An Open Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr Rudd

On the offchance that you and your staff are not avid readers of Croakey, I am writing to send you copies of the following articles on alcohol policy.

They are by leading alcohol and public health policy experts, and were written in response to your recent public comment suggesting that you would be interested to know if there is any evidence to support raising the legal drinking age as a way of reducing the road toll.

The articles include:

•  Hang on, there’s actually quite a lot of evidence to support raising the drinking age
By Dr Tanya Chikritzhs, an Associate Professor and Statistical Advisor at the National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University of Technology

• Is raising the drinking age good policy?
By Wayne Hall Professor of Public Health Policy at the University of Queensland

• Maybe this is the wrong question
By Professor Michael Good AO, medical scientist in Qld

• What’s the evidence?
By Geoff Munro, National Policy Manager of the Australian Drug Foundation

• There are better ideas
Dr Alex Wodak, president of the Australian Drug Law Foundation

Dr Wodak has also provided this overview of the Croakey debate:

“There is wide spread agreement that the level of alcohol-related problems in Australia today is intolerably high, especially among young people.

There is also a strong international consensus that the pricing and taxation of alcohol is the single most important method of reducing alcohol-related problems. It is regarded as both the most effective intervention and also the prevention measure best supported by evidence. These benefits are seen in all age groups but especially among young people (who have less discretionary income).

There are also seems to be a consensus among those recently commenting on raising the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) in Croakey that the benefits reported from the USA would probably not be as great in Australia.

Apart from the likely magnitude of the benefits, and the strength of the evidence supporting these, some consideration should also be given to the likelihood of threading a new prevention measure through the political maze.

The Preventative Health Task Force (rightly) put a lot of emphasis on alcohol tax reform. The Henry tax review is widely expected to follow this up when it is announced.

There has never been a more propitious time in recent decades to press for alcohol tax reform in Australia. A similar time probably will not arise for decades.

The alcohol beverage industry is an enormously powerful colossus but alcohol tax reform will divide the industry while proposals to raise the MLDA will unite the industry in vociferous opposition.

Michael Good is right to call for a portfolio of prevention measures. But strategies are only ever adopted one at a time. Apart from the two reviews, the commonwealth government will be looking for ways to boost income and reduce expenditure following the stimulus package and consequent budget deficit. It would be foolhardy to aim to get alcohol tax reform and raise the MLDA accepted at the same time.

Those who want to see alcohol-related problems decline in Australia, especially among the young, should throw everything at getting alcohol tax reform accepted now.

Raising the MLDA should wait for another time. Reducing alcohol outlet density and making alcohol outlet conditions less liberal should be higher priorities than raising the MLDA.”

Don’t hesitate to get in touch any time you have other questions about public health policy. Croakey contributors will be pleased to assist (and we’re a bargain compared to those charge-by-the-minute consultancies).



PS. Congratulations on acknowledging that you have a drinking problem. Your drinking problem is our drinking problem. And our drinking problem is your drinking problem. So we’re all now a little bit closer, hopefully, to doing something about it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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