The most important thing is the health and wellbeing of our families and communities. However, alcohol consumption during pregnancy has direct and adverse impacts, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and lower birth weight. These outcomes impact Australian families and the wider community.
In addition, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) — the leading cause of non-genetic, developmental disability in Australia. Like many other disabilities, people who are born with FASD have this condition for life.
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol, when pregnant or planning a pregnancy you should not drink alcohol. When breastfeeding, it is safest not to drink alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol can harm the developing baby and may have lifelong effects.
Without diagnosis and appropriate interventions, people with FASD have a higher likelihood of experiencing mental health issues, alcohol and drug problems, disrupted school experiences, contact with the criminal justice system, and unemployment and homelessness. As a result, many adults with FASD may not be able to live independently.
In Australia, there is a serious lack of opportunities for individuals to receive a FASD diagnosis. This means that people with FASD and their families and carers have difficulties accessing disability support services and funding.
The Government is committed to increasing awareness about the use of alcohol products during pregnancy and breastfeeding. We are working closely with the Government to implement public education campaigns around FASD to improve the overall health and wellbeing of all Australians.
Alcohol companies should implement mandatory alcohol product labelling (including health warning labels and consumer information) as soon as possible and well before the deadline of 31 July 2023.
There is also a significant need to improve the level of knowledge among health professionals about FASD, how it may be identified and provide appropriate referral pathways to access support for people with FASD and people at high risk of giving birth to a child with FASD.
To ensure people with FASD get all the support they need, there should be a formal recognition of FASD as a disability and that FASD should be identified as an issue that affects the whole community.
Research from Western Australia also shows that at least a third of young people in prison have FASD. Therefore, we need reforms in the criminal justice system, such as raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 (which is now happening in ACT, but not other jurisdi