Australia: Big Alcohol Undermines Health Policy-Making
An ABC investigation found pro-alcohol modifications to a ‘consultation draft’ of the National Alcohol Strategy by the Australian government. This strongly suggests the policy making process has been infiltrated by Big Alcohol.
The ABC report also questions Australian Minister of Health Greg Hunt’s decision to yield to pressure and involve the alcohol industry in finalising the strategy.
Medical and public health organizations as well as researchers say significant wording changes, deletions and the insertion of pro-alcohol industry language into the latest draft seriously risk making the process of developing the National Alcohol Strategy (NAS) a pointless exercise.
Opposition for alcohol industry influence of the strategy
The ABC says five of the State and Territory governments have not yet backed the strategy, with the ACT and WA publically, criticising the Health Minister for allowing the strategy to be watered down.
WA’s Minister for Mental Health Roger Cook says that he was bitterly disappointed and that Minister Hunt now needed to go back to the scientific evidence about what works to reduce levels of alcohol-related harm and revisit the objectives of the strategy.
I think that everyone should be consulted, but the harsh reality is that we are talking about alcohol, not talking to alcohol, and as a result of that we need to do what we think is necessary to reduce the negative impact of alcohol in our community. Now if that creates some discomfort for the industry well that’s simply a fact of life,” said Roger Cook, WA’s Minister for Mental Health, as per drinktank.
Weighing in was also ACT’s minister of health:
Changing the emphasis to normalise the drinking of alcohol and to downplay the harm that alcohol causes in our community is a real problem. Policy should be set by the experts based on the research,” said Rachel Stephen-Smith, ACT Health Minister to WIN News, as per drinktank.
Meanwhile, alcohol harm is decimating communities and affecting all parts of society. For example, the currently flawed alcohol control policy is increasingly burdening Australian hospitals’ emergency departments with rising alcohol accidents.
Australia needs a health strategy not an alcohol industry development strategy
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)’s position is that this situation is neither surprising nor an isolated example of alcohol industry interference that borders on regulatory capture. Governments have historically and repeatedly shown sympathy for the alcohol industry’s position in health policy making.
FARE believes Health Minister Hunt must reverse this deplorable situation and reinstate the voice of the public interest in this vital national framework.
To reduce the harm done to alcohol users and those around them, as well as the multitude of impacts on the community, the NAS must be a health strategy not an alcohol industry development strategy,” states Michael Thorn’s editorial on drinktank.
Earlier in 2019 it was reported that 66% of Australians think that their country has an alcohol problem. And 75% of people in Australia believe more needs to be done to reduce alcohol harm. These findings come from FARE’s annual “Alcohol Poll”.
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