Australia's largest non-profit health provider has called for an increase in alcohol prices, restrictions on advertising, and national lockout laws to reduce alcohol-related harm.
St Vincent's Health Australia, which runs hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, has released its pre-election policy wish list, calling on the government to work with states to severely limit Australians' access to alcohol.
Among the measures they've called for are:
- An end to all alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sporting broadcasts; the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship of music events and removal of all alcohol sponsorship from sporting merchandise.
- An increase in the price of alcohol to reduce consumption.
- Better collection of alcohol-related information, including sales data and data around emergency department presentations, hospital admissions, emergency services and community services.
- Plain packaging and picture warnings similar to those found on tobacco products.
- Significant increase of funding for treatment services for people with alcohol dependence.
- A national strategy on reducing alcohol-related harm, including a national framework to address alcohol’s role in family violence.
And lastly ...
- National guidelines on alcohol outlet density and opening hours, including support for nationally consistent trading hours. THIS MEANS LOCKOUT LAWS
Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm has lashed out at the proposals.
"It sounds like the St Vincent’s nanny state department is in full flight," he told BuzzFeed News. "The Liberal Democrats' policy is to have no sin taxes, so no taxes on alcohol other than GST."
While Leyonhjelm did concede there is room for reform in the way alcohol is taxed, he said he would fight any efforts to ban alcohol advertising.
"Advertising is speech. I think restrictions on advertising are restrictions on free speech. Anyone who enjoys State of Origin tonight should thank a beer drinker. It’s because of beer drinkers that the State of Origin is on TV and they don’t have to pay to watch it," he said.
One of the most contentious measures flagged in the report is nationwide lockout laws, similar to those implemented in Sydney. Although any laws would be state-based, St Vincent's has called on the Turnbull government to lead a coordinated approach.
Leyonhjelm says the NSW laws, which have coincided with a massive reduction in alcohol-fuelled violence in the Sydney CBD, are not working as intended.
"All the lockout laws have done in Sydney is put people out of business and cost workers their jobs," he said.
A review of the laws in 2015 found there had been a 40% reduction in violence in Kings Cross, but that crime had risen slightly in the areas not subjected to lockout laws.
The CEO of the Australian Hotels Association, Stephen Ferguson says blanket laws punish everyone for the actions of a minority.
"For the vast majority of Australians who do not misuse alcohol beverages, whole of population strategies aimed at decreasing total consumption are not warranted," he told BuzzFeed News.
"Any policies in regard to alcohol beverages should have regard to policies that target individuals or groups that misuse (or risk misusing) alcohol beverages and not impinge upon the legitimate enjoyment of alcohol beverages by the whole population."
Greens leader and health spokesperson Richard Di Natale told the Australian Medical Association last week that he would like to see more money spent on preventative measures, rather than punishments.
“The Greens hold strongly that drug dependence is a health problem, not a criminal one," he said. “We all know that the best way to save costs and to keep people healthy is to try to prevent them from getting sick in the first place."
However, Di Natale said he supports reforms to alcohol advertising and pricing.
“We believe in reforms around alcohol advertising, promotion and indeed pricing, so that we have a more rational system along the lines of a volumetric-based tax.”
BuzzFeed News understands Labor is open to the idea of reforms to alcohol advertising and taxation, but is unlikely to advocate for a national lockout law system.
Health minister Sussan Ley did not respond to a request for comment.
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
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