Chances are pretty good that you’re going to sink a few beers while you watch the State of Origin tonight, and you’re certainly going to see plenty of alcohol advertising. But health advocates say Australia has a serious alcohol problem, and they want to do something about it.

Ahead of the federal election, politicians are being urged to adopt higher alcohol taxes, ban alcohol sponsorship in sport and introduce nationwide lockout laws to reduce harm caused by excess drinking.

St Vincent’s Health Australia (SVHA), Australia’s largest non-profit provider of health and aged care services, is making the push as part of their bid to reduce alcohol-related harm by 20 per cent by 2025.

“Ask any health worker at any hospital — ours or anyone else’s — whether illegal drugs or alcohol do the greatest damage and they’ll answer ‘alcohol’ every time,” says SVHA CEO Toby Hall.

“So why don’t the parties ever address it come election time? We need to hear what they have to say.

“Alcohol harm can’t be reduced through a single policy initiative or campaign. An integrated, whole of government approach, led by the Commonwealth, is what’s needed — and that’s what we’ve called for in our policy.

“The 20 per cent target for 2025 we’ve announced today is achievable. Our recommendations are based on interviews with 80 Australian experts — internal and external — in healthcare, alcohol treatment services and public health policy.

“If governments pursue our recommendations, I’m confident we’ll not only see significant change, but we will literally save hundreds of lives.”

SVHA’s policy document, Restoring the Balance — A New Approach to Alcohol in Australia, includes the following recommendations:

  • An increase in the price of alcohol to reduce consumption and related harms — including alcohol products to be taxed on the basis of alcohol content / greatest level of harm (volumetric tax).
  • An end to all alcohol advertising on free-to-air TV sporting broadcasts; the phasing out of alcohol sponsorship of music events; and removal of all alcohol sponsorship from sporting merchandise.
  • National guidelines on alcohol outlet density and opening hours, including support for nationally consistent trading hours (e.g. alcohol not sold in pubs and clubs after 3am; all existing 24 hour licenses abolished; and 10pm bottle shop closures).
  • Pictorial health warnings on all alcohol products and packaging and an independent study into the benefits of plain packaging laws for alcohol similar to those introduced for tobacco.
  • Significant increase of funding for treatment services for people with alcohol dependence.
  • A national strategy on reducing alcohol-related harm, including a national framework to address alcohol’s role in family violence.
  • Better collection of alcohol-related information, including sales data and data around emergency department presentations, hospital admissions, emergency services and justice and community services.

St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney strongly advocated for the introduction and maintenance of the current liquor laws in Sydney’s entertainment district, which have been widely criticised for their impact on the city’s social life.

“We’re not prohibitionists,” Mr Hall insists.

“We’re not wowsers. We recognise the majority of Australians exercise restraint when it comes to alcohol and can enjoy it responsibly.

“But such is the scale and depth of the problem we need more than self-regulation and well-meaning awareness campaigns to restore balance.”

Do you think it’s time to end alcohol advertising and sponsorship and close bottle shops at 10pm, or do you think these suggestions are going too far? Have your say in the comments below!