By Amy Ferguson
The NSW ACT Alcohol Policy Alliance (NAAPA) held an NSW Alcohol Policy Election Forum last night to hear from political parties on what they are doing to prevent alcohol harms. NSW Labor, Greens NSW and Christian Democratic Party were involved in a panel discussion and willing to discuss the important issue of alcohol policy with the audience. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the Baird Government who did not nominate a representative to attend.
Each political representative outlined their alcohol harm prevention policies with the Hon Sophie Cotsis MLC indicating that a Foley Government would work to drive down alcohol harm in the community, and work to reduce violence. She announced a commitment to provide $1.2 million over four years for a dedicated Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FSAD) Clinic at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, which was one of the policies outlined in the NAAPA Election Platform, Not one more.
NSW Greens spokesperson Dr John Kaye MLC said that every single person in the room is not a ‘wowser’ but rather, a person that is responding to the real issues raised by doctors and police and the toll that alcohol has on our community. He noted that evidence-based policies are critical when addressing big social problems, like addressing alcohol-related harms.
Reverend the Hon Fred Nile MLC said the Christian Democratic Party fully supported NAAPA’s policies. He expressed concerns that there is more alcohol advertising now than ever before, and believes ‘alcohol is our number one social problem and we must not give up’.
When the Forum opened for questions from the audience a range of alcohol policies were covered, a summary of these issues is included below.
Support for the 3am last drinks and 1:30am lockout
Many community members thanked the Coalition Government for introducing a package of measures to reduce alcohol-related violence in early 2014. These measures included the development of a Sydney CBD precinct with 3am last drinks and a 1:30am lockout.
Residents in the Sydney and Kings Cross areas also used spoke of the positive changes they were experiencing because of these laws, including being able to walk down their streets at night and feel safe and rejuvenation of the cafe culture.
Sophie Cotsis confirmed that NSW Labor supports the measures introduced in 2014 and will not wind back the existing measures put in place last summer. The Leader of the Opposition Luke Foley has also publicly reaffirmed his commitment to the reforms in response to a request by NAAPA earlier this year.
Fred Nile noted that both he, and the Christian Democratic Party, fully support the existing alcohol harm prevention measures in NSW.
John Kaye said that responses to alcohol harm prevention should be guided by the evidence and that the NSW Greens believe the measures should run for a full two years and then be evaluated, with the evidence from this evaluation to be used to guide future direction.
The Liquor Promotion Guidelines (the Guidelines) were developed in consultation with the alcohol industry and excluding all other stakeholders. They have received criticisms for not adequately addressing harm minimisation in the promotion of liquor, not addressing take-away alcohol sales and public health concerns regarding liquor promotions.
John Kaye indicated that the Guidelines should be torn up as “they were written by the alcohol industry for the alcohol industry”. He said that he would dump the flawed Guidelines and get rid of bulk discounting. When asked about removing alcohol promotions that occur on state and territory property, such as on public transport, John Kaye said that “it is a conflict of interest for the Government to be regulating alcohol and also promoting it.”
Sophie Cotsis said that a NSW Labor Government would review the Guidelines in consultation with all stakeholders, but did not make any firm commitments yet as to what a revised code would look like under a Foley Government.
Community Defenders Office
There was strong community support from community members for a Community Defenders Office based on the pilot Alcohol Community Action Project (ACAP). The ACAP was a support service for people in the community who required assistance in navigating the complex liquor licensing and planning systems.
When asked if they would support the development and funding for a Community Defenders Office based on the ACAP pilot, Fred Nile stated he was in favour of a service that would support NSW communities and provide expert advice.
John Kaye also declared his support for a Community Defenders Office, specifically one that was funded through by the alcohol industry. He believed such a service should be independent and modelled based on the current Environmental Defenders Office.
Sophie Cotsis said that NSW Labor works towards evidence-based policies and would therefore consider a Community Defenders Office as it “is a sensible proposal in my personal view”.
NSW is currently one of only three states that does not collect alcohol sales data. Alcohol sales data assist in evaluating the impact of various policies on reducing alcohol harm.
Sophie Cotsis indicated that NSW Labor would stand by their commitment to collect alcohol sales data across NSW, as outlined in their alcohol policy, Drink Smart, Home Safe.
Both John Kaye and Fred Nile also supported the collection of sales data, with John indicating that “the collection of alcohol sales data is not just about evidence, it is about levelling the playing field. The alcohol industry can pull numbers and statistic from the air and no one questions them – they are taken word for word”. He expressed that communities also needed access to data.
Long term health impacts
Alcohol contributes to more than 200 diseases, including several cancers. When asked what our political representatives would do about raising awareness about alcohol’s link with chronic diseases such as cancer, Fred Nile indicated that he supports a public education campaign on alcohol, and more funding for alcohol and other drug services in NSW.
John Kaye also welcomed proposals for public education campaigns, noting that the people of NSW need more information in order to make informed health decisions: “they need to know if they consume two glasses a night they are increasing their risk of cancer”.
The wrap up
Alcohol harms in NSW are significant. Each day, there are an average three deaths, 66 assaults (27 of which are domestic assaults), 142 hospitalisations and 28 emergency department presentations attributable to alcohol. The human toll from alcohol is significant and the financial cost in addressing these harms puts a considerable strain on the community, estimated to be $3.87 billion per year.
It was great to hear from our political representatives on how they will reduce alcohol harms. Over the next three weeks before NSW goes to the Polls NAAPA will continue to advocate for policies and programs proven to reduce alcohol harms.
To get involved in NAAPA or for information on NAAPA’s activities this election, visit www.naapa.org.au.