Introduction by Croakey: Retail closures and recurrent, sometimes prolonged lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have seen shifts in patterns of alcohol and other drug use in Australia, in part reflecting attempts by the deep-pocketed lobbying industry to capitalise on and capture the evolving social milieu.
Perhaps more worrying is the political pas-de-deux that provides a permissive environment for such practices to flourish.
In this piece, first published at the Public Health Association of Australia’s InTouch Public Health blog, Jeremy Lasek reviews a new study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health examining public awareness of and attitudes towards political donations from the alcohol industry.
Jeremy Lasek writes:
Over the years, much has been written and said about political donations – their motivation and their impact. Under Australian law, subject to the disclosure threshold, political donors must lodge an annual return with the Australian Electoral Commission each year.
Increasingly, there are accusations of large corporations and influential individuals making donations without proper disclosure.
The alcohol industry is known to be a significant donor to all sides of politics and has shown to exercise a significant influence on public health policy in favour of its profits.
Published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH) are the results of a new study exploring Australian public awareness and attitudes towards political donations from the alcohol industry.
In the decade from 2005 to 2015, the biggest Australian political parties combined declared a total of $7,650,858 donated by the alcohol industry.
The ANZJPH article identifies that tactics used by the alcohol industry of making political donations is seen as problematic by the public health community and others, as it has been shown to build long-term relationships between industry and politicians, and influence short-term decision-making in favour of the alcohol industry. It says Australian laws regulating donations are weak and allow donations under $14,3000 to go undeclared.
Given the potential pressure that public opinion can bring to bear on government policy formation and the existing gap in the literature, this study was commissioned to investigate:
- What are the Australian public’s awareness levels of the alcohol industry’s primary motivations for donations to political parties?
- What are the public’s views on the appropriateness of donations and the revolving doo in politics in relation to the alcohol industry?
In total, 1,044 participants completed the survey via a nationwide online panel. They were each asked to respond to a series of questions, including:
- How often do you consume alcoholic drinks in a typical month?
- Why do you think the alcohol industry donates to major political parties?
- Is it appropriate for political parties to accept donations from the alcohol industry?
- How long should a former public official or politician have to wait before they can be employed in a related industry or lobbying firm?
Overall, 82.1% of the sample reported being alcohol consumers, and 24.9% of all respondents reported drinking with the aim to get drunk.
The most commonly selected donation motives were to support the interests of the alcohol industry (59.5%) and to influence government policy (52.4%). Less frequently selected motives were to help get the party elected (20.7%), to help address alcohol issues in the community (14%), and because the party represents the beliefs of the alcohol industry (12.5%).
More than half of the participants disagreed that it was appropriate for political parties to accept donations from the alcohol industry (54.5%) and almost half of the participants (45.6%) agreed that the alcohol industry holds too much influence on government policy and decision-making, and only 14.2% disagreed.
More frequent drinkers were more likely to agree that political parties accepting industry donations and politicians attending industry-hosted events were acceptable behaviours.
Nearly one-third of the participants agreed with the statement that ex-politicians and public officials should never be allowed to work for a related industry or lobby firm (31.7%) and one-third agreed that a waiting time of 4-5 years should be enforced.
In general, the younger the age group, the more likely they were to believe it is appropriate for the alcohol industry to make political donations. Heavier and more frequent drinkers were less critical of the alcohol industry’s financial ties to politicians than lighter drinkers and non-drinkers.
These findings are not dissimilar to FARE’s 2020 Annual Alcohol Poll which continues to demonstrate that Australians are skeptical about the alcohol industry. More than half (58%) believe that the alcohol industry makes political donations to influence policy, a significant increase on previous years (53% in 2018), while 62% think the alcohol industry should not be involved in public policy development.
The ANZJPH article, Public opinion of alcohol industry corporate political activities was co-authored by Peter Miller, Florentine Martino and Narelle Robertson from Deakin University and Julia Stafford and Mike Daube from Curtin University.
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