Australia Exposed: Big Alcohol Calls Shots on Health Policy
A new analysis on Australia’s draft National Alcohol Strategy (NAS) reveals alcohol industry interference and undermining of health policy making.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) released the analysis “Alcohol industry fingerprints: Analysis of modifications to the National Alcohol Strategy (NAS)” which confirms the NAS has been undermined after consultation with the alcohol industry.
The analysis comes after a recent ABC investigation revealed the NAS, which was presented to the States and Territories for approval earlier this year, includes significant pro-alcohol industry modifications.
The FARE analysis of this ‘revised draft’ against the previous public ‘consultation draft’ confirms there have been critical word changes, deletions and insertions as the ABC investigation stated.
Key changes in NAS which undermines evidence-based, cost-effective alcohol policy
- A clear statement around the ‘alcohol industry having no role in developing national alcohol policy’ has been struck out, as have all safeguards to manage conflicts of interest.
- A section warning that Australia’s alcohol culture was leading to dangerous consumption was also weakened. The language instead discussed alcohol consumption as a positive part of Australian culture. For example the revised draft states, “Alcohol is an intrinsic part of Australian culture and it plays a central role in most people’s social lives.”
- Weakened language around the government’s imperative to act.
- Watered down proposed policies on pricing
- Undermined proposed policies on advertising regulation particularly in relation to sport, and the emerging issue of targeted digital marketing.
The Background Briefing investigation found the late-stage involvement of the alcohol industry was also against the specific recommendations of the Health Minister’s senior departmental advisors.
The last line of protection is the State and Territory Ministers, some of who revealed to the ABC they won’t approve the NAS, despite Australia being without an alcohol strategy since 2011.
FARE Chief Executive Michael Thorn likened the NAS development process to an exercise in regulatory capture by the alcohol industry to maximize profit and shareholder value over the public interest.
This contradicts the most basic integrity requirements of good government,” said Michael Thorn, FARE Chief Executive, as per FARE.
Legislative capture by the alcohol industry to maximize their profits
The FARE analysis coincides with a new study showing the alcohol industry is successfully impeding the prevention of death and disease from alcohol use in Australia.
The research found significant encroachment of the public interest and alcohol industry capture of the legislative process,” said Tony Brown research author from the University of Newcastle, as per FARE.
Through this research I have developed a prototype legislative capture test, which identifies that the alcohol industry’s practice of making large political donations to buy influence fits the elements of regulatory capture, and may extend into the realm of ‘clientele corruption’ recognized by the High Court of Australia.”
Previous studies have shown the extent of alcohol industry donations to major political parties in Australia. Research published in the Drug and Alcohol Review last year showed the alcohol industry donated $7,650,858 in the 10 years to June 2015.
Donations tended to increase during debates on potential reforms. Alcohol industry donations to the Labor government, for example, increased in 2008 and 2009, during the alcopops tax debate.
Public health experts call out alcohol industry influence on NAS
The World Health Organization and the United Nations have specifically warned of the need to protect against this type of undue industry influence by the alcohol industry.
The alcohol industry consistently has been able to be involved in the policy-making and that’s why we don’t have effective alcohol policies in Australia,” said Peter Miller, an addiction expert from Deakin University, as per ABC News.
Not only public health experts but the people of Australia are also against the alcohol industry being involved in alcohol policy. As FARE reports, 70% Australians say the industry has a conflict of interest being involved in developing alcohol policy to reduce alcohol harm while making profits from selling alcohol products.
It’s high time the government of Australia took into account international standards recommended by WHO and UN, views of public health experts and most importantly the voice of Australians themselves to form a comprehensive alcohol control policy which actually contains cost-effective, high-impact measures to prevent and reduce alcohol harm instead of prioritizing profits of the alcohol industry.