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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 26123

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government) (4:21 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Account Bill 2001 and to sum up the previous speeches. The legislation arises from an agreement between the Prime Minister and Senator Meg Lees to make commitments regarding an amount equivalent to the difference between excise collected on draught beer between 1 July 2000 and 4 April 2001 and the amount that would have been collected using the new rates prescribed under A New Tax System. This amount was determined by Treasury to be $120 million. The agreement was to allocate $115 million to a new body called the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation and $5 million to the restoration and preservation of historic hotels in rural and regional Australia.

The money for the foundation was committed in the 2001-02 budget. This legislation will establish the special account through which to direct funds to the foundation. It will establish accountability mechanisms for the funding and enable the government to appoint an alternative body to expend the funds should the established foundation not act according to the objectives and spending prescriptions set out in the MOU between the Prime Minister and the Democrats. The overall goal of this foundation is to provide support for community based programs that aim to reduce the alcohol related harm in communities. The foundation will also have a charter to target other licit substances that are subject to abuse and that cause harm, such as petrol and other inhalants. We know that the abuse of alcohol and other inhalants leads to physical ill effects in those abusing and can be associated with suicide attempts, antisocial behaviour and crime.

These are problems that Australian people and communities face every day. As an independent charitable body, we envisage that the foundation will develop affiliations, partnerships and grassroots connections with communities that require expertise and support to address entrenched problems with the misuse of alcohol and other substances. The foundation will support a whole range of activities required in a comprehensive response, with treatment rehabilitation and public education aimed at prevention. The government also envisages that the foundation's charitable status might encourage donations from the business sector and other community members for the further enhancement of work in this important area.

While alcohol related harm could affect any individual family or community, research shows that some population groups are more affected than others. Populations and settings considered to be at risk of alcohol related harm require additional targeted support to ensure that a reduction in harm occurs. Strategies are required that are culturally responsive, that meet the needs of marginalised groups, that recognise the unique settings of local communities and that improve access to services. The Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation will support such strategies by targeting much of its activities to population groups identified to be at particular risk.

Aboriginals, Torres Strait Islanders and young people are, in general, recognised as particularly vulnerable groups, and we envisage that the foundation will support the development of programs that aim to understand the attitudes and behaviours that lead to harm and the development of programs that prevent harmful behaviour in the first place. As the MOU between the Prime Minister and the Democrats clearly states, the focus of the foundation is to be on the provision of effective education, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services that target alcohol and other licit substance misuse. The best evidence and experience has found that a comprehensive set of such activities can change behaviours and outcomes.

While the foundation is intentionally set up as an independent body, it will be rigorously accountable for the expenditure of Commonwealth funds in those areas identified as priorities. The foundation will report to parliament annually on the expenditure of all Commonwealth funds. My colleague Senator Grant Tambling will be taking this bill through the committee stages. He is well versed in these areas. It will be a useful exercise for the Senate to listen to Senator Tambling. This legislation is an important and exciting initiative that should draw the support of all members and senators. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that consideration of the bill in committee of the whole be made an order of the day for a later hour.