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Is Australia’s Drinking Age About to Change?

A question I get asked often by friends in America is, “What is the Australian drinking age?”  The drinking age here in Australia is 18 years of age with a few caveats by state:

Liquor laws vary by state. It is illegal to buy, drink or possess alcohol if under 18 on licensed premises, but states allow drinking or possessing alcohol on private premises for people under the age of 18 (under the supervision of an adult[s]). In New South Wales there is no law against minors possessing or drinking alcohol on private premises, but there are laws against supplying or selling alcohol to a minor, as well as against minors “carrying away” alcohol from a licensed club.[32][33]Minors may be on licensed premises accompanied by a parent or guardian (but not purchase alcohol) and parents can not provide alcohol with a meal on licensed premises. In Victoria, if a minor is caught with alcohol it will be confiscated and guardians notified of the offense, and a fine may occur. It is also illegal to provide minors with alcohol, and one can be fined by it if caught in the act. It is illegal to buy alcohol if already drunk, and to supply alcohol to such a person.[34]

In Queensland, it is illegal to drink in public or in a vehicle and drivers cannot operate a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level higher than 0.05 when on their open license. P and Learner drivers cannot blow anything but 0.00.

For those that do not know, Australians love to drink.  The love drink so much that they are in fact fourth in the world in per capita beer consumption:

1. Czech Republic
2. Ireland
3. Germany
4. Australia
5. Austria
6. United Kingdom
7. Slovenia
8. Belgium
9. Denmark
10. Finland

Notice that Australia is the only non-European country to crack the Top 10.  Out of the Top 20 nations the only other non-Europeans to make the list were the United States at 14, New Zealand at 17, and Canada at 20.

So when it comes to beer consumption the Aussies are right there at the top. However, in regards to alcohol consumption per capita to include wine and hard liquor the Australians are not as prolific compared to the rest of Europe.

Nonetheless it is clear Australians like the drink and this fact becomes clear once someone comes down here and spends time with the Aussies.  However, this distinction also bring with it the side effects of drunk driving and alcohol fueled assaults.  In regards to combating drunk driving I think the Australian police does a very good job because I have been hit with many more random breathalyzer tests here in the two years I have been here in Australia then the all the time combined I spent growing up the United States.

The alcohol fueled assaults though is something that is increasingly getting out of control.  You cannot turn on the weekend news without reading about how someone was assaulted and beaten in downtown entertainment areas.   Often times the fights involve gangs of young men roving around and beating people for the slightest transgressions because they are looking to fight.  For example just this week the brother of famous South Korean actor Lee Dong-gun which is making huge headlines in that country, was stabbed and killed in the streets of Sydney by a gang of men for simply staring at them.

In Melbourne I went out one time at night there and almost became involved in a fight and will not go out any more.  I don’t want to get involved in any altercation that would effect my visa status here plus I’m older and married and the bars have lost the allure long ago anyway.   Then I watch the various Melbourne news outlets which has been following the alcohol fueled violence in downtown Melbourne very closely and I am even more glad I don’t go out down there.

In response to the alcohol fueled violence that is making so many headlines an effort is now underway beginning in Victoria to raise the Australian drinking age to 21 years of age:

THE legal drinking age could be lifted to 21 if attempts fail to curb binge drinking among the young, according to the Victorian Government’s top alcohol adviser.

Professor Jon Currie, chairman of the Victorian Drug and Alcohol Prevention Council, says lifting the legal drinking age would be a “last resort” but one that should be a definite option.

The Sunday Age said Professor Currie will make recommendations to the Brumby Government within the next few months on how to deal with the growing level of alcohol abuse by young people.

Prof Currie, director of addiction medicine and mental health at St Vincent’s Hospital, said if social, educational and parental strategies failed to change dangerous drinking habits, “governments will inevitably look at legal ramifications or legal restrictions”. [AAP]

According to the article when the US and Canada raised the drinking age to 21 it reduced violence by 15%.  I have no dog in this fight since it doesn’t effect me, but I am curious to what others think.  Does anyone think raising the drinking age in Australia to 21 years of age worth the possible reduction in violence?  If you don’t think so why?


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