Community action and education campaigns fail to curb binge drinking, assaults and serious alcohol-related harm, an Australian-first study has found.
Researchers say that without tighter legislation - including restrictions on availability, price and promotion of alcohol - basic action led by communities has no effect on dangerous drinking.
The five-year study, published in PLOS Medicine, implemented a range of measures in 10 of the 20 rural and regional NSW towns involved in the research.
The 13 actions, which included school education, media campaigns, GP advice and increased policing on high-risk weekends, cut weekly alcohol consumption by 20 per cent and reduced verbal abuse but made no difference to risky drinking, car accidents, hospital admissions and violence.
''It is unreasonable to expect communities to deal with the problems that flow on from the fact that alcohol in Australia is relatively cheap and available everywhere,'' said Anthony Shakeshaft, study leader and deputy director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.
''Leaving communities to sort out their own alcohol problems is, quite simply, unlikely to work very well without government legislation.''
He said the O'Farrell government's new lockout and alcohol sales laws will ''only go so far,'' with volumetric tax and advertising bans needed to cut overall harm.
While the towns involved in the study, such as Griffith, Grafton and Inverell, had populations between 5000 to 20,000, Professor Shakeshaft said if the same strategies were implemented in urban areas, the results would be similar.
The study results showed significant differences between each community's ability to control alcohol-related crime, with some towns reporting major improvements and others almost none.
Mike Daube, co-chairman of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol, said localised programs are well-intentioned but ''can't do anything on their own''.
''Many governments try to pass the onus on, but they can't leave programs up to communities. They have to lead and legislate and do the hard yards,'' he said. ''Community action is laudable but it has to be complemented with legislative action … We need the federal government to come to the party on tax and alcohol promotion.''