Monday, July 21, 2008

Binge drinking strategy on rocks

Labor risks falling off the wagon of its national binge drinking strategy after missing by three months its own deadline for tabling options to tackle alcohol abuse.

In May, a meeting of federal and state ministers with responsibility for drug strategy pledged to fast-track an interim report on binge drinking in recognition of the "urgency'' of the issue.

The document was to go before the Council of Australian Governments in July.
Last week, the ministers met again, with the July 3 COAG event behind them but no report at hand.
A spokeswoman for Parliamentary Secretary Jan McLucas, representing the federal Government on drug strategy, attributed the delay to "extensive'' consultations with the alcohol industry and health groups.

"These consultations, and the work required to gather the necessary information, means that the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy will now make an interim report to COAG in October,'' Ms McLucas said.

Five months ago, Kevin Rudd unveiled his own $53.5 million plan to combat the binge drinking ``epidemic'', promising a hard-hitting TV campaign as well as grant and pilot project funding.

But he needs the states on board if he is to achieve consistency in local laws restricting parents' ability to supply alcohol to their children and ensuring pubs, clubs and restaurants serve alcohol responsibly.

The report was to cover both those issues, together with the tougher areas of possible controls on alcohol advertising and lower-alcohol products for young people, as well as health warnings on alcohol.

Paul Dillon, director of Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia, applauded the report's ambitious agenda and said he could only speculate on the reasons why it had been delayed.

The backlash from related policies - such as the Government's multi-billion-dollar alcopops tax, which it had tied to its binge drinking agenda - may have contributed to the delay.

The alcohol industry had already made inroads in portraying the Rudd Government as wowserish, which could force a more softly-softly approach from Canberra, Mr Dillon said.

"As soon as people think the Government is going to limit what they drink, how they drink, and the cost of what they drink, you run into problems,'' he said.

A spokesman for Health Minister Nicola Roxon denied she was stepping back in any way from the campaign to curb excessive drinking.

"The Government is working very hard and will have more to say on binge drinking,'' she said.
source: The Australian

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