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Alcohol in NSW – After the party

The NSW government has recently responded to public concern about alcohol fuelled violence and introduced a range of measures aimed at reducing such behaviour.  In this article, Professor Mike Daube of Curtin University and Director, McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, suggests that while this is a beginning there is much more to be done.

 

Professor Daube writes:

The political party is over. We have seen outrage about alcohol-related harms in Sydney, further outrage about lack of action, then eventually a program of action. The issue is off the front pages, at least for a while, so the government’s media crisis is over – but has one press conference solved the problem?

The government initially seemed over-influenced by the powerful alcohol lobby, and probably thought that media attention would be transient; then, to his credit, Premier O’Farrell finally realised that the community concerns were real – and that the public calls for action would not go away.

His announcements are a useful starting point, albeit focusing more on retribution than prevention; but they are indeed just a start. So where next? And who else has a role to play?

It will be important not to shout “failure” if Australia’s drinking culture does not change overnight. The problem is massive; there is still daily violence; teenagers are still drinking to get drunk. Changing cultures takes time (look at tobacco, which is still freely sold sixty years after clear evidence that it was lethal).

Tough talk around mandatory sentencing drew most attention, but will have less impact than other components of the package. The alcohol industry will probably try to undermine the  3 a.m. last drinks and 1.30 lockouts. Nonetheless, evidence from Newcastle shows that this approach can reduce immediate harms and pressures on police and hospitals.

The government must ensure effective enforcement, supported by good public transport. They should also consider extending these measures, along with a freeze on new licenses and limits on bottle shop hours, beyond central areas, other than in exceptional circumstances – and of course maintain a tough approach on drink-driving.

Public education is vital in reinforcing the rest of the program and generating cultural change. This needs much more than the initial Danny Green advertisement. Experience from tobacco, HIV/AIDS and road safety shows that tough media campaigns can have a real impact on both adults and young people – if they are carefully researched, well-run, sustained and adequately funded.

The NSW government should also consider the recent WA Liquor Control Act Review report which recommended a comprehensive approach including powers enabling the police to prevent sales to minors and legislation to curb alcohol promotion.

The onus for action, however, extends beyond State governments. Alcohol companies bear a heavy burden of responsibility – both producers (including those that develop, package and promote products for young people) and retailers.  Pubs and clubs should end their knee-jerk opposition to virtually anything that might reduce harm. But they are only part of the problem.

Massive chains – especially Woolworths and Coles/Wesfarmers are extending and promoting their booze barns aggressively, seemingly oblivious to community concerns. (Indeed, in submissions to government reviews they have argued, with stunning irresponsibility, that the industry’s interests should take legislative priority over the well-being of the community, and that it is good for children to be exposed to alcohol advertising.) Premier O’Farrell said to the industry, “You helped to create the problem, it’s about time you helped to undo the culture”. Sadly, we can be sure that the industry’s “help” will focus on opposing action that might be effective and proposing distraction measures that have no impact.

The Federal Government has a crucial role. Following Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s expressions of concern, they should act in four key areas.

First, they should reform our bizarre alcohol tax system (described by the Henry Review as “incoherent”), so that alcohol prices are rational, with stronger products costing more and an end to dirt-cheap alcohol.  Second, they should fund major national, sustained media campaigns (independent of alcohol industry input) alongside specific focus programs in areas including FASD and hidden harms of alcohol, such as domestic violence.

Third, they should act on overwhelming evidence and expert recommendations with legislation to curb alcohol marketing. Children are being massively exposed to alcohol advertising, from sports sponsorship to bus shelters to social media. Only the alcohol industry’s supporters or the exceptionally naïve and foolish would argue that the industry can be trusted with any form of self-regulation.

Fourth, there should be research-based warnings on alcohol products – not tobacco-style plain packaging, but conveying important information to complement education programs.

The NSW program should be carefully evaluated, focusing not only on political success in ending the media pressures, but also on cultural change and reducing alcohol harms in the community. Premier O’Farrell deserves credit for making a start. He will deserve even more credit if his program moves on to change the environment where, encouraged by ready access, youth-friendly products and alcohol promotion, so many young people drink to get drunk.

And he should not have to act in isolation. If we are to see lasting change across the nation, the Federal Government must come to the party.

Comments 5

  1. A G says:

    Ah Mike Daube – AKA Mr ‘anti-alcohol’ and famous for his aggressively heavy handed, nanny state pushing of ever more government intervention. Genuinely not helping the issue (perceived or otherwise).

    What Mike – and many others of his ilk – really need to focus on is not attempting to demonise alcohol (which will further alienate the very people who he is trying to stop from binge drinking) and instead focusing upon a cultural change. A cultural change that preaches moderate drinking instead of excess and acknowledges the health and social benefits that this brings.

    In other words, less demonising, more harm minimisation and cultural change. Will do a world of good…

  2. rhwombat says:

    Ah A G – AKA Mr/Ms’Anonymous Entitled Pro-alcohol Industry Troll Number 666′ and infamous for its pathetic attempts to avoid acknowledging that it is part of the problem, and Mike Daube is the good guy.

    In other words, more pathetic self-justifying gibbering of contemptible cowardly spivs like A G demonstrates the problem, and calling them out will do our society good.

  3. A G says:

    AH rhwombat, good to see you’re playing the man without actually acknowledging any point made in the response.

    So cultural change and coming up with workable ways of addressing issues with an ingrained booze culture are ‘self justifying gibbering’? Deary me. No wonder we’re not going anywhere on this issue…

  4. rhwombat says:

    Acknowledging what point you made, A G ?

    You are an anonymous troll who sneeringly attacked Mike Daube for “demonising alcohol”, in an article that did no such thing – while you mouth platitudes about culture change which translate as “please do as little as possible so I can maintain the fiction that my habits and needs are not harming others”. Mike and his colleagues have an internationally outstanding record on real harm minimisation and culture change. I mimicked you, and you scream ad hominum. Bullshit. You are an example of the problem, not the solution.

    I work in Hunter New England Health – I’ve seen both the dramatic beneficial effects of the lockouts and the efforts of pathetic shills like you to deny those effects to support the profits of those who pay you – like the screeching campaign run in the Sydney CBD by the AHA. You are just a pathetic propagandist for those fine, upstanding examples of humanity Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Fat.

    The A of A G wouldn’t stand for Alastair would it – as in Alastair Furnival, of defunding ADCA and website altering fame? We will get somewhere with the enormous damage that the alcohol industry does when you and your masters are called for the selfish cestodes you are, and the carefully researched and explained work of experts with standing is not white-anted by mendacious scum like you.

  5. Melissa Sweet says:

    A note to AG, rhwombat and others – just a reminder that Croakey appreciates vigorous debate but asks that you keep it civil. Please consider this exchange above closed.

    Here is the Croakey statement on what we expect from those commenting at this site: https://croakey.org/the-croakey-disclaimer/

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