The NSW and ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) says the New South Wales Government can no longer ignore rising alcohol harms and heightened community concerns and must immediately introduce effective alcohol policy reforms.
This was the message delivered at last week’s 2013 NSW Alcohol Summit. Attended by over 180 people including more than 20 NSW politicians, the Summit brought together health professionals, community representatives, law enforcement officials, researchers, and front-line workers from around the state.
The Hon John Della Bosca, provided reflections from the 2003 NSW Alcohol Summit on alcohol abuse. While diplomatic when talking of the 2003 Summit’s failings, ‘…it has been a little bit of a disappointment’, Mr Della Bosca was far more direct when speaking about the dangers of alcohol, saying ‘…alcohol is a dangerous product, dangerous in the way that dynamite is dangerous or rat poison is dangerous’.
On what needs to be done to reduce alcohol harms, Mr Della Bosca said, ‘The decisions that need to be made to reduce those harmful effects are fairly straight forward. And they’re not is the soft preventative area which everybody feels good about; they’re in the hard area where you have to take on the power of vested interests… the large corporate alcohol producers and suppliers, and marketers who are very powerful.’
Caterina Giorgi, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education’s (FARE) Policy and Research Manager, was less circumspect than Della Bosca, presenting a report which highlighted the complete failure of the 2003 NSW Summit on Alcohol, along with data showing how alcohol harms have continued to rise over the last decade.
The report showed that the Government was most likely to support measures with little or no support for their effectiveness, while ignoring proven, evidence-based measures.
Dismayed that there is currently no political will for change, Ms Giorgi noted disappointingly that for Government, ‘It’s easier to have a website than it is to have a drug and alcohol education unit. It’s easier to have a tvc than it is to limit the promotion and reckless discounting of alcohol’.
Discussing police perspectives on alcohol, Assistant Police Commissioner, Mark Murdoch described the abuse of alcohol as a problem without precedent, identifying the sales of takeaway alcohol as the next battleground. ‘You can hook the box trailer up to the Commodore and pull up outside Dan Murphy’s and fill it up every day, every week and every year an no one bats an eyelid. We need to get smarter in that space because people buy as much as they can physically carry’.
The ABC’s Quentin Dempster facilitated a lively panel discussion with Minister for Mental Health, the Hon Kevin Humphries MP, Leader of the Opposition, Mr John Robertson MP, and Greens NSW Health Spokesperson, Dr John Kaye, MLC.
In his introductory remarks, Mr Humphries played down the extent of the issue, extended a warm welcome to alcohol industry representatives in the room, saying ‘it’s fantastic that the AHA are here’, and seemed to shift responsibility for alcohol harm minimisation back onto the community indicating that if efforts to resolve alcohol issues were not led by locals, then things would not change.
In sharp contrast, the Opposition’s Mr Robertson indicated that government should be taking a stronger leadership role, saying Government should consider a floor price on alcohol, and calling for the re-establishment of the NSW Drug and Alcohol Court. ‘In the end we have to start from the position of everyone being prepared to stand up as a society and say we have a problem…we do need politicians to lead. There’s no question about that’.
Dr John Kaye, MLC, said it was hardly surprising that there has been a ‘litany of failures in alcohol policy in NSW’, pointing the finger directly at the alcohol industry. ‘We stand in state with lower priced alcohol than we have ever seen before, with larger and more dense packaged liquor outlets and licenced venues than we have ever seen before and with lobby groups representing both packaged liquor outlets and licenced venues that are more aggressive and more cashed up than we’ve ever seen before in the history of the State.’
Speaking at the Summit’s conclusion, NAAPA spokesman, FARE Chief Executive, Michael Thorn said the message for the NSW Government was a simple one. ‘Existing Government measures have failed and with alcohol harms rising alarmingly, NSW cannot afford another lost decade. We are calling on the Government to introduce effective, evidence-based policies that target the availability, price and promotion of alcohol and have an immediate impact on reducing alcohol harms across the State.’
Video coverage of the Summit can be viewed at www.vimeo.com/FARE
Photographs from the Summit are available at www.flickr.com/photos/fareaustralia
See the Storify event coverage below