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Kids a priority for lobby against alcohol abuse

“Nothing good happens after midnight.”

Michael Thorn, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), drops this aphorism in a conversation about lockout laws.

The erosion of lockout laws, and how it affects the wellbeing of children, is just one of his concerns. Others are documented in FARE’s recent pre-Budget submission to the government.

Thorn recites some confronting statistics in support of FARE’s child emphasis: 40 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds consume alcohol regularly; more than one million children are affected by their carers’ drinking during the course of a year; there are 10,000 Australian children in child protection.

He says obesity and declining numeracy and literacy are also related to alcohol.

If that’s insufficient cause for alarm, alcohol, according to FARE, is a root cause of family violence.

“I think that every police officer in Australia will tell you that whenever they’re called out to a domestic incident that they witness … that alcohol is apparently present,” Thorn says.

“Alcohol-related family violence ranges between 20 and 60 per cent [of the overall rate of family violence].”

Though this conception of family violence is unpopular with many major anti-domestic violence groups (the dominant view is that the patriarchy is responsible), Thorn wishes to see policy action to address it.

He also wants policy revolution on alcohol advertising in the sports sector, which has been shown to promote drinking in children.

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Alcohol is widely promoted in sporting contexts.

To tackle family violence and alcohol promotion, FARE is calling for a tax hike for alcohol companies.  The amount collected – an estimated $3 billion annually – would be used to implement measures to reduce family violence.

Prenatal drinking, too, is on FARE’s policy agenda. This is understandable; while the national prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is unknown, specific communities suffer uncomfortably high rates of it.

FARE’s stance has the support of three in four Australians, who think the nation has a drinking problem.

Alcohol abuse doesn’t just yield tragic outcomes for children, it costs society. Taxpayers fund the child protection and justice systems, and special education, all of which have a connection to parental alcohol abuse.

“Those first three years are the most important years in any child’s life,” Thorn says. “If they don’t get a good crack at it … then they are going to be at a disadvantage … for the rest of their lives.”

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