THE DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF ALCOHOL POLICY: ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSIGHTS ON TRANSLATION FROM THE GLOBAL (THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION) TO THE LOCAL (INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIA)
Highlights from Executive Summary
- As well as being endorsed as a WHO policy ‘best buy’, formal controls over the physical availability of alcohol continue to be well supported by the residents of many remote and rural Indigenous living areas. These formal controls can be implemented by local governments, by-laws, Aboriginal housing bodies or town councils, or by state/territory liquor regulations. One of the reasons they are supported is that restrictions that are ‘external’, and have been formally instituted, help to protect local individuals or groups from blame when they attempt to act for the community good.
- New thinking is needed to minimise the risk to women and children in remote communities where existing alcohol restrictions are lifted suddenly, either by accident or design. Recent developments in the Northern Territory (due to the end of the Stronger Futures Act), reveal a flawed policy process, in which unprepared communities have been precipitously exposed to open alcohol status. There needs to be proper consultation, outreach, and better support from liquor licensing authorities, discussion of options, best practice guidelines issued for new or existing social clubs, and discussion of alternatives to licensed clubs in remote communities, such as the trial roll-out of short-term special occasion licences.
- Recent research supported by WHO has focused on alcohol’s ‘harm to others’ – a welcome re-direction of attention to a broader range of alcohol-related harms than those affecting just the individual drinker. An anthropological perspective on this issue reveals that concern about the effects of alcohol on others (children, grandchildren, family members) has long been a catalyst for Indigenous community action. It has provided the underlying rationale for community-supported bans on packaged alcohol and campaigns against liquor outlets. The fact that this concept dovetails with Indigenous concerns means that it could be leveraged to mobilise even more sustained community activism and become the focus of health promotion and safer drinking campaigns.
- Screening and brief alcohol interventions in primary health care settings can help Indigenous people to reconsider their alcohol use. GPs and other health care providers should continue to be encouraged to use these interventions, not only because there is clinical research supporting their use, but because anthropological research reveals another benefit. The advice from a doctor or other respected professional can be used by a patient trying to control their drinking as a shield against the social pressure to drink – a face-saving excuse.
- Despite a long history of opposing and obstructing the implementation of health warning labels on alcohol containers, the alcohol industry is now appropriating Indigenous designs, imagery, naming and messaging on its labelling as a marketing strategy that appeals to socially conscious customers. This trend demands Indigenous policy attention and debate about whether these marketing strategies constitute respect for ‘culture’ or appropriation of it.