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What a Fizzer: Most jurisdictions flunk the alcohol policy scorecard

Last month, the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) released the results of the first ever national scorecard for alcohol policy across Australia.  While a narrow pass-grade was awarded to a few, most jurisdictions failed to score above 50% on their alcohol policy scorecard. How did this happen, you might ask. Surely we’re doing better than that?

Modern alcohol policy in Australia made a strong start in the 1970’s with the advent of drink-driving laws and related awareness campaigns. But progress in other areas has been very modest, and hard fought.

The cultural change that’s occurred in relation to drink-driving hasn’t been accompanied by broader alcohol policy reforms to promote public health and community safety. Successive governments have been reluctant to embrace pricing and taxation policies and or regulate of the physical availability of alcohol, despite the scientific evidence – from Australia and overseas – that consistently shows such measures reduce alcohol-related harm.

Table 1. National Alcohol Policy Scorecard – 2013 Results

 

 

Rank

Jurisdiction

Final score (%)

1

Australian Capital Territory

57

2

Western Australia

53

3

Tasmania

50

4

Victoria

46

5

Northern Territory

41

6

Queensland

39

7

South Australia

33

8

New South Wales

31

9

Federal Government – Fizzer Award

29

 While Australians’ drinking tastes have moved with the times – such as the shift from beer to wine over the past thirty years -our approach to alcohol policy has stagnated.

It’s little wonder then that the National Alcohol Policy Scorecard reports that the leader among all jurisdictions, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), scored only 57%.

Hence, the recognition is bitter-sweet for the ACT Government. Being ranked the best of a bad bunch, and getting the gong with a result that most school teachers would grade as a D-minus.  In her humble acceptance speech, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher acknowledged that “there is always more work to be done in this space to increase community health and safety”.

Indeed, all jurisdictions can do a lot better on alcohol policy, but where should they start?

For some, the challenge is firstly to acknowledge that they have an alcohol problem in their backyard; and formally develop a whole-of-government strategic plan with the aim of preventing and reducing alcohol-related harm. Notably, in the two jurisdictions that ranked lowest on the National Alcohol Policy Scorecard, New South Wales and Australia as a whole, such plans are currently absent.

The inaugural winner of ‘the Fizzers’ award for the lowest score was the Federal Government. The result highlights some clear opportunities to boost its efforts. It’s critical that the Australian government acknowledges reducing alcohol-related harm as a priority. With lead responsibility for alcohol pricing and taxation, regulation of marketing, and national education programs the Federal Government can do more. A positive start would be to reverse its recent decision to defund the services delivered by the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA).

The NSW Government also has an opportunity now to strengthen alcohol policy by acting on the recommendations of the review of the State’s Liquor Act, released just before Christmas.

Immediate actions should include: introducing a risk-based licensing system; including outlet density considerations in new license applications; and, increasing community and local government involvement in licensing matters.

Results from the pilot year of the National Alcohol Policy Scorecard are sobering.  While all jurisdictions have strengths to build on, all face the challenge of significant levels of alcohol-related harm in their communities and active opposition from parts of the alcohol industry to many of the key policy measures urgently needed. With plans underway to repeat the scorecard again in 2014, hopefully all jurisdictions will do their best to score better next time.

* Results of the 2013 National Alcohol Policy Scorecard are available online from the NAAA at www.actiononalcohol.org.au

 

 

Brian Vandenberg

Brian Vandenberg

Brian is the Executive Officer for the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) and Senior Policy Advisor on Alcohol at the Cancer Council Victoria. He has a background in policy, research and advocacy within public health field, with a focus on drug and alcohol issues, and has worked with a number of NGOs, statutory bodies, and all three levels of government.

1 comment

  • Unfortunately there is no mention in the article of the single most effective harm prevention measure of modest reductions in late trading hours where a one hour reduction can reasonably expect around a 20% reduction in non domestic related violence. The earlier 2008 Newcastle intervention and the 2014 Kings Cross and central Sydney improvements (albeit very preliminary)support this observation.

    Secondly, there is no mention about financial support to practically empower and mobilise local communities to prevent alcohol related harms and achieve a fair and informed say on liquor related decisions impacting upon them and their families.

    It is not only what various governments are doing to prevent alcohol related harms. What are the various NGO’s doing to assist communities in a very practical and direct way to reduce alcohol fuelled violence and related harms?

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