Opinion: Alcohol tightens harmful grip on regions

WIDER CONSEQUENCES: NSW regional areas continue to experience disproportionate levels of alcohol harm.
WIDER CONSEQUENCES: NSW regional areas continue to experience disproportionate levels of alcohol harm.

NSW has a problem with alcohol. Drinking is so entrenched in our culture that we tend to shrug our shoulders, even when confronted with the truth about the harm caused.

The range of alcohol-related harm is colossal: death, injury, disease, violence, lost productivity, suicide, child neglect. In the lead up to the 2019 NSW election, it’s time to recognise the full breadth and extent of alcohol harm across the entire state of NSW.

Every day in NSW, alcohol is responsible for more than 40 emergency department presentations, 137 hospitalisations and four deaths. Alcoholic products cause a significant proportion of preventable chronic disease in NSW, including 18.4 per cent of cancer deaths in men and 11.2 per cent in women.

Alcohol is also a significant contributor to horrific instances of family and domestic violence and child neglect. Of the 28 intimate partner homicides in NSW in one year, 18 per cent were alcohol-related.

The Auditor-General says responding to these problems costs the NSW taxpayer more than a $1billion a year.

In addition to some of these health and social costs, the cost to NSW businesses from reduced productivity has been estimated by economists to be in excess of $1billion annually.

The totality of this harm can be reduced with sensible evidence-based policy interventions that continue to prioritise public health and safety; which tilts the balance in favour of the people of NSW and not the alcohol industry.

There are other consequences. NSW’s regional areas continue to experience disproportionate levels of alcohol harm. 

Alcohol-related domestic assaults are up to 12.1 times higher in rural and remote regions than in NSW as a whole.

Alcohol is a factor in 85 per cent of motor vehicle fatalities in rural NSW and only 17 per cent in major cities.

The next NSW government can ill-afford to forget the lessons of the past and memories of the alcohol-fuelled violence that blighted Sydney before 2014’s lock-out laws.

The political leaders who were willing to listen to scientific reason ahead of industry rhetoric and to prioritise public health and safety in Sydney above alcohol industry profits in 2014, must display the same willingness to act now and reduce the burden of alcohol harm across the entire state today.

Michael Thorn, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE)