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Curb the drinks to cut the violence

Australian of the Year Rosie Batty has backed calls for a crackdown on sales of alcohol, including an end to 24-hour trading and a buyback of liquor licenses, as part of efforts to stamp out family violence.

Echoing the AMA’s call last year for governments nationwide to take strong action to curb alcohol-related violence, Ms Batty has urged national leaders including Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition leader Bill Shorten to adopt a set of proposals developed by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) to reduce the saturation of alcohol in the community.

“There is not, and can never be, an acceptable level of family violence,” Ms Batty said. “Prevention must be our ultimate goal, and we must do everything in our power to stop it.”

Ms Batty’s plea has underlined the outcomes of the National Alcohol Summit organised by the AMA last October that called for a consistent national approach to the supply and availability of alcohol, including statutory regulation of alcohol marketing and a review of taxation and pricing arrangements.

AMA President Professor Brian Owler, who convened and led the Summit, said at the time that alcohol misuse was one of the country’s major health issues, with estimates that the damage it caused through violence, traffic accidents, domestic assaults, poor health, absenteeism and premature death, cost the community up to $36 billion a year.

“Alcohol-related harm pervades society. It is a problem that deserves a nationally consistent response and strategy,” Professor Owler said.

In recognition of the fact that often family doctors are the first port of call for victims of domestic violence, the AMA, in conjunction with the Law Council of Australia, last month released a toolkit providing guidance and resources for GPs in helping patients who have been attacked by their partners.

The Supporting parents experiencing family violence – a resource for medical practitioners toolkit can be downloaded at:  article/ama-family-violence-resource

The plan to prevent alcohol-related family violence developed by FARE, launched by Ms Batty on 17 June, calls for those applying for liquor licenses to be subject to more stringent approval process, a restriction on trading hours, a liquor licensing freeze or buybacks in saturated areas, an end to 24 hour licences and an extra levy on alcohol to help pay for the costs incurred by governments in responding to family violence.

FARE said alcohol was a factor in 65 per cent of family violence incidents reported to police and almost half of child abuse cases. In addition, more than a third of those who murdered their partner had been drinking prior to the attack.

Chief Executive Michael Thorn said a tough problem called for tough solutions.

“Alcohol’s involvement in family violence is undeniable,” Mr Thorn said. “Governments must acknowledge the vast research and the irrefutable evidence that clearly links the availability of alcohol with family violence, and act accordingly. In practice, that means putting public interests ahead of the alcohol industry and being prepared to say no to liquor licence applications that put people at greater risk of harm.”

The FARE plan echoes the recommendations of last year’s AMA Summit in emphasising measures aimed at preventing alcohol-related harm while simultaneously urging ongoing funding for vital alcohol support and treatment services.

Professor Owler said that although individuals and communities had a role to play, governments – particularly the Commonwealth – needed to be far more active in tackling the issue.

“Too many times we hear that it’s all about personal responsibility. It’s rubbish,” Professor Owler said. “Personal responsibility is important, but we can’t rely on the personal choices of others for our own safety and health. Governments can influence behaviour through deterrents but, most importantly and more effectively, through shaping individual and societal attitudes to alcohol.”

For more information on the AMA National Alcohol Summit, visit: ausmed/end-cheap-grog-and-saturation-marketing-alcohol-summit-tells-govt

The National Alcohol Summit communique can be viewed at: media/ama-national-alcohol-summit-communique

Adrian Rollins