How will the alcohol policy landscape change after the 2013 Federal Election? In the coming months Drink Tank will feature a series of posts from alcohol experts, policy makers, researchers, and social commentators who will share their hopes, expectations and analyses of the political road ahead. David Templeman, CEO of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia is first cab off the rank.
Australia has been reassured that, despite the call of an election date seven months out, the wheels of government will not grind to a halt.
That being the case, ADCA has taken the opportunity to write to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader urging their commitment, regardless of who is in power after 14 September, to act on the problems of alcohol abuse.
This is a real leadership issue and, given the community outcry, one that can’t be addressed soon enough.
The problem lies in the ease with which people can get their hands on unlimited supplies of alcohol virtually any hour of the day and at ridiculously cheap prices. The solution is simple – provided politicians have the gumption to act on it.
I wrote to Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott stressing that alcohol abuse is a national problem. The Prime Minister appears to believe that the “rivers of grog” she referred to in her Bridging the Gap address to parliament fl ow only in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in isolated regions of the country. Walk through the entertainment precincts of any of our major cities or towns over the course of a weekend to see how far adrift that thinking is.
For some reasons, governments of all stripes seem incapable of tackling the issue head-on. They appear beholden to the liquor industry, unwilling to rein in its excesses in advertising and promotion to Australians of all ages, and unable to comprehend the huge cost of alcohol abuse to society. If these governments won’t listen to us, perhaps they’ll heed the people who see first-hand the damage alcohol wreaks everywhere, every day.
The police commander at the head of keeping order in the worst hot spot in Australia’s biggest city says alcohol is the root cause of the pitched battle against violence and anti-social behaviour. Mark Murdoch said when Thomas Kelly died after being king hit while walking through Kings Cross with friends last year that alcohol was the problem. And he said it again only a few weeks ago during a summit that alcohol interests lambasted for its criticism of the industry.
The Australian Liquor Stores Association accused public health advocates of trashing the reputation of its members by taking part in the summit. But Commander Murdoch identifi ed supermarkets and suburban bottle shop alcohol sales as the next frontier for a police force already overstretched in fi ghting alcohol-related crime. To those who attended the summit, he sounded like a man who had had enough, saying that alcohol took up more time, more effort, more money, and more police resources than anything else. “The availability of huge quantities of alcohol beyond pubs and bars is the next signifi cant challenge for policing,” he said.
“Whilst we’re starting to see off-licence bottle shops co- located with supermarkets, the minute we go down the road of America … and start putting alcohol on supermarket shelves, we’ve absolutely lost the plot,” he said. “In a hotel or a club there are responsible service provisions, (but) you can hook the box-trailer up to the back of the Commodore, pull up outside Dan Murphys and fi ll it up every day, every week, all year and no one bats an eyelid.”
While Commander Murdoch says alcohol-related assaults in public places have dropped over the past fi ve years – a trend New South Wales’ Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research attributes to the police effort – alcohol-related domestic violence is on the up. And for that, the fi nger is pointed squarely at bottle shops and off licences.
“We need to stop treating the symptoms and attack the problem. The problem is alcohol,” Commander Murdoch said. “If you restrict the availability of alcohol, reduce the supply of alcohol, there is no question in my mind that the assault rate would come down.”
ADCA stressed to the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader that the most decisive course of action lies with a national government. Countless international studies point to the wisdom of setting a minimum price for alcohol combined with a volumetric taxation regime – and the fact that higher prices mean lower consumption. This is something the next Prime Minister could action swiftly, provided his or her government wasn’t so much in the pockets of the alcohol industry. The Gillard Government has bitten the bullet over tobacco … now let’s see the same resolve for alcohol.
This article was first published in the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia’s newsletter – Issue 61 April 2013
Photograph by Kristoffer M.C.