This monograph provides the first national state and territory estimates of adult per capita pure alcohol consumption in Australia. Data on retail and wholesale alcohol sales was obtained from state and territory liquor licensing authorities, which collected these to determine licensing fees during the 1990s. However, the analysis is restricted to the period 1990/91 through 1995/96 for most of the country because of the August 1997 High Court Hammond versus the State of New South Wales decision where it was found that states did not have the right to tax alcohol, petrol or tobacco through the use of licensing fees. Only Western Australia and the Northern Territory continued to collect data for public health purposes following this ruling, and the analysis has been extended for these two jurisdictions to 1998/99. It should be noted that the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland have re-established the collection of alcohol consumption data for financial recording and public health purposes respectively.
Two innovations in the methodology for calculating per capita consumption were developed for this monograph. The first was the application of conversion factors for alcoholic beverages specific to each of the states and territories. This was done using information on the alcohol contents of beverages sold within individual jurisdictions, particularly by taking into account the alcohol content of low alcohol beers and pre-mixed spirit beverages, which became popular in the 1990s. This was especially important in relation to spirits, which include a combination of "straight" spirits (average about 38.5% pure alcohol content) and pre-mixed beverages (average about 5% alcohol), such as "UDL" cans. For example, in Western Australia the combined spirits pure alcohol content was estimated at 24.6% in 1991/92 and 21.1% in 1995/96, compared to New South Wales where the alcohol content was 32.4% in 1991/92 and 27.5% in 1995/96. In the past, many researchers used the crude average alcohol content for straight spirits of 38.5% to calculate per capita consumption. Similarly, low alcohol beer shows variation between jurisdictions as well. For example, in 1995/96 the alcohol content for low beer was highest in Western Australia at 3.5% and lowest in Tasmania at 2.8%. The use of locally specific alcohol contents and a consideration of changes in alcohol content over time are recommended by the World Health Organization (2000).
The second innovation was in adjusting for the effect of tourism and for population mobility when determining the population denominator to be used in the per capita consumption calculation. This monograph makes use of the idea of a "service population" to better estimate the number of likely consumers of alcohol. The service population includes tourists and visitors and makes allowances for residents who were away from their homes in order to calculate an average "overnight" population. Such a methodology improves estimates of per capita consumption given that visitors are also likely to contribute to the consumption of alcohol in any given area. Based on these calculations, at the state level service population tends to be within one or two percent of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) estimated resident population (ERP), however significant differences are apparent for some regions and do influence the calculation of adult per capita consumption (APCC). For example, in Queensland and Northern Territory the service population is 13.77% and 4.25%, respectively, greater than ERP in 1996. The differences are especially greater for non-metropolitan areas. Conversely, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia tend to have a service population around 1% smaller than the ERP. The use of service population estimates, as with the use of regionally specific beverage conversion factors allow a more realistic estimate of APCC to be determined based on the regional characteristics of both the beverages being consumed and the local population characteristics.
Per capita consumption is an important indicator of the level of alcohol-related harm in a community as there are strong relationships between it and alcohol-caused morbidity and mortality. International and local research, including that previously conducted by the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), shows a strong relationship between per capita consumption and harms such as traffic accidents, accidental falls and other accidents, illnesses, assaults and other crimes.
The results of the present analysis show that in 1990/91 the per capita consumption of alcohol for Australia was 9.81 litres per adult and it steadily dropped to 9.03 litres by 1995/96, the end of the period for which comprehensive data is available. This overall decline in consumption appears to have been due to falls in both regular beer and wine consumption that were only partially offset by increased consumption of low alcohol beer and pre-mixed spirit beverages. The ABS provides data on alcohol consumption that continues to be used by World Drink Trends (2000) to calculate per capita consumption at the national level, and these estimates show a similar trend to those provided here.
Individual states and territories however show a wide range in APCC.
Over time, the Northern Territory consistently recorded the highest levels of consumption while Victoria recorded the lowest. While there was a general decline in APCC in the 1990s for Australia, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and to some degree Queensland all show increasing trends. Non-metropolitan consumption was consistently higher than that in the metropolitan areas, except for the Northern Territory where metropolitan APCC was notably higher than that for the non-metropolitan area in the later 1990s.
While it has been possible to compare state and territory trends to 1995/96, most jurisdictions ceased collecting data on alcohol consumption due to the Federal High Court ruling in 1997. This is unfortunate as these data provide the only source on regional consumption patterns. For the Northern Territory and Western Australia, who continued to collect alcohol wholesale sales data after 1995/96 there was an upward trend recorded in adult per capita alcohol consumption. It was not possible to determine whether this had also been the case in the other jurisdictions.