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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 7359


Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. Given that the National Centre for Education on Training and Addiction released statistics this week that say 50 per cent of both girls and boys are drinking alcohol from the age of 14, which means girls are now starting to drink alcohol as early as boys because of alcohol advertising, and that alcohol companies spend $40 million a year on advertising during sports programs because, as the Foster’s spokesman Troy Hey says, sport is ‘popular and it’s a way of us getting our brands in front of people,’ and that research shows that one in three Australian kids under the age of 12 see ads on TV promoting alcohol, because of a crazy loophole that allows alcohol advertising to appear at any time of the day during sports programs, when will the government clamp down on alcohol advertising on television and stop alcohol ads from appearing during daytime sporting programs, especially given 72 per cent of people support restricting alcohol advertising until after 9.30 pm?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Fielding for his interest in this area, which is ongoing. The revised draft Australian alcohol guidelines for low-risk drinking are currently being finalised by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the NHMRC. On 24 August 2008 the Age newspaper ran an article claiming the delay in releasing the guidelines was due to public outcry about how restrictive they are.

I am aware of the situation faced by young people and the difficulty in ensuring that the anti-binge-drinking message gets out. Last Sunday, on 23 November 2008, another phase of the government’s anti-binge-drinking campaign kicked into action with the screening of what, quite frankly, is a hard-hitting and in-your-face campaign, themed ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’. This issue continues to raise itself.

The Sunday Age also reported on a company attempting to get around the alcopops crackdown by selling drinks that look and taste exactly like alcopops but apparently use alcopops which can technically be defined as beer. As I have said in the past, the government will take a very dim view of anyone who attempts to artificially circumvent our crackdown on the alcopops loophole. The minister has been very firm on this issue and continues to ensure that we address it, for the sake of both the youth and the alcopops industry. There is a need to ensure that we continue to address the issue of how we— (Time expired)


Senator FIELDING —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I acknowledge that the government has begun its extensive television advertising campaign. Is the minister aware that research shows that young people are concerned about their friends’ welfare but need help to raise difficult topics with them and that health information labels on alcohol products would help friends raise this difficult topic? So I ask: when will the government put health labels on alcohol products, with effective key messages that back up the TV campaign, warning of the damage that excessive alcohol consumption can cause?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Fielding for the question. In respect of the detail, what I can also go through is that the government are addressing the issues of alcohol abuse, particularly to do with ready-to-drink products. We are doing that by closing the alcopop tax loophole. We are also dedicating some of the revenue to preventative health measures. That process includes $14.4 million in community-level initiatives, because it is about confronting the culture of binge drinking, in partnership with sporting and community organisations. We are also dealing with how we intervene early to assist young people and to ensure that they assume responsibility. It is about ensuring that young people do undertake responsible drinking, do understand the nature of the products that they consume and do understand the level of alcohol in those drinks. (Time expired)


Senator FIELDING —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Is the minister aware of the following statistics? Underage drinkers currently contribute $216 million per year to the coffers of the liquor industry. Alcohol related admissions to Victorian hospital emergency rooms have risen by 10 per cent for females and five per cent for males in the last decade. It costs Australia $15.3 billion every year to mop up the damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Why is the government not prepared to do the hard yards by closing the crazy loophole allowing for the advertising of alcohol on television at any time of the day and also by introducing warning labels as soon as it can? Is it because the government is blind drunk on alcohol revenue?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I take the question from Senator Fielding as a serious one. The critical issue here, the key statistic in this area, is that the proportion of teenagers between 12 and 17 who chose RTDs as a preferred drink rose from six per cent to 14 per cent for boys and from 23 per cent to 48 per cent for girls. Of the teenage girls who drink at risky levels, the proportion who also consumed RTDs on their last drinking occasion rose from 21 per cent to 78 per cent. It is necessary that the government undertake the program that we have outlined, which includes a $20 million campaign and advertising that confronts young people with the cost and consequences of binge drinking. It is important that we continue to ensure that that message gets out and that we work with sporting and community organisations on how we address this. It is a serious issue. (Time expired)