The ACT has been accused of being soft on alcohol abuse and its related harms, favouring public education and social marketing programs over proven policies such as volumetric taxation, and reducing the density of liquor outlets and trading.
It has also let enforcement slide with a continuing low rate of random breath testing being conducted by police, according to the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol (NAAA) which has released its annual Fizzers awards comparing progress in alcohol policy development between Australian states and territories.
The ACT was one of three jurisdictions not to get a pass mark in the national scorecard, with NSW the worst performer and the Northern Territory the best.
Alliance co-chair Dr John Crozier from the Royal Australian College of Surgeons said the ACT, like other jurisdictions, was subject to intense lobbying from the alcohol industry which was happy to support public education programs because it knew these were the least effective ways at a public health level of mitigating alcohol harm and reducing the profitability of the industry.
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“And that’s why again and again the industry supports public education and social marketing and prioritise it over the more proven public health measures such as volumetric taxation, reducing availability, and decreasing the liquor outlet density,” he said.
In 2017, the ACT Government loosened liquor trading laws to encourage the hospitality industry, abandoning plans to cut trading hours in response to late night violence in the city.
Dr Crozier said the ACT had underplayed the harm reduction component of its liquor act, allowing easier access to alcohol.
“So it’s very much weighted in favour of the hospitality and liquor industry to the detriment of the communities,” he said.
The annual cost of alcohol-related harm was $36 billion across the nation, with $15 billion going to picking up the pieces of those harmed by their drinking and $21 billion attending the harm caused by the drinker, Dr Crozier said.
He said the suite of measures introduced in Newcastle and the Sydney entertainment precinct, including 3 am last drinks, had had dramatic and sustained benefits including a significant fall in violence.
“For each hour of trade after midnight in the sale of alcohol there is a 20 per cent increase in interpersonal violence, and that’s at the upper end of the violence spectrum,” Dr Crozier said.
He said arguments that such measures killed a city’s nightlife had not been borne out with the Newcastle CBD enjoying an increase in amenity and a different ‘feel and tapestry’.
Dr Crozier said the 20 per cent of the population who consumed 80 per cent of the alcohol were particularly sensitive to price and volumetric taxation, hence would produce a proven benefit.
“It’s fair, it gets away from the inequity of the way liquor is taxed in Australia,” he said.
He said the rate of random breath testing in the ACT was low compared with other jurisdictions.
“The sentinel point that has been identified in the enforcement space in ACT is the failure to maximise the opportunity with enforcement and perhaps bring the ACT into line with other jurisdictions where there is a greater prevalence of random breath testing,” he said.
Dr Crozier said RBT was vital to drink-driving detection and reducing crashes caused by alcohol but without that enforcement any regulation was impotent.
He said alcohol advertising, particularly its relationship with sport, was at the same point as tobacco advertising before it was curtailed, with children at the leading edge of the industry’s marketing.
“We have a saturated adult market … we know of the increased prevalence of marketing targeted at children, and some of this is very clever social media, below-the-radar advertising,” Dr Crozier said.