Drink Tank

A snapshot of innovative alcohol advocacy in Australia

In a world where resourcing of prevention is limited and you find yourself up against a powerful and well-resourced opposition, it becomes essential to be innovative and do a lot with a little.

So it is with preventing harm from alcohol. Indeed, the WA results of the 2011 Australian School Students Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey released just last week show there is still a lot of work to be done. Encouragingly, more young people are choosing not to drink, but of the young people who do drink, the proportion drinking at risky levels has increased. The results reinforce that there is a ‘drink to get drunk’ culture among many young people who drink and that many are starting to drink well before the age of 18.

One group using new approaches to drive action on alcohol – and making an impact – is the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth. The brainchild of forward-thinking philanthropists, the McCusker Centre seeks to reduce alcohol-related harms in young people, with a focus on the WA population. Central to the approach of the McCusker Centre is the need for comprehensive action to prevent harm from alcohol – there are no magic bullets. Recognising the range of groups already active in this space, the role of the McCusker Centre is to support, bring together and extend the existing work in this field. Working with like-minded organisations, such as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), is part of this approach.

The WA Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition – co-convened by Professor Mike Daube, Director of the McCusker Centre, and Professor Fiona Stanley, Australia’s leading child health expert – brings together over 80 organisations to advocate for comprehensive action on the basis of consensus positions.  Never before have so many organisations active in WA worked together in this way; to sing from the same song sheet. The potential for impact by a well-coordinated coalition of organisations is clear, and the development of the WA Coalition complements coalition-building activity at the national level, as well as in other jurisdictions.

In response to the failure of the industry’s self-regulatory alcohol advertising system, the McCusker Centre, in partnership with Cancer Council Western Australia, took the innovative approach of establishing the world’s first independent alcohol advertising complaint review service. The Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB) operates with support from health organisations around Australia, and seeks to protect the community from inappropriate alcohol advertising and encourage effective regulation of the content and placement of all forms of alcohol promotion.

The response from the alcohol and advertising industries has shown the AARB is pushing the right buttons, and will continue to do so to ensure Australia moves towards strong, independent controls on alcohol promotion that will protect children and young people.

While those seeking to prevent harm from alcohol operate with limited resources, we must recognise and build on what we do have: clear evidence of harm, clear evidence of what works to prevent harm, strong and growing community concern, support for action from a wide range of fields, strong support from high profile individuals and organisations, and advocacy experience from other public health issues.

I for one see this as a very exciting time to be in this field and look forward to building on the strong advocacy activity to date at the state and national levels to continue to encourage action to prevent alcohol-related harm.

Julia Stafford

Julia Stafford is the Alcohol Program Manager at Cancer Council Western Australia.

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