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19 Mar 2014

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton and Secretary General Anne Trimmer recently met with Prime Minister Tony Abbott at Parliament House in Canberra.

The PM called the meeting in response to a letter from Dr Hambleton requesting an opportunity to discuss a range of alcohol reform issues, including the AMA’s call earlier this year for a National Alcohol Summit to be convened by the Federal Government.

Mr Abbott acknowledged that alcohol-related harm in all its forms is a serious issue for the Australian community and said all governments are taking it very seriously.

The PM went public with his views about alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney earlier this year.

He told Macquarie Radio in January that the attacks were "utterly cowardly".

"I am appalled by what seems to be happening in certain trouble spots here in this great city of ours," he said.

"I think we've got essentially two problems. The first problem is the binge-drinking culture that seems to have become quite prevalent amongst youngsters in the last couple of decades.

"The second problem, and this is a truly insidious thing - this rise of the disturbed individual who goes out not looking for a fight, but looking for a victim.

"And all of these king hits - or we're now calling them 'coward punches' - all these acts of gratuitous violence are unprovoked."

However, the Prime Minister told Dr Hambleton that he does not support the idea of a national alcohol summit at this time.

Recognising the concerns of the public health sector about alcohol-related harms, Mr Abbott is also conscious of the serious law and order aspects of the alcohol debate.

To this end, he said he would be referring the matter to a new Committee of COAG, which is being formed to deal with crime, law and justice issues across jurisdictions.

In the meantime, the PM has asked the AMA to provide his office with more detail about the specific public health concerns that the medical profession has with the misuse of alcohol in the community, including the impact on hospital emergency departments.

John Flannery

Published: 19 Mar 2014