By Amy Looker on the Gold Coast

The Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, officially opened the Australian Liquor Stores Association’s (ALSA) annual conference on the Gold Coast on Monday (Aug 24) by calling on the industry to work with Government to combat binge drinking and promote a responsible drinking culture.

However, Roxon’s speech left many delegates under the impression that the Government holds retailers and suppliers responsible for the current binge drinking epidemic, with Roxon urging delegates to help reign in what she described as ‘cowboys’ in the industry.

“Binge drinking has become an ugly side of Australian culture. Barely a day goes by without alcohol related harm making the news – sometimes courtesy of our sporting and celebrity role models, but also because of the sheer numbers of young people following their lead.

"Our binge drinking culture has become a serious problem, and it is nothing to be proud of,” Roxon told delegates. “So how do we change this? How do you help us change this? The government is happy to lead debate and do its part to reverse the alarming pattern in youth drinking. But we cannot do it alone.

"The empirical evidence makes clear that there is a need to act. When we came to office, the Rudd Government listened to our health and police professionals on the front line, by researchers, by parents and by community leaders, who all said we have a serious national problem. So I’m here to ask today – to invite, to encourage – what you can do to help us tackle this problem together?  The products you sell are legal – but can cause harm.  Can more leadership be shown in the marketing of specials?  What can you as an industry do to pull into line some of the cowboys in your industry?”

Roxon then went on to say that the Government was pleased that the Senate passed the 70 per cent tax hike on RTDs, despite strong opposition from the industry.

“All of you are aware of this measure. In fact some people here fought long and hard to prevent its implementation. That’s politics. But I’m very pleased to say that this was passed by the Senate two weeks ago. The passage of the legislation will also allow a further $50 million package of anti-binge drinking initiatives to proceed, providing an alternative source of funds for sponsorship to local sporting and cultural community organisations and boost to telephone counselling services and social marketing campaigns.”

Roxon concluded her speech by telling delegates that the Government hopes that the industry will work alongside the Government towards health reform or else the Government would implement their own initiatives which the industry might not find to their liking.

ALSA President Mal Higgs, commenting on Roxon’s opening speech at the ALSA conference, said that he was surprised by some its content, especially when Roxon suggested to the delegates that they would need to be engaged with the Government’s reform agenda or else.

“The facts are that the industry has been attempting to engage with Nicola Roxon for nearly two years now. We are committed to working with the Government on any initiatives which can be shown as effective in dealing with the many issues associated with the misuse of alcohol. We now look forward to establishing a working relationship with the Health Minister and getting on with it.”

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The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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