Doctors say they are fed up with Australia's ''national sport'' of excessive drinking and it is time to draw a line in the sand on alcohol-related harm.
The chairwoman of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine's public health committee, Diana Egerton-Warburton, said emergency doctors regarded Australia Day as ''the peak day for the national sport of getting drunk and injuring yourself and other people''.
Her comments are backed by police data released on Thursday showing there are more assaults on Australia Day than any other public holiday. Problem areas include Frankston, the Mornington Peninsula and central Melbourne.
Illustration: Matt Golding.
A Victorian study has previously found that Australia Day is the biggest holiday for people under 25 requiring emergency medical attention for drunkenness, assaults and injuries.
As the Australian Medical Association called for the federal government to convene a national summit to tackle an ''epidemic'' of alcohol-related harm, public health experts said alcohol advertising and discounting were fanning the flames.
Alcohol Policy Coalition spokeswoman Sondra Davoren said alcohol advertising spiked in the lead-up to Australia Day, citing promotions for ''true blue Australia Day specials'' and calls to ''celebrate Australia's lowest prices'', accompanied by images of the flag.
''It's little wonder Australia Day has become such a booze fest, it has been hijacked by the alcohol industry,'' she said.
VicHealth chief executive Jerril Rechter said alcohol was aggressively marketed to young people, leading them to see it as essential to celebrations. ''Australia Day has become an occasion where it is culturally acceptable to get drunk.''
Dr Egerton-Warburton said she remembered an Australia Day on which she treated seven women in a row who were victims of domestic violence linked to alcohol abuse. Doctors were sick and tired of picking up the pieces, she said.
''Surgeons and emergency doctors are saying enough is enough, we have to draw a line in the sand because this problem is getting bigger,'' she said.
AMA state president Stephen Parnis said addressing alcohol-related harm could ease overcrowding in hospitals and a national summit was needed for policy responses that could include tax hikes and marketing restrictions.
Police figures show there were 121 non-family-violence-related assaults on January 26 last year - almost double the number seen on an average day.
Ballarat, Latrobe Valley, Geelong and Shepparton also featured in the top 10 regions for Australia Day assaults.
Victoria Policy Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright said the trend was probably fuelled by warmer weather, alcohol, drugs and people celebrating in large groups. ''I look at these figures every year and I just shake my head,'' he said.
''Australia Day is the most violent of our public holidays by a long shot.
''We know people want to have a drink or two to celebrate the day with family and friends, but don't let the situation get out of control. Don't let it end in violence.''
Mornington Peninsula Senior Sergeant Ron Barbary said police numbers would double on the peninsula on Sunday, but the rate of assaults was ''pretty low'' in relation to the number of revellers.
''We're talking 25,000 people on one day at the Mornington street parade. To think you can have that many people and have nothing occur, you'd be living in dreamland,'' he said.
On Australia Day last year a man was arrested after slashing two people with a box cutter on the Mornington foreshore.
Emergency department visits rose at Frankston and Rosebud hospitals on Australia Day in 2012 and 2013, including those related to alcohol and assaults at Frankston.
With Beau Donelly