The following address was given by Senator The Hon Fiona Nash, Assistant Minister for Health, at the Australian Medical Association (AMA) National Alcohol Summit held in Canberra during October 2014.
Representatives from all tiers of government, community leaders, medical and health experts, police, families of victims and other stakeholders gathered at the National Alcohol Summit to discuss the impact of excessive alcohol use and develop a recommended plan of action for the Australian Government to implement real and tangible solutions to alcohol-related harms.
Thank you for asking me to participate in this important discussion which is a forerunner to a similar event the InterGovernmental Committee on Drugs will facilitating on the 19 November when they will be holding a national stakeholder meeting on Alcohol Related Violence and Harms.
Like this gathering, the IGCD meeting will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to raise issues and possible solutions with governments across Australia in identifying opportunities to reduce the impact of alcohol related violence and harm, including through the next National Drug Strategy.
You can be assured that the Government is committed to educating the broader Australian public about responsible alcohol consumption so they can make informed decisions about their health.
As a mother of two young adult boys I understand parent’s concerns about dangerous drinking.
Another very important alcohol misuse health and social issue, which is the focus of this session is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a devastating disorder in children whose mothers drink alcohol excessively during pregnancy.
I have spoken at length in the federal parliament and at various functions about the Government’s commitment to FASD, in relation to prevention, diagnosis and support for alcohol dependent women.
Early last year I announced in the Senate funding of $9.2 million to the FASD Action Plan which has been allocated in the following way:
- $500,000 has been dedicated to the implementation of a FASD Diagnostic Tool which will be finalised by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.
- A further $100,000 will be allocated to a Technical FASD Group Chaired by Professor Elizabeth Elliott. This group of experts will advise the Government on implementing future FASD programs and promote National evidence based research in ways to manage the impact of FASD. As well it will improve information exchange and will continue to build and promote the results of the NHMRC targeted call for research on FASD.
The FASD Technical Committee will have its first meeting on the 6th November via teleconference.
- The Government will be providing up to $1.5 million to develop best practice interventions for alcohol dependent women. These targeted grants will facilitate further research to also develop best practice intervention guidelines for specialists and GPs.
- The Government will be providing a further $3.1 million in grants to drug and alcohol services to better support alcohol dependent women. The Government will implement best practice interventions and guidelines to service delivery.
- An additional $4 million will be provided to New Directions: Mothers and Babies program. Through this investment, support will be provided to women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.
I would also like to take the opportunity to recognise FARE’s “Women Want to Know” education campaign to which the Government contributed $595,000.
This was provided in order for health professionals to start the conversation about alcohol with women who are pregnant or planning pregnancy.
The campaign promotes a friendly discussion between health professionals and women about the significant risks of drinking while pregnant .and a non-judgemental discussion which doesn’t cause mothers distress or embarrassment which may cause them to avoid further prenatal care.
The first step is making women feel comfortable about talking about their alcohol consumption while pregnant in a non- judgmental environment. We need to promote to women that the safest level of alcohol consumption while pregnant is zero.
In tackling alcohol abuse, the government is committed to working with, and offering support to all the key stakeholders including preventive health groups, the medical and allied health professions and with the alcohol industry who also have a role to play in ensuring harm prevention.
At the last COAG Food Ministers’ Forum we evaluated the action taken by the alcohol industry in Australia and New Zealand in placing pregnancy warnings on alcohol products.
The Forum Ministers noted and expressed concern with the low uptake in the mixed alcoholic beverages or ready to drink category.
However, Ministers’ also noted that the overall percentage of products with a pregnancy health warning label was encouraging, in particular the wine, beer and cider industries.
In light of these results the Forum agreed to extend the existing trial on voluntary uptake of pregnancy health warnings on alcohol product labels, and to undertake a review in two years.
Ministers agreed to continue to work with industry to ensure increased uptake particularly with companies where the uptake is lower. This approach recognises the work already undertaken by industry to place warnings on products and also takes into account the longer turn-over of labels in some areas.
A night out with friends doesn’t have to be a night which could change your young people’s lives forever.
But it is clear that parental guidance is not always enough and I commend the NSW Government for implementing their “lockout at midnight” changes to licencing laws and for their education campaign. These are examples government taking practical steps to encourage responsible drinking.
The Australian Government recognises that educating people about the ramifications of alcohol fuelled violence is important and evidence shows that social marketing campaigns can make a difference.
That is why I am pleased to announce today that the Australian Government is committing $220,000 to the very popular, Danny Green’s Coward Punch Campaign.
The new campaign will deliver two new television commercials and outdoor media advertisements on the negative impacts of alcohol fuelled violence.
What better way to educate and influence young adults by capturing the inspiration of Danny Green as a sportsman and a person they look up to.
I look forward to this campaign rolling out in the New Year.
The Australian Government also recognises the links between alcohol and sport and in the 2014 – 15 Budget we provided continued funding of $19.1 million over four years to the Good Sports Programme.
This programme aims to reduce the short and long term risks of drinking alcohol and works to change behaviours and attitudes around alcohol consumption through local sports clubs.
The Good Sports Programme directly reaches around 2 million Australians through their participation in more than 6,000 sporting clubs from 70 sporting codes who are members of the programme.
Coming from a regional area I know that sports clubs are the heart of the community which is a good place to start educating our children and young adults about responsible drinking.
The Australian Government has also committed $1.1 million to Hello Sunday Morning for a digital, evidence-based early intervention and treatment programme to help people change their relationship with alcohol.
The programme could reach up to 50,000 people with moderate to high-risk alcohol consumption.
Since its establishment in 2010, Hello Sunday Morning has run an online portal to help more than 31,000 high-risk individuals change their relationship with alcohol and the drinking culture of their peers.
The new funding will enable Hello Sunday Morning to scale up its current early intervention online services, create a Smartphone application and develop appropriate and individualised referral pathways for people experiencing other health and wellbeing issues.
I am also pleased to report that Government spending towards treatment services and peak organisations this year has reached $87.72 million through the Substance Misuse Service Delivery Grants Fund and Non-Government Organisation Treatment Grants Program.
Whole on the good news front, I am encouraged that the recently released 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report showed some positive results – that the daily drinking rate is declining between 2010 and 2013, dropping from 7.2% to 6.5%.
There was a reduction in the proportion of people exceeding alcohol risk guidelines, with about 26% of people (14 yrs or older) regularly (at least once per month) consuming alcohol at levels that risk injury on a single occasion, and around 18% consuming at levels that risk harm over a lifetime, down from 29% and 20% in 2010.
Fewer 12-17 year olds drinking alcohol, and the proportion abstaining increasing significantly between 2010 and 2013, from 64% to 72%.
There is still a way to go but this Government will continue to work in collaboration with our key stakeholders to achieve what we all want, better outcomes in reducing the impact of alcohol related violence and harm.
I look forward to continue to work with you all.
Full coverage of the 2014 Australian Medical Association (AMA) National Alcohol Summit is available at https://ama.com.au/alcoholsummit.