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Indigenous Affairs Committee must examine alcohol industry role

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are disproportionately affected, by the harms from alcohol.

The extent of those harms; the impacts from alcohol-related violence, domestic violence, the unacceptable impacts on health and the social costs of this devastating issue, are indisputable. The problem is grave, and the need of an Inquiry, absolute, however an Inquiry, of itself, is not enough.

The House of Representatives Parliamentary Inquiry into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must be informed by the countless, well-intentioned reviews that have come before, but distinguished by the questions this Committee chooses to ask, and the issues it chooses to explore.

This is not an academic exercise.

An examination of the tragedy is not enough. Preventing the tragedy from continuing must be the one true objective of this Inquiry.

A bushfire Inquiry looks beyond property loss and examines a fire’s origins, where a fire began, how it started, and what fuelled it, in a bid to prevent a similar tragedy.

An Inquiry into flooding does not begin and end where the river burst its banks, but rather upstream, taking rainfall and water management into account, in a bid, not only to understand what happened downriver, but to understand why and to prevent its reoccurrence.

Past Inquiries and reviews into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been distinguished not only by what they have examined but by what they have overlooked.

Those Inquiries examined the role of government, and examined the responsibility of drinkers, but none have examined the alcohol industry’s responsibility for the alcohol-related violence injury and death that this Committee is investigating.

Too little is known about the supply of alcohol.

After all it is the access and availability to its supply that lies at the heart of alcohol-related harms.

It is the Foundation’s view that we need to shine a light on this chain of supply in order to that alcohol industry’s culpability is exposed and that they can then be made to shoulder their responsibly for stopping harm caused by alcohol.

The only way to fully gauge to what extent the alcohol industry is deliberately targeting and exploiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander drinkers is for the data about the marketing and supply of alcohol to be publically revealed.

What is the supply chain of alcohol from producers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?

How does this differ for communities with limited restrictions, when compared to those that are dry?

How much alcohol and what type of alcohol is being supplied?

How frequently is alcohol being supplied to these communities and what is the timing of the provision of alcohol?

How is the alcohol priced and promoted in and around these communities?

And what is the role of the alcohol industry in mitigating the risk of harms that result from the consumption of alcohol?

Only with those questions answered can we fully explore the alcohol industry’s culpability.

FARE has called on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs to begin the process of understanding the extent of the alcohol industry’s knowing contribution to the tragedy in Australia’s Indigenous communities.

The Committee should demand information and data on supply practices from alcohol producers, distributors and retailers.

As a nation, if we are sincere about addressing this national shame, we need to first acknowledge that there is an alcohol industry that profits every day from the misery and suffering.

If industry has nothing to hide it will not resist the call.

The above post is an edited extract of Mr Thorn’s opening remarks to the House of Representatives Parliamentary Inquiry into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, at a Public Hearing in Canberra on Thursday 28 August.



Michael Thorn

Michael Thorn

Michael is the Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and tweets from @MichaelTThorn.

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