The O’Farrell government will urge Prime Minister Tony Abbott to show leadership on the problem of alcohol abuse and has backed calls for a national alcohol summit.
The state government responded this week to a NSW parliamentary inquiry that found alcohol abuse is “a nationally significant issue requiring the involvement of all levels of government”, saying it supported a recommendation that it approach the federal government “to highlight the need for a national response to the problem of alcohol abuse”, including a national summit by next year.
”Alcohol abuse is an issue which transcends jurisdictional boundaries and warrants appropriate responses and co-ordination at both the state and national levels,” said the response, which was signed by Premier Barry O’Farrell.
The NSW government resolved to approach its federal counterpart ”about the best way to bring together … governments to develop a national approach to alcohol policy issues”.
It also said national co-ordination was vital to support its reform package announced last month, including an awareness campaign to change alcohol and drug behaviour.
The written response will cast the spotlight back on beleaguered Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash, who has responsibility for alcohol policy.
It will also put further pressure on the federal government to take national action on alcohol marketing, pricing, taxation, venue licensing and opening hours.
The timing of the response is just days away from the introduction of the O’Farrell government’s new licensing regime, which begins on Monday and includes 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks for central Sydney venues, and a statewide ban on the sale of takeaway alcohol after 10pm.
The Australian Medical Association last month called for such a summit to shift the nation’s booze-fuelled culture and address the “epidemic” of alcohol abuse.
It would bring together state governments, local councils, health experts, industry, police and families of the victims of alcohol-related violence.
AMA national president Steve Hambleton said the state government’s support gave “momentum” to the push for a summit.
Carlton & United Breweries corporate affairs director Jeremy Griffith has previously dismissed the call for a national alcohol summit, saying it would duplicate previous inquiries and undermine the role of government agencies.
But he backed the notion on Wednesday, as long as it focused on addressing alcohol misuse, the industry was involved and it did not become a “platform for the anti-alcohol lobby to target moderate drinkers through blanket policies”.
National Alliance for Action on Alcohol co-chair Mike Daube said the need for a national position on alcohol was “pressing”.
He said support from the NSW government was important because “it’s the biggest state, its alcohol issues have been very prominent and it’s not a matter for state governments alone”.
Fairfax Media revealed this week that a lobbyist working in Senator Nash’s office had links with the alcohol industry and played a key role in stripping funding from the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia.
Senator Nash was unavailable to answer questions on whether she supported calls for a national alcohol summit.
A spokeswoman for Mr Abbott said “we have all been appalled by the recent spate of alcohol-fuelled violence” but added “primary responsibility for community safety and justice rests with the state governments”.
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