Australia’s peak alcohol and drug agency, the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), learned early this week that it was being defunded, forcing it into voluntary administration.
In a statement, ADCA said the decision by Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash “ignores previous undertakings and commitment” about ongoing funding to 2015.
In the article below, Cancer Council Victoria’s Sondra Davoren says the decision represents a loss of leadership, signals a lack of commitment to addressing alcohol harm, and ignores the reality that alcohol is a significant cause of disease and injury in Australia.
Noting that it will be up to health and community organisations now to “do the policy, advocating – and policing – that the Government is not prepared to fund”, she points to the recent launch by a coalition of groups of ‘AdShame’, to highlight that alcohol marketing on TV is “saturating” places and times when children are watching.
Sondra Davoren, Senior Legal Policy Advisor at Cancer Council Victoria writes:
The news this week of the Federal Government’s decision to discontinue funding for the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA) is a huge loss for the alcohol and other drugs (AOD) sector and the future of alcohol policy in Australia, at a time when leadership in this area is sorely needed.
ADCA has been funded continuously for almost 50 years. As Australia’s peak alcohol and drug agency, it has played a crucial role in bringing together agencies and professionals to create a wealth of policy experience and knowledge in alcohol and drug treatment and prevention across Australia. The decision to discontinue their funding cuts much needed support to an already resource poor sector.
And when alcohol harm costs $36 billion dollars a year, the approach seems misdirected. Especially considering that the savings gained from cutting funding to ADCA are a pittance compared to the savings that could be made through simple alcohol tax reform, which was recommended by the 2009 Henry Tax Review, and is estimated to deliver around $1.5 billion each year to the government.
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The departure of ADCA, and the leadership role it played in the alcohol sector is all the more concerning given the absence of national leadership – and notably, the lack of a national alcohol strategy. The current National Alcohol Strategy 2006-2011, was originally the National Alcohol Strategy 2006-2009. It is now seven years since the ‘current’ strategy was developed.
Contrast this policy pause with the state of alcohol related harm in Australia: although consumption levels may have stabilised, indicators of alcohol harm continue to rise. Alcohol misuse is responsible each year for over 3,500 deaths and 100,000 alcohol-related hospitalisations. A further 70,000 Australians are victims of alcohol-related assault, and of these, 24,000 people are victims of alcohol-related domestic violence. Alcohol is a leading cause of disease in this country, conservatively representing 3.2 per cent of the burden of disease in Australia, and is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
Globally, the focus on preventing non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which include cancer, cardiovascular disease and liver cirrhosis, and controlling their risk factors, has never been higher. These diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, and alcohol misuse is a significant component of this burden.
A global framework for NCD prevention and control has been developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), with the goal of reducing premature mortality from NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025. Separate targets for NCD risk factors have also been agreed – for alcohol, the goal is a 10 per cent relative reduction in the harmful use of alcohol.
There is good evidence around the types of strategies that will be effective at reaching this target –through alcohol tax and pricing interventions, by addressing alcohol availability, and introducing advertising restrictions. The global action agenda goes beyond the ‘what’ of alcohol policy, and emphasises the ‘how’ and the ‘who’, including the importance of a strong civil society, and multi-sectoral engagement. The WHO’s global alcohol strategy calls on countries to develop leadership, awareness and commitment, emphasising that sustainable action requires strong leadership and a solid base of awareness, political will and commitment.
The defunding of ADCA represents the loss of the leadership that is specifically encouraged in the WHO’s global strategy, signals a lack of commitment to addressing alcohol harm, and ignores the reality that alcohol is a significant cause of disease and injury in Australia.
In the alcohol policy arena, concerted action by civil society organisations is essential to develop evidence based policies to reduce alcohol related harm. Earlier this month, a group of alcohol and public health agencies, including the Cancer Council Victoria, launched ‘AdShame’ a digital platform intended to illustrate the worst examples of alcohol and food marketing, which currently are not caught by the self-regulatory framework for advertising in Australia. By exposing the sheer extent of unhealthy food and alcohol advertisements targeting children and adolescents the site demonstrates that the food and alcohol industry’s self-regulatory scheme has seriously failed to protect children and adolescents from the harm of unhealthy food and alcohol advertising.
The campaign is intended to remind the Government of the failures of self-regulation to control alcohol and unhealthy food advertising – failures that were identified in the 2009 National Preventative Health Taskforce Report. On the basis of the significant harms from alcohol misuse and overconsumption of unhealthy food in Australia, this report recommended an end to alcohol advertising in times and places where children and young people may be exposed. Four years on, little has been done to progress these recommendations.
It remains for those in the AOD sector to do the policy, advocating – and policing – that the Government is not prepared to fund. The reality is that we now have to do that in a sector which is poorer – literally and figuratively – without the ADCA.
Visit adShame.org.au and support our campaign to protect Australian kids from unhealthy food and alcohol advertising.