It’s the annual alcohol event without the nasty hangover. Every year, for the last six years, we’ve given Australians a platform to tell us if they drink, what they drink, and, more importantly, what they think about their drink.
We examine the role alcohol plays in their lives (with 79% of Australian adults drinking alcohol), their awareness of the risks, their experience of the harms (30% of Australians have been affected by alcohol-related violence), the good, the bad, (four million Aussies drink to get drunk) the quirky and the embarrassing.
Each year we’ve also asked them for their assessment and their predictions: does Australia have a problem with excess drinking or alcohol abuse, and is it likely to get better any time soon?
We’re not in denial.
With alcohol killing 15 Australians every day and hospitalising a further 430, it’s no surprise that a majority of Aussies (75%) recognise that Australia has a problem with alcohol. We don’t see the situation getting better any time soon either, with seven out of ten Australians expecting alcohol problems to remain the same or get worse in the next five to ten years.
But look a little closer.
If you examine the trend data you’ll see this year’s poll has served up a surprise; a meaningful shift in attitudes.
There has been a significant decline in the proportion of Australians who believe our alcohol problems will get worse, down from 76% in 2014 to 71%.
Similarly, while the majority (73%) of Australians still believe more needs to be done to reduce the harm caused by alcohol; that represents a decline from 79% in 2014.
Last year 64% of Australians thought governments weren’t doing enough to reduce alcohol harms, in the latest poll that figure has dropped to 55%.
Clearly Australians still see alcohol as an important health matter, but this year we can see that their concerns are gradually being addressed.
There is no question about what is driving this shift.
In the last twelve months, the New South Wales Government embraced evidence-based harm prevention policies to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence; measures long endorsed by public health researchers and advocates.
And while it has only been 12 months since their introduction, that bold and decisive leadership is already paying dividends, as that state records a reduction in violence, fewer hospitalisations, improved community amenity and increased perceptions of safety.
It’s no surprise then that Australians are in favour of the same measures enjoyed by the people of New South Wales, with four in five Australians (81%) calling for pubs and clubs and bars to close at 3am or earlier.
For six years the poll has shown there is majority support for policy reform and in 2015, that sentiment is only growing stronger.
Now we have evidence that voters are not just receptive to the idea of effective evidence-based measures to reduce alcohol harms, but will in fact reward governments that introduce them.
While Australians are responding positively to government efforts, they think less kindly of the alcohol industry.
70% of Australians believe the alcohol industry should pay for reducing the alcohol harms they generate.
59% believe the alcohol industry targets young people under 18. Of concern 42% of Gen Y have never been asked for ID at a bottle shop, and 38% have never been asked for ID at a pub, club or bar.
And of those Australians who have seen alcohol advertising in the past twelve months, the vast majority (69%) considered it to be inappropriate.
While it’s clear Australians are understandably critical of the alcohol industry, it’s important to also recognise that those concerns can only be addressed by strong government leadership.
The newly elected Queensland Government has already announced plans to follow New South Wales’ lead and introduce similar reforms to save lives in the Sunshine State.
It’s now time for the remaining state and territory governments to step up and take action.