Alcohol health strategy 'lacks ambition'

Finbar O'Mallon
The federal government has unveiled a national strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm

A new national strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm lacks ambition, health advocates say.

The Public Health Association of Australia said the strategy had been too long in the making and too influenced by the alcohol industry.

Chief executive Terry Slevin said it was a shame the government had used the strategy to rule out taxing grog based off its alcohol content.

"This is about stopping people from getting injured, ill or dying due to alcohol, so why rule out this option?" Mr Slevin said.

"Let's remember that alcohol is Australia's number one drug problem."

In releasing the strategy, the government also announced it would commission a report to estimate the social costs of alcohol to the community.

The strategy will focus on improving community safety, increasing awareness of problem drinking and ensuring more treatment is available.

It will also look at the availability, promotion and price of alcohol but the government has already pointed out Australia's taxes on alcohol are among the highest in the world.

The national strategy, which has been months in the making, has come under fire from some stakeholders who are concerned the ministers responsible have been heavily lobbied by the alcohol industry.

It says Australians drank two standard drinks per day with one-in-four drinking at risk levels.

Alcohol was a factor in a third of domestic violence incidents, one-in-four road fatalities, 15 per cent of emergency department visits and resulted in more than 4000 deaths per year.

The strategy says alcohol had a "complex role" in Australian society, where not drinking was seen as un-Australian.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders experienced disproportionate levels of harm from alcohol than the general population, but were also more likely to abstain from drinking.

Australians in remote areas were almost twice as likely to drink more than people living in major cities.

There is also an upward trend of harmful drinking among older Australians, the strategy says.

State and territory ministers all agreed to the strategy, the country's first since 2011.

The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education also called on the government to revisit alcohol tax reform

"Australia faces a $36 billion a year alcohol burden," policy director Trish Hepworth said.

"We know from multiple reviews that alcohol taxation is the most cost-effective measure to reduce alcohol harm."