Category Archives: Federal Government

Budget 2008 – binge drinking is it?

I’m a bit of a budget junkie – particularly when a new government is in power. So tonight I watched the whole shebang closely and was struck by one thing in particular: the prevention versus treatment status quo is certainly not under threat.

Just over 3 billion over five years for prevention versus the 10 billion health infrastructure fund (read: hospitals and MRI machines). That 10 billion is in addition to the current health budget which is totally dominated by non-prevention activities. The Rudd government is obsessed by binge drinking and alcopops but there’s not a lot else on offer. Or am I being too cynical?

The ANCD have released the breakdown of specific initiatives:

The 2008–09 Federal Budget revealed the following funding:

National Binge Drinking Strategy

$53.5 million over 4 years to reduce binge drinking and its associated harms around the nation – from existing funding.

‘Alcopops’ Legislative Change

An increase in the excise and excise‑equivalent customs duty rate applying to ‘other excisable beverages not exceeding 10 per cent by volume of alcohol’ from $39.36 per litre of alcohol content to the full strength spirits rate of $66.67 per litre of alcohol content on and from 27 April 2008.

Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health

$49.3 million over 4 years through COAG to improve access to drug and alcohol services – this doubles the previous 2006 COAG commitment – new funding

$14.5 million over 4 years in the Indigenous Tobacco Control Initiative to help tackle high rates of smoking in Indigenous communities – from existing funding

$9.8 million for 22 remote communities to receive support and assistance from a local Aboriginal family and community worker and/or a safe house and a mobile child-protection team based in Darwin will continue to support families in remote communities

$9.5 million for alcohol diversionary activities for young people between 12 and 18 years offering a range of safe and healthy alternatives to drinking and other substance abuse

Additional Funding for the National Tobacco Strategy

$15.0 million over 4 years to help reduce the health problems caused by smoking and to reduce smoking rates among young people – new funding

Illicit Drug Use National Education Strategy – targeting people using methamphetamines

A national education and marketing strategy to encourage ‘ice’ users to quit – from existing funding

Links Between Drug Use & Mental Illness Community Campaign

$9.7 million in savings expected

National Psychostimulants Initiative

$4.0 million in savings expected

RecLink Program

$2.3 million over 4 years to improve the lives and opportunities for Australians suffering from drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, social discrimination and homelessness – new funding.

Model Code of Conduct for National Sporting Organisations

$20.1 million over 4 years to implement a model framework and code of conduct for national sporting organisations to address the issue of illicit drug use by athletes – from existing funding.

National Advisory Council on Mental Health

To be established from existing funding

Mental Health Nurses Training Subsidy

$35.0 million over 4 years to increase the number and value of postgraduate mental health nurse and psychology scholarships – new funding.

Night  Patrols

A total of $17.7 million has been allocated for community night patrols over the 2008-2009 financial year. Night patrols to make remote Indigenous communities safer and more secure for families and children will continue as part of the Australian Government’s commitment to implementing the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). The additional funding will enable the continued operation of night patrol services in the 73 communities covered by the NTER.

Australian Federal Police

The AFP will receive funding of $47.0 million to deploy additional sworn members to assist in capacity building and narcotic roles in Afghanistan.

The deployment of 66 additional Australian Federal Police as part of the NTER.

Australian Crime Commission

The Australian Crime Commission will receive a further $4.2 million to continue the work of the National Indigenous Violence and Child Abuse Intelligence Task Force


Australia’s port security and border protection capabilities will be strengthened by $16.0 million over the next four years to increase its container examination capacity at four key regional seaports. Funding will be provided to assist in the identification and interception of illegal and potentially dangerous goods.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts – if you had a 21 billion surplus, what would you spend it on?

‘Alcopop’ tax rise: a clever move?

The Rudd government has raised taxes on pre-mixed alcoholic drinks, bringing them into line with spirits.

There’s no doubt the government will be arguing it’s an important step in lowering binge drinking rates, but I’d be doubtful whether that level of taxation will in fact have much impact – in fact, it’ll be interesting to see whether the change just leads to a transfer of use from pre-mix to more traditional spirits consumption. It’d also be nice to see the extra proceeds being used to improve prevention initiatives with the demographic that consumes them.

Government has a lot of catching up to do in regard to communicating with younger age groups of alcohol. YouTube is likely to be used more and more but that is really only tokenism. A concerted social media campaign is needed but I won’t be holding my breath for that one.

Kevin Rudd’s binge drinking obsession

I thought the write up on Crikey summed up the issue perfectly:

“Bernard Keane writes:

Booze. Gambling. P-rn. It’s everywhere, at epidemic levels, apparently, but luckily our politicians are on the case, ready to shake their heads in dismay and demand tougher regulation of stuff that’s nobody else’s business.

Even under the crusty conservatives of the Coalition, it’s hard to recall a moral panic being whipped up as fervently as Kevin Rudd, Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon are managing at the moment.

Rudd is claiming binge drinking is a “worsening epidemic” that is “getting out of hand” and needs to be urgently addressed. Steve Fielding, best known for using his PC in Parliament House to Google for p-rn, also thinks it’s a “huge” and “growing” problem, and has got up a Senate committee to consider his private member’s bill to restrict alcohol advertising.

But as Richard Farmer pointed out yesterday, there’s no evidence for any of this. Indeed, in historical terms the early twenty-first century is probably one of the most sober periods in western history in the last five hundred years. But you won’t hear any of that in the mainstream media’s reporting – inevitably replete with footage of inebriated teenagers – of Rudd’s dire warnings.

With a similar lack of interest in evidence, Minister for Zeroes and Ones Stephen Conroy has been busy trying to get Labor’s plan to regulate the internet up and running via ISP-level filtering to block child p-rn and “violent websites”. Conroy’s plan, which makes the previous Government’s unworkable Netalert program for PC-level filters look benign, should do wonders for Australia’s already quicksilver broadband speeds. But according to the Minister, the only people opposed to it are kiddy fiddlers.

And incoming senator Nick Xenophon isn’t waiting until July to get stuck into gambling (or, as it should be known, taxation for innumerates), pushing for a new set of restrictions on poker machines and gambling venues. Not to be outdone, Steve Fielding wants to impose a tax on them too.

All this is music to the ears of pressure groups and lobbyists who rely on public funding. Leading the charge on binge drinking was Professor Margaret Hamilton from the National Council on Drugs, an anti-drug body established and funded by the Howard Government and currently headed by former Liberal senator John Herron. According to Hamilton, the mere act of having a drink on a Friday evening sends the wrong signal to Australia’s youth. Daryl Smeaton of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation – of which anti-gambling campaigner Tim Costello is a director — also backed Rudd’s binge drinking warning.

These people doubtless do fine work in addressing the impact of alcohol abuse (however defined) or gambling addiction, but are also beneficiaries of the funding that will inevitably flow from Government efforts to be seen to Do Something. They have a vested interest in encouraging state interventionism in their chosen fields.

Then again the media also has an interest in hyping social problems. Drunken teenagers and gambling addicts make for great copy. Everyone loves a moral panic”.

The ATOD sector responds to the apology

“NIDAC welcomes the apology to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation

The National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee (NIDAC) applauds the new Australian Government for their step today in acknowledging the harm caused by the policies of the past that created the Stolen Generation.

The long awaited formal apology from the Australian Government today in Parliament is a crucial step that paves the way for Indigenous people who were taken from their families. This will enable Indigenous Australian to regain their dignity and to walk alongside other Australians in creating a better future for all of our children.

Associate Professor Ted Wilkes Chair of NIDAC says “It has been over 10 years since the report Bringing Them Home revealed the extent of forced removal, which lasted into the early 1970s; its consequences and impact on families were devastating for those who lost not only their children, but had their physical and mental health, their connection to land, their culture and language destroyed, causing enormous distress to many victims today.

It is a day where all Australians can share their sorrow. In doing so, it provides hope to unite efforts in helping Indigenous Australians achieve their goals and aspirations.

This apology and yesterday’s first welcome to country by the Australian Parliament demonstrates the Australian Government and the Parliament as a whole understands the need for a commitment to Indigenous Australians to provide a safe, meaningful and promising future for all Australian children. It is a step we must all take as parents and as a community.”

NIDAC, as the leading voice in Indigenous drug and alcohol policy remains committed to working with the Australian Government to continue this journey by addressing the drug and alcohol problems that seriously impact on Indigenous families today.

Information on NIDAC can be found on

The first post-Howard TV ads to screen

Noticed this press release today and although I’m a big fan of money being spent on prevention, it’s good to see the treatment sector getting some coverage. I’m assuming the specific reference to Dubbo alludes to this press release being sent all across regional areas and they forgot to remove ‘Dubbo’ from the broadly distributed one:


People who have issues with alcohol or drugs are being urged to seek help and get treatment as a new campaign from the Australian National Council on Drugs gets underway, highlighting the simple message ‘treatment works.’

Statistics now show over 230,000 children live in households where they are at risk of exposure to at least one adult binge drinker. 1.5 million people aged 14 and over drink alcohol daily and Australia has an estimated 300,000 daily users of cannabis aged 14 and over.

Anyone in the Dubbo area who has issues with alcohol or drugs – and wants to get help – is being urged to go to where there will be an extensive range of phone numbers to assist people – the numbers will link people to organisations who are out there offering advice on where and how to access treatment services for people with alcohol or drug problems.

The ANCD highlights that there are now thousands of people around the nation in treatment programs at the current time run by an incredible variety of agencies helping people tackle issues and addictions. The ANCD points out that treatment programs can offer many gains for people and their families as they tackle their problems and achieve their goal to break free of their dependence.

Dr John Herron – Chairman of the ANCD – said ‘It’s now time for the community to be much more aware that treatment can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Treatment works.’

As part of the new awareness campaign a special television community service announcement which has been funded by the Humanity Foundation (a national philanthropic organisation that has a special interest in drug and alcohol issues) has been launched highlighting the message ‘treatment works’.

Dr John Herron said ‘There’s just no question that thousands of Australians right now have problems that they are not tackling. It is estimated that there are over 40,000 people dependent on heroin , 73,000 Australians dependent on methamphetamines (including ‘ice’) and over 50,000 Australian children living in a household where an adult is using an illicit drug.’

‘The message just hasn’t got through enough – and it needs to – because it is simple – treatment works. If you know somebody who is struggling, give them a hand or talk to them and support them – and urge them to take some action by talking to one of the many fine and professional help centres listed on the ANCD website. Every journey starts with a first step.’

‘Tens of thousands of people have treated their substance dependency problems. Although many believe that their problem is too severe or too difficult to treat, the reality is that there are many different types of treatment and assistance available and everyone has the potential to overcome their problems. On the ANCD website you can also access many real and positive stories of people who were in the depths of despair and never thought they could get their lives back together… and have now overcome their problems.’

‘By getting treatment you may become part of a support group. You are also likely to come across people on similar journeys who want to deal with their alcohol or drug problems. You are then being treated in an environment where people understand that you have a big journey ahead – and they want to help you achieve the goal.’

‘Treatment certainly can be a difficult process. It may be that it doesn’t work the first time, or even the second or third time as many people may relapse and need several attempts at treatment to resolve their issues. Clearly this can be disappointing for the person and their family. Dependence and its underlying issues can be very complex and difficult, however we do know that when people start this journey they will learn and grow from each episode of care and treatment they undertake and this will ultimately help them reach their goal.’

‘Research shows clearly treatment ultimately is the best place to put money when it comes to dealing with alcohol and drug problems. As far back as 1987 the RAND cooperation in the USA did important research on where it is best to invest funding to reduce drug use in a community. The results were very clear. Putting money into treatment is a tremendous investment for the community with not only less drug use but also less people turning to crime to fund their substance dependency.’

‘The members of the ANCD and I have visited many treatment centres across the country and we are never failed to be impressed by the quality of care and the level of dedication of staff working in these agencies – they are indeed extraordinary people doing extraordinary work for many people and their families and friends. They help people to get their lives back and they help people to heal problems. So many people that have been through treatment will tell you they feel better and look better and their relationships improve – because they’ve achieved the vital goal of getting control of their lives back. The first step is to seek the help and that’s why our simple message is ‘treatment works’.

To find out more we urge people to go to

It’ll be interesting to see if the role and/or focus of the ANCD changes with the new government. So far it appears it’s very much business as usual.

New youth mental health centres on the way

The new Health Minister has made an announcment that may be of interest (my thoughts after the details):

“Young people at risk of mental health and drug and alcohol problems will benefit from the establishment of 20 new headspace Communities of Youth Services centres throughout Australia.

Headspace, Australia’s national youth mental health foundation, is funded by the Australian Government to provide people aged 12 to 25 with better mental health support, as well as help for drug and alcohol problems. Establishing new local youth mental health services is an important means of providing this support.

Headspace is providing almost $19 million to set up the 20 new centres, most of which will be located in regional and rural areas.

There is a pressing need for such centres, with as many as one young Australian in four having a mental health problem in any 12-month period. There are also strong links between drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems.

The Rudd Labor Government is focused on the importance of prevention and early intervention in all areas of health, including mental health. This investment is an important contribution towards ensuring the long-term wellness of the wider Australian community, which will deliver personal, social and economic benefits.

For example, we know from a recent Productivity Commission report that mental or nervous conditions have dramatic effects on workforce participation – in fact, a greater effect than cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.

Health workers know that early intervention and support are vital for young people in trying to manage mental health problems.

The need for more youth services is particularly urgent in regional and rural Australia, where many communities continue to struggle with the impact of drought and high unemployment. Fourteen of the 20 new centres I am announcing today are located in regional and rural communities.

Regional and rural Australia have often suffered from a lack of health services. This investment will help tackle that gap.

Those areas include the Hunter, Riverina and Central West of New South Wales, Gippsland, the south-west and the Mornington Peninsula region in Victoria, and the rapidly growing twin cities region of Townsville and Thuringowa in Queensland.

Each centre funded under this round will receive almost $1 million to cover the costs of establishment, and to help better coordinate youth mental health and drug and alcohol support services throughout each region.

The Government is committed to working with state and territory governments to deliver better mental health services for all Australians.”

It’s a nice start but that’s about it – $19 million for 20 centres isn’t going to buy a hell of a lot. Here’s hoping they’re funded well enough to actually be able to demonstrate some outcomes. There’s nothing worse than a token effort in any health area.

Rudd and Drugs

Now the election is done, coming weeks will see some clarity come to the policy positions adopted by the incoming government. I’d like to make some predictions that are as staid and conservative as I believe the Rudd government will be in the ATOD area:

1. ‘Tough on Drugs’ will remain, perhaps with a rebranding.
2. No further liberalisation of drug laws will occur.
3. There will be no Federal support for other injecting room trials.
4. Drug Free Australia may be treated with a little more scepticism than currently.
5. There’ll be some increased expenditure around alcohol and tobacco prevention initiatives.

WHat are your thoughts? Am I being too cynical? I have a feeling I’m not.

Alex Wodak on the Coalition’s Tough on Drugs Election Policy

I noticed this is today’s Crikey email:

“President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Dr Alex Wodak, writes:

The Coalition Government’s Election 2007 Policy, “Tough on Drugs”, was released over the weekend. The centre piece of the new policy, a triumph of gesture politics, is a commitment to “quarantine and manage 100 per cent of welfare payments to stop people convicted of criminal drug offences …from using welfare payments to buy illicit drugs”.

If this desperate policy is ever implemented, we can be confident of a growth in crime which will require increased resources for police and prisons and which in turn can only be paid for by increased taxes. Perhaps that was meant by the “Go for Growth” slogan? The amphetamine market has certainly gone for growth during the lifetime of the “Tough on Drugs” policy.

The new drug policy was released just after the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a report which represents even greater political difficulties for the Coalition. Surely the timing of the release of the new drugs policy was intended as a distraction from the new IPCC report.

It is hard to understand how a government which prides itself on understanding markets can reconcile itself with a drug policy which attempts to defy economic gravity.

Sooner or later, the major parties will have to accept the reality that while there is a demand for drugs, there will always be a supply. And if there is no legal supply, other forms of supply will inevitably emerge. Wasn’t that the lesson of alcohol prohibition in the USA? The ability of governments to modify powerful market forces is marginal, as we all now know from the collapse of communism.

The Coalition also criticises the ALP for supporting a trial of a Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, a scientific trial of heroin prescription and the decriminalisation of cannabis. The trial of a Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in NSW was supported by a number of Liberal members of the NSW Parliament including a future Liberal Leader of the Opposition (John Brogden). A scientific trial of heroin prescription was first proposed in Australia by Mr. N. Greiner in 1984 while Leader of the Opposition in NSW (before he went on to become a Liberal Premier).

One of the major advocates for a scientific trial of heroin prescription was Ms Kate Carnell while Chief Minister of the ACT. The Liberal Commonwealth Minister for Health and Minister for Justice both voted for a heroin trial at a major Ministerial meeting in July 1997. Many prominent past and present Liberal politicians support sensible reforms of drug policy. Coalition state and territory governments have liberalised cannabis policies or retained policies liberalised by previous Labor governments.

So far this is one policy that the ALP Opposition has not cried “me too” on, but don’t hold your breath. ”

Crikey is well worth the $100+ dollars to receive a daily email full of commentary in a range of fields. Health topics get regular coverage in an in-depth manner – something the major media outlets would do well to emulate.