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DrinkWise: get the facts

According to its website, DrinkWise Australia is: ‘an independent, not-for-profit organisation focused on promoting change towards a healthier and safer drinking culture in Australia’.

Hmm, why then are other ‘independent, NFPs’ (AKA the ‘anti-alcohol advocacy industry’, according to ALSA) being so mean to DrinkWise? Why aren’t we all friends if we want to achieve the same thing? Surely all of us ‘independent, NFPs’ should stick together?

Well, let’s get the facts on DrinkWise.

According to the Oxford dictionary, independent can be defined as, “free from outside control; not subject to another’s authority, not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence, capable of thinking or acting for oneself, not influenced by others; impartial, and not connected with another or with each other; separate.”

DrinkWise has a Board of 13 members. Six of these Board members are also senior players in the Australian alcohol industry:

  • Kate Thompson, Legal and Corporate Affairs Director of Premium Wine Brands, Pernod Ricard and a member of the Boards of Wine Australia Corporation (the peak government body for the Australian wine industry) and the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia Inc
  • Tim Salt, Managing Director at Diageo Australia. Diageo is the world’s leading premier beverage alcohol producer, employing over 20,000 people over 80 markets across the world. Tim is also a member of the Board of the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia (DSICA)
  • James Brindley Managing Director, Beer, Spirits and Wine – Australia, Lion Nathan
  • Giuseppe Minissale President, Australian Liquor Stores Association
  • Ari Mervis, Chief Executive Officer of Foster’s and Managing Director of SABMiller Asia-Pacific
  • Peter Hurley, Managing Director of the Hurley Hotel Group, State President, Australian Hotels Association Council (SA), National President of the Australian Hotels Association, Chairman, National Alcohol Beverage Industry Council

Arguably, DrinkWise is not so independent.

DrinkWise is influenced by the alcohol industry, is subject to the authority of the alcohol industry and is clearly influenced by the thoughts of these Board Members who represent the alcohol industry.

Furthermore, DrinkWise is entirely funded by the alcohol industry.

DrinkWise’s own website says, “DrinkWise was established in 2005 by the alcohol industry. The Australian Government contributed $5 million in 2006 to further extend our work. Since late 2009 we are entirely supported by voluntary contributions from across the Australian alcohol industry”.

I think it’s pretty safe to make the  claim that DrinkWise is in fact dependent on the alcohol industry, relying on the alcohol industry for its very existence.

By supporting alcohol policies that are least likely to change risky drinking behaviours in Australia (Miller, de Groot, McKenzie & Droste, 2011; Miller, Kypri, Chikritzhs, Skov & Rubin, 2009), such as public education, mass media campaigns, self-determination (Carah & van Horen 2011) and alcohol labelling that is neither evidence based nor compulsory (Ipsos, 2012), DrinkWise is taking ‘apparently plausible’ steps to change risky drinking in Australia, yet these steps ‘are likely to have little effect on problem alcohol use or alcohol-related problems’ (Hall & Room, 2006).

Conservatively estimated, two-thirds of all alcohol consumed in Australia (and more than 90% of that consumed by young men) is consumed in ways that put drinkers’ and others’ health and wellbeing at risk. (Hall and Room, 2006; citing Stockwell, Heale, Chikritzhs, Dietze & Catalano, 2002).

DrinkWise has been used by the alcohol industry to ‘create an impression of social responsibility while promoting interventions that maintain profits and campaigning against effective interventions such as higher taxes on alcohol’ (Miller, de Groot, McKenzie & Droste, 2011). So while DrinkWise is not directly for-profit, its goal is not to undercut alcohol industry profits either.

So perhaps it’s more accurate to say DrinkWise is a dependent, not-for-direct-profit organisation focused on promoting apparently plausible alcohol policies that are likely to have little effect on problem alcohol use or alcohol-related problems.

Photograph by Tim Jagenberg

Katherine McLachlan

Katherine McLachlan

I have a legal practicing certificate, but am not a lawyer. I have a psych degree, but am not a psychologist. When my daughter was born, I wrote on her birth certificate that I was a criminologist. My low level drinking makes me a disappointment to my father and a boring potential (Hello Sunday Morning) HSMer.

4 comments

  • We should not forget Drinkwise were advising the NSW government on school education material after BOF scrapped the excellent internal Dpt of Education AOD policy and curriculum development unit and 9 great regional advisors.

  • DrinkWise is ultimately a compromised organisation. It can never argue for evidenced-based alcohol policy controls because its political masters could never let it. Let’s face it, DrinkWise is an an industry-funded social aspects organisation that was created by the alcohol industry. This is an industry that has seen what happened to big tobacco and now wants to shield itself from objective scrutiny by promoting soft non-evidenced-based alcohol control policies that don’t and won’t work.

  • The campaign assumes that this demographic have the knowledge and ability to judge their drinking behaviours and know when it is appropriate, to slow or stop consuming alcohol. Unfortunately, in most cases this dose not happen. The effective elements of the campaign capture and provoke a reactions from the target group. This however creates an issue with other demographics who don’t acknowledge the positives outcome of the campaign as it aims to grab attention, which it has done effectively. The approach of implicating the idea not to consume alcohol but to drink in smaller proportions, to reduce social embarrassment and poor choices is a fabulous idea. Unfortunately the campaign dose not implement solutions or strategies to be apart of the ‘realm of drinking excellence’. Therefore I feel that DrinkWise may have taken the wrong advertising approach to communicate safe drinking habits.

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