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Thursday, 18 September 2008
Page: 7958

Mr TURNOUR (3:20 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister bring the House up to date on community concerns about alcohol and why urgent action is needed?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Leichhardt for his question. Alcohol abuse is an issue of concern across the whole community, but it has been of particular concern in Cairns following some particularly violent incidents. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about some of the very worrying statistics about alcohol abuse in our community, to highlight some of the action that governments and community organisations are starting to take across the country and to invite the Liberal Party to consider whether they might want to be part of tackling this serious problem rather than standing on the sidelines.

I want to share a couple of the worrying statistics about in our community. On alcohol consumption in any given week, approximately one in ten 12- to 17-year-olds is binge drinking or drinking at risky levels. This is not young adults; this is 12- to 17-year-olds. High levels of alcohol consumption are leading to alarming levels of hospitalisation. The number of young women, young adults, aged 18 to 24 being admitted to hospitals because of alcohol has doubled in the last eight years. And we know that binge drinking leads to violence. Last year, more than three-quarters of a million Australians were physically abused by persons under the influence of alcohol.

That is why I wanted to take the opportunity to draw to the attention of the House campaigns being run by two local papers. One by the Cairns Post is called ‘Just Think’ and is why the member for Leichhardt was particularly interested in raising this issue. The campaign called ‘Just think’ actually commenced in Geelong. On this front page from the Geelong Advertiser there is a photo of the result of some violence—violence which has been highlighted in their community. I know that the members for Corio and Corangamite have been actively involved in this campaign. I want to congratulate those newspapers for being prepared to take a lead within their community to raise this issue, particularly for the sake of young people. It is not a message that says, ‘You can’t go out and have a good time’; it is a message that says, ‘Just think about what you are doing and make sure you take care in the circumstances when you are drinking.’ I think they are running a really good campaign. I understand from conversations with the member for Corio that a Facebook campaign that has been set up by the Geelong Advertiser has something like 40,000 members—an enormous sign that the community is worried about this issue, that young people themselves understand that there are risks. We need to do all we can to raise awareness that these sorts of issues can cause harm in the community.

While talking about this issue, I want to also raise a report that was released yesterday. Members of the House might have read some coverage of this. It is a report by David Collins and Helen Lapsley. This report was actually commissioned by the Howard government. It is entitled The avoidable costs of alcohol abuse in Australia and the potential benefits of effective policies to reduce the social costs of alcohol. This report, commissioned by the Howard government, states:

… that increasing the tax rate on alcoholic drinks which are specifically targeted at the youth market (for example, alcopops) is likely to be effective.

It further states:

There would appear to be strong justification for the April 2008 increase in the Australian tax on pre-mixed drinks (alcopops) by 70 per cent.

In other words, we have independent experts, in a report commissioned by the Howard government, backing the action that the Rudd government is taking. I want to lay down a challenge to the new Leader of the Opposition: stop playing politics on this, join with the rest of the community and start working with us on finding serious solutions to these very serious problems.

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.