Politics: The price of booze abuse

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore
STREET violence in the wee hours of Saturdays and Sundays is the open face of Canberra’s problem with alcohol. But there is much more!

Launching a new coalition of community groups, Attorney-General Simon Corbell admitted there was more to be done about the harms associated with alcohol.

Nurses and doctors in any hospital emergency department will testify to the level of burden of alcohol-related injury. Domestic violence and other poor behaviours, along with financial hardship as well as long-term health impacts such as cancer, cardiovascular and liver disease, are all ramifications of the harmful impacts of inappropriate use of alcohol.

Corbell argues that the 2010 legislation to manage liquor outlets, sales and promotion was having a significant impact in allowing public interest to be taken into account when consideration is given to applications for new liquor licences.

In welcoming the establishment of the NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance, Corbell pointed to the constant lobbying from industry while the legislation was being prepared and the need for a co-ordinated and consistent community voice.

Alcohol and other drugs are involved in a significant part of the work of the police and ACT commissioner Rudi Lammers told the new alliance that his personal experience of dealing with misuse of alcohol as a frontline policeman means he agrees action is necessary.

Speaking in Canberra recently, WA police commissioner Karl O’Callaghan suggested that alcohol was behind about two thirds of the work of his police officers. This is the same man who recently ran a sting on liquor outlets to find that only about a third did proper age identification checks on young people.

The alliance argues its goal is to present evidence-based solutions to inform alcohol policy discussions in the ACT and NSW. The alliance of 39 organisations, including 11 from the ACT, intends to employ co-ordinated, planned and professional advocacy in regard to the responsible promotion, supply, consumption and regulation of alcohol.

One of the most interesting experiments in alcohol policy was in Newcastle with a combination of minor interventions – closing hours were pared back to 3am, shots were stopped at 11pm and buying “rounds” was restricted after 1am.

The result was a dramatic reduction in emergency presentations at the hospital and police were loud in their praise of the experiment. This is the sort of evidence that should form the base for sensible policy decisions.

Increasing availability is associated with increased harm. In the ACT, there has been a mushrooming of convenience stores that primarily sell alcohol into the small hours. While the new legislation has made a difference, according to Simon Corbell, cheap alcohol is readily available offering little incentive to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.

One of the options for governments is a floor price based on the percentage of alcohol. When bottles of wine and casks can be bought for around $5, it should be unsurprising that young people, in particular, drink to excess.

There are options for reducing the harm associated with alcohol, but all have their own political challenges and are likely to be resisted by different sectors in the industry. If the Government is really serious about this issue, it is time to start taking some meaningful action.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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