Question without notice – My question is to the Minister for Mental Health. Minister, will the government commit to supporting evidence-based alcohol health warning labelling recommended by Food Standards Australia New Zealand at the next meeting of the forum on food regulation to be attended by ministers of government in July 2020? Alcohol is the leading cause of preventable, non-genetic neurodevelopmental disability in Australia. Children born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, will experience challenges in their daily living and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning emotional regulation and much more. There is a prevalence of FASD in my community but still there is no requirement for alcohol containers to carry an effective warning about the cause of harm and the harm that alcohol actually inflicts on the foetus. Much work has been done to address this issue, and recommendations have been made.
Minister Response – (Mr FOLEY Albert Park—Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Equality, Minister for Creative Industries) – Can I thank the member for Shepparton for her question on a very significant issue. Alcohol abuse is the leading drug—legal or illegal—in our nation that causes harm, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is one of the more preventable expressions of that harm. The member is right: regional Victoria is disproportionately, sadly, over-represented in all of those measures of alcohol harm, and I well understand why her question relates to her constituency in particular. Just as a point of interest, sadly, we have seen alcohol consumption significantly increase during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We want to make sure that FASD is addressed. It is an infliction that carries through for children for their life and sets them back and families and communities back.
In regard to the specific issue that the member raises, the Minister for Health represents the government at the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation. The member will be aware that in response the food regulation forum from March of this year is re-examining that specific issue around the implications of this proposed change and its implications on the community’s health and, of course, equally its implications on industry.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation is committed to providing a response to that by 22 June, and this government will make sure that it is a part of that robust discussion—making sure that the interests of FASD sufferers and the need to prevent that significant harm that is caused to so many children as a result of alcohol abuse is addressed in a way that is sustainable and ensures that the interests of public health are put first. I thank the member for her question.
Supplementary question – Minister, we saw the enormous pressure that governments were put under when it came to banning alcohol advertising in Victoria in the 1980s and the battle that ensued with industry over the changes to cigarette packaging. Will your government stand up to industry lobby groups and support current efforts to achieve the recommended labelling, rather than a watered-down version that industry proponents seek because of the impacts that it has on the cost of production?
Ministers Response – (Mr FOLEY Albert Park—Minister for Mental Health, Minister for Equality, Minister for Creative Industries) – Can I thank the member for her supplementary question. Of course the upcoming Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, having set in place a process in its March 2020 meeting, has a process whereby that very issue of the competing claims—on the one hand between the public health advocates and on the other the industry—about legitimate views as to what differences on regulation might well be will be determined by the next meeting The forum that has been established to report back by 22 June will be an important part of that process.
I can give the honourable member every undertaking—and give the people of Victoria every undertaking—that the Victorian government is well and truly mindful of the public health implications of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as one particularly nasty aspect, and I give the member the undertaking that her concerns will be relayed.