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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 174

Senator Allison asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, upon notice, on 10 November 2004:

With reference to the report of the National Drug Research Institute released on 29 June 2004:

(1)   Given that 90 per cent of drug-caused disability and death is caused by alcohol and tobacco, will the Minister consider any change to the current proportion of spending on harm reduction and prevention programs that relate to legal and illegal substance use, namely the approximately $120 million spent per year on alcohol and tobacco; if not, why not.

(2)   Will the Minister consider the following suggested strategies, where appropriate in collaboration with state and territory governments: (a) further restrictions on smoking in public spaces; (b) increased taxes on high strength alcoholic products; (c) increasing the legal age for purchasing tobacco products; (d) enforcing liquor laws; and (e) improving the advice and intervention given by general practitioners to patients who smoke and/or drink to excess.

Senator Patterson (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Issues) —The Minister for Health and Ageing has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)   Prevention and harm reduction are priorities in the recently announced National Drug Strategy 2004-2009. The Australian Government supports the National Drug Strategy priorities, which call for a balanced and comprehensive approach covering both licit and illicit drugs, as do all state and territory governments. Responsibility for harm reduction and prevention is shared by all governments.

(2) (a)   The National Public Health Partnership, a cross-jurisdictional body including the Australian Government and all state and territory jurisdictions, released a National Response to Passive Smoking in November 2002. This document incorporates a background paper on passive smoking as a public health issue, a statement of the guiding principles for developing legislation; and examples of core provisions for consideration in legislation. These recommendations have been used to inform the development of state and territory approaches, while respecting the sovereignty of each Parliament and the need for flexibility. I understand that states and territories have legislated further bans for smoking in public places to be introduced in the next two to three years, depending on the jurisdiction.

(b)   Taxation of alcohol products is a matter for the Treasurer.

(c)   The legal age for purchasing tobacco products is a matter for state and territory governments under their Acts governing the Age of Majority or other applicable statutes. Subject to such Acts, a person attains full age for all purposes of the law of each state and territory when he/she attains the age of 18 years.

(d)   Enforcement of liquor laws is the responsibility of state and territory liquor licensing authorities and/or police.

(e)   The Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing commissioned General Practice Education Australia (GPEA) Limited to develop Australian best practice guidelines in smoking cessation for general practice and supporting resource material. The Smoking Cessation Guidelines for Australian General Practice were released by the then Parliamentary Secretary, the Hon Trish Worth MP on 24 June 2004. All GPs have been sent a copy.

The Australian Government funded a review of the scientific evidence regarding the treatment of alcohol problems and the development of clinical practice guidelines for health care providers.

Publications covering the treatment of alcohol problems, as well as an extensive series of summary guidelines targeted at general practitioners and other health care workers, including alcohol consumers and young people with alcohol problems, have been published and are being disseminated. Information workshops, completed in mid 2004, were held in all states and territories targeting health care workers.

The Australian Government is a partner, together with the Australian Divisions of General Practice, the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation (AERF), in the ‘Your Mental Health and Alcohol: Managing the Mix’ Project, which commenced in February 2004. The aim of the project is to improve the capacity of general practitioners in the prevention and management of high prevalence alcohol and mental health comorbidities in primary care; and build a critical mass of GPs and practice staff competent in the prevention, management and referral of alcohol and mental health comorbidity. Nineteen projects will be delivered nationally. The projects cover 33 Divisions of General Practice and have a potential target audience of almost 6,000 GPs.