AMA Speech - AMA President A/Prof Brian Owler Closing Remarks - AMA National Alcohol Summit

29 Oct 2014






** Check Against Delivery

A Call to Action

Ladies and gentlemen, I am in no doubt that this Summit has been well worth the effort.

It has been a pleasure and an inspiration to have a room full of energy, ideas, passion – and a commitment to make a difference. Well done.

My thanks to all the AMA staff who worked tirelessly against tight deadlines to make this Summit happen.

Thanks to all the speakers and participants, especially those who have travelled some distance, and particularly the politicians who gave their time.

So, what have we achieved at this Summit?

We have given a voice to the victims of excessive alcohol consumption – the victims of domestic violence, child abuse, and street violence; the unborn babies, the families, and their communities.

We have shone the national political spotlight on an issue of a national importance to us all.

It is an issue that deserves a nationally-consistent response and a national strategy.

Spending money and making announcements in an ad hoc way is not effective.

This is not to take anything away from individual initiatives but, if not supported and not part of an overarching theme, what do they achieve?

This is not an ‘us against them’ scenario, but there are barriers and there are often strong vested interests.

The alcohol industry is powerful, sophisticated, and it has money … and political influence.

Spending a small amount on education and campaigns in one area can easily be swamped by industry spending.

The industry has media influence too. It spends a lot on advertising and social media, which appeals to young people.

Seventy nine per cent of Australians – 18.5 million people - have a problem with our drinking culture.

Why is there not a willingness on the part of all our politicians to tackle this problem?

They are under pressure.

Will this Summit be looked upon as just another talkfest? No.

Can we be effective? Yes.

We have all seen what happened in NSW.

An initial slow response from Government was transformed by a very loud and very passionate narrative for change from the victims and the whole community.

The media supported the community.

There was only one option for the Government – action.

The Government has many levers.

Spending on public education and campaigns is one important action.

Regulation is another.

Simple changes can be very cost-effective – for example, mandating labelling on alcohol products.

I think I speak for all of us when I say alcohol harms can only be effectively tackled through a nationally-led strategy of high impact campaigns to change behaviours and address unhealthy drinking culture, backed by effective regulation, and early intervention and treatment.

The outcome of this Summit for the AMA is a call to action to the Australian Government – a call to develop an ambitious, comprehensive, and world-leading National Alcohol Strategy to be funded and implemented from the 2015 Federal Budget.

The Strategy must have with eight defined outcome areas for raising awareness, public education, reducing harm, funding major treatment and prevention initiatives, tracking outcomes, sponsoring research and evaluation, and coordinating responsible regulatory and licensing provisions across States and Territories.

The Australian Government’s new National Alcohol Strategy should:

1) Set out the role of the Australian Government in leading a consistent national approach to the supply of, and access to, alcohol.

2) Include the development and implementation of effective and sustained advertising and community-led public education campaigns that address the public’s understanding of unsafe drinking and the harms of excess alcohol use. Campaigns should target a range of priority audiences, including young people and pregnant women.

3) Include the increased availability of targeted alcohol prevention and treatment services throughout the community, including: GP-led services and referral mechanisms; community-led interventions; safe sobering-up facilities; increased availability of addiction medicine specialist services; treatment and detoxification services at all major hospitals; and services for acute alcohol abuse at hospitals with emergency departments.

4) Include measures that specifically respond to the particular needs and preferences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other culturally and linguistically diverse groups.

5) Include the development and implementation of statutory regulation of alcohol marketing and promotion, independently of the alcohol and advertising industries, with meaningful sanctions for non-compliance. Particular attention should be paid to sponsorship and promotion in the community and professional sporting industries.

6) Support research and evaluation and data collection to monitor and measure alcohol use, and alcohol-related harms across the Australian community, and the effectiveness of different alcohol treatment options. Data collected by Government departments and authorities should be readily available to alcohol researchers and program evaluators.

7) Include a review of current alcohol taxation and pricing arrangements and how they can be reformed to discourage harmful drinking.

8) Ensure transparent policy development, with sufficient independence to avoid influence from industry.

I say to the Australian Government that, without its leadership, commitment and coordination, we at the frontline will continue to mop up the devastation caused by alcohol in Australia – the road fatalities, the victims of violence, and the children who suffer the effects of the drinking around them.

Forums such as this will be filled with individuals who witness or suffer the brutal impact of alcohol-fuelled violence.

We cannot allow that to happen. This Summit, our presence here today, and our conviction in the necessary solution, will not end this afternoon.

The AMA pledges to continue its pressure on the Australian Government to act.

We will use every road fatality, every bashing, every child with FASD, every tragedy that arises from our unhealthy drinking culture to remind the Government to take its rightful role in this battle.

We will continue to fight and I urge you all to do the same.

Thank you.


29 October 2014


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