For those who live and work in a remote and regional Australia, promoting alcohol policy reform and implementing measures that reduce alcohol harm can be an isolating experience. The Ian Webster Conference Scholarship Program was established to address this challenge. This year the Scholarship enabled individuals working in rural or remote regions of Australia with an interest in alcohol policy, to attend the recent 2017 Global Alcohol Policy Conference held in Melbourne.
The recipients included community service providers who deal with the very real impacts of alcohol-related abuse and harm, a Local Drug Action Group Chairperson, and public health and alcohol-policy advocates. Following the conference, the recipients shared how the conference was relevant to them.
Tony Brown, Chairperson of the Newcastle and Hunter Region Multicultural Drug Action Teams
For Mr Brown, the conference reinforced the need for all public health harm prevention advocates and researchers to remain both alerted and alarmed.
It was cold comfort that local and international colleagues confront similar problems associated with the undue influence of a powerful industry on the political decision making process regulating the availability, supply and promotion of ethanol for consumption.
Yet I left the conference inspired by the diverse range of local and international speakers and attendees from both developing and developed nations, all with a common selfless purpose to making a positive difference to the lives of others in eliminating and responding to a huge range of primarily preventable alcohol related harms.
Carmel Seaman, Chairperson of the Brookton Pingelly Local Drug Action Group (LDAG)
Ms Seaman has been working tirelessly to drive change in the drinking culture in the community she has lived and worked for over 20 years as a nurse.
Attending the conference gave Ms Seaman valuable insights into the extent of alcohol-related harm globally, and she is looking forward to applying her learnings through LDAG committee meetings, community engagement and health promotion reports.
I really enjoyed presentations by medical doctors on what they had experienced in the Emergency Departments, and how they changed their roles to change laws and policies.
I found the issue of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) most interesting, as it is an area of alcohol harm that we are targeting in our community. It is positive that FASD is now better recognised in Australia. Hopefully, there can be even further reduction in FASD with more education and all healthcare professionals working together to educate the community.
Sophia Miniecon, Case worker at the Barkly Region Alcohol & Drug Abuse Advisory Group (BRADAAG)
For Ms Miniecon, who lives and works in the remote Northern Territory Region of Tennant Creek, dealing with domestic violence victims on a weekly basis, the conference was a real highlight of her work year. Through BRADAAG, Ms Miniecon and her team strive to aid domestic violence victims to retain their culture while achieving a happy life, at a distance from the perpetrators, who are often family.
The domestic violence workshops provided me with current knowledge beneficial to my work, fuelled me with outside expertise, and revived and motivated me to continue.
Domestic violence affects the whole family. In the context of large extended Aboriginal families and in our remote setting, the causes and consequences are multifaceted.
Adrian Clinch, Lead Community Researcher, Telethon Kids Institute
Working as a researcher with the Hedland FASD Project, Mr Clinch is passionate about addressing alcohol harm and reducing FASD. Attending GAPC2017 gave Mr Clinch his first opportunity to present to an international audience and visit Melbourne. Mr Clinch valued being able to learn about the work around the world that is happening to reduce the impact of alcohol.
I felt proud to present, and to tell the audience about my community and the important work that we are doing in the Pilbara region. A highlight of the conference for me was seeing June Oscar speak, and having the opportunity to meet her. Coming from a community that is struggling with the effects of alcohol, it was encouraging to see the real changes that can come from community and policy. It has encouraged me to continue working to see changes to alcohol policy in the Pilbara, changes that reflect what our community wants, and are driven by members from our community.
Pauline Reynolds, CEO, Barkly Region Alcohol & Drug Abuse Advisory Group (BRADAAG)
The conference provided Ms Reynolds with valuable and relevant information of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
My interest in and knowledge of FASD has been increased, and my learnings at the conference will assist in the development and implementation of future BRADAAG programs.
Conferences such as GAPC to keep me up-to-date with current findings and new evidence enables me to network and source these evidences to aid in creation of continuous improvement of services for BRADAAG.
Helen Muller, Metro Care, Toowoomba
Ms Muller works in a small community organisation in Toowoomba that provides, as one of its services to the community, a street crew program during late-night trading Friday and Saturday nights. Her team witnesses first-hand the impact that the misuse of alcohol and drugs have on people.
For Ms Muller, the conference gave her a greater awareness of the influences of alcohol advertising on children and young people, and reinforced the importance of community engagement and the role that community members can play in lobbying local parliamentary members.
For me, the highlight of the conference included gaining a greater understanding of the amount of policy development and active advocacy being carried out globally; the resulting economic burden and strain on public health resources; the important role of scientific research into the harm of and risks associated with alcohol consumption; and the impact of advertising (branding and messages) on children and youth.
John Adams, Tangentyere Council
For Mr Adams, attending the conference allowed him to gain valuable exposure to international experts who have experience in addressing alcohol-related issues he is also faced with. One of the highlights for Mr Adams was in hearing Alison Douglas, from Alcohol Focus Scotland, share her experience of campaigning for a minimum unit price of alcohol in Scotland.
This [minimum pricing] a chord with me as in the Northern territory we are undergoing a similar thing. Much of the alcohol consumed by the individuals I work with is of the five dollar a bottle variety. Alice Spring and the northern territory are going through a period of alcohol reform and the lessons I learnt during the conference will be invaluable in coming months and years.
The conference also helped Mr Adams reflect on the measurement of alcohol harm and how they should approach evaluation.
Measuring alcohol harm in terms of burden helped me reflect on our harm reduction approach to our participants. This is significant as the program I work for gathers its participants from town camps in Alice Springs. Alcohol is responsible for 1.5 % of the total disease burden in Australia and 4% of total disease burden in Aboriginal Australian, so it would be valuable to know this level on town camps.