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Yes, no, maybe?

While we do not know who will form government after the Federal Election this weekend, analysis by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) provides insight into what the alcohol policy landscape will look like during the next term of Parliament. The analysis reveals that the ALP and the Liberal-National Coalition have little appetite for evidence-based alcohol policy.

FARE wrote to six political parties who are fielding candidates in the 2013 Federal Election: the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the Coalition, the Greens, the Nationals, Katter’s Australia Party and the Democratic Labour Party. The parties were asked to provide their positions to nine policy questions, covering a range of issues including whether they supported a National Alcohol Strategy, reforms to alcohol taxation, the adoption of mandatory pregnancy warning labels on alcohol packaging, reforms to alcohol advertising and sponsorship promotions, and a National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Action Plan.

The results received from the parties were varied. The first step for FARE in deciphering the results from the parties was to cut through the rhetoric and ambiguity, and classify the answers received as being a ‘yes’ response, a ‘no’ response, or ‘unclear’.

The Greens came out on top, supporting all nine evidence-based policy proposals; the Nationals came in second with clear support for nearly half (four); the Coalition could only muster the will to support two of the policy proposals; and at the bottom of the list was the ALP with clear support for only one policy.

Neither Katter’s Australia Party nor the Democratic Labour Party provided responses to the alcohol policy questions.

The policies that received the most support were the development of a social marketing campaign to raise awareness of the Australian Alcohol Guidelines and a structured brief interventions program which would support health professionals to talk to people about alcohol. Both of these policies were supported by all parties but the ALP. The ALP’s position is unclear in both instances.

The development of a National FASD Action Plan was also supported by the ALP and Greens with the Nationals and Liberals position unclear. Support was also split for the National Alcohol Strategy with a yes from the Greens and Nationals and unclear responses from the ALP and Liberals. Mandatory pregnancy warning labels for alcohol were also supported by the Greens and Nationals, with the position of the ALP and Liberals unclear.

The policy with the least support was the development of a code of conduct with engagement of the alcohol industry which removed the alcohol industry from alcohol policy development. This policy was only supported by the Greens, with the ALPs curiously indicating that consideration of a code of conduct would be on the cards for a re-elected Labor Government. The same responses from the parties were received for changing the taxation arrangements for wine, closing the loophole that allows alcohol advertising in children’s viewing times and phasing out alcohol industry sponsorship.

So what does this all mean?

The large proportion of non-committal responses illustrates the difficulty in overcoming alcohol industry interests in policy making by the ALP and the Liberal-National Coalition. I suspect that for the public health sector and concerned citizens, it will be a long-haul to achieve a shift in the major parties’ sympathies towards the alcohol industry and its associated bodies. After all, it took the Liberal Party a very long time to kick tobacco industry donations in fact until this election. The Nationals are in a similar boat as the Liberal Party when it comes to alcohol policies they won’t support and the industry interests they protect. The ALP’s position, meanwhile, was ambiguous – which in itself indicates that they are at least playing both sides.

That being said, the Nationals and the Liberal Party have shown strong support for two key policies: a social marketing campaign and brief interventions in primary healthcare settings. The Coalition should be supported to realise these policies.

If the ALP retains Government, stakeholders should encourage the Government to progress the seven evidence-based policies they have an unclear position on.

Finally, the support of the Greens on all policies is promising and important in ensuring that there are politicians carrying the torch on this important issue.

As we approach a new political term and despite all of the uncertainty, one thing is clear: the case for reforming alcohol policy in Australia has never been stronger. That is the message FARE will take to the next Parliament, regardless of which party wins office this weekend.

Lisa Buffinton

Lisa Buffinton

Lisa is a policy officer at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) in Canberra and former intern for FARE under the Australian National Internships Program. She graduated in 2012 from the Australian National University with a combined Bachelor of Arts-Bachelor of Commerce with majors in Political Science, International Relations and International Business.

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