Early signs of support have surfaced for a national summit on alcohol misuse and harm following NSW’s tough new measures.
Days after NSW responded to pressure to tackle drunken violence, the focus has turned on the commonwealth to also act.
A call from the Australian Medical Association (AMA) for a national summit on alcohol misuse and harm has gained early signs of support, with the federal opposition already backing it.
The association wants the federal government to convene the summit, which would canvass evidence and experience from experts, victims and stakeholders in-between.
In making the call for the summit on Thursday, Australia’s emergency doctors have told how alcohol drives people to them on Friday and Saturday nights.
Melbourne emergency physician Dr Stephen Parnis said the cases stretched beyond “coward punches” into domestic violence, sexual assaults and road crash trauma.
“Sometimes even worse than the deaths are the patients who you resuscitate, who you transfer to intensive care and you know could end up requiring life-long, nursing home care,” he told reporters.
Dr Parnis said he saw people in their early 20s with delirium tremens – withdrawals associated with alcohol addiction.
For AMA vice-president Professor Geoffrey Dobb, one of the most sobering aspects of alcohol harm is the affected families.
“I see the people who are … with their child, or their wife or their girlfriend, sitting by their bed because they have been injured by alcohol,” the Perth intensive care specialist said.
He echoed calls from his colleagues for a change in the drinking culture.
“That is we can’t go out for an evening and enjoy a drink without actually drinking to get drunk.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has thrown his support behind the AMA’s proposal, saying it wasn’t a problem in just one small pocket of Sydney.
“It isn’t just a challenge for local and state governments. This is a national issue that demands national attention,” he said in a statement with Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King.
He said a national summit was the most appropriate way to bring key groups together, including the hotel industry and health experts, to work in partnership with government to tackle the issue.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has supported the national summit call but wants it to include drug-fuelled violence.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell agrees the issue extends beyond state borders.
“The prime minister has made clear … that he recognised not only was it a national problem, but that the commonwealth is prepared to play its part,” he said on Thursday.
However, earlier this week Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss said people should not rely on the government to stop alcohol-fuelled violence.
He said governments could make it easier for people to be jailed, but they could not solve the problem.
“People have got to take responsibility for their own lives, recognise the impact on people that they may hurt as the result of some silly drunken violence but also on their own lives.”
Mr O’Farrell announced measures this week to curb drunken violence, including creating a fatal one-punch offence that would carry a minimum eight-year jail sentence if committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The government has also proposed 1.30am lock-outs for an expanded Sydney CBD entertainment precinct – including Kings Cross – and 3am last drinks.
NSW Parliament will be recalled on January 30 to deal with the relevant legislation.