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ABC-Background-briefing

Governments & industry ignore the facts about alcohol at their peril

Di Martin’s excellent work on her Background Briefing story must make a difference. This was program making at its best with the most comprehensive overview of the situation yet presented by any medium.

While the issues Ms Martin raised were nothing new to those who live and breathe them, her program was compelling listening because it assembled the facts in such a way that governments, licensing authorities and industry bodies can no longer ignore them.

Most telling were comments by the Brewers Association about the possible need for licence buy-backs and Government’s mismanagement of de-regulation. This is the first time the supply side of the alcohol industry has broken ranks and we need to keep reminding the community about this.

The Australian Hotels Association, clearly grasping at straws, has the temerity to suggest that other drugs are the issue – not alcohol. This is completely irresponsible and displays the industry’s cynicism – even in the face of the real facts from ambulance and emergency departments. What remains of significant concern to those of us who would attempt to counter it is the industry’s influence over government at all levels.

No longer should the evidence around tripling of ambulance calls, assaults and the seemingly ever-increasing number of outlets and licensed premises be ignored. Neither too the inappropriate clustering of such outlets and the appalling planning process that allows it to happen. In New South Wales, these issues have been raised by the government’s own researchers. Why then hasn’t the government acted on them?

The Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA) says all Australian jurisdictions should heed the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) 10 Point Plan to Reduce Alcohol-Related Harms in NSW. With three quarters of all Australians believing the country has a problem with alcohol – the fact that over four million Australians frequently drink for the sole purpose of getting drunk – these are compelling arguments for a national approach.

ADCA has always stressed that the issue of alcohol-fuelled violence and related harm extends beyond notorious trouble spots like Kings Cross and the Newcastle CBD.

Last weekend’s Background Briefing on ABC Radio National should be compulsory listening for anyone involved in government, in hospitality industry management and alcohol and licensing regulation. The program drew together every element of the problem, its consequences and possible solutions; it was utterly compelling.

Decision makers need to understand that police, ambulance, public transport and other utilities have had enough of the huge cost to society of alcohol abuse. The evidence – that liquor outlets spawn violence, that responsible service of alcohol exists in name only and that one in three motor vehicle accidents involves excess alcohol – has been there for years.

It will take courage for governments to stand up to the political influence of the liquor industry, to show leadership and rein in the glut of licensed pubs, clubs and take-away liquor outlets.

Alcohol, its over consumption, abuse and treatment is a $36 billion a year problem. That fact alone should be enough for people from all walks of life to say enough is enough.

Finally, a clarification to dispel the way the alcohol industry would represent us. Public health advocates like ADCA and FARE are not anti-alcohol. Unlike the industry, which is driven entirely by profit and ignores the consequences of its approach, we call for responsible drinking and service of alcohol. This is something the AHA and others of its ilk can’t comprehend. What is it about risks to public health and community safety and the sheer cost of alcohol abuse to society that they don’t understand?

Images courtesy of Diane Martin, ABC Radio National

David Templeman

David Templeman

David is the Chief Executive of a national peak not-for-profit organisation in preventative health, the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia. He is a senior volunteer member of St John Ambulance Australia, the Chair of the ACT Alcohol and Drug Foundation—Karralika Programs. In addition to these activities, David holds appointments on the Boards of the International Federation of Non Government Organisations and the International Council on Alcohol and Addictions. David is also a member of the National Leadership Group for the White Ribbon Foundation and a Board Director for a recently established NGO, the National Rural Law and Justice Alliance. David was appointed to the Board of Families Australia in November 2012. David completed  a significant public service career in 2006 the last six as Director General of Emergency Management Australia, the Federal Government's agency with responsibility for reducing the impact of natural, technological and human-caused disaster impact on the Australian community and the region.

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