Family First has announced a policy to tackle binge drinking. So what does the public health crowd make of it?
Sarah Jaggard, Community Mobilisation Policy Officer at the Australian Drug Foundation, might be more optimistic about the policy if it weren’t for some recent history.
“I felt vaguely excited when I read in Family First’s recent binge drinking policy statement that they want to tighten secondary supply laws to stop people other than parents from giving alcohol to underage drinkers.
Many of us have been advocating long and hard for a change in legislation to protect all Australian minors from alcohol related harm, so when a political party shows its support, I feel like we might actually be making a dent in Australia’s collective political subconscious.
Secondary supply refers to the provision of alcohol to people under the age of 18, usually by an adult who is not employed to sell it. In NSW, QLD and Tasmania, an adult must not supply alcohol to a minor at a private place unless the adult is a parent or guardian or has specific permission of a parent or guardian of that young person. However, in some jurisdictions persons under 18 years can be supplied with, and drink, an unlimited amount of alcohol in private settings. This has lead to severe injuries and death.
But then, as I thought more about the Family First policy, it all came flooding back: the alcopops tax brouhaha. First let me set the context for you.
In 2007 Senator Fielding introduced the Alcohol Toll Reduction Act 200. Under the Act they proposed health information labels on all alcohol products and strict regulations around alcohol advertising.
All good, but unfortunately the bill wasn’t picked up.
When the alcopops tax bill was introduced to the senate in 2008, Fielding supported it. And why not – he’d acknowledged many a time that our fair county has a mammoth problem with underage drinking.
Then he decided he didn’t support it.
Then he decided he did: what with the global financial crisis, the Government needed to raise all the revenue it could.
Fielding finally decided he wouldn’t vote for the tax unless the Government abolished a loophole allowing alcohol advertising during sports telecasts.
The Government didn’t go for it, instead offering a $50 million package that would provide for compulsory warnings in all alcohol advertising and replace $25 million worth of sport sponsorship currently provided by alcohol companies.
As a result, Fielding voted no, and it came to light that the Distilled Spirits Industry Council (DSICA) had promised him a twelve month voluntary ban on alcohol advertising before 9pm if the alcopops tax bill didn’t go through.
The offer was a farce, as many spirits brands don’t advertise on TV, and DSICA admitted they would continue to sponsor sport and would continue to advertise at sporting events. The ban only lasted three months.
So in effect, Senator Fielding effectively reduced by 70% the tax on alcopops, a favoured drink of underage kids, and in exchange the spirits industry put a minor and temporary, restriction on advertising.
I support many aspects of Family First’s policy statement on binge drinking, but with their history, is it any wonder that I have a feeling they might not make good on their promises?”