight. The younger man was back on his feet, but was obviously more confused than anything. Blood ran down his chin. A patron was trying to prevent the bouncer from attacking, and the bouncer seemed on the verge of going after him instead. Eventually all was settled, quickly cleaned up, and everyone began the excited after-fight chatter. The manager was now out and sent the bouncer home. The British bartender looked shocked.

“Does security usually beat customers up like that?” I asked her.

“He’s new. I think he’s been drinking all day.”

The manager was smiling to put everyone at ease. He came over and stood beside me.

“Well, that was exciting,” I said.

“Christ,” was his reply.

“You wouldn’t happen to be hiring, would you?” I asked.

“Well, we’ll see if everyone sticks around after that, mate,” he laughed.

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