Back to the Future: Will Western Australia raise the legal drinking age?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 23rd September 2011

The State of Western Australia’s Commissioner for Children and Young People (WACCYP), Michelle Scott, has called for public debate on raising the legal drinking age in Western Australia to 21.

Alcohol abuse by young people is the focus of a report, ‘Speaking Out About Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm on Children and Young People’, released today by the WACCYP’s office. The report is based on a consultation Ms Scott commissioned in June this year involving almost 300 young people aged 14 to 17 years from a variety of backgrounds.

Currently, in Western Australia, a person under 18 years of age is not allowed to buy, supply or drink alcohol on licensed or regulated premises, even if they are with their parents or guardian.

Ms Scott said, “The current strategies do not appear to be working for a significant number of young people and we need a renewed approach to better protect young people from a range of harms associated with alcohol. A significant number of 14 to 17 year-olds in Western Australia drink at harmful levels usually with the sole intent to ‘get drunk’ and we know that the earlier young people start drinking the more likely they are to develop significant health problems.”

Ms Scott’s call for public debate on reforming alcohol laws is the latest of many previous attempts to alleviate serious drinking problems perceived to exist amongst young people in WA.

Earlier this month, the Government of Western Australia announced that it is implementing several initiatives to address alcohol-related problems across the State. These include increased liquor licensing enforcement activity by Police, the development of community alcohol management plans and school alcohol education programs.

McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth Director, Professor Mike Daube has commented, “If we are to stand a chance of changing the binge drinking culture, we need action on price, access, enforcement, advertising, and education. The voice of parents and young people will be overwhelmed by the influence of the alcohol industry unless governments have the courage to take firm action.”

Apart from factors outlined in the WACCYP’s report, some observers claim anecdotally that Western Australian binge-drinking problems are being exacerbated by the social influence of ‘fly-in-fly-out’ mining. This refers to personnel who commute on a fortnightly basis to and from the mines in the north of the State. It is alleged this has acculturated a strong drink-based social scene into suburban Perth and Fremantle.