Kate Ellis is the Minister for Youth and Sport. She’s not a Cabinet minister, but her portfolio covers the two areas central to the Government’s binge drinking package.
That’s the $53m set of initiatives that promises Grim Reaper-style binge drinking ads, threatens funding for sporting bodies that don’t prepare a code of conduct, and is likely to lead to restrictions on alcohol advertising. It was suddenly announced last week after the Prime Minister indicated a couple of times that, despite a lack of evidence, he was concerned about the rise in young people binge drinking.
Crikey understands that Ellis was not consulted about the development of the package by either Rudd or the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, within whose portfolio Ellis’s Sports brief rests (Youth is within Julia Gillard’s mega-portfolio). However, she was, her office has advised, consulted prior to the announcement by Rudd and Roxon on 10 March.
The lack of consultation over the package is consistent with other stories emerging about Ellis. She was not informed until the last minute that a number of sporting grants made by her Coalition predecessor had been axed by Lindsay Tanner, despite her continuing to meet with sector representatives about them. And there are stories that Health Secretary Jane Halton refuses to let Ellis access Cabinet decisions that affect her area of the portfolio.
Ellis hasn’t been helped by the fact that once the Sports area of the Department of Communications was moved to Health and Ageing, a number of its senior staff immediately left rather than work within the oversized, sclerotic department overseen by Halton. Or the fact that her role is split between two entirely different portfolios.
Significantly, the Australian Sports Commission, which provides the bulk of the Federal Government’s funding to sporting bodies, was also consulted about the Government’s proposals to require sporting bodies to institute codes of conduct for alcohol usage or have their funding “reconsidered”. The ASC only provided “background” for the package.
So how the Prime Minister will fulfil his threat that clubs that fail to toe the line on alcohol guidelines will lose funding is not clear. This is what Rudd said on 10 March:
…if you’ve got sporting clubs who are out there who just basically take no responsibility at all maybe that’s where we’ve got to start to have a hard look about whether they should be recipients of long term funding support from the Commonwealth.
But the ASC has not been asked to monitor sporting bodies to ensure compliance with the new requirement for alcohol codes of conduct, and in any event, such monitoring would be well beyond its resources. In fact, yesterday Ellis’s office was talking not about the regulatory or enforcement approach suggested by Rudd, but one that emphasised working cooperatively with clubs and sporting organisations.
The alcohol and advertising industries may be hoping that there’s a similar gap between Rudd’s binge drinking rhetoric and reality on advertising.