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Why this NSW election agenda must prioritise alcohol harm

How do you tackle a problem so broad as alcohol harm in a state as vast as New South Wales?

Drinking is so entrenched in our culture that we are blindly desensitised to the harm and damage caused to, and by, people who misuse alcohol.

But the reality is that the extent of alcohol harm in NSW is severe and extensive. A number of drug overdose deaths at Australian music festivals in the past year has seen extensive debate over pill testing in recent days and months. And while these deaths are both avoidable and tragic, the number of lives lost to overdoses during music festivals is overshadowed by the four deaths every day in NSW because of alcohol.

As NSW heads towards its state election, the NSW/ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) is determined to emphasise the importance of addressing alcohol harm in NSW.

Through NAAPA, emergency workers, health professionals, community members, community sector workers, researchers and advocates have launched their Election Platform designed to make the whole of NSW safer and healthier.  

The alcohol harm that NSW experiences is varied and extensive.

Life in drought-affected areas of the state is tough going, where the harm from alcohol misuse causes deep-level tragedy for people living in regional, rural and remote communities. 

People in country NSW experience disproportionate levels of alcohol harm, with domestic assaults 12 times higher in rural and remote regions compared to NSW as a whole – with the big killer in rural NSW, motor vehicle accidents, where alcohol is a factor in 85 per cent of crash fatalities compared to 17 per cent in major cities.

But there are new and emerging problems too. Residents are impacted by gaping holes in the state’s regulation of the fast-growing market of online alcohol sales and home delivery, with glaring under-regulation around responsible service of alcohol (RSA) and proof of age controls. The online market is growing so rapidly and is so poorly controlled that it’s an easy avenue for underage and intoxicated people to access alcohol, leading to more harm to drinkers and those around them.

To strengthen the regulation of the burgeoning online alcohol market NAAPA is proposing a moratorium on all online liquor licences pending a review of the online home delivery market; the strengthening of RSA conditions for online deliveries that would require companies to display licence details on websites selling alcohol; and the introduction of a 12-hour delay on the delivery of online orders.

NSW’s frontline emergency personnel, including police, paramedics and emergency department staff, face the horror of alcohol-related harm – assaults, the domestic violence, and neglect of children –  around the clock. This is a burden that can be successfully reduced.

Which is why NAAPA is calling on the next NSW Parliament to acknowledge and prioritise the prevention and sustained reduction of alcohol-related harm and associated costs in both metropolitan, regional, rural and remote NSW.

The NSW Government’s ‘earlier last drinks’ and ‘one-way door’ measures introduced in 2014 have been powerful and effective in reducing harm in prominent nightlife precincts in Sydney and Newcastle.

NAAPA is now calling for these measures to be rolled out state-wide to deal with hotspots of alcohol-fueled violence in other cities, towns and communities where there are concentrations of late-trading pubs, clubs and bottle shops.

This election, our political leaders have an opportunity to demonstrate strong and resolute leadership and tilt the balance back into the favour of the people of NSW and not the alcohol industry.

But more than that, NSW Government has an obligation to protect all its citizens against agents of harm, including alcohol.

You can view the NAAPA NSW Election Platform here.

John Crozier

Dr John Crozier is co-chair of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) Committee and Chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Trauma Committee.

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