Every year, alcohol causes more harm to society than illegal drugs and is the leading contributor to the burden of illness and deaths in Australia.
According to a 2016 report by NSW Health, a quarter of all adults within the state drink at levels placing their long-term health at risk and just under one quarter of all adults drink more than four standard drinks on a single occasion – positioning them at a high immediate risk of harm.
As a result of this, NSW communities are experiencing a large number of associated harms such as injury, liver disease, cancer and mental health problems. And it's not just those who are consuming alcohol that are at risk. Local members of the community are often at the forefront of the damage caused by alcohol consumption.
Preventing Alcohol-Related Harm forum
The prevention of alcohol-related harm and the effects of this on NSW communities was the focus of the 'Preventing Alcohol-Related Harm: What's Changed' forum in Miller, Liverpool on March 23. Key speakers at the event such as Professor Ian Webster, Dr John Crozier and Dr Criss Moore discussed the importance of community in liquor licensing decisions and the reduction and prevention of alcohol-related harm.
Uncle Malcolm McColl, Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council Board Member, and the local MP for Liverpool Paul Lynch opened the forum.
A panel discussion with; NSW Health AOD Prevention and Harm Minimisation Director Nicola Lewis; Drug and Alcohol Multicultural Education Centre (DAMEC) counsellor Sinatt Tang; Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council Health Services manager Kevin Watene; Miller community member Judy Arkley; Paul McEvoy from Liverpool Police; and Pete Whitecross from the Alcohol & Drug Foundation (ADF) talked about what has changed in relation to preventing alcohol-related harm over the past couple of years and what can be done moving forward.
A topic that was discussed at the forum was liquor licensing, and the small percentage of applications that are rejected. Currently in NSW there is a period of 30 days to respond to the submission of a liquor licence application. After this period the decision can be appealed.
NSW Government believes local community engagement should be central to decisions about liquor licences within the state. Depending on the type of liquor licence, this can be a simple matter of talking to residents and local authorities, or a more involved process of producing a community impact statement (CIS).
"Everyone has a role to play" explained NSW Health AOD Prevention and Harm Minimisation Director Nicola Lewis.
"Community-based solutions are critical to the prevention of alcohol-related harm," local MP Paul Lynch told the forum. Dr Criss Moore also talked about the way communities can collaborate and work together to ensure they are involved in liquor licensing decisions.
Dr Moore was central in the Casula community opposition to an application for a late trading pokie pub because of its likely negative social impact on the area. She believes that when a community comes together with a common goal and a single voice the strength of this conviction can make a difference.
According to a 2016 study by the Sax Institute for NSW Ministry of Health, reducing hours during which on-premise alcohol outlets can sell late at night can substantially reduce rates of alcohol-related violence. There are also many studies that have found that changes in alcohol outlet density are associated with changes in the rate of health problems with a community.
Damian Dabrowski, NSW/ACT Program Implementation Coordinator at the Alcohol & Drug Foundation (ADF) also spoke at the event about resources for the community to tackle the availability of alcohol.
Specifically, Damian mentioned the ADF toolkit – a resource for members of the public which aims to remove barriers that prevent the community from being actively involved in licensing decisions, communicating the true cost of alcohol in Australia, and why it's important to play a part in the decision-making process.
If you want to ensure your voice is heard when it comes to liquor licensing - get involved. Join your local Community Drug Action Team (CDAT) – made up of volunteers, CDATs across NSW have been involved in a number of campaigns and activities to curb alcohol-fuelled violence and drug-use.
Support and inform your community and their decisions by accessing the latest statistics on NSW HealthStats. The ADF toolkit provides advice on how to make a difference and the Your Room website can act as resource to inform communities on alcohol and other drugs.
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*Image: Professor Ian Webster and ADF Program Implementation Coordinator Damian Dabrowski at the Preventing Alcohol-Related Harm forum in Miller. Credit: Melissa Bernstein, CHETRE