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Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Page: 1842

Ms RISHWORTH (5:40 PM) —I am very pleased to rise to support the Excise Tariff Amendment (2009 Measures No. 1) Bill 2009 because, unlike the opposition, we in this government take the issue of binge drinking incredibly seriously. This government has made it a priority to address this serious issue in our community. Even if the opposition does not seem to think it is a serious issue, there are many people in our community who think it is. I think some of the statistics speak for themselves. The following points illustrate just what a serious issue this is. Four Australians under the age of 25 die due to alcohol related injures in an average week. On average, one in four hospitalisations of people aged 15 to 25 happens because of alcohol. Seventy Australians under the age of 25 will be hospitalised due to alcohol caused assaults in an average week.

In addition to these statistics about the physical impact of binge drinking, there are also unintended psychological consequences of binge drinking. One in two Australians aged 15 to 17 who get drunk will do something they regret. Doing something you might regret when you have had a bit too much to drink could be something silly with no long-lasting consequence but it also could be something that can lead to long-lasting anxiety, long-lasting depression and long-lasting negative self-esteem. In my previous work as a psychologist, I met a number of young people who engaged in binge drinking on a regular basis and who were also suffering from depression and anxiety. It is a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue. Does binge drinking come first or do depression and anxiety come first? In some ways, it did not really matter to the people that I was seeing. Whether or not the depression and anxiety came first or whether it was the binge drinking, the continual binge drinking was exacerbating their mental health problems. More importantly, this binge drinking was impeding their recovery back to full mental health.

It was not just me who noticed the negative impact that binge drinking is having on our young people. There are many people working in our community, on the front line, who recognise this as an issue—whether it is police, ambulance officers, emergency workers, hospital staff or GPs. And it is not just people on the front line. Within my own community, there have been many groups, including the Aldinga men’s breakfast group, who have indicated to me that this is a concern of theirs. Many people who have raised this issue with me have indicated that they are not against drinking alcohol. These have been people within my own constituency, and we have a large wine-growing area there, McLaren Vale. There are many people in this area who are not against drinking alcohol but who have indicated that binge drinking is causing significant violence in our community. There are some specific occasions when the community comes together to look at how it might tackle the issue of binge drinking. A lot of people are saying that they do not have a problem with drinking in moderation; it is the culture of binge drinking and violence that they are very concerned about.

It is not just those who work on the front line who are concerned. Parents and our general community are recognising the dangers and social concerns of teenage binge drinking. However, one of the few groups that are not concerned are the opposition. For example, the member for Warringah said on 3AW on 17 June that concern for binge drinking was just a beat-up, and the member for North Sydney indicated that he thought that concerns about binge drinking were over the top. This really is an example of just how out of touch the Liberal Party is when we have parents and community members and workers on the front line, such as doctors and emergency workers, all saying: ‘Binge drinking is a concern. This is affecting our community.’ Yet the opposition are so out of touch that they do not think it is a very serious issue.

In response to this serious social and health issue, it has been this government, unlike the previous government, that has taken up this issue. The Rudd government has begun to implement the federal government’s National Binge Drinking Strategy. This strategy comprises a range of different measures, including $20 million to fund an advertising campaign that confronts young people with the costs and consequences of binge drinking. Members may have seen these ads on TV with the theme ‘Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare’. I have certainly had comments about them from people in my community, and I have also seen them myself, and I do believe that these ads achieve what they aim to—that is, they raise awareness about some of the very negative consequences that can happen after a night of binge drinking.

In addition to this measure, the government has provided $19.1 million to intervene earlier to assist young people to ensure that they assume personal responsibility for their binge drinking and $14.4 million to invest in community level initiatives to tackle this problem. The government has moved swiftly on this. The first round of these community grants was announced on the 17 November, with 19 local communities receiving federal government support to really look at grassroots programs to help tackle binge drinking by young people. It is important to empower local communities to deliver local solutions to these problems. There are often specific circumstances within each community and it is often people on the ground who know best how they might deliver these solutions.

The measure that we are debating today is one of the other measures that we have developed to reduce the incidence of binge drinking—that is, closing the tax loophole for alcopops that was created by the Liberal Party in 2000. Alcopops are targeted at young people and underage drinkers, using bright colours and sweet flavours that disguise the taste of alcohol so that young people can drink more alcohol faster. If anyone is left under any illusion about this, I want to highlight to the House one type of alcopop that I find very concerning. Recently I saw an alcopop that was in a tube that looked like a tube of toothpaste, and it was filled with some sort of red vodka drink. The packaging for the alcohol is basically such that you open the tube and squeeze it, consuming about 1.4 standard drinks of vodka in three seconds. If anyone is under any illusion that the packaging of these alcopops is not designed to attract young drinkers then certainly I would point to this alcopop as something that has left me in no doubt that these products can only promote excessive levels of drinking.

It is clear that the tax break given to alcopops by the Liberal Party gave these types of drinks encouragement in the marketplace. Since 2000 the sale of alcopops has increased by 250 per cent. Why would the Liberal Party give a tax break to these beverages? Why should a postmixed vodka and lemonade be subject to a different tax to a premixed vodka and lemonade? I am unable to comprehend that. Why shouldn’t all vodka drinks be treated the same? Instead, the Liberal Party decided not to compare apples with apples and rather to have a vodka drink—or Bundaberg drink or whatever the case might be—treated differently, depending on the way it was packaged.

In closing this loophole we are ensuring that all spirits, bottled or premixed, will be taxed at the same rate. In this debate many on the other side and also distillers have suggested that increasing the tax for alcopops will not reduce consumption and that people will just choose a different type of spirit. However, the ATO’s figures suggest something quite different, and this has not been mentioned by opposition members in this debate. Figures show that, for the first nine months, alcopop sales have dropped by 35 per cent compared to the previous year, contrary to what the members on the other side have said. They would have us believe that drinkers have just started drinking full-strength spirits. However, overall spirit sales have fallen by eight per cent, clearly showing that this measure is working.

While the opposition when in government sat there and did nothing about binge drinking, we are tackling the alcopops issue and we are tackling a National Binge Drinking Strategy. That is at the forefront of our approaches to ensure that we protect our young people. We are concerned about their health and we will do our best to ensure that our young people live happy and healthy lives. I commend the bill to the House.