Alcohol Consumption

29 Jul 2008 speecharchive

This speech is to indicate that the Liberal Party will be supporting the motion related to Alcohol Consumption.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (22:21): I think this motion is timely and relevant and, therefore, the Liberal Party will be supporting it. There has been a lot of hysteria about the issue of so-called binge drinking which is, I think, a populist term rather than one that is used in the literature, and there is a large body of literature in relation to all sorts of drug use, but especially in relation to alcohol use. I think that it is useful for us as legislators to be well-informed about the facts of this phenomenon known as binge drinking rather than indulge in knee-jerk reactions that are really aimed at being seen to be doing something rather than actually attacking the real problem.

There has been a lot of commentary in the press in recent months and I, like all other members, find the pictures and descriptions of young people, in our CBD mostly, and I think there are a few on Jetty Road, who were lying in gutters, young people who have lost control and are potentially very vulnerable—I think that we all find those sorts of images disturbing.

The Premier has described the current situation as being a pandemic. I would challenge that because I believe that binge drinking in Australia is as old as settlement. We can go back to historic events such as the Rum Rebellion to demonstrate Australia's long association with alcohol. We can look at the impact of a drinking culture where alcohol is used as a reward and the sort of drinking games that people have of downing as many as they can in a short period of time. Indeed our former prime minister Bob Hawke was renowned (and holds some sort of record) for the number of beers that he was able to consume in a certain period of time.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting:

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: And I am reminded of Kevin Rudd, our current Prime Minister. So, what does the literature say, if we are to look at that rather than indulge in knee jerk reactions? Twelve to 17-year-olds, I think, are a very important group in this whole debate, and I say that because medical evidence demonstrates that young people—in particular, adolescents—are quite vulnerable and the new recommendations that are coming out say that young people should delay the onset of alcohol consumption for as long as possible, certainly before the age of 18, and even perhaps for some years after that. Obviously, since the legal drinking age is 18, that is a decision that they need to make for themselves. Among 12 to 17 year olds there is evidence that levels of consumption declined in the 1980s, increased in the 1990s and have remained stable ever since. That reference is from the Australian Secondary Students Alcohol and Drug Survey.

Since 1990, short-term risk, which is a subcategory of risk, has doubled among some 12 to 15 year olds from 2.5 per cent to 5 per cent, and has increased among 16 to 17 year olds from 15 per cent to 20 per cent. That compares to 35 per cent of the total population of Australians aged over 14. That statistic comes from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: Statistics on drug use in Australia 2006.

Of all age demographics, young Australians aged 18 to 24 report the highest level of risky alcohol consumption. By the age of 18 approximately 50 per cent of males and females are young risky drinkers, but two-thirds consider themselves social drinkers. I think that is an important point to make because I think a lot of people underestimate the amount of alcohol that they consume and the potential risk that they are putting themselves under.

As I mentioned, the under 18s are of particular concern. Unfortunately, the age of initiation is getting younger. That is something that I hope the committee will address. The facts are that adolescents aged 12 to 17 have no difficulty obtaining alcohol: 39 per cent obtain it from their friends and 36 per cent obtain it from their parents.

That second statistic is, I think, quite alarming because there is a lot of anecdotal information about the place, when you talk to people (teenagers), that, particularly at private parties, there is an expectation among some young people and their parents that it is okay to supply your kids with a six-pack when they go to a party.

The South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services (SANDAS), which represents the peak NGO bodies for drug and alcohol services, is quite concerned because it believes that parents are actually looking for some guidance from policy makers in terms of what is acceptable for them to provide to young people who may be going to private parties and so forth.

The licensed premises have come in for, I think, an unfair slap of recent times. The council of various ministers around Australia decided that it was going to try to implement a 2am lockout across Australia and, of course, we saw in this state that the government unsuccessfully sought to implement a 3am lockout on licensed premises in the CBD, which it has since had to recant.

The AHA reports that 70 per cent of alcohol is purchased for consumption in non-licensed situations; that covers private parties or people drinking at home. It also refers to those people who, for want of a better word, load themselves up before they go out for a big night out on the town, and nobody has any control over that behaviour except the individuals who choose to consume.

We have also seen the knee-jerk reaction by the commonwealth to increase the tax on RTDs, or alcopops, as they are commonly referred to. The fairly predictable response has been that young people have simply substituted what they consume, including mixing their own spirits, in which situation they do not know what level of alcohol they are consuming, or they may even revert to illicit drugs. There has been some reports in the press about some young people reverting to illicit substances, which are cheaper on the streets for the time.

I note that the National Alcohol Strategy 2006-2009 has not been updated since the November 2007 election, so I think that the federal government could try to do something fairly comprehensive in terms of looking at this issue, rather than coming up with the odd knee-jerk reaction to make it look like it is doing something. One jurisdiction I have referred to in some interviews is New Zealand. The Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand has been running a very successful campaign which has focused on all demographics addressing all drinking behaviour. That is to address the issue that young people are often unfairly targeted, when it may be (as, I think, one of the federal government's ads shows) that it is the behaviour of the parents that influences the child to accept excessive alcohol consumption as a norm. Indeed, I think there are probably people in the older age groups—the 25-pluses—who may still have issues with excessive alcohol consumption.

With those words I indicate that the Liberal Party supports this motion. I look forward to some sensible recommendations following the taking of evidence.