WA doctors want the Federal Government and Australian Federal Police to intervene and insist that Indonesian authorities do more to outlaw lacing drinks with methanol.
Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong said given the foreign aid Australia gave Indonesia, it was important to add that serving methanol to tourists in drinks be treated as a serious crime.
He said the term “blind drunk” was coined because of the lethal effects of substances such as methanol on the eyes when bootleg breweries used it.
“We need to really ramp up this issue, not just in WA, but across Australia, because all of Australia holidays in Bali and surrounding islands like Lombok and the Gilis,” he said.
“It requires combined action from our Health Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the AFP because we cannot afford to lose any more Australians.
“Feeding someone methanol, which is a poisonous substance, is a serious crime and we’d like the AFP to work with their Indonesian counter(parts to stop this behaviour.”
Dr Choong said health authorities in the meantime should use the 3½ hours it took West Australians to get to Bali to warn them about the risks, not just of methanol poisoning, but of infections from tattoos and bites.
He said airlines should carry explicit warnings about methanol in the seat pockets of all flights to Bali.
“This is not just another suburb of Perth or a place like Rottnest,” Dr Choong said.
“It’s another country with different health standards and an environment that’s not at all like Australia.”
Arak, known as the poor man’s liquor, has been around the island villages of Indonesia for more than 100 years.
Made from fermented rice and palm sap, methanol is often added to the brew for an extra alcoholic kick.
At 30¢ a litre to produce, arak was made for the locals who could not afford anything else.
But as tourism took off in Bali and the surrounding islands, cunning middlemen saw there was a profit to be made from the cheap local concoction.
Suddenly arak went from being drunk in the impoverished villages and paddy fields of islands such as Lombok and Gili Trawangan to the myriad tourist bars of Bali.
The problem is neither the suppliers nor the bar staff know what they are selling.
Ross Taylor, chairman of the WA-based Indonesia Institute, said tourists were playing Russian roulette with their lives when they ordered cocktails from cheap bars.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said the Smartraveller website warned Australian tourists about local spirits and brand-name alcohols that were adulterated with harmful substances.
Mr Taylor advised tourists to drink at established hotels and bars, avoid cocktails and drink bottled beers or wines.