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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9566

Ms KING (8:40 PM) —I want to grieve tonight about what is unfortunately becoming a community-wide problem. When we think of community-wide problems many of us think of things such as poverty, cancer, homelessness and issues of social inclusion. In fact, the list is very long. Yet in many electorates across the country we face another community-wide problem that is calling on all of us for some real change. That problem is alcohol use and associated violence. There is an overwhelming swell of support arising across the federal electorate of Ballarat to tackle these two major issues.

It is pretty distressing when you open the local newspaper on a Monday morning and read about yet another incident of drunken and violent behaviour that has occurred over the weekend at a local nightspot but unfortunately this is becoming a regular occurrence. It is not only of concern for me as a federal member of parliament but also of concern to every member of our community. Binge drinking appears to have become normalised within some areas of our community and this appears to be contributing to alcohol fuelled violence. If you ask any lawyer, police officer or emergency department doctor, they will tell you that on the whole, in the majority of assaults, alcohol is invariably involved.

Over recent months we have seen a spate of reports surrounding violence at late night precincts in my electorate. The crimes have ranged from damage to local businesses in the CBD, damage to cars and personal property and injuries requiring medical treatment, to the unfortunate death of a local young person from an alleged punch to the face. These events are not uncommon. Stories are frequent in my electorate of nights out that have turned into nightmares. These incidents are not only confined to nights but are now also happening at family events.

I would like to read from the front page story of today’s edition of one of the local papers in my electorate, the Courier. Entitled ‘Brawl at football’, it reads:

Police officers were injured during an alcohol-fuelled incident at the Central Highlands Football League grand final on Saturday.

Last Saturday morning hundreds of families around the region were waking up excited about getting along to the Central Highlands Football League grand final. Parents and children gathered to see Daylesford play Hepburn in what was to be a thrilling match with the teams finishing first and second on the ladder. But during the third quarter things went horribly wrong. Police were called upon to defuse an alcohol fuelled dispute that saw five spectators arrested. These troublemakers will face a variety of charges including drunkenness, resisting arrest, assaulting police and discharging missiles.

Fuelled by too much alcohol and a complete disregard for anyone else, these louts—and that is all you can say that they were—allegedly threw cans at police. Reportedly, a number of police officers were injured while attempting to evict these drunken few. Pepper spray had to be used a number of times to help subdue the melee. It was necessary to call in more police from around the region. Senior officers held such fear for the safety of the general public in the face of increasingly aggressive behaviour that a further 10 officers from the Police Force Response Unit in Melbourne, over a hundred kilometres away, were called in. All of this took place under a doubling of private security at the event, put in place by organisers to help prevent antisocial and aggressive behaviour. At 4.30 pm police ordered alcohol sales to be completely stopped at the event. I attended the event with my 15-month-old son and I am very thankful to say that I had to leave a bit earlier and I am very pleased that my son was not present at the time at that community event.

Those involved showed absolute contempt for their community and contempt for families at the ground looking to enjoy a friendly day out. They also showed contempt for the Victorian police. The cost of additional protection called in, as I said, from the ranks of officers in Melbourne came at a price and would have been easily avoidable if it had not been for a small and drunken minority. I hope the grand final for the second league in my electorate, the Ballarat Football League, will be different this weekend because the eyes of many in our community will be watching.

If we look at this incident more closely, it is difficult for the wider community not to feel partly responsible for this surge in substance abuse. I want to touch on the issue of alcohol advertising and just how endemic our alcohol use is and is becoming in everyday life. When attending sporting events young people are subject to alcohol advertisements and alcohol use is very much normalised within those environments. Many sporting clubs get significant revenue from sponsorship that is associated with alcohol and revenue from alcohol sales is an integral fundraiser. The best and fairest medal in the local league is sponsored by alcohol retailer and franchiser, the Premix King. For the best and fairest medal, the Henderson Medal, to be sponsored as the Premix King medal, I think, is profoundly disappointing. The website for Premix King proudly proclaims ‘The party starts at our door’.

If you look around any football ground you may see advertising for Heineken and other alcohol brands. On that note, at last week’s City of Ballarat Council meeting it was great to see local councillor Des Hudson ask for a report within three months on the council’s position on alcohol advertising on council owned assets. This is a real challenge for those who hold leadership positions in our community. If we are to take the issue of alcohol related harm seriously then we must address the messages that are communicated within our communities. It is something that is incredibly difficult to do because it is just so endemic and, unfortunately, sporting clubs have become highly reliant on funding associated in some way with alcohol. I do think that sport and alcohol is a good place for us to start.

There are a number of campaigns that are already running across the country. These include the federal government’s ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’ campaign, the Victorian government’s ‘Your move/championships move’ and also ‘Will you handle your alcohol or will alcohol handle you?’ There is a local B-safe social marketing campaign, a campaign that has been successful in our local region but obviously not as successful as we would like. A campaign that has really pushed forward in recent times is Geelong’s ‘Just think’ campaign which involves a partnership between the Geelong Advertiser and the Geelong football club. The program has received positive support from Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd and Premier, John Brumby. Yet only on the weekend we heard of an East Geelong footballer who had died after reportedly being struck in a fight during the club’s grand final celebrations. What should have been an exciting day out after winning a grand final turned into a tragedy for that family.

Over recent months in Ballarat locals have come together to discuss a range of ways our community may tackle binge drinking and its effects. A group of 20 or 30 residents ranging from local parents to police officers, city councillors, and even students has met regularly. We have been looking at the gaps that are occurring in policy not just from a local government perspective but from a whole-of-government focus. Locally these community leaders will be submitting an application under round 2 of the government’s National Binge Drinking Strategy. They will be putting forward an application that would see young people in Ballarat leading a local campaign to curb binge drinking and its impact on the regional community. That is a key point. This group recognises that the most effective messages to target the younger members of our community—and these are the people who are most at risk of binge drinking and its associated violence—are best formulated and channelled by the members of that generation. The aim is to get them involved, to harness their creativity, energy and unique view of the world, to utilise their language and social networks to create messages that entertain, persuade and ultimately convince. It will be an exciting program.

In 2009 it is really difficult to fathom that we live in a community where the culture of some denotes that the only way to have a good night out or a good day out at the football is to binge drink. It is harder to comprehend that some members of the community find it okay to violently abuse fellow community members. But the most difficult of all would be to wake up to learn that a brother, sister, son, daughter, cousin or friend did not come home safely one night because they were caught up in a fight, particularly an alcohol fuelled fight. I do not think people are aware of just what a chronic and long-term problem it is if someone gets an acquired brain injury. To see a young person full of life, with all their personality spilling out and then to see that person later with an acquired brain injury is just the most horrendous thing for any family to have to experience.

I think that we absolutely have to own responsibility for the problem of alcohol and violence in our own community. We are determined to try and do something about it. Advertising and the link to sporting associations is obviously just one example that I have highlighted here tonight of a very complex problem but I did want to put that particularly on the record. There are obviously issues in relation to licensed premises and opening hours. There are issues around the spread of liquor outlets within our community. There are also issues around how people actually resolve and manage disputes, what they do when they are in situations where they have had some alcohol and how they have to learn to handle their anger in different ways.

We have a long way to go. We have certainly got a long way to go in our community. We do have a wonderful community, but it is something that we as a community have to own up to and it is certainly something that we have to deal with. It is a community problem that does require all of us, whether it is sporting groups, parents, students, teachers, community leaders and the liquor outlets themselves, to join together and tackle the issue. We need to say that this is not the sort of community that we want to live in. It is not the sort of community that we want our kids to grow up in. It is not the sort of community where we want our children to go out and not enjoy a great night out. We want them to be safe, we want them to be happy and we want them to enjoy their nights out. We do not want to come home with an injury and we certainly do not want the alcohol and violence to continue. (Time expired)