Opinion: Here’s cheers for action on alcohol

Senator Kate Lundy is tackling the nexus between sport and alcohol, says MICHAEL MOORE

IN launching the $25 million ”Be the Influence, Tackling Binge Drinking” initiative with the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA), Senator Kate Lundy is taking an important step in wrestling with the growing number of problematic issues associated with alcohol.

Lundy, one of two ACT senators, is Australia’s Minister for Sport representing a government that has recognised the importance of tackling alcohol-related harm. For improved community health, she is prepared to stand up to the industry’s “nanny state” accusations and seek to modify Australia’s drinking culture.

It is time to take action on alcohol. It is time to wrestle with the culture of binge drinking and other forms of harmful use of alcohol. Commensurate with increasingly liberal regulation has been increasing harm. Early morning violence in the streets, increased violence in the home and the aftermath of binge drinking are just some of the indicators. In the long term, the community will have to pay for increased chronic disease associated with inappropriate drinking along with such repercussions as children who grow up with foetal alcohol syndrome.

The campaign launched by Lundy and her ministerial colleague, Mark Butler, is a partnership between the Australian Government and national sporting organisations who are determined to address binge drinking and the influence of alcohol promotion on young Australians. Twelve sports have accepted part of the $25 million package to promote safe alcohol consumption to adults, provide alcohol-free sporting environments for minors and to reduce alcohol promotion in their codes. Soccer, basketball, cycling, volleyball, netball, swimming, hockey, athletics, skateboarding, equestrian, triathlon and canoeing have all signed up to the package.

Chief executive officer of Swimming Australia, Kevin Neil, said his sport was “proud to take a leadership role in this important area”. It is particularly dangerous to mix alcohol and swimming. At the launch of the initiative, the influence of Australian role models was also high on the agenda. It was epitomised by swimming champion Geoff Huegill, who supports the initiative “to combat the growing problem of binge drinking in youth culture in this country”.

The combination of politics and sports is a powerful mix. And it will require an incredible effort from many Australians to move our community to a healthier drinking culture. In the first major move on alcohol, ANPHA, the Government’s prevention body, working with the Ministers has provided appropriate leadership to highlight the sort of action that needs to be taken.

Senator Lundy explained: “This campaign is about tapping into the positive influence sporting clubs have on young people while promoting responsible drinking.”

More is needed. The government and ANPHA understand the importance of marketing and are tackling this aspect. However, price and access are also important tools available to governments. For as long as there is ludicrously cheap alcohol available as a tool to lure young people, there will be ongoing problems.

Governments have levers around access to alcohol. In Newcastle a couple of years ago, an experiment bringing closing hours back to just 3am resulted in a drastic reduction in emergency presentations at the hospital. In the ACT, there has been a mushrooming of convenience stores that primarily sell alcohol to the small hours. The evidence is overwhelming: increasing availability is associated with increased harm.

Lundy and her Government stood up to industry on the “alcopops tax” and have now taken the next step. This is one area the Government is demonstrating political spine, determination and resolve.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health. He is the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia and co-founder of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol.

 

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