Australia: Alcohol research finds Australians support greater restrictions on industry
Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education says four-fifths of voters want bars to close at 3am, but Australian Hotels Association dismisses findings
By Melissa Davey
April 29, 2015
Four out of five Australians believe pubs, clubs and bars should close by 3am, while more than half believe governments are not doing enough to reduce alcohol-related harms, a comprehensive annual alcohol poll has found.
But the findings have been dismissed by the peak body for employers in the hotel and liquor industry, who say the poll was a ploy to “prop up more taxpayer-funded public health researchers”.
Over a one-week period in January, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education surveyed 1,843 Australian adults on their attitudes toward alcohol and its harms.
Its findings, due to be released on Thursday at Victoria’s parliament house, reveal most
Australians support government measures to make the alcohol industry more accountable for the harm caused by its products.
The foundation’s chief executive, Michael Thorn, said figures showing more than 5,500 people died and 157,000 were taken to hospital each year in events associated with alcohol influenced public views.
Thorn said the 2015 poll, the sixth of its kind, was the first time people had been asked about their perceptions of the alcohol industry.
“We think the alcohol industry has undue influence on the setting of public policy on tackling alcohol, and we wanted to understand what people thought about that involvement,” Thorn said.
“We’re trying to show decision makers what people think in terms of the influence they perceive the industry as having on politicians, and these results show the federal government in particular should not be afraid of standing up to the liquor industry, because the people will support them.”
The alcohol industry should be banned from making political donations, 69% of respondents said, with 59% saying they believed the industry was targeting minors under the legal drinking age.
A report released earlier this month found state government changes to the New South Wales Liquor Act requiring venues in the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross to deny re-entry or entry to patrons from 1.30am, and to stop serving alcohol at 3am, had substantially reduced assaults in those areas.
Thorn said the federal government was letting down state governments trying to tackle alcohol-related harms by failing to introduce two key policy measures which evidence suggested worked to curb those harms.
“This includes introducing a volumetric tax on alcohol, and changing the way alcohol is promoted through broadcasting and sports events,” he said.
“The commonwealth is the worst performing jurisdiction when it comes to alcohol reform.”
The nationally representative survey also found 4 million Australians drank “to get drunk”, while 30% had experienced harms related to drinking alcohol . “Harms” were classified as “alcohol-related violence”, either as a victim or a witness.
Guardian Australia contacted the office of the federal health minister, Sussan Ley, for comment, but was told drug and alcohol services were the responsibility of the assistant health minister, Fiona Nash.
A spokesman for Nash told Guardian Australia on Thursday; “As the minister’s office only received the report yesterday afternoon, it has not yet had a chance to consider its content.”
Recently the government was criticized for announcing a national taskforce to tackle ice, when alcohol harms a far greater proportion of the population.
The director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, Prof Mike Daube, said the results from the survey showed the time for government action had long passed.
“We don’t need taskforces, committees and working groups,” he said. “We need a commitment to the action that will reduce the harms and protect young people. Governments should act, starting with alcohol tax reform in the federal budget to end the bizarre anomaly that encourages dirt-cheap wines, even cheaper than many bottled waters and soft drinks.”
The Australian Hotels Association (AHA), which represents employers in the hotel and liquor industry, told Guardian Australia they dismissed the results of the survey as “distorting public opinion and creating fear about alcohol consumption in order to prop up more taxpayer-funded public health researchers”.
“This year’s poll includes a record number of questions designed to provoke a sensational level of fear and misinformation about alcohol consumption and the alcohol industry amongst ordinary Australians,” the AHA said in a statement.
“Whilst the all-powerful and well-funded public health lobbyists would have Australians believe that drinking is at crisis levels, the opposite is true. Every adult Australian who drinks can always be more responsible about their consumption just as the alcohol industry remains committed to responsible production and sales.”
In December, a study published in the journal PLoS Medicine found industry lobbyists were hijacking government alcohol policy reform discussions and hampering efforts in Australia and Britain to curb drinking rates, despite alcohol being the leading cause of death and disability.