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WA Election 2017: Opportunities to act on alcohol

The impacts of alcohol are far reaching and significant, and the state of Western Australia (WA) is not immune to these harms.

Each week in WA there are ten deaths, 298 hospitalisations, and 98 domestic violence assaults related to alcohol.

And the preventable harms from alcohol don’t end there – there is the impact of alcohol on the developing brain, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD), the burden placed on health services, ambulances and law enforcement, and more.

These are just some of the many reasons why 70 health and community organisations have offered their support for the WA Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition, who are calling on all political parties and candidates to protect children and young people from alcohol harm ahead of the March 2017 WA election.

Chaired by Professor Fiona Stanley AC, the WA Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition brings together health and medical groups, emergency and law enforcement services, Indigenous and youth focused groups, and researchers with a common interest in preventing harm from alcohol to young people.

In December, the coalition released its 2017 Election Platform which focuses on six priority areas for action.

  • Reduce young people’s exposure to alcohol promotion

Remove alcohol ads from public transport and other government-owned sites, including major sporting grounds.

  • Reduce underage access to alcohol

Support police requests for Controlled Purchase Operations to ensure liquor outlets do not sell to minors.

  • Continue support for alcohol education programs

Maintain strong public education programs and ensure alcohol and drug education is mandatory within the school curriculum.

  • Ensure fair liquor licensing processes

Strengthen community representation, set licence fees commensurate with the risk of alcohol harms, and increase licence fees for bottle shops.

  • Support WA to lead FASD prevention

Maintain and extend the community-led ‘Making FASD History’ strategy, ensure FASD-related impairments are eligible for the WA NDIS and support coordinated regional FASD services.

  • Consider measures to ensure that alcohol is not sold at unreasonably low prices.

These modest and reasonable policy asks are based on the best available evidence of how the harm caused by alcohol can be prevented.

There is also overwhelming public support for alcohol policies that will make a real difference and protect our kids.

Take, for example, the policy recommendation to remove alcohol advertising from public transport, including buses and bus stops. There is substantial and compelling evidence that this marketing impacts on young people. Health authorities and experts recommend restricting alcohol advertising during times and in places which have high exposure to children and young people. In fact, other jurisdictions, including the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia, have already acted in this area.

A recent survey commissioned by the McCusker Centre showed 86 per cent of WA adults support removing alcohol advertising from buses used for school runs (with only five per cent opposed), and 77 per cent support removing these messages from all buses and bus stops across the state to reduce young people’s exposure (only eight per cent oppose).

The Hon Helen Morton MLC recently introduced a motion in WA Parliament encouraging the government to ban alcohol advertising on public transport facilities, saying, “If the government does not adopt this policy, I hope all political parties will take to the election a commitment to do so. It will not cost a cent, and it is absolutely simple. Let us send a clear message to the public that, through this small measure, the government is showing how to be responsible in respect of youth and alcohol”.

This is spot on.

As we approach the 2017 election, the WA Alcohol and Youth Action Coalition will continue to seek commitments from all political parties across these key priority areas.

Community surveys show 91 per cent of WA adults are concerned about alcohol use among young people. Yet only one in five (20 per cent) think governments are doing enough to prevent alcohol-related harm among young people.

We do not need to accept such high levels of preventable harms.

Young people deserve to be safe, to reach their full potential and to grow up in a society that supports them to live healthy and happy lives. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure we give our kids the best start in life and protect them from what we know is harmful.

The community rightly believes that governments are not doing enough in an area where we know so much about what needs to be done.

The upcoming election provides an important opportunity for political parties in WA to bridge the gap between levels of community concern and government action.

This election, we need alcohol policies that put the interests of WA children and young people first.

Julia Stafford

Julia Stafford is the Alcohol Program Manager at Cancer Council Western Australia.

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