NACCHO News Alert and Report : Drinking to die in Aboriginal communities, says Sharman Stone

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Supply-side measures were not enough, and ­alcohol harm would not be ­addressed unless the government tackled the underlying social ­causes driving demand. Until we address why people are drinking at these levels of harm, where they are literally killing themselves … just trying to manipulate supply side will never be enough.

Excessive alcohol consumption was leading to poor health outcomes, spiralling incarceration rates, disability, violence and a “national tragedy” of child neglect.”

The chairwoman of the House Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, Liberal MP Sharman Stone

A minimum floor price on alcohol and a tax on liquor by volume should be urgently pursued to ­address the problem of harmful drinking in Aboriginal communities, a national inquiry has found.

Report from Sarah Martin The Australian

The year-long parliamentary review into alcohol in indigenous communities has recommended limiting the supply and promotion of liquor as a way to reduce harm, but has also called for action to ­address the underlying causes of alcoholism in remote Australia.

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SEE NACCHO Previous coverage

The chairwoman of the House Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs, Liberal MP Sharman Stone, said the inquiry heard some Aboriginal people were “drinking to die” because of a deep feeling of helplessness rooted in social disadvantage and boredom.

Excessive alcohol consumption was leading to poor health outcomes, spiralling incarceration rates, disability, violence and a “national tragedy” of child neglect.

The report has urged greater focus on fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The prevalence of the disorder in some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is among the highest in the world. “FASD or FAS is creating generations of children whose brain damage will reduce their ­potential to live lives full of promise and wellbeing,” the report says.

Dr Stone said a floor price on cheap alcohol and a new volumetric tax were short-term measures that could address the ready supply of liquor. The inquiry found alcohol could be bought for as little as 25c per standard drink, and in some communities was cheaper than bottled water.

“We’re awash with access to alco­hol,” Dr Stone said. “We have drinking access from first thing in the morning until last thing at night.” The review, dominated by Coa­lition MPs, recommended ­alcohol companies be banned from television advertising before 8.30pm and from sponsoring sporting teams and events.

The Henry tax review in 2009 recommended a volumetric tax levied according to alcohol content A study published in The Medical Journal of Australia found a volumetric tax on wine could reduce alcohol consumption 1.3 per cent, saving $820 million in healthcare costs.

Dr Stone said supply-side measures were not enough, and ­alcohol harm would not be ­addressed unless the government tackled the underlying social ­causes driving demand. “Until we address why people are drinking at these levels of harm, where they are literally killing themselves … just trying to manipulate supply side will never be enough.”

The inquiry has urged the Council of Australian Governments to place the harmful impact of alcohol on the agenda for co-­ordinated action at a meeting later this year. It has recommended formally recognising the social and economic determinants of harmful uses of alcohol, including “poverty, mental health, unemploy­ment, an ongoing sense of grief and loss, alienation, boredom, cultural ­acceptance of drunkenness, ease of access and cost of alcohol.”

Other measures recommended by the inquiry include the fast-tracking of government approval for Community Alcohol Management Plans, the reintroduction of the Northern Territory’s Banned Drinker’s Register, funding certainty for alcohol programs and justice reinvestment to divert ­incarceration spending to education and prevention programs.

Dr Stone said she was concerned that the harm caused by ­alcohol was often “out of sight, out of mind”.

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