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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 7027

Alcohol Abuse

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:23): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Ludwig. I draw the minister's attention to the Salvation Army's Alcohol Awareness Week initiative and to the report released today that shows over 4 million people know families whose children are not being properly cared for because of alcohol abuse; and there are millions more who have experienced disruption in their own families. When it comes to tobacco control, this government has a good record and has successfully pursued classical public health strategies like pricing and regulation. What is this government doing in the areas of pricing and regulation to limit the $30 billion worth of harm caused by alcohol abuse in Australia each year?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:24): I thank Senator Di Natale for his continuing interest in health warning labels on alcoholic beverages. As I understand it, he was referring to the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education, FARE, which released a report recently. If he was, then he could nod; if he was not, and it was more broadly, maybe that is question number two!

The issue of alcohol-related harm continues to be of great concern to this government. That is why the government is committed to changing the drinking culture of Australia and why it is spending $103.5 million on the National Binge Drinking Strategy. The government is also working with non-government organisations, health providers and industry to support women to make healthy lifestyle choices during pregnancy and to promote awareness of the risks of consuming alcohol during pregnancy.

There are challenges though, and I am sure they are recognised by those opposite and by the Greens because it is one of those areas where it will be a challenge before industry is to honour its commitments to implementation of the voluntary initiative. I look forward to seeing the evidence from industry of better updating of warning labels as the initiative progresses. These are early days in this area but it is one of those areas where the government remains committed. It will take a concerted effort from all those who have a continuing interest in these issues.

The COAG forum on food regulation reiterated in June that there should be mandatory labelling on alcohol about the risks of drinking whilst pregnant, and confirmed its agreement to allow industry two years to adopt voluntary initiatives before regulating— (Time expired)

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:26): Mr President, my supplementary question is this: millions of Australians are subjected to alcohol advertising every week while watching sporting events, thanks to a loophole that allows alcohol companies to advertise during, for example, afternoon sports programs. Does the government agree with the Greens that this loophole should be closed?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:26): That does step well outside the health portfolio. It does appear to be a question that should be properly directed to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, but I will take on notice that part of the question in relation to what the regulations are specifically for advertising. But as I was saying, it is important that we continue to do the work that we can to make sure that we meet the challenge, at least so far as health warning labels on alcoholic beverages are concerned—an area which falls within this portfolio. It is also important that we continue to look at regulation which will follow the establishment of standards to develop procedures and which will include extensive public consultation. One of the areas of how you combat this is through public consultation, through the discussion in the media— (Time expired)

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:27): Mr President, I have a further supplementary question: does the minister agree with the recommendation from the tax summit and from the Henry tax review that alcohol taxation should be implemented in such a way that alcohol is taxed according to the harm that it produces?

Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:28): I thank Senator Di Natale for his question. It is an area that appears to canvass tax related issues outside the health portfolio. I can take that part of the question on notice and refer it to either the Treasurer or the Assistant Treasurer to deal with the matter, because it is really a question about taxation.

I will not reiterate the issues about public health warnings and about how under the health portfolio we are spending money to ensure that we can combat some of the real challenges around making sure people do take heed of these warnings. They do have devastating effects in the community, particularly for people who suffer from those problems. It is a matter where— (Time expired)