Thursday, 20 September 2007
I would like to support the words of the member for Fisher. Yesterday I had the great privilege of meeting with my good friend the Reverend Bill Crews and another good friend and parliamentary colleague, the defence minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, in the company of a number of representatives from the Exodus Foundation men’s group at Parliament House. Reverend Crews presented to Dr Nelson the petition I am now holding, which is signed by 1,000 people who are concerned about alcohol dependence and abuse.
As members would be aware, Reverend Bill Crews does a tremendous job running the Exodus Foundation in Ashfield in Sydney’s inner west. On a daily basis Reverend Crews deals with the desperate and the destitute, those wreaked by drug and alcohol dependence and living in indigent circumstances. When a man with the knowledge, experience and compassion of Reverend Crews calls for action, we must all feel duty bound not only to listen but to act.
The Exodus Foundation men’s group petition calls on the federal government to introduce mandatory warning labels on bottles of alcohol to warn of the destructive effects of alcohol abuse. As the statistics show, this is not a trifling matter. One in three Australians drink at a level which risks short-term harm such as violence, injury and accidents. One in 10 Australians drink at a level which risks long-term harm such as addiction, dependence, brain damage, and liver and heart damage. Sixty-four per cent of boys and 69 per cent of girls aged 14 to 17 are drinking regularly. We may glaze over such statistics but we cannot glaze over the experience of those on the front line, including service providers, individuals and families, and particularly the Reverend Bill Crews, who have seen firsthand the devastation caused by the abuse of alcohol.
According to the New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, alcohol related violence is costing New South Wales police at least $50 million a year. The bureau has said that this is the tip of the iceberg and that the true cost would be much higher. Healthcare workers would be all too aware of the costs of alcohol abuse. Suicides, road deaths, murders, assaults, domestic violence, strokes and liver sclerosis can often be traced back to alcohol abuse. This is not to mention the alarming figures which show the number of babies born with foetal alcohol syndrome, which can lead to mental retardation and birth defects. That has doubled from 15 in 2001 to 32 in 2004.
The call for cigarette style warnings on alcohol drinks is becoming even more important in light of concerns that we are seeing a new generation of alcohol abusers. Unfortunately, alcohol is being consumed by an increasing number of children, which is not helped by the increasing number of popular ‘kiddie grog’ premixed drinks. It is fair to say that there is a general lack of understanding in the community about safe levels of alcohol consumption, and we must do something about it. As Reverend Crews has said, there is a veil of permissiveness that hides the real cost of alcohol abuse to the whole community. We believe this must stop.
Alcohol labelling is not about stopping people from enjoying a drink. We all like a drink. It is about telling people—particularly young adults—that they will pose a risk to themselves and others if they go over certain limits. A clear labelling system devised by health experts—not the manufacturers of drinks—would be a valuable addition to other responsible drinking campaigns.
Confronting people with graphic images similar to those on cigarette warning labels would get the message across. These images have, over time, worked for anti-smoking campaigns and there is no reason why they would not work for responsible drinking campaigns. I know Dr Brendan Nelson has shown an abiding interest in this matter and he is also a great supporter of Reverend Bill Crews and the Exodus Foundation. I trust that we can pursue the Exodus Foundation’s request with a spirit of bipartisanship, because it deserves nothing less. On behalf of the Exodus Foundation men’s group, Dr Nelson and me, I table this petition from 1,000 people who are very concerned at the lack of labelling of alcoholic drinks in Australia.
The petition read as follows—
To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives Assembled In Parliament:
The petition of certain citizens of Australia, within the electorate of Lowe draws to the attention of the House that the misuse of alcohol causes significant harm to both the individual and the community. We are aware that standard drink labelling for alcohol beverages is compulsory in Australia, such labelling however does not contain sufficient information for consumers to be able to make an informed decision as the risks associated with alcohol misuse are not included on current labelling.
Your petitioners therefore request that the House legislate to ensure the introduction of health warning labels on alcohol products, similar to those on tobacco products.
from 1,000 citizens.