Lively week for alcohol reform movement

RUSSELL GUY‘s Alcohol Watch, a round-up of recent media reports and releases on the issues around excessive alcohol consumption, including council by-election candidates’ views.

 

 

I was talking to a builder friend who lives in NSW this morning about his alcohol consumption and chain smoking. I was concerned for him and he admitted that he was an alcoholic. I admitted that I was too, understandable perhaps – notwithstanding personal responsibility – for anyone born into the second half of the 20th century given the massive proliferation and promotion of alcohol.

 

The alcohol reform movement is moving nationally with a flurry of reports and press statements released in recent days. Let’s take a look at some of them.

 

Sky News ran a report on Tuesday November 19, 2013, headed “Study highlights parental alcohol danger”. It said:

 

Alcohol abuse among parents is a serious health hazard that has a devastating impact on families, according to a new study.

 

The Northern Territory study shows 86 per cent of children ordered into care by a court had been exposed to harmful alcohol use by one or both parents.

 

The researchers, who examined the files of 230 children involved with the child protection system in 2011-12, also found one in five had been exposed to alcohol before birth.

This rose to two in five for children ordered into care by the court.

 

There were seven deaths among the 230 children, with a mother’s harmful alcohol use identified in six of the cases.

 

Children exposed to alcohol before birth were particularly vulnerable, said researcher Prue Walker, who presented a paper at a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) conference in Brisbane on Tuesday.

 

Children exposed to alcohol in the womb are at risk of low birth weight, abnormal facial features, heart defects, behavioural problems and intellectual disability.

 

“This is not just a health issue but a social issue that affects the long-term welfare of children,” Ms Walker said.

 

“People born with FASD have the disability for life and the implications are far reaching,” said Professor Mike Daube, convenor of the Public Health Association of Australia’s alcohol special interest group.

 

 

The ABC spoke to National Council on Drugs chairman John Herron on its News Breakfast program on November 20 and ran this related story by Jane Mower under the heading “Alcohol levy proposed to reduce Indigenous deaths”.

 

One in eight deaths of Australians aged under 25 is now related to alcohol consumption, a report has revealed.

The Australian National Council on Drugs report (ANCD) also found 60 per cent of all police call outs – up to 90 per cent at night – are alcohol-related.

 

ANCD report key findings:

• Almost 1 in 8 deaths of people aged under 25 is due to alcohol

• 60% of all police attendances (including 90% of late-night calls) involve alcohol

• One in 5 hospitalisations of people under 25 are due to alcohol

• 20% of Australians drink at levels putting them at risk of lifetime harm

• Almost two thirds of 18-29 year olds drink “specifically to get drunk”

• One in four Australians reported being a victim of alcohol-related verbal abuse.

 

An estimated $800 million is spent on public order and safety by local governments, and insurance administration costs related to alcohol were at least $185 million in 2004–05.

 

While many young people typically engage in fewer episodes of drinking overall, they are more likely to consume at higher risk levels each time, the ANCD said.

 

It found young people were also more likely to specifically drink to become intoxicated, and more likely to experience acute alcohol-related injuries.

 

The ANCD has been the principal advisory body to the Government on drug policy since 1998.

 

The council’s executive director, Gino Vumbaca, says the community is at breaking point, and he believes it is time governments stood up to the alcohol industry.

 

The advisory group says while it recognises alcohol consumption is a regular part of social life for many Australians, levels and patterns of consumption are frequently risky or unhealthy and create serious problems.

 

It has created an Alcohol Action Plan which aims to stem the “unacceptable levels of crime, violence, health harms and family disturbance” caused by alcohol.

 

The plan calls for all states and territories to collect and release data on alcohol sales to allow local analysis.

 

It also wants statistics on both police incidents and emergency department admissions that involve alcohol, collected across the country.

 

The ANCD also says alcohol consumption guidelines should be developed for older Australians and a Parliamentary review on the impact of alcohol advertising should be established.

 

DAVID MARK from ABC AM interviewed Mr Vumbaca: You make the point that it is a massive problem so you’re releasing this action plan. What’s in it? How do you address this massive problem?

 

GINO VUMBACA: Well there’re three areas you have to tackle and that’s availability, price and promotion. Availability means we look at the amount of venues we have and the licensing hours we have for alcohol availability. Price: you’re looking at some bottles of wine being sold on the internet and the like and in supermarkets, you know, a couple of dollars a bottle. You know, it’s cheap as water and soft drink.

And the other thing we have to look at is promotion. It’s a self-regulated system. Advertising at some points is incessant at young people.

 

DAVID MARK: Whenever change is talked about in terms of alcohol, be it on price, on licensing or opening hours, whatever it may be, there is always an outcry from the pubs, the clubs, the retailers, whoever it may be. It’s a difficult area for government. Do you think that they have the wherewithal to make the sort of changes that you’re calling for?

 

GINO VUMBACA: Governments act when people want them to act, and when people start to realise that the level of harm that’s being perpetrated on the community and that we’re having to deal with, something has to change. You just can’t say, oh well we don’t want to change anything because the pubs aren’t happy or the clubs or Coles and Woollies aren’t happy, we can’t change it. You have to sometimes make those difficult decisions.

 

 

 

This image was released today by the Tasmanian father who initiated  “Game Changer”, a campaign to draw attention to alcohol and fast foods sponsorship in Australian sport, early this year.

 

 

The Australian on November 20 reported that the ANCD report recommends “a new system of taxing alcohol, in line with recommendations from the Henry review commissioned by the Rudd government, and new liquor licensing procedures. That would give policymakers a range of levers to address the price and availability of alcohol, along with another crackdown on alcohol advertising and a community re-education campaign. The council wants to see the cycle of alcoholism targeted at more points, for example, in GP clinics and hospitals, the child protection system, or online, where problem drinkers might seek help confidentially.”

 

Australian alcohol consumption is considered “high by international standards and heavy drinkers are drinking even more,‟ the Australian continues, with “women now almost as likely as men to drink and schoolies celebration show people aged under 18 can obtain alcohol and drink to excess. There is also evidence the drinking culture is so entrenched that guidelines – no more than two standard drinks a day, or four on a special occasion – appear unrealistic and are routinely ignored.”

 

 

On the same morning, in Darwin, Senator Nova Peris issued a media release, saying that the Newcastle model of addressing alcohol related crime and violence should be closely looked at but the CLP and NT Labor have both declined to support this model in the past. Senator Peris stated that any measures with the potential to reduce alcohol related violence and crime must be assessed.

 

“Alcohol fuelled crime is one of the biggest issues facing the Northern Territory. Anything that has worked should be looked at closely looked at. Sixty per cent of all assaults in the Northern Territory are alcohol related and alcohol related assaults are increasing.

 

“The Newcastle model has been credited with a significant drop in alcohol related violence, which has the added benefit of taking pressure off police resources. It offers a range of initiatives including a lock out, last drinks and time restrictions on certain drinks such as shots.

 

“I am not suggesting that we simply pick up the Newcastle model and run with it in the Northern Territory – not every measure that works in Newcastle will necessarily work here, but I do believe though that it makes absolute sense to see what has worked and consult with people, stakeholders and police who deal with alcohol crime and violence every day.

 

“If looking at the successful Newcastle model takes us one step closer to reducing alcohol related violence and crime in the Territory, it will be time well spent.”

 

On top of Senator Peris’s statement, the Sydney Morning Herald on November 20 reported that “the president of the NSW Police Association, Scott Weber, told a rally in Sydney’s Martin Place on Tuesday the government should extend the Newcastle trial across the state. The rally was held to protest against the four-year sentence given to the man responsible for the death of Sydney teenager Thomas Kelly.‟

 

 

Alice Springs-based People’s Alcohol Action Coalition (PAAC) recently contacted candidates in this Saturday’s Town Council by-election and asked for their views on alcohol policy. The Town Council does not of course set alcohol policy or make legislation.

 

It is nevertheless recognised under the NT Liquor Act and Councillors’ views are relevant.

 

Candidates Kylie Bonanni, Matty Day, Edan Baxter, John Bridgefoot and Colin Furphy were approached.

 

Edan Baxter replied:  Edan Baxter supports a number of PAAC’s positions and is open to being convinced about others. In particular, Edan believes the removal of the BDR was a poor policy decision. Edan sums up his position this way: People should be encouraged to see value in taking responsibility for their actions. If they demonstrate that they are unable or uninterested in doing so, there should be a reasonable and measured response from the community. In this context, Edan believes the BDR was an intelligent first response measure and is disappointed that it wasn’t respected across the political spectrum.

 

Matty Day stated that he “was very supportive of PAAC’s views, its grasp of evidence and research, and its persistence in trying to effect change.”

 

For those interested in new Apps, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has just published “On Track With The Right Mix” which keeps track of how much you are drinking and spending on drinks, and monitors your daily, weekly and monthly progress. It also warns when you have overspent.

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4 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Posted November 26, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    The clear message from past weekend Australasian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) conference in Brisbane was the need for population-based strategies to tackle alcohol availability, marketing and pricing.
    Am not comfortable with “population-based strategies” often being rhetoric favorable to a speakers policy, with Taliban segregationist approaches to identify then present any or all minority group persons as legitimate targets for their policy.
    IF we believe in civilized society, and equality of opportunity, then policy requires we target those failing to apply reasonable limits to their behavior, particularly when their behavior harms others.
    Clearly the Banned Drinkers Register needs be re-introduced, widen the application to remove previous limitations.
    Reasonable is fixing the leaks, not dumping parts which appeared to work. Where are politicians participating in public discussions concerning any leaks the drunks slipped through ?

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  2. Russell Guy
    Posted November 23, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Postmodern sociology deconstructs the modern era with a view to shedding light on how we arrived at this point, so that social policy amendments can correct what is of critical importance to current and future generations of children.
    The author of a report into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders amongst children taken into State care in the NT describes alcohol-abuse as a “social”, rather than a health issue.
    The difference is so subtle that it can be missed as it has to date by the NTG, who seem more concerned with protecting the alcohol industry than generations of children.
    As a social issue in which society either makes a critical decision to act or to continue in chaos, the level of alcohol supply in the NT surely qualifies for immediate attention.
    Rather than the Chief Minister’s dismissal of the Newcastle restrictions by saying that what works in Fitzroy Crossing, won’t work in Tennant Creek, Borooloola or Darwin, the NSW Police Association President considers them necessary to be enforced state-wide.
    The Chief Minister’s rhetoric reveals his disorientation, rather than critical thinking.

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  3. Russell Guy
    Posted November 22, 2013 at 10:43 am

    @ Bob Durnan.

    Kylie makes the point that Darwin does not have the restrictions that Alice has, but as criticism of the Newcastle model reveals, no two places are the same. You can’t have it both ways.
    Senator Pervis reminds us that it is worth investigating the Newcastle restrictions. The NSW Police Association president notes that they are worth extending state-wide. It’s the police who have the experience.
    Kylie’s claims that about the NTG are a little off-beat, considering the well-publicised facts that they have disregarded professional advice, including that of the police, in formulating much of their alcohol policy.
    Alice Springs Town Councillors’ opinions are becoming increasingly relevant to anti-social, alcohol-abuse behavior and I’m not just talking Indigenous.
    Some citizens remember the unfortunate white on black event that took an Indigenous life at the northern Todd crossing.
    The current ASTC needs to review their position in lieu of mounting national concerns, notably articulated by Gino Vambuca, Executive Director of the National Council on Drugs who notes that “the community is at breaking point.”
    Laissez faire attitudes to alcohol-abuse no longer cut it in local government.

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  4. Bob Durnan
    Posted November 21, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Very handy round-up of the current alcohol debate Russell.
    Just coincidentally, when I mentioned on the Alice Springs Community Open Forum facebook page – see https://www.facebook.com/groups/264175620351707/ – this afternoon about the fact that three of the candidates had not replied to the invitation to inform us about their views on alcohol, I immediately got the following comments from Kylie Bonanni:
    “Bob, This is an issue that goes further than council and I do not intend to be drawn into something that l have really no control of. We have experienced professionals at Territory Government and Non Government organisation’s who are putting there heart and souls into finding a tangible solution”.
    A few minutes later she contradicted herself when she added: “I made personal comment on the radio yesterday that l do not wish to put forward any new restrictions on the community of Alice Springs – I believe we have enough, Darwin do not have the restrictions we have! I am not hiding my opinion and l spoke with Vikki at Vote Central this morning in regard to the email, Cheers Kylie”.
    I also pointed out to the candidates that the Licensing Act requires that local government bodies be consulted before the Licensing Commission makes decisions, so therefore the positions of Councillors are relevant to members of the voting public who care about this issue. Town Councillors have much more influence over the issuing and administration of licences than do other citizens, and the ASTC regularly provides advice on its attitude on various matters to the LC.
    There still do not appear to have been any statements by Bridgefoot or Furphy about their positions on the alcohol questions.

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