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Time for real action on alcohol harm in NSW

I attend tomorrow’s NSW Alcohol Summit with a mixture of emotions.

Firstly, profound sadness and regret at the countless opportunities our political leaders have missed over the past 10 years to prevent alcohol-related harm. If only they took heed of the sound independent professional advice from a unique combination of dedicated people on the front-line and researchers.

I admire the people who on a weekly basis, pick up the broken pieces and valiantly attempt to save, repair and rebuild the shattered lives and dreams of far too many people, their families and friends. To think that this weekly nightmare is primarily preventable, but for the self-serving actions of our so-called political “leaders”.

I am disappointed and frustrated at the lack of integrity and statesmanship of our politicians and senior advisors who continue to put the powerful vested interests of the liquor industry ahead of public, patron and emergency workers’ safety. Their scornful rejection of proven, cost saving and sensible measures that significantly prevent and reduce alcohol-related harms is nothing short of a tragedy.

I am dismayed at the alacrity with which the liquor industry continues to lead and direct the NSW Government’s alcohol harm reduction laws and strategies. These are the same industry representatives who demonstrate a pathological incapability to accept any responsibility that the oversupply of alcohol and failed RSA contributes to alcohol-related violence.

This is evidenced by the removal of citizens’ rights to object to small bar license applications and the automatic 2am closing when late trading is identified as the greatest predictor of alcohol fuelled street violence, the substitution of independent experts for alcohol industry representatives in developing and delivering important alcohol education programs to high school students, and the substantial watering down and rendering unsurprisingly and effectively useless, so called “tough” compliance measures against liquor outlets.

Why are we seeing industry profits prioritised over public health and safety? The recent Real Heroes Walk Away campaign is yet another example of attention being cowardly converted away from the alcohol industry’s core role in contributing to alcohol-related violence, and onto the individual patron.

But what happens to the individual who doesn’t see the intoxicated person king hit them from behind? What happens if the individual can’t walk away fast enough?

The Campaign makes absolutely no reference to industry and corporate responsibility. These primary responsibilities have been conveniently erased from the dominant public discourse of government and industry. The fundamental impediment to substantially reducing the dreadful alcohol toll in NSW is a resounding lack of political will.

One of our greatest tasks at tomorrow’s NSW Alcohol Summit is to effectively shift and retain the focus of the spotlight onto the continuing cosy relationship between industry and government. But despite the odds, I will go to the Summit with hope. Hope that real political leaders like Barry O’Farrell – don’t walk away.

We all know what the package of sensible, proven, life and cost saving alcohol harm reduction and prevention measures are. Let’s trust that this event amounts to more than another communique.

For the sake of our kids and successive generations, let us ensure we achieve from this event, the immediate adoption and independently evaluated trial of the full package of proven evidence-based alcohol harm minimisation measures based upon a sensible moderation in the availability and supply of alcohol across the whole of NSW.

Tony Brown

Tony Brown

Tony Brown is a PhD (Law) Scholar, Conjoint Fellow School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle. He is the Chairperson of the Newcastle and Hunter Region Multicultural Drug Action Teams. He voluntarily led and represented around 150 local residents, small businesses and concerned citizens in the complex legal proceedings initiated by the Police that led to the “Newcastle conditions”.

9 comments

  • Tony thank you for your article, you said it perfectly. I hope you get an answer to the question keeping me up at night, “Why are we seeing industry profits prioritised over public health and safety? “

  • Tony, thank you for presenting sound scientific facts in response to the AHA’s reactive comments, which I believe, are baseless and are indicative 0f a group of capitalists who feel threatened.

  • The shift needed in policy is an avalanche waiting to happen and the shoulder shrugging, ‘it’s complicated’ diversionary tactics are about to finish their terminable course – then what? Yes political will is needed, firm and strategic decisions made…but what about the underlying, ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ of even the anti-alcohol activist culture that continues to not only condone, but celebrate alcohol as a key amenity to Australian Society.The, ‘it’s un-Australian not to have a drink!’ maxim has got a pit-bull like grip on the cultural psyche. If we don’t start sending social and personal messages of ‘enough is enough’, and changing behaviour and be willing to put down the booze for the sake of a generation, (even for a season) then it will always be ‘decried’ by the ‘society’, but always ‘someone else s problem’ not mine! Here in lies the rub!

  • Tony you make some good points, however I disagree that the solution to the excessive drunkenness and alcohol-fueled culture is in restricted trading hours and licenses. This merely shifts the blame to someone else and ignores the reality that our culture of drinking the cause, and what must change.

    It can be seen in other countries such as in Europe and Latin America, where trading hours are at least as long, if not longer, than here in Australia, but they do not have to deal with such violence and drunkenness. The objective in other places is to go out and have fun, not go out and get drunk. Restricting trading hours is a band-aid over the real problem of Australia’s alcohol-dependent culture. We pride ourselves on going out, and alcohol is the focus and the goal of a night out. We need to look at ways to shift this cultural trend, not merely shift the blame on to someone else.

    While I agree that advertising and marketing have a lot to do with our drinking culture, restricting sales and licensing is not going to affect this. There needs to be a concentrated push from all levels of our society to reduce the importance of alcohol in our lives, to change the focus of our social lives away from the need to drink. We need to emphasise the benefits of going out, having fun, being social – without alcohol being a part in this – in order to make real change. It is a cultural issue, not a licensing issue.

  • Tony Brown and the other supporters of this alcohol harm issues summit should be applauded for their perservence.

    As a community we are looking for leadership from Government and this is not happening.

    Lockout agreements by local liquor accords had a good effect in parts the inner city in the 1990’s but the situation has deteroriated, the problem is increasingly now about young people.

    The Newcastle early closing lockout trial was telling. .

    Newcastle Universities Associate Professor Kyp Kypri report was quite conclusive. Experts such as Emeritus consultant at St Vincent’s Alex Wodak and Scott Weber from the NSW Police Association have supported those results and Government should be acting on it in regions where these issues exist. Legislative Power to enact controls should be given to NSW Police and Local Government could be further involved.

    “Pre-fuelling” is an emerging concern in my Southern Highlands community. We also have regular RBT incidents of substantial over limit driving and this impacts directly on road safety.

    This community is not that far from Sydney and Wollongong and we are not immune from tragic outcomes of Achohol related violence in those centres.

    In summary, when is Government going to listen to community, statistics and not just vested interests?

    Clr Ian Scandrett
    Wingecarribee Shire Council
    Moss Vale

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  • Tony,

    You are doing a fine job. Don’t stop because in the end it will be worth it. What we all need to do is to get at the voice in the head of both those that create the problem and those that are affected by the problem. Your endeavours are appreciated, because the night-time economy is not a false problem, it is real and it is based on income generating behaviour that seems to divorce itself from the consequences of its behaviour.

  • Its not just alcohol that’s the problem. It’s the steroids, and the amphetamines mixed with alcohol that cause the violence. Get out a bit more Tony and you’ll start to see a pattern first hand.

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