ABA responds to National Alcohol Strategy claims

29 July, 2019 by The Shout Team

Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) has responded to reports from ABC, which claimed that Australia’s National Alcohol Strategy, has “been comprised because of meddling from the alcohol industry”.

ABA’s Media and Communications Manager, Kerri Osborne has written this article for TheShout.

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Last Friday morning we woke to a report on ABC News that they had received a ‘leaked copy’ of the National Alcohol Strategy and claimed that it had been significantly ‘watered down’ as a result of industry involvement in policy decision making. Furthermore, they reported some ‘experts’ suggested that ‘Australia has a culture of binge drinking’ and that ‘that alcohol is as dangerous as illegal drugs’ and needs ‘heavy regulation’.

At ABA we believe that facts should be the backbone of a good story. Unfortunately, in this case, the reporter who ran this story as part of ABC’s Background Briefing long-story format ignored facts that did not suit her story.

So, what are the facts?

Declining Consumption of Alcohol in Australia 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released their latest figures in July 2019 showing that alcohol consumption and alcohol harm is steadily declining. Their statistics are based on their own National Drug Strategy Household Survey, and the National Health Survey run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). They found the following:

  • Alcohol in Australia has been steadily declining- on a per capita basis, there were 9.4 litres of alcohol consumed per person- the lowest level in over 50 years.
  • The proportion of people drinking in excess of lifetime and single occasion risk guidelines has been declining since 2010 and continues to decline.
  • The proportion of people aged 18 and over who exceed the lifetime risk guideline by consuming on average more than two standard drinks per day, decreased from 19.1% in 2013 to 18.0% in 2016.
  • There were 1366 deaths directly attributable to alcohol in 2017, and according to the ABS, 4136 deaths attributed to alcohol including car accidents.  And while this is 4136 deaths too many, it is not 6000, the figure widely quoted in the media last week.

We know that consumer’s attitudes and behaviours towards excess drinking is changing. In addition, our members are increasing the availability of low or no alcohol drinks, as more people limit or cut down their alcohol consumption and take responsibility for their own drinking.

Our industry takes responsible drinking seriously. Alcohol should be enjoyed as part of a balanced lifestyle and we encourage people to drink moderately and in line with the NHMRC’s guidelines of two standard drinks a day.

Despite the ABA and other members telling the ABC reporter this information, she chose to ignore it, and ran a more sensational, and far less accurate story based on a few anecdotes.

Public Policy Development

The National Alcohol Strategy is an initiative that the industry, by and large, supports. The idea that the ABA or any of our members formulated a revised version of the policy is wrong and does a disservice to the public policy professionals who set and develop policy.

What is true is that industry had no consultation on the first draft of the policy. The industry asked for the right to comment and provide feedback on the draft policy, on the basis of the economic and employment impact our industry has on the economy, and this was agreed.

We are grateful that we had the opportunity to have our evidence reviewed and our opinions sought  by the Department of Health. But that was the extent of our involvement. Final changes were made by the department official in charge of the process, as part of open consultation.

We embrace our responsibility and the important role we have to play in reducing the harms associated with our products. Our work in leading a safe and responsible culture continues to be acknowledged by our key government stakeholders, and this is another reason why our presence in these discussions is welcomed and appreciated.